Sunday, November 9, 2014

Outdoor Challenges

Anyone reading this blog probably doesn't need a reason to go outside.  I'm going to guess you are already a fan of camping, hiking, fishing, or any other activity that takes place in the open air.  But, if you are like me, maybe you need some inspiration for where to go or what to try next.

I've seen quite a few things online that would be fun, challenging, and provide an excuse to get outside and do more things in nature.  Some of them are official challenges run by either Ontario Parks, or some other non-profit organization.  Some are goals I've seen groups of people trying for that have no real backing other than some like minded outdoors people challenging themselves.  There's no badge or name on a plaque, just the satisfaction of knowing you've done something pretty darn cool.

So, I thought I'd post them here with links for the ones that have an actual page with more information, not just for readers, but for myself as well.  Kind of a bucket list I guess.  Here goes.

section badge for Rideau Trail
1. Major Trail End to End 
There are several "big trails" in Ontario (and I'm sure there are lots in other provinces as well) that people aim to hike the total length of.  In the US, there are several that people do all in one go, like the Appalacian and the Pacific Crest.  These challenges take months to complete and many more to prepare for.  Sadly, the ones in Ontario are hard to do in such a way.  There are few places to camp and some are almost entirely on private land where no camping is allowed.  What a lot of people do is keep a log of the sections they've done.  Some trails have patches you can send away for if you want an official acknowledgement of your success.  You simply send your hiking log and a small fee to the administration body of the trail and voila!

Here are some trails that offer badges for completing trails either whole or in sections
Rideau Trail
Bruce Trail
Ganaraska - Note: There's no pictures of the badges but they are listed on the downloadable merchandise order form at this link.
Oak Ridges Trail
Also note that in most cases you need to be a member of the trail association to qualify.  Memberships are usually about $30 for the whole family, but check each trail's websites to get an accurate amount.

While badges aren't really a reason to get out and experience these trails, it sure can help kids get excited about it.  My kids love trail patches.  They aren't in scouts or guides, but we plan to make a quilt/blanket with all their patches at some point.  You can also buy badges for different parks if you've stayed there, and some parks have them for each of their trails (Algonquin, Bon Echo and Killarney to name a few.)

2. Long Distance Hiker Badges
This program is run through the Hike Ontario program which encourages people of all ages to get out and hike.  There are three levels.  The Red Pine badge requires 550km of hiking with at least 150km to be on 2 of Ontario's long distance trails.  Second is the Trillium which requires a total of 950km with 150km on 3 long distance trails.  Third is Tamarack which requires a total of 1500km with 150km on each of 3 different long distance trails.  I'm working on getting a bit more information on this program to clarify the requirements (example what trails qualify etc)

3. The Meanest Link
A canoe trip that takes you through some of the prettiest parts of Algonquin Park?  Count me in!  This has been on my to do list for a while.  The Meanest Link is a multi night canoe route that joins 4 Algonquin Outfitter locations and therefore is broken into four sections.  Huntsville to Brent, Brent to Opeongo, Opeongo to Oxtongue Lake and Oxtongue Lake to Huntsville.  You can do this trip in one big trip (can take up to 3 weeks) or do it in smaller sections.  For more information, check out the Algonquin Outfitter's website.

4. Frontenac Challenge
The Friends of Frontenac Provincial Park offers a few neat challenges to it's users.  The first is called the Frontenac Challenge.  The goal here is to hike all of the parks 11 trail loops during September and October.  People who complete the challenge get a certificate and their name on a plaque in the park office.  At one time, Frontenac also offered a challenge where you had to camp at least one night in the park during each month of one calendar year, but I can't seem to find that one any more.  There is also a Junior Hiking Challenge that only requires completing 6 of the hiking loops in the months of September and October. To complete the challenge, you first register at the gate, and get a "passport." Along the trail are signs with key words that you need to write on your log sheet.  These change every year depending on the theme chosen for the season. Here's some helpful hints on completing this challenge.

5. The Algonquin Park Lakes Challenge 
This isn't an official challenge, just something I've seen on camper's blogs and on a few Algonquin forums.  The challenge is to paddle as many bodies of water as possible in Algonquin Park and keep a running tally of them.  This includes rivers, ponds, lakes and creeks.  If it has a name on the Park map, you count it.  While there's no badge for this one, it sure provides a good excuse to try out sections of the park you've never been to before.  You can track this in a few ways.  The easiest is to make a list of lake names, but it could also be cool to have a copy of the park map that you can mark your routes on.

