(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.

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.