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Back Country Paddling – Algonquin Provincial Park (Year II – day 2)

06 Nov

Day 2 (28 July 2011)

After the group finished their morning tasks of cooking, packing tents, or retrieving the “bear bag,” we had our morning yoga session. This was a fun way to start the day for the group and allowed for each person to spend some time quietly enjoying their place in the outdoors. I am not a big fan of yoga, but I must admit that the stretches felt good and the quiet atmosphere was very nice. Once the yoga session was completed, the student whose task that day was to choose partners for the canoes assigned each new pair and we climbed into our canoes.

Photo provided by ATK79 on Flicker

The biggest portage of the trip (2.3Km) was this day and we, as leaders, knew group morale would be the biggest factor in how well the group would fare. We encouraged the students and got them excited for the challenge. When we climbed out of the canoes, (most of ) the students were almost too excited to start the portage to even wait around for the brief instructions we needed to give. After a short talk, and some helping of loading canoes onto student’s backs, they were off. I carried my pack of about 55 lbs (The previous year I had a pack of about 80 because of all the heavy pots and granola—so I was excited this year at having a less-heavy pack) and the large 3-person canoe. I started in the back of the group, but a brisk pace allowed me to work up to the middle of the pack.

Along the trail I passed several groups moving the other direction on the portage. The first group I passed, after only about 100 meters, told me I was almost there. I laughed. I knew better than that—I was not even 5% of the way there. As I came across other members of my group I made sure they were okay before moving on. My body was aching under the weight of “Big Bertha” as we had begun calling the 3-person canoe. I had neglected to pad the yoke that sat on my shoulders. I could feel my clavicle (which was displaced in a sports injury and remains slightly out-of-place still) get angrier with every step. My bare shoulders were forming rash that would soon bleed.

I carried that canoe the entire distance of the portage. At one point, a students had to help me place it on a resting bar (horizontal plank of wood nailed between two trees), but besides that instance, I carried the weight of that canoe and my pack the entire distance. When I finally reaches the next lake, I was ecstatic to see nothing bit smiles on everyone’s faces and a little extra energy floating around in the group. I was  quickly greeted with a congratulations for finishing the portage and joined in to congratulate those who were yet to come. The group had pulled together. Those who needed help in the portage received it, all were encouraging, and all had made it safely without a single complaint. Morale was high.

Everyone was ready to continue. We piled back into our canes and set off. The small lake we were on had a nice zephyr with cooled our bodies after so much exertion. The far end of the lake flowed into a swamp. J.B., the senior leader of our trip, challenged every other canoe to make it through the swamp without ever bumping the sides (even if someone rammed your canoe you would lose). All winners would receive a prize of three Tim Horton’s donut-holes when we arrived back in the front-country. The swamp was narrow, but I was steering and my partner followed my commands. Without a single close call we made it through the challenge and earned our prize.

After paddling for a good while longer, our group made their way to Tom Thomson Lake where we would camp for the night. We checked several campsites that we were not thrilled with before finally deciding that one was sufficient for our groups needs.

After enjoying some much-needed lunch, the group took quiet time. While the students read selected reading we gave them and had time to reflect on them, we leaders organized our bags and took a nap. It is unbelievable how much extra energy is expelled as a leader on a trip rather than a participant.

When we awoke, we gathered the students for a hands-on lesson. We told them to put on their suites and be ready to get wet. When to students came back from changing, we began to instruct how to perform a T-rescue should a canoe flip in the middle of a large lake. This was a timely lesson because the rest of the trip would be filled with lakes that take hours to cross.

While pairs of students paddled into the lake, flipped their canoes, and rescued one another, those of us on shore made up stories about them. As soon as a pair of paddlers would be beyond earshot, someone would begin to set a scene that they would unknowingly be acting out. I would share the scenes that were played out, but without knowing each member of the group in detail, it would not be nearly as funny as it was then and there.

Once the last canoe tipped and was rescued, the group went swimming and washed with Dr Bronner’s biodegradable soap. The stuff is amazing and the label is quite funny. It can be used as soap, spice, and even toothpaste! I tried it as toothpaste later than night—I will not, however, be using it as such again unless I absolutely need to.

After cooking pizza over the fire for dinner, I went to bed exhausted. The students stayed up a little while longer, but soon a group of them joined me as well sleeping under the stars.

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