Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Trip Log - Pog Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park, July 13-15 2012

Several years ago, friends of ours invited us to share a campsite with them while they were attending Bolerama, a gathering of people camping in fiberglass campers.  On average there are about 110 of the light weight campers at the annual gathering, most of which were ranged around the group camping sections of Emily Provnicial Park outside of Peterborough, Ontario.

We were hooked and within the year, we'd bought our own little fibreglass egg.  For the next few years, we attended Bolerama, until the event was no longer being held at Emily Park, but rather in the Waterloo area, which was too far for us to travel.  Instead, on the weekend Bolerama is held, we get together with our friends and head to Algonquin.  This year, we invited a few other friends from high school along and had a wonderful weekend at Pog Lake.

We started planning this trip back in January, heck maybe even before them.  We already knew we wanted to go back to Pog Lake, but we really wanted sites closer to the beach, on the water so the kids can fish whenever they wanted, and of course sites that were next to each other because the kids basically treat it like one large campsite. We spent a long time deciding on which sites would be perfect and then when the day came where we could reserve them, they were already taken.  After a bit of a scramble to pick the next best of the available sites, we settled on 119, and 180 in Campground A.  Our other friends booked site 181, which was kitty-corner to our site.

We arrived just before two, and had to wait for the previous campers to finish packing up. While we hung out at our friend's site waiting, we spotted a species of bird I'd never seen before.  I looked it up on my iPhone and quickly identified it as a Brown Creeper.  These birds are really small, and move up and down tree trunks in the same manner as nuthatches.

It didn't take us long to set up (haul out the camp chairs, and take the coolers and food bins out of the camper....that's about the extent of setting up for us) and made a quick lunch of grilled cheddar sausages, then took the kids swimming.  I could sum up this whole camping trip by saying we swam...a lot.  It was hot and sunny the whole time we were there, perfect camping weather, especially when there is a beach close at hand.

Okay, we did other stuff too.  After the beach, I pulled out my brand spanking new 10" dutch oven and  made an apple spice dump cake.  It smelled amazing and tasted amazing too.  Unfortunately, after dinner, everyone wanted to go for a swim again, so it was dark before we got to eat dessert, and the cake wasn't warm anymore, and I couldn't take any pictures of it.  Also, I'd lined the dutch oven with tin foil so clean up would be easier, and it must have bubbled over the top of the foil.  There was a perfect circle of tin foil glued to the bottom of the pot.  It took Chris ages to scrape it clean with the little Lodge scraper tool I bought (which he told me I didn't need...he changed his mind.)  To make it worse, the mosquitos were out by then and were attracted to the flashlights as we tried to clean up so we got bit a million times.

The next morning I tried out something new...originally I'd intended to call them ultimate blueberry pancakes, but ended up changing the name to Smurf Cakes.  What I did was take just-add-water pancake mix, add a few scoops of blueberry baby food as well as thawed, frozen blueberries along with the juices that formed as they thawed.  Add enough water to make the batter to the consistency you like.  The inside of the pancakes were a perfect Smurfy blue.  For the syrup, I poured table syrup into a small pot and added about a cup of fresh blueberries and let it boil down a bit.  It was super yummy.

After breakfast, I let everyone else go to the beach while I cleaned up.  Now, I should mention that each family does their own food, so I wasn't cleaning up after 16 people, just our family.  By the time I got finished and headed to the beach myself, it was almost lunch time. (Not because there was a ton of dirty dishes, but because we'd slept in.)  We had quick grilled cheeses made in my pie iron, then all the families got together and did the Spruce Bog Board Walk Trail.  I've only done this trail in the winter, and didn't realize the boardwalk extended almost the entire trail.  It was very neat, and very easy for the littlest members of our group since there were no roots or rocks to trip them up.  Usually, Chris will climb any large rock or rock cut we come across on a hike, but this time he was carrying one of the toddlers, so our son took over the tradition.  Once up there, he proceeded to pretend he was a super model...he gets that from his dad, I swear.

In the picture, you can see the button on his shirt.  The older kids gathered up bags of recycling and took them to the Pog Lake gatehouse and got these buttons.  They could also get them for joining in organized beach clean ups and other things, with a total of six buttons available to earn.  If you get all six, I think their name goes into a draw for a free camping trip for the whole family.