6. Races
If you are a runner or a biker, there are some cool races that take place in Ontario Parks (and other parks across Canada)  Some of them have entrance fees, some require you to raise pledges to help support the park itself.  Either way, it's a fun way to help out a good cause and spend some time in the outdoors.  Some examples in Ontario:
Arrowhead Provincial Park: Running Scared - 5K zombie run - race along the parks trails and ry to avoid the zombies who seek to steal your life flags.
Pinery Provincial Park - Road Race - Includes a 200m fawn run (kids run?) and races from 2km to 10km including wheelchair categories.
Sleeping Giant Provincial Park - Xterra Triathlon this event includes a full triathlon, a short course triathlon, a duathlon and 2 running races.
Sandbanks Provincial Park - Sandbanks hosts a few events in the fall, from a 5 and 10K event day to a marathon that lets you qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Of course you don't have to limit yourself to runs that are held in parks.  There's lots of great trail runs that raise money for local charities.

7. Every Park Challenge
This isn't an official challenge anywhere that I've been able to find, but a while back, Ontario Parks had a list of parks and you went through and checked off the ones you'd been to.  I always thought a cool goal would be to camp in all the Ontario Parks (that allow it...obviously some aren't going to be included in this)

8. Big Wild Challenge 
This is run by MEC as far as I can tell, and raises money for CPAW, an organization that helps protect wilderness areas all over Canada.  At the moment, the website merely says thanks to those who participated in 2014, but from what I can tell, there are several races held through the year or you can make a DIY Big Wild Challenge where you register a big trip (say a long canoe trip) then gather pledges to donate to charity.  Pretty cool.

9. Heathy Hikes 
A simple challenge to encourage more people to use Ontario Conservation Areas.  You simple register and log your hikes that take place in the 36 Ontario Conservation Areas between May 1 and October 31.  There are random prize draws made after the end of the season.

Please keep in mind that not all of these official challenges may be held each year.  I've tried to only post about ones that have at least run a few years.

I hope this helps people set some goals and encourages you and your family to get outside more.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Trip Log: Algonquin Park - Canisbay Lake - September 25-28, 2014

With the fall colours being so spectacular this year, we made a last minute decision to go camping for the weekend.  Of course, everyone else had the same idea and all the campgrounds were full so we planned to leave early and hope to get a non-reservable site.  Then, luckily, I checked online the night before to see if there were even any of those left and saw a green circle!  Yay!  Someone had cancelled and I quickly booked the site.

We ended up getting a late start.  Dad was supposed to be helping a cousin on a job, and hadn't been told all the details so instead of being done around noon, he didn't get home until closer to four.  We were mostly packed by then so we headed up and got our permits by 5:30pm.

The people in line ahead of us didn't have reservations and ended up getting the last non-reservable site available (so it's good we got to book one!) and they were told section 1 would be opening the next day if Coon Lake filled up.  I guess both Coon lake and Canisbay section 1 are usually closed by now, and with the high demand, they decided to open them up.

Canisbay was beautiful.  The leaves were all gold and orange, and all the campground roads were like something out of a commercial for Vermont or something.  It was wonderful just being in the campground.

We had dinner as soon as we got the trailer set up.  Right away we had a problem.  The propane line for Mum and Dad's trailer wouldn't work so we had no stove.  We did have a little portable BBQ but one of the burners was acting up.  We managed to make do with it, and heated up ribs, as well as roasting brussels sprouts and cooking carrots.

After it got dark, dad and the kids and I headed down to the beach to try our hand at shooting star trails.  The night sky was absolutely amazing.  We didn't end up shooting star trails, but did get just some nice night sky pictures.  It was our first time trying this and so we took a lot of bad ones too.  The kids were getting cold, so we headed back to the site and they went to bed while Dad and I sat up and took more shots through the canopy of trees.  Dad's remote shutter release wasn't working so we had to share mine but it all worked out well.  We had tons of fun with it.

The next morning, I got up at 6:30 with Biscuit and walked down to the beach.  The reflection was wonderful and with just a touch of fog on the lake it made me hurry back to the trailer to get the camera.  Dad didn't get up, so I took the kids down.  Unfortunately we had to take Biscuit.  He's learned how to open the trailer door and I didn't know where dad had put the keys so I could lock in from the outside.  After that, we went back and mum and dad still weren't up!  It was nine and I fully expected dad to be up making coffee.  So we went exploring more.  We checked out the site we'd stayed at two summer's ago, then we followed a trail down to a little tiny beach where a bunch of canoes were cached.

