When I was little, my family rented a cottage up north, and for one whole week every summer, I was in total heaven. It was awesome and I have some very fond memories of my time there, even though sadly, we never canoed or paddled.
We did do a lot of really fun things… like looking for tadpoles and frogs, trying to catch minnows in our sand pails, roasting marshmallows beside a big huge roaring fire, and, we did a little fishing.
My parents eventually skipped from going up north to taking us to Florida for a few years, checking out Disneyworld and spending our vacations at the ocean. I did get to meet Pooh, but for many MANY years, my time up north was next to nothing, although I never forgot the rocks, the smell of the air and the true happiness I felt there.
From that point on, I had always wished to head north and explore Algonquin Park and had always wanted to go on a canoe trip, but I had no one to go with, and no one in my life who I could ask or who knew anything about doing something like that.
You probably know me as a kayaker more than anything, however, what many people don’t know, is that my very first trip was in a canoe, and that trip is the reason I fell in love with backcountry camping. Like every trip I go on, anything I set my mind to do, I give it my all and this trip was a pure example of that.
One fall day, my boyfriend and I went to this place called Grand Island BBQ in Dunnville that rented canoes and we spent an hour paddling the Grand River. I loved it. From there a plan grew to go on an adventure together in Algonquin Park the following summer. Me, being a huge researcher, the planning began.
I spent hours at the library, looking for books on backcountry tripping, canoeing, and nutrition. I borrowed a dehydrator from a friend at work and sought out foods that would dehydrate well and got recipes from books in the library. I went as far as to find out how much protein I would need to consume to be able to have enough energy and strength to complete a portage or a few hours of paddling. I was obsessed from the start. But, I had no other way to learn, no blogs to read, a limited amount of internet to search, all I could do was rent books and videos I’d found in the library and study them like I was in school.
I learned all about the different poisonous plants and because I knew I wouldn’t remember what they looked like, I printed color pictures of them and laminated them into a waterproof card that I could keep attached to my backpack. I sadly still am not able to identify those plants without a photo.
I remember sitting on my couch one day, watching a video on how to complete a j stroke. I had never paddled a canoe more than a few hours in my life… so there I was, kneeling on my couch, moved specifically for the occasion, holding an empty cardboard gift wrap tube as my paddle and teaching myself the strokes I would need to complete the trip I had planned.
I had found a massive book on Algonquin Park. It gave tips on where to rent equipment in the park, what accommodations were available, which were the best trails to hike and anything I needed to know, was in that book. From all the tips learned from it, I made my own notebook for the trip which I called my bible.
The big book of Algonquin (whose name escapes me) advised of a place called the Riverland Lodge and camp in Madawaska. Many people who backcountry camped would drive up at night and stay there so they could get an early start to their trips the following morning. I found a canoe loop that I liked near Riverland in the book as well, so i booked a room.
The loop we’d decided to do started at Galeairy Lake, going through Rock , Whitefish, Pog, Lake of Two Rivers, Head Creek, Harness Lake, Rod and Gun, Lake Louisa and back to Galeairy through to Rock. I figured out how many km’s a day I would be able to travel, and then decided which lakes to stay on and booked them with the Park by phone. We would stay on Galeairy, Whitefish, Head and Louisa. Five days, four nights…..nothing like being overzealous !!
During all this research I was doing, I also was looking into gear. At the time, I worked in the promotional products industry and one of our main suppliers, Debco Bag also sold Europe bound backpacking packs. I scored 2 discontinued bags for $40 a piece and was pretty elated! A few months later, during a trip to Barrie, I purchased 2 Jack Wolfskin sleeping bags that were rated -5 and a tent made by Trek that I still use to this day and love just as much. It was an expensive day for me but worth every penny, especially as I still use all these items today.
Aside from a camping cook set that I got at Canadian tire and my MSR stove which I also still use to this day, the rest of the gear, was pretty much faked, as I call it. I used a frying pan from my kitchen, and mostly items from everyday life.
