Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 - Happy New Paddling Year!

So here we are, finally arriving once more on the last day of another year. Its been one hectic holiday season and not only am I pooped, I haven't had the time to reflect back on the previous year, yet. I've been working back to back and I barely had time to post this blog as I have to head right back out to our friend's place for New Year's celebration. You know what I need? Darn right, a canoe trip! Considering that we are going to be 10 degrees above normal temperatures in Toronto tomorrow, (11c and raining!) if the lakes were opened, I just might entertain that idea! I'm sure some of the local rivers are open too, but with fast moving water and iced-over sections, its a risky proposition.

Am I happy to close out 2010 and start 2011? Not really, doesn't phase me much - its just another day, another year. (other than coming to grips that I'll be a year older!) However, what I do look forward to at the start of the new year is dreaming and planning about all the possible and upcoming canoe trips. Its kind of like sugar fairies dancing around my head. (I know, I know, Christmas has past, but I'm still in the mood, so deal with it!) The winter solstice has passed, so has Christmas, and now the new year is approaching. We are almost there, but not before I get out for one last party in 2010! It's soon time to make new paddling dreams come true, what do you say to that? Cheers everyone! Can't wait!

Wishing you all a wonderful and happy New Year filled with lots of opportunities to paddle a canoe - whether on day outings, multi-day trips, or expeditions! Be safe, have fun and lets ring in the new year with big expectations!
Happy New Year's, paddlers!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Ho, ho, ho! Its that time of year! The mad rush, shopping madness, no parking spots, long lines, work parties, endless treats, cooking marathons, stuffed bellies and sugar highs - all the hallmarks that mark the approach of Christmas. And let's not even talk about Christmas day itself! Why do we do it? Did the spirit of Christmas create this, or the marketing campaigns of retailers? I am in no way innocent to all this madness, as frankly I get caught up in it too! Despite all this, there is positive lining to it all. Its time for family to get together, reaching out to those less fortunate and to celebrate its religious significance. That's what makes Christmas worth having, despite it all.

Well, I don't care much about receiving gifts this time of year. That is the least of my concern, but what's not to like if there is an odd 'canoe-shaped' present under the tree? Or one that is long and narrow? I'm sure any paddler would be,....let's say, ecstatic! Anyhow, I was really impressed with a recent glossy coloured Christmas flyer from The Bay. I couldn't help resist scanning the photo to post here. I think, no, I'm actually positive that this is an amazing scenario for the perfect gift! See the image below.

I couldn't scan the entire image due the size limitation of my scanner, but I got most of it. Tell me you aren't impressed! First off, there is a cedar canvas canoe in the traditional Bay (or formerly known as the The Hudson's Bay Company) colours wrapped in a huge red bow. Of course to match the canoe, there is the same coloured hardwood paddle wrapped in a somewhat similar bow, albeit significantly smaller. Now, the gift giving is extremely mismatched, going just by size. But whose counting, although I've heard the saying, "size matters", whatever that means?! ;) Anyhow, I'd certainly say based on this scenario, this is one lucky guy. Not only is he getting a beautiful canoe, there is the hot female in the equally appealing flannel shirt! Yes of course she is getting a beautiful hardwood paddle with the assumption the guy is a hunk in his flannel jammy. But why the hell does the paddle blade have "Up The Creek" printed on it?!! Talk about ruining a nice gift! (he just might get the paddle 'up the head'!) I know, i know, its just an ad - I'm just getting too much into the scene. (maybe I'm jealous?) Anyhow, hopefully with the paddle, there is an envelope with a plane ticket to the far north - something to give justice to this beautiful canoe and paddle. And of course if he should be so lucky, (considering the setting) maybe sex in the new canoe?!? Tis the season for giving, isn't it? What? What?! Did I say something wrong?!
(Hmm, I wonder if I can squeeze my canoe through the front door? ;))

Well, my wish this season is for all of you, including your family and loved one to have the most wonderful Christmas! One filled with lots of love, happiness and joy!I'm certainly looking forward to it as well, although my sister's first attempt at the turkey this year has me a bit worried. Anyhow, all the best to you this festive season!
Merry Christmas Everyone!

