Friday, November 8, 2013

End of season thoughts

I hate to admit it, but I think our camping season is over.  I may be able to convince Chris to do a trip to Mew in the Boler in November, but I won't be holding my breath.

While I was going through the trip logs, adding links to the Log page for easier navigating, I started thinking about the summer as a whole.

1) We went on a fair number of trips this summer!  Yay us! 11 camping trips is pretty good.  We also managed to camp at least once a month, for 8 months straight.  That's pretty good for us.  I'm really proud of us for taking the chance on the early spring excursion, even though it seemed crazy to be camping with snow on the ground.

2) We didn't do as much hiking this year.  Though we did some trails while camping, there were less day trips.  I had planned to do a lot of picnicking but that didn't really happen.

3) All but one of our trips was front country!  This was the biggest bummer because we all really wanted to go back country canoeing this year.  So why didn't we?  Well, we had booked a lot of trips early in the spring, and those took up a lot of Chris's time off.  The trip with our friends is an annual thing we don't want to give up, and my mum and I have so much fun planning trips, it was hard not to get all excited about booking them.  Here's the thing.  By mid February, I'm getting antsy, and I want to be assured of some camping time being locked down.  Booking early means WE ARE GOING.  While the thought of crown land camping, or going somewhere that doesn't require a reservation (unmaintained provincial parks) is very appealing, there's that niggling worry in my mind that if we haven't booked it, and paid for it, something small will come up and we will cancel or postpone the trip and it just won't happen.  It's easy to say this summer we are going to do this canoe route and this one...but unless we actually put it on a calendar and lock it down, it doesn't happen.

So what can I do to avoid this?  I think being prepared is the best thing to do.  Having food already for a back country trip will ease the stress and reduce the excuses. It can be surprisingly expensive to shop last minute for a camping trip.  I suppose you could always go with a few boxes of instant oatmeal for breakfast, KD for dinner, and granola bars for lunch, but I want to eat real food out there...not just garbage.  So that's one of my goals over the winter, have enough dehydrated trail meals made up and hidden away in the freezer so that all that's left to do for a trip is pack the food into our barrel.  It would be much easier to do spontaneous short trips if there wasn't days of preparing dried food to do before we could leave.

4) I really want to do at least one long trip next year.  Short trips are fine, but it seems like so much effort and time goes into planning them, and you don't get all that much actual camping time.  I am hoping next year to do a week long trip to Achray, giving us lots of time to get to all the things we wanted to do this year.  Is there much difference between planning and packing for a long trip and for a short one?  Other than maybe more clothes, and a bigger menu, I guess not.

5) We tried a fair bit of new things with our food this year.  We did a lot of spaghetti last year, but this year we tried nachos, experimented with spam, cooked a turkey dinner and made a variety of pre made dinners for the night of our arrivals.  Oddly enough, when I asked the kids what their favourite camp dinner was from this summer, Bubbie's response was spaghetti. She says there's something so much better about eating spaghetti when camping..Squatch's was the Spam hash.

It's kind of sad to be cleaning out the boler, packing up the gear and putting away things for the winter. I've been putting it off but there's no denying it's cold and yucky outside.  I guess it's time to pull out the snowshoes and skis and make sure everything still fits.




Saturday, November 2, 2013

Trip Log: Arrowhead Provincial Park - September 20-22, 2013

This trip to Arrowhead ended up being put off twice.  Originally, it had been booked for the sunday/monday of the august long weekend but plans for Chris's sister fell through, so we ended up rescheduling it to the second weekend of September...then Chris couldn't get that weekend off and we bumped it to the following weekend.  Our friends were going to join us, but then they had family obligations and we ended up heading up to Huntsville on our own.  We didn't get to the site until well after dark, probably about 9 or 9:30.  We simply backed the Boler into the middle of the site, and went to bed.  It was raining and a bit chilly, but inside the trailer we felt like we were in a sauna.  It was so humid and warm, we all ended up on top of our sleeping bags.

The next morning was chilly and still drizzly.  I cooked up some Spam Hash and we set up the screen tent over the picnic table to give us some shelter from the rain.  We also moved the trailer so it wasn't right in the centre of the site.  Unfortunately, the extension cord we brought was about 5 feet too short (it was a 100ft cord.)  This wouldn't have been an issue if the electrical outlet wasn't on the site of the site with the fire pit, meaning we couldn't get any closer to close the gap.

Chris carrying Biscuit down the stairs to Stubb's Falls
We all hiked down to Stubb's Falls before lunch.  There were a lot of people there, including some men who were camped down the river. I took a few pictures while Chris tried fly fishing in the little pool at the bottom of the falls.  Biscuit made things difficult because he was so eager to check everything out he ended up dragging the kids all over the place.  I didn't get much chance to play with the camera because I had to hold him or risk Squatch falling into the water.

Before we walked back, we took a walk to the site we would have been staying at had we gone on our original dates back in August.  As we were heading back, we noticed a campsite I'd passed that morning while walking the dog.  Two young men had been at the site then, and it was clear they had left.  Their tent and gear was gone, but they'd left the fire going, and they'd left both picnic tables covered in garbage.  I've seen a few sites with the odd bit of garbage on it, or people who leaved their bags of garbage hanging from the site's number post thinking there is a garbage service coming to clean up after them, but this was just laziness.  There were scattered bottles and wrappers, a foil baking pan, an empty firewood bag.  It wasn't just a "oops didn't notice that can tucked behind the picnic table leg" it looked like a very small high school party had happened and partiers had fled before the parents showed up.  It was very disheartening.

Heron near the base of Stubb's Falls
The plan was for my parents to drive up for dinner, so when we got back to camp, I started up the charcoal for a yummy Dutch Oven beef roast with potatoes, carrots and squash.  Mum and Dad showed up not long after and we left Chris with the food while we walked down to the falls again.  Dad had just bought a GoPro and wanted to try it out.  (They also picked us up a 10 foot extension cord to add to ours so we could use the heater that night...it ended up being pretty darn chilly and we were thankful for the warmth.)

When we got back, dinner was ready, and we all crammed into the trailer to eat since everything was wet out side.  We had our screen tent over the picnic table, but the picnic table didn't dry much with the air being so damp.  Mum had brought salad, and a cake for dessert.  Poor Biscuit was so tired he kept nodding off while leaning against Mum's leg but he was to worried he might miss a yummy treat if he fell asleep.

Mum and Dad left shortly after dinner for the drive back south. The kids and Chris had spent a good part of the day playing cards and after dinner we taught them how to play a game my parents and their friends came up with a long time ago.  I'm hoping to do a how-to video of this game because it really is a lot of fun...especially if you and your friends have had a few drinks.

When we went to bed that night, Biscuit did his normal pre-slumber routine of chewing lightly on his sleeping bag...but he was so tired he fell asleep face down with a mouthful of blanket. I seriously thought he was dead.  I went to nudge him and he woke up snarling. He really doesn't like his sleep being interrupted.

It was still drizzling and cold the next morning.  Breakfast was cereal this morning.  Everyone else lay around in their beds in the warm trailer while I took Biscuit for a walk.  He gets annoyed being cooped up in the Boler, but hasn't yet learned to just relax while tied up outside either.  He wants to be right with us, and since I'm usually cooking, that also means he has plenty of opportunity to get up on the table.  

On the way home we stopped in Gravenhurst for some coffee and a bathroom break. Chris managed a 3 point turn in the parking lot there, which, if you've ever been to that Timmies, you'll know it's quite a feat with a trailer.



Sunday, October 20, 2013

Trip Log: Presquile Provincial Park - May 21-23, 2012


I was adding more links to the Trip Log's page this morning when I realized I hadn't actually posted a trip log for our trip to Presquile last year.  I wrote a review of the park, but no trip log.  As this is the trip we still hold up as the standard to which all other trips get compared to (well, up until we went to Achray, now its our unanimous favourite), I should probably write up what I can remember.

From what I recall, it didn't start well.  The drive wasn't long, maybe an hour and a half, but the kids complained most of the way.  That might have had something to do with the fact the dogs were in the back of the car, huffing bad breath and drooling over their shoulders.  I can't really blame them for not enjoying the trip to the park.

The beach at our campsite
We got our permit and went to our site.  Before we did anything else, we headed to the water and the kids went nuts about the smooth stones.  While Chris and I set up the trailer and got the dog's ropes tied up, they explored along the shore.  We had a quick lunch of sandwiches and lemonade, then went to check out the Visitor's Centre.  Since we'd arrived on the monday of the Victoria Day weekend, we were hoping it would still be open.  It wasn't, so we spent some time exploring the lighthouse and the little paths in the area, then headed back to camp.

I can't remember what we had for dinner that night, just that I made bumbleberry crisp on the BBQ.   I remember the kids spent most of their time looking for fossils in the rocks on shore and when dinner was ready, I kept calling them but they couldn't hear over the sound of the waves and wind coming off Lake Ontario.  They found quite a few, and this became the main source of fun for the whole trip.  Chris got them into their swimsuits at one point and they waded into the water.  Dixie went along for the little walk.  She didn't like Chris being out of her sight, and whined when he's not around.  We went for a short walk along the bike bath then had a quick campfire so the kids could roast some marshmallows.
Our site at Presqui'le

The next morning the kids went right back to searching for fossils and wading in the water.  I don't remember what Chris and I had for breakfast, probably eggs and bacon, but the kids had cold cereal (as usual)  Pretty much the whole trip was spent on the shore of our site.  At one point Chris tried out his new "footie" shoes and ran to the lighthouse and back.  We also did the boardwalk before dinner our second day.  It started to rumble while on the hike, but I don't think we got more than a sprinkle of rain.  While the kids and Chris were playing in the water, I went for a walk and saw a family of swans in a little pond.  We also had to make a run in to Trenton to the Walmart for more propane.