It was ten by the time mum and dad got up, and we finally got to make breakfast.  Peameal bacon, potato, pepper and onion hash and bagels.  We'd planned to make pancakes and maple baked beans to go with them but with only two elements, it just would have taken too long and we were already wasting the day.  Then we realized we hadn't packed dish soap.  It's the one thing I ALWAYS forget!  Dad and I drove to the Two River's Store and picked some up, as well as some brownies...I couldn't help myself!

After cleaning up, we headed out to take in all the colours.  We did the last little bit of the Beaver Pond trail, went to the Opeongo Algonqiun Outfitters, spent a grand total of 3 minutes at the Visitor's Centre, then went down to Rock Lake to check out the colours there.

When we got back to camp, having skipped lunch, we got right to work making dinner.  Tonights meal was an experiment, tex mex peppers and black eyed peas over rice with chipotle Chop Chop salad.  We went back to the beach for more star gazing/picture taking, and then headed to bed.

The next morning I made my super healthy oatmeal for mum, dad and I while the kids had instant oatmeal.  One of these days I'll get them to eat the better stuff.  We also had bagels.  While I cleaned up the dishes, mum and Bubbie went down to see if we could get a non-reservable site for one night.  We got the last one!  The site was empty, but we held off moving our trailer over there because the people who had been on the site had an RV and it was possible they had simply gone out for breakfast.  We figured we'd go out and take more pictures then come back around one and move.

Our first stop was the Cache Lake access, then we were going to hike the Lookout Trail, backwards just to the actual lookout.  The parking area was packed with lots and lots of cars parked on the side of the road so we turned around, headed to the two rivers store for ice cream, then returned to Canisbay to move the trailer to our new site.

After the move, dad, Bubbie and I went into Huntsville to see if we could get a replacement for the propane line section.  We also needed groceries since we were staying an extra night.   As we passed the west gate on our way out of the park, we saw a huge line of cars waiting to go passed.  Police were there and as we kept going we were stuffed by just how long the line was.  On the way back, we hit the "trip" tracker in the car and it was 5.2km from where the last car had been stopped to the gate.    Crazy!

Our first stop was Henrietta's Pine Bakery in Dwight but they were sold out of all the things we wanted (no surprise) so we stopped at Tim Horton's then went to Arrowhead for a quick photo detour of Stubb's Falls.  Groceries and a replacement battery for Dad's remote shutter release were easy to get, the propane accessory, not so much.  We'd have to stick with the BBQ for all our cooking. (yes we could have had a fire, and we did, but as usual the wood sold in the parks was so wet we mostly had smoke...I did make corn bread to go with the peppers the night before but it just tasted like really strong smoke...really gross)

Dinner was hot dogs.  The kids really wanted to roast theirs, but as I said, the fire was pathetic so we just did them on the BBQ.  We also had salad and rice.

Deciding to skip the beach that night in favour of roasting marshmallows, we spent a lazy evening at camp...and the kids roasted a total of 1 marshmallow each for a s'more, then went to bed.  Dad and I sat up around the fire.

The next morning, mum left early as she had to work.  The rest of us had a quick breakfast of bagels, coffee (not for the kids) and Squatch had a hot dog, then we got the trailer mostly packed up inside and went out for a while to take pictures.  This gave the tent parts of the trailer time to dry out before we folded it all down.

We ended up stopping at the side of the road twice, once on a hill that had rows of fog and trees in the distance, and once at one of the areas near the end of Lake of Two Rivers where a fog bank was slowly receding.  Next we tried again to do the Lookout Trail but again changed our minds because of the number of cars already there (and tour busses!)  Instead, we hiked the first few kilometers of the Centennial Ridges trail, just to get to the first look out, then headed back.  Biscuit decided to get snarly and tried to bite a few people which made the return trip a bit of a nerve wracking experience.

Back at the site, we began final preparations to leave when someone pulled up on the side of the road near by and walked over.  Our first thought was it was the next person to book the site and they wondered when we'd be gone.  It turned out, the man had seen Biscuit and wanted to ask about him, as he too has a blue heeler.  After talking and sharing stories on our dog's quirks, we realized we'd gotten our dogs from the same farm, only from different litters!  How crazy was that?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Trip Log: Algonquin Park - Kingscote Lake - August 6-8, 2014

 Chris didn't know when he'd get a week of holidays until about 2 days before the holiday started, so we weren't really prepared for a longer trip.  I had a rough (and totally impractical) outline, but all we knew was we really wanted to do Algonquin's Barron Canyon...until the morning we were going to leave and the kids decided they really didn't want to drive that far.  After some grumbling and arguing, we decided to try Kingscote Lake.

As much as we would have loved to venture further into the back country than the access lake, we knew from experience that Biscuit would make portages miserable and as all the ones we'd be taking from Kingscote would be fairly long, we decided to just make it a short paddle and a relaxing three days.

