On Love and Paddling

It’s Valentines Day today. Now I’m not all that touchy-feely, and I’m one of those people who is torn on the idea of this “holiday”. But then again, it is a good excuse to show the ones you care about how you feel. So just like any holiday where you’re supposed to do something (i.e. buy something), if done with the right intentions, why not? (Incidentally, did your mom make you give Valentines to everyone in your class? As a kid I found that weird, and embarrassing. I mean, I did NOT want to give the wrong impression – especially to that girl who always wanted to sit beside me during reading time. But at least if everyone got one, the implication of something more isn’t there. That said, I do remember making sure a couple of girls got one just slightly bigger than the others. But I digress….)

Happy Valentines Day

Happy Valentines Day

This isn’t a website about holidays or love or candy, so I’m going to talk about love from a tripping perspective. Whether it’s romantic or parental or even just a strong bond with someone – or a furry friend for that matter – there are plenty of ways love is expressed out in the back-country. Here are just some of the ways I’ve experienced, witnessed or listened to in stories:

Love Is:

  • … Quietly keeping the canoe straight for a new paddler, telling them their doing just fine when asked.
  • … Letting someone think they’re doing a great job keeping you straight.
  • … Compliments, even when “it’s not a big deal”.
  • … Sneaking some of the heavier items into your own pack.
  • … Staying up late the night before a trip to prepare some special treat.
  • … Offering up the last bit of chocolate when the treats have been exhausted.
  • … “You first.”
  • … “I’ll go first.”
  • … Slaving over a campfire to make an elaborate meal.
  • … Telling someone you like it better burnt.
  • … Offering to do the dishes.
  • … Buying someone a piece of gear that makes their trip a little more comfortable – or even fashionable.
  • … Getting into the canoe from the muddy spot.
  • … Not laughing, no matter how hard that might be, and no matter how dirty/wet/ungraceful someone got.
  • … Smiling.
  • … Bringing some things you normally might not on a portage trip.
When you see something like this, you take a quick picture, don't look around for the owners, and quickly move on.

When you see something like this, you take a quick picture (if you must), but don’t look around for the owners. Most importantly, quickly move on.

  • … Lying about how your side of the tent is soft enough when one of the sleeping pads deflate.
  • … What I got, I said remember that. (Sorry, I hate that song too, but it got in my head writing this.)
  • … Taking an extra shift driving home.
  • … Resisting every urge to fall asleep so you can keep the driver company.
  • … Asking for directions, you know, just to be sure.
  • … Telling someone they’re even prettier dirty and natural.
  • … Telling someone they don’t smell that bad at all.
  • … Making sure someone’s little face is clean the whole trip, no matter how an uphill battle it seems to be.
  • … Being vocally impressed by how someone carried that little, but obviously quite heavy bag, almost the whole length of a portage.
  • … Bringing a lot more “Gummy” food items than you would normally.
  • … Being the one who steps up and says it’s time to rest.
  • … Sharing body heat with a plugged nose.
  • … Band aids with Spiderman on them.
  • … Standing guard but out of site of the privy.
  • … Watching a sunset with an arm around the shoulders and a head against a chest.
  • … Checking to see if it was a bear, when you are certain it was a squirrel.
  • … Not saying “I told you so” and packing an extra rain coat.
  • … That look across the campfire. It’s even better when light is flickering.
  • … A welcome home hug, even when it goes against every instinct.

… And of course,  love is, most of all, wanting to share great experiences together.

Paddles Together

Paddles Together

Nancy Postscript

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How My New Canoe Came to Be

Warning: I’m going to sound like I’m overly-gushing about Swift Canoe & Kayak, to the point where you might think I get paid by them. I don’t. I just they’ve been very nice to me and I really like their canoes. It also helps that they’re a Canadian company, built in a factory in one of my favourite little towns, South River, ON, where I spent much of my youth. Also, as I’ve come to learn during my long search for a new canoe last year, they employ some really great, helpful people. 

So your local pond or river is frozen. You’re stuck inside or have a bunch of white stuff to step through. You’re overly clothed, probably sporting one of those Christmas-present-sweaters to appease a loved one. You’re dreaming about being out on the water. You may even be pathetically sitting by a window, staring out like they do in the movies when the protagonist is conveying melancholic longing (in some kind of fuzzy, 3-D reindeer sweater). You flip through outdoor gear catalogs, and visit canoeing websites and skim through to pictures of warm sunny days. It’s all you can do to wait for the water to thaw so you can get back out there. What are you to do until spring?

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Nancy, longing to go portaging.

Outdoor Shows!

