Our annual trip to Algonquin Provincial Park, this time in the rain

Hanging our food up highLast Thursday, my husband and I left for our annual spring camping trip to Algonquin Provincial Park. I always pick a route that only involves one portage since it is my husband who has to carry all of our gear and we usually err on the side of caution, bringing far too many supplies. Then again, we will not go without a good air mattress that fits the both of us.

We left home around eight o’clock in the morning and arrived in Algonquin at noon, where it was raining cats and dogs. We unpacked the van, loaded up the canoe and went on our way. With a raincoat under my life-jacket, I believed I would be protected from the rain, but that didn’t work out. As we paddled our way on Smoke Lake, the rain came down harder, the wind picked up, we had foot and a half whitecaps, and waves were pushing water into the back of the canoe (I learned about that later).

Smoke lake side of portage
Smoke Lake side of portage
Ragged lake side of portage
Ragged Lake side of portage

Thanks to the blustery wind, we were able to paddle all 5¼ kilometres of Smoke Lake in an hour and a half. We were now at the portage, the rain had eased off to a fine mist/spray. The portage between Smoke Lake and Ragged Lake is only .25 kilometres but the first 100 metres is rocky and uphill, then downhill for the rest. It is not a well maintained portage. It took my husband six trips to bring all of our gear to the other side.

The children at Ragged Lake in 2005Once all our gear was back in the canoe, we set off in Ragged Lake looking for a site. Luckily we were familiar with it, having been there eight years ago with our children (they were aged 14, 11, and 9 years at that time). We actually had the entire lake to ourselves that night, no one else had booked a site, so we had our pick, even so, it still took us about 45 minutes to decide. The site we chose was fabulous, a nice sandy beach to park the canoe, two levels, one where there was the fire-pit, and the second for our tent.

Shoes and boots drying on the fireAfter unpacking and setting our tent up, I am shivering because I’m sopping wet, which is what happens when you buy a cheap $2.00 rain poncho (if you can afford it and will be paddling in rain, buy the expensive waterproof clothing). Hubby started a fire so we could warm up, dry my running shoes and his work boots. We changed into warm clothes, I went for 5 layers! One tank top, one t-shirt, one long-sleeved shirt, one kangaroo sweater (hoodie), and hubby’s fleece sweater since my coat was beyond wet.

Drying our wet clothes and our tentIt was now time for supper, so we took the very easy route where you have a pre-dried package of something called Teriyaki Beef, add two cups of boiling water, and let sit for 10 minutes. Not very tasty, but warm and filling. After supper, I actually went to bed at 6 p.m., and hubby joined me at 6:30 p.m. I slept in my 5 layers of shirts & sweaters, jogging pants, homemade very warm knitted socks and my winter hat. Naturally I woke twice during the night having to go pee. The second time we got up to do our business, it was lightly snowing outside! Luckily we are in a 4-season tent, and by the middle of the night, were toasty warm. We both slept until 8 a.m. the next morning.

Dinner of pasta and shrimp in a garlic mushroom cream sauceFriday was another blustery day, with the sun finally making an appearance late afternoon. Just before supper, I took a bad tumble. I did a lovely 2 1/2 rotations, while trying desperately to grab the wooden bench, only to fail, and fall down the hill. I twisted my back, lightly sprained my ankle, and scraped my left hand, thankfully though supper made up for my soreness! For dinner, I roasted six cloves of garlic and mushrooms on the fire, then added them to a cream sauce made up of cream, skim milk powder and butter. The cream sauce was then mixed with rotini pasta and lots of shrimp. I will definitely be making this at home. After dinner, while trying to clean my coffee mug, I burnt my hand. Never a dull moment when camping with me!

LoonSaturday was lovely. I was able to peel off numerous layers of clothing, and apply sunblock. For nature excitement, we saw a loon eat a fish. Later, two canoers from Buffalo stopped by asking for directions, otherwise we didn’t see anyone else on the lake. It was very peaceful.

Sunday turned out to be even nicer than Saturday, lots of sun, plus the water was somewhat calm so we went canoeing. We paddled about a kilometre and a half to an island in the West Bay, where we found a group of high school students, and their teachers from Sarnia to be camping. After chatting with the one teacher, we found out that they had started canoeing Thursday night on Canoe Lake (north of highway 60, whereas Ragged is south of the highway) but had to turn back after two of their canoe’s were swamped. After our chat, we started canoeing back to our site, which was now a lot harder, since the wind had reappeared and was against us. Once back on our site, we were visited by four canoers from Pennsylvania, who were also looking for directions to the same bay as the boys from Buffalo.

Canoes in the mistMonday was our last day and we woke to a beautiful sight. The morning fog, the mist coming off the water, then a flotilla of canoes. The group of high-school students were leaving, one canoe after another coming out of the mist. It was breathtaking.

