Day 1

6:40pm, Friday September 5th, 2003, Catfish Lake, the Kevin Callan-approved site (I think)

So I made it. My first day of my first solo trip. It's been a tough slog, but I managed to keep my demons at bay long enough to get to where I planned to be.

And now, the dish is done, the food is hung, I'm (over) fed and I'm poised to watch the sunset. I'm quite pleased with myself.

I hope it just gets better.

I woke this morning at 5:30, put my gear in the car and was on the road by 6:30ish. Or, rather I was outside the car, tightening the V-straps at 6:30.

I had picked up the suddenly much sought after solo flatwater canoe from the club shed the evening before, locked it to Irene's canoe rack, and parked out back of my apartment. [Fret #1: Ottawa's most skilled canoe thief will amble by, fully tooled at 4am, spy the canoe, cut the cable and disappear]

This boat had already been the source of much anxiety. I had biked out to the club shed Tuesday evening to reserve it, having called the assets co-ordinator to get approval for the private trip. "Head out to the shed, put a post-it note on it and it's yours," he'd said.

I got there and the shed co-ordinator said, well, we'll see what club trips are going out. It's probably no problem. But I'll have to call you later. He was, of course, right. There were three club trips going out this weekend, each one of which gets dibs on all club canoes.

I told myself the exercise was good for me as I biked home empty handed. An hour or so later, the shed co-ordinator called to tell me I had the canoe. I was thrilled. Half an hour after that, one of the trip leaders called me to tell me he needed the canoe for a club trip. I was quite pissed. He was, of course, well within his rights. But I had already told Irene I didn't need her canoe.

Post-facto note: Stuff and nonsense! The trip leader didn't actually have the right to the canoe because he tried to claim it after the shed had closed. The canoe should have been mine from the start.

So I phoned her up and told her I needed the canoe. A day goes by and I get an email from the trip leader saying one of the participants has dropped out, so I can have the canoe after all.

I half expect as I sit here watching the sun go down, that this guy will paddle up to my site to tell me he wants his damn canoe.

Ah well. Now that I have it, I'm not entirely convinced it was worth all the angst.

So I drive out of Ottawa and head down the go-canoeing road, Highway 17. This time I'm spared construction stops until Bisset Creek. The turnoff to Brent is just after Deux Rivières. You don't get as much notice as you do for Kiosk or Achray so stay alert.

Much has been made of the long, nasty access road. It's not actually all that bad. A normal city car can handle it no problem.

You pick up your permit at a little shack at the intersection where you can choose Brent, South River or Wendigo access points.

The woman who worked there had a lot to say, fortunately all useful information. Apparently the park is pretty empty. Things I learned:

I picked up my permit and drove the remaining 20km ish to Brent. It's a sprawling campground. I'm not sure I parked in the right place, but there seemed to be other cars with permits nearby. I couldn't see the ranger station, the store or the outfitter from where I put in. I did, however, mark the car as a waypoint.

So I was on the water by 10:45am or so. Cedar Lake had waves but they were eminently manageable. It's a very pretty, majestic lake. It took me about 15 minutes to get across, and another hour to get to the portage. Christopher Columbus strikes again. I got to the other side of the lake and figured I needed to head east. That river I see just to my right, I figured simply must be the Nippissing, the river that brings me back onto Cedar on day 4.

So I head east. No landmarks, no demi-landmarks. Eventually I get so far down Cedar the (fairly noticable) campground conurbation at Brent is out of my line of sight. I decide to head back, starting to worry a bit about the wisdom of deciding to do a solo trip. 'I can't navigate to save my life, and I don't have Irene to bail me out. What am I doing? Okay I'll find a campsite and just stay here for three days. The ranger said it wouldn't be a problem.'

I calmed down and eventually found assurance in being back where I started. I felt grounded, encouraged by the chance to start again. I investigated the river. It was, of course, the Petawawa, the river that brought me here to Catfish Lake.

The 715m past a falls and some rapids was a bit of a shock. I'm trying to go light, but I don't think I've managed it. I'm using Ché and it doesn't like being under a yoke. This very popular canoe has a detatchable portage yoke. You take it off to paddle. And there's no real idiot-proof way to tell where it's supposed to go to balance. And I put it too far back, I reasoned, because the canoe kept falling forward and I had to hold it up. Ché was sitting too high on my back, and I couldn't lift the bow high enough to see comfortably.

Yuk. I had to sort that out for the 2345. The 255 came first, though.

"Now that looks efficient," said this British man lunching with his tripmates at the end of the 715. At first I thought he was being sarcastic. I was breathing hard and in a fair bit of discomfort. Then I saw their gear. Duffel bags, coolers, goofy knapsacks.

They were from various parts of England, and they'd all come over here to do the trip. I was feeling too nervous to make conversation.

These two portages are around really pretty waterfalls. If you're not totally wired about the 'tages, have a look.

The 2345m was as ugly as I imagined. I hadn't put the yoke on perpendicular to the gunwhales so I couldn't hold it securely with my right hand, so I lurched along, just using my left with the canoe at a rakish tilt.

But keeping with my unbridled optimism theme, I can now say I've had the worst of this trip's portages.

The two remaining portages are short and easily found. I was on Catfish around 2:30 or so. There were a lot of sites open at the north end of the lake, but they all looked quite dismal. Remembering what the ranger said, I figured it was safe to push south and look for something better. I lucked out. This site is really nice. It has a rocky point, good wind coverage, yet sheltered, great swimming spots (not that I went swimming) and furniture situation isn't too absurd.

So the heavy stuff I brought: (aka: How I failed the Jay Morrison school of light weight camping)

I'm using my ancient grey owl solo paddle and I had blisters before I even got off Cedar Lake. What the fuck. My normal (heavy, too long) tripping paddle never gives me blisters.

Lots of loons. I've also seen a flicker and some ducks. No moose yet. I can count on one hand the number of mosquitoes I've faced. It's great. The weather was sunny, around 22c with a slight (maybe 10km/h) wind. Great paddling weather.

The sun is pinking the sky in front of me, and the moon is rising off to my left. I feel as though I haven't a care in the world.

Except, of course, the fear of damaging this infernal canoe, which I have named Ozzie. (It's a Swift Osprey). The club has duct taped this laminated sheet to the bow float tank listing all things that must be done to protect and preserve this "fragile and easily damaged" kevlar boat. I've been reading it all day and I tell you it's put the fear of god into me.

Time to conserve batteries.

Algonquin Park
Cedar Lake Loop Intro - Algonquin Park
Cedar Lake Loop Day 1 - Algonquin Park
Cedar Lake Loop Day 2 - Algonquin Park
Cedar Lake Loop Day 3 - Algonquin Park
Cedar Lake Loop Day 4 - Algonquin Park
Algonquin Park