Yeah, this time of year is hard on paddlers, for the most part. But, did you know this is the best time of year for gear shopping and outdoor shows? Yep. Coming up this weekend is the Toronto Boat show (Jan 12-20). I normally don’t attend that one as it mainly deals with non-man-powered watercraft, but there are some canoe and kayak companies there. Up next is the Toronto Outdoor Adventure Show (Feb 22-24), which I’ll probably hang out at all weekend to meet up with outdoor friends and catch all the presentations.

Speaking of presentations, Canoecopia comes next in March, which is quickly becoming my favourite outdoor show. It’s in Wisconsin, but it’s a great chance to see all the different exhibitors that I normally don’t have access to, up hear north of the border. What  really makes it worth the travel to get down there is seeing all the great speakers and presentations. Incidentally, I’m organizing a bus trip there, so if you’ve ever wanted to go but the expense of traveling is holding you back, checkout http://portageur.ca/canoecopia/ for the details. Tell your friends too, because the more people go, the cheaper the trip becomes for everyone.

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Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven

I know absolutely nothing about art, technically. History, brush strokes, artists, styles, I’m learning, but what I do know is far outweighed than by what I do not – and usually acquired incidentally, here and there. And I have to admit, I’m not super interested in actively learning much more. Like that old saying goes, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”. Being an outdoors person, I’m obviously drawn to a certain subject matter. Being human, I read more into the paint brushed on the canvas. Being a unique human outdoors person, I might read into things differently than someone else might. Just like everyone else.

The Jack Pine (1916-17) and The West Wind (1917)

The Jack Pine (1916-17) and The West Wind (1917) – in the same room!

You gotta go

What I do know is that there is an exhibit going on right now at the McMichael Gallery that is a must see for any art or outdoor person. Sadly, it’s only on until January 6th, 2013. “Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven” is a sort of a “best of” The Group’s work, including many pieces that are normally stored in different galleries and private collections throughout the country. That’s the most important reason to go: In order to see the same paintings, it would cost a lot of gas and travel time, not to mention that some in the private collections will never be shown again (to you and me, at least). It was originally put together for exhibition in London, England, then traveled to Norway and the Netherlands. Because of the success abroad, they decided to extend the exhibit back here at home.

If you’ve never seen these iconic paintings in real life, then you should definitely go. I cannot explain just how much better seeing them in person is compared to in print. Stand in front of one and you take in everything the artist intended. For example, you’d be surprised how much the texture of the paint adds to the depth of the painting – which is in perfect keeping with the unique and genius style of The Group of Seven. If that doesn’t convince you, think standing in front of “The Jack Pine” (1916-1917) – which is cool enough on it’s own, mind you – then turn around and see “The West Wind” (1917) on the opposite wall. In fact, when the exhibit first opened in London, it was the first time ever that the two paintings hung on the same wall. With one normally housed in Ottawa, the other in Toronto, you’re saving yourself at least 4 hours and 43 minutes. Extra bonus reason to go: You can even see the original sketch for The Jack Pine.

The original sketch for the Jack Pine - not normally on display.

The original sketch for the Jack Pine – not normally on display.

So what’s so important about seeing some paintings?

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Merry Christmas 2013

I just wanted to take a short moment and say thanks to everyone. It’s this time of year when it’s best to surround ourselves with loved ones and reflect on all the great things that we have, and especially the experiences we’ve had since the last time we got together.

Nancy running away from me trying to get her to wear Christmas antlers.

I tried to get Nancy to wear some Christmas antlers for a nice holiday picture.

2012 has been a great year, filled with some great memories for Nancy and myself. We’ve had the opportunity to have some great adventures and meet some really great people.

Nancy wearing Christmas Antlers

I managed to catch her. Now to grab the camera real quick.

All of your thoughts, comments, likes and retweets mean the world to us. We appreciate the validation and love the interaction with great paddling and portaging people.

Nancy throwing off her Christmas Antlers

Nancy would have none of this.

Nancy and I wish you and your families a sincere Merry Christmas. We hope Santa is good to you all, and maybe leaves you with some paddling and camping gear for next year’s trips!

I guess we know who is the Santa and who is the reindeer.

I guess we know who is the Santa and who is the reindeer.

So to all our old friends, new friends, even friends we haven’t yet met, cheers to a great 2012 and we know we’ll all have a great 2013!

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Portageur Gift Buying Guide

tl;dr version: Gift Cards, Toilet Paper. (And repeating Tina Fey’s name enough in the hopes she’ll read it.)

You can’t go wrong with Toilet Paper or a Gift Card

Giving gifts to anyone can be a bit of a challenge. If a camper, canoeist or any type of outdoorsy person is on your list, it might seem a little more difficult, especially if you’re not one. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been known to get a few hits now and then, and I’m proud to say even the occasional home-run. The reason is that I use a few guidelines I’ve adapted over the years. While this has been written focusing on gifts for the outdoors person, I think you’ll find that these principals are universally applicable. I’ve also decided to focus on things you can get together relatively quickly and cheaply, assuming that if you wanted to buy something fancy you’d probably have an idea of what that is, and would have got it by now.