(How about we try the side door??)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Fitting Gift to End the Paddling Season

All it took was a brief reprieve from the strong wind to convince
myself to head out on Canoe Lake. The problem
being it was just that - brief!

Ahh, it feels good to finally put a post on my blog! I actually start to feel bad when lots of time passes and I haven't posted anything. In actual fact, I have been quite busy with writing commitments and deadlines, so I didn't have much time for my blog. But now that's over, the only other pressure is the Christmas holidays heading our way. It shouldn't be a stressful time, but there is always things to do, stuff to buy, places to be, weight to be gained, etc, etc, etc, get the idea.

Well unfortunately this year, I didn't get the opportunity to close out the canoe season with the white stuff. Despite the fact there is lots of it now causing many people, places, and countries lots of grief. Hearing about how some travellers stranded in airports may not get to their homes for Christmas this year is just terrible. Stick me in the bush in the middle of a bizarre any day! Anyhow, my last trip of the year did provide a nice parting gift, (Christmas present if you wish) and no, it was a frozen water! That story is for later.

The way my solo trip started near the end of November had me wondering what the rest of the trip was going to be like. Of course at this time of year, you have to expect both bad weather and tough conditions, but it doesn't hurt to cross your fingers and hope for the best. I was initially relieved when I got my permit from the park office without problems, unlike last year. (Yes, I know, there was snow outside and it was Dec then!) This time the young lady gladly issued me the permit and even remarked about another party that headed out earlier in the same direction. I then made my way to the Canoe lake put-in, only to be duly unimpressed. Waiting for me was waves, whitecaps, and lots of headwind - great!

After unloading the car, I waited out the howling wind. As much as I needed to get going, I would literally be wasting energy trying to make any forward progress in these conditions. Luckily, only after 15-20 mins, the wind seemed to peter out. Well not totally, the gusts were now just intermittent. This was the break I needed, so off I went. (at least that is what I thought) Of course when I shoved off, didn't the wind gods sneeze?!! Yes, I was paddling the canoe in reverse, had all the weight possible in the front, and even moved myself to the middle of the canoe, but it still took me like a twig and twirled me funny! If ever I looked like I didn't know what I was doing in a canoe, it would have been now. What eventually did help was changing my paddle. I was using a short 52" bent shaft that I found just didn't have enough reach or power for these conditions. Thanks to the waves soaking my gloves, did it eventually dawn on me to switch paddles!

Forward progress was still slow and tiring even with the longer whitewater paddle, but at least I was making distance. It was a tough go with frozen hands and wet pants, but somehow, even with the wind biting at my skin, I was starting to appreciate being out there alone. After a couple portages through the chain of Joe Lakes, I began the 435m portage that bypasses Lost Joe Lake and ends at Baby Joe Lake. I decided to carry the heavy barrel, the paddles and the Pelican case with all the camera gear first. The trail was pretty with pine needles and dried leaves scattered generously throughout the forest floor. Throw in the soothing gurgle of the stream nearby, it was the ideal tonic for the urban soul. On my way back, while picking up some birch bark for a fire, random thoughts entered my head. For some reason, (I still don't know why?) I started to wonder what I'd do if I encountered a bear. First off, I figured the chances were slim. With temperatures below zero, even bears wouldn't avail themselves to trouncing around the forest at this time of year, unlike some seemingly-intellectual human. I didn't have bear spray, a stick (as my head turns to look for one), or even a whistle - although I did have a folding knife with a 1.5 inch blade. (stop laughing!)

Cresting a small knoll, as I looked up, did I not see a big mass of black fur that stopped me in my tracks! I think I even stopped breathing. It seemed like eternity as I stood there trying to re-focus my eyes from looking at the ground to now 20 meters in front of me. Breathing a sigh of relief, I made out the figure of a moose in the shadow of the sparse canopy. Surprisingly, the brown spindly legs and its honking schnoz blended with the forest background and all I initially saw was the black mass of fur in the middle of the trail. Relieved it wasn't a bear, my thoughts turned to picture taking, but my camera was at the other end - crap! I knew for certain if I went back for it, the moose would be gone, so I took the opportunity to just enjoy the moment.