Dinner our second night was awesome.  It was only spaghetti, but we dragged the picnic table out onto the rocks on shore.  The sky was crazy dark, and it looked like it was going to storm.  It sprinkled a bit in the night, and we ended up putting a tarp up over the picnic table so we could eat breakfast.  I think we had pancakes (kids had cold cereal again) then headed out.

Looking back I don't know why this held top spot on our list of favourite camping trips.  We didn't do anything super memorable, but I guess it's not about that (otherwise we'd go to Wonderland several times a summer.)  What made this trip so good was the good weather, the lack of bugs, and the fact the kids never had an "I'm bored" moment.  

Approaching storm over lake ontario
One thing we always talk about from this trip is the lasso golf game we got.  Chris and I had spent ages trying to get one on sale.  Every time we went to get one, they'd be sold out, then finally we got one at TSC.  The kids were so excited.  Chris set it up the first night, probably while I made dinner, and on the third throw, one of the plastic connectors broke and the ladder fell apart.  Chris fixed it up, and two minutes later another one broke.  It got to the point where after every throw, the whole ladder would fall apart.  We were so disappointed!  After so long trying to get one, it ended up being a piece of garbage that lasted about 10 minutes before it was completely unusable. (we're still on the lookout for a set made of sturdier material...like wood)






Saturday, October 19, 2013

Day Trip: Frost Centre - Herb Lake

With such beautiful weather, I couldn't help myself.  I kept the kids home from school so we could go out in the canoe.  In my defence, now that school has started up, we don't get to do much as a family.  Chris works weekends and most evenings, so it limits our chances to do things like this.

Anyway, originally we thought about going to Algonquin, but since this was also our first canoe trip with Biscuit, we didn't want to drive all that way only to have him go nuts and end up with a 5 minute ride.  (He did fine, by the way.  We nearly tipped several times because he was leaning over the side biting the water like it was his greatest enemy, but he settled down after a while.)

To get to Herb Lake, go north on Highway 35, past the Frost Centre and past the entrance to Dorset, then turn right onto Kawagama Lake Road (it's number 8...not sure if that's county road 8 or what, but there's a number 8 on the sign.)  You'll need to stay to the right twice as the straight path puts you onto other roads...keep an eye out for Herb Lake Landing (it's just past Herb Lake Road or Drive...something like that.  We went down it and it wasn't the right place)  You'll see a portage sign that all the words have been worn off of, and that will tell you it's the right road.  Follow that right down to the lake if you want, unload, then back up to one of the little parking areas.  There's a map and sign down by the water.

Herb Lake was really pretty, and it's pretty small.  There are only a few cottages on it, just near the access.   We took a picnic and ate at one of the designated camp sites.  I did take pictures, but unfortunately, they disappeared off my camera.  Not sure how that happened.  The site we stopped at had only a small tent pad, and has a limit of 4 people, but it was very pretty.

We didn't stay too long, Biscuit's unpredictable canoe behaviour left us a little leery of exploring more, and we didn't want to push our luck, so we paddled back and headed home.  Herb Lake makes a good quick trip for a weekend where you want to do minimal work and just enjoy the peach and quiet.  We will definitely be going here again, for a night of camping at the very least.

Don't forget to check out the waterfall on the way out.  There's a small parking area, but no signs.  You'll see it when you drive in, so watch for it on the way back out.  The climb is pretty intense.  Good foot wear is a must, and the drop off into the river below is pretty far, so keep kids and animals close and under control.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Trip Log: Algonquin Park, Rock Lake, October 11-14, 2013

I finally achieved my dream of having Thanksgiving while camping!  We arrived at our site mid afternoon and set up Mum and Dad's tent trailer.  The site wasn't the most private, but we had a view of the lake (with the odd tent in the way) and it was pretty close to the bathroom for late night treks.

Supper was bean and vegetable soup I'd made up ahead of time.  I took a loaf of french bread and made a loaf of gluten free bread for Mum...weirdest bread I've ever made.  It was like scraping a bowl of mashed potatoes into the loaf pan. Dad and I took Biscuit with us to take out the garbage and made the mistake of leaving him in the truck while we dumped our bags and cans.  Mum had left a box of Timbits on the front seat, and when Dad got back in, Biscuit was eating them all.  We managed to save 2 for the other dog.

It got pretty chilly the first night.  We had the trailer's heater going, but when it cut out, it didn't take long for our noses to get cold.  Mum and Dad taught the kids how to play cribbage (maybe the kids will teach me how to play...I can play it on a computer but totally suck at it in the real world.)

The next morning it was very foggy.  and pretty darn cold.  I got up fairly early to take Biscuit for his morning bathroom break, hoping to get back into the sleeping bag for some more shut eye, but Mum got up with their dog, Lucky, and we ended up walking them around a bit.  By the time we got back, it was time to start the coffee and make breakfast.

A while back, I picked up a 1kg frozen wad of peameal bacon ends, not really knowing what to do with it.  We ended up chopping up half of it and frying it up with some canned potatoes and serving it with eggs.

After breakfast, we did the Hemlock Bluff hiking trail (or as the kids call it, Ham Hock Buff...don't ask...) and tired the dogs out so they'd be a bit more mellow the rest of the day.  We made the monumental mistake of going to the Visitor's Centre for lunch...there were 9 tour buses there!  We found out the next day that one of the ladies who works in the cafe there didn't show up that day, so there was one lady serving a huge line up of people.  It was such a beautiful day too, and the place was packed.  I guess the tour buses have a set agenda of things to see and do but it was too nice to be inside for very long.

We headed back to camp and relaxed for a while.  Dinner that night was supposed to be chicken stew with dumplings made in the dutch oven, but we forgot to stop and pick up more charcoal.  The firewood was a bit damp and would have taken forever to get any decent coals, so we just made it on the camp stove in a regular pot. It was pretty tasty, though the kids didn't really like the dumplings.

That night while we were sitting around the fire, Dad and Squatch fought over the box of halloween candy. They kept trying to hide their favourites so the other couldn't get them.  Both nights a group of campers a few sites over were talking loudly until well after midnight.  It wasn't as cold the second night though, but I lost my snuggle buddy.  Biscuit abandoned me for the kids' bed.

rainbow and sunrise over Rock Lake
Sunday started out fairly nice.  We got up and were pleasantly surprised to see a beautiful sunrise that included a rainbow!  It was even warm enough I wasn't shivering while taking the dog for his morning walk.  Unfortunately, the saying about a red sky in morning thing is true...it started to rain soon after, and though the temperature went up, it felt colder.  The wind also picked up.

To make matter's worse, there was no water in the park.  No tap or toilet (or shower) was working, so Mum, Bubbie and I headed to the Visitor's Centre after breakfast (gluten free 8-grain hot cereal) and used the bathroom.  A lot of people didn't concern themselves with the fact the toilets weren't working and used them anyway.  I sure wouldn't have wanted to be the guy who had to unclog them all.  Chris was heading up to join us, and since he was just entering the park when we left the Visitor's Centre, we decided to meet him at the Two River's Store...giving us a chance to buy some snacks and check out the camping gear.

We got back to camp and got Chris's gear unpacked.  It had stopped raining but was still cold.  Thankfully, Chris had brought himself two hoodies and I stole one.  I'd neglected to bring coats for any of us.  While the kids could hide in the trailer and play cards, I was out with the dog or cooking most of the day so it was nice to at least be comfortable.

Around 3, we started the fire and the charcoal for the turkey (actually it was only a turkey breast and two turkey legs.  With only six of us, we didn't need a whole bird.  Potatoes and turnip were cooked on the stove, as well as the corn.  We did carrots and brussels sprouts in foil packets.  Instant gravy and Stove top stuffing were super easy, and we added some coleslaw as well (as per family tradition.)  Dessert was pumpkin dump cake made with a gluten free cake mix.  It was tasty but had a strange gritty texture that may have been due to the change in cake mix...not sure.  Will have to try it with regular cake mix and see how it goes.  We also had Thanksgiving crackers, you know the paper tubes filled with paper crowns and silly toys?  Biscuit ended up swallowing one of the little pinecone decorations that went on them (and puked it up at 4:30 am on Tuesday) The wood had gotten rained on a bit, so the fire smoked like crazy while we were cooking.  The wind blew the smoke directly into the trailer, and all of us reeked pretty bad.  Bubbie had to wash her hair three times to get the smell out when we got home.

The weather wasn't very good for sitting around the fire, so we retreated into the trailer after doing up the dishes and taking the garbage out to the MOLOKS.  All of us were full and sleepy, but the rest of the camp ground was bustling with activity.  We did spend some time trying to find Squatch's toys from his crackers since they'd fallen out of his pocket while he ran with the dog near the beach.  We found one right away, but gave up on the other after searching Monday morning. Then Bubbie found it without even looking when we were getting packed up.

