Mauvais Echo

I feel so bad.

Every year, Nellie’s favourite weekend is the weekend we go camping somewhere in Ontario. Last year it was Presqu’ile; the year before that it was Algonquin. This year we decided to try Bon Echo.

However, I could tell this year was getting off to a bad start when I woke up Friday morning feeling ill. Sure, it was partly from being out until 2:30 the night before, but I knew it was also because I had a cold coming on. I hoped I’d get better as the weekend wore on; I was wrong.

Anyway, we were late getting out of the city, which meant we got caught in the massive Friday afternoon flight from the city. And then we got stuck in about 90 minutes of crawling traffic problems around Pickering. We’d hoped to get to our campsite by 2PM; instead, we arrived around 7:30. Knowing we didn’t have much light left Nellie began setting up the tent while I carted our gear from the car to our site, a few hundred feet away. After my arms snapped off I joined her at the tent.

We had a pretty sweet spot…far from the main hubbub of the (very busy) park, in a little gully and therefore more or less out of sight of the sites on either site (note: this gully would have sucked if it had rained) and with an amazing view across Mazinaw Lake to Mazinaw rock, the cliffs that rise above it.

We got everything set up for dinner (roasted Cumbrae’s hot dogs, and Nellie improvised some camping nachos) and had a cold beer by the fire. Yup, cold: even at midnight, I was more than warm enough, and I was wearing shorts. I didn’t even sleep in the sleeping bag; it was beautiful all night.

Anyway, we got up the next morning, went for a little stroll, and rented a canoe so we could paddle along the cliff walls. We didn’t see any of the pictographs which are apparently there, but we did see the large Walt Whitman tribute carved into the rock. We could also tell how deep the lake is, both when canoeing in the shadow of the cliffs where the water was pitch black and later when we went for a swim — we stepped off a rock near our campsite; it was at least eight feet deep just one stride out.

After our swim we had bacon and biscuits for breakfast, but shortly after that I knew that I had to go home. I hated to say it; Nellie really wanted to stay another night. We were also considering going back to Bat Lake to see our friends Kaylea and Matt, but I’d still have been miserable, and I would’ve gotten all of them sick too. So we drove home. We dropped our gear and returned our car and scarfed some food and made our TIFF picks and then I went to bed for twelve hours. Nellie spent that night eating camping food and drinking camping beer; she half-threatened to set up one of our camping chairs. I’d have been fine with that, but if she’d started gathering kindling I’d have worried a little.

Next year we’ll try again. But either we’re parking in the site or we’re carrying less crap. So mote it be.

Nearly an island

Since last year’s camping excursion went so well we decided to take another crack at it this year. So, last weekend Nellie and I booked a campsite way in advance for the relatively bug-free end-of-August.

There was, however, a bit of a snafu with the rental car reservation. And by “snafu” I mean that I completely bollocksed it up and reserved it for the wrong weekend. Trying to book a rental car 12 hours before you need leads to some predictably ridiculous prices, so once again it was Autoshare to the rescue. We knew we’d have a bit of a mileage penalty, but there was a car nearby and available, so we jumped on it. Crisis: narrowly avoided. Hooray for choice!

The drive to the park was much, much shorter than our drive to Algonquin last year. Presqu’ile is only about two hours away, and since we left Saturday (and came back Monday) we were more or less problem-free on the roads. Our campsite was fantastic too…lots of room, good privacy (relatively speaking…it was a very busy campground) and literally steps to the shore of Lake Ontario. Nellie’s early planning had paid off in a great site. We even had a second picnic table where we could do all our storage and prep!

Because we were so close to the lake, we decided to cool down from all the setup by jumping in the lake. You can’t quite tell from that picture, but trust me…the lake was right there. By the time we got back  in, dried off and changed it was time to make dinner. The first night’s meal was pulled pork (from Cumbrae’s) on hot dog buns, along with corn on the cob. It was amazing.

We tried to pair it with a Fielding Riesling, which didn’t really work at all, but whatever — we had beer. We stuffed ourselves silly, drank our wine by the fire and enjoyed the warm evening. The clouds blocked out any view of the stars, but we couldn’t really complain. We crashed hard that night and slept like the dead.

We slept in the next morning, rousing ourselves mainly at the knowledge of what was for breakfast: bacon, eggs, fresh blueberries…and leftover pulled pork. That gave us the energy for one of the short walks in the park — walk, not hike. A little boring, I guess, but that’s the tradeoff for the proximity to Toronto. And our little walk was fairly rewarding in terms of flora and especially fauna — butterflies, snakes, frogs and plenty of birds.

