In this post, I write about our most recent trip to Algonquin. As my pal Jeff put it:

There will be bugs, there will be rain, there will be blood, but most importantly there will be fun.

T-2 days

It's hard to believe that this is coming up on the fourth year of going canoe camping with the same group of friends! Like many things in my life, camping was one of those things that I often thought: I don’t know how to do it, I'm not good at, never will be. But slowly, the steel doors of my mind can be pried open! You just need to get your crowbar and get a little unhinged.

This time around, we're going back to Algonquin, —back to where this tradition started. And with this tradition, I begin by spending money on gear (but more on that later). I started doing some gear checks this week. As I had suspected, one camping air mattress did indeed have a leak. I found that out by holding it underwater in the bathtub yesterday. The leak is right in the valve, which means I can't patch it. The company, Klymit, supposedly offers a lifetime warranty on air mattresses, so I'm going to look into that once we're back.

Next, I took out the tent and checked the tent poles. The previous year, I had the foresight to do this and realized that the shock lines had lost all their elasticity and I had to replace half of them. This year the other half were shot. So I replaced those, too.

And then I bought a hammock tent. Whoops. I had been considering getting one several years ago and had my eye on a Hennessy ultralight hammock, thinking it might be good for bike touring. I never went through with it, until today when I picked up a Hennessy Expedition ASYM velcro from facebook marketplace. It was hard to say no to it, at a listed price more than half what it can be found for new. It's not the lightest or smallest, but it seems like a good entry point into using a hammock as a tent. At the very least, it will be a refreshing, bug-free place to hopefully relax during this trip. The bugs will certainly be bad, and these hammocks have a bug net built into it. They are more complicated to set up though, so I'm going to take a test drive setting things up in the park tomorrow.

T-1 Day

Today I tested setting up the camping hammock in the park. It was a bit confusing at first, but turned out to be easier than I expected. The Hennessey Hammocks use a figure-8 lashing—not a knot. Once I got it figured out I jumped in and... how do people sleep in these things? Supposedly with this kind of hammock you need to sleep diagonally…

The rest of the prep involved running around a lot. Buying groceries, snacks, moving the cat, and preparing the meals we will be cooking.

Generally, I despise packing for back-country camping—even after three previous trips I still am at a loss for how much clothing to bring. Always better to bring too much than too little. I ended up going with:

  • the pants I wear to climb in (durable and pretty dingy at this point.)
  • running tights
  • shorts (which double as a swim-suit)
  • two merino wool long sleeve tops
  • a zip up sweater
  • rain jacket
  • rain pants
  • 4 underwear
  • 3 pairs of merino wool socks
  • waterproof boots
  • sandals
  • a warm hat and a ball cap

Despite all the running around, my brain started to unwind, and I was getting excited about such simple things — new podcasts to listen to, book to read, and so on. I haven't taken a vacation day yet this year, so maybe waiting 5 months to do that needs to change for next year.

Day 1

We got up early around 6 o'clock and gathered everything that still needed to be packed. Afterward, we headed to the subway, taking it all the way out to Kipling, where our pals would get us. Initially, everyone was pretty tired, so there wasn't much conversation until we all started to wake up a little.

The drive up was smooth and we had some nice sandwiches outside of Muskoka.

When we arrived at the entry point, we grabbed our canoes from the outfitters and hopped into Rock Lake. We paddled about 4 kilometres to a small island called Rose Island, which had two or three sites on it.

The sand peninsula

We circled the island and found a great spot with a small beach peninsula. It was much quieter on the south side with the island blocking the wind and the water being much calmer. Our site happened to have a nifty little makeshift countertop and desk where we were able to test out playing Monopoly Deal which was a ton of fun.

After, we spent until dinner time on the small sand peninsula, enjoying the sound of the waves and chatting. Surprisingly, some rangers showed up to check our permits. Hadn’t seen that happen before! Luckily, Jeff had an email copy stored offline (because we forgot the actual permit in the car). I set up the new hammock and some of our party enjoyed it. After that, we found a great tree to launch our food, and enjoyed a Greek chicken and vegetable dinner.

I told the group I wanted to read a short story from "Stories from Your Life" by Ted Chiang - specifically the story Understand, as I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought the group would too.

The night ended and was quiet. I slept poorly, as expected, and woke up to find someone shining their flashlight on our tent—just kidding—the moon was as bright as a light in the night sky. I peed and went back to bed.

Greek style Chicken and Veggies
Greek style Chicken and Veggies

Day 2

The next morning was relaxed. I got up, got water, made oats, and before long we were packing up our stuff.

We did two easy portages while paddling about 10 kilometres. We stopped on a buggy lake called Night Lake where we had bagels with our canoes linked in the middle of the lake to avoid the bugs.

Then we had to face the long portage, some 1600 meters. It was very difficult. The path was overgrown, muddy, and generally, it was just exhausting. The biggest part of the challenge is not knowing how long you have to go until you're done. So that meant I had to stop three or four times just to put the canoe down. By the last stop, I decided that I needed to put on some music. My running playlist, downloaded for offline playback, pushed me along.

I managed to do the entirety of the portage with my camping backpack on my back, which I hadn't done before, and I was super proud of. By the end of it, I was covered in sweat, sweat that had soaked through my shirt and into my new hippack that I had brought.

At the other end of the portage was a serene beach sitting under a grey sky. I was so utterly exhausted that I decided I had to swim. So, I stripped down to my underwear and jumped in, doing some front crawl back and forth along the shore. Whenever I would stop, the cold water felt spectacular on my face, like the best kind of brain freeze (but for your face). Despite still being swarmed by bugs, it was worth it in the end.

I changed into dry clothes just as it started to rain. Everyone was back and finished from their portage. We quickly made our way down Pen Lake to try to find a site. It was raining pretty hard by then, and we checked out two sites before finally finding one that we liked.

We stashed anything that couldn't go into our tents under the canoes and quickly set up our tents. Before long, the rain did stop, and we were able to explore a bit more. I was determined to try to make a fire, so I found some dead birchbark and carried that back to the camp.

We didn't have too much else to do but relax in our tents or in the hammock while we waited to make dinner (burritos with sweet potato, refried beans, and cheese). I was able to make a fire, and while it did require lots of fanning the flames, by the end of the night, it was moving along at its own pace. We read more from the Ted Chiang short story and then went to bed.

Day 3

We indeed did get a break from the rain, and it was welcome. The sun rose over the pines of our campsite and eventually made its way to a rock ledge where we dried out all our things, and spent most of the day, chatting, reading, snacking, and having a nice time.

Some pacts were made by certain individuals that there would be swimming. Meg promised us a swim, and stood by idly chatting us up to avoid the water. After a few minutes (what felt like hours) she eventually gave in and made the leap. After, Jeff got in and like a cool breeze, backstroked his way across the lake! I hopped over to get the solo canoe to take it out to meet him at the other side. We had previously been guessing the distance of the lake. When I met him across the lake, I passed him my new-to-me-via-facebook-marketplace GPS watch, and we measured the swim back. 300 metres (that’s it?). For Jeff, who is training for a triathlon and has to swim 1.9km, it was just a drop in the bucket. Colour me impressed.

I spent the rest of my afternoon drawing a still life of some underwear drying on the rock, and then went to the hammock to chip away at the 1200 pages of The Count of Monte Cristo. Will I read it all? Who knows.

We had burritos for dinner, courtesy of my continually-finessed-instant-potmpinto beans (+ sweet potato and cheese). We finished the night by the fire, where we wrapped up reading Understand. I loved how much conversation was facilitated by reading a short story over the duration of a trip.

Day 4

Our last day was mostly all about packing up and getting out. We had a huge tailwind, and our canoes zipped across the lake. It had rained all night, and the clouds stuck around, which gave us all the more incentive to move quickly.

We cruised up Pen lake, and portaged back to rock lake, some 350 metres. We celebrated by wiping the sweat off our bellies, only to find a possible tick on one of us (who shall remain nameless, as I, the only person who has seen a tick on someone, may have mis-identified it). This was unnerving as we didn’t know if or how to get it out. We tried our best, whatever it was, and then carried on.

We landed back at the entry right as the rain was starting to pick up. We piled our gear into the car and hit the road, our sights set on a restaurant not far from Algonquin. We were all hungry and drove in silence. We ended at That Little Place by the Lights and had some pretty decent grub.

All in all, we had a good trip. Short, with a mix of bugs, rain, blood and fun, as predicted. Next time around, I might actually try to sleep in my hammock tent. Also, as a note to self, I will bring face wipes (nothing feels better than a wipe to get the grime off when you can’t shower, thanks to the crew for lending me some!), hand-cream, and better snacks (not second-rate ju-jubes…and…chocolate-covered second-rate ju-jubes.)