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Kayaks in June


Andrew Brown

There it is. I can’t believe it, this is the end, and I have arrived at last. Peeking out of the pines before me is the destination I have been looking forward to for a long time; the A-Frame cottage that will be the storage place for my Winnipeg bought canoe.

Today’s paddle was an easy one, just a couple of kilometers, a half hour paddle, no wind and I have a dog for company. It hasn’t always been like this however; there have been tough, scary, heart pounding times. I am earlier than expected and I have mixed emotions as I look at my granddad’s cottage. There is no reception party like there was going to be- just me and Max, silently gliding to shore. It’s kind of strange, I almost wish I could keep going, but I don’t at the same time.

It is definitely easier to end than to begin. Doing something you have never done before is difficult. I remember having some reservations at first.

I will always remember that first morning in the canoe. Once the excitement wore off and I was facing the water with a loaded canoe and the reality had set in, nervousness crept up on me. I busied myself with packing the rig, and then Laila and I went for a short paddle. I didn’t feel ready - I hadn’t eaten breakfast or even filled my water bottle. Poorly prepared as I was, there was nothing else to do but get in and go. I really didn’t want to anymore. What was I doing? Was I crazy? I didn’t know how to paddle on a lake, and here I was staring down Lake Superior, one of the world’s largest and heading into it straight on.

I had come too far not to continue now. So like jumping off a cliff when there is nothing else to do but step forward, I climbed into the loaded canoe and headed off. I still didn’t want to, I wanted to go back and stay on the shore with Laila. That would be easy, but something kept me paddling further out. I went under a bridge and was faced with some big water. I thought, ‘Here we go, this is it. One stroke at a time, maybe if I tip I won’t have to do this.’ I remember feeling alone already and it had only been an hour.

The water was pretty rough and I thought, ‘This is getting fun.’ I didn’t seem to care about anything. I made it past an island and started heading across 5 kilometers of open water to get to the point of land that creates The Sleeping Giant. The wind had picked up and was creating some large waves. ‘I feel totally unprepared; I haven’t been in a canoe in years.’ I thought. I got a couple of kilometers out in the water and there were waves white capping around me. ‘I hope I don’t get pushed across the bay to Thunder Bay - that’s like 20 kilometers away.’ I could barely see that side; there was a lot of water in between here and there. ‘Would it be easier to tip over and call it quits?’ I wondered.

‘I’ll give it a try, paddle hard on my right side, try and keep the nose pointed down the point from the Giant. I have from here to the tip of the Giant to get to the other side or else it might be open Superior for me.’ I won’t think about that for now. ‘Just keep paddling.’ I repeated to myself.

I made it, although I definitely drifted a few kilometers from where I was aiming, but I made the other side of the bay. That was tough, for two solid hours I had given it all I had. Up and down over each wave I kept going, never stopping for a second. ‘Will I face anything like that again? That was pretty rough, I’m sure it’s not always like that.’ I told myself.

Now the wind was helping me along the shoreline of The Sleeping Giant. It was a long stretch but I had nothing else to do but paddle. Hours went by; just sitting there paddling. At each small point of land I kept thinking, ‘This must be it, the tip of the Giant,’ then I was disappointed as more land appeared before me. ‘I have to go back down the other side in the opposite direction I just came from’, I suddenly realized.

Finally at about 6 p.m., after 6 straight hours of paddling, one attempt at peeing over the side, and a couple of snacks, there was no more land on my left side. Suddenly, with the direction of the wind, there were huge waves breaking directly in front of me. I pointed straight for them as they broke close to shore. They must have been about 3 or 4 feet high and I was amazed with the canoe’s ability to climb over one and fall on the other side and climb another. I had to face them on an angle, going further out before I tried to make a sudden turn to avoid being swamped. Finally, the time came, and I made a quick turn and just like that the waves were behind me, almost carrying me down the other side.

I had checked the map and I was heading for a place called Silver Islet, with a provincial park nearby. After another hour I made it to the small community. At one time there was a silver mine there, now there are just a few cottages, and the original general store which was closed for the evening. ‘Nothing to do here,’ I thought. I got back in the canoe to find a campsite. Paddling around a small island that shelters the community I pulled into a gravel beach and set up camp. I was exhausted and sunburned. ‘Wow, I have paddled for 10 hours today; my first day, and traveled almost 40 kilometers.’ So worn out I could barely cook, I managed to make some rice, eat and fall asleep.

I can remember that first day perfectly well, everything is still very vivid. Even after all I have been through since then, that first day stands out. Now as I pull the canoe up on shore below the cottage I am definitely relieved. There were many enjoyable parts of the trip; however, day two was not one of the more enjoyable.

I got up at 7 am, feeling surprisingly refreshed. Sleeping on the round gravelly beach was not too bad. I was thinking the store probably opened at eight and I really wanted to call Laila - I know it’s only been 24 hours but I wanted to assure her that if I could do one day I could do more, and assure myself too. I packed up and went to the store; I checked the store hours and found it does not open until 11. ‘Shit.’ I walked around a little, noticed a B&B, but they were closed too. I asked a lady on the street if there was a phone around. She replied ‘No, we all go to the provincial park as it costs over a thousand dollars to install a phone in the community.’ She thought the park was only 2 kilometers away. I really wanted to make that call, since I didn’t know when I’ll get to a phone again.

