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?

As many of you know, I have a friend who is an artist that comes with me on some of my portaging trips. His name is Kam Nabi and his work is awesome. Some of his work is extra special for me because I took him out there to paint it, but I had worried it might not have the same impact on others. I’ve been told by many not to worry. What I love about his work is similar to why I feel such a connection to the Group of Seven works: because of how much I love their subjects. I’ve been there and they’re expressing the beauty that not only do you see but what you feel. (Maybe I’ve said that before.) The Group of Seven’s founding goal was to prove that our lands were beautiful and needed painting, that their unique style required a distinct landscape, and that that rugged land inspired their wild style (or maybe it’s the reverse). I really feel Kam accomplishes this as well, but of course I can’t be completely unsure I’m not influenced by my connection with his work. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Entirely.

If you’re a fan of the Canadian landscape, you have a connection the Group of Seven paintings – and vice-versa – even if you don’t know it yet.

Which do you prefer, Landscapes or Art? … What?

Last year, I visited the McMichael gallery when Roy MacGregor gave a chat about his book, and they were showing the Tom Thomson documentary The West Wind. So they had all their big-wigs out and about. I got a chance to speak with the new curator, and we talked about the painting and all that. (It started out by talking about how she broken up the “Thomson Room” and the flack she received for it, on which I totally support her… but that’s another conversation.) It’s clear she’s an avid art historian and expert. But what shook me was when she admitted to me that she had not only never been to any of the painting locations, but had never even been camping (and of course in keeping with my character I immediately offered to take her). It became obvious to me that there’s a huge chasm that separates fans of their work. On the one hand you have fans of the arts and on the other fans of the subject. And we see things very differently. No right or wrong, just different – I mean that, because it’s about to seem like I’m being judge-y, which is not my intention.

For starters, they talk about technique, influences and all that, but mention the outdoors – the subject – almost as an aside. People like me want to see how an artist captures the spirit of our outdoors. This is why those tours they give seem less interesting to “outdoor” people (like me) because they’re oriented towards the “art” people. (My offer to take the curator camping is still on the table. What an experience that would be. I’d love to see how an art appreciator would view some of the sites of Group of Seven paintings for the first time and hear their thoughts. Would the paintings change for them? Would they feel a connection to the painting sites?)

Gratuitous plug for my artist friend Kam Nabi's work.

Gratuitous plug for my artist friend, Kam Nabi‘s work.

Like a fly on a wall

The best tour I ever took at the gallery was when the Waddington’s were presenting. (They’re the couple that have found hundreds of actual Group of Seven Painting sites.) I invited Kam and we watched the presentation (always great, by the way). Next they offered a tour of the gallery, which I was almost going to skip out on, choosing to take Kam through the gallery to get his perspective on things without the tour getting in the way (he had never been, strangely enough). I was hoping to let the tour go on ahead, but Jim and Sue Waddington joined in on the group. Kam, Jim and I hung out at the back and I introduced Jim to Kam, mentioning he was an artist, with a similar style and subject matter. (Kam corrected me by the way, suggesting no one can do what the Group of Seven did. Whatever.) Then the absolute best thing happened. I got the very special opportunity to be in on their conversation as we walked through the gallery. Each of them, based on their own expertise, offered up whispered snippets of information, stories and perspective on the paintings as the tour-guide took us through the gallery. What an experience!

Humble-brag?

The last time I was there, I took my sister, niece and nephew to the Painting Canada exhibit. Knowing they had never been, I offered up bits and pieces of information, history, etc. My sister started laughing at me after a while, which I at first mistook as her making fun of my enthusiasm. Turns out, she was actually “fact checking” me. As we would make our way through, I’d say something, then she’d stop to read one of the informational signs posted, which included most of what I had just said. When we got to the car she had the kids thank me for such a unique experience to be able to tour the place with me. She swore two older ladies were purposely following us for the same reason. I took that as a great compliment of course, but it gave me an idea. What I’d love to do is to give people tours of that place from an outdoor person’s perspective, as opposed to the “art person”. Perhaps I should approach McMichael about that.

Or maybe just hang out there giving impromptu tours, telling my stories and showing my favourite paintings. Hopefully more people find it more interesting than creepy, especially when they find out I’m not working for the gallery.

Arthur Lismer and Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park

Arthur Lismer and Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park

So which is your favourite Group of Seven Painting? (… or, the other conversion I mentioned earlier.)

It’s too hard to pick a favourite Group of Seven painting – or even an artist for that matter.  But I can tell you the painting that I was most drawn to, that seemed to have the most affect on me: “Thomson’s campsite” by Arthur Lismer. Actually, I’m not sure that’s the title, as I’m always forgetting it for some reason. This is probably the one painting of which I would make room for a print in the very limited space on my walls, but sadly because it’s such an obscure little painting (actually a sketch), they don’t have it available. I’ve looked, and I don’t know if they would or how much it would cost to do so.

Though I obviously like the painting on its own, it also speaks to me for a lot of reasons, especially the subject matter. What’s neat is that Lismer (the artist) is painting Thomson, or at least his campsite, so in a way it’s a 2-for-1 Group of Seven connection, painted on one of their treks into Algonquin Park together. One more the technical artist, the other more avid an outdoorsmen, each learning from the other, each coming into their own in both pursuits, in their own style. (Dear Mrs. Cruikshanks: I promise never to tell anyone you taught me sentence structure in the fifth grade.)

On another note, normally – generally – I’m drawn first to works by Thomson, then to Jackson and Carmichael. Their work speaks to me most. In style, sure, but also because of their legendary willingness to venture into the furthest areas to capture their subject (and I’m sure the style is influenced by the venturing, but definitely the way in which I see a piece). Next comes Varley (though not sure why, exactly, considering he’d move away from landscapes) and Harris. Often forgotten (to me) is Lismer and MacDonald. I’m not trying to rank or show preference, simply mentioning to which artist’s work I’m generally drawn. There are many exceptions, including a few by Johnson. (You thought I lost count, didn’t you?) I bring it up because, with this in mind, to say that my “favourite” Group of Seven painting was done by Lismer seems inconsistent. But there you go.

That’s my personal, unique, human outdoors person’s perspective, fully biased, reading into things the only way I know how.

What’s your favourite Group of Seven painting?

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

During the summer the best sites always go first. During the Fall season, the best sites are usually open/vacant.

We didn’t have to paddle far to find a secluded bay all to ourselves this September. View from our tent – Rock Lake, Algonquin Park.

3 – WARM DAYS, COOL NIGHTS

The weather is perfect for travelling by canoe at this time of year. Not overly hot during the days, you are also treated to cool nights – for better sleeping – as the humid days of Summer are now fewer and farther between. Some may even find that swimming conditions are still quite tolerable (for those who don’t mind the cooler waters).

A nice chill in the air can be quite pleasant.

4 – NO BUGS, NO FIRE BANS

This time of the year there is usually enough rain so as to not have to worry about campfire legalities. Fire bans are not usually a problem in the Fall months. Also, there are very few biting insects left during this time of year.

Big, warm fires, without the bugs!

5 – MOST PICTURESQUE CANVAS

While the summer months give us lush and beautiful forests, the Autumn season brings us Nature in all of her glory. Breathtaking views come alive with colour – a true delight the eye and senses. Seeing the colours of Fall reflected like fire in the still waters of an Algonquin lake or northern river is a mesmerizing sight. One you will definitely be grateful to have witnessed in your life (for those Bucket List enthusiasts).

Fall colours.

Stanley Horowitz once wrote, “Winter is an etching, Spring a watercolor, Summer an oil painting and Autumn a mosaic of them all.”. And the north, by canoe, is definitely the means by which to experience the colourful magnificence of this annual Fall collage. Some may even say, the trip of a lifetime!

 

Campology About Fiona:

Fiona Westner-Ramsay is the proud mother of Makobe, the owner of Badger® Paddles… for those who dig the water along with her husband Mike Ramsay, and also the author of www.autismzeitgeist.com: Practical Information about IBI/ABA for Ontario Families.

Read more about Fiona, her outdoor adventures and all things paddles at www.badgerpaddles.com

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.

Having spent the night before at a local campground, I expected to get up, grab a big breakfast at the Portage Store – one benefit of a popular put-in – and be on the water by about 9 or 10. Because the campsite wasn’t too far off, I figured conservatively to be there by noon, maybe 1:00 – you know, because the kids would slow us down a bit. The kids we brought with us were 5, 7, 13 and 16, along with 3 adults who had never been portaging before, and this would be the perfect easy introduction. We’d keep things slow paced, take a few side trips to see some of the Tom Thomson landmarks, including his cairn on Hayhurst Point, then casually cross over to Joe Lake and pick an appropriate campsite. Absolute worst case scenario, we’d be stopping to feed the kids some granola bars to keep them going until a late lunch around 2:00 after setting up camp and cooking. (I planned out some fun meals for the kids). How naive could I have been?

