First, knowing we shouldn't pack the entire kitchen (only one small whisk and far less cutlery), obtaining light-weight equipment (tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, chairs, stove with fuel, etc.), and testing just how much weight we could each carry. Next, figuring out what food to take (mostly freeze-dried packs), and making sure we ate the heavier food in the two days before the big portage. Luckily, we started planning and prepping several months in advance, so we didn't have a huge rush the week before. Perhaps we're starting to get the hang of this...
We started our trip by heading up toward Round Lake, stopping for a nice picnic lunch near Bracebridge along the way. It has become our custom (this being our 3rd annual camping trip together) to stay at a Voyager Quest cabin the night before, enjoying a lovely supper prepared by the friendly staff. This year, we got our canoes early and paddled them to the cabin in what turned out to be the windiest evening of paddling. But, this enabled an early start the following morning, and that was the plan.
The day dawned bright and calm. Early starts before the wind picked up would become key to pleasant paddling and maximizing our enjoyment of each campsite. We made it across Round Lake to the Algonquin entrance, then through the river, through West and East Tea Lake, and finally into Mangotasi, a journey of 18 km, happily downwind.
Our first full day off-grid took us a short distance to Biggar Lake, only about 6 km of paddling, including 3 small portages no longer than 500m. Mike repeated them so as not to carry as much (once with canoe, then again with pack), and to stretch out his back (he had discovered in the weeks leading up to the trip that a good morning walk helped sort out the pain somewhat), while the rest of us tested out single-trips with our pack-light packs. We had absolutely still waters and encountered few other paddlers.
We shared our site on Biggar with a variety of fun frogs and birds, enjoyed some swimming, and generally relaxed.
Three Mile has some unfortunate history to it, including an island where, during a storm, a camper died after lightning struck a tree and fell on the poor sod. Some people report uneasy feelings around that island. Mike dubbed it 'Murder Island', and we decided to steer clear of it, just in case. We did, however, encounter another spot that left us a little nervous.
As we approached a campsite, both Mike and I saw a man reading in a chair by the water's edge, its clear occupation prompting us not to look too close at it as a potential stopping point for the night. However, a moment later, the man disappeared. This caused some confusion, and Mike decided to investigate. We pulled our canoe close; Mike got out and took a look around, finding no one and no equipment, and no indication that anyone had just vacated the area. Tracy and Kevin, who pulled up nearby, were confused by our bewilderment, for they hadn't seen anyone, and wanted to know if we were stopping for the night. Once we determined that, despite the decent quality of the camp, we really didn't want to share it with a reclusive ghost, we continued on our way, eventually reaching the 3 km portage, which had a campsite right beside it, though well sheltered. We stayed there instead. No Murder Island, no Ghost Island. Probably a good choice.
still as glass
with nary a breeze to disturb the
The gentle glide of a canoe
washes slow ripples in a languid wake
across the peaceful lake.
The approach to an island campsite
shows a man sitting, reading,
his gaze, should he glance up,
encompassing a serene view of forests
touched by the first kiss of autumn's flames,
skirted by sky-blue waters.
The canoe presses past,
slides near-silent along its watery highway.
A tree obscures the man on the shore,
yet he doesn't re-emerge into view--
has disappeared into nothingness,
his chair, his form, his very presence
The canoe stops; the paddlers stare,
but no sign of the mysterious camper remains.
A moment of hesitation
before one ventures to explore the island.
Not a trace of the reader,
nothing to signal his presence--
no scuff, no mark, no indentation of a chair.
A retreat to the canoe,
a swift resumption of the journey.
They'll find no rest on this abandoned campsite.
Too many tales of haunted woe already stain the lake
and some of its otherwise inviting islands.
They'll not add another by invading
the sanctuary of a ghost.
Now we had reached Manitou Lake with warm, sunny weather. We found the site we had so enjoyed last year unoccupied, so quickly made it our home for the rest of the day. This involved Mike setting up our tarp, as our experience of Manitou usually included rain. Manitou did not disappoint (as Mike said). Though we managed some wonderful swimming beneath a cheerful sun in the early afternoon, late afternoon and evening brought high winds and plenty of rain with thunder and lightning. Although the first burst of rain tapered off with a rainbow, we had multiple other drenchings. We were very glad not to be the canoeists caught in that weather! Instead, we kept cozy and dry beneath Mike's masterwork of tarping, blazing fire lighting up the darkness of the evening. Happily, it stopped raining before we had to venture out to our tents (or the thunderbox) for the night.
Until we got back to the vehicle, all packed up and ready to go. Whereupon, we discovered that someone had taken down an old sign, but left the remnant spike in the ground, right about tire level, and right next to a new sign. We had parked beside this new sign, as the only spot left when we arrived on the Saturday of a long weekend. Sadly, the spike and the tire didn't get along well, especially not right after Kevin called to Mike: "Just gun it!"
But a temp tire, and the good folks at Kal Tire in Bracebridge saved the day, and we made it home all in one (mostly) piece. And Mike's back? Happily transformed by days of paddling, hiking with a canoe, and sleeping on the ground. (It took about two days being home, back to the grind, for that to revert :( )