Solo But Not Alone in Algonquin Park (2 mamas on a 5-day canoe trip)

I’ve never been in such a slump in all my life.

The feeling of not being in shape, pressure to get back to “pre-baby weight” and no time for myself anymore have added so much stress. I needed something to work toward.

My husband suggested a solo canoe trip. I had done one in the past, so knew that it was something I could do again. I put more thought into it and finally booked myself a 5-day canoe trip in Algonquin paddling 41.5kms and portaging 18kms at the end of September. It was just the motivation I needed to pull myself together.

Then the reality hit me. 5 DAYS AWAY FROM MY 15-MONTH-OLD. How could I possibly do it? I’ve only ever been away from her for 1 night and that was a couple of weeks ago.

The other thing I didn’t think about was my milk supply. We’re still breastfeeding. How could I keep my supply up for 5 days?

Putting all of that aside, I worked my ass off training for this trip. I just had to pick one of the toughest routes. Things like the “Devil’s Staircase” and “Stairway to Heaven” portages, something called the “Devil’s Razor” and a 3,000 meter portage between Louisa and Rock Lakes. Double carrying, that is a 9km portage all in itself.

I am lucky enough to have a baby that I can put in a pack and carry her around town. So that’s what I did every day for 6 weeks. Each week upping the ante.

Wherever I could carry her I did.

A few weeks before the trip, Tori Goes Outside opted to join me but both paddling our own canoes. I looked forward to the company, making a new friend and someone to share the experience with.

The morning of our canoe trip I had to say see you later to my baby. I cried and cried. It could have been worse though. I felt super confident in my husband’s ability to look after her while I was away, so that took a lot of stress and pressure off not being with her for 5 days.

I met Tori and Buck at Canoe Lake where we picked up our permits and then crossed the road to Smoke Lake where we ignored the elephant in the room… the strong headwind blowing from the south with 40km gusts.
Canoe Lake.
Ripping headwinds on Smoke Lake.

10 years ago I set out on my first-ever canoe trip from this spot and I was terrified and full of anxiety. Now I was paddling this lake solo. Oddly, I didn’t feel scared or uneasy, but just had a “got to do it” attitude.

Once we finally made it to the other end of the lake and landed our canoes, a huge sense of accomplishment fell over me. I had conquered Smoke Lake, in a headwind and by myself!

We stayed on Ragged Lake for our first night and under a tarp while it rained on and off.
First campsite on Ragged Lake.
The next day there was a break in the clouds and our spirits were lifted. We broke camp in the late morning and paddled down the lake to the Devil’s Staircase portage.
Day 2 morning on Ragged Lake.
Day 2 morning on Ragged Lake.
Ragged Lake.

I enjoyed this paddle so much, and I actually started to realize just how much I love canoe tripping and putting my paddle in the water. I caught myself closing my eyes and taking many deep breaths of fresh, Algonquin air.

It had been 2 years since I had been on a canoe trip, save for an overnight here and there with our baby. I didn’t realize how much I needed this. Time to myself. An opportunity to do something physical and feel in control again.

On the Devil’s Staircase I found out just how heavy my canoe pack was. While squatting down to pick something up, I toppled over and had to get some help from Tori to get back up! Pretty funny.

Well, we blew through that portage. It was difficult, I won’t lie. But nothing that we couldn’t handle. Made us feel really empowered and capable to venture further into the wilderness solo but not alone.

Big Porcupine is a beautiful lake! In fact, this whole route probably has to be some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in the park. The autumn leaves were peaking and the highlands were alive with yellows, reds, oranges and greens. So beautiful.
Tori and Buck on Big Porcupine Lake.
Scattered showers on Big Porcupine Lake.
Last portage of the day into Bonnechere Lake where we stayed on an epic campsite. With no time to spare, we set the tarp up just in time to seek shelter before a downpour. So proud of ourselves for rigging up such an awesome set-up.
So proud of this awesome tarp setup!

Once the rain cloud passed, we got a fire started and had some stiff drinks around the fire sharing stories of trips gone by. I was so thankful to be sharing this adventure with such an awesome mama!

