Moose Sightings

Last weekend, I rode the Parkbus up to Algonquin Park (more on that later) and was treated to quite a few moose sighting. For the most part, I did so from the comfort of the bus, but on one special occasion, I got a bit of a close encounter.


This moose pic was taken from the Parkbus

They say that if you want to see a moose, check the highways in the spring. In fact, if you want to find them, don’t look for moose, look for the line of cars pulled over. (Thanks to Ian H. for coining the phrase for this:  “Post-modern tracking skills”.) After a long winter, they crave the salty vegetation that grows near highways because of all the salt used to clear ice and snow the previous season. Highway 60, where it crosses Algonquin Park is arguably the best place to spot a moose in the spring. With the high population of moose in the park, naturally your chances of seeing them increase. It’s super easy as well – they regularly come to you. As our bus drove along the highway, we were treated to 8 sightings in all. Each time of course came with an array of cars on each side, with tourists vying for the best place to take pictures of the great beasts. Because of this, and how nice our driver was, we slowed down and were able to snap quite a few photos.


Nancy riding in the shuttle to Kearney Lake.

My route for the weekend involved a shuttle after the last Parkbus stop at Lake Opeongo. (I’d be portaging back to that spot for Monday to catch the bus back.) This gave me a chance for one more sighting, and again my driver was nice enough to slow down for more photos. I thought this was going to be the last chance until the ride back, so I took advantage. You see, I was able to bring Nancy on this trip, which I hadn’t done when riding the bus until now. I rarely see moose or deer (or wolves or bears for that matter) in the interior when Nancy’s with me. Or when I do, it’s brief. I thought the photos I got, not great having to take them through glass and while moving, were the best I’d get.


A couple more shots taken from the shuttle.

However, when I got dropped off at the portage to Kearney Lake, a young male appeared. Nonchalant, he fed himself while I unpacked – and tied Nancy out of view. From a safe, respectable distance, I took the photo below (and like a hundred others), when the inevitable tourists were attracted by the site of my friend. They all started to pull over, get out of their cars and try to get closer. A little too close, actually. The moose started to retreat back into the foliage, and I expected the photographers to drive off. But the problem was, I started moving my gear off the shoulder and up the trail. They thought they’d follow my lead. I couldn’t believe how close some of them felt they could get. More importantly, at this point the lines of people coming up the trail was driving the moose towards me. I already annoyingly had to organize my gear in a crowd and awkwardly had to move through them to get to the lake. Needless to say if they weren’t giving the moose any distance-respect, they weren’t getting out of my way either.

As for Nancy, she could now see the moose, and was freaking out. I don’t know if you’ve ever had your pack on your back, canoe on your shoulders and a dog leashed around your waist who’s barking and lunging in another direction, but it’s quite a challenge to move through people.

Close encounter with this moose on the portage to Kearney Lake.

Close encounter with this moose on the portage to Kearney Lake.

No worries though. The moose moved into the woods as I made my way down the trail, each of us not succumbing to our base instincts to act against the crowd. (I may have made a sarcastic comment under my breath and the moose exhaled loudly, which I can only assume is moose-speak for the same thing.) The people were gone by the time I had come back for my second pack, with Nancy left to wait for me at the put in. As I made my way back to the lake, suddenly from behind the trees to my right, the moose snorted at me very loudly. I stopped and looked right at him. He looked at me. I can only imagine he was tired at being gawked at. I wondered just then if there must be an unwritten rule with moose. It’s okay to be watched by the road. After all, they come out knowing the privacy risks. But once back in the forest, that’s another story. I’m sure I’m projecting here, but I believe as he stared at me, checking me out, figuring out what I was doing, he was saying “Now watch it, buddy” in his own moose way. I laughed. “Oh now you’re annoyed,” I (actually) said out loud. He snorted again, raising his head slightly. I turned my shoulders towards the trail and moved on. After a few moments I heard some cracking branch sounds go off in the other direction.

Quite a beautiful moment, actually. But only so because everything turned out okay.

Mo Paddles 2012

The Frozen Offseason

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

Sacrificing this baby face for charity

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

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

Wait, what’s Movember?

If you’ve never heard of Movember, it’s a month long campaign to raise funds and awareness for Men’s Health. It’s a world-wide initiative where men grow mustaches for the entire month to raise funds and awareness for men’s health – in particular prostate and testicular cancer. The idea is to remind men to get themselves checked out. It’s not a fun experience to check for Men’s Health Issues – downright embarrassing and uncomfortable, really – but going through this will find these potentially fatal conditions early, when they can be perfectly preventable and treatable. Movember is fun, a celebration of being a man, and what better way to be silly and manly than to grow a mustache. And of course because of all the fun, it makes it much easier to talk about pretty serious issues that often we men shy away from.

2008 – My very first Mo

Challenge #1

This is my fifth mustache I’ve grown. In 2008 it was pretty tough. Not many people knew about Movember, and let’s just say the idea of sporting a mustache wasn’t a popular fashion choice. As I went about my day, I would run into people, some that I knew, some that I didn’t. I felt this strong need to explain that the weird decision to grow hair on my upper lip was for a good cause. I saw the look on the faces of friends you bump into, grocery store clerks, business contacts, family members… I wanted to tattoo my forehead with “I’m doing this for charity!” It was a challenge, to say the least. Every now and then, I’d hear “Nice mustache.” Never knowing whether they were being sarcastic – no safely assuming they were being sarcastic. Either way, I’d get a chance to explain what I was doing. Most of the feedback was the same. They thought it was an interesting idea to raise awareness. It certainly got people’s attention, to say the least. And it got us talking about Men’s Health issues. At the end of the month I happily shaved knowing I did my part.

2009 – Cropped Mo

The second time

After a successful first run, and based on the amount of support and expectations of those around me, I was up for another challenge. The “rules” for Movember state that you must shave on November 1st, starting with a “clean shaven face”, and grow and groom your mustache. This makes growing a mustache an overt, intentional act. If I’m being perfectly honest, the first year I did what a lot of people do, hiding behind an outrageously big, over the top, bushy mustache. It started out as a “handle-bar”, but it turned out to be just a short strip of skin away from a goatee (or more precisely a “Van Dyke”, which is the technical term for a goatee with a mustache – an example of specific knowledge you gain participating in Movember, but anyway…) This time I was going to make sure to grow something that would never be mistaken for anything other than a true mustache. In that sense, Year 2 was more of a challenge.

2010 – I dubbed this one “The Cop”

Even Challengier

For Year 3, I decided that I’d have to take the next step. Here’s the thing: Growing a bushy or outrageous mustache is easy (or at least easier). It’s over-the-top, camp and quite clear that you’re joking around with your facial hair, like putting on a costume. What would be more brave, at least I thought, would be to grow an authentic mustache. With Movember becoming popular, I wanted something that people might think twice about whether or not I was growing it for charity, or it was my normal look. I’d shave it down to just my upper lip, and even trim the hair towards the end of the month if it got too bushy. Turns out I didn’t need to trim too often, just a few times on the last couple of days. But I was happy with the results. Not happy with the look of the mustche – oh no, it looked horribly creepy – but with the fact that I had been able to test my social resolve, walking around in public with this thing on my face: an intentional, groomed, I’ll even say “real”, mustache.

I should probably mention that I’m not big on rules necessarily, but they’re made to make Movember a bit more focused and challenging. Often people have consulted me on the rules, as I follow them relatively strictly, but I don’t hold other people to them. There’s no “Movember Police”, I tell them. I think it’s more important people participate than follow the rules. If you need to get a head start, or shave down mid-month, or grow something outrageous, you do what you have to do. You’re doing it, that’s what’s important. Way more important than some mustache rules. 

2011 – “The Zappa”

Grooming Challenge

After the success of the previous year, I was looking for a bigger challenge. Normally I receive a lot of input on the style I should grow. Some suggestions require an unrealistic amount of hair – most men can’t grow a Salvador Dali in only 30 days. Other suggestions are impractical. For example, I have, and never will, grow a “Hitler Mustache”. There’s always a few people would tell me to do that, giggling when they do. Yes, if I was looking for a challenge, sporting that would certainly be difficult, obviously. But because of the negative and even offensive nature of that look, I wouldn’t want it to detract from what I was doing. So I guess what I’m saying is please stop asking.

That said, I found the previous year a little challenging with all the grooming. I don’t like to shave every day, and have no styling or artistic talent. No, seriously. Year 4’s challenge would be to sport something that had to be maintained. I went with what I was calling a “Frank Zappa”. It would be bigger, and require much more precision with the razor, on a daily basis. According to the Movember rules, you’re allowed a “soul patch” – a slight bit of facial hair under the bottom lip, so long as it didn’t touch the chin – so I decided I’d indulge for this year, adding to the mustache complexity. It was a challenge. I know this because I loathed managing the mustache every morning. But it worked, and some even recognized what I was doing. I’d say it was a success.

2011 – “The Pencil”

This year

Naturally, I decided to take it up another notch for Year 5. What was the creepiest, hard-to-maintain mustache I could grow? The “Pencil” mustache. Unlike the others, I’d have to keep it trimmed down regularly, require much more precise shaving, and I’d look like a complete idiot. Now this is an overt mustache. I have no idea how I’ve been able to walk around like this. It’s funny, because while it’s much smaller than all the other mustaches I’ve grown, it seems to stand out the most.

Why I do it

I took to Movember the way I take to most things, like I took to portaging. First, I needed to try it, to see if I could do it. Then I would challenge myself a bit more each time, but instead of going further or faster or to more exotic locations, for Movember I would find different ways to accept new challenges. Despite my public exposure, I’m actually a bit shy and anxious when it comes to standing out. You should see my wardrobe: everything is grey and black, t-shirts, jeans and shorts. The idea of walking around with a mustache a few years ago caused a lot of anxiety just thinking about it. That’s why I did it. You should do something that scares you every now and then. That, and I thought it would be funny.

But what really kept me going the next years were all the people who have since approached me and the feedback they’ve given. I am lucky enough not to have been affected by Prostate or Testicular Cancer or any other Men’s Health issues. Like most people, I didn’t know how many people were because sadly it’s not something we like to talk about – especially us men. The conversations I’ve had with a mustache on my face have been, to say the least, moving. They tell me about their father’s struggle or their grandfather’s preventable death, their uncle’s or brother’s or husband’s ordeal. Every now and then it’s their own story I hear. I’ve got to tell you, when someone thanks you for doing this, it’s a bit over-whelming. To find out that so many people around you have a story about Men’s Health Issues is shocking. The fact that it took some kooky facial hair to get us talking is a bit sad. But then again, it got us talking, and that’s really the point of all this.

So help me raise awareness. Talk about it, mention it to your friends, checkout my silly photos on Facebook and Twitter. I’d love to hear more comments on my progress – encouraging or funny, either/or. Checkout Movember Canada. Consider growing your own Mo, or supporting someone who does, or voting for the best mustache, and if you can spare it, donate.

Most importantly, get yourself checked out. Early detection makes for successful prevention.

… Now what should I grow for next year?

Take The Parkbus Thanksgiving Weekend

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

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

Benefits of Riding the Parkbus

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

The fun of riding the Parkbus

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

Support the Bus

This is a service that I feel very strongly about, and want to support as much as I can, which is why I’ve been trying to volunteer for a while now. Scheduling conflicts prevented me up until just recently, when I reached out in the hopes they needed someone for Thanksgiving. Thankfully, there was a volunteer spot open and I grabbed it. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could fill this last trip of the season? So that’s why I’m writing this.

This is how I like to roll

Wanna go?

Why not join Portageur on a Thanksgiving Day trip to Killarney? What a great way to take advantage of me. I know it’s short notice, but that’s why I’m offering up to anyone with a ticket for the the October 5th-8th Parkbus trip to Killarney any advice and help with planning – at no cost of course – assuming time allows (so take advantage, and do so as early as possible). I can even offer to help with organizing gear and reservations if wanted/necessary at a minimal cost above the price of permits, rentals etc. – but again, only if time allows. In fact, to make this a bit more enticing, I may even offer up some neat extra raffle draw prizes. (If you’re reading this and want to get on board this prize giveaway, please feel free to contact me!)

Also, this will be a 7 hour trip up to the park with a group of campers and canoeists, offering up a great opportunity to chat about our favourite subjects on the way, and share our experiences on the way back. Best of all, I’ll be “on the clock”, working for Parkbus, so you might be able to boss me around a bit. (Note: I’m a very poor singer, and I only dance when the tips are large enough.)

If there’s enough interest, we can even organize some group activities while at the park. We could get together for some paddling, maybe take a hike or see some of Killarney’s sites.

So get your ticket while they’re still available!

Or you can nap. Napping’s good. I suppose I cant do that while working.

How to Join Us

  1. Figure out your preferred pickup location and time (York Mills, 30 Carlton St or Dufferin and Bloor).
  2. Get yourself a Parkbus ticket (Choose the October 5th trip, with October 8th for return, then click the “Reserve Ticket” button).
  3. Join the Facebook event to keep up with the latest information. Please feel free to post questions, comments, or suggestions.
  4. Figure out what you’d like to do while at the park.
  5. Either:
    1. Contact me or post within the Facebook event’s wall if you need any help organizing your trip or renting any gear.
    2. OR call the Park and Outfitters (here or here for George Lake and Bell Lake access) and make the necessary reservations.
  6. Get a good night sleep and get ready for a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend!

This should be fun. Hope to see you there!

Hiking up to The Crack might be a fun activity

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.


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.