Four kilometers later, I arrived at the park entrance and made the call - I felt much better, so did Laila, so that jog was worth it. It was still before 11 by the time I got back to the community and I ran into the general store owner who invited me in to grab some junk food for my trip. Although late, I happily headed off for a long stretch of the journey that did not include any civilization. A wind had started to pick up.

The paddling was difficult. I was facing the wind as I picked my way along some tiny islands way out at the tip of Black Bay Peninsula, a long open stretch with many kilometers between any points of land. At one point I was just past Edward Island and heading for the next island but there was a problem, I could no longer see the next island. ‘That must be a fog bank rolling in.’ I thought. If I needed any more feelings like I was doing some ocean paddling, this was it. The wind had really picked up by then, strong from the south-east, pushing me back to Edward Island. I paddled for a while, hard on the left, trying to push on. It was no use; I could feel myself moving in the other direction. I let up on the paddle and immediately I was swung around and pointed directly at a beach. ‘Seems like a good place to land. Hopefully the wind and fog will disappear before long.’ I ventured. By the time I landed on the beach I looked back and could no longer see the other side. ‘I guess it’s for the best that I was pushed back.’ I sighed. A couple of hours later, the wind was still blowing, but lighter. The fog was lifting, and I could see the other side. It wasn’t too far but I decided to stay there for the night. It was a nice spot to throw up a tent and I was not too tired so I cooked up a big spaghetti feast. The sand of the beach was dark like coffee beans.

After that frustrating day, the next day was spectacular, beautiful weather, sunny and warm, almost no wind. I hadn’t talked to anyone since the store owner in Silver Islet, and I almost expected not to see anyone until I noticed two kayakers. They were a middle aged couple on a trip from Silver Islet to Rossport. We chatted for a couple of minutes, and then headed off on our separate ways. There are many ways to navigate these islands so I suspected I might not see them again. They paddled faster but seemed to take longer and more frequent stops.

The water was calm, for the most part, and the sky and water were both clear blue. All was silent and still. Not a sound to be heard except for the paddle in the water and the occasional birds. Sail boats floated by in the distance, not many, just one or two. They seemed to hang around when I was in the middle of an hour long crossing, as if to check on my safe arrival on the other side.

I was so alone, but the peace and quiet felt good. At lunch I stripped down and went for a swim without any thought of anybody coming by. I washed my clothes and I lay down on the rocks letting the sun dry me off. For the night I found a nice beach with reddish gravelly sand. In the distance there was a lighthouse, probably unmanned, but it was nice to have a building nearby for a little sense of the outside world.

I’m looking around the A-frame’s shoreline; there are canoes and kayaks everywhere, toys lying around. I remember that one of my uncles and his family uses this cottage frequently; he has two boys who must love coming here in the summer. There is nobody here now, all quiet, I will actually spend a night alone here for the first time in my life. I think back to that night between day three and four.

One of the most terrifying moments of my life happened that night. It was the middle of the very dark night, and I knew there was nobody around but I heard someone cough and clear his throat. I woke up thinking that something was not right when suddenly someone jumped on my tent and started smothering me. They were very heavy and were pushing on my tent to cover my face. I was struggling to move my arms but they were pinned to my sides. I couldn’t move at all. That’s when I actually woke up and found myself struggling in my sleeping bag and my hands were stuck by my sides. I pulled them up and sat up gasping. It had all been a dream. There was nobody there. I stayed up for a while that night listening to the sounds of nature but unable to relax.

Finally that night was over, and the sun was coming up. ‘I’ll have to forget about that night and move on’ I thought. The wind was strong the next morning. I managed a few more hours of sleep after my dream and was feeling good. I set out into the water, at the mouth of the Nipigon Strait, and decided to paddle around the south side of St. Ignace Island. After the first few strokes I could tell this was going to be a difficult day. I was immediately pushed to the north of the bay I was trying to cross. I struggled with the wind for an hour or so and could only go north, not the south/east as I wanted to. I stopped for breakfast and decided to keep pushing on.

Hours later and exhausted, I was bouncing along the shore, always trying to head south-east and ending up further north. Small openings onto larger water were a major problem. I couldn’t point my nose to the wind and had to move slowly along the shore, then get out and try to pull the canoe around the point. I fell in a couple of times and ended up swimming along side the canoe while the waves crashed over both of us.

Finally I gave into the wind and decided to go straight north up the Nipigon Strait. It took most of the day to get past the couple of islands that are at the mouth of the straight. But with the wind at my back I enjoyed a totally different paddle. In a couple hours I quickly glided up the straight. Sometimes I would just sit and relax and let the wind carry me.
I managed the same distance in two hours as I did in the previous six!