I wasn’t sure if being away from my baby for 5 days was frowned upon. I know there will always be people who will say yes, but for the sake of my own wellbeing, I needed to not have to take care of anyone and just wake up with the day and see how it played out. No schedules to abide by, no one needing anything from me.

What about my breastmilk? Well, that ended up being quite a larger challenge than I had hoped for. I borrowed a Haakaa pump from a friend and briefly tried it out at home. What I didn’t know is that it wouldn’t empty my breasts, so I’d have to hand express, which took a lot of time. And eventually made my nipples sore.

Too much information? Too bad. I’m a mother sharing my story.

I also started to get clogged ducts from not being able to empty my breasts which was quite worrisome. I did the best I could and stopped taking the pills I need to keep my supply up, hoping that when I returned home, I would be able to start taking them again and it would bring my supply back up. Don’t worry it did.

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise on Bonnechere Lake!
Glad I got out of the tent when I did! Bonnechere Lake.
Sunrise on Bonnechere Lake.
Sunrise on Bonnechere Lake.
Sunrise on Bonnechere Lake.
Morning on Bonnechere Lake.
Morning on Bonnechere Lake.
Glorious morning on Bonnechere Lake.
Glorious morning on Bonnechere Lake.
Campsite on Bonnechere Lake.

Paddling between Bonnechere and Phipps Lake.

Day 3 was eventful to say the least. We had a few portages before we made it to Lawrence Lake including a 715m portage which brought us to the lake. I loaded up my canoe, set off and then tipped! Gear floating out of the boat and me completely soaked. I couldn’t believe I had done that!

Had to gather up all my gear, empty the canoe out with the help of Tori while Buck looked on from his own canoe.

After the mishap, we found ourselves on the water paddling this lake that just had a different feeling to it. We paddled across the lake to the first site we saw, I got out to take a look. No real good tarp set-ups, so we decided to paddle to the next site.

I landed the canoe right next to a bag of garbage that had 7 empty tuna cans and some granola wrappers. Then up by the fire pit there was a bottle of hand sanitizer. We were disappointed about this but decided to stay anyway because we were too excited about setting up the tarp with the trees that were available.

If you haven’t guessed, setting up the tarp was a huge thing for us. We enjoyed it and felt so proud to rig up such awesome shelters.

We struggled to find 2 tent pads flat enough for 2, 2-person tents. And where we did manage to set them up, we feared there might be some widowmaker branches. There was a feeling of unease and the thought of not being able to sleep crossed my mind many times.

After getting a fire going and making dinner, we had some drinks around the fire. We were having a great time. Just before dark, we went back to hang the rope for our food. On the way, I stepped on a rusty nail. Punctured the bottom of my foot! 2 for 2 at this campsite now.. 3 for 3 if you count me tipping my canoe at the start of this lake!
Unwinding after a day of paddling and portaging.
Sharing stories around the fire on Lawrence Lake.

Rope hung, we went back to sit by the fire as dusk set in. We thought it was best to burn the garbage and then remove the cans and pack them out with us. Just as it was getting dark we heard a tree branch break in the bushes behind our site. It was gusting wind so decided that it was probably the wind.

Moments later we heard rustling leaves. Hmm.. it’s not windy right now. And at that moment, Buck got up and started walking near the trees. I yelled.

“Go away!”

Nothing.

I whistled, clapped my hands and yelled again.

Nothing. It moved closer. Large movement coming closer.

Shit.

F*ck.

More breaking branches on the ground and rustling leaves. Tori, with bear banger in hand, lets it off into the bush.

“BANG.”

Nothing.

NOTHING!

It moved closer.

What. The. F*ck.

Hearts racing we grabbed the axe, loaded another banger and Tori had her hand on the bear spray at the ready.

It slowly retreated off.

Slowly.

Non-chalantly.

“What do we do now?!” We both asked.

No WAY were we sleeping on this site. It was now completely dark out.

“We have to pack up and leave this site.” We decided.

I suggested we narrate our actions while packing up camp. That should help with making a lot of noise.

Buck was getting between Tori’s feet. Even he knew something was up.

