“What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute. Pedal five hundred miles on a bicycle and you remain basically bourgeois. Paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.” – Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Traditionally, whenever I’ve gone back-country camping, it’s usually been between the months of August and October, so when my wife realized that we both had a couple of days off together, we jumped at the chance of dusting off the old canoe and driving someplace north, preferably to a water-filled park that neither of us had ever been before. After searching extensively on our map of Ontario, we finally agreed on going to the Georgian Bay Islands National Park, located just on the western outskirts of Honey Harbour. It looked and sounded awesome.
The night before our departure, we were up until around 2am packing our gear and preparing all of our supplies. Personally, I find that there’s relatively no difference in the amount of work and preparation required for a back-country camping/canoe trip (with the exception of food planning), regardless if it’s a one day trip or one that lasts for several days.
The morning of our departure however, we both suddenly had the exact same fear. Not being used to camping in the springtime, it never really dawned on either of us until we were literally ready to drive off, that certain parks might not yet be open. I seemed to recall something on Twitter a few days prior stating that certain openings had been delayed due to the high volume of snow this past winter, so we called ahead and sure enough, they were closed. In truth, part of me was slightly relieved. When I was returning home from work the night before, I noticed that my 98 Cherokee was running a little rough, particularly on acceleration. But the other part of me was tremendously disappointed and after a short discussion, we were determined to go anyway.
I ran back into the house and quickly jumped on-line to search for a park that a) wouldn’t take all day to drive to considering we only had two days to get away and relax, and b) allowed for year-round, back-country camping that would only be accessible by canoe. And that’s how we finally decided to go to the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park located just north of Peterborough (home of the Canadian Canoe Museum) and just south of my old stomping ground – Algonquin Provincial Park.
Blind to the adventures ahead of us (we literally didn’t even have a map), we were off!
On our way there, we stopped in at a little town called Buckhorn to purchase a park map, and while there, I spoke to a gentleman who owned a custom canoe shop. He provided some terrific advice on where to enter the park from (he suggested Long Lake Access Point #2) and told us where we could purchase our permits. As expected, the Jeep had been running a little shaky, but it still managed to get us to our final destination just fine. When we arrived in Kawartha, I immediately called an auto repair shop back in Niagara and told them about my issue. They suggested that the shaking might be as a result of a ceased u-joint, but that the only way to tell for sure would be to take the driveshaft out and inspect it, so I made an appointment to bring the Jeep in on Friday morning – the day after our scheduled return. The Jeep ran well enough to get us up to Kawartha, so I could only hope that it would be good enough to get us home as well.
I hoped anyway.
After purchasing our permits via telephone, we loaded the gear into our canoe and launched from the beach area/parking lot at Long Lake Lodge straight into the blazing sunset and unusually calm waters. It was gorgeous out. Our scheduled destination was a straight shot down Long Lake and into Loucks Lake. Time had become a bit of a factor, so we opted for the easiest route that would get us set-up and relaxing on a campsite as quickly as possible. Luckily, this did not require any portaging. Even a short portage can take upwards of an hour to cross.
We arrived at what looked like the perfect designated campsite (facing the sunset, open area, rocky shoreline) and settled ourselves in for the night. All of the park’s campsites had pre-made fire pits, toilets (a box in the woods), hand-made benches, and a picnic table. First things first, we located a flat spot on the ground for our tent. We brushed away any large rocks and branches but were careful to leave the bed of underlying pine needles intact for added insulation. Once the tent and bedding was all set up (this included a wool ground sheet, an inflatable mattress, several flannel “hospital” blankets, and two fleece sleeping bags) we worked on pumping fresh drinking water out of the lake and constructing a fire to warm-up our dinner – a pre-made pasta dish that my wife had prepared the night before and wrapped in tin-foil containers. Delish!
Oops! We forgot to bring the bowls. Oh well, no biggie. We just ate straight out of the containers, being extra careful not to burn ourselves. Like Gooey Rabinski says: Sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches.