Our view from the campsite. How can you complain about that, really?

Long lines

Instead, we were just on the water at 1:00. There were tonnes of people waiting in line for permits, loads of them waiting to get their canoe rentals, then another crowd to pick up PFDs and paddles. That’s not even mentioning the hoards you needed to navigate through to get anywhere, including the fun trying to park your car. (I always find it amazing that people are willing to spend the weekend exerting themselves paddling, but will jam their car in ridiculous spots that inconvenience everyone else, just to save them from walking a few hundred meters… but I digress.) Good thing I wasn’t in a hurry.

After a couple of stops to visit some landmark sites (which was quite fun, by the way, but for the purpose of humour, I’m going to focus on the negative), we made it to our first portage. This particular portage is pretty popular (say that three times fast). It’s also the easiest “portage” I’ve ever carried over. It’s 300m, completely flat and covered with gravel. Basically, it’s a road – with the traffic to prove it. While it’s perfect for first-timers, kids or anyone with mobility issues, giving them the experience (and bragging rights) of actually portaging, it also means that it doesn’t fit the rule I mentioned above about keeping people less likely to follow you. In fact, it’s the “exception” portage that allows you to bring along a whole bunch of things you normally wouldn’t on a normal trip because of the bulk or weight. To me, that meant bringing a small cooler for fresh food at the campsite, and for fun, even a camping chair. (I used this as a reward system. Whoever did the most camp chores got the comfy seat. Now that I think about it though, I don’t remember ever sitting on it. Huh….) If we had to make a few trips on this “portage” it’s not a big deal.

Did I mention the traffic? Yeah, this little spot has been dubbed “Young Street North” because of how many people you’ll come across, and the canoe and gear traffic jam that inevitably ensues. As each canoe glided on shore, another swooped in right beside it. You have to pick your spot and get in there – or heaven forbid, wait for one. Normally I preach about the “routine” of portaging: Take out, get out of the canoe, pull your gear out and place it out of the way, then do the same with your boat, then get yourself organized (eat something, rest, have a chat etc.), then carry over. You never know when someone’s going to be coming along, and the last thing you want – they want – is for all your stuff to be plugging up the portage, having to step over all your stuff, assuming they can even get on shore. Of course at a busy portage, this technique is essential, but the least likely place where it’s going to be followed. There’s also plenty of those people who just want to stand in your way. What’s that about?

It becomes very important that you place your gear in the same spot, as things tend to inter-mingle. Coupled with the crowding, accidentally picking up someone else’s stuff, or having to move other people’s stuff to get at yours, things can get tense. Nothing like this happened this weekend, but I’ve been witness to arguments, cursing, shouting, pushing and shoving, and in one case almost a full-blown physical encounter in this situation. (Why!? You’re supposed to be on vacation!) To make things a bit more interesting, with everyone using the same outfitter, using the same canoes, at one point when I went to get the canoe I looked back and couldn’t figure out which one was mine. (One of our canoes even had a blue yoke pad, sitting beside another canoe that had the identical blue yoke pad!)

Nancy certainly didn’t mind this campsite, with squirrels to chase and a nice place to relax.

A break from the negative

The portage was a riot (the funny kind – just wanted to make that clear considering what I just wrote)! With the ease and short length, people were portaging the funniest things: Full sized coolers, enormous tents, inflatable water toys, barbecues, grills (which I – ahem – assume they brought back with them of course), and even a bag of take-out food. They used all kinds of ways to trasport their stuff too, like hockey bags, duffel bags and even a rolling suitcase! Why not. This is about the only place you could get away with that kind of portage (comfortably), so I say have at it. I remember my first trip. This is really how you learn – the hard way, mind you, but that’s often the lessons that are learned best.

… and now back to complaining

Once we stepped over, around and under people and their gear on both sides of the portage, we were on our way paddling Joe Lake. It was a beautiful day on a beautiful lake. The wind on our back. So too were about a dozen canoes, and about the same number in front of us. We were suddenly in that situation everyone worries about: The race to get a (good) campsite. Normally, I’m the type of person who feels bad about this race, knowing that my gain is someone else’s loss. The worst part of this race is often you have one of those “left or right” dilemmas, which means if you go in one direction and don’t find a site available, you have to paddle all the way back to go in the other direction. The kids in our group were getting grumpy by this time, and I knew if we had to double back we’d have one of those little kid freak-out mutinies on our hands. I counted the number of canoes ahead of us, then counted the number of campsites in our direction and didn’t like my odds, especially considering there were probably other campers who were already at camp. I swear to you I didn’t mean to do this on purpose, but we started passing canoe after canoe, and I have to admit I felt a little bad that the slower canoes would be travelling the furthest. When the kids started full-on whining however, my thoughts suddenly turned darker, as my paddle strokes became more enthusiastic, and was determined that the math of canoes in front vs. sites remaining would be soon fixed in our favour. (I wonder if anyone else knew we were racing?)

When we got around a point, the first sites started coming into view. Occupied. Then another, also occupied. The math isn’t working out. Others started asking me about the likelihood of over-booking. “No, no,” I’d say cheerfully, “There’s always a site somewhere.” To be perfectly honest now, I started to have doubts. The seven year old in my canoe had to pee. No, this won’t do, can’t it wait? Nope. We pulled over. I pretended to smile and wait patiently. I think I pulled it off. “There’s one!” someone yelled, “Nope. Occupied, sorry.” There was one site left on this side of the lake, and one canoe ahead of us, with two speedy paddlers obviously intent on grabbing it. I was about to turn the canoe around and hope we’d find something on the other side of the lake (but more importantly that the kids would keep in decent moods), when suddenly the speedsters ahead of us just kept going past the empty site in view. Suckers! We grabbed it up like the last piece of chocolate on the dessert tray left with nothing else but recycled decade old fruitcake. As I unloaded the canoes I felt bad. First, because of the guilt I was trained with having over something like this, instilled in me by all good mothers like my own (really regretting the “Suckers!” comment now). Second, because I realized I got caught up in something that shouldn’t be. Only a place like Joe Lake on a long weekend could cause this, and I shouldn’t have ever agreed to take part. (To further the chocolate/fruitcake analogy, I should have let the little girl behind me have it, and just bought my own chocolate on the way home. I definitely shouldn’t have eating it in front of her, dancing around singing “In your face”/”Losers, Weepers”. Not that this has ever happened.)

We managed to visit the Canoe Lake Cemetery to pay our respects to Tom Thomson. Someone left there homework there. Hmm…

Karma makes you itch (Is that the expression?)

We had originally planned to get a couple of campsites we checked out last year when we stayed there (smartly, off-season). The one we had camped at was great, especially for June, as it had a great open flat space to let the wind take care of the bugs. Later in the season, while we certainly would have been happy with that campsite, further down there was a bigger shaded site that would have better suited our large group. Oh how naive was I, thinking I would have our pick? Yeah… perhaps it was because of the “Sucker!” comment because instead, we were left with a rather small, severely un-flat site. As an added bonus, our view included both coveted sites, each that would barely be used as their occupants were out site-seeing (or whatever) from sun-up to sun-down. (Not that I was keeping track, obsessed on what-could-have-been or anything.) Often when choosing a campsite, we have a group discussion on which we’d prefer seeing, the sunset or sunrise, to determine which we choose. This site had views of neither. None of these things would normally bother me or my other trips, often not being at camp for very long anyway, but all these things taken together (flatness, view, space, etc.) and expecting to be there for multiple days, I can’t say I was thrilled with this site. (We made the most of it though, and it certainly didn’t come close to ruining our trip. Most of the group didn’t even notice.)

Boom Chick, Boom Chick, Boom Chick, Boom Chick, Boom Chick…

I mentioned that the short portage made for some interesting things being carried over, and while I didn’t notice it at the time, this apparently also included a radio with some powerful speakers and some floating fire lanterns. Just after dusk, we spotted some strange lights coming from the other side of the lake, rising into the horizon. It took us a while to figure out what they were. Apparently there was some kind of festival going on over there. I worried about the lanterns burning down the forest, but later I was more focused on the dance music that started. It was loud, and would carry on until the wee hours of the night. There is truly nothing like repetitive, incessant bass to enhance your wilderness experience. Who wants loons, owls or those annoying wolf howls? I had thoughts of paddling over there, really, really early of course, and start singing those annoying camp songs. You know the ones, where they repeat over and over and get in your head. Yeah, if I believed in doing things like that, I would have been over there. Did I mention I’m a horrible singer? Needless to say, a campsite that is dance-club adjacent is not what I would call ideal.

Even the loons get used to how busy this lake can get

Bet it gets better…

The truly worst part about this campsite was that there were trails runing to and from our site. At first, I thought this was neat. When the first hikers came through, I ran up to ask where they were coming from, interested in possibly venturing out at some point to see where the trails went. Apparently the hikers came from the Arrowhon Pines Resort, one of the few roofed resorts located within the park. You can drive right up to the resort, and after a twenty minute hike, be right at my campsite. Neat. Apparently the resort maintains the trails for their guests, complete with ugly orange marking tape every few feet to show you the way. Nothing like periodic visits by hiking resort guests to shatter the illusion of being out in the middle of the wilderness. (On a positive note, this would be a great site for the safety concious, as help is just a run down the trail away. So in a way, this would be good for the “Family Trip”.)