1 – Acceptance

Accept and remember this:

  • Giving gifts is about your intent and receiving gifts is about the thought behind it. What is given, no matter what it is, is the effort thinking about the gift’s receiver, not whatever the it actually turns out to be. In other words, if you’ve put in some thought to it, there’s no such thing as a bad gift.
  • GIFT CARDS are a totally under-rated gift, when used properly.
  • A hit might not mean your gift gets used, or displayed prominently or worn all the time. Leave it at that, and don’t be giving the person an obligation on top of your gift.
  • Learn from gifts. It’s an opportunity to find out more about the gifter and the receiver, but also what works and what doesn’t, present-wise.
  • Some people don’t accept gifts well. Whether there’s a materialistic reason or an appreciation standpoint, next time, get them a GIFT CARD – or quite frankly, nothing. Which reminds me….
  • Know to whom to give gifts. A pretty accurate rule of thumb is that if you feel you have to give a gift, reconsider. If you want to give a gift, you should.
  • The same thing I constantly say about portaging is the same for gift giving: If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

Apply those lessons and you’ll be amazed at how stress free the process can be.

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Mo Paddles 2012

The Frozen Offseason

November usually marks the end of my portaging season, when I begin to dedicate my time more to indoor pursuits and, sadly, less about being out in the wilderness. Yep, this is the start of “The Frozen Offseason”. For one thing, I have a lot of writing to do. This year was a great one, and I’ll be telling you guys all about it. I’ve also got a few projects and changes coming up of the winter. Oh, and there’s still some fun activities to preoccupy the restless Portageur while the rivers are solid. Speaking of which, November also marks the most fun time of the year: Mo Paddles!

Sacrificing this baby face for charity

Once again, a group of Paddling and Outdoor companies have got together to raise funds and awareness for Men’s Health by growing some sweet, sweet mustaches. This is the second year in a row, so officially we can add the title “Annual” to Mo Paddles. That’s exciting! We had a lot of fun last year, so of course we were going to try to do it again.

Last year we put things together quite quickly. It was a relatively impromptu thing, an idea put together in only a few weeks. With extra time to plan, we got a few more participants, some even better prizes and we even have a website dedicated to the event. This year, 3 mustache sprouters have decided to compete their growing abilities against each other, and we’re letting people in on the fun by making them choose a winner. The best part is that every time you vote, your name gets entered into one of 4 prize draws. For more information on the contest, checkout the website: portaguer/mopaddles. Along with the prizes, we’ve added a bunch of fun jokes and features to the site. Vote, you’ll see what I mean.

Wait, what’s Movember?

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Take The Parkbus Thanksgiving Weekend

How would you like to spend this Thanksgiving in the Killarney back-country? You’ll experience the cool crisp air, the bright colours, the off-season solitude along with all the benefits that a fall trip offers, and get this: You don’t even have to drive. That’s what I’m doing this Thanksgiving Weekend – taking a ride on the Parkbus up to Killarney on its last trip of the season.

Checkout the sites of Killarney, full of fall colours, riding up in style

Benefits of Riding the Parkbus

I’ve been allowed to volunteer as a Parkbus Ambassador for the trip. I’ve ridden the Parkbus once before, and it was a great experience, something I think everyone should try. In a nutshell, the Parkbus provides both an eco-friendly way to get to Ontario Parks, and/or an opportunity for those without their own cars to still be able to access a great camping trip. With stops at campgrounds, outfitters and interior access points, you can have the same experience drivers would get, but without the worry of fatigue, traffic or gas bills. (I’ve written about the benefits in more detail here.)

The fun of riding the Parkbus

Parkbus began by taking passengers from Toronto into Algonquin Provincial Park, but after a couple of pilot trips, now offers the trips to the Bruce Peninsula (including Bruce Peninsula NP, Lion’s Head Beach Park Campground, Tobermory and the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry that can take you over to Manitoulan Island), and Killarney (with stops at the Grundy Lake PP, French River Supply Post, Bell Lake Access Point, the Town of Killarney, and of course the George Lake campground/access point). Like it did with Algonquin, Parkbus has designed stops to make sure you can access all the activities available in each area, and get you whatever equipment and gear you’d need to take advantage. Take a look at their map of all stops available, including the pickup locations.

