Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Diary of a Canoeist

For the first six days of our 10-day canoe trip, my family and I ended our day by writing a journal entry on the one iPad we packed with us. We kept the device in a specially designed, waterproof iPad case, which was kept in an air-tight Rubbermaid container, which, in turn, was packed in a dry bag.

We also packed a single charger, that would be shared with our two phones, with which Lori and I used along the journey to take pictures when it was unsafe to pull out our D-SLRs or when we wanted to quickly fire off a photo and post it on Facebook or Twitter. And we had a solar charger.

The solar charger had been purchased before we had cycled to Kingston, and it worked perfectly at bringing both of our phones up to 100 percent, after we had used the GPS and our Cyclemeter programs to record our progress on the road. On the canoe trip, however, the cells seemed to take forever to store a charge: we could only ever get it to reach a 40-percent capacity, which would bring one iPhone from zero to about 60-percent charged.

At the end of the day, one of us would top up our phone by solar charger while the other sought a power outlet with which we could charge the other phone.

Powered phones on a canoe-camping trip seemed more important than keeping the iPad running. On the seventh day, just as I was about to enter my daily entry, it died, and we never bothered to take the time to charge it.

When we were finished with our trip, we had intended to consolidate our diary entries, and view the perspectives of the journey from each of our family members. I told the girls that it would be great to share our experiences with our family and friends, and that I might even post them on my blog.

The kids vetoed that idea.

But that doesn't stop me from sharing the thoughts that went through my head each night, after we reached the end of a leg of the journey, had set up camp and were fed. So here is an abridged version of my diary entries. The following is not the entire diary, but parts I thought might give you a glimpse. Also, I'm keeping some stuff out because I think the stories stand out on their own.

Day 1: Lower Brewer Lockhouse

The weather on day one was perfect: sunny with a few clouds, a gentle breeze that did not affect the waterway but merely cooled us. Traffic on the waterway was light, so few waves to contend with. We had been delayed in our Ottawa departure but made good time on the water, arriving at our destination just in time for dinner.

The kids were well-behaved and helped cook the meal, helped clean up afterwards.

Day one was better than expected. I'm looking forward to our next leg of our journey.

Day 2: Jones Falls
Okay, I'm starting to feel it. The soreness in my intercostals, the stiffness in my shoulders, the ache in my upper back, between my shoulder blades. My arms hurt a little, and a few of my fingers are developing calluses.

Paddling 21 kms will do that to you. With the added 15K of yesterday, that's 36 kms so far. About one-fifth of the journey.

But I feel good if not a little overheated from a day under a hot sun. The only shelter we had was the hats on our heads. So we drank our warmed water from our bottles until we ran dry.

Ice cream from a dock-side snack bar was our reward for a hard-day's paddle. A jump in the bay between the locks, cooled our hot bodies.

The kids were incredible, helping us stroke when the going got tough, the choppy water on Whitefish Lake slowing us down, the wake of passing boats and Sea Dos a reals hazard. But rare was the cry, "I'm bored." Rarer was the standard, "Are we there yet?"

We're tired and sore, but we're having an adventure.

Newboro is tomorrow. Will our muscles take us there in good time?

Day 3: Newboro

Sitting at a picnic table, above Newboro Lake, another 21-km canoe leg from Jones Falls (where I met one of my Twitter friends for the first time, and I looked like Hell), eyes closed, listening to the wake from a passing boat slapping along the shores, my body swayed, rhythmically rocking, as though I was still in the canoe.

I'm surprised I had sat down: the seats in that canoe, after more than five hours, make my ass hurt so much that I want to cry. I need more padding: I'd take a cushion or more fat on my butt.

Three days before we began our journey, I berated myself for eating that bacon cheeseburger and washing it down with three bottles of beer from Parallel 49. I had a genuine gut and told myself that I would never make it to our first checkpoint, would weight the canoe down.

Three days into our journey, I thought to myself: where did that gut go?

Canoeing has done more for my weight loss than the whole season of cycling. But I've learned a couple of things: I'm stronger than I thought I was; I have more endurance than I thought I had; when the going gets tough, I come through and persevere.

I'm not made for the outdoors, but I can handle it.

Day 4: Murphy's Point
 I was thinking about Roland Axam today.

A critical piece of my novel hinges on events that take place in Newboro, Westport, and at a modest cottage on the north shore of Big Rideau Lake. Today's leg of our journey started in Newboro, across Upper Rideau Lake, where we could see Westport in the distance, and along the north shore of Big Rideau Lake.

I searched for anything that matched my idea of the Axam cottage: the approximate location and the shape of the cottage, mixed with the ease from the dock to the abode, the length of which Roland and his mother dash to escape the sudden storm. I saw the locale and the design of cottage, but not together, and not with the path I imagined.

Close, but no cigar.

One thing is for certain: had Roland's family owned property on Big Rideau, they would not have owned a canoe. The wind from the west creates swells that hinder a paddler. Add to that  the boats and jet skis that kick up great wakes, this body of water makes canoeing a great challenge.

This was the toughest leg of our journey so far. Not only was Big Rideau difficult, Upper Rideau had a healthy dose of chop and wake. The wind was fierce, constantly blowing the stern to one side or another, causing Lori to work hard to keep us straight. Thankfully, Sarah and Lainey joined in the paddling for some of the toughest stretches, and we were able to keep a steady pace.

Having reached the Narrows, we have passed the highest level of water and it's all downstream from here on in. So to speak. And now that we've traversed the bulk of Big Rideau, where the Axam family would definitely have had a good-sized motor boat, I'm hoping that the toughest paddling is behind us.

Day 5: Poonamalie

I don't like camping.

Day 6: Edmonds Lock (Smiths Falls)

It rained all day.

It started just as we were finishing breakfast at Poonamalie but before we had packed up our tent and sleeping bags. Our tent is decades old and now leaks. We knew this, but brought it anyway.

Lainey, whose bug bites had been scratched to bleeding and now showed signs of infection, needed to be sent to where she could receive care. And so Lori's cousin, a nurse who lives in Smiths Falls, took the short journey to our campsite. As luck would have it, she had planned to drive to Ottawa and welcomed the company. So Lainey went to Ottawa, where her awaiting Grandma took her to have her ankle treated.

Meanwhile, Lori, Sarah, and I paddled in the rain with our waterlogged tent to Smith Falls.

It was touch and go in Smiths Falls, as we passed the Comfort Inn, deciding whether to hold up there and dry our belongings or continue, hoping the rain would cease and we would be able to hang our gear to dry. We decided to set course for Kilmarnock.

We didn't make it.

By the time we reached Edmonds Lock, the lock master said that the gates were secured for the night. We were welcome to portage, but being soaked to the bone, we decided to stop for the night. The sky seemed to be lightening, and we figured that the rain would stop and we'd be able to dry off.

The sun did come out and the wind did pick up, and we were able to dry most of the old tent, but as we were finishing dinner, before the tent was completely dry and assembled, another storm blew in. We had just enough time to drag our loose belongings into the lockhouse and throw a tarp over the tent (it wasn't big enough) before the full force of the storm hit.

It's going to be a damp night but not a total washout. Hopefully, the gorgeous sunset, with the red skies at night, are telling for tomorrow.

But we miss Lainey...

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