After dinner, nature provided us with our entertainment for the evening as we spent at least ten minutes watching a beaver swim up towards the shoreline of our camp and all the way down along the lake. I even took a really cool picture of him as he passed by, catching his wake as it disrupted the otherwise calm waters. We then cleaned up, secured the food barrel high up in a tree on the opposite side of camp, and relaxed under the stars until we could barely keep our eyes open. Believe it or not, it had already been a very long day.
The next morning, we were awakened by the sounds of multiple types of birds, most notably were the cranes and their crazy honking cries as several of them passed directly over top of our camp. The ravens also made an incredibly unique whooshing sound every time they flapped their wings – it was unmistakable. We soon got up and heated our breakfast over the cooking stove, built another fire to warm our bones with, and did next to nothing for the remainder of the day except stretch, perform katas, sit in our chairs by the lake, and read. We also napped under the sun, and enjoyed the peacefulness of the surrounding sounds of nature. It was truly a lazy day – just what the doctor ordered.
It’s also worth mentioning that the lake itself had a lot of cabins on it, but luckily, all of them (with the exception of one) were empty. The wife and I both agreed that this amazing campsite would not have been a very good spot in the middle of a busy summer season, but as it turned out for us, it was perfect in April. We will absolutely be returning again this year, but when we do, we will dedicate a few more days to our trip and complete one (or more) of the many recommended canoe routes, available only by way of portage.
The park is vast and beautiful and offers much in the way of wildlife and scenery. Calm waters and sunny skies on both days made for a perfect setting. I know I speak on behalf of both of us when I say that we can’t wait to go back again.
That was adventure number one.
Our second adventure started as soon as we drove past Peterborough along Highway 115. That’s where – yep, you guessed it . . . my u-joint finally melted away and my driveshaft sprung loose, flailing away underneath like an epileptic octopus. Luckily, I was able to pull-over safely to the side of the road before my driveshaft had the chance to pick and flip my vehicle. My cell phone was dead from taking so many pictures in Kawartha (I brought the wrong cable to be able to charge my phone from inside the Jeep), but fortunately my wife still had enough juice in hers to be able to call CAA. As a basic member, I was more than a bit surprised to find out that we were only entitled to a 10 kilometer tow off of the highway, but any distance beyond that would cost me $3 per kilometer plus taxes, which would have equaled somewhere in the neighbourhood of $800 if we wanted to get towed back to Niagara. At that point, I was not a happy camper.
Lucky for us, our CAA tow truck driver was a really great guy and he not only drove us back to Peterborough, but he recommended a small garage called Douglas Automotive where we could get our truck fixed. He also drove us to a nearby hotel where we spent the night at a reasonable price. We made the best of our bad situation (as my friend Kash would say – “shit happens”) and we ended up going for a nice, casual dinner before bedtime. The next morning, I got up bright and early and called the garage. They said that they were very busy but would take a look as soon as they got the chance. Three hours later, they finally called me back and informed me that I would need a whole new (used) drive shaft, but that they had a line on one at a wrecking yard. The good news is that the Jeep was going to be ready in the afternoon. The bad news is that both the wife and I had to call into work and get our shifts covered for the night. But it was still cheaper than getting towed back to Niagara. Now I know where the term ‘highway robbery’ came from.
More good news is that the garage was only two blocks away from the Canadian Canoe Museum (I tried telling my wife that it was fate the Jeep broke down but I don’t think she believed me), so we spent a couple of hours there soaking in our great Canadian history. Truly amazing – real Revenant type stuff. Despite our circumstances, we learned a lot of valuable lessons on this trip that no doubt will make future planning a lot simpler (and safer). Plus, we really enjoyed the museum. I recommend that if you’re ever on your way towards or going through Peterborough (or maybe just stranded on the side of the road), I highly recommend that you stop by to check it out for yourself. It’s worth it.
My motto has always been: I don’t worry about the things in this life that I can’t control, I only worry about the things that I can. And you’d be amazed at how that attitude has consistently helped me to keep my composure under pressure.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll