Words by Peter Vooys | Photos by Meredith Miller + Jen Hanson + Mike Last
“How much more Canada can we fit in?”
Connected in Motion guide Amy Burrows, breaks the silence. Her question is asked in disbelief at the scene unfolding around her. The participants of the Annual Canoe trip are gathered on their last night for a night paddle and star gazing. Floating in their red canoes, the Type 1 diabetes group has been looking overhead and quiet for some time. The blanket of thunderclouds from the previous night have disappeared, leaving a naked sky punctuated by countless twinkling lights. Constellations pop from the backdrop, almost animated in their clarity. A shooting star streaks across the sky, existing long enough for the whole group to see. The Northern Lights dance in yellow hues on their visit so far south. Someone softly strums Neil Young on the guitar. Talk of Canadiana.
Burrow’s sentiment holds true for longer than the snapshot described – a canoe trip is nothing if not Canadian. On a gloriously hot weekend in August members of the Connected In Motion community gathered at Rock Lake for the Annual Canoe Trip. The 14 assembled brought a wide variety of experience with them, all eager for a paddle portage experience in one of Canada’s iconic spaces.
Algonquin Provincial Park speaks for itself. It is the perfect blend of rock, tree and lake. It is a Canadian intersection of wilderness, residence, business and resource. It is the gold standard by which every canoe trip venue is held to. It has helped shaped our national image of ourselves and for the world. Every visit is an exercise in wilderness immersion, in inherited tradition, in grounding yourself. In feeling connected.
Participants arrived Thursday night at the car campground for introductions, goal setting, route review, gear shuffling and a little apple peeling craziness. First time canoe trippers listened to harrowing stories of expedition escape and encounter from veterans, silently wondering what they had got themselves into. That night happened to be the end of a meteor shower, so we were treated to our first nightly show. Heat lightning flashed across the lake while giant space boulders burnt up in impressive fashion through the atmosphere.
The next morning, we started on the canoe trip proper. A massive breakfast of eggs, bacon, coffee et al. opened the day, instantly squashing the rumour that all we had to eat was canned beans. From Friday to Sunday we would travel through three lakes, Rock, Pen and Galeairy. Four portages would be tackled, the longest being 1680m. In total, a circular route of 20km to be completed under our own strength. All rose to the occasion. Novice and vet, everyone carried canoes with steadfast determination. Paddling hours on end was second nature seconds into the boats. Our route would take us past cliffs, cottages, portage around dams and across duck walks, winding our way through the quiet interior of Algonquin.
Everywhere there were signs of the past. We walked along JR Booth’s old railway bed that hugs the water’s edge. It is no longer used to haul legendary sized timber to mills along the Ottawa River. The ties and spikes long gone, the path overgrown. The lumber industry was a prominent part of Algonquin’s past, and Booth became a very rich man from the region’s natural capital. Hard to believe, but at one time, the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway was the busiest in Canada.
We explored the site of Barclay Estate on Rock Lake, a gift from Booth to his daughter. Not much is left, but finding a clay tennis court and stone foundation among the woods gives one pause. It has only been seventy years since the estate was removed. Nature reclaims all. Now these quiet reminders of the recent past are being swallowed by the forest that they once cut down.
We hiked to the top of Booth’s Rock trail, named of course for the lumber baron whose rail and house we had explored. From the top, lakes and trees stretch as far as the eye allows. This is a view of ancient timelines. The Algonquin highlands, prehistoric mountains ground down by time and glacier, are affecting to all who pass through. This has long been a spiritual place, from the first of the Algonquin peoples to pass through, right down to the present travelers. Our view was their view, a juxtaposition of calming and invigorating, humbling and inspiring, always centering. We saw further evidence of the past when passing Picto Bay. On a dramatic granite cliff that rises out of the water are pictographs likely created by passing Ojibway in the 1600’s. Paddling under the same cliff and over the same water, we can surely identify with the artists who were so moved by their surroundings to create art. Ancient paints or modern lenses, perhaps only the medium has changed, as Algonquin the message, remains constant.
Snapping us out of historic reverie, were the present needs of wilderness travel: food, shelter, water, campsite selection, navigation, endurance, elements and managing your own and the team’s energy level.
As Napoleon Bonaparte and CIM exec director Jen Hanson say, “an army marches on its stomach.” So true of our canoe trip troops. Legendary CIM sprawling meals, filled bellies usually past the point of comfort. Copious amounts of chicken stir fry, bacon oatmeal, dried mango, chocolate fondue, Fruit Source bars were consumed. Fan favourite meal has to go to Mama Jen’s Trip Pasta, paired with Mama Jen’s Cheese Board appetizer. Never before has boiling noodles and slicing cheese earned a chef such high acclaim.
Shelter was always taken on an island – a lucky two nights of spacious sites with good firepits. Tents were pitched, and despite heavy and constant rains on Friday night, our structures held true and watertight. Not one spirit was dampened. Five hammocks were brought along, transforming our wilderness campsites into a bohemian loafing zone. Saturday night was dry, so several people opted out of the tent, to sleep in either hammock village or on the rocks. Swimming was a must do activity. The humidity demanded it, and everyone partook. Each night the water turned to glass as the sun set, ensuring the proper amount of reflection in photographs. Slight head winds on the last day reminded people of necessary endurance, and to make sure that arms were sore when it came time to drive home.
As our present needs we met, some turned to the future. Eager to improve their skills honed their sterning abilities. Some learned how to flip a canoe. Some learned cooking over campfire tips. Some learned to push themselves physically and mentally, especially on the portaging. Some learned map reading, constellation or wild plant identification. Some learned new jokes. People new to canoe trip, learned a lot.
Canoe trips are at the heart and soul of Connected In Motion. They are a chance to truly connect with each other and your surroundings. They challenge and demand that you listen to the world and yourself. They engage you in the beauty of simplicity. The Annual Trip was no different. To that, Algonquin Park plays perfect host; facilitating physical and mental exercise, forcing peer teaching and communal living. There are no better tools for personal and Type 1 community growth than a paddle and canoe. It’s the Canadian way.