“Sometimes you have to work really hard to get something really great and awesome”
– Teva, in our tent on August 26th while summing up the highlights of our day…
One thing I have always loved about my birthday is that it is in that sweet spot between summer camp and school. Except for a few exceptions, I have always had the freedom to choose exactly what I want do on August 25th.
This year, my birthday wish was to go on a three day canoe trip in the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. This summer we were all scattered, and I really felt we needed a reset as a family. We had a lot of other great offers to do fun things that weekend, and Aubrey had to trade away a bunch of work shifts, but this was my heart’s desire, and my family made it happen for me. I am so grateful.
There is something profound that happens to me when I get away from the craziness of our life to connect with nature, whether it is a short walk, a paddle, or just laying down in the grass in a park. But the ultimate experience for me is unplugging and going backcountry camping, preferably somewhere to which you can only paddle.
Yes, as I get older, I don’t sleep as well on the ground in a tent. But I do it anyway. It makes my soft bed all the more sweet that first night back at home. I feel like I am being rewired, which is a fantastic feeling.
I awoke on my 46th birthday to breakfast in bed, served by my boys, and of course, a chocolate caramel cake. Perfect. Then, I switched into high gear so we could get out of the house by 12:30 – 1pm at the very latest.
I will be honest, the first day was very stressful. We got out a bit later than expected – no surprise there. No problem, we were still on track to get there in plenty of time.
The first hiccough happened in the car. Our brand new canoe, tied onto the roof of Aubrey’s Prius was humming – REALLY loudly. So loudly that we could not speak to him on the phone (I was in the van with the other canoe tied to the roof). He tried to adjust the canoe, but it was still SO loud he arrived at the drop off with a headache.
We arrived at around 2:30, not too shabby, but then we realized the carrying yoke of the canoe had separated from the gunnels. After finding a tool from the local lodge, Aubrey managed to fix the problem, but now we were putting in at 3:20. Not good. We had estimated that it would take us 3-4 hours to get to our campsite. We double-checked with the lodge and confirmed it would take about 2 hours of paddling till we would arrive at our first portage. That would not leave us much time before dark. We would be racing the sun to the campsite. I really do not like setting up camp in the dark with grumpy hungry children and then having to cook and clean up in the dark. But, we didn’t have a choice. So we pushed ahead.
The kids were great. Some of them paddled hard, we made it through the 4 portages, 5 different lakes, and a few beaver dams. We started at the Eastern tip of Long Lake, paddled through a passage to Louks Lake, portaged through to Compass Lake, through to Crane Creek, took another short portage to Cherry Lake and then finally paddled to site 530 on Triangle Lake. (click on map to take a closer look at our route – we started at the big #2)
We arrived at the site at 7:05 pm with the sun sinking like a stone. We were all tired, hungry and more than a bit snippy. I quickly got to work cooking supper, while the boys set up the tent and Aubrey unpacked as many bags as possible. I will be honest, it was not a pretty situation. I felt terrible for the unfortunate campers having to occupy the site on the other side of the lake, who had to endure the sounds of us shouting at each other as we frantically tried to get ready before it got dark. It always amazes me how well sound travels across a lake.
We had a great dinner, cleaned up in the dark, had a small fire, and roasted some marshmallows. We got all settled into our tent, and fell asleep rather quickly. Unfortunately it was quite cold. I was very grateful for the body heat in our sleeping bag, but worried a bit about the kids who were not sharing a sleeping bag with anyone. Some of us slept well, others did not, but I think we were all happy to be there. I decided that night that my birthday would have to be moved to the 26th. The 25th was way too stressful to have been my birthday.
Saturday was glorious. The weather was perfect. We did everything in a leisurely manner. We had pancakes for breakfast and the boys did the dishes. I managed to do some yoga with only a few interruptions, we swam more than once, and the boys played “President” for hours. We gathered some decent firewood, including sawing through some very large dead trees. Aubrey and I checked out a potential portage route for the next day, and we met the occupants of the campsite across the lake who had to suffer through our arrival. I was relieved to see that it was a father and his 10 year-old daughter. It turns out he has 3 kids, so he understood our situation. Believe it or not, they were also from Bowmanville! They were super nice. We swam together, had some great chats and we borrowed one of their lashing straps when we were taking our injured canoe home. We will try to keep in touch as we enjoyed their company.