We rented an Old Towne canoe from Algonquin East Gate Motel & Outfitters, another place suggested in the Algonquin book. It was also one of the reasons the put-in chosen was Galeairy Lake. The East Gate Motel was across the road from the access point and therefore we wouldn’t need to transport the canoe by car anywhere. They would put the canoe right by the shore for us, and all we would need to do was go in to the office to pay and get our paddles and safety gear and head to the dock. Sounded easy enough.
After 9 months of planning and preparation, July 26th, 2002, was here, the day to head to Algonquin. We were finally ready to go. After a lunch stop at Webbers for one of their famous burgers, we arrived at the Riverland Lodge & Camp about 4 hours after leaving home. We checked in, went out for some dinner, and headed to bed early, anxious to start our adventure the next day.
The following morning, we left Riverland around nine and went to the East gate to get our permit. It didn’t take long and we headed over to the East gate motel to get our paddles and safety equipment.
Once we got all our paperwork and everything completed we headed over to the put in and our canoe was there waiting for us. We were so excited. We packed up the canoe jumped in and started on our adventure totally elated and excited for what was to come
Near the put in at galeairy, they had barriers (like the ones shown below but the ones they used 15 years ago)… which we of course got stuck in! I was a little bit worried as we had barely paddled 5 minutes and we were already having problems. Thankfully after a few minutes we managed to get up and over the barriers and on our way, hopefully this wasn’t any type of sign of things to come?
I was surprised to see cottages when we started out on Galeairy but they soon disappeared and before we knew it our 3hour, 8 km paddle was over and we were at the site that I had hoped to get from the start. It was a site on an island which somehow made me feel more comfortable with the Bears. I knew they could swim but I just thought we would be safer on an Island.
After we arrived at our site the rain came but we were prepared and all of our gear remained dry, we were even rewarded with a beautiful rainbow.
I had brought beef stew for dinner which only needed to be heated up. Easy, fast and delicious. Afterwards, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and soon headed to bed. That’s when I first heard the sound……. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were lying in the tent and I honestly felt like we were right beside a huge power generator. The humming was so loud I couldn’t believe that it was only bugs. I had never heard bugs makes so much noise in my life!!! I was very happy to be inside the tent and not outside being one of their victims.
After a night that didn’t include much sleep we woke up to a rainy morning, we made breakfast which consisted of scrambled eggs made with egg powder that I had purchased through a company that sold the product to astronauts. True story! I found them online and called them and they sent me a bag of egg powder for free because they didn’t sell quantities anywhere near the small size that I needed. One of the books about canoe tripping that I read said I had to have egg powder…. so I had to have it!
The powdered egg was rehydrated along with green peppers, cheese and ham and was eaten on a wrap and it was actually quite good! I ended up using the egg powder for several trips afterwards and believe I still have it somewhere in one of my camping bins? They did tell me it never expires!
It took a great deal of time to get packed up that first morning… but on a positive note, by the time we did, the sun was out and it looked like it would be a nice day! As we had checked out our portage the day before, we found it quickly after leaving the site. We were excited to do our first portage ! It was a big one ….100 m! My thoughts afterwards were wow! That was so easy! I can’t wait to do more!!
Once we put in at rock lake the wind picked up again and it made rock Lake very rough and choppy. We both paddled so hard, but it was like running on a treadmill. And ….at some points …it was like standing still on a treadmill because we actually were going backwards!
We were both exhausted and elated when we arrived at our campsite on whitefish lake. It took us about three hours to get there. While we set up camp, the sun came back out! We enjoyed some time at the site before making our pizza dinner. It was my favorite meal of the entire trip.
I brought three pitas and some pesto in an old film container. It might seem like an odd choice but it was free and leakproof and the perfect size…. just enough to evenly cover three pitas! For the toppings I had dehydrated green peppers, mushrooms, chicken and marinated artichoke hearts. I also brought a brick of mozzarella cheese that had been wrapped in cheese cloth. Something else I’d never heard of before planning this trip.