“Okay, now I’m stuffing my sleeping bag into its pack. Now I’m taking the pegs out of the ground.”

Hearts racing, we threw everything into our canoes and paddled the eff out of there and into the dark night.

We followed the shoreline back to the other campsite. Keeping as close together as possible, we finally made it to the landing of the other site.

“Is this far enough away?” Tori asked.

I didn’t know. But I did know that I wasn’t comfortable paddling even further into the lake in search of the last site that was near the portage earlier in the day. This site would have to do.

Adrenaline was rushing through our bodies as we made camp, got a fire going, and mustered up the courage to travel deep into the bush behind this site to hang another rope for our food.

Sitting around the fire and analyzing what had just happened to death, we started coming down from our adrenaline rush. And eventually got really tired. Plus the wood we were burning was too wet. We had to retreat to our tents, even though it was the last place we wanted to be. We wanted to stay on the lookout all night.

It started to rain and the sound of pitter patter on our tent flies masked any noises that might keep us up. We both thought that if we can just make it until the first birds started to sing, then we’ve made it. We’ve made it through the night.

I tossed and turned. But eventually I heard the birds starting to sing and knew morning was upon us.

Still raining we packed up camp, had breakfast and then got in our canoes. We had to go back to the site.. “The Site,” to get the other rope we hung.
At the OTHER campsite on Lawrence Lake.
Packing up in the rain seemed to happen most mornings. Lawrence Lake.
Excited to leave Lawerence Lake behind us!

We retrieved it and got the hell away from there and paddled to the end of Lawrence Lake. We both couldn’t wait to put this place behind us.

I didn’t realize this was the “Stairway to Heaven” and only a few meters difference from the elevation gain that we did on the “Devil’s Staircase.” We portaged all of our gear to the other end and immediately felt better about getting as far away from that lake as possible.

Rod and Gun was a nice little lake to paddle across, and then a 500+m portage brought us into Louisa Lake.

There was no wind this day, so we made the most of it. We paddled to the east end of the lake and found just the site to make our final camp at, and a site that we felt would give us a much better feeling and the ability to have a good night’s sleep.
A perfect site for our last night!
Louisa Lake.
Louisa Lake.
Autumn at its peak in Algonquin on Louisa Lake.
Little bay attached to our campsite.

Spirits were high as the sun finally broke through the clouds.

We weren’t on the site long before we realized that there was virtually no wood around and that we’d have to paddle into the little bay our site was on to find wood.

Once we harvested more than enough, we paddled back to camp and got everything set up.
This should do.

It was a great evening. Dinner was good, we tried to drink up as much of our last booze as possible, and just enjoyed our final night together in the wilderness of Algonquin Park.

Around dusk we hung our rope and when it got dark we hung our food. Back to the fire we heard a branch break beside the bay we were on.

“Must be a tree falling.”

Then we heard “oooooh.”

Then we heard “oou-wah.”

It was a moose! Cool! We knew when we pulled up to this campsite that it would be the perfect place to see a moose. Too bad it was dark.

We decided to head to bed. After pissing around in my tent, blowing up my sleeping mat and getting my sleeping bag out, I finally laid down and let out a good sigh. Then I heard what I thought was Tori dragging her tent over to mine.

“Are you dragging your tent??” I asked.

“Uhh, yeah. Do you not hear that?!?!?!?!?!” She said.

We both listened and all we could hear was an angry moose moaning, thrashing and breaking branches only 100 or so feet from our campsite. Not sure if it was fighting another moose or just angry AF.

I definitely didn’t feel safe in my tent. They were so close that thoughts of them not paying attention to where they’re fighting could bring them up onto the shore and trample us in our tents.

“What do we do?!” Tori asked.

I didn’t know the answer, but didn’t feel safe in my tent.

We got out and went bushwhacking along the shoreline in the opposite direction until we reached an occupied campsite.

“Hello?” We said from the shoreline.

A light turned on inside of a tent. “This site’s occupied.” A voice came from inside.

“Yeah, we’re the ones on the site beside you. Sorry to bother you but we’re really scared.” I said.