Breakfast on Monday was a different take on our normal Spam hash, using up the rest of the pea meal bacon.  After we got packed up, Mum and Dad took the kids to their house and Chris, Biscuit and I hiked the Track and Tower trail.  Chris has wanted to do this trail since our first trip to the park, so we were determined not to put it off again.  This is a wonderful trail, though not easy.  There's lots of hills to climb, lots of roots and rocks to pick your way over, and several muddy patches to navigate but it's worth it.  Not only is the view from the lookout spectacular, there's lots of little water falls and scenic forest to view.  I think the best parts were the area where the log chute used to be, and the little water fall where the rock looks like bear claws.

Biscuit was pretty tired after such a long hike, though he never stopped trying to gnaw on every tree.  He almost walked right off the edge of the lookout (thank goodness he had his harness on and not just the leash.)  As we drove back to get the kids, we stopped at Henrietta's Bakery, in Dwight but they were just hanging their "sold out" sign.

I'm so glad we finally got to do Thanksgiving while camping.  It was a little more extravagant than I imagined, but it was wonderful.  With some preplanning, it wasn't even that difficult to pull off.  Since we didn't have a whole turkey it didn't take long to bake, the turnip was pre cut at home, and instant stuffing and gravy saved us a lot of time as well.  It was also cool to be able to say we were at Rock Lake for the opening weekend this year, and the last weekend the campground was open.  We've got our sites all picked out for next year's opening weekend...and we're hoping to drag some family along with us this time.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Day Trip: Algonquin Park - September 28, 2013

With the fall colours at full peak, we headed to Algonquin yesterday to get some photos, and enjoy the weather.  It was a beautiful sunny day...and though a lot of the colours seemed dull (cool spring or early frosts? I don't know) we certainly weren't the only ones up there enjoying mother natures show.

I have never in my life seen so many people at Algonquin.  Not only was there a team of people directing traffic at the West Gate, but each and every trail parking lot was full.  There were people parked on both sides of the roads leading to each parking area, and at least 20-50 cars parked along the sides of the road at each one as well.  The most popular trails seemed to be the Lookout Trail, Hardwood Lookout, and Track and Tower.  Even Spruce Bog, which was closed, had cars lined up on the sides of the road.

The visitor's centre was a zoo.  It was nearly impossible to walk through the doors, and the line ups for the women's bathroom were a nightmare (out the bathroom doors, across the front of the entrance door to the gallery entrance, around the statue and across in front of the big map on the wall)  Oddly enough there were no line ups for the men's room.

Still, we had a good day.  We'd really hoped Whiskey Rapids trail would be opened back up, but it wasn't.  We ate lunch at the Two River's store, getting there just before a big rush of people arrived, and headed to Mew Lake to check out the waterfalls.  Not much colour there, just one small maple tree clinging to a rock.  Our next stop was the Beaver Pond Trail.  We lucked out and got a parking spot in the actual lot, and hiked backwards to the lookout.  Mum and the kids went back to the truck with the puppy while dad and I continued on a bit more to take pictures.

We stopped in at the Opeongo Outfitters (Biscuit got a doggy backpack for Christmas...) but they didn't have much ice cream so we headed to the Portage Store.  This area was a zoo as well.  We got ice cream then went to watch people from the city try their hand at canoeing.  There were so many canoes on the water it was amazing.  Sadly for us, nobody tipped.  That makes us sound a little sadistic, I know.  I just am always amazed how many people ignore the quick lesson the rental shop employees give, and end up facing each other in the canoe, paddling with both hands at mid paddle, or tipping over with several thousand dollars worth of camera equipment sitting at their feet.

It did make me wish we'd taken our canoe.  I think we might have to keep the kids out of school one day this week and go up for a paddle.

So, I have a few recent trip logs to write up.  Biscuit has taken to jumping on my lap whenever I have the laptop out, and he eats the cables if he gets into my office.  I apologize for not being around as much lately.

I'll try and post some fall hiking pics...if I can find a hiking trail where there's some good colour!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Canoe Dog? We'll see...

As I mentioned in a previous post, we recently got a new puppy.  Biscuit is a 3 month old Australian Cattle Dog, and he's bundle of energy and fun.  We hadn't planned to get a new dog until the fall, enjoying a dog free summer, but when our friends got a puppy...well, I just couldn't resist.  So we went looking, starting at the local shelters.  Unfortunately, all the dogs up for adoption were really big (except one but he had an aggression problem that would have been a really bad idea with two kids in the house.)  We wanted a dog that we could take in the canoe, and as cute as they were, they would have taken up way too much room, leaving none for the kids.

We also didn't want a really small dog.  We wanted a dog that is high energy enough that he or she would be willing to carry a doggie pack over portages, not one I'd have to carry along the trail.  We also didn't want to spend a ridiculous amount of money.  A search on Kijiji led us to a nearby farmer with ACD pups for sale and Chris immediately picked the one that was all over him like a hyper ball of spaziness.

So...here is Biscuit.  He bites and gnaws on us constantly, he's destroyed my running shoes, I've pulled an unimaginable array of things from his mouth (broken piece of an exacto-knife today) and he's obsessed with coffee even though he's never actually drank any.  He drinks my tea when I'm not looking, he hogs the bed and we love him to bits.

I've never trained a camping/canoe dog before, but I've read a few forum posts with suggestions, so what I'm going to be doing is posting our attempts and hopefully, we'll be able to offer some good advice about what to do and what not to do.

Step one is working on sit/stay.  He learned sit by the second day we had him, and he sits and waits for me to say "okay" at meal times, so that's a good start.  Why this is important is obvious.  You don't want your dog to leap out of the canoe after frogs, or a deer or moose on the shore.

Skills we are working on now...
coming consistently when called
not freaking out when he goes in the water!
wearing a doggie shirt so he's used to wearing things and won't balk at life jacket or doggie backpack
not.

Anyone who has experience taking dogs camping...if you have idea for other things we should work on with him, I'd love to hear your advice!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Camp Recipe: Camp Nachos


Okay, so it's not really a recipe...I'm mostly just pointing out that Nachos, a favourite of kids everywhere, can be made while camping.  It's not something I really thought about before, and once I did, I was kicking myself for taking so long.  This is a super easy lunch or appetizer that your kids will love. It can be as simple or as complicated as you like depending on how you many ingredients you like adding to your nachos.

To start, you'll need some disposable round cake pans.  I bought some at the dollar store in a package of three.  Layer some tortilla chips in the pan and add whatever ingredients you like.  At the very least you'll need cheddar or Tex Mex cheese.  We usually add chopped peppers, maybe some pickled jalapeno slices...but you can also add things like sliced olives, pre-cooked taco beef, shredded chicken...anything you like.  When I made these recently at Bon Echo, I took a can of white chicken meat and mixed in about a tablespoon of taco seasoning and sprinkled that onto the chips.

Once you've got all your toppings on, cover with foil.  We cooked ours on our portable BBQ, but I'm thinking it would work if you put them on the grate over your fire...as long as the flames aren't too close to the food.  A good bed of coals would give off enough heat to melt the cheese, and really, that's all you need.  On the BBQ it only took about 5 minutes.  All that's needed is some salsa for dipping, but you could also bring a small container of sour cream if you want.

If you have your toppings prepared ahead of time and in your cooler, you can get this on the table very quickly, which can be a huge bonus with hungry kids who want to eat and head back to the beach, or who swear they'll die of starvation before dinner is ready.

If you don't want to get the cake pans, you can always make a pouch with foil. I found the pans to be easier for serving, and I ended up reusing the sheet of foil for two batches of nachos.

This would be best as a car camping meal or snack.  The bag of chips would take up a lot of room in a food barrel or pack. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Camp Recipe: Spam Hash


Okay, anyone with taste buds is probably cringing right now...spam?  Blech.  Reminds me of the Klik sandwiches my Granny used to make when I was a kid.  Chris likes Spam more for the Monty Python reference.  He doesn't eat it much, just once a year or so, gets this crazy need to eat Spam.  Usually, he'll slice up the whole can's worth, fry it up and eat 2 slices before feeling queasy.

This year, his urge hit while we were planning for our camping trip to Bon Echo, so I thought about what I could do with the Spam so most of the can wouldn't go to waste - that stuff is kind of expensive. I figured why not make something similar to corned beef hash, but with Spam.  My first attempt was simply Spam, canned potato and chopped green pepper, but after listening to Chris and Shawn quote the whole Spam sketch, I thought about adapting "Spam, egg, sausage and Spam" into a whole breakfast.

Ingredients

1 can of Spam, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 Italian sausage, cut in half lengthwise then into half moons (mild or hot...whatever you want)
1 can of diced potatoes
1 small red onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 egg per person (or more if you want...)
a bit of oil for cooking the eggs

You'll want a fairly good sized frying pan for this.  I used my cast iron skillet the first time, but the second time I forgot it and we had to divide it between two smaller pans.

Heat up the pan and add the Spam.  Let it cook for a minute then add the sausage.  Cook and stir until they have browned a tiny bit.  Add the potatoes, cook a few minutes then add the onion and pepper.  Cook until the pepper and onion are softened, the potatoes have a bit of colour and the meat has crisped up a bit.

In a separate frying pan, heat a small amount of oil and cook your eggs how ever you want them.  We scrambled ours because that the only way the kids will eat even a tiny bit, but my mind was envisioning this on the plate with a sunny side up egg (or over easy) on top.

