Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to be a Canadian - part 2.

I’m writing this as I'm sat in the porch of the cabin at Lake of the Woods. It was a lazy morning followed by me and Buffy making breakfast. Now, the afternoon will be spent lazing around, doing the blog and maybe a beer or two. Plus I am wearing my new ‘keen’, shoes and will play with my new camera later. New shoes and new camera I hear you say? Well, read on and you will find out why I have new ones and why the old ones are beyond help......

How to be a Canadian. - Part 2.

7. See bears in the wild from the comfort of a canoe.

After a pretty good night’s sleep in the 5 man tent, we were up around 8am and eating breakfast burritos, made by ‘Camp chef Stef’, by 9am. Soon after we packed up the bags and the stupidly huge canoe pack, loaded up the canoe and set off again. It was a glorious warm and sunny morning and we made good time as we paddled along the river. About mid morning Pat stopped in his kayak and started to make loud noises whilst staring in to the trees by the riverside. As he did so, we all saw a family of 3 or 4 bears plodding up and away from the strange man in his kayak who was shouting at them. It’s not the first set of bears I have seen in the wild here, but it was pretty special to see them without anyone else about and from the comfort of a canoe.

8. See Moose (or at least a fleeting glance at a moose arse)

Only a few short minutes after the excitement of the bears, Pat stopped again and stared at the opposite bank of the river – he had seen something else and as he shouted loudly to see if it moved, we all saw a huge great brown arse of a moose as it too ran away from the strange man in a kayak. This was the first time I had seen a moose in the wild and made for a very exciting few minutes – plus Pat had ticked off two of the things he wanted to see on this trip – very very cool!!

There were only three portages this morning and we made good time, stopping for lunch of peanut butter and wraps about 1pm. Then we decided to have a swap around and myself and Buffy took the kayaks for the afternoon while Pat and Stef took our places in the canoe.

Pats natty headband




stop that kayak

9. Paddle a kayak all alone in the Canadian wilderness.

I set off with Buffy, but she held back waiting for the lads in the canoe. I took full advantage and headed off on my own, about half a mile ahead of everyone else. At that distance I couldn’t see them most of the time as they were back around bends in the river, so for the first time, I was truly alone in the wild. It was awesome as I felt the breeze on my face, the sun beating down on my back and saw deer running out of the water, into the long grass as I approached them. It was a really cool afternoon. We got back together and shot some rapids, which had the remains of a metal boat wrapped around a rock from some previous failure. I nearly hit the very same rock in my kayak, but thankfully made it through...just! We finally stopped after a 22km day and made camp above some small rapids. The Cowtans decided to try and swim through the rapids, but after Pat had tried and failed to do it without banging every part of himself on underwater rocks, they gave up and relaxed at the camp site with our new friend – A wooden man, built by persons unknown and left behind to guard the campsite. There was also 'gold' in the river - hmmm, maybe we should come back with some pans and dynamite!

10. Get eaten by mosquitoes.

Although the campsite was great it did have one drawback – Mosquitoes. We really noticed them a lot more here than any other stop – they were everywhere. After dinner we ended up heading in to the tent to get away from them. So we spent an hour playing cards (I won!) and then a long daft dinner game, discussing what movie scene we would star in, what cheese you would eat or what nationality of person you would most like to sleep with – ha-ha a fun night in.

Nice camp

At the waterfall

Heads in!

The Cowtan kids

Fucking about by a waterfall

11. Take mystical photos in the dark.

We headed outside after dark, when the mosquitoes had mostly gone to cool down before bed. I tried to take a photo of the wooden man, but ended up with streaks of light from torches on the picture. So we sat around and took some photos using the torch to create ‘laser light’ and ‘balls of energy’ for a laugh. The best photo was of the two lads, in an un-describable pose, which I will post below. Make your own mind up what is happening!

12.   Add a cock to a wooden wilderness man.

One of the rules of camping is ‘Leave the campsite in better order than when you found it’. In the campsites here, it was very difficult to find a way to improve an already top notch campsite, so we decided to improve it by drawing a face and adding a cock to the standing wooden man. I do not intend to explain this anymore!!!

Pats new friend

...looks after us while we sleep

..comes alive at night!

use the force...

hahaha need I say more?

13. Paddle a fully loaded canoe in rapids.

By now we were getting good at manoeuvring and paddling the canoe, so when we hit some small grade 1-2 rapids, we decided to try and paddle right on through them. It was really a great plan as we made the first couple of rapids easily and saved a whole lot of time – not to mention how much fun it was.

The broken kayak.... just missed.

All by myself

14. Capsize a fully loaded canoe in rapids. (And destroy a camera)

The third rapids we hit caused a little bit more of an issue. Our confidence was high and we started great, but unfortunately we got a little bit sideways, the canoe rocked and suddenly the sky went from being above us to below and then above us again, interspersed with a sudden jolt of water and the slowed down ‘car crash’ feeling. I surfaced in the river to see Buffy at the rear of the canoe, holding on, while all our bags and equipment had amazingly stayed within the confines of the canoe itself – even though it was now upside down and the bags were floating below it. We dragged the canoe over to the river bank and spent 10 minutes getting the bags ashore and emptying the water from the boat, before loading back up and setting off again. It was only an hour later, when I went to take some photos, that I discovered my camera, which was in a ‘dry bag’, in my pocket was actually now in a ‘soaking wet bag’, in my pocket and beyond economical repair. I actually laughed at this because the camera was already on its way out and I now had an excuse to go and buy myself a better newer camera, when we got back home.

another nice campsite

yes, we gave him a cock!