Invaded by Germans

Realistically, the hikers weren’t a problem. Most were just walking by, making their way past us without issue, and the trails were a few hundred feet behind the main campsite area. Except for the illusion, this really wasn’t something to complain about. Except for two particular incidents. The first was a little weird. We were hanging out on Sunday, and with the group going off on a little paddle or swim, I figured I’d take the opportunity to make some videos, in particular one on making coffee in the wild. That’s when a group of loudly speaking German hikers showed up along the aforementioned trail, with one of them continuing on down into our campsite. He proceeded to walk past everyone, right to the shore, then started taking pictures from absolutely every vantage point. I thought at one point he was documenting each and every tree. He had trampled right over our campsite, completely ignoring the occupants and any sense of privacy we might have expected. Thank goodness we were all dressed and decent (this is going to be funny in a moment). It was like we were just part of the scenery, or actors meant to make the campsite look more authentic for the tourists, like those kids they hire and dress up at Disneyland. Perhaps they were a little disappointed to find us not singing or selling keychains. His friend appeared a little embarrassed, staying back on the trail, giving me one of those “Sorry about my friend” looks. I wonder whether he expected to be served the coffee I made. (Maybe I was misinterpreting his friends look.) Strangely, once he was done, our guest simply carried on, saying a rather indifferent “Hello” on his way out. Why mention that they were German? At the risk of offense, it justified the whole “Invading” joke. My apologies.

Watch my face in the video above. I’m a bit notorious for not being able keep my facial expressions from revealing what I’m thinking. These wouldn’t be the only guests we’d receive throughout the weekend, but none made it to the campfire again.

A Much Worse Invasion (of Privacy)

Oh yeah, did I mention that the trails ran right past our campsite privy? Yeah. The trails ran right past our campsite privy. As an added bonus, it was at the crossroads of the longer and shorter version of the trail, so sitting there, random hikers could come from one of three directions. Nice! I’ve been on some sites with a privy in exposed areas, and others that were uncomfortably close to the campsite. With some strategy, this can be resolved by choosing when to use it (like when everyone else is asleep).

We had some close calls, with someone coming down from … using the facilities… when a hiker would be spotted shortly afterwards. Because some of us were back-country camping for the first time, a typical concern was raised about two people visiting the privy at the same time. I offered my usual tip, which is to keep all the toilet paper together in a big zip lock bag. That way, if someone goes for it and it’s missing, they know “it’s occupied”. This led to jokes about announcing rather loudly that you’re using the privy, just in case. We laughed about this. It was funny. That is until it happened. You see, the hikers from Arrowhon don’t know where we keep the toilet paper, and can’t hear you no matter how loud you yell your intention to have some private time to yourself. Yep. You’ve probably guessed already what I’m about to say. I’m just glad it happened to me and not one of the new campers, as this would probably turn into their last camping trip.

I’m not going to get too graphic here, but let’s just say I was seated, alone, and well, still needed a bit of time. This isn’t exactly a position you can easily just get up and leave from, even if you do get enough notice. Needless to say when two hikers came around the corner, we were all speechless. At first, there was a moment of paralyzing shock. I’m pretty sure it was just a few seconds, but it seemed like an awfully long time. I tried my best “Sorry. What can you do” look, waving them on. Their gazes shot down to their feet. What do you do in this situation? They shuffled by, and as you can imagine giving me as wide a birth as they could, and just kept walking. None of us said a word.

When I made my way back to the campsite, I debated not mentioning this to anyone. That’s just not me however. It was too funny not to share, even if it was at my expense. Everyone agreed that this was the highlight of the weekend.

So what do you think? What makes a bad campsite in the interior? Poor view? No space? “Interesting” scenery? Cleanliness? Privacy?

(No Seriously,) My New Canoe

I suppose I should stop teasing everyone about my new canoe and get on with the big reveal. The Portageur’s New Ride contest has been a blast, with the winner contacted yesterday. So with no more excuses and out of funny ideas, may I present to you, my new canoe:

Proud owner of a new Swift Osprey

 

First off, congrats to Eric J from Eden Mills who has won the contest. His name was drawn from several others who guessed two elements correctly. What I chose was a Superior Blue/Champagne Swift Osprey, made in Kevlar Fusion. Needless to say, and as you can see by the grinning Portageur above, I’m very happy with my choices.

The Blue/Champagne colour looks great.

 

But that’s not all. I’ll post a bit more about some of the other features of this canoe a bit later, but I also wanted to make sure to include the Carbon Fiber gunnels. (Quite a few people included this as part of their guess. Each received bonus points. A million in fact, but sadly the draw wasn’t based on these points.) I love this feature. It makes the boat lighter, but at the same time they’re very strong and durable. The best thing about this feature though, is that they are integrated in the canoe’s construction, without the tiny little gap above the hull that you’d get with wood or aluminum. I don’t know why, but every now and then I’ll catch a little piece of my finger on the gunnels, or a nail. Ouch. If you’ve heard a swear word carry over a lake, that might have been me doing this. It happens rarely, and I’m sure if I had strict paddling form – always – this wouldn’t be an issue, but it still surprises me that they don’t put this selling feature in the brochure.

Nancy looks great and fits quite comfortably in the Osprey

 

So why Kevlar instead of Carbon Fiber? Well, while the carbon is pretty tough, knowing how well I treat my gear, and the places I’m hoping to take this canoe, I figured the smarter idea was to go with a little extra protection. I really, really thought about the new Flax Fusion, as I really like the idea of it being a little more environmentally responsible, but ultimately decided against it, again, for the extra durability. If I had more space and money to have multiple canoes, the other would be in Flax Fusion.

Nancy, my hood ornament, is an optional feature of the Osprey

 

Why the Osprey? I know what you’re thinking, it was the coolest named model. Yes, I do like that. However, I decided that for my purchase to be the best fit, I wanted to get a solo canoe. I’m often the odd man out when canoeing in pairs, and often travel alone. When that’s not the case, and it’s convenient, I’ll just rent a tandem for other trips. A pack canoe seemed like a neat idea, especially when using two blades. I’d be able to keep up to tandems without too much trouble. But I feel more comfortable in a (real) canoe, with the control of using a nice long (single-bladed) paddle. That said, I originally was going to get a Shearwater. I’ve rented them often and love how they track, and of course the extra space would have been nice. What moved me away though was when Scott from Swift had mentioned that with the Osprey, you had the option of a “Combi” seat, which allows you to switch your traditional seat with a kayak seat, in essence giving you the advantages of a pseudo-kayak, with the storage space and portagability of a canoe. You can also do this with the new Keewaydin model. Lots of people like that model, but after testing both, I just felt better with the Osprey. (Not exactly scientific, but ultimately the most important factor in choosing a canoe.)

The Osprey at rest after a windy paddle on Opeongo

Why Blue? Haven’t you seen the pictures? It’s gorgeous. It has to be the slickest look on a canoe I’ve ever seen. It also makes it go faster, and move over the water much better. (Again, no science behind that, but it does.) Sadly, I knew I was going to scratch the paint and ruin that “brand new” look eventually, but I really didn’t think it would happen so soon. Not being able to wait, I picked up the canoe in Gravenhurst and went straight to Opeongo Lake. It was windy, and taking-out was a little rough on a rocky shore (where I stayed over night, staring at the sun setting over my pretty new canoe). So I got a few little, tiny, imperceptible-to-anyone-but-its-owner sized scratches. I thought about it very little though, laughing it off. Best to get that out of the way I thought. But then, when I was putting the canoe back on the car at the end of my little weekend test drive, on a windy day, I found out just how light the canoe is. A brink wind came up suddenly and blew the canoe off the roof, hitting a pole on the way down. No damage done though. Just a nice big scratch to remind me to be more careful.

Super light, the Osprey got scratched a bit, but the Blue colour still looks great.

 

I hope you guys had fun, and I apologize for all the teasing here and on facebook. I also apologize at gloating over my super-fancy, pretty, awesome handling, best canoe in the world. For the next post, I’ll show you some of the fancy features of the canoe, and I have a little surprise sent to me by the Swift Canoe & Kayak staff.

Oh also, I’m not really sorry, at all. I do apologize for that, though.

 

I Got My New Canoe

Warning, some material and information has been redacted to ensure the fairness of the Portageur’s New Ride Contest.