A school trip, written years ago by middle child

The other day, while my husband was cleaning up the kids rooms, he came across an essay written by middle child, when she was in high school. We used to save all of the kids stuff when they were in grade school, but it just became overwhelming. Thus when they entered high school, we would read whatever they gave us, but most of the time, it was tossed in the recycling bin. So I always find it fascinating to find something written/drawn years ago. With her permission, I am reprinting it here, because I loved reading her perspective of a school trip.

Ragged Lake

On Friday, September 26th, my outdoor education class went on a camping trip to Algonquin Provincial Park. I had woken up at 5:30 a.m. to eat my breakfast and left at 6:00 a.m. I got out of my mother’s car after saying my goodbyes and slowly walked to the freezing and tired looking group of teenagers. We waited and waited for Mr. B. and the yellow bus to start us on our great adventure to the bush. A couple of minutes later the mustard yellow school bus drove into the parking lot, we loaded our gear and headed for the seats. We were finally on the road, life is a highway played in the background as we sat and watched the cars beside us drive past. Mr. B. called out everyone’s names, making sure we were actually on the bus.

The bus ride was long and dreadful but I held on, I could hear the laughter and cheers of the other girls and boys clapping, singing and dancing to their favourite songs. I just wanted to close my eyes and drift away in total silence. An hour into the trip we were all awakened by Mr. B. saying “it’s time” and then he handed out papers to us. “We are playing wink murder; wink at the person on your sheet but let no one see you do it.” Luckily for me, the person I had to kill was sitting right next to me. I turned my face and said Stuart, he looked straight at me and I opened and closed my left eye “ON NO” he yelled, you’re a liar. I showed him my sheet and just like looking at me he was dead, in 30 seconds I had killed the first person on my list.

We were about five minutes to our lunch stop when all of a sudden we heard a big bang! The noise was dreadful, big thumps and bangs rattled the school bus. We thought we had killed an animal, some said it sound like a deer, snake or giant octopus. In the end we agreed that the giant octopus popped our tire. We pulled into McDonald’s with our popped tire and waited two long excruciating hours. I walked into the McDonald’s and ordered a giant Oreo Mcflurry, it was so tasty it just ate all my feelings away. I ate and ate, every 15 minutes because when you’re stuck at McDonald’s for two hours all you do is make ‘sugar mountains’ and eat. The mustard cheese bus was finally ready and we still had two hours left to travel. I slept most of the way so I cannot tell you what occurred in those 120 minutes.

When we arrived at Smoke Lake we loaded our canoes and headed off in the deep freezing cold water. We paddled and paddled until I wanted to kill everyone around me. When we came to our first portage I decided to impress all of the guys by carrying the canoe uphill through the woods. I did this for the next four portages; I paddled and carried, paddled and carried like every other student. We got to our campsite, set up a tent, and had some nasty chicken dogs and Pop Tarts then fell asleep.

The next morning we decided to eat Pop Tarts, pre-cooked bacon and eggs. They were the crappiest tasting eggs I have ever eaten. For the rest of the day, we paddled and portaged, paddled and portaged, through forests, through rocks and marshes and finally paddled some more. I believe by this time my canoe was last, I pretty much didn’t care because my arms hurt and nothing would get me to go any faster.

We pitched our tents all in a row then headed to the camp fire. We played games until our stomachs ached from laughing and we played hide and seek until you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I was exhausted and freezing but what was even more hilarious was when the rain came down splashing in our tent, “a hole! Our tent is leaking” I screamed at the top of my lungs, we decided that we’d have to switch tents. I ended up moving into a one-person tent that I would have to share with three other people, we were squashed but we were warm. In the middle of the night our tent ripped, soaking our sleeping bags and making me almost catch pneumonia. I knocked on our teacher’s tent and asked if I could bunk with them, they agreed and I fell asleep in wet clothes. The next morning the other girls and I couldn’t feel our feet and hands because we were so cold from last night’s rain and then realized we had to paddle home. We were super tired and paddling with numb hands sucks.

We were almost at our goal; home was so close yet so far. I could see the dock from afar, and dreamed of the long warm bus ride ahead. When we finally arrived at the docks, the group and I carried our equipment to the bus. The bus was warm as anticipated, our adventure was almost over; we were almost home. We sang and danced to our favourite songs during the bus ride. I slept and dreamed. I dreamed about how it doesn’t matter what sex, race or who you hang out with, it (the trip) can bring any group of people together. I learned so much more about myself, and how to overcome my fears, I hold this experience close to my heart and wish that this opportunity comes again. 

By middle child 

Note: For the camping trip, students are divided into groups and are responsible for putting together the gear they need plus the food they will eat, thus the nasty eggs, pop tarts, and pre-cooked bacon.

Note 2: For years we have been taking our children into the backcountry of Algonquin because of the beauty and my love of canoeing. They have learned to canoe for hours, portage when they were exhausted from canoeing in the hot sun or the downpour of rain. They have seen amazing wildlife, everything from extremely large snapping turtles, to red-tailed deer and moose.

A family portrait June 16 2005 taken at Ragged Lake

A family portrait June 16 2005 taken at Ragged Lake