Friday, August 31, 2012

How to be a Canadian - Part 1.

Well, we are back from our canoe trip. We packed a lot of fun into the last few days and I will tell you all about it in two blog posts – This is the first and the second one will be posted on Tuesday, after the long weekend. So here it is...

How to be a Canadian. - Part 1

1. Get a Canoe.

If you type ‘Canadian Canoe’, into Google and look at images that you get back, you will see hundreds of photos of a sixteen foot traditional Canadian Canoe.  Normally it will have two people in it and with a background of stunning wilderness. Look at the river and it will be clear, calm and have an amazing reflection of the trees and sky. The paddlers will be using wooden, normally homemade paddles. This is what the typical Canadian Canoe trip looks like. This is what I wanted to do. This is what we did. Here’s just one of OUR Canadian Canoe photos. 

Canadian Canoe

Luckily, with Buffy working for an outdoor store, we were able to get good canoe at a good price and it was waiting for us when we arrived at Buffy’s brothers (Pat) house on Sunday night.

2. Pack enough food to feed the world and put it into a barrel.

We had followed instructions from Buffy’s other brother (Stef) to shop for food for our 3-4 day trip. However, Stef had had a bit of a brain-fuck reducing the size of the meals from 12 people to 4. (He has been working with the Kids camp all summer helping out with their canoe trips) So we ended up with so much food we didn’t know what to do with! Eventually the food was separated into bags of ingredients for each meal and stuffed into an airtight and hopefully bear proof barrel – while the extra tins of stuff went into a red backpack – it weighed a ton. While this was all happening, Pats housemate, Paul, decided to feed his pet piranhas – with live goldfish. This caused a whole lot of excitement for us, until the piranhas gave up chasing the goldfish and we ended up sleeping on the sofas, ready for our early morning start. (One goldfish was eaten during the night, but the rest lasted at least one more day)

Late night packing

Will it all fit?

The back of the car

3. Drive into the wilderness.

The drive north was good fun – listening to some music as we ate our breakfast sandwiches from Subway – where we were served by the grumpiest woman on earth. She didn’t look at us once and I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had drowned herself using the mayonnaise as she asked us whether we wanted ketchup or barbecue sauce – Ketchup only comes in packets, don’t you want barbecue? (Dear lord, please help this poor creature out of her misery!!) We drove north, away from the city and into the wild. We knew we were getting there when mobile phone coverage stopped and we still had an hour to drive to Manigotagan. 
Subway - The lads waiting to be served by Mrs Happy

Adjusting the trailer on the way up.

4. Meet a wild man.

Once we reached Manigotagan, we found C&M shuttle services. This is a company that drops you at one end of the river and takes your vehicle back to the start, for you to pick at when you finish your trip. It sounds like a big company, but actually consists of Charlie and his wife Marie (C&M!) who are two of the dozen or so people living in the tiny town of Manigotagan. We found Charlie’s wooden house easily, after witnessing the greatest bit of reversing with a trailer ever, when Pat spent about 10 minutes trying to get back to a missed junction, in a straight line, only to swing the trailer the wrong way again and again, until a car turned up and we had to return to exactly where we started!
Charlie waved us into the driveway outside his cabin and with a big smile he welcomed us and gave us all a string handshake before explaining what was to happen and we set off further north.

5. Breakdown in the wild.

Charlie sat in the front of the car with Pat, while the rest of us sat in the back, surrounded by paddles and food. The journey took us from a standard sized road onto what can only be described as a track. A slim, dusty, bumpy potholed track where the trees brush against the car windows and there are lots of deep potholes full of muddy water. There was one point of interest when Charlie pointed out a very elaborate and well maintained grave of a horse called ‘Freckles’, which had been buried years ago and was the favourite saddle horse from one of the pioneers of the early 20th century. After stopping for a quick look at that we continued very slowly along the track, until suddenly we smelled something strange and almost immediately, steam started to burst out of the car bonnet. Bugar.

The car had overheated, but luckily apart from losing all the coolant there looked to be no damage, so we filled our water bottles from a nearby puddle and after the car cooled down, we made it the final 7 kilometres to the lake where we were to start out 72 kilometre trip back along the river to Charlie’s place. Charlie left us in Pats car right on 1pm an just ten minutes later our wilderness adventure started properly.

The grave of Freckles


Charlie doesnt look too happy!

The solution!! More water.

It took all this and more

Packed, waterborne and ready...

Here we go....

6. Portage a canoe. (And a stupidly big ‘canoe pack’)

The first ten minutes of the trip were easy – a lovely day, cool calm water and a slight cooling breeze. Then we got to my first ever portage. Now for those that don’t know, it isn’t always possible to paddle a boat along all parts of a river. At some points, the river may be too low and it will have too many rocks or boulders to get past. At other points it may have waterfalls, or rapids that are just too dangerous to paddle through. At these points, you paddle to the side of the river and then carry - everything – alongside the river, past the rapids or falls and then put it all back in before continuing the boat trip. This is called a Portage. I would also call it a pain in the arse. Now, at the start of our trip we had a canoe full of our food, clothes, tent and sleeping stuff all packed into waterproofed bags and then into backpacks and one especially large pack, which weighed about 40kilos. The Canoe pack.

This canoe pack is what you are supposed to use to transport your stuff in a canoe, but it is massive and fits so much stuff in it, that not only is it a nightmare to lift, but it also unbalances the canoe a little when you are paddling. We also had the two Kayaks that were being paddled by Pat and Stef, so their kit was also in the canoe, making it very heavy.

Anyway, we did three portages on the first afternoon, the longest being about 400metres along a path cut through the woods. It was a bit of s struggle the first time, but over the next few days we got a bit of a system going and I even had a couple of go’s at portaging the 16 foot canoe itself, which you balance on your shoulders and walk along, trying not to take out any trees as you go!!

Nice headband Pat

Small rapids

Looking good...


The canoe pack....why is it so big and heavy!?

Thats better - I balanced it with another pack

Stef and his kayak

7. Camp in the wilderness.

After about 4 hours of paddling, shooting some rapids in the kayaks and portaging the stuff around some others, we eventually stopped at our first campsite. Now this is not your usual campsite with showers, toilets, running water and a shop. This is backcountry camping and the only facilities are a drop toilet (to stop people ruining things by pooing and peeing in the campsite itself) and a small metal grate where you have your campfire (to stop people burning down the woods) That is it.
There is a small clearing where you can put one tent. If you want a shower, running water or a swim, then you walk about 6 feet down to the river and there it is – all the fresh cool water you will ever need. We camped at a site just above a waterfall, with a stunning view and the background noise of running water. It was peaceful, beautiful and lovely. The evening was spent cooking and eating ‘trail pizza’ (made there and then using flatbread with pizza sauce, cheese and pepperoni) after cooking it on the open fire, before we just sat around chatting and enjoying the scenery as the moon rose and the stars came out on the end of our first day.

1st camp



Cooking pizza!

Ok views

Night time fire.


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