Proud owner of a new Swift [REDACTED]

So now that the canoe has been picked up, the Portageur’s New Ride contest will be officially over today when I draw the winner’s name. I still have to hide some of the specific details of the new canoe until I contact the winner, but I was just too excited not to share a little something. It’s been a fun contest and I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with everyone. No one has guessed all three elements – model, colour(s) or material – completely, but some came very, very close. What’s been the most fun is how many people didn’t necessarily guess what I bought, so much as told me what I should have chosen. I guess they like me, they were dreaming a little, looking through the available canoes, colours and materials and other options to find the perfect dream canoe of their own. What was also a lot of fun was teasing Fiona from Badger Paddles about not being eligible for the contest – she could have unfairly, and quite easily have found out what I bought. (Of course, if the winning name turns out to be “Jane Doe of Huntville, Ontario”, I’m going to have to cross check the shipping address “Jane” gives me.)

The [REDACTED] colour looks great.

Yesterday I came home with my new canoe. I was looking forward to it for so long, agonizing over the choice of materials and colour and even the model that I wanted to buy. When I finally decided, I could wait to place my order and get it built for me. Almost cruelly, it was ready for me to pick up a few weeks ago, but my trip to Holland forced me to wait a few more weeks to pick it up. Obviously I was distracted by all the fun I had over there, but I have to tell you, as soon as my feet were planted back on Canadian soil, all I could think about was going up to Gravenhurst and picking up my canoe.

Nancy looks great and fits quite comfortably in the [REDACTED]

I decided that I wouldn’t wait any longer to test it out, and that I would turn picking up the canoe into a quick weekend getaway. I’d grab the new boat, strap it on the car and keep heading north, into Algonquin for it’s first ride, its first trip, its christening, really.

Nancy, my hood ornament, is an optional feature of the [REDACTED]

With Nancy unable to come to Holland with me, it was also a good chance to make it up to her by getting her out there – as you can imagine, something that she’s been absolutely dying to do. She of course took to the canoe right away, at her usual bow position.

The [REACTED] at rest after a windy paddle on Opeongo

Since it was just an overnight, I decided to just put into Lake Opeongo, paddle as long as we could and grab a campsite for the night, then paddle back the next morning. It would be a great chance to see how the new canoe handles, and admittedly, show it off a little. Now that I think about it, perhaps I chose a popular entry point into the park so I could make the most people jealous. As you can see from the pictures, it’s really a very slick looking canoe. EVEN AFTER I PUT THE FIRST SCRATCH ON THE NEW CANOE – but that’s another story. Still looks great though, no worries. Anyone who knows me know this was bound to happen.

Super light, the [REDACTED] got scratched a bit, but the [REDACTED] colour still looks great.

I’d like to also give a big thanks to Swift Canoe and Kayak, for their patience with me, the photos they sent – Just wait till I post those! – and building me the finest canoe that has ever been built. Maybe that last part might not be exactly true, but to me it certainly is.

Riding the Parkbus

A comfortable way to get to Algonquin

Last Traveled July 2012

Trip Summary:

Last year I got the chance to use a great new service that allows people to get to Ontario Parks by bus called, appropriately, “Parkbus” (you can read more about it here). I may have a car, but for me this was an idea worth supporting. Not only does it allow those without cars to get up and experience places like Algonquin Park, but it’s also quite a great eco-friendly way to do it.

Facebook Photos of Bus ride | Facebook Photos of Backcountry

The Plan

Since riding the Parkbus seemed like such a great environmentally friendly way to get to Algonquin, friends of mine decided  try to prove you can have a great back-country portaging trip without the use of a car at all – from beginning to end. Whether your reasoning is because you don’t have a car, or you want to lessen your carbon footprint, you’ll see that it is completely possible, and has some other great advantages as well. Because of the stops that are made within Algonquin Park, it would be very easy to be dropped right at an outfitter to pick up our permits and canoes and set out into the back-country.

Getting an early start

However, while Parkbus begins it’s route in Toronto, very close to a transportation hub, I hang my hat in Hamilton, Ontario. I still had a few more things to figure out to make this a completely car-free trip.

What time do I have to get up again?

4:00 AM comes early – I don’t care who you are. We had to be at the Parkbus 1st stop (30 Carlton St.) at 7:30 AM and had a 80km to cover to get there. In order to do this, we had to get to the closest GO bus station for the 5:35 AM bus to Union Station, then take the subway up to Carlton Street. Now I should probably mention that we didn’t complete this trip technically car-free. Sadly, because of how early we had to leave, the Hamilton buses weren’t running yet. However, we made sure to carpool (cab) to our first bus stop. (There was some talk about walking, but we couldn’t risk missing our first bus, and besides, 3:00 AM comes even earlier.)

Urban Portaging

Did I mention we were lugging all our stuff? Yeah. We decided it would be fun to have the full experience and bring along our own preferred gear. This isn’t necessary – at all. As I mentioned, the Parkbus stops at a few outfitters along highway 60 (Algonquin Outfitters at Lake Opeongo and the Portage Store at Canoe Lake) where you can rent whatever gear you need. If you’d prefer, you can get dropped off at some of the campgrounds and have your stuff delivered as well. Whatever you decide, you can quite easily pack some clothes in a bag and head out.

Portaging up the subway

Not us though. We carried our gear, portaging from the get-go. It was easy on the buses, but it got a little dicey trying to balance on a busy rush-hour subway. Those turnstiles were not meant for barrel packs. The most fun we had was talking to people while making our way through the city. Here we were among the regular commuter crowd, walking down the street fully loaded, packs, paddles and all. A lot of friendly people wanted to know what we were up to. “Where’s your canoe?” and “I don’t know where you’re going, but can I come too?” were the more popular sentiments.

Our ride is here

I was glad to have brought with me two guys who are pros at commuting. Seamlessly, we had made our way up from the subway to the Parkbus stop just a few feet away. In five minutes our guide would arrive – Alex Berlyand one of the two co-founders. Alex was our chaperone for the trip. He was there to make sure everyone got their gear safely stored below the bus and got a seat. Sadly, one passenger failed to show. We waited as long as we could, but after attempts to contact the person and what was an obvious tough decision, we took off for our next stop. (Note: Starting this year Parkbus has a policy not to wait more than 5 minutes past departure time.)

Getting on the bus

We hit traffic running through the city at 8:00 on a Thursday, so it was slow going for a while driving to the next two stops in the city, but much less so than I expected. Also, our driver was a pro and we were on the highway soon enough. This was when I really started to appreciate going up north by bus. I didn’t have to deal with the traffic, and could just sit back, lean my seat back and enjoy the view. The stress was all taken away by our gentleman bus driver. Did I mention we had the coolest bus driver? His hair was white, with a matching mustache, complete with a British accent. A classier gentleman we could not have chosen.

Out gentleman bus driver helping some folks get on the bus

To sleep, perchance to dream

Knowing we were in good hands, I took the opportunity to take a little nap. I was up early, and I had planned a busy afternoon once we reached the park. This brings me to another great thing about riding the Parkbus: instead of being tired out by a four hour drive to Algonquin, after a quick nap and some scenery watching you’re pretty much good to go. This means you can plan on a half day in the backcountry after your bus ride. If you’re dropped off at the outfitters, you can realistically expect to be on the lake by 2:00PM. Give yourself a bit of a buffer though. You never know about traffic, and if it’s busy at the outfitters it might take a little more time.

Parkbus at Weber's Burgers

Our ride didn’t really experience much traffic. In no time we made our halfway rest stop at Weber’s. This is a perfect location to stop. Not only is it pretty much half the distance, it offers you a chance to use the restroom and grab something to eat at either Weber’s, Subway, Tim Hortons or even New York Fries. Be careful though, Weber’s is clearly the stand out choice for good food, but you have 20 minutes before the bus leaves and when it’s busy summer day, you won’t get out of line that quickly. (Alex did a great job giving us this friendly but effective reminder without sounding like a drill sergeant. That’s hard to do.) Also, everything sold there tends to be a bit sloppy to eat on a moving bus. Be safe and grab a quick sandwich if you need to. Even better, bring a sack lunch. It was a bit early for a big meal when we got there.

Entering Algonquin park

We’re here!

After another quick nap, the next thing we knew we were in the park. We dropped off some people at the Wolf’s Den Hostel, then on to the Portage Store at Canoe Lake, then quick stops at Mew Lake and Lake of Two Rivers campgrounds. My friends and I were going to the last stop of the route at Opeongo Lake, where we arrived on a great sunny day ready to hop onto the lake. We easily grabbed our gear, picked up our permits and our canoes from Algonquin Outfitters.

Water taxis will get you pretty far into the interior

Rested and relaxed, we were able to get a pretty good distance into the back-country. The Parkbus ran from Thursday to Sunday, so I planned a trip trip for 1 half day, 2 full days, then another short day to get back in time to be picked up at noon on the last day. (NOTE: The schedule has changed for 2012; see below.) The great part about our location at Opeongo, was that not only could we pick up a few supplies that we may have forgotten, but on the last day we could grab a shower, a snack and some drinks for the road (Algonquin Outfitters has surprisingly good coffee) while waiting to be picked up by the bus. Canoe Lake offers the same, but a full restaurant at the Portage store as well. If you’re really looking to get far into the interior, there are two outfitters that offer water-taxis from Opeongo, so consider that when planning as well.

