Bonnechere River Trip

Algonquin Park, May 10 to 15, 2005

Day 4

7pm, Friday May 13th, Bonnechere River, somewhere past the hydro line, just past creek 12

The horror that I was anticipating failed to materialize. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It's been a good day.

We were up at 6am for self-serve breakfast.

Key to good day #1: eat more for breakfast, which I did today. I had brought three packets of instant oatmeal and what I judged to be two bowls of granola for my five breakfasts. But those instant oatmeal packets aren't enough food for me in the morning. So I put some granola in with it. (Nigel suggests 800 to 900 calories for breakfast on a "hard" trip.)

Key to good day #2: start off warm. I knew we were going to be slogging through the woods all morning (if we were lucky). So I took my water shoes (frozen solid again), bagged them, along with the neoprene socks and put on my running shoes. I am so glad I couldn't find those booties. I had something warm, dry, light and with traction, as opposed to glorified slippers.

Key to good day #3: find a logging road. We crashed through a few hundred metres of bush this morning, heading straight east, parallel to the river. However it wasn't any more fun than yesterday, and with the difficult terrain we were double carrying.

It was exasperatingly slow. I kept thinking about how far we had to go (nine or 10km) and how we'd already lost a day. We couldn't go back (the current in the river was too strong, and too rocky to paddle upstream). I was seriously worried that we were going to miss our failsafe time and our trip's guardian angel was going to have to call the cops.

That would have Irene really worried. I couldn't have that. I got really anxious every time Nigel called "double carry" for a segment of bush. If he wanted our opinions I was always mister "I'm game to single carry." Stop or push on? "I'm game to carry on but I'm not religious about it/I won't throw a hissy fit/I won't have a total meltdown about it if we don't."

So here I am goading my tripmates into ever more extreme forms of exertion. Wonderful. This will sound ageist, but I'm about 20 years younger than the rest of them (Scott says ten). I've heard more than one of them say they're on this trip because they "want to see if I can still do this." For the most part I don't know what the fuck they're talking about. They're all eminently capable and fit trippers as far as I can see. But it occurs to me here that fitness and tripworthiness wouldn't preclude one of them from keeling over. More cruel and freakish things have happened.

I, of course, being under 40, am indestructible.

We decide to head further uphill, in the hope that the terrain will at least be level. My dread and guilt subside when we reach a mostly grown-over, but still very walkable road that was on Nigel's topo maps. (I can't imagine what would have happened if we'd only had the Canoe Routes map or a GPS. We'd still be out there.)

We started walking with all our gear at a good pace. The road parallels the river, taking us past two or three km of the unnavigable bits.

It's an awfully funny feeling knowing exactly where you are but still feeling lost because you don't know how you're going to get to where you need to go.

By about 11:30 we had headed far enough along the road, and the road had slowly descended to where it was about 50m from an eminently navigable river. We stopped for lunch, had a bit of a nap and stomped down through our last bit of bush. By 12:30 we were on the water.

For the better part of the afternoon, the river meandered through flat terrain, shallow but posing no problems for our boats. Like the Nippissing River but with lower banks. Oh - and alders growing across the river. That was different. water-borne bush crashing. You collect a lot of tinder for your campfire.

There weren't actually all that many obstacles, though the folding saw did come in handy a couple of times.

We stopped to check out the site of a former homestead near where the hydro line crosses the river. There were remains of an old wood stove, what looks to be a root cellar, all atop a slight rise overlooking the river. Hardy folk were those who chose to make their lives there, so far away from anything.

We paddled past the hydro line, through more meandering river. The current seemed to give us an extra km/hr. No one, it seems not even the cartographers have been through here in the last ten or so years. And it shows, because the maps - the topos, or the Algonquin Canoe Routes map - bear little resemblance to reality.

In this segment none of the promised portages or campsites materialize. There is supposed to be a 90m portage, just before a campsite. It doesn't materialize, though we do find some rapids which we deem to be un-runnable and we carry a couple hundred metres through un-cleared bush to get round them.

But the ground is flat and high enough up from the water, and there seem to be a number of spots to camp. We pick one - where we are now - putting in around 5pm. It's not an official site, but it could be were it not for the fact that 50m in from the shore is a logging slash. It's really disheartening to see the destruction.

We're on the water right away tomorrow but I've got a dry pair of neoprene socks and I'm going to try keeping my shoes under the fly. Maybe they won't freeze. I'm warm this evening despite not wearing all my clothing.

We all look a bit like we've been in the wars. Faces, hands scratched from pushing through thorny undergrowth.

We haven't seen anyone for two days. No surprise there, really.

Tip of the day: bring a square of blue foamy in lieu of a thermarest chair. I'm just putting it in here. I probably won't do it. I like back support too much.

It's 9:30. Bed.