The rain came in torrents during the night. Every once in a while it was interrupted by dry spells when the birds sang with great gusto, as it they knew something I didn’t. Then it poured some more. I starred at the ceiling. My bed was comfy and my room petit. Every once in a while a puff of fresh, moist air swooshed over me. I was cozy. A small log acted as a door stop, pegs lined the wall so access to rain gear was easy, and a slice of tree trunk served as a bedside table.
As the night wore on, it became abundantly clear that there was no way to get to the loo without the floor boards creaking even louder than the snorer down the hall. The good news was that it was indoors…the loo that is. One by one a parade of nearby roommates began the trek, picking boards carefully but unsuccessfully. I held off as long as I could.
Official wake-up time was 5:45 but nearly everyone was assembled around the long kitchen table before a head count was necessary. A hearty breakfast that included Canadian back bacon, a delicious egg dish and traditional baked beans insured I was fortified for the portages in my future.
Our personal gear was packed into larger portage bags and hauled to the truck that waited outside the cabin. The “two Marks”, our camp staff, pushed and shoved and before long all the accoutrements of a two day canoe trip were loaded into the canoe trailer. The truck lead the way down a winding gravel road, past clear cuts and log piles, towards the landing on Round Lake. We parked the cars in the large but almost vacant parking area. Those without their own PFDs and paddles were given company issue.
As it was time to move to our put-in, I climbed onto the truck bed and was overwhelmed by memories of travelling this way many years ago but in a much larger flat bed with a partially canvased roof. My work life had included numerous canoe trips with kids from the Children’s Aid Society. From Cobourg to the French River is a long way in the back of a truck. No seat belts, no comforts. No laws prohibiting the making of such memories. Just fun….. and we all lived to tell the tale. Lounging on packs we had lurched along, bouncing over railroad tracks and huddling into the gear to get the most cushioning possible. Yep, a mess of kids, an old truck and many, many memories all came flooding back as I settled against the back of the cab and watched the trees whiz by.
It was a short run.The trees closed in, the road narrowed. The logging truck that met us seemed pretty imposing. We backed up and squeezed by. At this point, I was not sure whether we were actually in the Park or whether we were still outside its 2755 square mile parameters. Did it matter? Not really. I was just taking in the surroundings, reminiscing and jumping back and forth from the past to the present. It was exhilarating to be outside on another adventure even with overcast skies and millions of not so friendly mosquitoes.
The first portage was pleasant… a path through the mixed forest, wide enough, and smooth enough for a casual walk. It probably seemed that way as I wasn’t heaving a canoe onto my shoulders. I can’t believe I really did that! This trip, my twenty pounds of camera gear, a paddle, a life jacket and me was all that I was required to take to the landing on the other side.Yep, it was a good portage to an unreasonably trying entry into a small unnamed bay/ lake. Here the rubber hit the road or more precisely the hiking boots hit the slippery logs and oozing swamp. The bugs swarmed and all hands lunged for bug spray and netting.
Jeff, my paddle partner, launched first with our videographer. The potential for real action shots was great as the rest of the crew oozed their way across the logs using their paddles as hiking poles. Eventually, all packs were accounted for and the” two Marks” did a stellar job at the heavy lifting.
In parade like fashion, the canoes edged towards the other shore and one by one the gear was unloaded and moved to higher ground making room for yet another boat. Red and Green reflected in the water as we each found our sea legs and the few hold outs gave up the notion of keeping their feet dry. Paddles and camera gear lay in piles as their owners moved all they could carry across the second portage. Pink lady slippers huddled in the underbrush watching and listening as soggy, squishy hiking boots moved past.
The paddle to our third portage was through tranquil waters but into a light breeze. The forest was thick and I anticipated the arrival of the first moose at any moment. The stands of deciduous trees still bore the light spring green that made them stand out against the dark pines. Algonquin is on the border between deciduous and coniferous forests and the spring shows this off to full advantage.
The portage process is now routine. One more maneuver and we launch into a bay of Craig Lake, our destination. The wind has picked up and by the time we reach the main part of the Lake we have a head wind. Not bad, but enough to remind me who is boss when it comes to nature.
I would say it was about a half hour paddle to the sand cliffs across the lake to our campsite. It had been set up in advance. Such is the benefit of being Group II. Another group had preceded us over the weekend so there was nothing to do but choose a tent and move in. My tent overlooked the lake and as I loaded my gear into it I marvelled at the beauty in front of me. At the same time, I was being thankful for an onshore breeze. If the breeze freshened even more, at least, I would blow inland and not off the cliff.
Down the shore, Jeff was raising his tent (he’d brought his own) as one of a cluster that also had spectacular lake views. Past his piece of the island there was a trail to the Thunder Box. A bag of goodies, TP, Hand sanitizer etc. lay at the beginning of the path. If the bag was laying on the trail, no one was in residence. If it was gone, it was time to sit down and wait your turn. As I observed the narrow space between tents and the nature of the path, I could only imagine a trip in the middle of the night!
A lunch break of chicken and seafood wraps provided time to just breathe in the place. An overturned canoe under a tarp served as a prep table.
Then, it was time to go in search of moose.
Our first beach launch into the wind wasn’t our best, but Jeff and I didn’t capsize so all was well. Past the sand beach we turned so the wind was at our back and paddled past moose meadow after moose meadow with no sitings. The landscape moved by in slow motion. The wind moved the trees rippling their deep green reflections over black waters.
As we approached a small island, a paddle went down to rest on the gunnels. A hand, with fingers spread, went up behind a head while the other hand pointed towards shore. There in the water, having her lunch was a young moose. She gawked at us. We gawked back. We slowly eased forward. She turned and with a bit of a splash lead her calf out of the water and along the shore before disappearing into the woods.The sound of motor drives stopped.
Slowly we turned and headed out into the main channel. All eyes survey the shore watching for motion in the water or in the bushes. Green, lots of green. Every shade imaginable. But no moose. We paddle on towards the end of the bay edging the grasses, avoiding the deadheads and occasionally touching in the shallows.
Back at the first bay, where we had seen the calf, we circle a small island. A young male sees us. His ears go back. He waits, watches and then resumes eating. All the rules about how to approach slowly, how to stop paddling quietly when the animal raises its head, and how to move forward when he or she resumes eating, seem to go out the window. The lead canoes move in quickly. The animal stares. His ears go back. He hightails it, splashing hard and moving quickly towards the shore. On land, he makes one last turn as if to satisfy his own curiosity or perhaps it was a look of distain. The lead canoes are elated. The others, not so much.
We head slowly back to camp into what was now a fairly strong wind. (Remember, I am a lily dipper.) My mind was beginning to question how many more bends there were before we would face into the main part of Craig Lake and have to go broadside to the waves to negotiate a turn to the beach. Since I no longer leap out of canoes with the speed of a gazell, I am thankful that my paddle partner was skilled at making the turn and running us onto the sand beach right on target.
Back at camp, it’s break time which meant snacks and time to just soak in the scenery and savour the moment. The clouds were moving out but the wind was still fresh. One of “the Marks” was busy making kindling. Coffee was hot, aromatic and refreshing.
A visit to the Thunder box and a fresh application of mosquito repellent and I was ready to head out for another perusal of the shoreline. One of the last boats in before our break had watched as a mother responded to the call of her calf on the far shore and watched as she headed out across the lake right in front of their canoe. Now I would have liked that experience. Darn!
Back on the water, the wilderness surrounds us – the occasional splash or rustle, the swoosh of a butterflies wings, the stillness. Most of the 53 mammals and 272 birds that have been sited in the Park were on holiday. A fair sampling of the 7000 insects showed up. I now know the claustrophobic effect of being encased in a bug jacket.
We move slowly and rhythmically towards the swampy areas where we had been fortunate enough to site moose on our first foray. The paddles dip perhaps not with poetic beauty but with a functional thrust that moves us, almost silently, through the water. With high hopes we approach a point and slowly move around to the shaded side. No buck, yearling or calf await us. We move on.
Ahead, a hand goes up with fingers splayed.There, sitting in the water amongst the grasses, munching away, was a single male. He was like a submarine, raising himself on his front legs , rotating his head side to side, and flexing his ears like megaphones.Then he would relax and re-submerge only to rise again with a mouth full of shoots. Our flotilla moves in slowly this time. He gradually lumbers to his feet, and tries to scratch himself with his hind leg as clouds of mosquitoes rise above his head. Then standing on shore, he looks directly into the camera before slowly moving off to the right with an eye to the intruders. Then it was a quick move onto higher ground, a last glance back at us, and he was away into the bush with long streams of his lunch still protruding from his mouth.
We meander for a while longer down the waterway hoping for the quintessential shot but to no avail. As we head back to camp the wind is lessening and there is only a ripple in the pond of yellow lilies next to the campsite.
Canada Geese rest on the water and squawk their way in for a landing. There is no question in my mind that this is a special place and that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to just “be” here.
Every camp day should end around a camp fire. Thanks to the fact that the fire danger in this part of the park was considered to be low, I was able to perch myself on a log and watch the smoke find me. When it became too dense or I started to cough, I moved on until I had pretty much viewed the fire and the lake from all angles. While the group was out on the second search “the Marks” had pulled together a great supper that started with fish appetizers followed by pork chops cooked on the coals, couscous and stir fried vegetables. Coffee and warm strudel finished it off and although I never found it, I heard there was Bailey’s in one of those packs.
As the sun set, I crawled into my tent to make sense of my belongings before it was totally dark. Once my things were sorted and my thermarest and sleeping bag laid out in the flattest place possible, I crawled out and dragged myself to my feet with the aid of a strategically placed pine tree. With the aid of my head lamp I stumbled, one last time, down the path over the protruding roots while trying to avoid the moose scat as a goodnight visit to the thunder box was a necessity. We were to rise at 5am. Surely, I would not have to face the mosquitoes again until morning.