Support the Bus

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5 Reasons Paddling Is Better In The Fall Than The Summer

I’ve had a few conversations with Fiona from Badger® Paddles… for those who dig the water, and I’ve found that we share a lot of the same opinions, whether it be about wolves, the need for your own paddle, and even camping in the fall. It definitely has it’s advantages over the cold, wet spring and the hot, busy summer – not to mention the really slow canoeing of the winter (I mean, along with the complete lack of a current, it can be really tough getting your paddle stroke right when it’s clanking off the ice all the time). On that note, Fiona was gracious enough to share with us her 5 Reasons Paddling In Algonquin Is Better In The Fall Than Summer.

If you have never thought of saving a few vacation days for a short September or October canoe trip in Algonquin Park, here are 5 reasons why you should:

1 – PEAK SEASON IS OVER

You do not have to travel far or portage in to find a quiet secluded spot. Short distance trips are more private and enjoyable. The big crowds are gone, the line ups have disappeared, and all is quiet again.

Vibrant colours dazzle the eyes during the Fall season.

2 – BEST CAMPSITES ARE AVAILABLE

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Worst Campsite I’ve Stayed On, Ever … So Far

NOTE: I normally don’t like to dwell on the negative. We had a great time on this past long weekend, not really stressing about anything because after all, we were on vacation. But for fun, I’m going to focus on some annoyances for a bit. I hope you enjoy it, and that I don’t give off the wrong impression. Nothing in this post came even close to ruining our good time. I hope that if you’ve never run into anything mentioned, this post doesn’t deter you from getting out there portaging. Oh, and there’s also some stuff that might unintentionally offend Germans, and some implied nudity. Enjoy!

Like most of us, I like my wilderness experience with at least the illusion of being away from civilization. Going to one of the big, popular provincial parks, with all it amenities and infrastructure gives you just that, but also offer things that quickly break that illusion. For example, I’m not a big fan of going to the popular areas of the interior on long weekends, but after the long and weird planning and organizing of this last trip I was on, I found myself going to Joe Lake on Labour Day – along with a huge number of other people. Seeing people, hearing people, you expect a bit of that, and I’m far from a back-woods snob who expects to have the park all to myself. In fact, that’s why I advocate portaging so much – with each carry-over, there are less and less people willing to follow. Take the energy you’re wasting on complaining about all the people (and their “evidence, you know what I mean,) and go over another portage. This is where I’ll become a bit of a hypocrite, having a little fun complaining because I didn’t take my own advice.

Taking some time to visit Tom Thomson

The Labour of a Long Weekend

Next to the August long weekend (Simcoe Day or whatever we’re calling it now), the Labour Day long weekend is the most popular for getting outdoors. For a lot of people, it’s the last chance to get out there before they or their kids go back to school. Typically, the traffic’s bad going up, somehow worse on the way back, every stop is crowded and if you haven’t booked your reservations months in advance, the pickin’s are slim. In the portaging world, it’s “prime real estate. ” If you’re wanting to go anywhere good within a Provincial Park anywhere south of North Bay, mark your calendars for the first Monday in April (5 months). This is the first chance you’ll get to book your preferred reservation and not be stuck scrambling. There’s usually a spot somewhere of course, and after some procrastination with the planning of this trip, we took what we could get.

We were trying to create the perfect “Family Trip”, one that made it easy to take the kids on, taking into consideration safety, effort and short attention spans, all without giving up the illusion of being out in the middle of nowhere. (Algonquin is perfect for this because of some of its easy portages, amenities and the fact that you can cover a huge distance without ever being a kilometer or less than the highway.) We had a few plans laid out, but with some procrastination, the time flew by. We had to change from those options to whatever was available, and not too far out. So that basically means one of the spots where there were plenty of campsites, which as you can imagine means plenty of people. This is why I found myself standing in a long line to pick up my permits at the Canoe Lake put-in – somewhere I avoid like an extremely painful plague that corners you and tells boring stories at parties.

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Pink Portage in Hamilton

I recently met a fantastic young man who is on a unique and arduous journey across Ontario to help raise money for cancer. Please read on for ways you can help.

Andrew of the Pink Portage with Nancy

Pink Portaging

Can you imagine a 1,200 km portage? That’s “km”, or 1,200,000 meters. Right now there is a guy who is doing just that. Considering you can cross the entire country by canoe without a portage longer than around 20km (or 20,000m), you’d really have to go out of your way to portage that length. Well, he wants to raise funds for cancer research. He’s doing it with a bright pink canoe, because it’s the most recognizable colour associated with Breast Cancer – something that has affected his family specifically.

When Andrew was young, he accompanied his mother when she was undergoing cancer treatment. He recalls she handled it all with great courage and grace, despite how rigorous and uncomfortable the treatment. His mother’s cancer went into remission that continues to this day. Since then, both his grandmother and aunt were also diagnosed with cancer, and sadly after a long struggle, his aunt succumbed to a cancer that had spread to the rest of her body, passing away in 2005.

 

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