Saturday night, after a nice dinner, a roaring fire, and what felt like about a million s’mores, Aubrey and I headed out for a moonlit canoe ride while the boys continued playing cards. Lying on the bottom of the canoe, looking at the stars, I felt as though everything was right in the world. Best birthday ever.
Sunday we packed up camp after a hot breakfast of oatmeal. We started the 1300 m portage around 10:10. Erez portaged one of the canoes on Friday, but was not keen on portaging the canoe for this length of portage. This time, I took a bear barrel (much lighter now that we had eaten most of our food) and our 18.5 foot canoe. Aubrey took the same load, but ended up having to take Noam’s bag for awhile, while Noam recovered from some stomach cramps. The first bit of the portage was solidly uphill, but we managed. The boys were great. We made it through the whole 1300m portage with two short rest stops. We completed it in under 40 minutes. We met up with our new Bowmanville friends at the end of the portage, but they had to take two trips. It was a very fitting way to celebrate my 46th birthday – proving to myself that I can still portage a canoe and pack for 1300m and not collapse.
Before we started the next leg of our journey, Aubrey and I had a refreshing swim in Cox Lake. We initially misinterpreted the map, paddling a bit out of our way, but managed to get back on track fairly quickly, finding the channel we had to go through to get back to Louck’s Lake. We had chatted with some of the other campers we had met along the way, so we knew to expect a few beaver dams we would have to lift over. Unfortunately, we misjudged the second beaver dam, and the new canoe cracked and everyone quickly jumped out to prevent it splitting in two. (We later noted there to be 4 different cracks.) Luckily, we weren’t taking on any water, but it was a bit nerve-wracking as we still had two hours of paddling to go.
We made it back to Louck’s Lake and then Long Lake. Pretty much every rock face we passed over the three days, Erez would ask if we could jump off the top but we always said no. Finally, on Long Lake, we saw a couple of guys climbing a rock face to jump. They reported it was a known safe jumping rock. Erez and Zev both jumped off the 25- 30 ft drop a few times, and then we continued on our way.
We made good time on the way back. Erez was really motivated to get back to the put-in spot by 2 o’clock (an arbitrary goal), so we really paddled hard to get there (and Teva tried his best, too). Aubrey was in the second canoe with Zev and Noam, and they were really struggling to keep up with us, but they still managed to reach land only a few minutes behind us. We found out later that the integrity of their canoe was compromised (hence the cracking over the beaver dam) and that was one of the reasons they were paddling so hard without great results.
We ate a picnic lunch on the beach and loaded up the two cars. The canoe was quieter on Aubrey’s car as we bound a strap around the canoe to keep it from separating. All in all, a great trip.
We had purchased our canoe from a man in Oshawa off Kijiji. It was supposedly in mint condition, with him only paddling it once. He did mention he had installed a 3rd seat, which suited our purposes well.
After all the difficulties we had, we contacted the local canoe maker. He was shocked to hear the canoe had come apart and had cracked. After taking it back to him, we realized the person on Kijiji had significantly modified it when he put in the 3rd seat, including moving a thwart, which destroyed the integrity of the canoe which caused it to crack in several places, as well as causing the yoke to fall out while we were driving.
Lesson learned. I now know what to look for if I buy an after-market canoe in the future. The money we saved by buying it in Kijiji did not make up for the hassle of 6 hours of driving back and forth to Acton to get it fixed. We were really lucky there wasn’t more damage and that we didn’t get stranded on that beaver dam, a 2 hour paddle from our car.
I would like to give a shout out to Stu at Silvercreek canoes, whose customer service was incredible. He is fixing our canoe in time for us to possibly take another adventure in a couple of weeks.