After that, it was back to the campground for a quick swim, then we started getting ready for the pot luck dinner.  I made a lasagna in the dutch oven and it turned out really well.  There were lots of salads, chips, veggies and dip and I grilled texas-toast garlic bread on the little BBQ as well. We were all stuffed and there was enough food left over we could have invited a few other sites over for the meal.  The guys took the older kids fishing (they caught a few small rock bass)

Breakfast the next day was basic eggs and bacon,  Then at lunch we ate up some of the left over sausages, cookies, and made individual pineapple upside down cakes on the BBQ.

Pog Lake doesn't have the same level of privacy as Canisbay does, but it certainly has more character.  The campsites are set in a grove of tall pines and it just has a more rustic, northern feel to it. Where Canisbay's woodland is made up of mostly deciduous trees, Pogs were mostly coniferous  I will say, at Pog, the vault toilets are few and far between, and the comfort stations always seem to be full of women doing their make up, or blowdrying their hair.

Tips for camping with younger kids

A few weeks ago, we went camping with some of our friends from high school, and their kids.  While my kids are at an age where they don't need me constantly watching them, our friend's kids were all much younger and it made me remember just how challenging it can be to go on camping trips with toddlers.

The first time we took our daughter camping, she was about 15 months old, and at that stage where she didn't want to be held, and didn't want to hold my hand.  She could walk perfectly fine, thank you very much, provided there were no obstacles in the way.  Our camp site was littered with roots, big rocks and was on the edge of the lake, not exactly a safe place for a toddler to be left wandering on her own.  The flies were insane that trip as well.  To sum up, the trip was a huge stress-out for me, but that was because I wasn't prepared.

Here are some basic tips on having a successful camping trip with your little ones.

1. Pick a time when the bugs aren't bad if possible.   Since most insect repellants aren't safe for babies, you'll spend a good deal of your time sweeping mosquitoes off your child, which pretty much means you have no time to enjoy the trip yourself.  It's bad enough being stuck inside a tent when it's just adults, but being confined with a cranky baby?  Not fun. Planning a trip for later in the summer usually means insect free days, and a far more pleasant trip for everyone.

2. Take lots of toys, preferably quiet ones.  We made the mistake of not taking more than a few stuffed animals on that first trip, and to be honest, we don't take a lot of things for our kids even now.  Our friends though, bring a huge bin of beach type toys, water guns and lawn type games.  That bin saved our sanity more than once during the weekend.  My own kids are perfectly happy with a camera, a few guide books and their bikes, but they had lots of fun joining in on a big water fight with the little ones.  If you can avoid taking toys that make noise, your neighbours will thanks you.  Travel size board games are perfect for older kids on rainy days.

3. Pack snacks that don't require preparation.  Having things you can set out at a moment's notice is a great way to distract kids if they are being whiney. On our trip, all the kids would often hang out at one site, with one or two of the adults to watch them while the other parents went for ice or fire wood.  When a three year old starts throwing a fit, often, a yummy snack will derail a complete tantrum long enough for their parent to take over. Healthy snacks are best, especially if you are camping with a group and don't want to hop your friends kids up on sugar just to get them to stop screaming. Also, for early mornings, if your kids are up but the rest of the group isn't, and you don't want to make breakfast until they all wake, having things like fruit cups, small boxes of cereal or yogurt can keep little ones happy and quiet.

4. Don't be too ambitious.  Lets face it, when our kids are little, they are going to dictate a lot of what we do, and that doesn't change on a camping trip.  You probably won't be doing that 10K hike with a three year old.  You want your kids to grow up loving camping (at least I assume you do) and forcing them to do something they don't want to or aren't ready for, isn't the way to go about it.  When it comes to hikes, swimming or canoe rides, be sure what you have planned isn't going to exhaust them, or bore them.  For example, at Algonquin, two great options for hiking with little kids are the Spruce Bog Trail which is mostly flat and short enough that they won't lose interest, and the Logging Museum Trail, which has things for kids to explore and climb on, and is also short and easy.  Some of the other short trails, like Peck Lake, should be avoided if you  have a child at that age where they want to walk on their own, but aren't quite steady on their feet.  Skinned knees, bruises and bumps on the head are no fun for anyone.  We have been dying to do the Track and Tower Trail for years now, but we also know that attempting it with our kids when they aren't ready for it would just mean everyone would be miserable.  Better to wait, or plan a getaway for adults only.

