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Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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canoe trip

Jeff and I went to the cottage on Friday night, left on our trip on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. We used our Gibson canoe, which had been a wedding present from my father-in-law, built by our friend Danny Gibson (son of Dan Gibson, creator of the Solitudes recordings). Weather on Saturday was perfect...sunny, warm, breezy. Although I started getting a wee bit sore after the first two hours of paddling, the fresh air and scenery were wonderful. Saw a moose and her calf, otters, merganzer ducks. There were a few portages, the longest being about 1100m. Jeff carried a big knapsack and the canoe, and I carried the Blue Barrel.

The barrel got a lot of attention along the way; I don't think many canoe trippers had seen the like before. The barrel was great...we put all our foodstuffs in it as well as a sleeping bag and other gear. Sealed up, it's safe from water (in case our canoe dumped, which it didn't) and bears. Loaded up, it weighs about 50 lbs. I had it strapped onto my back (Jeff had to help me get it on) and had to walk slightly bent wasn't bad on short portages, but got a bit difficult on the longer ones. I had this image of falling over like an overturned turtle, legs and arms flailing about helplessly. That and the fear of a sprained ankle made me take it pretty slowly on the rougher trails. Jeff's knapsack weighed about the same AND he had a canoe to carry (!). We also passed a camping trip from Ahmek where the little boys were lugging knapsacks and waunigans (sp? big wooden boxes carried by a thick leather strap around one's forehead, box on back) as big as they were! They didn't look like they were having an incredible amount of fun, but I was pretty impressed at the loads they were carrying.

I was never nervous about dumping (canoe tipping over) except for the really shallow spots. A few times we had to get out of the canoe and wade beside it in order to get it over some submerged branches or rocks. I got used to having cold, wet feet all the time (I wore Teva sandals in the canoe, hiking boots on the longer trails). I loved my Tevas.

We arrived at Otterslide Lake at around 2 pm, exactly when Jeff had predicted our arrival (he was very pleased about that). Found a great campsite with a rocky shore, good sun exposure, a little cooking area with hand-hewn benches around a firepit. After setting up camp, I noticed a little note in a plastic baggy hanging from a tree. The note said, "BEAR SEEN ON SITE ON AUG.6". Great. I told Jeff about the note, but he wasn't very concerned. We'd be fine, he said, as long as we didn't leave any food out. I wasn't thinking so much of the food, however, as my nightly trip to the "Thunderbox" back in the woods! (I ended up taking a flashlight and a whistle with me whenever I went).
Went swimming in the lake. I slipped on some wet rocks later on, went down hard (ouch). Cut and bruised both feet, badly scraped a knee. Jeff got out the first aid kit and cleaned out my wounds, bandaged me up...I felt pretty stupid for being so careless, but it also struck me how serious a worse accident could be on a canoe trip. What if I had sprained an ankle? There was no phone, no radio, no easily accessible help. I've vowed to take a first aid course before our next trip.

Took a nap in the hammock (hammocks are a brilliant idea for canoe trips; I heartily recommend them).
Dinner: ham steaks with brown sugar and pineapple slices, and an instant mushroom rice mix which was very yummy, watched the sunset as we ate. We had forgotten the margarine so we cooked with water ad pineapple juice instead. Aero bars and butter tarts for dessert! I was impressed by all the camping gear Jeff had packed up (he's a canoe trip pro, whereas this was my first)...pots with detachable handles, kitchen utensils that folded up into nothing, etc.
After dinner clean-up, we put anything resembling food into the barrel (including our toothpaste! Jeff said that bears like the minty smell in toothpaste) and Jeff hung the barrel up over a branch, out of bear-reach. Crawled into our tent, fell asleep around 10:30 p.m. No bears, though a big branch crashed down back in the woods once, making us both a little nervous.

Got up at about 6:30 a.m. the next was cloudy, air cool. I was INCREDIBLY sore...everything ached, and my cuts and bruises from yesterday were also complaining. We had instant oatmeal and Tang for breakfast, packed up, left camp for home at around 7:30. Weather on Sunday was not nearly as good...we faced a headwind pretty much all the way home, and it rained part of the way. The contrast between Saturday and Sunday was amazing, really. In retrospect, I'm glad I got the full gamut of weather conditions because I'll feel a little better prepared when we go on a longer trip. :-) The trip home on Sunday was pretty tough. I was already pretty sore, and battling the headwinds and waves was sometimes frustrating (though sometimes invigorating as well :-)). I clearly remember stopping at an empty campsite for a break part of the way home, already pretty exhausted and knowing that if I lay down on the ground, I could easily sleep for a couple of hours straight, but also knowing that we were still over two hours away from home. The last portage was the longest, and when I took off my hiking boots to change back into my wet Tevas, I saw that blood from one of my cut feet had soaked through my sock. (yuk!)

I found that singing helped me when I felt too tired to paddle anymore...the rhythm helped keep me going. Jeff said he could always tell when I was getting really tired because he could hear me start to sing. :-) The hardest bit was the last stretch, getting down Canoe Lake back to the cottage, where the headwind was so strong that it seemed like we made little progress no matter how hard we paddled. I was singing pretty loudly by then. :-)

Anyway, we DID get back finally.
Had a sauna, swim, hot shower, naps, and dinner. We had planned to come back last night, but decided against it...driving home late at night (and having to cross the lake to get to the car) in a thunderstorm when we were both bushed didn't appeal to either of us. Instead, we stayed an extra night, and spent the evening watching a incredible lightning display. The power went off for six hours, but we didn't care. Crashed hard, got up at 5:30 a.m., drove back to the city.

So here I am, back online. The whole trip was about 50k, and we travelled (via canoe or portage) about 6-7 hours each day. Every single part of me is aching, and my legs are quite the mess (the cuts and bruises from yesterday have been added to the cuts and bruises from my mountain bike trip in the Rockies!). But I have to say that I have to give a big "thumbs up" to My First Canoe Trip, that it's incredibly satisfying to have pushed myself beyond my usual limits and knowing I can do it, and that I can't wait to go on my next one. :-)

Hey, today's our wedding anniversary! We've been married SEVEN YEARS. Unbelieveable. We're going out for sushi tonight to celebrate.

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