Algonquin Outfitters will have everything you need for your trip, and the ride home.

The ride back

Our bus home came on time, and the trip back ran just as smoothly. We even stopped at Weber’s again, and at a time of day more appropriate for heavier meals. It’s funny, Weber’s is so popular that they built a bridge over the highway so people wouldn’t try and cross the busy highway to get there. In all the years I’ve passed that bridge, I’ve never once been on it before this trip. Our host Alex, got himself some poutine  for the ride home. After 3 days of canoeing I sure was tempted. (But not for poutine. I seem to be the only one who knows this, but cheese is actually quite gross.)

It is at this point where you’ll especially like riding the Parkbus. After a tough weekend portaging, often the last thing I want to do is drive home, dealing with all that end-of-weekend-at-the-cottage traffic. Instead, I left that again to our classy, mustached driver, leaned my seat back and … as you might have guessed … had a nap. There was some heavy traffic (apparently) getting into Toronto, but again our worldly driver came through and (apparently) changed our route to get home more smoothly. (I say “apparently” because again, I as napping.) We were dropped off near the subway station and we were back to our urban portaging again. After a short subway ride, a bus, then finally a carpool, we were all back at home. Take that carbon footprint!

Mission accomplished. A great trip to Algonquin Park, completely by public transit.

So would I do it again?

I would absolutely do this again. I really appreciated the eco-friendliness of the trip, and I loved the fact that I was able to travel into Algonquin without the stress of driving up there. Another planning tip: You can buy tickets on different weekends. This way you can still take advantage of the Parkbus service for longer trips. Overall the trip took a bit longer, but the trade offs were worth it. It wasn’t all that difficult either, as I think we proved. There are a few things you’d probably have to consider when planning your trip:

  • You have to carry everything with you for your whole trip. No leaving stuff in the trunk of the car (like the clean set of clothes for the travel home). Perhaps if Parkbus gets popular, someone will rent out lockers or something. I often have all my gear in the car and choose what to bring right before I leave, which obviously you can’t do with the bus.
  • If you do the math, it may appear more expensive for a ticket than to drive yourself (as long as you carpool). But even if that’s true, it’s worth the cost. (Currently a return ticket from Algonquin is $70.76)
  • Obviously, you don’t have a car with you. This means your schedule is set, and you won’t have the flexibility to come and go as you please. For the perpetually late among us like me, that means greater concentration about the time. Oh and for campground users, no side road trips into town for breakfast on rainy days.
As you can imagine, these things are hardly deal-breakers; they just need a bit of forethought.

Where the Parkbus can take you

New for 2012

Last year Parkbus introduced the same service to Killarney Provincial Park, with stops at Grundy Lake Provincial Park, the Bell Lake access point, the George Lake campground and the town of Killarney. I was very excited to hear about this, as I feel that if you haven’t been to Killarney, you really should. This year, they’re doing some trips to the Bruce Peninsula National Park, even stopping at Tobermory where you can pick up the ferry to Manitoulan Island. And as mentioned, the schedule for this year is Friday to Monday (instead of Thursday to Sunday) with a few exceptions.

Sold

So not only would I do this again, I am doing it again. I’ve done Algonquin, so this year I’m going to see how the Parkbus rides to Killarney. Not only will I be going as a passenger, but I’m also working on volunteering to chaperone a trip myself. Hopefully on one of these trips, you can ride with me. I’ll let you know as soon as I do, because I’d hate for the bus guided by portageur to be empty. I promise to stay awake – for most of the trip anyway. Oh, and one last thing, check out the Parkbus website and you just might see a couple of recognizable, some might even say handsome, faces.

Sunset on Sproule Lake

What about the camping?

Oh, right. Yeah… we actually had a canoe trip between bus rides. Unfortunately my perfect plan was foiled when we lost the daylight never having found a so-called portage. I wanted to prove that you can have a pretty hard-core experience and investigate new trip plans even when entering the park through some of the more popular access points. We can laugh about it now, but after crossing the 3400m portage from Opeongo to Sproule, then down the 1435m to Norway, the park planning map failed us as we couldn’t cross where we were supposed to. With the light disappearing (this was our half day), we had to make our way back over the 1435m and hope there was an open campsite on Sproule. We made it just in time for a moonlit paddle to camp. At least I’m pretty sure my friends can laugh about it now.

This is now better reflected on the Algonquin Online map. I went back a few months later to find where we should have portaged, and even sent my GPS info, so hopefully it’s some help to the online map. We still had a great time though. We hung out on Sproule and spent the day puttering around on a very nice lake, then went exploring Opeongo on the last day. You can see the photos of this part of the trip here.

Nancy Postscript

Nancy wasn’t able to come along this trip. It is probably the only deterrent to riding the bus again. The problem was that I had looked into getting special permission from Parkbus (and Hammond Transportation) to bring her along, but in order to make this trip completely car-free, I’d have to use two other transportation companies (bus + subway) and neither were too happy about Nancy coming along. One would allow her to be in a crate, which not only would Nancy hate that, but I’d be stuck with having to carry it around with me over the portages. But even if I was willing to do that, the subway people made it perfectly clear that there was no way I could bring a dog with me. I can’t tell you how many commuters I’ve spoken to since our trip who have come up with new and unique ideas of sneaking Nancy along next time.

North Tea To Manitou

The Plan

Gavin - happy to take his wife out portaging“I want to go on a portage trip.”  Kristen has this very matter-of-factly way of stating what she wants, often out of nowhere. I know her well enough to know that when she does this, she is dead serious.  I think there has always been a bit of a left out feeling when I go off for 3-4 days into the woods with my friends to go canoe tripping, and she had finally decided to see what all the fuss was about.  She had some requirements for our route, however. First, it had to offer great scenery, but with limited portaging – understandable, as you want to ease new trippers into it a bit. It also had to have one of those great campsites she’s heard me talk about. And finally, she wanted to go somewhere where she wouldn’t see any people. These requests made for a bit of a challenge, however I decided North Tea Lake would fit what she wanted. Even in this popular area, with a large number of campsites (and so people), the way Ontario Parks lays out their campsites, the feeling of solitude would still be there. Once my wife agreed, we booked it, borrowed an extra pack (and a few other bits) from Preston, and set out.

Overnight at Mikisew

We set out after work on a Thursday and headed up to Mikisew Provincial Park, located just west of South River on highway 11, which is about 45 minutes from the put in at Kawawaymog Lake.  We arrived at a decent time – early enough to stop at Antonio’s Grill for one of their legendary “Big” Panzerottis.  After wolfing down a football sized meal, we headed over to the park and set up our camp for the night.  Mikisew, it turns out, is a very dog-friendly park.  Why a downside Gavin? Normally you love dogs, especially Nancy, who is the best canoe tripping dog.  Well, dogs are often noisy, but thankfully they settled down by around midnight, so we could get some sleep.  The next morning we got up early, packed up and headed out to K-Mog.

Long and Winding River

Amable du Fond RiverAfter picking up our canoe at the put-in, we would have to cross Kawaywaymog Lake, to the winding Amable du Fond River, which leads to North Tea Lake after two small portages. Two things of note about this area: First, you’re not actually inside Algonquin Park until you’ve reached the second portage. Make sure you leave early enough to make it all the way into North Tea and get a campsite. Secondly, make sure to keep to the south where Amable du Fond river splits (right on the way in, left on the way back out) as you can go pretty far before you realized you made a wrong turn. The signs present and the fact that this advice is listed in the official park map suggest that a few people may have made this mistake.

This is Pretty

Setting off across K-Mog gave my wife a chance to practice paddling as luckily the wind and water were quite calm.  She very quickly got into a rhythm, and is in fact a very good paddler.  By the time we got to the Amable du Fond River, we were making excellent time and it quickly became apparent to my wife as to why I love going on these trips.  She must have said “This is Pretty” about 10 times in the next hour.  Before we left, Gary of Voyageur Outfitters told us about a beaver dam that had been constructed on the river, and showed us a canoe that was damaged when some folks tried to run over it.  The canoe had been broken across the center, $400 of damage apparently.  Needless to say, we’d be much more careful. We lifted over the beaver dam (there was a usable spot on the right bank of the river) and continued on through the winding waterway, eventually coming to the first portage – a brutal 135m monster – then after a difficult 265m, we found ourselves on North Tea Lake.

Out on the Big Lake

Campsite on North Tea LakeNorth Tea Lake is a beautiful spot, I’ve been a couple of times, but it was the first time for my wife.  She asked me why it is called Tea Lake, and I told her about the staining process that has made the water the rich tea that it has become over many centuries.  Luckily, we got a good tail wind going, and we made great progress across the lake.  I no time at all we found ourselves a great campsite on one of the islands in the East Arm.  It was spacious, and had a nice fire pit, and a small beach for swimming.  Kristen really loved this campsite, it was very spacious, no bugs, and the swimming was great.