By the time I got around to the north side of the island, the wind had calmed down and it was beautiful. I looked across a wide bay at the mainland. ‘Somewhere over there are towns, people and cars but I can’t hear or see any of it.’ At one point I disturbed an enormous bald eagle. He was so close I could distinctly hear the air as it was pushed by those giant wings. What a beautiful sight! I spent the next 2 hours gently gliding along the shore, camera ready. There was barely a ripple on the water and eagles were constantly appearing and disappearing. The shoreline was filled with cedars that fall into the lake so nothing could be seen but water and trees. Occasionally a sandy beach presented itself and gave me hope for a good campsite. Behind me the sun was setting in a fiery red ball. I couldn’t believe its beauty and the mood it put me in. ‘I feel so serene, and peaceful.’ Thinking back to earlier that day when I wanted to break paddles over rocks and yell, it’s amazing how quickly perspectives can change.

For the night I found a white sandy beach and set up my tent very close to the water. The sun had almost finished setting as I finished eating and I lay back to enjoy the silence. Then, some snorting in the water broke the silence and I noticed some otters, curious with my presence. Poking their heads above the surface, they checked me out for a while, then one made a loud snort and they all dove into the water and disappeared .

Walking up to the cottage I can hear Max charging through the undergrowth, probably has a squirrel in his senses. It is nice to have a dog here; there is a different feeling to being totally alone, even a dog who cannot converse is good company.

The morning I woke up on St. Ignace Island I had no problem being alone. I really wasn’t, there were eagles and otters out there, along with other unseen but heard creatures in the woods. The morning was as quiet as the evening, the water flat and calm. I was excited about the day’s destination, Rossport. I had figured it would take me 5 days to get there and it was the fifth day so I am very close. The weather was cooperating and I thought I should be there by noon. For the first couple of hours the paddling was very smooth, more eagles appeared, and more otters. The lake was like glass and the canoe glided along so quiet you could hear the closing of the little whirlpools created by the paddles. The sun was bright and there was not a breath of wind. I paddled along for 6 hours and still was further away than I had thought. The idea of reaching Rossport by lunch was fading, when suddenly the wind picked up. At first I noticed a few wrinkles on the water and a breeze across my face. The wind continued to pick up and in no time was threatening to push me back along the course I had come. I decided to dig deep and paddle hard. I was determined to get to that town. I put forth an amazing effort for a couple of hours without letting up for a minute. I had a large body of water to cross as I had to get from the island to the mainland. In the middle I was probably four or five kilometers from either side. Needless to say that was a bit scary with a wind picking up.

Finally I closed in on some small islands that sheltered the harbour and cruised into Rossport at 3 p.m. Happy to be back, albeit briefly, in civilization, I made some phone calls, and had an excellent lunch. There had been some changes in the plans during the last few days. My brother Nick was not able to join me as was the plan. This means I have 9 more days until my other brother Pete would join me. ‘I think a new plan is in order.’ I thought. I decided to only cover the distance to Marathon in that 9 days and meet Pete there. ‘Just over 100 kms, I could take my time.’ So far I had covered about 160 kms in the five days! For the night I found the town park. The familiar sound of transport trucks rumbling past reminded me of other times I had spent camping on the side of the Trans Canada Highway. Rossport has no store, only 2 restaurants, both pricy, so I settled for camp food again.

I decided to head out from Rossport for a provincial park that is not far away. I felt really lazy that morning. I could hear waves and decided to stay in my tent until 9:30, much later than usual. Finally I got up and checked out the water- it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I set out, happy about not having to really get anywhere. At about noon, I came up along the shore to where I could see a beach. After pulling in I found it was a campground, and the provincial park I had wanted. ‘It was closer than I had thought.’ I was relieved to be somewhere for now and I could eat my lunch. While I was eating the wind picked up, as usual. I could sense another windy afternoon.

I sat around for the afternoon reading and watching the waves as they pounded the shore. I finally decided to stay put for the night. There was a threat of thunderstorms and I had a good firm ground for a camp. Also I could grab shower. I paid for the site, set up, and thought about going to a store for some junk food. At the park entrance I asked the young woman behind the counter where the nearest store was and she said it was a 10 minute drive. As I really had nothing else to do I walked to the highway and started trying to hitch a ride.

Only a few minutes later the boyfriend of the counter girl came driving out of the park and picked me up. I thanked him and said something about this being part one; I still had to find a ride back. He said he was only stopping in town for a few minutes and returning to the campground. My lucky day! I grabbed some sweet and salty junk food and got my return ride. The hot topic of conversation in town was about a missing girl from Toronto. There were cops and searchers everywhere. My escort had even participated in a grid search of the woods. She had been missing from the park for 6 days.

I was happy with my circumstances, firm ground, a picnic table with a roof, and a shower. I was camped on the shore and pulled my canoe right into my site. The place was nice, a thick pine canopy, thin underbrush and pine needles littered the ground. The waves crashed rhythmically on the shore. ‘I could be in Nova Scotia, but I am stuck on a beach in a sheltered bay on Lake Superior.’ I could only imagine what the conditions were like out on the lake. The sky darkened as the wind died down, the first few drops of rain appeared on the table- just the pounding of the surf remained constant.