I should have known, based on the grand staircase that started
the 435m portage to Baby Joe Lake. It was to portend
an equally grand experience!

We had a stare down for some time, sizing each other up. (Not that my 'hulking' 150lbs impressed this ungulate by any means!) It was kind of neat when it decided I wasn't a threat anymore and turned its head away from me to look towards Lost Joe Lake. Eventually I decided I needed to get going, but the moose seemed a bit reluctant to move. It looked back at me, and off towards the lake again. I was starting to wonder why it was standing its ground, until I started to hear some shuffling coming from my left. It was hard to see what was there, but I slowly made out several other large dark figures through the dense shoreline vegetation. Alarm bells started to go off in my head - wasn't it rutting season for moose?!

I had no clue when the rutting season started and ended, all I knew was that bull moose are particularly dangerous then, much more than a bear. For the next several minutes panic set in again as I wondered if I could climb any trees nearby. Slowly backing away, not one but three vague hulks appeared slightly behind and to my left! I could hear my heart starting to pound as I looked for an escape route. Bears all of a sudden didn't seem scary, nor did the usefulness of my small pocketknife. Keeping my eyes locked beside me, 3 moose slowly emerged from the dense brush. Surprisingly, none had any impressive rack to display and send me packing! Phew! But why was there so many moose together?!!

Feeling more confident after insuring my bladder hadn't inadvertently emptied, I now strutted back down the path towards the lone moose on the trail. It dawned on me that the three moose beside me were the off-springs of the moose that stood in my way. (although they were practically as big as the mom) That was why the mother moose didn't move and kept looking towards the lake. I guess she was somehow letting them know I was around, and until she determined I wasn't a threat, stopped her off-springs from emerging from cover. Relieved yet again, I slowly approached the mother moose, speaking calmly and asking for passage. Thankfully she obliged and made her way towards her young.

The roller coaster of emotions had me pumped full of adrenalin, giving me that extra shot of energy to carry the canoe and remaining barrel. I've never had the privilege of being so close to 4 moose alone. As much as the incident nearly gave me a coronary, it was truly amazing. As I approached the same area, they were unexpectedly all still there! Now I was steaming that I didn't have my camera! I decided the opportunity was too unique to pass off, so I put my canoe down and walked down towards the river where I sat down to watch them.

The mother moose again stared at me from the other side of the river before she gave me the "oh, its you again" look and continued foraging before moving off into the forest. Then the 3 young emerged from my side of the river and slowly crossed single file. It was hard to believe, but when they were all in view, all in the river, they all stopped and turned their heads to look at me! Where was my camera!!! Argh!!!! It was the picture perfect moment! I'm positive these younglings were perplexed by my display of contorted faces at that time. It was an opportunity lost, but another gained - trying to console myself this way. As they walked one by one into the forest, the last moose decided it wasn't done with me. It turned and continued looking at me for quite some time. During which I rationalized that there was no way I knew what the moose was thinking, but in some sense I thought I did. That span of time, space and distance felt like some communication of sorts. An acknowledgement, a curiosity, an acceptance, and ultimately a level of comfort. Whichever the case, it was a rare connection that left us parting ways with a higher level of respect for each other.

A most fitting ornament, not only for this time of year,
but also for my end-of-the-year trip!

Carrying the canoe down the rest of the portage, I was thankful at the chance encounter, even more grateful that it wasn't a bear or a enraged bull moose. It felt like a fitting gift, especially after having to deal with the miserable conditions at the start of the trip. It even was an epiphany of sorts, helping me to further understand and respect animals like the moose and acknowledge that co-existence doesn't have to only be in fleeting (or fleeing) moments. Although I didn't get to end the season paddling under lightly falling snow, this special encounter more than made up for it. An amazing gift to end the paddling season for sure, just unfortunate that I couldn't share that scene with all of you!


PS. Being Christmas and all, the scene of the 3 moose in the river reminded me of the nativity scene of the 3 wise men on their camels. With a Canadian twist to it, it could have easily been the 3 wise moose!

PPS. I'm planning to invest in a P&S camera to carry with me at all times. Live and learn!