Monthly Archives: December 2011

Algonquin Back Country Paddle Final Day

The alarm went off at 3:00 AM. The world was dark. The other leaders and I went around and woke up the students. Some ate a quick breakfast while others (myself included) chose to embrace the hunger for the final morning. Following the small meal, everyone quietly loaded into their canoes and pushed away from the shore.

We instructed the students to have their lights ready but to keep them off unless there was an emergency. We paddled through the dark, tranquil night by the light of the moon.  The only sound was that of the paddles cutting in and out of the water with each stroke. It was peaceful.

Quietly we pulled up to our first portage of the day. The group had become quite accustomed to portages and was significantly faster than they were at the beginning of the week. It was fun to carry our canoes through the woods in the dark, although most turned on their headlamps for the portages. One-by-one we marched down the trail towards the next body of water and climbed back into our canoes.

The sky began glowing with a myriad of colors as the morning sun rose. We stopped for a moment to drink water and admire the beauty we all-too-often miss. A bank of fog surrounded us on the lake and the sky was vibrant with color. It was like we were rowing through a cloud.

A journey through the last swamp of our trip granted us a close encounter with a beaver. The encounter was so close that when it slapped its tail, one of the students in another canoe was splashed. We were very excited to have seen a beaver on the last day. During our trip we saw a moose, beaver, loons, seagulls, mice, and some small fish. Both students and leaders enjoyed the wildlife that surrounded us.

As we entered the final chain of lakes, the student in my canoe decided he didn’t want to paddle anymore. I encouraged him to continue to paddle and told him we didn’t have that much further to go. This worked momentarily but he quickly reverted to sitting with his paddle in his lap. I informed my partner that it was not going to be okay for him to sit back and for myself to paddle for two. Even the most petite girls on the trip were still paddling the best that they could. This only got him to go through to motion of paddling, dipping the very tip of his blade into the water.

After a few strokes he asked how much further it was until the pullout. All of the other students were enjoying themselves and commenting on how they wished the trip was longer, but not this one. He had wanted to be home since we did our first 100-meter portage. To answer his question of how much further we had to go, I used a line a raft guide in West Virginia had taught me two years earlier. I told him, “It’s just around the next bend.” Sure enough, this line worked, I had a happy camper and he started paddling the best he had paddled all day!

Once we rounded the bend and saw there was no pullout, the paddling once again ceased and the complaining threatened once again to start. So, trusting the wisdom of the raft guide, I once again said, “It’s just around the next bend.”

This sequence went on for a while, carrying us around about seven bends. Each time he paddled towards the next bend, it was with less effort and he took more breaks, but at least I kept him paddling and kept the complaining down so the rest of the group could enjoy themselves.

I got quite a workout as I did the vast majority of the paddling for my canoe that final morning, but I was prepared for that. Being one of the larger guys in the group I tended to be paired with the smaller individuals. I have never minded this, my concern as a leader is not to have an easy job but rather to make everyone in the group have the best time possible while remaining safe. My job had been completed well. My canoe partner for the final morning felt a sense of accomplishment as he had pushed himself to keep paddling when he didn’t want to; the other students were sad to say goodbye to a week filled with such great memories; and the leaders were happy and proud of having accomplished another exciting and safe trip.

We pulled our canoes onto the dock at the rental store and loaded the vans. We, the leaders had an eight-hour drive to bring the students back to campus.  It was going to be a long drive, but the high spirits of the students made it an enjoyable experience. Everyone was thrilled along the way to get the food they hadn’t had in a week. Everyone got Tim Horton’s and either Taco Bell or A&W’s. I got to enjoy milk, the substance I had craved most while on the trip. I drank three liters on the drive home.

Upon reaching Calvin’s campus,  the students were eager to reunite with their parents. They quickly said their goodbyes to their fellow students and the leaders, unpacked their gear and left. The process for us, as leaders, however, was far from over. We still had to clean the gear and organize it all back into the proper places on in the gear locker. This process took the rest of the evening and the following day. It is amazing how much behind-the-scenes work goes into leading these sorts of trips.


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Algonquin Back Country Paddle II Day 5

I awoke early in the morning to a bright sunrise over the far end of the lake. The waves lapped against the rock as the loons sang a welcoming tune. I was at home.  Slowly but surely the world came to life and soon enough we were all back in our canoes beginning the day’s paddle.

Our paddle took us through both lakes and swamps, which was a nice change of scene for the end of the trip. The swamps were calm and peaceful while the lakes were large and growing rougher as the day went on.

Upon reaching our final lake crossing for the day, we met a good challenge. It was the longest lake crossing we had scheduled and we met the strongest headwind thus far. For every three strokes we made we only moved forward one. It was hard work, especially for the petite members of the group as their muscles were not accustomed to as much as was expected from them.

I kept my canoe in the back of the group with the students that were struggling with the crossing so the other leaders could cross quickly with those who were able and then be able to start setting up the camp. By the time my group made it to the camp site, the others were unpacked and enjoying their leisure time. We quickly joined them in their leisure after unpacking our own gear and pulling our canoes on shore.

We played games in the campsite before making dinner. Our favorite game was taught to us by one of the group members who had been the captain of the improv team in high school. The group would create a scenario and the student in the scene could speak but it was my job to move his body in accordance with the story. It turned out to be a very funny time in the camp.

After several games, it was time to build a fire and cook our mac ‘n cheese dinner. We gathered wood and made a fire. In the process of cooking, one of the leaders burned his hand pretty well in an attempt to remove a pot from the fire bare-handed. We felt bad but were excited to try out the “second skin” from our burn section of the medical kit. The effectiveness of this product was astounding. By the following morning there were no signs of his skin having been burned so badly and he had no pain where the burns had occurred.

Following dinner, we had some more group bonding time before the leaders went to bed early. We planned to break camp at 3:00 AM and drive back to Calvin College (about 8 hours away) the next morning, so we made sure to get some rest. The students stayed up late as they enjoyed their final night. Everyone slept on the ground because we did not set up tents. We were not going to be in camp long enough to need tents and we didn’t want to use extra time tearing them down when we broke camp at three.

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Posted by on 22 December 2011 in Water Sports


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Name-Brand Gear 50-70% off plus a $10 credit for joining under me!

I get a lot of my gear from The Clymb, it is a discount gear website (everything is 50-70% off all the time) whose inventory is constantly changing. I have purchased shoes, a smart-wool base-layer (which I am currently wearing), and lots of other gear from this site. They are currently having a promotion from today until Christmas where anyone who joins the site from someone else’s invitation scores a $10 credit. In addition, when you make your first purchase, the member who invited you will also get a $10 credit. If you have any interest in name-brand gear at dirt-cheap prices check this site out. Here is my personal invitation so you can join under me and if you find something you like we can both benefit!

use this link to get the $10 credit

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Posted by on 8 December 2011 in Rock Climbing


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