Day 1

Friday July 15, 2011 5:20pm, Carl Wilson Lake

What an awesome day. Here it is mid July in Algonquin Park and I have the whole lake to myself.

To prove it, I've been walking around naked for the last hour or so, air drying after taking a lovely skinny dip. I usually do, but hate it when I get caught. No danger of that today.

The sun beams down on me, a gentle breeze fans the water and wafts over me.

There is silence but for the buzz of bugs, the burbling and burping of water against the shore and the birds.

I was up at 5:30, this morning, on the road just after 6am. I didn't get to bed until 12:30 because of my misadventures with Windows and Parallels. Thankfully MacGPS Pro can at least put routes and waypoints onto my GPS. Will be odd not having the topographical map, though. Garmin's base map is pretty useless for canoe tripping.

I got to the Brent road and the park office just after 9am. One office now handles all the permit issuing and such for all the access points in the north central part of the park.

The dirt road into Brent was fine. It's still 40km long. Maybe it needs a bit of grading here and there but if you mind your speed (40 km/h is the limit and I was seldom comfortable going any faster than 50 km/h) you'll be fine in a city car.

I arrived in the tiny hamlet of Brent at around 10am.

I love the Brent Store. It's part souvenir shop, part museum, and part outfitter. They've got great boats, are very friendly, very helpful and they know the area very well. They're the Brent base of Algonquin Outfitters who rented me my canoe.

And they're cheeky. When I showed up, and said I was here about a canoe, they said all their canoes were gone. "But we can rent you that ATV," one guy said, nodding at a nearby four wheeler.

Me: "You are kidding, right? I booked a flatwater solo canoe."

Him: "Oh, yes, we're kidding. We've got your canoe, only it doesn't have a yoke."

Me: "You can stop now. You got me. You've had your fun."

Him: "No, I'm serious."

Me: "I have six k of portages to do. It's going to be a little hard without a yoke."

Him: "You can rest the front of the seat on your shoulders."

Me: Silence

Him: "Oh, we have these snap in yokes, that some people use. But I don't think they work very well."

Me: "That's what I'm talking about. Bring it on."

One of the guys came back with three detatchable yokes. I tried one. It flew off the second I grabbed it. The second one seemed to be missing some sort of flange to grab the inside of the gunwhale. But the third worked. It had the same clamping mechanism as the ones I'd used on other solo canoes.

This one, however was designed to accommodate canoes with different beams. And it stuck out over the outer gunwhales. This fact would trouble me at every portage.

By 10:30 they got me on my way. I was really excited about the trip, the guys at the Brent store were great. They let me park my car out front of the store, looked after my car key and reassured me that the 'extreme' portages that the myccr commenter had talked about were just portages. "They're always awful, aren't they?"

Mind you he did suggest going to Carl Wilson via Little Cauchon and returning the same way.

About 40 minutes later I was in front of the first of five portages that lead from Cedar Lake through a string of tiny lakes into Carl Wilson Lake. It was to be a long walk in the woods with canoes.

An uphill walk. Steep. Hill. I think for me the worst was the first. Just over 1600 metres, this portage takes you up and over the hills that serve to keep water in the Cedar Lake basin. My heart was racing and I was huffing and puffing the entire way. It really doesn't stop going up until you get to Varley Lake.

If you don't really like the exertion end of things I would suggest doing this loop in the other direction. I went this way because I figured going the other way meant six to eight kilometres into the wind on one of the park's bigger lakes. But yeesh that was a climb, whereas Cedar Lake was smooth as piss on a plate.

It didn't help that I had put the portage yoke on too close to the stern of the boat and was forever forcing the bow of the boat up with my arms. I stopped mid way throught the first ascent to correct this. But it would be a couple more carries before I'd find the right spot.

So what of the myccr comments? At first I thought "hyperbole". But after I got back I re-read the comments. The writer was on a trip with a bunch of 11 year olds. I could see that being quite challenging - catherding some pre-teen kids through those hilly trails. When I was a kid at camp, you had to be 13 before they sent you on a trip with any portages.

And these kids were going on quite demanding ones at that. But I didn't find them technically difficult. There were no swamps to wade through, the hills could be climbed without using your hands, there were no fallen trees to waddle over, etc etc.

It's also possible park staff had been through the portages, clearing away undergrowth, fallen trees, etc since those comments were written. My assessment? Hilly, yes. Dangerous, no. Or no more so than any portage in Algonquin Park that I've tried.

A far bigger problem today - what with the 30 degrees, and the sweaty uphill climb and all - was water. It'd been so long since I actually tripped in summer that I forgot how hard it is to stay hydrated.

I had drained my 1l nalgene two lakes away from my destination and my filter was layered deep in the canoe pack. I was seriously thinking about tearing apart the pack to pump myself a new litre. But the other thing I'd forgotten about summer canoeing - buggy portages - trumped that particular desire, and I kept going.

Tomorrow I will keep my filter in the side pocket. Carrying extra water just makes the pack heavier, I find.

I stopped for lunch at the end of the first portage. It was just after noon, my belly was empty and I reckoned the fun was only just beginning. (I think in retrospect the first of this series of portages is actually the worst)

Amid mud, stagnant water and other birthing centres for mosquitoes and blackflies I squeezed peanut butter and jam onto a flour tortilla. No need for a knife. Avoids temptation to stab at bugs and resultant injury.

I didn't stick around long enough to claim my three wrap quota. Too buggy.

I've heard a loon calling and I'm hoping for more. They seem to be around in great numbers. Also, frogs, crayfish, herons, gulls, kingfishers and sparrows. Another benefit to being somewhere that doesn't get much human traffic? No trained squirrels.

I still can't believe I have this lake all to myself. I half expected to be racing for campsites against massive flotillas of campers with motivational chant-leading counsellors.

9:20pm

Can I stay awake for the stars? No. Bugs. Can't write more. Blood loss becoming a factor.


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