This is definitely a car camping recipe, and it does require a bit of chopping and prep work, but it's worth a try, even if it's just to prove to yourself that Spam can be quite tasty.  If you are like me, and watch videos online of people preparing for a hike or camping trip and Spam is on their menu, you start to think Spam is some kind of camping staple.  But the way I've seen people eating in (and the way we have in the past) just fried up by the slice?  Not so appealing.  This is a fun and tasty way to include it in your menu and pay homage to a comedy classic.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Trip Log: Bon Echo Provincial Park - Aug 8-11, 2013


I apologize for the lack of posts the last few weeks.  I was taking a photography course, then Chris had his family reunion, and then we were getting ready for another camping trip...all while handling a new puppy.  Biscuit, the new addition to our family had his first experiences camping, and he did really well.  At the reunion, he slept in a tent and I was completely sure he'd spend most of the time trying to claw his way out.  While everyone was eating dinner, I snuck off and decided to sit with him in it to see how he did...during the day rather than in the dark.

He crawled right onto my sleeping bag and feel asleep.  I know you should let sleeping dogs lie, but I couldn't resist moving him into his own little sleeping bag, and he stayed there for a good half hour.  That night he slept in his bag for a while then crawled into mine.  Since it was a bit of a chilly night, I didn't mind the extra warmth.  Even the storm didn't bother him (though Bubbie was shaking and crying...too soon after the storm at Achray for her to be comfortable camping in bad weather I suppose)

Anyway, onto the Bon Echo trip.  We arrived at our site around 5.  This was a Boler camping trip with our friends who also have a Boler camper.  I'd been bugging Chris for months to do the renovations to the trailer, and he started them the day before we left, so I couldn't get packed up ahead of time.  Some of  the renovations didn't work out as planned, and will require more fiddling, but I'll try and get a post up about the changes we are making.

Our site was in Sawmill Bay again, but this time, we were closer to the comfort station (and there was a path to it so we didn't have to way around)  I was pretty excited about this since I'd have to make all my late night trips to the bathroom solo.  (Oddly enough, in the three nights we were there, I only had to make one trip in the middle of the night...normally it's at least once per night...figures)

Our friends weren't going to arrive until around 8pm so we set up the new screen tent Chris's dad gave him, and had dinner.  I'd frozen left over pulled pork, so heated that up with some extra barbeque sauce, and reheated the barbecue baked black eyed peas I made the day before.  A bag of coleslaw finished the meal.  I'd planned to make cornbread to go with it, but ran out of time.  Everything was really good, and very filling.  Messy though.

We got a fire going and our friends arrived.  We were maybe a little noisy that night...especially the kids.  Two little boys who like to talk don't make for quiet campfires.  Also, their new puppy (only 2 days older than our puppy) was determined to play with Biscuit, who was both terrified and thrilled.

We stayed up later than usual.  Biscuit spent the whole time snuggled on my lap.  When we went to bed, I realized that wearing polar fleece pajama pants when sleeping in a bag with a fleece liner was not conducive to a good night's sleep.  My pants pretty much stuck to the liner and I ended up tangled up.  It was pretty chilly the whole time we were there, except day 2 when we went on our hike.  On the plus side, Chris had taken the memory foam from our old bed and put it on our bed.  It was a lot more comfortable.  Biscuit slept at our feet all night.

The next morning I made spam hash, my first try at this experiment.  It turned out much better than we'd expected, and I've since added a few things to make it even better.  Even Bubbie liked the second version.  We had eggs and maple baked beans with it, all while quoting lines from Monty Python's Spam sketch.

Chris and Shawn worked really hard at learning to ride a unicycle, and made good progress.  Neither of them managed to go more than a half dozen feet, but by the looks of it, 6 feet was quite an accomplishment.

We did a hike that morning, the Tall Pines trail.  It was a nice hike, but with 2 dogs dragging us through it, we didn't get to take in much of the scenery.  There wasn't anything that stood out, no look out or pond, just a nice walk in the woods.  It was hot though, and there were lots of mosquitoes out.  After a quick lunch of hot dogs and Mr. Noodles, we headed for the beach.  While the kids and husbands swam, Andrea and I took the dogs to the dog beach.  Biscuit does not like water...at least not yet.  We'll be working on it.  He was okay until he got to about belly depth, then freaked out and ran to shore.

Dinner that night was a pot luck.  I made barbeque beans and biscuits, Andrea made meatballs and garlic hashbrowns and we both contributed to a really amazing dessert of dutch oven apple pie (which isn't a pie at all, but cinnamon bun pieces with apples, brown sugar and graham crumbs baked together and topped with caramel cream cheese dressing.  Go here for the recipe

I'm not going to go through the rest of the trip. This trip was pretty much about catching up with our friends.  We didn't do much beyond hang out for three nights, and though we did hike a few short trails, it was mostly an excuse to walk the dogs so they'd sleep for a bit.  I didn't get much chance to take pictures because we hadn't brought anything to tie the dog to the table, and his leash is really short...plus he cries like crazy if he's not right next to me.

One thing I will say, you don't realize how messy a seemingly clean campsite is until you have a puppy that tries to eat every tiny piece of plastic, every old tent peg, and every scrap of garbage.  Also...I don't know if it's coincidence, but it seemed like we were surrounded by screaming babies the whole time.  I felt a little out of place because we were the only ones that didn't have three toddlers having a breakdown every five minutes.  All night long at least one baby was crying, and usually we could hear them from several directions.

Wildlife spotted: 1 deer

Menu

Dinner: Pulled Pork, BBQ baked black eyed peas, coleslaw
Breakfast - Spam hash, scrambled eggs, maple baked beans (cereal for the kids)
Lunch - nachos
Dinner - pot luck - BBQ beans and biscuits, meatballs, garlic hash browns, dutch oven apple pie
Breakfast - blueberry pancakes (cereal for the kids)
Lunch - pizza monkey bread
Dinner - spaghetti
Breakfast - Red River Cereal

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Trip Log: Achray, Algonquin Park - July 15-18, 2013

I can't believe it's taken so long to get this trip log posted!  Between internet issues, Blogger being weird and erasing half the post, and getting a puppy three days after we got home, it's been a busy week.  We got an 8 week old Australian Cattle Dog and are hoping he'll be a great little canoe dog.

Pre-trip

The plan was to spend a night at Lake St. Peter Provincial Park to shorten the drive.  While the adults are okay with a long road trip, the kids were dreading it.  Mum and Dad took the kids with them, and Chris and I were supposed to meet them there, but issues at Chris' job meant he didn't get home until 7:30 pm.  With Lake St. Peter at least 2 1/2 hours away, and the need to get a few things in town before we left, the two of us decided to wait until the next morning to head out and just meet them at Achray.  We went into town to get the things we still needed to pick up, and realized nothing was open anyway.

Day 1

Chris and I got up early and finished packing up, then headed into town by 9 (okay not that early) to gas up the car, pick up two boat safety kits for the kid's kayaks and a few things from the grocery store. By 9:45 we were on the road, headed to Achray.  I won't kid you, it was a hot, long drive, made worse by a long wait in construction between Paudash and Bancroft.

We arrived at the site just before 3, to find mum and dad had the trailer set up, and the kids had already been swimming.  The site had a small beautiful beach that it shared with the next site over.  It was the best part of the whole trip.  Hauling all your stuff to a beach, especially when it's hot, means you either spend the whole day there, or don't go as often.  Honestly, I find sitting around a beach all day really boring, so it was nice to be able to do things around camp and swim when the mood struck.  Also, it meant we could launch canoes and kayaks whenever we wanted, which meant we used them a lot more than we might have.

We had some lunch right away, Grillem's and hot dogs, then swam again.  We pretty much just lounged around in the water for 3 hours then started dinner.  Chris and the kids stayed in the water, playing around in Chris's whitewater kayak while we cooked.  The deer flies were kind of brutal as well as the horse flies. We ate in the screen tent so it wasn't an issue.

After dinner, Chris and I took the kids out in the canoe, across the lake to see if we could find the pictographs.  We didn't see any, or maybe the one red smear that looked like a backwards E was one, we weren't sure.  We did see two painted turtles sitting on a log in the channel leading into Carcajou Bay.

On the way back, we saw six loons swimming nearby.  One of them dove, and popped back up super close to the canoe.  He dove again and must have gone behind us because he didn't join the other five.  The kids practiced making loon calls like Jeremy had taught them last summer at the cottage.  Squatch had no luck at all but Bubbie managed a few good ones.  The loons didn't answer back though, like they did for Jeremy.

As it started to get dark, we realized our neighbours had not come back.  Their dog had been tied up all day, and had been pretty much alone the whole day too.  I had heard stories of people leaving their dogs tied up through the night, and of wolves coming in to camp and ripping them apart.  The people next to us came back around 10:30 and took him into their trailer, but I couldn't help but feel bad for the poor guy.  The mosquitoes had been out as darkness set in, and he was whining.  I think they had friends staying at a dog free site and went there after dinner.

I don't want to start a rant about pets in the park, but I notice the laws regarding pets are the ones people tend to ignore the most.  We have had dogs come and almost pee on our tent in the past because they were off leash. These people kept their dog on his leash (except when they were playing with him at the beach) but leaving him alone all day?  How do they know he's not barking all day, disturbing other campers?  How do you know he's got enough water when it is crazy hot?  It's not out of the realm of possibility for bears to come into a campground.  In this case, the dog was mostly quiet.  He whined a bit, especially once it got dark, but I can't blame him.

