I still have 5 or 6 articles to post about our trip to Kenya in March, but since I may or may not not ever get to them… Here’s something a little more current…
This weekend we tried a little experiment. The hypothesis went some thing like this: “ Can we take our 4 kids for a canoe trip in one 18.5 ft canoe for 2 days and actually make it home with all 6 of us intact.” I am relieved to report that it IS possible, but as with all canoe trips, there were some bumps along the way. And, as with all canoe trips, even the miserable moments are great because you get to come home with a great story.
We went to the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. First off, I have to make a shameless plug here. It was a great experience. When I called the park office to get some assistance with trip planning, I was lucky enough to get Travis Gordon, THE most helpful park staff person, helping me on the phone. Not only did Travis give me excellent information that helped immensely, but he dropped off a map for me at the Darlington Provincial Park ON HIS DAY OFF. That is what I call “Above and Beyond”.
In spite of our best laid plans,whenever we need to leave town, we tend to leave late. This trip was no exception. In fact, an hour and a half past our projected departure time, I was in still in Atmosphere buying a new pack to accommodate our 6 person tent, and 2 new sleeping bags. Not a good start.
Meanwhile back at home, Aubrey was not getting any cooperation from the boys. There were huge amounts of arguing, fighting and general nastiness. This was in spite of the fact that in the morning, I had crossed a line I had never crossed before. Aubrey had to do a delivery the night before, and he was trying to catch a few extras winks. I gathered the boys up and we brainstormed all the reasons why one would want to go on a canoe trip. The answers given were: team building, survival skills, enjoying nature, looking for wildlife, swimming, having fun, family time. My favourite though, was from my 8 year-old, who suggested that we could be in training, so that if we ever lived on an island, or visited someone who lived on an island, and the house caught on fire, we would be able to paddle away really quickly when we had to.
I then made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. I stressed that this was a secret offer not to be shared with their Dad. If they could get through the next 36 hours without fighting, I would give them 10 dollars, each. They were shocked. 10 whole dollars? Each? Unheard of! I never bribe my kids, but in this case, it would be worth it, I was certain. They seemed to be on board.
Fast forward to our departure time, 3 hours late. We already had to kick one of them off the island, and had him earn back the privilege to join us on the trip. The trip up was uneventful. it took around an hour and twenty minutes. We were on the water by 2pm. Travis thought it might take us 30 minutes to cross Coon Lake, but it only took us 20 minutes. We were pretty impressed with ourselves. Then we got to the big portage,1250 metres. Aubrey figured that with 4 kids, if we could do it in under an hour and a half, we’d be laughing. The boys were awesome! Erez (12) took a full-sized pack full of our gear on his back, as well as his backpack on his front. Zev (10) took a full-sized pack on his back and some paddles. Noam (8) took a knapsack on his front, and a knapsack on his back, as well as paddles. Teva ( almost 5) took his own little knapsack, I took our new pack and our bear barrel, Aubrey took the canoe and all the lifejackets. We were back in the water in 40 minutes at the other side.
Our campsite, #471 on Little Turtle Lake was beautiful. There was a nice swimming place, weed free. The boys had fun swimming from one end of the campsite to the other.
Within minutes of us reaching the campsite, the boys had come up with this elaborate game that involves bases and throwing pine cones at each other. If you hit your target, your target would join your team against the rest. There were endless negotiations as they figured out the rules, but overall, it went well.
There was a huge area in the forest with rock faces to explore. They had a blast. For the most part, they all took part in different aspects of the camping trip. They all helped set up the tent, hang our tarps, cook, wash dishes. It was great.
The boys did an excellent job of foraging through the forest collecting firewood, and had a great time doing it. After supper we made a fire and roasted an entire bag of marshmallows.
The bugs were pretty brutal as it was getting dusky (compared to the only hugely plentiful number of bugs around during the day), so Aubrey and the boys decided to hide in the tent until it got dark enough to look at the stars. I didn’t want to put out the fire, so I sat and maintained it, enjoying the view of the lake, the fireflies, and the sound of the boys loudly cackling in the tent. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would run outside, naked, clearly having been dared to do so. Eventually, around 10:30, it was dark enough to see some stars. Aubrey and Teva had fallen asleep so the other boys came out to check things out. We saw constellations and shooting stars and airplanes and satellites. By 11:15 we decided to pack it in, even though it still wasn’t completely dark yet. The perfect end to the day.
Sunday morning, the boys were up early, except for Erez ( who is 12 and has graduated to the “sleeping in” phase of life). We ate breakfast and packed up camp by 11am.
