Hooo doggies. That was quite a weekend. My shoulder is a wreck, my legs and arms are covered in red splotches, my head’s aching and I’m still tired. I’ll begin at the beginning:

Early Friday morning my wife and I got up and took the subway to our friend’s place in North York, where we would meet two more friends and drive up to Algonquin Park (where we would meet yet two more friends). This being my first real “camping trip” (I grew up on a farm in rural Nova Scotia, surrounded by acres and acres of forest; just leaving my house was practically roughing it), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was going with 7 experienced campers and we were all well prepared. However, the weekend got off to a bit of a dodgy start for me; just after getting off the subway I slung a very heavy bag up onto my shoulder and felt it…pop, I guess. I’ve hurt that shoulder before, and I could tell it was hurt again. I popped it back into place, but I knew this was trouble. However, I didn’t want to screw 7 other people’s plans so off we went in a well-loaded rented minivan.

After a long ride north and a missed turn at Huntsville, we finally arrived at the park. We were canoe camping on Lake Opeongo, so we had to sling all our gear into 4 canoes. I should point out that while my shoulder hurt a lot at this stage, it didn’t affect my paddling abilities. However, it should also be noted that I suck at canoeing, as does my wife. This made for a very frustrating trip to the campsite. The wind didn’t help either. I got us there in the most elaborate zig-zag pattern I could manage, cursing loudly at myself the whole way (I don’t like sucking at things, especially publicly); we camped further south than we had originally intended, on Bates Island. There were a few lucky coincidences to this, though; 1) we’d forgotten to buy firewood on the way in, so two guys had to paddle back and get some. Had we originally gone much further in, we likely would’ve had to scavenge for firewood on the first night. 2) The campsite was a real find: very large, with a kickass toilet (whereas most sites simply have a box over a hole in the ground, ours had 3 walls around the box. what luxury! the only downside was that it was too close to the rest of the site) and well sheltered from the wind. We set up camp and quickly got to work on dinner.

Our environs were stunning. From our vantage point on the island we looked back down the south arm of the lake; across the small channel from us was a constant view of still lake, heavy forest and cloud. Only a few other boats came near the next few days, and fewer still of those were noisy powerboats. Occasionally a canoe or kayak would slip by, but no more frequently than the loons. At night the skies were perfectly clear, and the show of stars was incredible, reminiscent of nights I remember from the farm. The milky way was clearly visible, and it became a game to track all the satellites across the sky. Most of us lay there after midnight, staring up and cursing the constant glow of the city for hiding this from us. On Saturday some of us took a walk around the island locating the remains of an old cabin as well as the other 3 campsites. After a swim to cool off (some found it too cool, and wouldn’t even get in past the shins) a few took off on canoe excursions, while the rest of us stayed behind and relaxed.

The weather was, all things considered, flawless. We had only the briefest of rain showers on Friday evening, and that no more than a sprinkle. Though we set up tarps, we scarcely used them. During the day it was sunny and 25-30 degrees, and at night it stayed warm enough that simple long-sleeved t-shirts kept us warm. An early riser, I got up at 7:30 each day, about 2 hours before everyone else; I sat in a chair by the water and read, keeping bundled against the rare chilly weather, waiting for the sun to rise over the eastern tree tops. With weather like this we expected to be town apart by mosquitos; while we each returned home with our share of bites, we got off easy as regards mosquitos. The real infestation of the site was spiders, daddy (or dandy, depending on where you’re from) longlegs for the most part. The first night it was hard enough for me to get used to sleeping on a thermarest without feeling a spider crawling across my face every few minutes, but I adjusted. By the time we left we’d dubbed the place Spider Island, and more than a few of them made it into the car with us. It made for some interesting moments when the driver felt a large one crawling up his leg…

We ate like kings. Rumours of dried meat, canned peas and beans & weiners being the staples of camping food were quashed after this weekend. Dinners were chicken & beef kebabs one night, indian food the next. Breakfasts consisted of bacon, sausage, eggs, toast, maple baked beans, toast w/ maple butter, and oatmeal with dinosaur eggs (that last one is a long story). Through it all there was cold water, cold beer (technically verboten, but we kept it light and humped all the cans out with us), gatorade, pop, OJ, coffee, tea and even an apertif for the single malt drinkers. There was even a chocolate fondue, believe it or not.

Though none of us really wanted to leave, we knew that the weekend was wrapping up and there was still the long trek home to be made. The canoe trip back was much easier – less wind, better current and a much better showing from my wife and I – so we were off to a good start. However, after stopping for some greasy food and ice cream, we finally hit some bad luck: the infamous Highway 400 traffic. Interesting notes one picks up while travelling south at 5 km/h:

  • all roads between Huntsville and Richmond Hill lead to Oro-Medonte, wherever the hell that is
  • drivers are idiots
  • in heavy rain, sections of the highway become like wading pools
  • our wives really can’t sing, though this doesn’t seem to stop them from trying

So, by the time we got home Sunday night we were exhausted, smelly, itchy, hungry and having trouble lifting things. But it was fun, and it gave us a three-day view of what life is like outside the big city, which is something we all need to be reminded of sometimes. There really are spiders and stars, water you can swim in and see through, views that have nothing to do with which floor you’re on, pine needles and canoe paddles, all a few hours away. So we’ll all keep going to MEC and paying exorbitant prices for flashy gear that we can load into rented vans (which we fill with expensive gas) and fight traffic for hours so that we can enjoy it. Ah, nature.

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