5. Start small.  This is a pretty obvious one.  For your first trip out, plan for a one or two night stay, and try to pick a park or campground close to home so if it gets to be too much, you can cut the trip short.  It would suck to have driven five hours, for a week long trip, and on the second day, have to cut the trip short because of a sick child, or because your child panics about sleeping in the tent or on the ground.   On our first trip, our daughter got up at six am and was only happy if she was banging on the mess kit with a spoon. She'd also gotten a fly bite in the corner of her eye and the whole side of her face was swollen up. Needless to say, our neighbours wouldn't have been happy about the noise, and we were worried about the swelling so we packed up and left.  We'd only booked one night, so no money went to waste.

If anyone else has advise on camping with kids, or would like to share stories please leave a comment.  Teaching our kids to love the outdoors, and creating those memories with them is a wonderful gift, it would be a shame to lose it because of a bad first experience.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer Clearance Sale at Bass Pro Shops


 There are some really good deals here, like Fila sport shoes, the kind with the toe spots (we call them footie shoes) for $29.99!

A Little Behind...

I'm falling behind on getting all my posts up.  We went camping at Pog Lake in Algonquin, did a day paddle in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, and I tried out several new recipes I want to share.  In the next few weeks I'll be heading back to Mew Lake at Algonquin, possibly going to the Wolf Sanctuary at Haliburton Forest and doing the Walk in the Clouds, attending a family reunion type thing at Chris's parents place, then going camping at Restoule Provincial Park with his sister.

I realized as I was doing the recipe write ups that I didn't take pictures of the food when I made it!  Doah!  I'd hoped to make little videos to demonstrate how to make some of the recipes, but I never had anyone there to hold the camera while I cooked.  I guess I'll have to haul out the tripod for my next trips.

Also, there's a fire ban now in effect for Algonquin.  No fires at all in the back country and the only time you can have a fire in the organized campgrounds on highway 60 is between 7pm and 10pm.  Also, you aren't allowed to use barbecues where you add charcoal briquets, so I'm guessing that means no cooking with a dutch oven either.  That's to be expected.  We've had hardly any rain this summer at all, and I'm kind of surprised Algonquin waited so long.  Gotta love the need to keep tourists happy, eh?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Camp Recipe: Fruit Crisp

On our trip to Presqu'ile, I had two desserts planned, fruit crisp for the first night, and apple hand pies for the second.  We didn't manage the second, mostly because Chris went for a run, from our site to the lighthouse, which was approximately 8km.  To prove he'd done so, he left 2 rocks on the ledge of the lighthouse for the kids to get, so after supper, we drove down to get his proof.

Anyway, the fruit crisp was super easy.  We made it in our Weber camp BBQ but you could make it on the fire or with a reflector oven as well...(still waiting for my handyman to make me one...)

This recipe is customizable and to be honest, I didn't measure anything, just threw topping ingredients into a bag.  I just grabbed some frozen fruit from our smoothie stash, and dumped it all into one bag.  My mix included peach slices, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.  You could take along some fresh apples to add to it if you want...I had planned to but in the rush of packing up, forgot all about it.

Camp Fruit Crisp
about 1 cup large flake oats
about 1/4 cup flour
about about 1/2 cup brown sugar
about 1/4 cup white sugar
about 4-6 cups frozen fruit
a few globs of margarine

At Home: Measure the oats, flour and brown sugar into a ziplock bag.  I didn't pack the white sugar separately, just took it from the container I have for tea and coffee.

At Camp: Pour the frozen fruit into a disposable square baking pan (I got mine at the dollar store, 3 for $1) Sprinkle with sugar (you can use as much as you want, depending on what kind of fruit you used.  Tarter fruit will need more sugar.)  Drop the gobs of margarine into the bag of topping mix and mush it around to work the margarine in, or you can dump it all into a bowl and use a fork.  Obviously you won't have a pastry cutter but you can use two butter knives or the back of a spoon to blend it in, or use your hands.  Sprinkle on top of the fruit.  Take a piece of tin foil and put it onto the BBQ rack, then put the pan on top of that.  Cook at a medium heat for about 15 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling.  You might want to let it cool for a bit.  We baked ours then left it in the BBQ, with the heat off while we went for our drive. (Keep the lid down though so bugs and wildlife don't get into it.)

On our trip to Canisbay, I left out the flour from the topping mix because Dad was cutting back on gluten.  Also, before I left home, I peeled and sliced a few apples and pears, put them in a freezer bag and put a few squirts of lemon juice in. swished them in the bag, then froze it along with some frozen blueberries and frozen mango.  I ended up with enough fruit to half fill a large freezer bag, but I never measured it.  The pan shown above fed five people, with some going back for seconds...and thirds.  Whipped topping would have been a nice addition but we didn't take any.

Trip Log: Canisbay Lake - Algonquin Provincial Park July 2-4 2012 and review of Canisbay Campground

Back in the winter, we snow shoed along the main road through Canisbay Lake Campground. (click here to read about that trip)   With three feet of snow on the ground and no leaves on the trees it was pretty hard to guess what the campground would be like, but honestly I was a little worried.  We booked this trip about a week before we did the snowshoe trip, and we'd agonized over which site to choose, which campground to stay at etc, for weeks before booking.

I think Canisbay might be my favourite campground at Algonquon (that I've stayed in so far) We were in the non-electrical section, but not the radio free/dog free area.  The sites were well spaced, with lots of underbrush to give you privacy.  They were pretty much all a good size as well, though there were a few that were on a bit of a slant, so finding a good spot for your tent might be challenging.  Also, the vault toilets were clean and not smelly enough to make you want to hold your breath even though we were arriving on the monday of Canada Day Weekend, and so they probably saw a lot of use over the previous three days.
Our site before we added all the tarps

Chris and I drove through the radio free/dog free area and the sites were much smaller and not as nice.  They were still woodland type, but some of them were so small you wouldn't fit a car and a tent bigger than a 3 or 4 person.  They would be fine for a couple but if you had kids you wouldn't have room for them to run around and play at all.  There were also some walk in sites here.  They were interspersed with the regular sites, and from the road, you would simply see a small spot to park a car, then a trail leading away from it.  It was hard to judge their size and quality, so if anyone has used one and would like to share their opinion, I'd love to hear it.

The electrical section, I've been told by the kids, is much the same as the area we were in, spaced, nice sized lots and fairly private.

The first thing we did when we got to the site was set up mum and dad's new screen tent.  Mum had bought it at a yard sale and it was one of those ones that goes up in about a minute.  It took about half an hour...it hadn't been set up properly before and it took us a while to figure out what was wrong with it....of course if dad hadn't burned the instruction paper....

View from the sandy beach at one of the paddle in sites we explored
*cough* anyway.  We took the kids for a swim then had lunch (just quick sandwiches) then chris and I took the kids for a canoe trip around Canisbay Lake to check out the paddle in sites.  Up until now they were very against the idea of a paddle in site because of the bathroom set up (both agreed a thunder box must be gross) and they had also never liked being in the canoe.  For some reason, they both decided they now loved canoeing (yay!) and they got into a fight over who got to use the thunder box first when we stopped to check out an empty site.  Kids are weird.  After exploring a few sites, Chris and I sat in the middle and let the kids paddle.  They LOVED that even though the paddles were way too big for them.  Next camping gear purchase will be to get them paddles their size.

Of course it took a lot longer to get anywhere, and when they got tired, Chris and I had to paddle from the middle of the boat which is a fair bit more awkward.

When we got back to the campsite, we made dinner (tacos) then dad got a fire going and we made banana boats.  After cleaning up and bear proofing the site, we headed to bed.  The kids slept in mum and dad's big tent and Chris and I had our old, four person tent, and the dogs slept with us.  It actually worked out quite well.  We put down the old blue foam sleeping pads for the dogs and they slept peacefully most of the night (mostly...Kenobi was panting like crazy for a while, and the second night he kept having those dreams dogs have where their legs twitch.)