We went to bed fairly early, and spent a good part of the night killing mosquitoes inside the tent trailer.  We found out later that one corner of the tent wasn't secured properly.  It made for an exhausting night, though not quite as bad as when Chris and I stayed on Pen Lake.

The next morning, we got coffee going, and made bacon, eggs and maple beans for breakfast.  Without an electrical site, we wanted to make sure we used up anything that could go bad.  Most of our meals were either made with things that wouldn't go bad, or things I'd dried.  Mum and dad had brought the bacon and eggs for breakfast at Lake St. Peter, but since the kids don't like eggs, they decided to wait until Chris and I were there.

While we ate we discussed our options for the day.  We wanted to go to High Falls and we wanted to paddle the Barron Canyon from either the Brigham parking area, or the Barron Canon Picnic area.  It was super hot and we decided High Falls would be the better choice because the next day was supposed to be even hotter.  Also, there were two option for getting to High Falls, a 2 hour paddle or a 1 hour hike.  With the deer flies so bad, we opted to paddle, and mum and dad decided to stay at camp. My mum has bad reactions to fly bites, and my dad isn't very comfortable in deep water (or in a tippy canoe on top of deep water.)

The kids wanted to kayak over, and Chris said okay. About 5 minutes into the paddle, we realized it was a mistake but didn't turn around.  We should have.  It was a horribly exhausting ordeal that took a lot of the fun out of exploring the High Falls area.  The problem was, the kids were okay on short paddles, but Squatch kept veering way off course and getting frustrated about his problems steering.  Chris and I were spending a lot of our time sitting in the middle of the lake, with Chris trying to explain how better to hold the paddle (using terms not really suited to a frustrated and pissy 9 year old) which only made Squatch more upset because he didn't understand.  By the time we made it to the portage (30 meters) I just wanted to go home and swim and have a big cold drink.  The kids had been determined to portage their kayaks themselves, which didn't happen.  Squatch made it 3 feet, and Bubbie not much further.  I took the kayak and Squatch got in the canoe.

The kid size kayaks were not made for adults.  Duh.  All that happens is it sinks lower in the water, and you have to paddle twice as hard...with a paddle designed for kids, so is far too short.  I made it about 10 minutes and we had to find an empty campsite and Chris took over the kayak with me in the stern of the canoe.  Squatch swears he knows how to paddle a canoe...and he knows how to hold the paddle, but he manages 3 or 4 strokes then stops to rest.  I'm n
ot used to doing anything more than basic paddling (and never really learned how to do more than that) so it was extremely frustrating.  By this point, Bubbie was tired and Chris was realizing, yeah paddling a kid size kayak wasn't easy (it wasn't just me being a wuss) so we all got to another empty campsite and tied the little boats to the back of the canoe.

I had hoped with them being empty and so light, they'd be easy to pull, unlike last year when we towed the kids around Haliburton Lake in an inflatable dingy.  It wasn't much easier.  In fact, it was like paddling through soup...thick pea soup.  But, we could see a point of land and thought that was where Stratten lake turns to the left so we kept going.  It wasn't the point.  When we got to it, we saw another point...that wasn't the one either.  By the fourth point I was ready to cry and just find a campsite and stay there for lunch, no longer caring about High Falls at all.  Chris suggested we find a spot on the side of the lake with no campsites and stash the kayaks, but we were sure the next point was where we needed to go, and besides, paddling across the lake would be more work.  It also wouldn't help us if the kayaks were stashed at that end of the lake, we'd still have to tow them all the way across Stratten and Grand.

Finally, we made it to the take out, where there were about a dozen canoes and kayaks on shore.  We pulled up further along the inlet and tied our canoe up, then gathered our picnic lunch and headed up the trail.  I should say that I gathered up the lunch, cameras, and water...nobody else carrying anything, and with the trail being so rough, I had a hard time since I was just in flip flops. I know, I really need to invest in some sport sandals for canoe tripping.  Anyway, by the time we got to the water slide, I was pissed off, tired and it didn't help matters that there were a lot of people there.  My whole reason for wanting to go was to take pictures, but there was no way I could get any good scenic shots without at least 2 people in frame.  I should have expected it but it hadn't seemed like there were that many people at the campground, and not exactly an easy drive for day trippers.  I swear my parents must have been the only people back at camp.  I suppose there could have been people interior camping, but I was too tired to think logically at the time.

We had fun though.  Bubbie was a little scared, but Squatch barely hesitated.  I am slightly ashamed to say I didn't try it.  I was 99% sure I'd lose my glasses if I wore them, and if I took them off I'd end up asking some strange man to help me find the rope to get back out of the water, thinking it was Chris.  After I took lots of pictures and video, Bubbie decided she was done, so Chris and Squatch headed further down the river to check out the next little falls.  Bubbie and I found a deep pool to just float in while the water flowed past us.  It was nice and relaxing.  By the time the boys got back, I was feeling much better.

Since it had taken us so long to get there, we didn't stay as long as we would have liked.  I wanted to pump water before we left, but Chris didn't think it was necessary.  By the time we got half way down Stratten Lake I was desperately thirsty.  Stopping to pump water now, with the wind in our face and good waves building, would have had Chris upset, so I handed my paddle to Bubbie.  She lasted about 2 minutes before stopping.

By the time we got back to camp, we were like zombies.  The kids just wanted out of the canoe and Chris and I were so tired and hot.  I kept paddling with my eyes closed hoping if I opened them a few strokes later, we'd be visibly closer back to camp.  It didn't help.  As soon as the canoe hit our beach, we jumped out and dove straight into the water.  Mum had moved her kayak down to the water so she could meet us half way across the lake, but by the time she saw us coming, and got her swimsuit on and gathered all her stuff, we were about 30 meters from shore, so she just came swimming with us.  Dad came down too and we spent a while just cooling off.

After having some snacks and lots and lots of drinks, we got started on dinner.  We like having spaghetti when camping, it's easy and cheap...and the kids don't complain about it.  I cooked up a big pan of vegetables and dried them before coming instead of making a big pot of sauce and freezing it.  It worked out pretty well.  Mum was bringing the sauce, which is why I didn't dry the sauce and vegetables all together.  We also had salad with lots of fresh vegetables.

Dad and Chris got a fire going, then I suggested to Chris that we go do the Jack Pine hike.  The kids and mum took their kayaks down to the trail end, and we were going to meet them there and take pictures of them with the sun setting behind them.  It didn't happen.  By the time we got to the main road the deer flies were three times as bad as at camp, and once we got to the trail head, the mosquitoes came out in swarms.  I swiped my hand down the back of one arm and killed seven of them.  We barely made it 100 feet down the trail before we turned back.  It didn't help I was wearing shorts, a tank top and flip flops and that I had a sun burn on my upper arms.  Every slap at a mosquito hurt like heck.

I should mention here, I managed to get another weird sunburn.  A few years ago, on a canoe trip, I got a tramp stamp burn, this time I got saddle bags.  I'd put on sunscreen while standing, but once I knelt in the canoe, the hem of the shorts rode up a bit, leaving a patch high on my outer thigh unprotected.

We toasted marshmallows, made jiffy pop and the kids tried some s'smores.  They made some with peanut butter smeared on a graham cracker, and some with a piece of banana squished on as well.  Squatch liked the peanut butter ones best.

Another night of mosquitoes in the trailer meant little sleep.  Also, after the canoe trip I drank a ton of water, so I was up several times in the night to go to the bathroom.  Because the bathrooms (flush toilets in outhouse like stalls) had lights in them, there were tons of mosquitoes inside.  I got bit more times while in there than I did the rest of the trip.

Day 3

Breakfast was cereal, granola bars, bagels and apples.  We were all pretty tired, and it was even hotter than the day before, with humidity putting the temperature at about 41, so we pretty much decided to just hang around camp and swim.  The plan had been to drive to the Brigham parking area and paddle down the Barron Canyon but neither Chris nor I felt like paddling much.

Bubbie and I walked to the park office and bought a block of ice.  While there I checked out the weather forecast and saw they were calling for severe thunderstorms in the afternoon and into the evening.  We weren't worried but decided for sure heading out to do any hikes or paddles would be a bad idea.
Camp all prepared for more rain

Around noon, it started to rain.  We secured the campsite, made sure the screen tent was tied off well if it got really windy.  Then we sat in the trailer.  Mum had a nap, the kids drew some pictures, Chris read and Dad and I talked a bit.  After a while, I took the camera up to our bed and shot some video of the storm over the lake.





Looking across Grand Lake to Carcajou Bay
When the rain stopped, I made lunch - baja burritos from Lipsmackin' Vegetarian Backpackin'. They turned out really well.  We also hung out some tarps over the trailer so we could have the windows open if it rained again since it was so hot and humid.  Being in the trailer with no airflow would have been horrible.

Since the weather looked so promising, I convinced Chris it would be a fun idea to paddle across the lake to Carcajou Bay and check out the campsites there.  Part way across, the skies clouded over again but we thought it would be okay.  Just before we got to the narrows, the skies opened up and it poured like crazy.  We turned around, and with a good tail wind made it back pretty quickly.  Just as the bow of the canoe touched the beach, the rain stopped, the wind died and the sun came out.  Chris jokingly said it was such a nice day, we should go for a paddle. There was lots of fog over the hills, over Carcajou Bay and along the river to Stratten Lake.

