That big thing thundering about the woods just off to my left last night? Might not have been a bear, but might well have been a wolf.
The noise went away before I decided to turn in. My anxiety did not. Since I did my first canoe trip at age 11, I have seen two bears: one on a portage trail and one by the side of a lake. I've never had to deal with one in my campsite. And here was I thinking I was about to have to do so - alone.
Technically it's not true - I didn't have an accident - but I was scared shitless. The river went silent and I went into my tent around 9pm. The bugs were starting to annoy and I was looking forward to waking up tomorrow morning and having this done with.
I was hoping I wouldn't have to scavenge my breakfast from squirrel-scattered bits about my campsite, but I was willing to settle for Not-Being-Mauled™.
I could feel my heart thumping as I tried to distract myself with my book. I tossed, I turned. Sleep was hard to come by. But, I reckoned no more big crashing-about-in-the-woods sounds, no bear musk smell, so maybe I dodged a bullet.
At around 1:20am I was just coming out of my third or fourth abortive attempt at sleep. I desperately wanted the night to be over so I could get up. Not since I hit puberty have I ever left bed willingly to say nothing of longing for it. I heard a wolf howling off in the distance.
But then I heard what seemed like half a dozen wolves howling in response. Only these were close. From what I could gather from the direction, they were maybe across the river from my site, maybe 50m away? I could hear their footfalls. Some were howling, some were whimpering. I could hear one (some) growl while others cried in response. Clearly there was some disagreement going on.
This went on for a few minutes. Distant howl, next door neighbours' chorus. Then I heard a splash. One or several or all were coming across to check out the food smells from my site. And when they found nothing but granola and cocktail rye, were they going to be pissed. Maybe the one that lost the fight was coming over to pick on something easier. Like a chipmunk, or me.
Of course, wolves don't attack humans. They just howl a lot and chase the things they like to eat. And it's estimated that there are between 30 and 35 packs of them ranging throughout Algonquin Park. And had I been in a better frame of mind, I might have just considered myself lucky to have encountered them and might have longed for an actual sighting.
But I wasn't. I was scared. The howling stopped after a few minutes and I hazed in and out of consciousness.
I recall spending borderless periods of time analysing noises: stubble scraping sleeping bag. Breathing through nose impeded by slight congestion. Stomach grumbling. Breeze rustling tarp. Squirrel climbing tree - fuck there he goes. Oh well, just so long as he spares me a tablespoon of coffee.
The next thing I remember is needing to go to the bathroom, being overjoyed at the fact that it was 6:10am. And my food bag was still intact. Hallelujah.
But it was cold. And my west-facing site was going to get no respite any time soon. So my late-night plans - assuming I survived - to sleep in, lounge about and mosey on back to Brent were jettisonned.
I was pulling down the tent when the howling started again. This time the howls seemed to be coming from all up and down the river. Around 6:30. I thought this odd, but then I also thought wolves would eat me for dinner. This time I wasn't scared. The daylight, the fact that I was vertical and clothed, the fact that they hadn't shredded me last night made me think that this was fine.
After coffee and warm powdered milk granola, I packed everything up and embarked. I was on the water about 8:20am. It was a beautiful morning. The sun lit up the river, burning off the mist and sending rays of light through the trees lining the banks. Birds were everywhere, flitting back and forth, alighting and settling as if I wasn't there: Kingfishers, Jays, Herons, some form of hawk, many many ducks.
I had only two portages today, a 235m and then a 915m. I think I had finally figured out exactly where to fasten Ozzie's yoke, and so they were fine. My other gear revelation for the day was the neoprene socks. I hadn't worn them, thinking that the quickdry thingies were all I needed. But they hadn't dried from yesterday, and I just couldn't bring myself to put on wet socks and shoes this morning.
They were great. Totally removes any discomfort from having wet feet and you can still walk a kilometre in them without any problems.
The Nippissing Delta is a beautiful stretch of river. A channel meanders through bullrushes and pickerelweed, with each turn hinting at your arrival on Cedar. You may have a less cheery view of the "arrival on Cedar" bit if it's windy, natch. I didn't. Cedar was windless and calm. I crossed it in about 20 minutes. If I were planning this trip and blocking time, I would count on twice that.
I got to Brent at about 10:30. I had sun, so I laid out my tent and tarp to burn the dew off them. I cleaned Prince Ozzie, organized my gear and headed off. I stopped at the Brent Crater. I felt I'd done enough walking so decided against doing the trail. I climbed the tower. How to say this. In this the era of Hollywood treatments of meteors smacking the earth, the Brent Crater disappoints. Was I somehow expecting heaps of charred debris and Bruce Willis?
Anyway, I took some photos of it. It's a nice valley... that's... something, right?
On the road just after 11:30. Deep River: Chocolate and Cherry Cheesecake. In Ottawa by 3:30ish, dropped the canoe back at the Y shed and home just after 4pm.
Morning, Nippissing River: I could forgive the wolf serenade just for the dew-drenched spiderweb.
Cedar Lake Panorama: Calm, serene. Sad to leave.
Morning, Nippissing River: Definitely the wild part of the park.