Slight Loss of Direction

This was the first time I had gone canoeing without a portable GPS.  We had a compass and a map, and planned to navigate by those tools.  I often get my bearings by the position of the sun, however this day was cloudy. We accidentally got ourselves turned east, ending up in the lovely and tranquil Man-Go-Tay-See Lake, which is east of the East Arm of North Tea Lake.  After discovering our navigating blunder (by using the aforementioned compass), we headed in the correct direction (North) and were at the portage to Manitou Lake in about an hour and a half.  This portage is slanty – very slanty. Manitou is only 20m lower in elevation than North Tea, but the portage quickly climbs an additional 20m.  Kristen didn’t like this portage as much.

Mighty Manitou

Manitou is quite a large lake, and worth the hop from North Tea Lake as it is much more scenic.  There are sandy beaches, islands, hills, trees, etc.  Getting tired by this point, we decided to find a camp not too far from the portage.  We went to a campsite that I had previously been to with a beach, and some giant stairs going up to the camp area.  It was a little buggier here, but it is a wonderful campsite.  After another nice swim and some food, we hit the hay.  I am glad I brought my tarp on this trip, as the heavens opened up overnight, complete with thunder and lightning and dumped a decent amount of rain on everything not under the tarp.

[Editor’s note: This site, with it’s shady camping area and your own private beach, was a favourite of my friends and I after discovering it a few years back. In a strange coincidence, when travelling with my family out in this area, I made sure to find this spot again, and so it turns out we had been in the exact same spot as Gavin the previous weekend.]

The long way home

Rainy morning on ManitouOnce the rain had stopped the next day, we were ready to head out.  Our initial plan was to stay another night, but we were kind of itching to get back to civilization (particularly me, who had been sleeping on the crappy sleeping pad).  We ended up paddling the entire distance back to the outfitter (along with the three portages) and arrived around 2:30pm.  Unfortunately, because of all the rain, the beaver damn we had so easily crossed two days earlier was now far muddier. When lifting over my leg sunk  three feet deep into the mud. I got out, but the mud ate my sandal….

Gratuitous Postscript

I feel like I should have one of these, Preston always has at least one of them.  The main thing we took away from this trip was that Kristen absolutely loves backcountry camping.  It will be fun to get her to come along on some trips next year, and hopefully we can get one more short one in before it gets too cold.  Also, next time, we are bringing a proper camera instead of relying on my phone, it is a big pain to dig it out of the pack, and most of the time I didn’t bother. It would have been nice to have brought back a few more images for Kristen to look back on our first trip together and be able to say “This is Pretty” whenever she wants.

Editor’s Postscript

Gavin is a good friend and an integral part of our portaging group, and a newlywed, having been married this year in May. If I hadn’t said so (enough) already, congratulations you guys! I’m so glad to hear how much his wife Kristen enjoyed the trip. It’s always so great to hear about someone getting a chance to try it out, because we all know they’ll love it. Here’s to many more years together, portaging or otherwise!

The Golden Staircase

*During lower water conditions, the second 320m portage will have to be used.

It Goes Up

The Golden Staircase 2745mI was half way over what is supposed to be the toughest portage in central or southern Ontario – named “The Golden Staircase” – when I came upon Albert sitting on a log on the side of the trail. He is the most hard-core guy I know, always pushing his body to the limit with all the cycling he does as well as on the portage. We call him the “Portaging Robot”, so I was a little surprised to see him there resting, even though a swarm of black flies surrounded him. “How are you doing?” I asked. “Good. Just taking a break,” he replied. He had come back for a canoe as we were leap-frogging the gear up the trail, while I had caught up to him after I grabbed the last load. The hill ahead was steep, after another just like it. Hoping for good news I asked him, “What’s it like after we get past this big incline here.”

“It goes up.”

“No, I mean after it goes up.”

“It goes up.”

I didn’t make much sense at the time, but sure enough after I got up that hill, the trail twisted a bit, then … well, went up. That is why it’s called the Golden Staircase. Why “Golden”? I have no idea. What I do know is that they don’t name the easy portages.

The Plan

Tea Lake in the morningNormally we portage to get to a place we want to go – figure out how to get there including which portages we’ll need to cross. This time it was the portage that was the focus of the trip, so we were kind of working backwards in a way. I’ve read that there are several alternative options for getting closer to the portage, but everyone in the group decided that this trip should be like any other, the same general distance, otherwise we really wouldn’t be true to the experience. So we decided to start the trip at the Algonquin Access point #14 at Livingstone Lake, travel over the portage and as far in as we could in a day. Strangely, this access point is a 17km paddle through crown land and cottages before you even enter Algonquin park, where you cross the Dividing Lake reserve then into the park. The first problem is that there aren’t many campsites until around 15km mark in Rockaway Lake – and they are unmaintained and unable to be reserved. So the plan was to book a campsite in Dividing Lake hoping to be able to get there, but if we couldn’t make it we were hoping one of the Rockaway sites was available. The second problem was that there wasn’t a proven way back around in a loop, so we would have to return the way we came. We were not only going to see if we could carry over the Golden Staircase, but also again the next day.

The Trip Begins

Livingstone Lake put-inWe stayed at the Tea Lake Campground in Algonquin the night before the trip so that we could get a quick start from a distant access point. From the campground it was a 15 minute drive down highway 60 to Algonquin Outfitters to pick up our canoes, then about 25 minutes down highway 35 to Tower Hill Marine to pick up the permits. From there it’s still another 40 minutes to the put-in on Livingstone Lake. The put in is a small dirt parking lot with enough room for three cars if parked close together.

I may mention this a couple of times, but our timing – the May 2-4 weekend – was probably the worst for this trip. We got quite a reminder of this while we frantically packed up the canoes while fending off swarms of black flies eager to feed. It was unusually warm and sunny, so things started off quite well once we got onto the water and away from the bugs.

Double Paddle

Swift Pack CanoeEven when canoeing with friends, often I still find myself paddling by myself because of the odd number of the group. The biggest problem with this is trying to keep up with everyone. This winter I got a chance to see a demo of a Pack Canoe at the outdoor show. Basically, with this style, you sit on the bottom of the canoe, allowing you to use a kayak paddle. When the man said that it allows you to keep up with a tandem canoe, I figured I had to try it. Also, this would be the best weekend to try it considering the effort required by the portage on this trip. I’ll write more about this in another post, but while I found it taking some getting used to (I don’t kayak), I was able to keep up pretty well with the other canoe. It was also ridiculously light.

So the trip was going great. We reached the 320m portage from Livingstone and crossed over without issue on what is basically a gravel path that gives cottagers access to Bear Lake. Again I thought our timing was great as there were no motored boats of any kind on the lake, I happily pointed out the spot where I had decided to turn back on my previous trip. Even better than that was the fact that the water levels were high, meaning we could forgo the second 320m portage from Bear into Kimball through a small creek. There were a few shallow areas with lots of rocks painted by canoes, but for the most part it was easy going. What great timing indeed.

The Golden Staircase

Lift overs along Kimball CreekCrossing Kimball we had lots of sun and a slight breeze on our backs, and in no time at all we had reached what we came here for: The 2745m Golden Staircase portage that would take us to Rockaway. We had been told that there was a chance to reduce the length of the portage somewhat by travelling up Kimball creek a bit, again only when water levels were high enough. How lucky were we to have chosen this time of year. The water was definitely high enough. Unfortunately after lifting over the fifth beaver dam, and with no indication that we were getting anywhere close to the portage, in fact the opposite it seemed, we cut our losses and turned back. Maybe the water was too high?

So we made our way back to the start of the portage, begrudgingly convincing ourselves that it would be better to say that we did the whole portage as advertised. The take-out was on a nice long beach that is shared with a lodge further down, (I should get their number and stay there the next time,)  where we sat and ate our lunch ready for our task at hand. The black flies by this point had caught up to us, and decided to dine as well. Once we had enough we packed up and set out, but like that chatty guy on the bus, the black flies were conveniently going to the same place as we were, and decided to keep us company.

This isn’t so bad

Muddy bogs along the portage

As it turns out, the section that you supposedly would have by-passed through Kimball Creek, was a pretty easy section. It’s an ATV trail, and we had arrived to hear people chainsawing the path clear for our journey. Unfortunately, at about the 700m mark, the ATV trail veers to the right and over a bridge while the portage trail shrinks and gets much worse. In fact, always stay to the left (North) as there will be a few choices along the way. We all had the same thought up to this point: This wasn’t so bad. There were a few boggy mud pits to cross over but otherwise not too bad. After the fourth or fifth of these areas I realized that this wasn’t, in fact, the best timing, but rather the worst time of year to have attempted this portage.

We carried over one mud pit after another. When the trail began to rise I was actually relieved at first, assuming that would be the end of the mud and slippery footing. No, the Golden Staircase seems to be such a bad-ass that it defies logic and norms. It seemed the further we went up, the more muck we had to cross. On the rare occasions that it went down, well you know there’s more mud. (Gavin decided to count them on the way back and came up with 23 bogs that needed crossing.) Fun!

Sky High Mud

Seriously?Everything you counted as a benefit comes back to bite you on a tough portage. High water levels meant lots of mud. The beautiful day turned out to be sweltering heat, and the lack of cottagers and their motor boats meant that we were the only ones the desperate and volumous bugs could snack on.

Did I mention the Golden Staircase goes up? It turns out it got its name for a reason, and it lives up to it big time. For long stretches, the trail goes up on an angle similar to stairs, with slim trenches to navigate over roots and rocks like, well, stairs. From the lowest point you’ll climb almost 380ft, most of it on the last kilometer. Each step I took with all the gear on my back, I was reminded of all the times during the winter that I could have gone to the gym but didn’t. This was the first real trip of the year, and wasn’t quite at my peak condition to say the least. In fact, I was probably carrying a few extra pounds from the lazy winter. Another reason this trip was so improperly timed.

Injured

Albert: The Portaging RobotUnfortunately, with the wet, loose ground, Albert tweaked his ankle. This was a problem for a few reasons. Obviously for him, it meant a painful trip for the rest of the trail. But for Gavin and I, it could mean much more extra work if he couldn’t carry anything. Thankfully, the ankle wasn’t broken or even twisted, so Albert could go on, but we lightened our loads and would leap-frog the gear for the final third of the trip. The other problem was that it was much farther to go back than to finish the portage.  I kept watching for signs that Albert was in pain, or that he was working too hard, but he soldiered through, insisting he was alright. Just in case however, Gavin and I secretly decided that even though we had two more (much smaller) portages after this one, we would simply tell Albert that we had reached Dividing Lake instead of just being on Rockaway.

With about 400m remaining, the trail once again splits, and unfortunately you must stay left again. I say that because when I got there I didn’t know which way to go, and the right appeared to be flat, if not going slightly down. I knew I was nearing the end, so wishful thinking set in and I assumed that this trail was down to the water. More to the point, I had also assumed the water was just around the corner. No, The Golden Staircase wants to play with your head one last time, teasing you. I managed to walk another 200m down the wrong trail before I called out to Gavin, who was surely at the put-in by now, to make sure I was going the right way. I cursed when I heard his voice coming from above instead of in front of me.

The Trail Ends – finally

Rockaway LakeA few minutes later I saw the absolutely most beautiful sight a tired portageur can see: Water. I was so glad that I didn’t even complain that The Golden Staircase had given us one last obstacle in the form of a 45 degree drop to get to the put-in – but that was a good one Mr. Staircase, you got us. Nevertheless, we managed to get a bit of rest before taking off again. Tired as we were, the bugs made staying put unpleasant.

There are two official campsites on Rockaway, and both of them are on the far end of the lake, a good 3.5 kilometers to the first one. Of course there’s also the option of crossing over 965m to Minkey, then another 105m to Dividing lake where you’ll officially be in the boundaries of Algonquin Park. We were in no shape to continue past Rockaway, unfortunately. We set up camp at the first site we found after a paddle across the lake. Rockaway is a very pretty lake, and extremely undisturbed considering being outside the park. It is surrounded by crown land, with the east portion bordering the Dividing Lake Nature Reserve, protected by its remote location. There are a couple of privately owned islands on the lake, one in particular had its owners fly in by plane just as we were paddling through. Why didn’t we think of that?

Once we set up camp, got a fire going and begun to prepare and eat our dinners, we experienced the moment that makes us enjoy what we do, and why we seek out these places. We sat around the fire and recounted the day, with all its hardships, laughing out loud at the obstacles in our path. We each told stories from our perspectives, acting out exaggerated expressions, showed our injuries and counting off the bug bites. It was great. I like to think we were giddy with pride, though I suppose you could argue it was delirium, but we did it. For that moment The Golden Staircase might as well have been climbing Everest, or even reaching the North Pole. We sat and joked and complained, breathed in the fresh air and gazed at the crystal clear waters. We had earned it, and it was all the better because of it. If you’ve done it, you know what I mean, and if you haven’t, you really must try it. I suddenly felt sorry for the group that flew down here by plane. It was just some lake to them.

Return Trip

Travelling HomeWe were early to bed and early to rise, hoping to get out before the rains came that the weatherman had predicted. Even with dark clouds above us our spirits were pretty high knowing that today was going to be much easier. Every hill we had to climb yesterday was going downhill today, and after a short paddle to The Golden Staircase, the trip took much less time, and much less out of us. It’s still a good distance, but we made it back without much fuss. At the trail end, we met up with guy from the lodge beside the portage, who suggested we deserved a medal for our efforts. There’s no better feeling than random validation from a stranger.

It rained a bit on the paddle back, but it was a great relief from the heat of the previous day. Having done the route the day before the trip was pretty much the same and with a much easier go on the portage it went by quickly and without issue. We got back to the Livingstone Lake take-out, packed up and went looking for a restaurant that would serve up a nice big, well deserved meal, and give us a chance to talk a bit more about what we had done.

Nancy Postscript

Nancy along the falls on Kimball CreekThis would be a very different post if Nancy had written it. This might have been one of her favourite trips – all trails and a few tired dudes that needed motivation and herding. Not a squirrel was safe from Kimball to Rockaway. And who doesn’t like to show off a bit? If she had one complaint it would be that the rest of the group was always lagging behind.

DIY Postscript

Some more information if you’re planning this trip: First, go later in the year. Sure you may have an extra portage if the water levels are low, but you’ll want to do the Golden Staircase with less mud, solid ground and fewer bugs. You will have enough on your hands. Because of these factors, we really couldn’t take our time and enjoy the scenery, which makes dealing with a portage much, much nicer – and you may even be able to make it all the way to Dividing Lake. On that note, there are only two official campsites, and they’re on Rockaway. You may find a few spots that might work, but often they’ll be on private land or on the Nature Reserve. One island, Aubrey on Kimball Lake, used to be the traditional stay-over before crossing the Golden Staircase, but it’s privately owned, and sadly been trashed over the years. Finally, make sure to park at the put-in on Livingstone because while it’s tempting to drive up the road to the Livingstone Lodge, it’s private property and I’ve been told  never to park there – several times by several people – as the owners take great offense.

Technology Postscript

Not surprisingly, there was little cell phone coverage in the area, so make sure you call home before getting too far down Livingstone Lake road. Nevertheless, there was plenty of coverage for the night before our trip – Algonquin has pretty good towers all along the highway 60 corridors – so I was able to check in a few places on Foursquare, adding 3 new mayorships:

Tea Lake | Algonquin Outfitters – OxtongueTower Hill Marine

 

Up the Portage Without a Car

Question: How can you go portaging without using a car? If you live in a city far off from a provincial park the answer is that you can’t, not practically anyway. A new service has started that helps solve this problem. It’s called Parkbus, and since its pilot program started in 2010 it has offered a way for those without cars or who are looking for a more eco-friendly transportation to get to Algonquin.

ParkbusWhen I was a kid I was absolutely obsessed with cars. I wanted one very, very badly. Other kids I knew with the same obsession started working on cars, taking auto class in school, working on fixing the family vehicle with their dads or just taking engines apart to see how they worked. Not me. I just wanted one. It wasn’t about gears or cubic inches or horsepower, it was about where I could go. The gasp you hear when a 16 year old gets handed a license isn’t the collective horror at yet another novice driver on the road, it’s the sound of the planet suddenly shrinking (okay, maybe it’s both). Oh, the places you’ll go!

Of course, once you actually have a car, the ideal quickly tarnishes – about as quickly as the car will rust if you’re not always throwing money at it. To get to those far off places cost money. Welcome to the conundrum of time and freedom versus economic means. The more you have of one the less you have of the other. Want to go canoeing in Algonquin? You’ll need a car and a good enough job to pay for it – a job that now takes up most of your time from which you’ll have to beg for the vacation time in order to be able to go canoeing at some point.

Car Free Canoe Trips

What if you don’t have a car? Outrageous, I know, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t. For a variety of reasons these people have chosen to spend money on other things. Often this reason is about the impact on the environment. It seems a little ironic that going to a more pristine place where you can appreciate nature, could cause it harm. What if there was a better way?

It was these thoughts that brewed in the heads of a few guys who came up with an idea. They wanted people who otherwise didn’t have the means to get to an Ontario park to still have the opportunity to experience the Canadian outdoors. What if there was a bus that ran from a major city – say Toronto – straight up to Algonquin?

