Algonquin Park

First Solo Canoe Trip: Day 1

It rained the whole way up on the bus. I was really glad that I had made a second trip to MEC that week to pick up a small lightweight tarp, a Rab Siltarp 1, but I was still wishing for some clear skies. The weather report initially looked good with just a few showers, but as the trip approached things seemed to get worse and worse. Still, that was the point. Handle anything that came my way completely on my own.

The bus arrived at Canoe Lake in the rain and unloaded from the bus. I headed down to the docks to pick up my Carbon Pro-light 16′ Canoe at the Portage Store rental counter. The canoe weighs 33lbs and costs $56.95/day to book. Well worth it for the ease of portaging such a lightweight canoe. They have lots of options at varying weights and costs from which to choose.

It took a few minutes to figure out the order of operations of how to get everything going once I arrived. After waiting in the rain for about 10min to pick up my rental, I realized that I actually had to get my permit first before picking up my canoe. So here’s the order of operations:

  • Arrive
  • Pick up permits at the park office
  • Pick up rental gear at the outfitter (you need your permit to do this)
  • Put-in and load up
  • Paddle

By 12:45pm I was ready to go. Standing on the deck with my canoe and pack next to me, I was wondering how to get everything, including myself, into the canoe gracefully without incident. There were a bunch of onlookers hiding from the rain on the upper decks watching all the people starting their journeys. “Don’t tip the canoe getting in, don’t tip the canoe…”, I thought to myself. I didn’t. Everything went smoothly and I was off.

Now paddling. I had solo canoed many times, and I am a strong and confident paddler. But I had never soloed distances or to a destination. Always just along the shore on calm water. I paddled reversed in the canoe. So, I sat on the bow seat facing the other direction to place me more in the middle of the canoe without having to sit on my knees. And I put my pack up at the front (stern) just behind the seat to balance the weight. The pack was only about 30lbs and I weigh about 170lbs, so I was still back heavy which I worried would be problematic if it was windy. If I did face wind that was unmanageable, I decided I would try to move forward more onto my knees to balance the canoe even more.

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I was really lucky with the wind. It was calm and any wind was at my back. It was still raining, lightly. The paddling was the part I was most worried about. I know what it feels like even with two people to struggle against the wind. I was worried to face that on my own. I only had about 6-8km total to paddle, I planned it that way to keep the risk minimal and the situation as controlled as possible. I hadn’t paddled in years, and solo is a whole different ballgame. I very quickly started feeling muscles I had forgotten about. As I paddled I realized how much corrective stroke paddling solo requires. Almost every stroke ended up a J-stroke to keep a straight line, otherwise I was veering off every 10 seconds. By the time I reached the portage into Joe Lake, I was definitely a little sore. The paddle across the lake took about an hour.

The portage into Joe Lake is short, flat and simple. It’s pretty much a dirt road. Because of this, I later learned that Joe Lake is a high traffic lake frequently used by groups of people bringing larger items not really for the back-country (coolers, radios, things used more for car camping) and abusing the sites. But more on that later. The portage was super easy, and with a 33lb canoe, it took all of 10min to get through. I still did two trips for the pack and the canoe. I was through to the other side really quickly. Now it was just a matter of finding a nice campsite that I would call home for 2 nights.

There are a lot of campsites to choose from, but all the sites on the southern side of the lake seemed to have hiking trails connecting to them nearby. I wanted solitude so I aimed for the north side. There were two sites on the north side just north of the island and east of the passage to Tepee Lake. From a distance they looked nice. A big rock outcropping, and a nice landing and covered area. I started heading that direction. There were a few other canoes on the lake coming in looking for spots, so i was trying to get ahead of them all to find the best available site.

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When i was about halfway there a two man canoe was approaching from the east. They didn’t seem to have packs in the canoe so I wasn’t sure where they were headed, I hoped they were just out for a paddle and passing by. I picked up the pace, I wanted that site. They had the wind at their backs and they were faster with two. They indeed pulled into the campsite I wanted just a minute or two ahead of me. Worried that I would lose a site in this near miss, I quickly turned around and paddled to a campsite on the south side directly behind me. The site was OK, but not what i wanted. I pulled up but didn’t get out. I stopped and watched them to see if they’d move on. They walked up to the rock outcrop, I wasn’t sure what they were doing. They had no gear, but maybe they were quickly grabbing the spot early for a bigger group coming in, after all there was a second site really close by. When they got out onto the rocks they starting dancing together, they skipped around in circles, they jumped around and hugged, danced some more and high-fived. Was it some kind of taunting show for me because they got the site? I was so annoyed and about to start unloading at this site. Then as quickly as they came in, they got back in their canoe and left. Happily, I booked it for the other side and pulled in.