Stef in the whitewater

Pat going...



15. Miraculously survive plunging a fully loaded canoe over an invisible waterfall. (And losing a perfectly good shoe)

An hour or so later we reached another set of small rapids, which after a scout by Stef; we decided we could also take the fully loaded canoe over. We set off with high spirits and a determination to make it over, which we did. Then just as we thought we had done it, we spotted a new burden. Just a few metres in front of the rapids there was a peak of water as it flowed over and down a small waterfall. It was probably only 4-5 feet high, but in a 16 foot long canoe with two reasonably inexperienced paddlers and over 100kg of equipment it’s not something we would have chosen to attempt. We had no choice though and so we paddled hard and true, flying over the peak and dropped heavily into the swirling water below. The bow of the canoe went under water and tipped sideways, which threw me overboard once again. However, this time when I surfaced I saw the canoe upright and with Buffy still onboard, albeit a bit wetter than a few seconds earlier. I grabbed on and we made our way to a small island in the middle of the river where we once again unloaded the equipment and emptied the water from the boat. We also discovered that in the hullabaloo, one of my Keen sandals had come out of the boat and escaped. It is now somewhere living the life of freedom in the Canadian shield, whilst for the rest of the trip I wore just the one remaining shoe and was nicknamed ‘Lefty’ by the Cowtans. Ha-ha.

What the falls we went over felt like....

the actual falls we went down - they are bigger than they look!!
15. Dry wet equipment in the sunshine and maybe spot a beaver.

When we stopped for the day Stefan realised he had left a dry bag on a rock back up the river and so he and Pat returned to get it. Buffy and me spent a while dragging all the wet kit out of the canoe and setting it down on the rocks of the campsite, where the still hot sun dried it all pretty quickly. We also had time for a quick swim in the river, when we also spotted 4 otters or beavers swimming along. When Stef and Pat got back we had another good dinner, before us boys spent an hour sitting perched above the river, watching the clouds pass by the bright moon and chatting about ‘blokes stuff’. Buffy was in bed when we returned to the tent, but it was a very hot humid evening and I don’t think any of us slept very well.

16. Get muddy (and leeches)on a Portage.

The last day was a short one. We had left ourselves just about 9km to finish and only 2 portages. Unfortunately one of the portages was the muddiest place we had seen on the whole trip. For about 40metres our feet sunk deep into the dirty wet mud and it made it quite a difficult task to carry all the stuff over. It was our last one though and we were getting pretty good at portaging by now and so we did it without much fuss, apart from having to clean our feet and my one shoe at the end.We also had a load of leeches get us during the trip - whether it be from swimming, capsizing or from the mud - I like leeches though -except the really sucky ones that you cant get off!



beavers or otters?

Portaging the canoe- slowly

getting the mud and leeches out

17. Break the world paddling speed record.

We only had 6 km to go after the portage and as we had been averaging about 4-5kmh paddling we expected to take 75-90 minutes to get there. But 45 minutes late we rounded a corner and saw the boys waiting for us, in front of the road which marks the end of the trip. We had remarkably improved our techniques and speed over the 4 days and made record time.
We took the boats from the water, collected the car from Charlie and after loading it up headed on back to civilization and a good hot bath at home.

The journey home was made in good spirits after an epic 4 days on the river. We had seen nobody else on the journey, spotted a lot of wildlife and enjoyed every minute of our mini adventure. There is now talk of doing this every year and I hope we really do get a chance to do it all again.

One last paragraph must be dedicated to Pats car though. When we got back to the city, he ended up having to drive the boat back to drop it off at wilderness supply and we went along, before he dropped up off at home. Unfortunately, his car overheated again, just after dropping off the boat. Luckily, it was just next to a McDonalds, so while the car cooled down I bought us all a well deserved McDonald’s dinner and after Buffy used her magic wrists to reseat a pipe of his cooling system, we refilled the coolant tank with ice cold water from McDonald’s drinks machine.

Looking back at the last portage

Pat and Charlie - getting the car back.

Only 53 mossie bites - on my back.

Finally, me and Buffy made it home by about 7pm and by 10pm, the laundry was done, the photos uploaded and we were sat in front of the TV relaxing. It really was a great week away. There wasn’t a second of it that we didn’t enjoy – even when getting eaten by Mosquitoes or flipped by the river. If you ever make it out to Canada, get a canoe, drive until you lose contact with the modern world. Find a river – and do the same as we did. It was awesome. Thanks to Buffy, Pat and Stef for a great week and all the hassle of driving, getting food and peanut butter sorted and for letting me learn how to be a Canadian.


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