Today is nice and calm as I explore around the cottage, sunny and no wind- things I never really noticed and always took for granted. The canopy here is changing, what was once a high oak and maple canopy when I was younger, is now changing back to the native pines that dominated in this region. A strong November storm a few years ago, the likes that sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald, took out a lot of the older deciduous trees. The young pines are low and block the views along the paths. It seems like a different place from what I remember.

I had enjoyed my stay at the Rossport campground but it felt like time to move on. The weather appeared to be good. However, as I was making the crossing to a point of land the wind got very strong. I was a long way from shore and riding over white caps. A boat approached and the men were yelling something about a small craft warning and it being illegal for me to be on the water with the winds gusting at 40 knots. It was too windy to hear them well but I got their message. I had been trying to reach shore anyway so I waved and continued on.

Finally I reached the other side and pulled onto a gravel beach, actually it was more like being thrown onto the shore. I was navigating the coast looking for a place to land when I got a little too close to land and, riding a crest of a wave sideways, I was deposited onto the rocks. Still upright I got out of the canoe and stood on the rocks. I couldn’t believe it; the canoe was resting on the rocks, not touching any water, front or back. Like anybody would do I shook my head and attempted to get the canoe into the water so I could carry on. This was a major task, sideways the canoe would get swamped with waves and I could not point it straight out because the wind always knocked it back. Finally I jumped in, took a couple of broadside waves and started paddling. I was heading for a small cove that I noticed on the crossing that looked like it was a nice sheltered beach. In no time I was there and after splashing up on shore I pulled in the canoe and lay down on the rocky beach.

After sitting for a couple of hours the conditions had not improved. I had lunch, a nap, did some reading, but had not come very far. I kept watching waves crash on the shore and they seemed to be getting smaller. I was not entirely happy with my little cove and I knew there was another one only a couple hundred feet away. ‘Yup, I’m going to go for it, how bad can it be out there?’ I wondered.

It was a huge struggle just getting in the water; each wave pushed me back on the rocks. After struggling for a while; I made it out past the breakers and into the rollers. I looked back to the head of the bay and noticed some people on a public beach. They were looking at me, probably wondering what I was doing out there. I moved slowly along, bobbing up and down, and from time to time, side to side. The waves came in and where the rocks fell into the water, the waves bounced off and continued in the opposite direction. I had waves coming from all sides in a cross hatch formation. Up and down three to four feet I rode, like riding a bucking bull, somehow I managed to stay upright until I made the next cove. I pulled into shore and disappeared from site of the beach goers. ‘They must be thinking, what a nut, what’s he doing out there!’ ‘I hope they know I’m all right. I’m definitely spending the night here. No more daring escapes for me today.’ I reasoned.

Well I had managed some good distance that morning anyway, should not have been out in the water, but came through unscathed. The closest to being scathed I got was being chopped by a helicopter! I was paddling along trying to enjoy nature, but there were cops and searchers around everywhere. At one point, as I was being carried along the rocks by the good wind, a police helicopter landed right in front of me to pick up three searchers. I had to quickly turn the canoe and plow into the rocks to avoid going right under the runners of the chopper. Crazy! ‘Excuse me for being on the water!’ I wanted to ask what they were doing there. I knew the purpose but, shouldn’t they be looking where the girl went missing? From what I had learned she had been hiking on a trail on the other side of the highway with her boyfriend and ended up lost. To be where the cops were looking she would have had to cross a highway, then get lost again, then cross the tracks, then get lost again, then fall into the lake. That seemed highly unlikely. I assumed those cops were just enjoying a nice holiday on the lakeshore.

The wind had finally died down, but the lake looked like it was still boiling. It was 8 p.m. and I thought after my experiences I would make camp. I was still a little jittery from the threat of wind pushing me out on the lake, being thrown on rocks, raging waves, and helicopters. How much more could I take in one day? Not to mention being stranded without really getting anywhere.

Thinking about it now I wonder if it really could have been that bad. After that night of rough raging water, I woke up to slightly calmer seas. I remember hoping to get to Terrace Bay that day. Right from the beginning things did not look good. The wind was holding me back at every turn. I was pushed across small bays, couldn’t get around the little points of land. Finally I pulled into a tiny cove and beached my canoe on the sand. The map I had for this area was terrible but I figured I was almost at Terrace Bay. I was steaming with frustration. ‘It feels like I paddle my guts out for hours and get nowhere.’ I wanted to yell. I decided to walk, left everything behind, and went in a straight line through the woods. I was almost hoping someone would come along and steal my stuff. I headed off into the bush, and it turned out there was a walking trail. I thought it was only a short distance to the town but an hour into what seemed like a nice walk in the woods, I realized it was further than I had thought. Eventually I came to the highway and kept walking; there was no way I was turning back. I was starving! Turned out it was 10 kms to the town. I eventually made it and ordered a huge lunch and a beer, then another beer. I felt much better about my situation but I knew there was no going any further on Lake Superior. I was going to change my plans completely. I called it the Long Portage.