“Oh?” Another voice said.

“Can we come up?” I replied.

We went up to their tent and explained what had been going on. The guy wanted to know if he could follow us back to our site so that he could hear the rutting moose.

I had to give them fair warning. “Before you come out of your tent, you should know that I’m holding an axe. I don’t want to frighten you.”

Nervous laughs proceeded.

When we all returned to our site, the moose had trampled off.

It had rained for, I’d say, 75% of our trip. So waking up to a beauty sunrise with clear skies was a welcome change from packing up in the rain.
Sunrise on Louisa Lake.
Sunrise on Louisa Lake.
Sunrise on Louisa Lake.
Sunrise on Louisa Lake.
Autumn on Louisa Lake.
Sunrise on Louisa Lake.
Beauty morning on Louisa Lake.
Tori taking a moment to view our surroundings as we pack up camp.
Leaving our last campsite and heading for the 3km portage (one way)… so 9km.
Tori and Buck paddling into the fog burning off Louisa Lake.

It was a short paddle to the takeout at the 3,000m portage into Rock Lake. We didn’t waste any time getting started on this one. First we carried our packs for 1 km. Then we went back for our canoes and carried them 1.5 kms. When we took our canoes off, we both started coughing immediately.

What. The. Hell..

Pollen? Allergies? Fungus off gassing? We didn’t know!

It was a few minutes in our walk back to get packs that Tori’s leg and hands started to burn when she realized the bear spray had gone off! We were inhaling pepper spray, and Tori sprayed!

What else was going to happen to us on this trip?!

We carried our packs another 1 km, went back for the canoes and carried them to the end at Rock Lake and then went back for our packs one last time. 9kms of portaging took us only 2.5 hours!
Well hello, Rock Lake!
Of course we had a headwind to paddle against, but eventually made it back to the Rock Lake Access Point where we loaded up our gear in Tori’s vehicle and her canoe on the roof rack.
Bruised, maced and battered. Algonquin sure took it out of us!
When she dropped me off at Smoke Lake to get my car (which I then had to drive back to Rock Lake to get the canoe I was using), it was sad to see the adventure come to a close, but we both knew it wouldn’t be our last adventure. When you find someone great to trip with, you’d better hold on to them! We had so much fun and experienced some pretty terrifying things together, but the main thing is that we did this whole trip solo but not alone!
I did it! SOLO!

Two mothers who needed a break from taking care of our little people, to let loose and push ourselves.

We did it.

12 comments

  1. Sounds like a very eventful trip, and the pictures are gorgeous! Glad you were able to do it. To be good mothers, we need to take care of ourselves. What site did you stay at on Louisa? We are planning to go there for Thanksgiving Weekend.

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    • The most eventful! I’ve gone years without anything happening, and then it has to happen all at once! The site on Louisa was the 3rd from the put-in from Rock Lake on the north side of the lake. It was on a little peninsula, and there’s another campsite beside it.

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  2. As always, your adventures are so well documented, it’s as if I am reading an adventure novel, and in fact, apparently it WAS quite the adventure! Your narration always makes it seem to your readers that we are all along for the ride, and as always you have added some stunning photography to show us what you two saw on this wonderful excursion into the Algonquin wilderness. We’re all glad you made it out safely, seeing as how you did encounter some potential threats to your safety. Besides that, you obviously enjoyed a wonderful wilderness trip with a new friend and fellow canoeing lover. Thanks for taking us along again, and we will wait with baited breath to hear and see your next adventure!…. Dad

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  3. Fantastic, Ladies!! Well done! Loved the story and happy it all turned out, right! Cobi and Tori you both are two amazing human beings! Cobi, again your photos I have no words to describe the beauty of them all!!

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  4. Yous did well I love your stories blogs very eventful scary nervy but exciting glad it went well pictures are amazing and glad yous safe and sound God bless thanks for sharing always look forward to your blogs posts and stories Cobi hugs

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  5. Amazing trip, and good for you for taking some wellness time. Those pictures of Louisa Lake make me speechless, the morning light and mist, and colours… ugh, so amazing!!!!!!!!

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