We swam again, then made dinner.  One of my favourite dutch oven dinners is an adaptation of a recipe my mum found.  Basically it was ground beef, onion, barbeque sauce and a can of baked beans in tomato sauce with canned bisquits on top.  I added peppers to it, then eventually started adding mushrooms, Franks Red Hot Sweet Chili sauce, and a few dashes of Worchestershire. Since my dad is now a vegetarian, I used lentils in place of the ground beef and it turned out really well.  Though with the rain, we ended up making it on the stove, and skipped the biscuits.  Instead, we made more potatoes in foil, this time with garlic butter.

After dinner, the kids and mum paddled around on their kayaks again, and Chris and I headed out in the canoe so he could fish a bit.  As it got darker, we saw lightening over the horizon so we headed back and battened down the camp again.  Once in the trailer, the kids and Chris played cards while I shot more video out the window toward the lake.  The storm didn't last long, but towards the end there were three really loud bangs that had us all a little jittery.  We were discussing getting into our vehicles for safety but after those three, the storm moved off toward Stratten Lake and we decided to go to bed.

The kids had a hard time falling asleep that night.  Between asking for aloe vera gel for their sunburn, and Polysporin for a few scratches, they kept making me jump out of bed.  It was midnight before they finally settled down.

The next morning was buggy after the rain.  We'd hoped to hike the Baron Canyon Trail on the way out but it didn't seem all that appealing while being swarmed with mosquitoes.  So we packed up and headed out after a quick breakfast of bagels, cereal, and apples.

We stopped in Pembroke for lunch at Tim Hortons and started the long drive back home.

The best part of this trip, as I've said, was the fact we had our own beach.  It let us swim and paddle as often as we wanted, and saved us from being bored when it was too hot to want to do all the things we'd hoped to do when we planned this trip.  The kids had a lot of fun, swimming whenever they wanted.  Achray has two really nice beaches and we didn't swim at either of them.  It was kind of disappointing, not doing any of the hikes or paddling the canyon but it just means we'll have a reason to go back again...maybe in the fall when the bugs are gone.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Campground review: Achray - Algonquin Park

This past week, we had a chance to spend a few nights at Achray, a destination we'd been longing to do for a while.  If you are looking for a car camping experience, with nice camp sites, good beaches, and lots of quiet, you should consider Achray.  It's a bit of a drive (well for us anyway) but well worth it and here's why.

Maybe you've camped at Algonquin before, and while you enjoyed it, found it to be a bit busy.  Maybe you had a few bad experiences with noisy, inconsiderate campers. Maybe you are looking for a bit more solitude but aren't quite ready to try an interior trip.  Achray, to me, felt like a stepping stone to back country.  You still have neighbours, you still have flush toilets, but you are deeper into the wilderness, a crowd is having 2 out of the six campsites around yours in use, and you just feel like you are experiencing more true wilderness than you do at a highway 60 campground.  In fact, when we were sitting around talking, we'd say, "It's not like in Algonquin where..." then realize, yes we are in Algonquin, it's just not the same as being at Pog or Mew Lake.

The campground itself is divided into three sections, with relatively few sites in each area.  The whole place is radio free, and there is a dog free area that is actually a bit separate from the area where pets are allowed (compared to Mew Lake where it seems like an arbitrary line was drawn on the map and someone decided the sites on one side would be dog free.)  I'm sure, if you've camped at any Ontario Provincial Parks, you've noticed the campground maps can be pretty misleading.  In most cases, the sites are a lot closer together than what you'd expect looking at the spacing on the map.  In Achray's case, it's the opposite.

One of the cool things is the picnic areas.  When we booked our site, the one I wanted ended up not being available, and so I went with the one next to it.  I was worried because it was next to a picnic symbol on the map, and pictured a big clearing with a shelter and loads of picnic tables, busy with day trippers.  That's not what they are.  These small areas have a picnic table and allow campers who don't have sites on the water, to take their meal to a table with a view, or just go sit and enjoy a lake breeze when the bigs are bad.  It was a nice touch.

The sites we saw were all of a good size (no tiny sites that we could see) and nestled among tall pines.  Though there wasn't always a lot of under brush to give you privacy (I'd rate them a 2 or 3), the fact that there are only 45 sites ensures you won't have a lot of neighbours.  In fact, almost all the sites were deserted during the day, as people were out canoeing or hiking, or at one of the 2 beautiful sand beaches.

There are three hiking trails close by, Jack Pine, Barron Canyon, and Berm Lake.  There is also High Falls with it's natural water slide, and lots of paddling opportunities (including a day trip down Barron Canyon with it's tall cliffs.)

Why it might not appeal to you?  Getting there is a bit of a trial.  It's 52km down a gravel road that was very wash-boardy.  You get your permit at Sand Lake gate, part way in, and though there is a park office/store, it really doesn't have much.  Ice, firewood, a cooler with ice cream treats, some chocolate bars, a Tassimo (or something similar) and a few other little trinkets. Ice was a bit more expensive than at other places, which shouldn't be surprising.    Also, there are no electrical sites and no showers.  There were flush toilets (in stalls that look like outhouses) with sinks, but no comfort stations or laundry facilities.

Achray feels more isolated than any of the highway 60 campgrounds, and for good reason, but for such a small place, it offers enough options for campers who prefer peace and quiet pursuits instead of attending nightly demonstrations or touring educational displays.  Admittedly, this won't appeal to everyone, and that's okay.  If it did, it would be even harder to get a site there.

If you've stayed at Achray, let me know how you enjoyed it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Boat Safety


If you read my recent trip log for our stay at Bon Echo, you know the kids had a great time in their kayaks.  My mum thought it looked like so much fun, she went out and bought an adult size kayak similar to theirs.  While at MEC (where she bought hers) the sales person reminded her she'd need a boat safety kit (bailing bucket, whistle, floating rope and water proof flashlight.)

I'll be honest, it never occurred to me to get these.  We have one in our canoe, but I never thought about it for kayaks.  The kids little yellow ones have two holes that go right through so a little water comes in, but its never going to fill up, apparently, that doesn't matter.  It's a boat, so you need a boat safety kit.  It wasn't until very recently even stand up paddle boards needed one, and they don't even have a scooped surface that could collect water!

I'm not sharing this information to go all ranty about crazy laws.  I can definitely see the need for an emergency whistle and a floating rope, even a flashlight.  Anyway, I just thought I'd put this out there as a reminder to anyone who, like me, wouldn't have considered the need for a bailing bucket in a boat that really can't hold much water (or any in the case of the kids little ones.)  No point risking a fine, as that would really take the fun out of a good day on the water.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Trip Log: Bon Echo Provincial Park July1-3, 2013

Canada Day camping! 
We arrived at our site around 2:10.  Mum and Dad had already been there for about 45 minutes and had  the tent trailer mostly set up.  We unloaded the canoe and three kayaks and had a quick lunch of burgers then unloaded the rest of our stuff.  Since we were only allowed to have one car on the site, we had to get everything, because the additional car parking was way back at the gate house...not a distance you want to be walking often, nor did we want to have to drive there every time we needed something.

Then we went over to the visitor's centre and the gift shop.  Unfortunately the Visitor's Centre was almost closing, so we didn't get to spend as much time as we wanted there, but planned to go back the next day.  We did a quick check of the Greystones Gift and Book Shop, then headed to the main beach for a minute.  The water was really rough at the beach near our site, and here it was really calm, but the air was chilly, so we decided to put off swimming or kayaking until the next day.  The kids hadn't tried their little kayaks yet, and we weren't sure how tippy they'd be. (They ended up being really stable...Squatch had to really work to tip his so he could practice getting back in while in deep water.  He also was able to use it as a stand up paddle board for a while.)

We headed back to our site and while mum and I started dinner, Chris took Squatch fishing in Bon Echo Creek.  They got a few nibbles, but didn't catch anything.  Dinner was hawaiian ham and pineapple casserole (in the dutch oven), salad and creamed corn.  It started to rain while we were cooking, so we ate in the trailer and didn't bother with a fire.

It was a bit chilly that night.  I had only brought our flannel sleeping bag/liners and we all had long pants and long sleeve shirts, but we were still a bit cold. That day (July1st) had been pretty cool.  Normally, on Canada Day, we spend the day swimming because it's always so hot.  This year, every single one of us wore our sweat shirts all day.

The next morning, we realized neither of us had packed coffee, so we had tea, and I made spicy eggs in the dutch oven, and we had bagels and english muffins with that.

Mum and dad decided to head into Northbrook for some things we needed (like coffee) while Chris and I took the kids for a canoe along Mazinaw Rock to check out the petroglyphs, and do the cliff top hike.  The cliff is amazing.  From the opposite shore, it's impressive, but when you are right at the edge and looking up?  It's dizzying.  We saw some people climbing the rock, then headed to the dock area to check out the hike.

If you have bad knees...be warned, this hike is strenuous.  204 steps (actual stairs, not including the sections where the rock forms natural steps.)  My legs were so numb I could barely climb back into the canoe afterwards. Just when I'd catch up to Chris and the kids, they'd start off again, having hadd a minute to rest while waiting for me...this meant I didn't get a chance to catch my breath.  It was nice though.  The view from the various lookout platforms is amazing, and it's well worth the effort (pain) to get up there.