After rehydrating the toppings, the pitas were warmed and browned in a frying pan with some oil. Then the toppings were put on. We dropped drops of water into the pan and covered it so that it would make steam which melted the cheese. Those pizzas were amazing and better than any other pizza I’ve ever had before or since. Something else I was learning ….food always tastes better in the back country.
We ate a delicious dessert of pop tarts and apple cider before bed that night, but woke up a few hours later with the sound of something right outside our tent. Now, for the record, I’m afraid of the dark, but, Greg said he heard it too….so we both just laid there perfectly still not even breathing…. eventually….. whatever it was walked off. Now…. I’m not saying it was a bear…. but in my mind it was a bear!, In all reality, it was probably most likely to be something like this….
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful day, but those can be deceiving, can’t they ??? We had a delicious breakfast of strawberry pancakes using strawberries I had dehydrated and then rehydrated with boiling water. Once plump, I poured them into the pancake mix with the water, now strawberry juice and mixed it in the ziplock. This keeps things from getting super messy.
Once cooked, I used rehydrated maple syrup crystals I purchased from an outdoors store for syrup. …. I think I still have some of those too in one of those camping bins??? I get the feeling anyone I camp with in the future is going to be skeptical of letting me making breakfast?
We were getting faster at packing up and It didn’t take nearly as long as the day before. It started out as a beautiful hot sunny day but would end up as both my worst and best day ever!
Whitefish lake was gorgeous and we paddled through it happy and smiling as we proceeded into Pog lake. One of my most favourite paddles to date was going down the small creek from Pog towards Lake of two Rivers. It was beautiful and placid and there were parts where you couldn’t see what was Water and what was sky because the mirror reflection was incredible. I’d never seen anything like it. The vision of that place, in my mind, drove me to continue paddling and still does, to this day.
The trouble began at lake of two rivers. The large body of water was rough and the wind wanted to push us in the opposite direction. It took us double the time we anticipated to cross it, but once we did, we couldn’t find Head Creek. We scoured the shoreline for quite some time and finally went in where we assumed must have been the right way?
We ‘paddled’ down a narrow, shallow waterway full of beaver dams. We kept having to get in and out and push the boat over the dams or take out all our gear and carry it around. We even pushed the canoe through a tree, so to speak. It had fallen over the dam and there looked like a way we could possibly walk around, but we thought what the heck we’ll just shove it through this hole?… which ended up working out pretty good in the end but … I wouldn’t want to do it again.
After almost losing my water shoes twice, we ended up trudging through the knee-deep Black muck barefoot….I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of that sludge squishing through my toes. When we finally did come to an opening we saw a sign that said Madawaska River. We also saw highway 60! We walked up the highway a bit saw the driveway for Mew Lake Campground a short distance away. We also weren’t that far off from where we should be but there was no way we were doing what we just did… backwards…So….tired, hot, and angry we pulled the boat up a steep hill and carried it towards the campground.
After checking our map, we knew water was nearby but we had no idea how to get there and there was no going back the way we’d come. So we left the gear and canoe at the side of the camp road and walked in three different directions looking for water….. but we didn’t find any.
We did find the office and a young girl behind the counter advised us we could find water via the track and Tower Trail only a kilometre away. We listened to the directions carefully and headed on our way anxious to be back on the water. Unfortunately…. what she didn’t tell us ….was we were supposed to turn left at the Highland backpacking trail. As she did not, we ended up walking about 2km’s on the track and tower trail with a canoe and all our gear in 35° heat with barely any water left for us to drink. This was not fun!
Hope you enjoyed Part one of two of my post on my first backcountry canoe trip ever in 2002!
Please check back next week for Part two to see what happens and if we ever do make it to our site and out of the Mew Lake Campground!
Thanks so much for checking out my post!
*Please note that some of the photos used in this post are newer or from other trips as I didn’t have a huge amount from the original trip in 2002.