Algonquin Back Country Paddle – (Year II day 3)
Sleeping under the tarp with my comrades turned out to be a mediocre decision. While it was wonderful to be outdoors, sleeping on the ground, I was accompanied by hordes of mosquitoes and the loudest snoring I have heard to date. Although I had gone bed on time, hardly being able to keep my tired eyes open, I got very little sleep during the night. The sun peaked over the far tree line and I rose with it. It was 5:45 AM, I was exhausted, but the camp was quiet and the world was serene. I enjoyed the first truly quiet time of the trip thus far.
An hour later Jesse, a co-leader, joined me in the quiet stillness of the camp. Together we passed the hour sipping our hot drinks – I had black tea and Jesse had coffee – and watching the sun climb to its high perch in the sky. Afterwards, we woke the rest of the camp to begin the day.
Following breakfast, we climbed into our canoes. Each had a new partner to paddle with, as was our daily custom. My partner and I were paddling in the back of the convoy to assure that none would get lost. We started our day paddling in a lake, but spent the much of the rest of the day passing through swamps. The swamps were calm and quiet. Once the group spread out a little, we could no longer see each other around the bends in the river; my partner and I felt like we were the only canoe around. In reality, we were only about 100 feet from the group. I loved the opportunity to be separated from the group for a few moments at a time. It allowed me to relax and witness the serenity of the part of the world we were in without the distractions of constantly monitoring the others. While paddling through the swamps, many of us caught frogs as we paddled past them. This took some skill and very quick hands, but there were hundreds of frogs to practice on. I caught six frogs in one section of the swamp.
To travel from one swamp to the next, we needed to portage our canoes. We had two portages for this day. The first was 500M and the second was 700M. These were very manageable after the 2.3Km portage the day previous. I carried my pack and a canoe down each portage without breaks – I do not like to take breaks on portages unless I absolutely must.
The first portage, although shorter, was far less enjoyable than the second one. The reason for this was the mosquitoes. By the second portage, I had learned from my mistakes and applied 98% deet bug spray. The first portage, however, consisted of me attempting to outrun the mosquitoes down the path (in crocs, while carrying a full pack and canoe), I bet it was quite a sight! Often the mosquitoes would be caught in the air pocket of the canoe, and they could keep up with me and would land all over my arms. I, in turn, while still running, would attempt to blow them off my arms with a strong breath. This was only somewhat effective. I was certainly much happier during my second portage when I was protected by my bug spray.
The second portage brought us to a lake. My canoe (nicknamed “Zephyr”) and the Big Bertha canoe (nicknamed “Mother-ship”) made plans to ambush the senior leader’s canoe. We faked a race in order to get in position and flank the canoe from both sides. The senior leader paddled away from us as quickly as he could because we had announced his bow as the finish-line to our “race.” By the time we flanked him, we were in very stagnant, swamp-like water. Despite the “beaver fever” water, our efforts would not go to waste. We soaked the canoe and took little water back in the counter-attack.
After passing through the stagnant water to the next lake, I jumped out of my canoe to wash off. Next, our alliance ambushed the next few canoes as they emerged from the stagnant water. Other canoes joined our alliance, but I did not trust them. Faking a revolt, I lead some canoes to attack “Mother-ship.” When our attack force was in place, I turned on those who revolted with me and showed my true loyalty to the original alliance. “Mother-ship” and “Zephyr” (my canoe) laid claim to Little Trout Lake and Big Trout Lake that day. Their authority has not been questioned since.
Later, in this most eventful of days, we encountered a very perplexing storm. We had claimed the most sought-after campsite on the lake. It was a peninsula with a light, constant breeze (a zephyr—one of my favorite words), and a rock to sleep on right next to the shore. The students tied the tarp in place, set up and guyed-out their tents, and went to the evening meeting around the campfire. While admiring the beauty of the sunset, we noticed some clouds moving towards us quicker than they should have. Quickly we packed up everything that was loose in the camp and made sure guy-lines were bombproof. About half of the group finished these tasks when the storm front hit the camp. A canoe began rolling through the camp, but a fast-acting student jumped in it and held it in place.
Scrambling, we pulled the camp together in moments. The storm had come from being out of sight to being right on top of us in minutes. Once the camp was bomb proof, the group took some pictures of the storm and I checked on the GoPro I had set up for a time-capture of the storm. All was well. We crawled into our respective tents and waited for the storm to pass (we expected this to take until morning). Several minutes later though, the storm was completely gone, and there was no sign that it had ever existed. Having grown up in Western Michigan, I am used to storms growing in strength as they cross Lake Michigan; I have never seen a storm come on so strong and last for such a short time though. This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip.