Tuesday, September 21, 2010


This past weekend involved almost no reading at all, but this seems like as good a place as any to write about it.

The whole Stanisz lab took off to Killarney for 4 days. It was a bit of a gong-show, we had several people who had never been canoe camping before, and a seriously staggered start (group 1 set out Friday morning, group 2 Friday afternoon, and group 3 Saturday morning - having waited for the last person to fly in from Cuba on Friday night), and one group needing to be back in Toronto fairly early on Monday. Also, we were going in September, when the weather can be pretty iffy. So we needed a really flexible plan: 2 nights on Balsam Lake, followed by 1 night on Bell Lake which was right next to the put-in.

We spent the first 2 nights on Balsam lake - about 7km of paddling, and only 30m of portage. It threatened to rain in the morning, but wound up being absolutely beautiful by the time we finally got into our canoes. Nicole was supposed to come along, but wound up being too sick, so Sky & Firas shared a canoe, and I soloed mine. In retrospect, switching to an 18 ft canoe would have made more sense, but I really liked the prospect of having my very own canoe - and there was the whole argument I was having with Sky about how fast one can actually solo a canoe - he was convinced it would be about 30% of the speed of a 2-man canoe, and I was convinced it was significantly higher. I did really well on Bell & Three Mile Lakes, going at least 50% of the guys speed (although every time I glanced up at them, Sky was giving Firas paddling lessons and they were just drifting along...and I was starting to get a wee bit demoralized), then the little portage, and I set off happily, figuring we were almost there and feeling very proud of myself for having managed so well...and then the wind picked up. Everything was going ok for about 10 minutes, I angled myself so that I was still mostly moving in the right direction, but I was having to paddle really hard, on my off side, and I was already a bit worn out. Eventually I had to swap sides, which meant that the direction the wind now forced me to go in was not at all the right direction (and in fact, looked to the guys in the other boat like I was headed straight back to the portage!). I probably could have gotten there eventually, basically tacking back and forth across the lake, but I would have totally worn myself out, so they came back and attached a tow rope. Definitely a frustrating end to the adventure!

We had been hoping to get the two sites on a tiny island up at the very end of Balsam lake, but the first group had headed up there only to find them already occupied, so we wound up camping on another island, located in the middle of a cranberry bog. Probably not the best site in the summer, but it was late enough that there were no bugs at all. Turned out there was a muskrat super-highway going right past our camp, which was pretty cool.

Everyone was remarkably uninterested in dinner, but the homemade halal sausages and "sh'mores" later on around the campfire were a huge hit. Saturday morning started out with scattered showers, but then got down to several hours worth of serious rain. Luckily we'd brought the world's most enormous tarp which, while it looked pretty silly, did an absolutely awesome job of keeping us out of the wind and rain. Firas retreated to his tent to study and sleep, Kim tested the waterproofing on her gear in order to continue fishing, and the rest of us lounged under the tarp and chatted with the resident loon who was really curious about these strange people who didn't seem to like the rain very much - he was only about 10 ft offshore, and swam back and forth staring at us for at least an hour. Eventually the rain was coming down hard enough that a giant puddle started to encroach on our shelter, so Kim gave up on fishing and started digging a drainage ditch.

Eventually the rain let up, just as the final group arrived at Bell Lake and put in. I spent the afternoon napping and reading (sitting there watching the rain fall had been pretty exhausting) and we waited for the others to show up. Conveniently they rounded the point just as people started asking about dinner (which was arriving with group 3). After dinner we drank mulled wine and roasted sausages on the campfire until we thought we were going to burst.

Sunday morning we mostly got up early. Rafal, Lucy & Eve were headed off to hike up to the top of Silver Peak, and do a complete loop (involving several long portages) to get back to Bell Lake. The rest of us were headed back the way we'd come for a much more relaxing day. Which turned out to be a really good thing as Greg's migraine hadn't gone away overnight. We set out just after lunch, had a nice relaxing paddle, and then Sky & I left folks napping in their canoes while we headed off to scout out campsites. We found the most amazing site - space for two separate groups of tents, nice private thunder-box, gorgeous campfire site with some nice dry wood already waiting for us, bear-hang, and clothesline. We got camp all set up, had a quick swim, then Sky, Colleen & I headed out in one canoe to meet up with the three hikers. I'd been hoping to at least hike along the portage trail, but we managed to time things so closely that we arrived only minutes before they walked out of the woods. In another remarkable feat of timing, Adrienne & Kim had dinner almost ready as we got back to the camp - we hadn't been sure the fuel on the campstove would hold out, and they used up the very last of it just as Raf arrived with more.

Then we sat around a campfire until way way too late stuffing ourselves on sausages and roasted marshmallows. The fact that we had 2lbs of sausages and 2 full packages of marshmallows left over was a little astonishing. The 4 loaves of bread that didn't get eaten were a bit less astonishing given the amount of stuffing ourselves with sausages that was going on in the evenings.

Monday morning was bright and sunny. Greg was finally feeling up to enjoying himself and we lounged around on the rocks eating breakfast and drinking tea and hot chocolate. It was so warm that by the time we set out I was down to only a t-shirt. The sun was bright, hardly a cloud in the sky, and no wind at all. Soloing my canoe back to the put-in was no problem at all - I felt on top of the world. I love being all on my own in a canoe, with the whole lake spreading out in front of me. It's been a really long time since I've felt completely healthy and like I could actually rely on my body. It's such a wonderful feeling. Of course I pushed it just a bit too hard (really should have gotten Sky to drive all the way home) and wound up collapsing into bed at 7pm and sleeping 12 hours straight! Next camping trip I definitely have to bring my little inflatable pillow. Stuffing a pillowcase with my winter fleece just didn't cut it. My ears are just way too fragile.

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