September 28-30, 2007

Day 1

September 28, 2007, 7pm

Or at least I think that’s what time it is. See, my watch died. Or went comatose. Or I don’t know what. But it’s done. (Post facto note: yes, indeed the battery died. And the manual for the watch suggests owners should be prepared to change batteries every year or so. Which is great for, say, a camera but a bit on the soon side for a watch.

The first time I was on my own in the wilderness I wasn’t allowed to bring a watch. It was one of those self-discovery things aimed at helping me foster a new relationship with myself unhindered by arbitrary notions of order and schedule, to be free of chronology so as to be fully able to explore myself and discover my true needs and desires.

Twenty five years later, you know what I’ve discovered? I need a watch.

My GPS — phew — keeps time, so I’m not totally screwed. I use my watch to track how long I’ve been padding on one side. I use it to decide how long to do some frustrating task (like, say, rescuscitate my watch) before giving up. How long to simmer the rice. It’s important, dammit.

Ah well. At least I don’t have to take a picture and review the image’s EXIF data.

Other than that, I’d have to say the day’s been pretty mixed. When I get home I’m going to track down the truth of that story about meteorologists being only five per cent more accurate predictors of weather than ’random’. (I found this. I suppose there are others.)

Today wasn’t one of their good days. All week I had been following’s forecast for Mattawa. They had been predicting sun and cloud with highs in the high teens (Celsius). Then yesterday they changed that to add “scattered showers”. “Trace of rain” they said. Well, the rain traced pretty much the entire afternoon — from about noon to five pm.

I’m soaked. But other than that, things are good. And bugs. There are bugs here. Ones that bite. These tiny no-seeums that go after my hands, almost exclusively. They also seem to like my (yellow) rain suit. What’s that about? Never wear a yellow rainsuit anywhere with bugs.

I'm hitting the tent. Don't know what the time is, but it feels like tent time.

Hah. That’s better. Should keep the number of welts down. Actually, the “bites” produce tiny red blotches on my hands that were gone by morning.

So. Today. I woke up at around 6:20, with Mallory, was out the door by 7am and at Kiosk by 10:30am. Budget rented me a zippy car.

My canoe is from Algonquin North this time. They’re right at the corner of Highway 630 (the road to Kiosk) and Highway 17. But it’s more convenient than that. They drop your canoe off at Kiosk itself and they pick it up afterward.

Normally I would have used the YCCC’s solo flatwater canoe, but the volunteer shed coordinator never got back to me. I took that as a sign. I went looking for other solo boats. Trailhead never got back to me. Algonquin Outfitters had the sort of boat I wanted but not where I wanted it. And they wanted $400 to drop off the boat at Kiosk.

So when someone from Algonquin North emailed me back to say they had the sort of canoe I wanted for $38.00 a day and that I wouldn’t ever have to strap it to my car, I took that as another sign. I booked it, cancelled my hastily-scribbled YCCC membership cheque and put all canoe worries out of my mind.

And lo and behold, I get to Kiosk and there it is. All 15 feet of Swift Osprey. (I chose this model just because I’ve used one before and think it’s a fine boat. I am sure other quality canoe manufacturers’ solo models have their proponents and I hope some day to try them all.)

The boat didn’t have the shock cords used to tie my paddle in during portages, but I had brought my own just in case. It had seen more use than the YCCC boat, but was the same weight and the yoke mechanism was as good as ever.

I checked in with the park warden and changed my first night site reservation from Mink to Waterclear Lake. The old railroad track runs along the north shore of Mink and I was hoping to look only at trees.

When I asked for the change, the ranger said “Oh, you can stay pretty much anywhere.”

Despite the park’s interior being pretty much empty, I ran into another group — six men who’ve been getting together for years to do a canoe trip apparently to the same lake — at the put-in. And they were heading my way. They were polite enough, but like anyone, probably picked this time of year for a little solitude.

Kioshkowki was calm, with a slight breeze blowing my way. By 11:30am I was at the first portage, half an hour after pushing off.

From Kioshkowki to Little Mink was 730m, uphill. I was breathing hard and struggling with the boat — I’d put the yoke too far forward — and my pack was way too high and heavy. If only there were more people around. I could have held a garage sale.

Little Mink is so little you miss it. And indeed before I could blink I was into about 1700m into Whitebirch Lake. Again, mostly uphill.

I caught up with the boys and ate a sandwich while waiting for them to load up and head off down Whitebirch. They weren’t taking the most direct route to Little Cauchon, but it was one they’d not done before.

From Whitebirch to Waterclear is a short paddle then a 320m portage.

Waterclear was supposed to be my destination, but I got there around 2pm and I wasn’t feeling tired. And by then the rain had started. I hate setting up in the rain and tomorrow is supposed to be hard, so I decided to keep going.

Normally, in Algonquin you have to stay on your reserved lake but I figured with the park being so empty, I’d be okay.

Still I fretted that I would arrive at Mouse Lake (my new destination) to find the Alpha Kappa Theta reunion trip taking all the sites but the crappy one by the swamp.

Into Club Lake via a 240m by around 2:30. I spent a lot of time in my head trying to fight off disappointment. This is my first trip in two years and likely my last for a while. I wanted it to be perfect.

Fucking rain.

Club Lake is split in two by a marshy bit in the middle that took some meandering to get through. There are also remains of an old lumber camp here. I saw one of the buildings from the lake but didn’t stop.

By 3:30 I had reached Mouse Lake, which gave me a beautiful swath of colour on the south shore for scenery. And when I set off, I got my first sign tha tthe rain might let up.

I decided that pushing on had been a right move. The portage into Club is marked as 645m on my map, but the park’s portage sign says 775m.

I managed it fairly easily.

I got to my site a bit before 4pm and made camp as the rain stopped and started. Dinner was pasta. I made way too much and had to bury it because I couldn’t get a fire going. I feel dreadful about that. I went a good ways back from the campsite, and dug a nice hole but you shouldn’t ever bury food. You have to burn it.

I felt particularly guilty because I could have dosed the wood with stove fuel but I worried about running out. And I could have packed out the pasta but I worried about the weight. And then there was the memory of when I was a counsellor in training and the camp’s director, furious that a campcraft instructor hadn’t been able to light a cooking fire on his canoe trip, made us all try to light fires in the rain.

“Whoever cannot light a fire will not be asked back to be a counsellor,” he’d told us. None of us managed it except for the rich kid from France who had no interest in being a counsellor, but had a lighter.

We were all mortified then as I am now.

The sun came out as I was eating, so I hope for better weather tomorrow. Wonder how I’ll sleep without Mallory. I suspect if I have difficulty it’ll more likely be due to sleeping on a mattress just a bit thicker than two pieces of toast.

All those colours

All those colours And still drab. Harumph.

Shock of yellow

Shock of yellow amid a sea of greens

Like the reflection

Like the reflection Mouse Lake