We decided to leave the majority of our gear under a tree at the entrance to Little Turtle Lake. This would leave us free to explore the other lakes without our gear, and didn’t have to rush back for our 2pm “check out” time. We kept our food barrel, and an extra pack so the boys would have something to sit on and set out on our mission: Shark Lake or bust.
Little Turtle Lake is a small, beautiful lake with only one other campsite on it. I felt a bit guilty as we paddled by, knowing that we were the source of some serious noise pollution – especially that morning, when some conflicts erupted between some of the boys, who were a bit tired after their late-night star gazing.
There was a small 67 m portage – no problem, and then we headed into Adams Lake. This lake was even smaller, and had a lot of water lilies and a fairly varied dragonfly population. The next portage into Sawmill Lake was a bit mucky in spots, but thankfully was only 168m.
Then we reached the next portage. It was marked 466m – piece of cake, or so we thought. We headed off along the shoreline, but quickly realized this was NOT the path. Where was the path? Straight up the rocks. The boys found the path, I looked around and thought that perhaps I could navigate through the steam, pulling the canoe along. Aubrey did a bit of reconnaissance and saw a small beaver dam, but it looked doable. Erez reported that Zev was already at the end of the portage, so I figured I could meet them at the other side. Aubrey was going to come with me, but I figured I would be fine – what could go wrong? If I got stuck, I would just yell and he would come and help, as it wasn’t that far.
Aubrey set off with the kids and I started navigating the stream. It was fun. Sometimes I paddled, sometimes I pulled the canoe. I lifted it over the dam, and continued on my way. Then a few minutes later, things started getting sketchy. I noticed that I seemed to be angling away from the path that Aubrey and the kids took. Of course Aubrey and the kids had the map. I could hear the rushing of water in the distance, and I was approaching what seemed to be a dead end. I gave a holler or two, and realized that no one could hear me – even with my loudest Mom-teacher-camp counsellor voice. Well, I guess I will just have to turn around – a tricky feat. I was in a narrow stream in an 18.5 ft canoe. I just turned my body around, and managed to back my way out, lift the canoe up over the beaver dam, and back to the portage. I was hot and exhausted. Aubrey and the kids also had all the water.
Now there was the issue of portaging the canoe up the rock. I had three paddles and two lifejackets in the canoe, and after a failed attempt to lash them, I abandoned them at the base of the portage and picked up only the canoe. I started climbing the rock face, but was too tired and dehydrated to move on. I admitted defeat, left the canoe and hiked my way to join Aubrey and the kids. When I arrived at Shark Lake, I found Zev, Noam and Teva hanging out under a tree. Aubrey and Erez had gone to look for me. Of course. They had hiked down through the bush to follow the water to make sure I wasn’t in trouble. Their journey was also an adventure. They were bushwhacking, and calling me. Finally they reached the starting point, saw the abandoned canoe, and came to the same conclusion I did. We had lost too much time to start portaging the canoe now, so they followed the trail to us. Paddling Shark Lake would have to wait for another trip.
After drinking a lot of water and having a snack, I was feeling a thousand times better, and ready for action. We had a picnic right there at the entrance to Shark Lake.
The boys had a quick swim after lunch, and then we started our journey home. While hiking back to the canoe, I saw a couple hanging out in a small waterfall along the stream, a little ways ahead of where I had turned back with the canoe. Next time we will hike in and do that! When back on the water, we paddled well as a team, met up with a few other canoes, exchanged information, and enjoyed the views. On our way back we saw some great birds, including a Loon family, and an amazingly close view of a heron taking off.
As expected, our gear was exactly where we left it, on Little Turtle Lake. While we were getting ready for the last 1250m portage, Aubrey decided to change shoes, as his feet were covered in blisters from his sandals. Aubrey realized that he was bleeding from one of the blisters on his foot. Except the blood dripping down his foot was from a large leech! Once ripped off with a towel, he realized he had picked up a whole family of baby leeches. They were tiny, and there were lots of them. Fascinating and gross at the same time. We were all glad it was him instead of one of the kids. We couldn’t even imagine the hysteria that would have ensued. But, since it was Aubrey, he just calmed ripped them off, and we all examined the leeches now stuck to our camp towel. He administered some direct pressure and continued on.
The portage went really smoothly. Our boys rocked it – they were so efficient. We got back to our car at the Coon Lake access point, loaded up, had a last swim and went in search of ice cream. What a great trip.
In two weeks we will be back in the Kawartha Highlands…stay tuned.