Mum and dad were sitting at the bench on the point at the narrows when we paddled back.  We stopped for a quick chat then headed back to camp.  They had taken pictures of the rock climbers and the guy had called down asking if dad would email them copies.  Dad couldn't make out the email address, and the guy said he'd be down soon, so mum and dad were going to wait.  Eventually they gave up though.  It was well past lunch and we were all hungry.

Bubbie looking out at Mazinaw Rock from one of the beaches
Lunch was supposed to be grilled veggie sandwiches, but since it was so late, we went with Grillems and hot dogs which mum had picked up on her shopping trip. (They also stopped at a chip truck and got fries and batter fried mushrooms, and went to a Coffee Time.) Chris set up his hammock, and the kids took turns swinging each other in it.  They spent most of their time in camp playing on it.  Squatch kept falling out (no surprise) and Bubbie just enjoyed lying around in it. I don't think Chris got more than 5 minutes in it. Next stop was to take the Ferry ride over so mum and dad could see the petroglyphs.  The young man acting as guide was funny, and we learned a lot about the history of the area.  We'd seen the petroglyphs that were pointed out on our canoe ride, but it was nice to hear the historian's interpretation of what some of them meant.  The guide also had a lot of interesting information about turkey vultures, which I'm guessing was meant to be mostly of interest to the younger passengers (did you know turkey vultures picked their noses and could projectile vomit up to ten feet?)

Another trip to the gift shop, this time for the patch for the trail we'd done earlier
...then we grabbed the kayaks and headed back to main beach.  The kids had a blast.  It was one of their favourite parts of the trip. They picked it up really quick and at one point we had to call Squatch back or he'd have paddled all the way across the lake.  Chris had one of his white water kayaks and had planned to practice his rolls but he was tired so just paddled around with the kids.  I gotta say, these kayaks were the best $23 I've ever spent.  We got them at Costco, and used executive membership cash-back checks to cover most of the price ($99 each.)

Dinner was  dutch oven lasagna, salad and garlic bread.  We all ate until we were stuffed, then went out and sat around the fire for a while.  Mum had bought some of those magic flames packets, and the kids sang their "Go Aqua-fire Go" song, complete with dance moves.  Chris swears he wasn't dancing along, but he totally was. The night was perfect for light painting, and we had fun with that until almost 11 when we realized we were the only people still up making noise (some of the pictures had us laughing a little louder than was probably polite.)

Departure day, as usual, was beautiful.  We finally got some sun! Mum made an apple puff pancake in the dutch oven for breakfast.  It didn't puff up as much as it was supposed to, but it tasted great. Since Chris had to work that afternoon, we started packing up.  Mum took Squatch down to the beach to play with his kayak some more while we got most of the gear packed up.  It didn't take too long to load up and we were on the road.

The most frustrating part of this trip was not being able to park our car at the campsite.  My plan had been to just have the coolers in the back of the Santa Fe so we didn't have to drag them in and out of the back seat of dad's truck each morning and night.  It would have been easier, but dad was reluctant to leave his brand new truck in a parking area far from the site.  From now on, I'll definitely check the number of cars allowed on site when booking a trip.  Most campgrounds have an extra car parking close to each section of sites, but Bon Echo doesn't.

Other than that, this trip was awesome.  Bon Echo is beautiful, with enough trails and activities to keep people of all ages occupied.  There were evening programs both nights but we didn't go to them (dutch oven dinners take time.)  The campsites were nice (some were pretty hilly, so parking a trailer would be difficult) and fairly private.  We have another trip booked here later this summer and I can't wait to get to some of the other hiking trails, and to canoe Joe Perry Lake so we can check out the canoe in sites.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Celebrity Sighting...


Okay, so with how excited the kids were, you'd think we'd seen Zac Efron or some other Disney teen star, but no, we saw Kevin Callan today while shopping in Peterborough.  I actually almost ran him over in the crowds, then realized who it was I'd almost barrelled into.  

There's a few trip logs almost ready to post.  I'm just trying to get the photos in, and then I'll post them.  I'm busy drying up meals for an upcoming trip, and resorting through all the gear to figure out what we do and don't need for this next one.  The living room and dining room look like an outdoors store puked all over them.

Has anyone else been camping yet this summer?  How about hiking?  We found the deer flies to be horrible the other day when we went for a day trip to Petroglyph's Provincial Park.  How's everyone else finding the bugs so far this summer?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

First Day of Summer Vacation....

and we are sitting at home, doing nothing.  Both kids are getting over a phlegmy cough and sore throat that was going around the school the last week, and it looks like it might storm.  Not a great start to their summer holiday.  Last year we spent the first day of freedom with a picnic at the beach, but I guess there's something to be said for just relaxing.  Both of them had EQAO tests this year, and though they both claimed the tests were easy, there was a lot of stress involved.

I even got up early and made up some picnic stuff, then nobody wanted to go anywhere!  I guess we can just sit outside and eat lunch...if the rain holds off.  Chris is out spraying the weeds in an overgrown area of the back yard,  so it reeks of vinegar out there.  Not sure I want to sit outside in that, but we'll see.

With only a few days until our next camping trip, we'll be packing and organizing a lot, but I still hope to spend some time working on our old-jeans-picnic-blanket.  I started cutting out squares for it and it's kind of an annoying task.  You know, one of those jobs that seems like it should be easy, but in reality is slow going and frustrating.

I hope everyone else is enjoying the start of their kid's summer holidays.  Stay safe.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Trip Log: Rock Lake to Pen Lake - Algonquin Park - June 22-23, 2013

Our first trip into the interior of Algonquin...okay so we only went one lake in, and it was a short portage, but it's a step.  This trip was kind of a test, just Chris and I, to see how we fared with gear..what were we forgetting?  What didn't we need?

So, we got up early, 7am (I know a lot of experienced campers get up in the middle of the night and head out so they can get to the put in when the permit office opens, but in our defence, Chris works nights.  I didn't think asking him to start a trip on an hours sleep was very fair) and got our permit by about 10:45.  We were expecting the bugs to be bad, but pulling into the parking lot at the put in, and seeing the mosquitoes swarming the car didn't seem like a good start.

Chris unloaded the canoe while I carried the packs and loose gear down to the water.  Once he had the canoe in, I held it against the dock while he put the packs into it.  I had mosquitoes going down the back of my pants, up the sleeves of my sweater, and I kept thinking maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe we should have waited a few weeks...

Once we were on the water, it was fine.  From the boat launch, go to the left.  There's a sign across the river, to the right is Whitefish Lake, to the right, Rock Lake.

We made good time, and though it started to drizzle about 20 minutes into the paddle, we were too excited to care.  I've camped at Rock Lake before, in the campgrounds, but everything looks so different from out on the water.  The buildings that line the right bank were actually mostly very nice little cottages, not run down old shacks like I thought they were when looking at them from the opposite shore.  We both decided we were super jealous of the people that get to use them.

Finding the portage into Pen Lake was pretty easy.  Chris speculated over each cliff we saw, wondering if they'd be good cliffs to jump from. We obviously didn't stop so he could swim down at each of them and see if there were rocks jumbled a foot below the surface of the water, but I'm pretty sure it's on his to-do list.

The bugs hit us again once we got to the portage, so we didn't take the time to head down the little paths to the water falls.  I wish we had.  I didn't end up taking many pictures on the whole trip and now that I'm home (and safe from mosquitoes) I'm kicking myself for being such a wuss.

It was hot, humid and mucky on the portage.  I'd made the mistake of putting my lifejacket on under the backpack so I wouldn't have to carry it, which proved to be a big mistake.  With the lifejacket on, I couldn't get the pack straps to sit right and the right one kept sliding down my arm.  With Chris close behind  with the canoe, I knew I couldn't just stop (or I'd end up getting cracked in the back of the head).  Finally I let him go by me.  At this point, both straps had slid down and were caught in the crook of my elbows so I had no choice but to stop and bounce it back into place.

By the time we got to the end (it's only 375 meters) I was thinking this whole interior camping thing isn't as awesome as I'd been led to believe.  Maybe I'd be okay with just sticking to campground camping from now on.  Then Chris points and says, "look, cow moose with a baby." and yep, in the small marsh about 40 feet from the put in, there was a moose with a baby.  My doubts  about canoe camping were erased in like .4 seconds and I was back to "this is the most awesome thing ever!"

I photographed them while Chris went back for the other pack.  I figured I'd get some pictures then go back and help with the last of the loose items, but I didn't think the moose would be there too long.  I guess I'm used to the ones on the side of the highway...they are there for a little while until someone drives by honking a horn or a motorcycle goes by and the moose takes off.  After we got the stuff into the canoe, we paddled a bit closer and they couldn't have cared less.

So, the plan was to find the site mentioned in a trip log as having a sandy beach, since I'm not really big on just jumping into deep water...I have a fear of weeds...and snapping turtles...and muskie.  Okay that sounds dumb, I know, but I grew up working in my grandfather's bait shop, and heard all kinds of stories...most of which probably weren't true.  Since there were several other parties heading into Pen Lake behind us, we paddled quick to find the site...hoping it wasn't already taken.  We found the site easily enough, but it was very closed in and all I kept thinking was there would be no chance of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay.  So we moved on.

We spotted a point with a clump of big pines and what looked like a sandy beach nearby, but upon drawing closer realized the site was already taken.  There was one of  those coleman brown and beige tents up high on the hill, the tent Chris and I had almost bought, but it blended in so well, we didn't see it until we got really close.  A few minutes further down the lake, Chris spotted another moose on the western shore, with two babies.  We detoured over and photographed them.  The mother seemed pretty determined to gorge herself and barely stopped eating to look at us, though she was careful to move herself so she was between us and the babies.