We got back to our campsite just in time to cool down with another dip in the lake before the first rain shower of the day began. We hid in the tent until it passed, came out and had lunch. Shortly after we finished cleaning up the real rain started. It was hard for us to know how hard the rain was since we were under tree canopy and strong fly, and we certainly didn’t know that the storm had spawned tornadoes elsewhere in Ontario. To us it actually sounded kind of nice…Nellie fell asleep in the tent while I read, and a couple of hours later it was all over. Our site was pretty wet, but the view from our tent of the sky over the lake was incredible.

We sat on the beach and had a beer, marveling at how calm the lake had become and at the clear skies we could see emerging on the horizon. We relaxed a while longer, then got to work cooking dinner. Evening #2 was centered around plowman’s lunch and a Southbrook Syrah. We ate, cleaning up and spent the evening sitting by the fire, drinking wine and whisky and staring at stars.

When we went to sleep the lake was as calm as a plane of glass, but around 4:30 something — the wind, I suppose — whipped it into a crazy froth; the crashing waves woke us, and kept us awake for hours. We managed to get back to sleep, but were still pretty groggy when the sun came up. We decided not to stick around much longer, instead having some oatmeal and breaking down the site (even with much of our equipment still wet) and jumping in the car. We made it back to Toronto in no time, had a nice long shower, dropped the car off and spent the afternoon on a patio soaking up what remained of the day’s sun.

Not a bad weekend at all.

And no, this was not "glamping"

Nearly every year Nellie goes camping with her girlfriends. She has a special affection for sleeping in a tent and drinking from tin cups and sitting around a campfire. In recent years those girl-camping excursions have become less frequent, and last year she didn’t get to go at all. Since I couldn’t bear to see her miserable two years in a row I agreed to go with her. My one condition: a tent I could stand up in, more or less. So, a campground reservation in Algonquin Park and two trips to MEC and we were all set.

Of course, the worst part of Algonquin is getting there, and this was no exception. I hate long drives. Hate hate hate. But we made it, and checked in to our Mew Lake campground. Nellie had done her homework and picked one of the best sites available.

This was my first time car-camping, so getting used to having people on all sides was weird, but we were about as private as you can get there. We set up our fancy new tent (which is awesome), settled in, built a fire and started making dinner.

Our meals, by the way, provoked some mockery among our Twitter and Facebook friends…apparently eating steak and drinking wine, or having a spread of prosciutto and salami and cheese and bread and chocolate, or cooking a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausage is verboten, and we should instead have cooked weenies or roasted marshmallows. To which we replied thus: since we have no kids to entertain with such traditions, why would we voluntarily eat crap food just because we’re camping? I mean, really…what’s wrong with this?

Nothing, sez I. Anyrant, once dinner and dishes were out of the way we sat our asses down by the campfire and watched the sun go down. It got a little chilly that night so the fire, while a pain to start, was sorely needed to keep us warm until we could tuck into our sleeping bags for the night. Reports of a bear in the area had us a tiny bit jumpy, but nothing serious. The next morning I got up before sunrise and took in the view of the steam billowing off the lake.

As I took pictures of the lake and sunrise (both, in some cases) I heard a rustling along the shore right in front of me. I saw a…well, I’m not sure what it was. A small heron of some kind maybe?

Whatever it was it took a few awkward strides through the water and then took off into the grass. Any ideas? A quick Google search didn’t turn up anything. I saw it again that afternoon, in the same spot, so maybe it had a nest there. Not sure, but Nellie got a kick out of him/her.

Since we had such good weather (seriously, ridiculous weather…warm and sunny during the day, moderate at night and not a cloud in the sky the entire weekend) we went for a hike at the nearby Track & Tower trail.

It was a good workout, but worth it for the deep woods seclusion, lake views (like the one above) and amazing lookout from a cliff toward Cache Lake.

We even came across a very unexpected trail companion: a turtle sunning himself on a hill. I’d never seen a turtle this big in the wild…he was about a foot across. I think it was a snapping turtle, but didn’t get close enough to find out. We got some pics and said our goodbyes.

We were pretty pooped (and extremely warm) by the time we got home so we jumped in the lake to cool off. During our swim, half a dozen Canada Geese descended down to the lake, circled us once and water-landed twenty feet from us. Which was pretty cool.

That night we didn’t have the energy for much…fortunately our meal involved slicing, not cooking. Still, it was nice to sit there and drink a bottle of Southbrook Fresh White and build a fire and be entertained by a chipmunk.

Sunday morning we wanted to beat traffic, so it was a whirlwind of breakfast and cleaning and packing and road-getting-on. We did pretty well too; it was smooth sailing all the way down highway 11 and the 400. The only traffic we hit was on the DVP at York Mills. Nevertheless, when we unloaded, returned the car and walked home we felt…well, smelly. Hooray for whoever invented the shower.

So, lots of fun was had, but I’m hoping to minimize the driving next time. And yes, there will be a next time. And yes, we will be eating awesome food and drinking good wine. Deal with it.