I was walking back to the canoe, content with a meal and having talked to Laila. I was trying to decide my next move. The walk was nice; the trail system extends from Rossport. When I got back to the beach I noticed a large group of people there, and also my canoe was still there. The wind had picked up and there was obviously no way to paddle out of the bay. This group of people appeared to be a family there for a picnic. A man approached to see how I was doing. He introduced himself as Brian and we chatted for a bit and it turned out he is a huge canoe enthusiast. He pointed out that nobody canoes Lake Superior in August. The best time according to him was June. We discussed my potential options for escaping my situation and he was kind enough to offer any help he could. I decided to load my canoe on his van and get to Terrace Bay. I had already decided to take the bus to Sault Saint Marie, rent a car, and come back. The canoe would be safe at Brian’s house while I was gone for the night. Hence, the Long Portage was born.

That night was spent bouncing down the highway. I arrived in the Sault too early in the morning for the car rentals to be open and had nowhere to go. I tried sleeping in the bus station and on a park bench but nothing was comfortable. I eventually got a car in the early afternoon and headed for the long trip back to Terrace Bay. I was hitting the hay early that night, exhausted after that ordeal.

The Long Portage continued the next day, driving back to the Sault and setting up in a campground. I had restocked my food, had a shower, and did laundry. ‘Feels like a whole new beginning and I still have 4 days until Pete arrives.’ I felt recharged. We had arranged to meet a little further down the North Channel at Bruce Mines.

Sitting there on the shores of the Saint Mary’s River I could not have been more physically and mentally prepared. It was a beautiful day; except the wind, which was still blowing hard. This time the threat of being blown off course was non-existent. The river is so narrow that I could throw a stone and hit someone standing in the U.S. I felt it was a really good decision to give up on the big lake and try something more sheltered.

Finally the time had come. I had been sitting all day, ready to go, watching the water, and listening to the wind through the large pines. I had packed up everything, which was sitting in the canoe- the only problem was the canoe was sitting on shore, and me, right beside it. The wind was powerful, shaking the canoe on the beach, but at least now it was heading in the right direction. I had a hard time even folding up my tent that morning; it kept blowing around in the 40 km/hr mark. The worst case for me would be to be blown across the river and end up in the States. That would probably not be a big deal so around 4 pm, I decided to walk the canoe out into the river, put the wind at my back, and hoped for the best.

It worked! I got out into the river and the wind picked me up and carried me down the river. It was perfect. I didn’t even get pushed to the U.S. side. I got to Lake George in record time and pulled into the town of Echo Bay. I was so hungry that I ordered a large pizza. After receiving congratulations from the waitress for eating the entire thing, I paid the bill and decided to head back out onto the lake for a short distance to find a campsite. There were huge white caps on the lake. Lake George is very shallow; I was basically pushing myself along with my paddle.

The lake was only just over a foot deep for a long way out and the wind was keeping me close to shore. Every once in a while I got pushed into the reeds on the edge and had trouble getting out. At one point I was paddling backwards just to get into deeper water. I was out in the middle and heading for the far end of the lake when I realized I would not get there before dark. I searched the side for a place to camp, but there was nothing but marsh. Finally with very little light I noticed a small channel heading out of the lake sheltered from the wind, so I headed in and hoped for solid ground. I decided to pitch my tent in the reedy marsh, the ground was fairly dry and somewhat firm, but there was a lot of vegetation. Crawling in the tent I sank so the edges of the tent were way up above me.

The smell of the cottage is familiar. There is a lot of cedar wood in here and the smell is wonderful. The place seems smaller than I remember, as it has been a lot of years since I have been to Honey Harbour. It seems strange to be here alone. I am quickly relaxing and after kicking off my shoes I sit down to take it all in. My mind keeps going over my trip and I am brought back to a day I will not soon forget.

It was the day after my sleep in the marsh and ended on an island I never intended to visit. Early that morning I packed up and headed back out onto the shallow lake. The wind was still blowing but at my back so I welcomed the breeze. The first few hours were typical; I made good distance with the wind and was having an enjoyable day. It was just after noon when things suddenly got ugly. I was heading down a bay that had an island about 2 kms away on the other side. I intended to paddle along the mainland coast, close to the highway. The wind got strong and had quickly pushed me out into the middle of the water. The waves were getting bigger and bigger until they were at least four feet high and rolling over in foamy white froth. I was being pushed so hard that all I needed to do was put my paddle in the water and use it like a rudder and try and steer.

I had already picked out my landing spot; I could see a beach in amongst the trees and rocks. Steering was hard and the waves seemed to be coming from two directions. I would ride up on one and another would hit me from a different angle. It started to rain and I wondered if this could get any worse. I thought I would tip for sure- it was just a matter of when. Up and down I kept going, riding over the inconsistent waves, trying my hardest to stay afloat. The beach was slowly getting closer; I could now tell it was a private cottage with a waterfront. ‘I hope they don’t mind some company for a while.’ I thought.

Somehow I made it; landing on the beach I felt a huge sense of relief come over me. I tried not to think what would have happened if that island had not been there. The wind was powerful, even close to shore in the shallow waters, the rollers were crashing. The rain had stopped and I lay down on the beach beside my canoe. I was wet from the rain and spray and the wind was cold. I lay there shivering listening to the wind roar in my ears. The clouds were racing by and every once in a while a threatening cloud would come by to soak me again. After a while, a really dark cloud came over the water so I got prepared to turn my canoe over to crawl underneath when a lady from the cottage came out and asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. I have never liked coffee but this was one time I would not turn it down. I went inside as it started to rain again. After putting a few sugars in the cup I drank it down and was satisfied. We chatted for a while and I found out there was a sheltered beach just down the road. She also suggested that I keep my canoe on their beach for the day.

I was noticing a trend; on windy days the locals liked to inform me that once it starts the wind can blow for days and this cottage was no different. ‘That was not great information, and the only thing is they never mention how many days the wind has already been blowing.’ I mused. This wind felt like it was going to blow for a while, and I couldn’t believe how cold it was. I had all three long sleeve shirts on and I still felt cold. ‘I really should set up my tent and get in my sleeping bag.’ I thought shivering. ‘I think I am only about 20 kms from Bruce Mines, although I have been wrong before, I should have no trouble meeting Pete. I just hope it is not as windy tomorrow.’ The wind continued all night, so I set up there in the sheltered beach and waited.

At 6 that morning, just as the sun was coming up I awoke, excited to not hear the wind blowing. I quickly took down the tent and headed off. I hardly noticed how cold it was, my hands were numb trying to do things. The morning was beautiful, the sun coming up over the misty water. It was chilly, the air was clear, the sky was clear. I headed straight into the rising sun.

This week is going to be nice, alone at the cottage, and then some uncles are coming for the long weekend. I have never spent much time with my uncles so it will be interesting to get to know them. I start to unpack my stuff and in no time I have a huge pile in the middle of the floor. Seeing all my, and Max’s, stuff piled there it is hard to believe it fits so well into the small bags I have been carrying.

After four easy hours of incredible paddling I made it to Bruce Mines. I hung around waiting for lunch, and a beer. Bruce Mines is a nice little town, perfect for meeting Pete, a place where the highway meets the water. There was everything I might need, although I was still in pretty good shape from the Sault. It seemed a shame that the day was so beautiful that I could have actually gotten somewhere. But what a cold night it was that night - must have been only a couple degrees above freezing! It was also the first night I had spent without a tent. I spent the day hanging around the little town, not much to do there. I had expected Pete to arrive late in the evening and by morning I was kind of miserable; cold and still no sign of him.

He arrived in the early morning, it was great to see him and have somebody around I knew. Immediately my spirits lifted. His dog, Max, was a bundle of energy and seemed excited to get paddling. Pete showed up with a lot of gear, much more than I had. The canoe was suddenly loaded and seemed very different in the water.

We shoved off waving good bye to Claire with Max running back and forth shifting the weight in the boat. We hoped his excitement would soon calm down. The morning paddle was great as we covered a good distance in a short time. Pete even got a taste for some swell. A wind picked up for the last hour or so before lunch and caused a bit of motion to the lake. We ended the day in a really great spot. We found a First Nations reserve with a beautiful sand beach, and picnic tables under a cover. It was such a different experience to have company along. Everything seemed easier. Cooking was more fun, there was conversation and things to do. Having a dog along made a huge difference too. We could run and play with him and throw sticks and balls for him. The solitary life was over and I was glad. It was hard to be alone for those 2 weeks. It felt more like a vacation now and less of an adventure. ‘We will put in our time in the canoe and it does not matter where we get.’ I remember thinking. I had to laugh when I discovered one of Max’s favourite games; chasing the light in the sand from the flashlight.

One of my uncles arrived at the cottage tonight. It was a great surprise, I had just finished eating, and it was almost dark when Max and I noticed someone tying up to the dock. Max and I walked the path to investigate. It turned out to be Uncle Johnny, I was happy to see him; no need for me to spend more nights alone.

The sand was warm and soft that first night with Pete. It was a great spot for camping and I slept soundly. We got up early in the morning and headed out onto the water. The weather was good and we got in a couple of good hours of paddling. As the day went on the wind started to pick up and wouldn’t you know it, it was directly in our faces. We halted our journey when we spotted a pristine white sandy beach. It was completely sheltered from the wind. It was only 11 a.m. so we decided to wait out the wind for a while.

We loved that beach; there was shade from a tree, soft sand and shelter. I was standing at the back of the beach and as I opened my shorts to relieve myself, I suddenly looked closer at the plant I was about to pee on and it looked oddly familiar. I called Pete over and asked him to help identify it before I peed on it. He looked and we both broke out laughing. It was a very large, very healthy marijuana plant. ‘Wow, this place has it all!’ I said. For the afternoon we played cards in the sand, occasionally getting up on the rocks to check the wind. Every time we checked it was strong and the waves large, so we continued to play cards. Later on we cooked a large meal and in the early evening decided to try the water. Mistakenly we thought the waves had calmed down so we paddled hard into the wind for a while hardly getting anywhere. We decided to give up; it wasn’t worth the effort for the little distance. The tough part would be turning around, and as we tried we were hit broadside by a wave and there were suddenly a couple of inches of water in the canoe. So we were back for the night where we spent the day. We built a fire and continued to enjoy the great camp spot.