We crossed the lake again and ended up taking the last site on the east side.  The rocky shore made unloading a bit of a pain, but we managed and set up the tent and tarp.  At first we were going to set up closer to the water between two big trees, but then we looked up and saw a lot of dead branches.  Since the weather was forecasting storms we weren't sure it would be safe.  Having just gone through a bad storm in Killarney, Chris was more worried about the tent blowing into the lake than the possibility of branches falling on the tent.

The site was kind of...rough?  I don't know how to describe it.  I've read a lot of trip logs and watched a lot of youtube videos of people's canoe trips and all the sites seem to have these benches around the fire pit, lots of open space...this one was all hill with no where to sit in front of the fire pit and this weird tripod thing someone had rigged up over top of the fire with branches and bright green string.  I'm sure they thought it was clever, but it just managed to look kind of junky.  We didn't take it down, but I couldn't help but wish it wasn't there.

After we set up, we sat on one of the rocks overhanging the shore and ate some snacks (apples, kielbasa and crackers, and Chris pointed out that he could still see the cow moose and babies across the lake.  Then he pointed a little further to the left and said he saw another moose there.  So we got back into the canoe with the camera and fishing gear and headed out to see if he was right. My eyes are bad so I couldn't tell if he was just seeing a dark rock or an actual moose.  Turned out he was right...it was a big bull moose with the start of some nice antlers and the loveliest chocolate brown fur.  I'm so used to seeing moose in the spring, when they all look ragged and grey, so this was a nice change.  He didn't stick around once we got closer.

Even from across the lake we could hear the rush of white water from this area, and decided to try and find the first portage that leads to Welcome Lake.  It looked like just a big marsh until we realized there was a section with a good current so we followed that until we got to a rocky pile and couldn't go any further.  Okay we could have.  There was a small sandy mucky spot we could have used to life around the rocks but the problem was, battling against the current was a pain when in most places there was only 2 inches of water.  It was impossible to dig my paddle in and get a good stroke because I'd just sink it into soft sand.  We ended up turning around and heading back to see the mother and twins.

On our way back to the campsite, we noticed a neon green canoe heading down the lake, and as we got closer realized they were clearly making their way to our site.  In fact, when we got there, they were trying to decide the best place to land the canoe until they noticed our tent.  I felt bad.  It would suck to haul all your gear out of the canoe and then realize the site actually was taken.  The two young men in the canoe were from Montreal, and though we couldn't tell them anything about other sites that might be available, we did let them know about the moose across the lake.

I pumped some water then Chris fished from the boat while I paddled toward the portage into Clydegale Lake.  The lake was so calm it was easy and I was able to practice my j-stroke without worrying about waves or wind.  Chris had no luck fishing, but we did run into the guys in the neon green canoe again, and they invited us to coffee in the morning after thanking us for telling them about the moose.  We didn't go, the bugs were so bad the next morning we didn't even make breakfast, but it was nice that they offered.  I always read about that kind of thing in people's trip logs. A lot of the time in the campgrounds, people barely acknowledge you when you walk by.  The only real interaction we have with neighbours is when someone is leaving and they come over and offer us the last of their firewood, or we offer them ours.

I hauled out the vital stove and made bannock and spaghetti for dinner.  Usually at home when I make spaghetti, I never have enough water, and I'd seen online that the easiest way to make it in the back country was to cook the noodles and rehydrate the sauce all at once.  I didn't fill the pot to a crazy high level, but it still ended up being spaghetti soup and had to be boiled down more than I'd thought.  Still it was tasty.  I'd added a bit of garlic powder and italian seasoning to the bannock mix and it was really yummy.  Chris had gotten a good fire going, which helped keep the bugs at bay...there was no breeze at all.  Funny how on our last trip, we were cursing the wind as it kept blowing the tent over, and now we were praying for even a wisp of breeze.

We went to bed around 10:30 and spent the entire night listening to the buzz of what sounded like a billion mosquitoes.  It seriously sounded like we were at a race track, or were being attacked by angry bees.  Even worse, because the tent was so small, it sounded like they were right in our ear all night.  But the worst?  The no-see-ems.  Oh my God. It was super hot but we had to hide in our sleeping bags just to keep from getting bitten all over.  Just when you start to doze off one would bite.  I don't think I fell asleep until 5am.  By 3 I really had to go to the bathroom but there was no force on earth that could get me to get out of the tent into what sounded like a horror-movie swarm of mosquitoes.  I finally got up at 6 and afterwards, took some pictures of the lake.

Early morning on Pen Lake

It looked like  it was going to be a gloomy rainy day, and I hoped it wouldn't rain the whole time we paddled home. The lake was very pretty though, calm and mirror flat, it almost looked haunted with the mist and haze. I crawled back into the tent (the bugs weren't as bad as I'd feared but still pretty horrible) and slept until 9.  By then the sun had come out and it was hot and humid.  We had originally planned to stick around until after lunch, but we were so tired and the bugs were so bad we ended up making tea, skipping breakfast and heading out with some granola bars and Snickers to eat in the canoe.  While chris was rolling the ropes from the tarp he said he counted twelve mosquitoes on the knuckle of his baby finger.  I almost asked him why he thought counting them was a good idea when the smart thing to do would be to swat them...but maybe it was just being so tired that had him losing common sense.

Momma moose and her twins were back out in the bay. (just to the right of the island in the picture...the bull moose was in the bay to the left of the island the day before) so we crossed over and saw them again then headed up the lake.  It was pretty busy on the water.  Lots of people in rental canoes.  We figured a lot of them were day trippers, maybe camped in the Rock Lake campground.

As we neared the portage we both got our bug hats ready, only to find no bugs!  Weird.  Lots of people though.  There was a group of 8 young men just finishing the second leg of their portage.  Chris had thought we'd brought too much, but these guys had 4 canoes loaded down.  They even had 2 big Rubbermaid containers.  I didn't feel so bad after seeing that.  

By the time we got in sight of the Rock Lake campground we were both done in.  No sleep, the heat, and only snacks to fuel us, we just wanted out of the canoe and into the water.  It seemed to take forever.  Luckily, there were no bugs at the boat launch either, so we loaded up, and headed to Pog Lake campground for a quick swim.  I'm not sure if you're supposed to use campground beaches if you aren't staying at that campground, but Rock Lake's beach was over run with geese and baby geese.  Neither of us wanted to get attacked, and the prospect of swimming in an area with that many geese didn't appeal.  We could have gone to the Two Rivers picnic area but were too hot and icky to wait.  We only swam for about 5 minutes, just enough to cool off, then headed to the Two River's store for some lunch and a cold drink.

Despite the bugs it was an awesome trip.  I had three wishes for this trip, hear lots of loons, see moose in a setting that wasn't the side of the road, and camp in the interior.  We managed to do all three at the same time...listened to loons while on our interior campsite watching moose across the lake.  I did learn a few things...

1. Ladies, if you are going to be wearing a bug hat...tie your hair back!  The whole portage, while the pack was sliding down my arms and I was worried about Chris ramming me with the canoe, my hair kept falling in my face.  Trying to hold the paddles and camera bag in one hand while sticking the other hand up the mesh to tuck the strands behind my ears was not easy.  I couldn't see and kept tripping over rocks and roots.

2. Bring some kind of flag or something that you can hang near the water so if your site is sheltered people can tell it's occupied well before getting there, saving fellow campers extra paddling.  Early in the day it's not so bad, but I would hate to be arriving late, paddling all over the lake trying to find an empty site...then get to one that looks empty but isn't, and having to paddle all the way around the other side.

3. Before the trip, we went to Canadian Tire and looked at the bug screens you just hang from a tree.  We both thought they looked kind of flimsy and we'd be okay with just bug hats.  I think if we'd had something like that (wanna look into the parawing backpack tarp/screen thing) we would have eaten breakfast, had dessert after dinner and maybe stayed for lunch.  I had packed some quinoa salad stuff for lunch the second day, but I barely had the patience to boil water for tea that morning.

4. If you are going when bugs are going to be bad, taking food that is super quick to make is the way to go.  Maybe if we'd taken a different stove it wouldn't have been so bad.  I could have left it simmering and walked around as at least when we were moving the bugs weren't as bad, but with the vital stove, I had to sit and keep feeding it sticks.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Vital Stove, it works really well, but you do have to sit and feed it. Also, breakfast was supposed to be oatmeal, but not instant.  I'm not a fan of instant oatmeal, but the thought of getting eaten alive while cooking oats that take 15 minutes to simmer was not appealing.  Not only that, but it would have been messy to clean up.  Scrubbing the pot would have been no fun while fighting off mosquitoes.

5. Interior camping is just as awesome as I'd thought it would be.  Despite my initial misgivings on the portage, it really was a wonderful trip.  We learned a lot, saw so much wildlife.  At one point in the night we heard this noise that sounded like a screeching rooster.  I did some looking online when we got home and we think it might have been an adolescent barred owl.  It sounded like this but more screechy like these baby barred owls.  Chris said it sounded like someone at the next site over was murdering a baby. We also heard loons, wolves and lots of frogs.

I can't wait to do this again, with the kids along...but maybe wait for the bugs to die off a bit...