Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Canoe-dling in Temagami

So, Canoe tripping in the wilderness, eh? I have to say I had been looking forward to this for the whole of my time out here, but I'm not going to lie to you - as the start date drew closer, I was getting a little apprehensive. It was to be an 8 day camping trip with 9 people, some of whom I didn't really know, doing things that my - once again - increasingly fragile back was not going to be too happy about (lifting boats, carrying packs, paddling). I didn't want to be the one slacking off, but I also didn't want to get air-lifted out if I
blew my disc out again, so I was nervous about that. And, even though I knew most of the people on the trip, I was aware that there were a lot of enthusiastic, energetic personalities, and that might become a bit too full on for me for that length of time.

As it happened, I shouldn't have worried about any of that stuff. The group dynamic was as good as you could hope to get it with 9 people, I worked my way into the paddling and carrying in a gradual way that let me judge how much I could get away with, and even though I was uncomfortable with my back for the whole week, it didn't get any worse than it had been before we set off, so I was able to relax about that too. But what about all the energetic folk?

Well, it was girl heavy group, with Mike and I being the only guys. Most of them knew each other well enough to know that they all liked some quiet time, and with so many people it was easy to fade into the background for a bit and not be missed, and then fade back in when you felt like it. Also, I made the effort to be up first everyday (not difficult as I've never been a solid sleeper in a tent, and my back wasn't helping), so I had an hour or two at daybreak every day to just potter about the camp, put tea on to boil, read a book or just enjoy the loons calling to each other over the misty lake. Add to that the fact that everyone was able to drop any 'real world' pretensions and just be themselves, and the banter and conversations rapidly became hilarious
Normally, quantities of booze or pot are needed to get to this level of openness, but we managed it just due to the bonding nature of the experience. I have to say, I had no idea girls could be so rude! I had been brought up to believe they only had pure thoughts and smelled like roses, but my eyes were truly opened last week!

So what was it all about then? Well, we went north from North Bay to an area called Temagami, which is basically a patchwork of lakes and connecting rivers in the middle of nowhere, where we put 4 canoes to work, paddling about 110km over the 8 days and hiking all the gear, including the canoes, about 8km through the woods when there was no connecting river to get us to the next lake we wanted to be on. These portages, as they are called, varied in length from about 100m to about 2km, and everyone had to take a pack, a canoe or an arm-load of paddles to get the gear from one landing point to another. Its hard graft, and I was amazed at one or two of our group who would take, on occasion, 2 packs AND a canoe to get it all across in one trip. As the week went on, the bags got lighter as food got eaten, but it was still a mission and a half.

Speaking of food, I have never been on a camping trip with such a luxurious menu! Each
day was a surprise, anything from salmon fillets cooked over the fire to pad thai curry to quinoa salads to fajitas to chocolate fondues and fresh made brownies was on offer. Mike and Janelle, who organised the food, are incredible in their forethought and planning - especially as each meal had to have both vegetarian and gluten free options! There were snacks during the day, and food organised so we could have fresh veggies early in the week and fresh beet and carrot salads later on. they had dehydrated salsas and hummus and more fresh fruit and veggies so we had a seemingly never ending supply of fresh, tasty food. It was incredible!

The paddling was good too. It's kind of like running a distance race, as your shoulders ache after a bit, but if you keep going you find a place where you could paddle all day and not get tired. The steering, done from the stern of the canoe, was harder, but I found that not only was it not too taxing on my back, but I was something of a natural, with good strength, rhythm and stamina, and I managed to pick up the various sculling strokes for manoevering the canoes just by watching the others. Very satisfying.

Every day provided opportunities to swim, and the lakes were shallow enough that the water
was fantastically warm and welcoming, even first thing in the morning and after dark. We had camp fires every night to create a bit of smoke to keep the mozzies at bay (sort of) and keep us warm and to cook on, and it was just one of those wonderful, peaceful experiences that you hope one day to recreate. It was probably the first bit of real "holiday" that I've had over here, as I was able to relax properly and enjoy the company of my friends and the place I was in without having to think about where I was going the next day or how many hours of driving it was going to take to get there!

There are a bunch of photos on the flickr link, and even more on my facebook page for those that are my 'friends'. Enjoy. I did.

And now, I have about 3 1/2 days left to pack, rest up, unkink my back a bit if possible, make some work exchange contacts and say goodbye to people. So I best be getting on. I'll be doing a facts and figures entry before long, but that may well be the last one for a while. Keep your ear to the ground for that one. Happy paddling!

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