The site was huge, and I couldn’t tell where the line was between this and the site next to it. I hoped no one would take the other site so that I’d have some solitude. The first thing I noticed was granola bar wrappers on the ground. I picked them up and put them in my pack out garbage. Leave no trace. Even if it isn’t your trace! I quickly unloaded and looked for a tent pad. There weren’t many good options. There was a lot of rock, and all the spots that seemed decent would be difficult to peg into and right out in the open. I found a spot just back from the rocks beneath a big Pine Tree that was OK. But the rocks sloped downward toward the pad. Still, I set up my MSR Hubba Hubba tent there to start.

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I love this tent. It’s light and surprisingly spacious for it’s size. An exit point on each side, each with it’s own vestibule. I was torn between which tent I should bring on this trip. I also have a Hennessy Expedition Asym Zip Hammock. For some reason I was hesitant to use the Hammock though. I think I was worried about bears being curious about the hanging giant thing. I went with the tent. I didn’t want bears nibbling at my bum while I slept.

After i set up my tent, I started on the rest of the site. I set up a clothes line to hang already sweaty clothes. I brought the kitchen kit and food bag, an Ursack Bear Bag, down to the campfire area. Before I did the rest, I really wanted to go for a swim. I was hot and I wanted to reward myself for my efforts thus far. I hung my sweaty clothes on the line, changed into my swimsuit and jumped in the lake. It was so good. It felt so good to be out there on my own. I felt proud of myself for getting over my fears and just doing it. This was a big personal achievement for me. I was here, I was here on my own, and it felt great.

I got out of the water, and started prepping lunch. I didn’t want to bother with “cooking” on this trip. I played it safe and brought all dehydrated ready to eat meals which just required adding water. I also brought a generous supply of jerky, peanut butter, tortillas and snacks for daytime munching. I pre-prepped and planned all of the meals down to having ziplocks with premixed granola and powdered milk for each breakfast meal that I could just add water to and eat. I also premixed instant coffee and powdered milk for each coffee. The most I would have to do was just boil water. Easy. I have a Optimus Crux LPG stove which I find to be a great lightweight solo stove. It served me well.

Lunch was peanut butter and tortillas with some jerky and a cliff bar. I finished up and started to prep things I would need for the evening. I wanted a fire. I needed to boil water for my Mountain House Chili Mac dinner. I find the dehydrated entrees to be decent. You can always tell they came from being dehydrated, I find they always have a certain grit or texture to them no matter how long you let them sit. I continued to gather some wood and just as i was setting up to build a fire, the rain came in. I ran back to my tent, pulled my clothes off the line and huddled inside hoping it would stop soon.

I set up a line to hang my clothes inside my tent and sat down with my book, recommended by my nephew Laz, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. A story about a kid who survives a plane crash and ends up learning to survive in the wilderness alone with only a hatchet. I figured it would be a fun and perfect read for this trip.

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The rain slowed down towards early evening and stopped giving me just enough time to start a fire and start to prep dinner.  I got the fire going and used my stove to boil water quickly.

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I ate by the fire and put away my kitchen kit. I brushed my teeth now, so that I could hang my bear bag with all of my even slightly scented items in it, including sunscreen, lip balm and toothpaste. I also just packed my whole kitchen kit in there to be safe. My pot and stove as well, just in case. I figured why not just keep everything together that might have a scent on it. I hung the bag about 100 ft from my tent which was actually right near the fire pit area. I probably should have gone farther off, but it started to rain again so I was making quick work of getting everything packed up and hung.

I hung out in my tent all night through heavy rain and read until about 10:30pm when I started dozing off. I hoped my tent would hold up through a night of rain and that I’d stay dry. I turned off my lamp and went to sleep for the night.

Day 2 of the Trip…

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