During the night, I heard a woman running down one of the roads behind us, panicking and yelling that she'd just seen a bear.  When we got to the park, they warned us that a bear had been seen the day before.  They even warned us to lock any clothes we'd worn while cooking in the car because they'd have food odours on them, and to lock our stove and BBQ up.  We'd brought a full size BBQ with us, so I spent the first night worried and jumping at every sound.

The next day, after a quick breakfast of bacon and eggs, mum and dad took the kids to the Visitor's Center to do that day's kids program. It was a game called Blackflies, Brainworms and Bloodsuckers...apparently it was fun.  While they were gone, Chris and I took the dogs for a hike on the Peck Lake Trail.  The dogs are 12, so I picked a fairly short one, that I didn't think would be too hilly.  I almost died!  You'd think 2 dogs at that age would be slow going on a hike but no.  They dragged us around the entire trail and what the guide says should be a 1 1/2 hour hike took us about 25 minutes.  By the end, Dixie's back legs were shaking and I was exhausted.

Once everyone was back at the site we had lunch - Weenies and Beanies - ultimate traditional camp food.  The weather report said we were going to get a storm that afternoon, so Dad and I put up a bunch of tarps so that all the tents were covered.  We only ended up getting a sprinkle of rain, but you can bet if we hadn't put the tarps up, we would have gotten a down pour.

I think in total there were 155 steps...way more than you can see in the picture
Despite the storm warnings, Chris and I headed out to do another hike, without the dogs this time.  This time, we did the Booth's Rock Trail.  I've done this one before, sort of.  Last summer when we were camping at Rock Lake, the kids and I headed down the trail backwards.  This time we went the recommended direction and while it was still a difficult hike with lots of climbing, it was nowhere near as hard as climbing all those steps!  Its way easier on the knees to go down them then up.

Chris at the top of Booth's Rock
Booth's Rock Trail is a really nice way to spend a few hours.  The lookout is amazing.  You can see far into the distance, there are nice places to sit and have a snack, and on the way back to the parking lot, there are several spots where you can head off the trail and cool your feet in Rock Lake.

When we got back to camp, everyone pitched in to help mum make Dutch Oven Lasagna.  It's a super easy camp meal, and though it takes a while to cook, it's not something that requires constant supervision.  You put it together, put the charcoal on and then halfway through, add another batch of briquets. The only difficult part was the shuffle of ingredients since it took four people to hold all the things and hand them to mum as she worked through the layers.  I'll post the recipe soon.

The Fruit crisp...we were too impatient to take pictures before we dug in
We don't often make dessert when camping, but that's something that I've been working on changing.  On our trip to Presquile, I made fruit crisp in our little BBQ and it turned out well so I thought I'd make some for this trip as well.  (go here for recipe) I highly recommend this dessert...it's so forgiving.  Since we had a normal sized BBQ this time, I put the crisp on one side and only turned on the burner for the other side.  I completely lost track of how long it cooked for...and then I intended to turn it off and let it sit for a bit while chris and I went for a swim...I totally forgot to turn the BBQ off and when we got back a half hour later, I was worried it would be burnt but it was fine.  Tasted great.

The second night was much quieter after dark.  Nobody ran past screaming about bears, but the next morning, one of the families that had arrived the day before were up early playing what sounded like beach ball volleyball...and shouting while having fun with their kids.  I'm all for having fun while camping, and making it fun for the kids so they grow up to love camp trips...but do you really have to talk so loudly it carries across the entire campground at six in the morning?  I always figure, there are somethings you just have to expect...dogs barking, babies crying and people who have had a bit to much to drink to realize they are being loud.  But parents who encourage their children to be loud early in the morning?  Or people who just can't be bothered to try to respect other campers?  That just bugs me.  Teaching your kids to be quiet while camping or hiking isn't just about not pissing off your neighbours either.  You want your kids to see wildlife, to feel the thrill of going around a corner on a trail and seeing a deer or a moose, or to have a chickadee land on their hand to take some seeds.  That won't happen if they never learn to keep quiet and still.  Those are the kinds of moments that will be the most memorable for them, and you, when they are grown up and think back to camping with mommy and daddy.

Anyway, breakfast...mum, Chris and I tried something new, and it's something I'll be experimenting with further.  Basically, it was breakfast in a cup, a muffin cup to be exact.  You tear the crust off your bread, and line muffin tins with it, then put in some partially cooked bacon and crack an egg on top...then stick it in the BBQ on indirect heat for about 20 minutes.  It worked out alright but regular muffin tins weren't quite big enough so I'll be looking to get a jumbo muffin pan in the near future.  I'll be looking into trying other ingredients too, already cooked bacon, sausage, cheese, and pancake batter in the bottom rather than bread.  They were pretty yummy though, but one per person was definitely not enough.

We packed up fairly quickly after breakfast since Chris had to work that night.  This trip ended up being a great one, good food, hardly any bugs (except for the daddy-long-legs which were everywhere) and we managed to do a lot of exploring.  The weather was perfect, not too hot or cool and only a sprinkle of rain.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Chris and I decided to try hiking the part of the Ganaraska trail north of County Rd 45, across from the Sommerville Tract trails we did in the early spring.  We'd hoped to make it to the Goodoar lakes for a bit of a picnic then head back to the car.

First off...finding the trail was a bit of a challenge.  I knew we'd have to go down the road a bit, but we ended up getting sidetracked by an ATV trail and headed down it to explore for a bit.  According to one map I have, the Ganaraska has two options for north of Rd 45, and since the ATV trail gate had a Ganaraska symbol on their sign, we thought it might be the one shown.  There were none of the white flashes usually used to mark the trail though, so we weren't sure.

We never got far enough down the trail to see if it did join with the other leg.  Actually, I'm surprised we even got out of the car.  As soon as we pulled into the parking area, the car was swarmed.  I seriously thought we'd disturbed a hornets nest or something, but it was deer flies.  It was crazy.  I've never in my life seen that many deer flies.

Chris had a hoodie in the car and I grabbed a spare t-shirt left in the back seat after a recent trip to the beach, and used it to cover my head.  It was brutal.  There were so many deer flies on the back of Chris's hood, it looked like he'd been hit on the back of the head with a  ball of mud the size of a baseball, and the cloud of them circling was insane.  I would have taken pictures but I needed both my hands to hold the t-shirt tightly to over my head.

It was rather disappointing.  I thought I'd handled all the possible issues we might have, I'd brought maps so we didn't get lost, I had the GPS, extra water...okay so I forgot to wear decent shoes and only had my $4 Walmart flip-flops on, but I never considered the deer flies would be that bad.  Mosquitoes, sure...even a few deer flies, but over 50 of them on each of our heads, plus swarms buzzing around us? Not so much.

The problem with deer and horse flies is that bug spray doesn't even faze them.  I did a bit of research online to see what other outdoors enthusiasts recommend and found a huge range of possible solutions...

1 - wear a feather on top of your hat...the flies swarm the highest point (usually your head) so they go for the feather rather than your scalp...you can also use a fern if there are any nearby.

2 - make loops of duct tape with the sticky side out and stick them all over your hat.  The deer flies land...get stuck and are no longer a problem.

3 - bug hats and suits.  These work until the flies realize they can't get a meal from your head and start searching out exposed spots like hands and ankles.  Really, if they are bad enough to warrant full body covering, including gloves, you might just want to stay inside.  Deer flies like the heat, so chances are it'd be way to hot to be covered head to toe.

4. One person suggested taping a blue plastic cup to your hat that has been painted with the kind of sticky bug trap goo you get on those dangly fly strips.  She tried it out and it worked well for her, but I gotta say, I'd feel pretty silly walking around with a cup taped to my hat.

Probably the best solution is to avoid areas where deer flies are happiest.  The females lay their eggs in swampy areas, but for feeding, deer flies prefer hot, dry weather and are usually found where the terrain is sand or gravel.  Of course, that means you'll miss out on a lot of hiking, canoeing and general fun.

Anyone else have any solutions for dealing with deer flies?