“The best lesson I ever learned from my father was not how to fight but how to never be lazy.”
Never was this statement more importantly accurate than in 2006 when my 10-year old son Jacob and I, went on our second annual father-son canoe trip into the vast and stormy wilderness of Algonquin Provincial Park.
On the very first day, we managed to combine for over four hours of canoeing and backpacking (portaging) on route to our campsite located along the easily accessible, yet isolated Parkside Bay. I was very impressed with Jacob’s work ethic and initiative during our opening travels as he helped to carry much of the equipment and paddle non-stop until we finally arrived at our beautiful destination.
Once we had decided on an appropriate site to set up our camp, we unpacked our gear and set up our tent. While Jacob collected wood for the fire, I made sure that we had enough clean drinking water to last us for the week (fresh from the lake – delicious!) Everything was set and organized. It was the perfect start to what we anticipated to be a perfect week.
By nightfall that evening, I noticed that our large lantern was not working properly (okay, okay, I forgot to get new batteries) which forced us to cook and clean with the aid of one small flashlight only. During the night, the temperature then had dropped to near freezing which was seasonably uncharacteristic for that time of year. We put on all of the clothes that we had packed for the trip, but it just wasn’t good enough. Needless to say, we got very little sleep that night and I woke up with an incredibly sore back as a result.
After a brief discussion the following morning, Jacob and I collectively agreed that we should head back to our original launch site where there was a main supply store. There, we knew we would be able to pick up batteries and blankets and then comfortably enjoy the remainder of our trip. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time – plus we had little choice.
We canoed for another four hours back to the main launch point in relatively calm and sunny weather. It was nice, but very tiring. We then quickly purchased the necessary supplies (including chocolate) and walked back to the lake. Upon arrival, we were surprised at how windy the lake had gotten in such a short period of time. Of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, the wind was blowing directly towards the shoreline, complicating our plans to head back to our campsite.
Determined, we launched.
On the way back, we encountered what we soon realized was a very strong wind storm. The wind literally blew us from one side of Smoke Lake to the other. We faced white-capped waves and winds so strong that we were blown around in a full circle on four separate occasions – very dangerous in a canoe.
I am proud to say that neither of us gave up, as much as we both wanted to at times, and eventually we arrived back at our campsite six hours later. In total, we spent 14 of our first 24 hours paddling and hiking as hard as we could on next to no sleep. Talk about an endurance marathon! We were completely exhausted.
Did I happen to mention that Jake was 10 years old? I was very proud of him on that first day.
The next few days proved to be great, but also a lot of work. We continued to canoe around searching for good spots to fish and find fire wood. One of the absolute funniest and most terrifying moments (for me) came when I jumped knee-high into the water to cut a branch off of a fallen tree limb. Imagine if you can, about 100 massive spiders (I hate spiders) racing with lightning speed directly at you – no doubt pissed off that you just cut down there peaceful little home above the water’s surface. I screamed and ran for the shore, nearly twisting my ankle on a rock. I don’t remember the last time that I had ever heard Jake laugh so hard.
On the final night of our working vacation, there was a terrible thunder storm and at 3 o’clock in the morning, I had to go outside of the tent in order to fix one of the tarps that had filled with water. In the process of working half asleep in the torrential rain and wind and blackness, I cut the end of my middle finger off. Blood instantly poured everywhere.
Seeing as how we were a good ten hours away from the nearest Hospital, I scrambled to get the first aid kit from one of the waterproof bags outside and called out to Jake as I opened the tent door with one hand, being careful not to get too much blood on (or in) the tent. With my careful instruction, Jacob then, who was also half asleep at this point, had to perform first aid on my injured finger (thank goodness for the lantern). He did an excellent job and as I laid in the tent trying my hardest to calm down and fall back asleep, I couldn’t believe that even with the thunderstorm happening, Jacob was back asleep in 10 minutes or less.
“Does anything faze this kid?” I wondered.
The next morning, it took almost two hours to pack our gear (with my one good hand) and about another five hours to get back to the initial launch point. All in all, it was a ton of hard work and even more fun if you can believe it.
We’ve been back every summer since. It never gets easier.
I am very glad that my son (soon to be a man) gets to experience firsthand that the old cliché of “what does not kill you, only makes you stronger” is no cliché indeed. It’s life.