Ambitious Ideas

This idea sounds like a lot of really great ones I’ve heard, and maybe even thought of over the years. But the difference between those and the Parkbus idea is that not only did they figure out what they had to do to achieve it, but also – and this is the most important part – they actually went and did it. There first task was to contact MEC and hope the Toronto store would allow them to conduct some market research to figure out whether there was enough people interested in and who would like to use this eco-friendly type of service. Once the surveys were completed, they approached Ontario Parks with their plan partnering with Hammond Transportation. Long story short, in 2010 a pilot project was under way.

What’s even more impressive is that Parkbus is run by a handful of people in their spare time away from their day jobs. They call themselves outdoor enthusiasts, whose ambition is to make the most popular parks in Ontario accessible by bus. After the success of the pilot program last year, they’ve extended the Toronto-Algonquin schedule and have included a trip to Killarney as well. They’re even going to be experimenting with an Ottawa to Algonquin trip if all goes well. Who knows, if this idea takes off, perhaps they’ll be buses from all the major cities taking people up to parks across the province.

How it works

Basically the buses start at 7:30 AM on Thursday mornings from three stops in and around Toronto. Then they drive up to the highway 60 corridor, stopping at six spots where riders can gain access to Algonquin and any required services: Wolf Den Bunkhouse/Hostel, campgrounds at Lake of Two Rivers and Pog LakeThe Portage Store on Canoe Lake and two Algonquin Outfitter locations (Oxtongue Lake and Opeongo). The idea is that you pack whatever gear you may have, get on the bus and be dropped off where you can start your Algonquin adventure. At each location you can rent all the gear you may need and be on your way (canoes are not allowed on the bus, so you’ll have to rent those at the very least). On the following Sunday, the bus will make all the same stops in reverse to pick you up. All of this completely car free. For longer stays, simply book the return trip on a later scheduled return trip (Sundays).

The cost: $34.95 each way – which is actually down from $42 last year. Considering you would spend the about the same on gas anyway, it’s worth a thought. You can buy your tickets directly from the website or by calling (416) 454-5215. I like the idea of sitting back and letting someone else do the driving, being fresh and rested ready to start off once I arrive. And perhaps I’ll be able to take a little nap on the drive home when I’d normally want one the most after a weekend of portaging.

I’m on board

I wound up convincing some friends to try out this service for ourselves – with surprisingly little effort by the way. In July we will be going on a completely car-free trip. We’ll be travelling to Toronto by bus, then up to the Parkbus’ first pickup location by subway. In essence, we’ll be portaging up the wild streets of the Big Smoke – on a weekday no less. It should be something to see, and will probably be where we’ll encounter the most dangerous wildlife of the trip. I’m hoping to have plenty of pictures of this for a write up of our journey shortly after we get back.

I think this is a great idea, and I really wish the Parkbus project a lot of success. As a fellow idealist, I love the idea of giving access to our beautiful northern wilderness to those that this would normally never be an option. If you’re planning on going to Algonquin (or even Killarney) please consider the Parkbus option. At the very least, spread the word.

Oh, and if you’ve still never been portaging, with a bus service available you’re running out of excuses not to go. See you on the bus.

 

Paddle it to Protect it

Paddling out of the bush in Kawawaymog

So you’ve found a place that seems great for paddling. How do you keep it that way? How do you protect an area for paddling?

One method is by raising awareness. Throughout the year there are plenty events on major rivers and waterways to raise awareness and interest in protecting those areas. Basically, the idea is to have a big event where a bunch of people paddle around reminding people of the importance of protecting our waters. They raise funds, get sponsors and hopefully a little media attention. It’s very effective. However, there is a more effective way to protect paddling areas and canoe routes than by these big events: Use them. That’s where Paddling it to Protect it comes in.

The Evolution of an Area’s Purpose

Ever wonder why activities are supported in certain places? How somewhere is seemingly reserved for a specific activity? Here’s how it starts: One person or a few people find an area suited to their activity. They perform said activity. Other people see the area as somewhere suited to the activity, then word spreads until the small group of people turn into a bunch of people. All these people start make accommodations for the activity in the area, improving the ability to use the area. That gets the attention of the local governments, who start building infrastructures to support the activity. Suddenly, that’s what the place is for, and for all anyone remembers, it’s what it’s always been for.

A group waits at a portage in North Tea Lake

The next step is that – eventually – the area becomes protected development that would hinder the area for the activity. In terms of paddling, think of Algonquin, Killarney, Quetico, Temagami. These are all places that support canoeing. They’re protected areas (for the most part), have established canoe routes, published maps, outfitters, docks, trail markers, maintained portages, and any number of other things to encourage using the area for canoeing. Think also of places like the Grand River in southern Ontario, the Ottawa and Mattawa on the Ontario/Quebec border, the Rideau area. These places are pretty urbanized, but still have a plenty of support for canoeing. They are all used to promote the province’s travel industry, encouraging people to get out there and paddle. What started it all was people paddling in that area – and more importantly –  continuing to do so.

Why it works

So why does this work? I’m no expert on the matter, but I’ll give a quick little run down: For one thing, the different levels of government want to encourage people using their land, because that’s how government money gets generated and then spread around. Provincial/state and federal governments trickle money down to the areas that are being used by people, for example to encourage tourism in the area. Municipal governments are also trying to get funds to promote and support the areas for the same reason, but also are a little more focused on economic development – encouraging people and businesses into the area. Again, tourism – for our purposes includes paddling – is good for business, and if protecting and supporting an area for paddling is good for tourism, it means paddling is good for business.

Checking out the Barron Canyon

So if you want to protect an area for great activities like canoeing, portaging, camping, hiking, backpacking, the key is to go out and do it. If you want to protect it, paddle it.

The Alternative

The problem – and a big one – is that this concept works for everything, not just paddling. Think of all those places that are littered by cottages. Why can they squeeze so many in some really great places out there? Because people went and built cottages in a great spot (and who can blame them really), and so the local governments felt the economic impact and supported the activity. They built roads out there, then better ones. They re-zone; they build up infrastructure to support it. Then suddenly you get “cottage country”.

Okay, so that’s not a real big deal, I suppose, and in some cases it supports the outdoors (in a way). What about snowmobile and ATV trails? There are a great number of trails scattered throughout Ontario, and more and more of them every season, and with them comes accommodations, stores, outfitters, and guides to help out. It’s great for tourism, and for the most part I support them. Boating is another. When an area is used for it, up comes docks, boat launches and marinas. For all these activities, they support the outdoors, reserving the land within the area from more harmful development, so again it’s good, for the most part.

A bridge and trail created and maintained by snowmobilers

Of course when it comes to canoeing, often these activities can be in conflict with paddlers. A river filled with cottages leaves little area for public docks, portages and trails. Also, as a paddler I’m not a really big fan of ATV trails. In some ways you can say that it supports portaging, as trails are maintained because they’re being used by ATV enthusiasts – and as an optimist I’ll use the term – for the most part. Unfortunately while the majority of ATVers may be using the trails responsibly, it just takes a few to really do a lot of damage. A great example is a trail used to carry over a series of rapids along the Magnetawan river. It’s a 2.2km trail that is also used by local camps and ATVs. The trail has been turned into a mucky and grooved trail by all the traffic. The vicious circle ensues as the more the trail is abused, the muddier it gets, which makes it more susceptible to ATV abuse, with grinding wheels easily ripping up the wet ground. The worst part is that once it gets bad, people try to drive around the problem areas, widening the trail, only to muck up those areas after that, and so the circle continues.

When I complained about this, the retort I received was: “What do you expect? It’s an ATV trail”. “It’s not,” I replied, “It’s a portage.” According to the local government, they would probably disagree with me. Why? Because people use it as an ATV trail. If more people portaged, they’d agree with me instead. See how that works?

Use it, but use it right

View of the French RiverThis of course brings up another point: When you use the area, you must make sure to use it responsibly. Practice leaving no trace: Use designated trails and campsites, stay away from ecologically sensitive areas, and bring out everything you brought. If we do it right, paddling in an area will help the conservation of the area as well. This is key. The exception to the use-it-or-lose-it rule is when an activity is harming the area. I don’t see this being a problem with paddlers though. We tend to be more concerned with getting to the untouched lands and want to keep it that way. If you really think about it, paddling an area not only protects it for paddling, but it protects it from a lot of things.

What’s worse

Now think about places that are known for being areas for more ecologically nefarious things. Logging, mining, industrial areas are where they are for obvious reasons, that they accommodate their needs. But how often have you heard the argument that you can’t stop insert-industry-here because that’s a insert-industry-here place – they’ve always insert-industry-here there. If we used those areas for something else, the purpose for that area would be something different. Imagine saying “You can’t log or mine there, it’s a paddling place – they’ve always paddled there.”

So what’s your point?

My point is very simple. If you want to protect an area for paddling, paddle it. Get your friends to paddle it. Refer to it as a place to paddle. Keep the place a good place to paddle. Rinse and repeat.

Tell me about it

Know of an area that’s been protected by paddling? Know of an area that’s been set aside for other activities by people just going and using it, good or bad? I’d really like to hear some stories, so tell me about it in the comments.

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