Friday, September 24, 2010

Back Out In A Canoe!

The wait was painfully long, but glad to head out
on a canoe trip again!

I haven't posted on the blog lately as I was away on several canoe trips. (finally!) Its always hard to readjust to civilization when you come back from a big trip like the Bloodvein, so you look forward with much anticipation to the next one to reclaim your sanity and peace of mind. The prospects looked good with multiple trips planned for September, however it unfolded in the most unexpected way.

Paddling with new people means doing, learning and trying
different things, - like this delicious breakfast!

Initially I was overwhelmed with several request to paddle with different people. I was wondering how I would or could manage to paddle with everyone. With four trips lined up with different groups of people, in the end none of them panned out!!! I'm not joking!! (and no, I'm not upset) From car accidents, to wrongs dates to even a surprise trip to Scotland, they all fell apart. But in the end, it didn't mean I didn't get to go, it just meant some last minute changes to the trip! (Like hell I would stay home!)

The coloration and pattern on this baby
Milk Snake is gorgeous!

Thankfully Becky was okay with holding this fellow so I
could get some nice pics. What a beauty!

In mid September I headed to the Kawarthas with a new paddling friend, Becky. Despite canoeing all her life, she only paddled local rivers close to her home in Kitchener and Canada's canoe mecca, Algonquin Provincial Park. I immediately decided that I had to burst her 'bubble' and introduce her to greener pastures on the other side of the fence. Well when the trip ended, it came as a big relief when she acknowledged that she had a great time and was grateful to paddle in the Kawarthas. Known for its many lakes, marshlands, and its characteristic pink granite outcrops that add such uniqueness and beauty to the landscape, what's not to like? Now more curious than ever, she is now looking forward to paddling other great destinations our province has to offer. Glad I could do that, and yeah, okay, I'll take a bit of credit for popping that Algonquin 'bubble'!

I could say 'adorable' too, but this fellow let me know
it didn't want us around. The Stinkpot Turtle
is a threatened species.

Besides enjoying the weather and scenery on the trip, we got to experience some unique wildlife. Especially when Becky found a baby Milk Snake and I found a Stinkpot Turtle. Both are odd names, but only one has substance to back it up. The milk in the Milk Snake name was totally based on myth. People thought these snakes sucked milk out of a cow's udder since they were often found in barns! The main reason they were there was because of the rodents, not the cows. As to the Stinkpot Turtle, the name is more than justified. When this turtle feels threatened, it releases a foul odour to protect itself. I don't know about me looking or being all that threatening, (must have been Becky!), but trust me, we found out pretty quickly why its named as such! After taking a few pictures, we gladly let it go its merry way!

It's coming whether we like it or not!

Lastly, canoeing in the Kawarthas is free since it is predominantly crown land. Unfortunately, (well depends on how you look at it?) changes have steadily been taking place. I've noticed in the last year that signs have been going up, - like portage signs, camp site signs and even bathrooms signs. Now include picnic tables, fire rings and thunderboxes and you have the makings of a newly formed park. Yes, that's right, the Kawarthas Highland Signature Site Park, - what a mouthful! There was signs all over the place to indicate that by next year May, anyone paddling in the Kawarthas will now have to pay. I have mixed feeling about this happening, but regardless of what I think, I figured I should share this information with my readers. Nevertheless, its still no reason not to paddle this wonderful place! Just ask Becky!


Now who in their right mind would not want to paddle here!
Even if you have to pay, its definitely worth it!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Kindred Spirit - Too Close To Home

Outdoor pursuits such as canoeing has been known to
elevate people to a higher place.

Being a canoehead, I quite often notice and pay attention to canoe related things. Whether books, gear, paddling magazines or even websites. (obviously) Even the topic of canoes or trips gets me all excited as I then quite often get verbal diarrhea! So its a no brainer that it's like a natural reaction of mine or an extension of my personality.

Call it a fatal attraction, canoeing is that to some people.
Without it, its like life lacks energy, purpose
or meaning. It's that important.

One day at work when I headed to our staff room to have lunch, I noticed the usual scattering of magazines and newspapers on the table. Most times I don't even bother because I usually have my own stuff to read. However, what caught my attention was a small picture of a guy in a canoe. As I picked up the magazine, I realized it was a recent edition of MacLean's. I guess someone else had read it and left it open on that page - if not, I would have never even noticed it.

Curious about the article, I read the title, - it was the fellow's full name, including his middle name. And right above, just like the inscription on a tombstone was the year of his birth and death! Oh,...that's not good I thought. So now a bit apprehensive, I read the short intro below the title. "He loved canoeing, and could be seen portaging through suburban streets to get to the river. 'He always wanted to see what was around the bend.'" I knew just from that I already liked him; I continued reading.