In the morning the wind was calm, the waves had been reduced in size, so we started another paddling effort. It seemed we spent a couple of hours paddling then we were stuck for the day. We were hoping today would be an exception. So far it had not been too bad, there were some waves. This was the so-called protected waters of the North Channel. I think ‘Pete is getting an understanding of what I went through on the open waters of Lake Superior.’

We had to walk our canoe along the shallow waters of the shore. This stretch was very marshy, and much of the old marshes have dried up with the lower lake levels in recent years. There were places that we portaged a short distance where water used to be but now, a new dry area was emerging. There were flowers and small trees starting to grow, and it won’t be long before there is no evidence left that this was all covered in water. We were at a beach that we had thought would serve as our camping spot but we decided to make a go for it. After carrying our things and the canoe across a small point we put in facing a dying wind and a large swell. We were heading out under the assumption that a provincial park was close by and that would be an ideal place to camp.

The waves were huge; Pete was in the stern while I was sitting up front. We had come out a good distance from shore, heading straight into the waves to avoid being swamped. I had a mixed feeling of excitement and fear as we went up and down over the swell. I had to time my paddling with the rise and fall of the waves. There were many times when there was no water under me as I reached down to put my paddle in the water. ‘We must be rising and falling at least four feet.’ I yelled to Pete, ‘This is incredible.’ We thought we saw the park so we kept heading at a 90 degree angle to it. The idea was to get to a point where we would make a sharp turn, pivot on a wave, and hopefully ride the waves to shore. Pete and I started working on strategy to accomplish this and finally the time arrived, he made the call and I changed my stroke to turn quickly left as he did some nifty back paddling and in no time we were turned and pointed to shore. The waves started to pick us up from behind and carry us toward the park. There were small islands that occasionally gave us shelter and the paddling was good. Then we would come out from behind them and the waves were unpredictable. At one point a freak wave came from the side and splashed in the boat. There was immediately at least six inches of water in the bottom lapping around our ankles. That was the worst of it and we were happy to make it to shore.

We found the park- really only picnic tables and outhouses. That would have to do and was really all we needed. There was nobody around, as usual, but there was a road so we were not completely cut off from people. Looking at the map we noticed there is a town called Dean Lake nearby.

We woke up the next morning to a thick fog, and mist. The waves were still crashing, and we didn’t feel much like going out in the canoe. We decided to walk up the road a bit and check out the community. Max was out for the day - it was hilarious, he looked like someone with a bad hangover. He poked his head out of the tent, checked us out, then went back to lie down. We headed off without him just as a bit of drizzle started to fall. It was a cool day. After a few kilometers we came to the intersection that must have been Dean Lake years ago, back when the railway was the main link. The Trans Canada is a few kilometers away so nobody comes through anymore. We were just hoping for a phone or coffee shop but all we found was a few rundown houses.

By late afternoon we had decided to go, it was not really that bad out there. It turned out to be a beautiful paddle along the delta of the Mississagi River. There was one difficult point that we faced when we made a crossing of a large bay, the wind was in our face and we had to paddle hard for the better part of an hour to cross but once we made it to the other side the paddling was beautiful. The rocks had changed along the coast; they reminded us more of Georgian Bay. I had a small taste of river paddling as we navigated the few small rivers of the delta.

By this point we had become experts at setting up camp. In no time at all we had our site set up with tents, a fire and supper on the go. We were closing in on Blind River and if we got some good weather we would be there in a day. There were some large Moose tracks on the beach that looked recent- no sounds from the bush though.

The next day’s paddle was one of the nicest; the delta of the river was beautiful with a thick fog hanging down over the pine and spruce forest. Gone for a while were the hard lines of the rocky coast. This area had a sandy and soft feeling. In no time at all we had made it to Blind River and pulled into a nice little park in the middle of town. There was everything we needed here and we decided to spend the day. We wanted to find a campground, have showers, and do a laundry. It turned out there was no campground here so the park would have to do.

Over a couple of beers we have decided to come up with a new plan. Pete was on a time limit and we were afraid we would end up somewhere without communication when he had to be back in the city. We had our maps spread out looking ahead at the route and decided it was too much to continue up here. I threw out an idea I had for a few days- going to southern Ontario and the Trent-Severn Waterway. We thought it over and decided to do it, so I boarded the Greyhound bus once again. Same as last time only I’m off to Barrie, and then rent a car in Orillia, and drive back to Blind River – Long Portage Part Two. The bus arrived there early in the morning, so it was a long night and day.

It is great to be hanging around Honey Harbour, John and I have been building a tree fort to pass some time. He is leaving today, just in time for the other uncles to show up. I have moved from the cottage to a tent area in a group of pines right beside the water. I am back in the mode, barefoot and bare-chested, swimming and enjoying some beers.

It was great to have Pete drive us back to Orillia. That way I could rest and do the whole trip in one day. We arrived in Orillia on a Friday night where we camped on our grandmother’s front porch. We had thought about sleeping in the park but it was raining pretty heavily and we were happy to have a roof over our heads. Granny seemed pretty cool with the idea of us sleeping out there. Our uncle John was there to spend the evening with us too.

