I had a lot of people rooting for me and I received an overwhelming response of positive words of encouragement and advice for my first solo canoe trip through social media. But then there was this one comment by someone who wasn’t as supportive.
I proceeded to ask why and his reply was:
I could have gotten caught up in the one negative comment I received on being open about my first-ever solo canoe trip, but I rationalized with myself the reasons why I was going and how prepared I was. Was I being “not too S M A R T”? And I wondered why someone might say that I (assuming me, or maybe he meant everyone) should never go into the bush or waterways alone.
To prepare for this adventure in my life, I have endured many kilometres of paddling my canoe; Singing Wilderness, with my husband; have carried our gear through many kilometres of portages over the past 6 years; have camped in shoulder seasons; was certified by ORCKA in Moving Water Level 1 Canoeing; received some instruction on solo paddling; and was recently certified in Wilderness First Aid. What could stop me now? Could I be any more prepared to go? At this point in time, it was only a matter of just going out and doing it.
So, here is the story of my first-ever solo canoe trip in Algonquin Park:
My Planned Route
Paddling My Own Canoe
I barely had enough time to pick a route, let alone get my act together to go. I had been extremely busy with school, work, my blog and photography since September 2016 that I didn’t even give myself time to think about this trip. The next thing I know, it’s Monday morning of my trip and I hadn’t even started packing up my gear. It was almost like it wasn’t happening. Finally around 2pm, I hopped in Bo Bo Ska Diddle (our Sube) and headed north on Highway 11 to Huntsville and then Highway 60 to Oxtongue Lake where I would pick up a Swift 15′ Keewaydin canoe at Algonquin Outfitters. Algonquin Outfitters were awesome enough to give me a canoe to use for the week. They’re such supportive and awesome people! I can’t say enough great things about them.
It was almost like I was in a dream when the Keewaydin was being strapped to the roof racks. I was completely living in the moment, not giving myself time to work up irrational thoughts in my head that could lead to fear and anxiety. When I arrived at Canoe Lake to pick up my permit and push off from shore around 4pm to get my solo trip started, I felt nothing again. I wondered what was wrong with me. I imagined my limbs would feel weak, a racing heart and fear, but nothing. It was raining, in fact there was a rainfall warning in effect that day, not even the fear of weather made me feel anything.
The first few paddle strokes gave me a world of confidence. I was outfitted with a pack-style canoe where the seat is fastened to the bottom of the canoe, and kayak paddles are used. It was a lot easier than I had imagined.
I knew that just getting to my first portage was my main goal, and that my sense of accomplishment would be tremendous even at that point. If I could get there, then I could do this whole trip. But, getting to my first portage took a lot longer than I had hoped. When I paddled between two islands on Canoe Lake, the wind kicked up and with it white caps. I felt very unsafe. I stuck pretty close to shore most of the time in case of any incidents swamping the canoe. So, I paddled myself to a set of docks that I believe belong to a camp. I got out of the canoe and waited for what seemed like forever until the wind died down. When it did, I got back in and paddled to the end of the lake and to my first portage.
Canoe Lake to Joe Lake, the paddler’s highway of Algonquin Park! The route I picked seemed pretty reasonable and easy for my first time. I would spend a night on Joe Lake, Burnt Island Lake, Tom Thomson Lake, and back on Joe Lake.
When the bow of my canoe landed up on shore I hopped out with excitement. Finally, I felt something inside! Some emotion! I portaged the canoe first, then went back for my food barrel, and back again for my pack. I did it. I portaged my first portage! I paddled out to Joe Lake and I couldn’t stop the huge grin on my face. I was happy! I was excited. I felt unstoppable! And even the rain and wind died down.
I wanted to paddle to the east end of Joe Lake to give myself a good start for the next day. I was getting tired and I knew it was getting late, but I wanted to find the perfect campsite for my first night. And then there it was.
I landed the canoe and stripped off my dry suit! Because it was late, probably around 8pm, I went to put the rope up for my food barrel. I didn’t realize that the campsites on Joe Lake (and perhaps others) had ropes already there put in place by the park. But the rope and pulley at my site was missing the rope. So I hiked back into the forest to find the perfect tree. I tried throwing my pulley over the branch many times and almost started cursing when I stopped myself. I knew that frustration was only going to make matters worse. I gave myself a pep talk and on the second throw my pulley made it over the branch. “Yes!” I yelled. I felt on top of the world.
I put my tent up, had a drink and called it a day. I woke up to gusts of wind and my fly blowing around. I had to re-peg it twice throughout the night before I decided to get up and move my tent. Aside from that, I had an amazing sleep! I thought I would be scared of night noises, and I already knew that I was probably not going to get any sleep the first night because of that, but it was so windy that I couldn’t hear a thing. So I slept incredibly well.
I was up really early the next morning to get a good start on the day before it got too windy, but when I got up, the wind was still blowing. In fact, it was gusting. There was no way I was paddling in that. I didn’t feel safe doing so. The ice just melted off the lakes a week or so ago, and the water is freezing. I wasn’t taking any chances. So, I had to stay at the campsite for another day. If the wind died down later in the day, I’d consider paddling to Burnt Island Lake where I was going to spend my second night.
My second day brought a lot of rain and gusty wind. I tried sawing up some wood to have a fire, but it was all wet and too windy to have a fire. I spent a lot of the day reading in my tent.
I didn’t even bother to make dinner. It was my second night not making dinner. Honestly, it was good to relax because I have been so busy, but it was also extremely cold. Shortly after the photograph was taken of me reading my book, I crawled into my sleeping bag and put my mitts and hat on. Every so often, I would emerge from my cave to move around to get warm, and then I would crawl back in to read some more.
Daylight eventually faded and I was reading by headlamp. I wanted to fall asleep so that day three would arrive and I could get moving. I woke up to brushing sounds against my tent fly. I wasn’t sure if it was mice or what, so I turned my headlamp on and peeked outside the tent. It was snowing! Snow was sheeting off my fly. It was a long, cold night.
There are some shout-outs that I’d like to make. I’d like to thank Panasonic Canada for lending me camera and video gear to try out and review. I’m excited to post some reviews on my website of the camera, lenses and video cameras I used. Thank you SO MUCH, Panasonic/Lumix!
I’d also like to thank Randy Mitson from Algonquin Outfitters for being an awesome person! It seems like he’ll do anything to get people outside and to experience Algonquin Park. Thank you SO MUCH for giving me a canoe to use for my solo canoe trip!
I want to thank Heidi from work for giving me solo canoe lessons, and Jenny from work who covered a 3-hour shift for me. Thanks, Heidi and Jenny!
And, I’d really love to thank everyone who offered support with words of encouragement and advice through social media. It truly means the world to me!
I also think it’s important to note that it is a major no-no to not stick to your original route (booked lakes). But, I knew at this time of year there wouldn’t be many people in the park (I didn’t see anyone) and that would enable me to camp on a different site than what was reserved. In the summer time, most of these lakes are completely booked up, so I would have had no other choice than to make it to my planned destination.