The Canadian canoe trip of 2000

“You better dry off or you’re gonna go into shock!” yelled my (now former) brother-in-law.

4 months earlier…

Planning began for our (my sister, brother-in-law, and myself) second trip to Canada. We had decided that we were going to do a canoe trip this time since the first backpacking trip was an utter failure. I’ll save that one for another post, but suffice it to say, we got our butts kicked by underestimating the wilds of the Canadian wilderness. This time we were looking for something a tad easier on our bodies, and minds.

Canoeing sounded nice, just float along the river and rather than lugging everything on our shoulders we could load the canoes with our gear and comfortably let the miles flow by. A little research on gear loading methods for weight distribution and we were on our way to making a nice 4-5 day trip of it. My brother-in-law seemed to have a good sense of trail planning, and the drive to do it, so he set out to plan our route thru the Algonquin Provincial Park river ways.

Around the time we started planning I met my future wife and over the weeks things started to go really well. She’s the type of gal who likes camping and doesn’t mind getting dirty, so I invited her to join us on the upcoming trip. She was game. Cool.

Planning continued and we were all getting excited for our super fun trip!

Now to launch day…

It was a miserable, windy, rainy, cold day in Canada. We were loaded up in our rain gear and were determined to get moving, it was going to be clearing up later that day anyway. But at that time, it wasn’t very pretty out. The packs were securely strapped to the bottom of our canoes, and covered with tarps. Then we loaded ourselves into the boats and shoved off. The water was… rough.

I’m reminded of the great quote from George on Seinfeld: “The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to return soup”.

We floated and directed ourselves into the middle of the slow moving, mouth of the river orientating ourselves for the start of our journey. We were, I’d say, about 100 yards from shore.

Once we rendezvoused with my sister and brother-in-law and were pointing in the right direction it was time to get paddling. In the water the oars went and with a “1-2-3” we rowed.

I, apparently, put a bit more power into my thrust and the canoe immediately… capsized. Yes, we and all our gear, were now upside down under the canoe in the cold Canadian water. I surfaced, angry beyond belief, to find my girlfriend laughing while treading water. She was not a swimmer and treading is about all she could do. So I swam over to her, had her grab me and I the boat, which was luckily within reach, and began trying to swim both into shore.

Halfway in, handling both her and the boat was getting a bit too much for me to manage. So I ditched the boat and brought her into shore. Once I knew she was safe on ground I jumped back into the freezing water to retrieve the canoe and whatever remained of our gear. As I was pulling the boat in I was trying to reconcile what had just happened and couldn’t shake the thought that all of our stuff was now sinking to the bottom of the lake.

With the canoe now within 10 feet of the shore and me standing in knee deep water I grabbed one side and flipped it over. To my amazement everything was still there! All strapped in just as we left it! Wow. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Maybe everything would be fine after all.

By the time I got the canoe on shore my sister and brother-in-law had made it in and were frantically trying to get us dry and warm. They were very concerned about us going into shock from the cold. It wasn’t that bad.

After I dried off a bit I figured I’d survey the damages and opened my pack. Sitting right on the top was my $800 SLR camera roughly wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. Surely that thing was ruined. I pulled it out of the bag and found it completely dry! Not a bit of moisture at all. Digging thru the rest of the pack I wasn’t as lucky, everything else was soaked. Even all my valuables that were “safely” stored in a “water proof” bag, UGH!

We returned the canoes, regrouped, and rented a cabin for a day while our stuff dried out. With dry gear, and a few more days of vacation left, we ventured out looking for somewhere to camp. Found a site, pitched the tent and spend the next couple days exploring the nearby hiking trails.

But, after a couple days we couldn’t break the chill and our gear was still a bit damp, so the decision was made to take off and head back home, stopping at Toronto on the way. My sister and brother-in-law continued camping for a few days after we left.

So, that was the second time the wilds of Canada bit me and I haven’t been back to challenge it since. Some day, some day I’ll get it back! And, the moral of the story? Pack your valuables in loose plastic grocery bags, it works better (not really!).

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