My car has often been identified at work with a canoe on the roof.
A fellow from the IT department shot this with his
Blackberry, and sent it to me titled "One
CanoeHead Spotted!!"
Photo: Cameron Gonsalves

I soon forgot about lunch as I became totally absorbed in this short one page article. What became clear was that this fellow by the name of Michael Craig Robinson, fell in love with canoeing, much like myself. Here was a guy that I could see many similarities and feel a kindred spirit. While reading I was mesmerized and understood his passion. He was often spotted at work with his canoe on his roof just like I frequently do. He read many books pertaining to nature, the environment and history like I have. He even missed an important event, like his graduation to go canoeing. I've been guilty on more than one occasion for similar types of offences!

What kind of books did you expect to find in my room?

Sure, I'm probably reading (excuse the pun) too much into this. There are probably dozens of other people that can relate to Mike like I did. However, it doesn't take away from the fact that a promising individual who cared about others and shared his passion for paddling had his life cut short. So you are probably wondering what happened? Well, that's where I end my inadequacies as a writer. The article was well written by Julia Belluz and should be appreciated by actually reading it. I decided to scan it and post it below for all to read. I know its probably questionable posting this article but I have nothing to gain, (monetarily or otherwise) other than a desire to share the life of a brilliant individual who also happens to love canoeing. Here it is below. Click on the picture to enlarge it for easier reading.

All it took was a picture of a
guy in a canoe.

Sure there is no coincidence that his father died of lung cancer like my father did. Nor the fact that we are almost the same age, him being 40 and I 39. Neither is the fact that his plane crashed on July 24, which would have been the first day of his trip, somewhat like July 25, the first day of our big trip. Nevertheless, despite never meeting him, I feel a great sadness and heaviness in my heart towards this kindred spirit, - a passionate paddler. The coincidence of how and why I came to find this one article eludes me, but the similarities and irony hits too close to home. I just hope it all ends here.

My deepest condolences to his wife Tammy and their son Nolan.
Mike, rest in peace.

- from one passionate paddler to another -

Heaven, the ultimate Shangri-La must be
a dream place to paddle.
Enjoy my 'friend'.

PS. If you have a hard time reading the article,
contact me at and I will email it to you.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Bloodvein River - Eight Feet Up

Since when do Aspen grow in water?!! Problem is that
they don't! See the ones angling over?

Ontario this past winter has had record low snowfall. Combine that with record high spring temperatures and little rain meant only one thing for our rivers - very low water levels. This was detrimental to my planned canoe trips this year as 2 major river trips were cancelled due to this. So when the the date for the Bloodvein River trip approached I was cautiously optimistic, especially as there also was an out of control fire burning just 100 kms east of where we were to start! The odds did not look good.

Anxious, a month before the trip I finally decided to check the government website that provides info on current water levels. To my surprise the water levels were actually very high. In fact for the week that water levels were displayed on the graph, it was higher than the maximum values and slowly on its way down! Who would have ever thought!? Relieved, I was now pretty certain that by the time we would be on the river the water levels would still be paddleable. Phew!

In this picture you can clearly see the high water level mark
on the rock face. This was evident everywhere
in varying levels.

Fast forward into the trip and we started to realize something was 'up'? At first we thought waters levels were normal as we clearly saw a distinct high water level mark. (There was clean pink granite rock approx 2-3 feet below a clear line of thick brown lichen.) Even after our second portage, our first being a short carry down to the lake from the parking lot, we immediately got our feet wet on the trail and assumed just that - a wet portage. However, when almost every portage had pools of water, mud holes, and even 'mini creeks' running through them, we knew this area wasn't experiencing any of the dry conditions further south.

The out wash and boils from some of the rapids and falls
were incredible! Lisa contemplating where
we would end up if we dumped!!

The most obviously evidence of high water levels was at the rapids. Nothing that the guidebook or information we had made sense. It seemed all of the rapids went up a notch or two in classification, with some rapids disappearing all together and even new ones being formed! The most anxious moments were when we were trying to land the canoe at the start of the portage. As most were just at the brink of the foaming whitewater, chute or falls, the unmistakable roar combined with the strong pull of the current meant paddling to the take-out was a nerve-racking affair. We thus started to search and even use high water take-outs when they were available. Occasionally even the put-ins were too risky as well, which inevitably meant portaging further, but given the option it was well worth it.

The high water levels even claimed some victims, - I mean
the boat! (I assumed there wasn't anyone in it!)
Photo: Lisa Riverin-Thomas

All of the evidence plus many more was verified one day when we paddled by a cabin with a floatplane. There was a fellow sitting by shore who had just gone swimming so we decided to paddle by and say hello. We not only found out that this is the last remaining leased cabin in Atikaki Provincial Park, but that the water levels were in fact 7-8 feet above normal levels at this time of year! He amusingly pointed out the curved tops of the handles that stuck out beside us, - it was attached to the dock below our canoe!

One of the truly amazing things that the high water levels
created was dynamic hydraulic art forms. We
called this one the Whale Tail.

The high waters levels and conditions related to it made our trip much more interesting than we'd ever expected. Some good, some bad, sometimes frustrating and other times exciting, but regardless, they all make for good stories! I can laugh at it now, but so can you when I get around writing about it!