The Wilds of the Park

The next day dawned with clear skies, comfortable temperatures and, as the sun climbed higher, a brisk wind from the north. Over breakfast we hashed out the final details of our wilderness adventure. After carefully packing up, we headed back on highway 60 to Canoe Lake, Algonquin’s most popular put-in. I felt it might be better for two "novices" to stick with the most traveled routes in case we had any problems, Shirley agreed reluctantly.

  I think she went along with my idea because she worried that, otherwise, I might back out.We rented our canoe and after a halting committee meeting attended by ourselves, the outfitter, his son, his daughter and just about everybody else in the immediate area we managed to launch with what finally appeared to be a well balanced load. After only a few strokes it struck me that Shirley seem to be a natural with a paddle.
As we left the protected side of the dock, that wind which we had so casually noticed this morning took on new significance. In my mind it seem to be building into a gale force and the lake's chop increased as we made our way into open waters.  
  On one hand I took comfort in the extra measure of stability our gear gave us but I was distressed by just how low the canoe rode in the water with the extra weight. As the white caps built, I anticipated being swamped with each one.

Acting on Shirley’s suggestion I paddled closer to the lee shore where the waves were reduced in size. As we progressed, what initially had seemed precarious became comfortable and we settled into a steady rhythm. This had a pacifying effect on both of us. Perhaps this was artificially enhanced by the noise of the wind and the waves, which wouldn’t let us argue effectively.

  The lake started to narrow and we began to make out our first portage. This was, to us, a significant milestone and we felt emboldened by our great advance. Once we landed we emptied the gear and I enthusiastically hoisted the canoe onto my shoulders without apparent effort, a maneuver I had practiced again and again in a friend's yard in order to appease the testosterone Gods of the forest.
  As I peered out from under my dark helmet I encountered nary a sneer nor smirk from the observers and I felt both proud of myself and foolish to have ever worried about their impressions.

Shirley had set out before me with a pack and a few other items, which she had carried to the next lake. She then returned, meeting me at the halfway point on the trail. We had agreed earlier to share the portage so I slipped the canoe off of my aching back and rested it on the ground. I was just about to break into a long-winded dissertation on how to lift and carry a canoe when Shirley deftly leaned over and easily rolled the canoe onto her shoulders. Slack jawed and wide-eyed, I watched as she quickly disappeared down the path. I finally turned around to fetch the other half of our equipment feeling totally dejected but determined not to say anything to her. I had plenty of time to find a secure rationalization for myself and set about the task immediately.

At the far end of the portage we launched onto Little Joe Lake which is less exposed than Canoe lake and consequently less choppy. This easy paddling was offset not five minutes later when storm clouds started to move across the sky. We hugged the shore in anticipation of what was to come. The ensuing clouds darkened, which had us paddling harder, our eyes narrowing in hopes of making out a campsite marker along the shore. We rounded a small point and a perfect site came into view. It just happened to be vacant.

The cloud's threat increased and we responded with a coordinated effort, which proudly produced a perfectly pitched tent. As we stretched our nylon kitchen tarp from the last supporting tree the blackened skies unleashed a torrent of rain with hail the size of moth balls. Fortunately, we managed to shore up our small shelter in time, allowing us to laugh at this ridiculous weather.  
  Our mirth was short lived, as we watched some others not quite so lucky. Two fully loaded canoes drifted by the shore with the occupants performing a frenzied tribal dance. Their awkward movements were a result of a vain attempt to paddle while simultaneously trying to protect their exposed heads from the onslaught of the hail stones. They sat extremely low in the water, which made us believe that their canoes were filling like bathtubs. Shirley repeatedly called out to them to take refuge with us but the downpour drowned out her shouts.

After several minutes the storm passed and we marveled at the number of large ice pellets that covered our site. This certainly wasn’t something we had anticipated and it was the main topic of conversation until Shirley discovered the bathroom.

  Next Page: Settling In



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