The send off from Orillia was great! We were seen off by our grandparents and uncle. They took some pictures and waved goodbye as we headed up Lake Couchiching with a favourable wind at our backs. It was the 20th day of my journey and once again I was starting a new leg. ‘Three weeks in a canoe and I feel great. I feel strong and healthy, relaxed and rested.’ My mind was rejuvenated and clear. It wasn’t a bad Saturday morning on the lake; there were a few dark clouds around so the threat of rain was still there.

We hadn’t gone too far and were enjoying the quick pace the wind was allowing us when we noticed a boat approaching. Coming closer we could see it was a police boat. They pulled up along side and we bobbed there in the middle of the lake holding onto the side.
Pete and I had a leisurely attitude as we assumed we were not doing anything wrong- after all we were in a canoe, what could we possibly be doing wrong? The cops were quick to point out our faults and threatened us with fines. We had some cans of beer in the bottom that we were saving for lunch. Apparently it is illegal to have alcohol that is not in a closed compartment. We put up a bit of a fight. ‘How could a canoe have a closed compartment?’ we asked. ‘Typical cops, always being jerks’ I thought. They asked who was in charge of the craft. We held back our laughter and I said ‘not the dog’ as Pete said ‘Max is.’ Wrong time for a joke as the cops continued to lecture us a while about drinking and boating and causing death. ‘Yeah whatever, I know that is dangerous, but we were sober and traveling about 5 kms per hour’, I thought to myself. They said my whistle was not good enough and that Pete should have been wearing a lifejacket. We knew that is not a rule- you only need enough jackets for the number of people and we had that covered, even Max had one. Finally, they made us put the beer into one of our bags and let us go without the fine. Nice guys (insert sarcasm here). With that out of the way we continued to enjoy the day and made the other end of the lake in good time.

Now came my first real river paddling of the trip, and it was on a man made canal, very luxurious indeed! The water was smooth and flowed in our direction. We were sheltered from any wind and the shore was always close by.

As we approached the first of the locks we went through to get to Georgian Bay, it started to rain. At the lock we had lunch while standing in the rain with water dripping down our sandwiches. We watched the fancy boaters go by and I was glad to be doing it this way. ‘This is the only way to travel, quiet and under your own power- you deserve each stop and meal.’

We had been noticing that we were watching different scenery go by. It was obvious that instead of rustic, unspoiled coastline that is completely uninhabited, we were now lined on both sides by cottages. In the north where there were no developments we used to notice trees, rocks, and even cloud formations. Now we would comment on a particular cottage, big ones, strange designs, boathouses, nothing about nature was noticed anymore.

As usual the wind picked up as we were crossing Sparrow Lake. There was something with lakes and wind that did not mix with us. As we were leaving the shelter of the river a large party boat was turning around due to conditions and as we passed, they asked if we were actually going out onto the lake. We looked at it, I thought back to Superior and Huron and quickly said ‘yes of course.’ By nightfall, we were at a small marina at the end of the lake, hidden behind an old spruce.

The 21st day may have been the best day yet. The weather was perfect, the water calm. Sunshine and a breeze just light enough to rustle the leaves. We had luck on our side as we were looking for a place to have lunch; a restaurant appeared around a corner just as we were getting hungry. We had excellent food and drinks on the dock. We came through some amazingly different locks and one that was like a railway where the boats were lifted in the air and carried down a slope. At the end the day we were looking at the map we had and noticed a picnic table in the middle of nowhere. We paddled and found the old table with its own dock. Nothing else was around and there were no people to be seen. This just topped off the wonderful day. We were very close to the cottage already; it would be a short day to get there. The moon was almost full and lit up the water as I crawled into my tent set up on the dock. I was drifting off to sleep with the water lapping just under me. I was perfectly content.

I awoke at 6 am to watch the sun rise on this, the last day of the trip. After passing under the highway through a culvert we came to a dam. We knew there had to be a drop in elevation as we were skipping the last lock of the system. The pounding, racing water looked tempting, but we decided not to risk ourselves by going into the unknown. We unloaded the canoe and pushed it through the dam to watch it bounce and glide through the rapids, staying afloat. We almost wished we had risked it! We had decided to go to a campground for the night; it was close to the cottage but closer to the highway for Pete’s getaway in the morning and also had a shower. I was happy with my accomplishment and glad to be where I wanted to end. The last day’s paddle was to be a short one, and easy.

It was interesting to be on the east side of the cottage. I had always approached from the other angle and have never been over there even though it is only 2 kms away. A hot shower was the first one in 8 days and as I washed, I scraped a thick rough layer of skin from my face. My sunburn from a couple weeks ago had been peeling and piling up. I loved the feeling of my new skin, as though I had a facial, it was soft and smooth.

Pete left for Toronto and I paddled with Max aboard to the cottage. Max and I will relax there for a week before I have to get back to real life. Before I went the last few kilometers I reflected on the journey. It has been an amazing experience; I was faced with numerous challenges, especially at the beginning, and all I keep thinking is how much easier most of it would have been had I been in a Kayak and traveling in the month of June when it is less windy. Canoes are the vessel that explored most of this continent, and I have a small appreciation of just how hard it must have been for the travelers that carried goods east and west in this great country.

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