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Day 4

6:37am, Tuesday June 24, 2003 Three Mile Lake

Nature calls me awake again. We built a fire last night to burn garbage and stave off bugs. It worked some because we managed to stay outside 'til 9:30pm. Then we doused the fire, hoisted the food and ran. And now, nature calls.

Yesterday's precise route:

3pm, Maple Lake

Sigh. Here we are, at our last site before we leave. Just us, several million of our tiny colleagues and a trained squirrel. More on that later, but first an update on the score card:

Them:
  • + 12 bug bites
  • + 1 one moment of despair
Us:
  • + 2 moose
  • + 1 more day of sun
  • + 30 litres of water consumed

The bug bite quotient has diminished somewhat as we've learned to protect ourselves. We have a nightly ritual wherein we squeeze to death all the tiny black flies that have invaded the tent. It usually takes about ten minutes and we try not to leave bug splotches on the nylon. We wear long sleeves and pant on all portages regardless of the temperature and we coat exposed flesh in citronella before every portage.

And I slap myself all over every time I feel anything that isn't Irene making contact with my body.

This was our second day of doing a longish string of portages linking pee hole lakes before landing on a big one. Maple Lake is a nice one which, like Three Mile, we appear to have all to ourselves but for the various flying nasty things and this incredibly shirty red squirrel.

It approaches to within a metre of you (or more accurately your food) and backs off only slightly if you yell at it. Throw a rock at it and it chases the rock, I assume because it's expecting treats.

It's like that old low-trace camping saying: "Take only photographs, leave only footprints and trained animals."

Ah well.

We rose this morning around seven and were on the water by 8:45am. Bugs really do put you in a mood to get moving and stay moving. A short paddle across Three Mile Lake and we were into the 500m to North Sylvia Lake. We had a bit of trouble locating the portag out of North Sylvia mostly because I misjudged where I thought it should be. (There's dead reckoning but I think I tend to practice brain dead reckoning)

At one point I was bush crashing through a marsh trying to locate what I imagined to be an overgrown portage. It's further to the left than you imagine. Fortunately, Irene's keep-it-simple solution of "looking a bit more up that way" found us the portage, sign intact, waiting patiently for us.

From North Sylvia, it's 455m to the aptly if not imaginatively named Boggy Lake, then 1135m into Dahinda Lake, which is Algonkian for "the seagulls in the next lake will shit on you from a great height."

Dahinda pours through a narrows into Rat Trap Lake where some angry seagulls swooped in on the canoe before soaring up and unleashing a volley which landed just inches from the canoe. At camp we used to call them shit hawks. I now see why. Someone ought to train them to be more friendly to visitors.

On Rat Trap we also had to search a bit for the portage to Maple Lake. It's further to the right than we thought and the sign is partially destroyed. The portage is 440m and somewhat hilly. But all the 'tages have been well maintained.

We emerged on Maple Lake around noon. The wind was picking up and the heat was climbing. We stopped on one to the island sites about mid way up the lake. It fits most of our criteria and is not inordinately far away from our destination - the north end of Maple Lake and Maple Creek.

To date all our portages have been single pass. At first I wrestled with this notion. I'm not all that much of an efficiency freak that I get all religious about it, but I like doing a portage in one go. At this time of the year, though, the bugs make it more like a necessity. Running the gauntlet of blackflies, horseflies, deerflies, brontosaurusflies and mosquitoes is bad enough the first time. But twice? And can you imagine standing still, waiting for the rest of the equipment to arrive? You'd be dessicated.

To me, avoiding this seemed worth sacrificing another trip goal: equal division of labour. We have two loads: canoe and day pack and canoe pack plus paddles. I think these were equally onerous loads (I think the canoe pack is worse, Irene thinks the canoe is worse). Irene finds the canoe plus pack combo too awkward to do at once. So I've been carrying the canoe and the day pack while Irene carries the canoe pack and the paddles.

We've seen no other humans for the last two days, but we've heard what sounds like heavy machinery banging away and the drone of engines in the distance. Irene has heard that they're still logging in Algonquin.

Discovered blackflies inside my mesh headgear. Solution: lean head forward, shake head vigorously until disoriented flies come into frontal section; squish ruthlessly; gaze upon carcasses witout guilt.

Irene says she'd like our next trip to have more paddling per portage, and I'd have to agree. This one has been manageable, but it is a lot of up-carry-down without a lot of paddling inbetween. Maybe next year we'll do Georgian Bay, Temagami or even the north shore of Superior?

On the portage, you don't look around so much. The only wildlife I see on these portages is the (many) baby toads scrambling to avoid your feet. The loads make no ergonomic sense, the packs are really nasty compared to your average frame pack, you sweat like a pig and you only get arm exercise because you're madly swatting bugs.

But still, I love it.

8:30pm

We're in the tent. The sound of rain-that-isn't-rain is upon us.

9:43pm

We had a hopelessly Algonquin moment this evening at around 5pm. We'd been sunning ourselves, trying (in vain) to even out the tripper tans when suddenly we spot a canoe struggling towards us across the (by now) quite wavy, windy, Maple Lake.

They have all the lake to choose from and despite seeing us, they decide to take the site next to ours, on the other end of this island. Actually, they're fine. We haven't heard a thing from them, and given that it was 5pm, and given it would have been hard paddling, I don't blame them for taking the first decent site available.