We arrived at Birch Point Campground to get our permit and it started to rain, but by the time we got to the put in, the sun was back out and we were able to load the canoe fairly quickly except for one little hiccup...I'd forgotten poop bags for the dog and as luck would have it, he went thirty seconds before we would have pushed off.  As Kingscote has no garbage facilities at all, we had to bag it up with a grocery bag and leave it in the car for 3 days...not pleasant to return to, but we had no real choice.

Soon enough we were on our way, with Biscuit darting back and forth for the whole hour of paddling, nearly tipping us every ten seconds.  Most of the sites seemed dim and a little scary as we passed.  It was nearing 4pm and they weren't getting much light.  We decided on a few back ups but kept paddling.  The last site on the lake, the one I'd read was a good one, was empty, so we took it.  We could see from far off that it sat on a rocky ledge, and we hoped it would provide good swimming.

Our site on Kingscote Lake
It's a decent site, mostly open so not a great summer site if you want some cool shade, but it got a nice breeze for keeping bugs away.  It also didn't offer much shelter from wind for cooler season camping, but we were happy enough with it.  The kids weren't impressed.  After the site we had at Fishog, I think it would take a lot to impress them, and in comparison, this one was pretty small.

We set up the tent and the kids set about exploring.  There wasn't much room to explore as there was at Fishog.  The few trails were narrow and the surrounding bush was thick.  Thankfully the thunderbox was fairly close and in good shape.  There was even a rickety old picnic table for cooking on.

We weren't there ten minutes before Squatch got his pants wet.  His shorts had gotten wet from the dog splashing water into the canoe, so he'd changed and then the three of them were fishing.  Bubbie got a spinner stuck on a rock and it broke the line.  It was only about 2 feet out into the water, and the bedrock extended out far enough, but it was slippery from algae.  He ended up stripping to his underwear and tried to get it, but only managed to flick the spinner further away.  Chris went swimming after dinner and found it.  

Dinner the first night was lentil sloppy Joe's but on rice rather than buns.  I wasn't really thinking clearly when I made the rice, I boiled water (without having measured it or the rice) and then dumped the rice in...way too much water!  And I'd forgotten to bring salt so we had bland, mushy Minute Rice...not pleasant.  The dog got lots of left overs (which he barfed up at about midnight, luckily I got him outside the tent in time.)

Everyone but me fished most of the evening (I don't have a licence) and only caught a few rock bass or perch.  I saw a mouse run over the rock and nobody believed me, until I went to the thunderbox and when I got back they were all watching him scurry around.  There was also a fairly large garter snake living at the site.  We saw him several times, sunning on the rocks. I imagine he is well fed because there were always a few dozen frogs at the little sandy spot where we landed the canoe.  

Chris took Biscuit for a little paddle and nearly flipped within thirty seconds, so he came back, dropped off the dog, and went out by himself to fish.  

Chris tried out his portable chainsaw and got a few logs cut from a fallen tree for a fire.  He said it worked well unless the tree was a rotten, then it just bound up and was hard to cut.  Marshmallow's were toasted...Biscuit kept trying to steal burning sticks from the fire, so all in all, it was a pretty normal evening for us at camp.  We even managed to get everything cleaned up, and brushed our teeth before it got dark so Chris could hang the food barrel while he could still see.

That night, I didn't really sleep.  I don't know why I was so much more spooked than I had been at Fishog.  Maybe the lake just had a more remote feel to it since we'd driven down a narrow dirt road for 12KM to get there, and had only passed one other used campsite on the way across the lake.  We heard loons all night, owls too and around 2:30 we heard a pack of coyotes going crazy.  They sounded like they were just down the shore from us.  Coincidently, that was the only time Biscuit barked at the night sounds.  Chipmunks skittered around the tent all night and he didn't even wake up.

I got up around 6:30 to take the dog out and use the thunder box.  There was fog on the lake, and in the rising sun, it looked like gold dancing over the calm water.  I took a few pictures and crawled back into the tent.  We'd all been chilly that night and took our time waking up once the sun started to warm the tent up.

Breakfast was oatmeal.  The kids had packets of instant oatmeal and Chris and I had my super healthy oatmeal.  We also had tea and hot chocolate.  It was a bit of a hassle, trying to boil enough water for all the drinks and instant oatmeal, then making the other kind of oatmeal.  By the time it was done, it was practically lunch time. 

The kids spent half the morning with their feet in the water, letting minnows nibble their toes.  It sounds weird, but they thought it was hilarious.  Once camp was cleaned up and the food barrel rehung, we took the trail leading along the shore from our site, hoping to get to the portage to Big Rock Lake. It wasn't a great distance, probably less than 50m.  It looks like there was once a clear trail there, but several downed trees made it a bit tricky.  Once on the portage though, it was a nice hike and we enjoyed the chance to explore a bit.  Squatch kept commenting that he couldn't imagine doing the trail with gear (and he wanted to do the Meanest Link a few months ago!!!.)  We met a family portaging with so much stuff it was kind of scary.  Two canoes, a kayak, three big packs, two food barrels, and a pile of odds and ends.  There was five of them, and a 18 month old golden retriever.  Biscuit didn't like the other dog and after a few seconds of sniffing began snarling at her.

Sadly, the put in to Big Rock Lake was kind of a let down.  It really wasn't the kind of place where you could sit and enjoy the scenery while you rested up.  We turned around and headed back to camp to make lunch - "gourmet" Mr. Noodles.  I know, it's pretty hard to make instant ramen gourmet, but that's what the kids call this meal.  Pretty crazy how impressed they are by a few dried veggies and some beef jerky cooked with beef ramen.  Also, it was kind of sad that this also turned out to be everyone's favourite meal of the trip.  While lunch was cooking, we saw two military planes fly super low over the lake.  I'd never seen planes fly that low, it looked like they might skim the tips of the trees. 

Chris had a little nap, then there was more fishing and swimming.  The kids threw Biscuits ball a few feet into the water, hoping he'd grow a pair and learn to like swimming, but it didn't work too well.  The ball floated away so the kids got into the canoe to rescue it then paddled around a bit.  Biscuit freaked because his ball was then in the canoe.  He ran out onto a dead tree sticking out into the water and fell in, panicked, and tried to climb back onto the log.  The water was about a foot deep, but he really did not like it.  After that, every time the kids and Chris went swimming or even mentioned it, he'd run to the tent, crawl under the fly and stomp the tent flat to hide.  Luckily he didn't manage to break any poles, but I think he put a few tiny little holes in the side that you can only see when the light shines through in the moonlight.

Squatch had snapped his line, losing his favourite lure on a rock, so Chris put on the goggles and rescued it.  

Dinner that night was stir fry with minute rice.  I did the rice right this time, boiling the water and pouring it into the rice rather than the other way around.  Unfortunately, the veggies weren't that great.  I had bought a bag of frozen stir fry vegetables and dehydrated them.  They tasted okay but were kind of weird looking and the kids wouldn't really eat them.  

After dinner, Chris took the kids into the canoe to fish.  Biscuit was not happy about being left behind.  He whined the entire time.  I kept thinking any nearby wolves or coyotes would think there was a cub in distress and come check it out.

We had another fire and toasted more marshmallows.  Every time Chris went to bite his marshmallow off his stick, Biscuit would sneak up behind him and try to drag the stick away from him.  The kids and I were tired so we went into the tent while Chris sat up and watched the fire.  He fished a little and caught a small rock bass.  He claims he had a good sized bass on the line but it jumped up into the reflection of the moonlight, spit out his hook and did a little wiggle before swimming away.  I'm not sure if I believe him or not, but it's a pretty good fish story for him to tell.

It was quieter the second night.  Not as many loons and no coyotes.  It was still cold though.  All of us wore all of our clothes.  We hadn't brought much but we layered on every t-shirt and sweater we had and were still kind of chilly.  

I got up with the dog again at 6:30, and again, watched the fog on the lake before crawling back into my sleeping bag.    I was excited about breakfast this day.  I'd dried a can of maple baked beans, as well as potato slices and peppers.  The third item was a quinoa lentil vegan sausage patty.  All in all it wasn't bad.  The patties were kind of dry and the potatoes took forever to rehydrate.  The worst part was the beans dried onto the plates and pot pretty quickly and were really hard to clean with cold water.  I'd pretty much exhausted the easily accessible sticks for the vital stove and really didn't feel like hunting farther into the bush for more to heat washing water so I packed everything dirty into the food barrel to wash at home.  If we'd been staying longer obviously I would have sucked it up and heated up water.

Biscuit ran like a crazed thing from the moment we hit shore on day one.  He dragged us down the portage trail at full speed and then ran some more once we got back to camp.  By day 3, he was so tired he couldn't even stand up to pee, and just went as he lay sleeping.  It was a little scary, to be honest.  I thought there was something wrong with him.  But as soon as we started to put things back into the canoe he was as hyper as ever.

The kids and Chris swam one more time, then we packed up and headed back to the car.  We were all tired and hungry by the time we got there, and luckily there was two more boxes of granola bars stashed in the trunk, as well as a half dozen bottles of water.

So what did I learn on this trip?  I need to make bigger portions of food because we were all hungry still after most of our meals.  I also need to take more snacks.  We ate all the granola bars I brought in about 5 minutes after getting back from our hike.  Next time, I think I'll dry frozen hashbrowns with peppers and onions for breakfast, and maybe try something else with the "sausage" patty idea.  They weren't bad, but the kids wouldn't eat them (surprise) and I had way to much mix for them.

Our thoughts on Kingscote started out sort of negative.  The sites were small and dim, and very few of them looked like they'd have good swimming spots.  As the trip went on, we grew to really like our site.  We liked that the lake was quiet.  We only saw a few other parties the whole time, even though the lady who wrote out my permit said there'd be 7  groups camped on the lake the first night and 5 the second.  We only saw campers at 2 sites, and a few groups heading over the portage to camp deeper in the park.  We saw a few fishing boats, and there are a few cottages on the lake but unlike at Fishog, it actually felt more like back country camping.

Also...since Biscuit likes to bite the water so much, we really need to take some time back at the car to let him pee...a lot.  He went twice as soon as we got him on shore, and ended up dribbling in the car so we had to pull over a bunch of times.  Next time we will give him more time to really make sure he's done.  It might also have had to do with how tired he was.  Either way, Chris was not happy about having the dog piddle in the car.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trip Log: Six Mile Lake Provincial Park - Aug 25-26, 2014

Well it's our last "weekend" of the summer, since our weekends fall on Monday and Tuesday.  We'd hoped to do another interior trip, but Chris and his friends at work start playing hockey early so we only had one night.  Bummer.

Chris and I had stayed a night at Six Mile a few years ago and thought the kids would enjoy it.  It's a pretty little park, and somewhere they've never been.

We arrived around 1pm and immediately remembered why car camping with Biscuit isn't that fun.  He barks unless he's right with us, so while we were setting up the tent, he was not a happy puppy.  But Squatch was.  He'd gotten a hammock for his birthday (which is in winter) and had been eager to try it out all summer.  We kept forgetting to take it along, so he made sure to remind us (repeatedly) this time.

We hadn't booked a site, so we went in, found out what was available, then drove around...looking for a perfect hammock site.  Squatch wasn't happy with the site we picked, which was in the Maple Campground overlooking the pond.  It turned out it had a great spot to hang a hammock right at the pond edge so he could lay back and watch the heron, turtles, ducks and frogs to his hearts content.  The site was fairly large but with a tent pad tucked out of full sight, and when we went to check it out we could see a heron in the pond.  The kids named him Bill.

While the boys got the hammock set up, Bubbie and I started lunch.  The kids had "gourmet Mr. Noodles" while Chris and I had left over soup from dinner the previous night.

After lunch, Chris and Squatch went for a swim (really nice sandy beach according to them) while Bubbie and I took Biscuit for a walk.  It was really hot, and humid, so we weren't really in the mood for hiking.  We checked out some empty sites, made notes on what ones we'd like to stay at another time, then headed back.

We hadn't brought a rope to tie Biscuit up with, and the leash was too short to tie to the picnic table, being only long enough to give him about 3 feet of run.  Chris and Squatch went to an empty site down the road and found a long piece of rope someone had left hanging in a tree.  Squatch got on Chris's shoulders and cut it down.  He was pretty proud of himself.  He's really loving the fact he's got a little pocket knife (also a birthday gift) and spends a lot of time making his own marshmallow stick whenever we camp now.

Supper that night was spaghetti and spice cake I'd made the night before.  After that I tried making popcorn in a pot on the stove.  It sounds simple but I've always had an air popper or we've gotten Jiffy Pop for camping.  This worked out well though, and the kids loved it. While Bubbie and I cleaned up, Squatch and Chris went to fish for a while...can you see a pattern here? To be fair, Squatch had just bought a bunch of lures from the discontinued bin at Sail and wanted to try them out. They didn't have much luck.  Once they got back we had a fire but the wood was kind of wet.  It burned long enough for a few marshmallows,  then we headed to bed.

It kind of figured that the first time we had room to take full sized sleeping bags, it ended up being the only night of camping this summer where we could have used the lighter ones.  It was HOT in the tent all night and so humid.  We opened the windows to get a bit of a breeze and that helped a bit.  We'd also all brought extra sleep clothes.  Long underwear and normal sleep pants, and extra layers of shirts which we didn't need at all.  Figures, right?

Also, it didn't help that Biscuit was wired like crazy.  He started out by chewing on the sleeping bags, then started running back and forth along the length of the tent at full speed, sliding over sleeping bags and crashing into the wall.  The only thing which saved the tent poles from getting broken was the fact there was only a few inches of soil over bedrock, so the pegs popped out, easing the slack on the poles. Crazy dog!  Holy cow.  We got him calmed down and Chris went out and fixed the pegs since without them, the outer sections sag into the middle.

Now if I could get him to leave the etoys at home!
I was so tired, and not at all worried about wildlife after our recent backcountry trips.  The highway noise was like white noise and I was sure I would fall asleep pretty quick.  We could vaguely hear people talking at other sites but there wasn't anyone close by.  Then suddenly I was wide awake and I don't think I slept all night...and for no reason.  I wasn't jumping at every rustle in the bush, I wasn't imagining bears and wolves creeping in close.  I was comfortable, not freezing...I was hot but the breeze was nice.  Very frustrating.

I got up around 4:30am to go to the bathroom then around 6 I could hear thunder and saw the odd flash of lightening.  I ended up going out to bring in the clothes off the drying line and a few minutes later it started to sprinkle.  Chris ran out and brought the hammock in because it would have taken ages to dry if it got soaked.  It ended up pouring like crazy.  There was no wind, and I don't know if there was more thunder because we couldn't hear anything over the sound of rain hitting the tent.  Chris reached down and touched the floor by his head and he was sleeping on a puddle. Thankfully it didn't leak through the floor.  If you patted the floor it felt like patting a waterbed.  We shuffled further towards the other end just incase.

The rain didn't last long.  Bubbie and I got up and took Biscuit for a walk since he was wandering around the tent now, licking everyone.

When we got back, Squatch came out and we made breakfast (well, they got theirs, I drank copious amounts of tea and waited for Chris to wake up.)  Breakfast was oatmeal, the packet variety for the kids and a more healthified version for Chris and I that I swear one day I will get the kids to eat.

The weather report said more storms were coming, so we decided to pack up and not do the hikes.  Bubbie wasn't feeling up to it, having a bit of a sinus headache, and the rising heat, coupled with the humidity made it feel like we were in a sauna.  It was hard to breathe.

Though it was a short trip, I'm glad we got to go out for one more night before the kids start school.  And I'm kind of glad it rained.   Both kids have been afraid to camp if bad weather might be a problem, because of the bad storm we had last year at Achray.  I'm glad they had this, which seemed scary because it was so loud, but in the end wasn't bad, to help them get over their fears.

Wildlife seen:
Blue Heron
Three turtles (can't be sure what kind, they were out in the pond)
ducks (again, they were in the pond and I couldn't see too well to identify what kind)
bull frogs

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Day trip: Kawartha Highlands - Wolf to Crab Lake - September 16, 2014

Tuesday, the kids had to be at school early so Chris and I got an early start, hoping we'd get to actually have a more relaxing paddle.  It turned out we got home ten minutes after the bus, and the kids had freaked out a little, but they were fine.

We'd originally planned to paddle down Long lake to Loucks, then to Cox and check out Secret Lake.  Chris decided it was too far (and it would have been) so we then decided on Wolf to Crab.  We'd done this before to do a geocache when the kids were little, and didn't remember much beyond them complaining they were bored in the canoe.  Then we thought maybe we'd paddle around Silent Lake since we have a season's pass for Ontario Parks, but then changed our minds back to Wolf...then thought we could try Anstruther to we got to the Anstruther access and the wind was crazy.   No way were we going to paddle that lake in heavy wind again, so we headed back to Wolf.

The paddle was against the wind, but the waves were nowhere near as bad as on Anstruther.  It took us nearly an hour to get to the end of the lake where the portage is...of course we stopped and checked out one of the campsites on Wolf first, and decided it was a nice site, other than the fact there are a fair few cottages on the lake.

The portage to Crab is pretty easy.  Only 140m and mostly flat.  There's rocks and roots to watch for, but nothing too difficult.

We had the wind at our back as we looked for a spot to stop and eat lunch, deciding to go into one of the bays to get a bit of shelter from the wind so our water would boil faster for tea.  I'd planned to make soup, but we realized we didn't have time.  I didn't even get to take any pictures.

While we were eating, we kept hearing what sounded like heavy footsteps in bushes behind us.  It turned out to be acorns falling on a log, but after hearing about two bear attacks in Haliburton in about 2 weeks, I was a little on edge.

We had to paddle hard to get back home, and naturally, once we got back on to Wolf, the wind had stopped gusting so much so we didn't get much help from Mother Nature.   We would have made it home on time, except every car we got behind was going at least 10 under the limit!  With no passing opportunities, we had to wait for them to turn off onto other roads...then we'd get up to speed, and within a minute, come up behind someone else going 70.  It was really frustrating.  Still, a nice day out in the canoe.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wonderland trip - August 19, 2014

I have a trip log to post from our recent trip to Kingscote Lake in Algonquin, I'm just procrastinating putting the pictures in because my laptops memory is full again.  So I thought I'd share our decidedly non-wilderness trip from yesterday...which has no pictures because I didn't take a camera or even my phone.

Chris and I had bought tickets to Canada's Wonderland at Costco and the plan was to surprise the kids. We got them out of bed and told them there was a big sale on fishing tackle at Bass Pro.  Boy were they excited.  Ever since they got to go all wild in the clearance bins at SAIL last week, it's all they've talked about.  So we get down there, and we point out Leviathan and the mountain.  They start talking about the rides they liked from when we were there in the spring with the school for band/choir.

They had no idea we'd gotten off Highway 400 at the wrong exit to go to Bass Pro.  Even when we were passing signs for "passenger drop off and pick up" for Wonderland, they didn't figure it out.  I kept making comments about how expensive it was, and it's too bad we didn't have extra money this pay check to go.  Then we turn into the entrance and they realize we were actually going in.  Squatch freaked!  He tried to jump up out of his seat and ended up falling back because of his seat belt.  I'm pretty sure he squealed like a little girl.  Bubbie wasn't as excited.  She had fun last time, but Chris kind of pesters her to try coasters she was afraid to try, so she was a little nervous.

I pull out the tickets and admit I'd lied about REALLY needing to buy granola bars a few weeks back for our Kingscote lake trip.  I did buy a few big boxes of bars, but only to hide the tickets.

The place was crazy busy.  I'd have thought August would be a bit quieter, since the CNE had started, but it was insane.  We were there for almost two hours and only managed 2 rides because of the lines.  First we hit Thunder Run, one of our favourites, then Back Lot Stunt Coaster.  Somehow we managed to hit White Water Canyon when the line had died, and got on it fairly quickly (ten minute wait rather than 45) then we went to Splash Works.  The water park hadn't been open when we came in the spring, so the kids hadn't gotten to go.  They'd been there when they were really little with Chris's parents but were too young to do any of the slides.

Not that Bubbie did any slides anyway.  We all did the Lazy River, then Bubbie and I went to the wave pool while Chris and Squatch hit a few slides.  The Black Hole was their favourite.  Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes of sitting in the shallows of the wave pool, they instructed everyone to vacate the water.  I had my suspicions that a kid had pooped in the water...but the lifeguard herding us all behind the green line said it was just a routine cleaning...uh huh.  When they came out with a net, scooped something out, then you could see several spots where the water was clearly being drained out...yeah, it had to be poop.

We decided to do the Lazy river one more time then the boys wanted to do the Bat.  Bubbie and I shared a huge ice cream cookiewich, then watched the show at the big pool near Dragon Fire.  That was pretty incredible.  The diving and trampoline tricks were amazing.

Tired, hungry and ready to head home, we stopped at McDonalds for dollar drinks, and made it home by 7:30.  We didn't get to go on as many rides as we'd have liked, the lines were just too long.  We also didn't get to try out the new Wonder Mountain's Guardian ride, and we all kind of regret that.  The longest line of the day?  Subway!  We stood in line for 45 minutes to get lunch, and it really wasn't worth it.  Should have gotten a hot dog, or brought a lunch.  Even without the wait, the prices were crazy, $12.49 for a footlong Melt.

Wonderland is lots of fun, but going in the summer can feel like kind of a waste of money.  Because of the long wait times for rides, you often feel like you aren't getting your money's worth.  We had talked about getting a season's pass, and we all feel that if we did, we could make shorter trips, get in a few rides or spend a few hours at SplashWorks and not feel like we weren't making it worth the price of we'd go in spring and fall more!  Skip school, ride coasters!

I read somewhere that the company that owns Wonderland now is working towards making it an international destination.  Leviathan and Behemoth are two steps towards that goal (big coasters that will attract thrill seekers from around the globe) but considering the crowds already there, I'm thinking if they did that, they'd really have to expand it, total size wise, because it got really hard to just walk at times.  Worse than trying to shop in the mall on Christmas Eve.  It's already the most visited seasonal park in all of North America...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Day Trip: Algonquin Park - Logging Days - July 26, 2014

After four years of trying and failing to make it to the park for Logging Days, we finally got our act together.

As we expected the parking lot was packed, and they had a team of guys directing us to available parking spots.  We chatted with one of them for a minute as somehow Biscuit managed to escape the car.  I had clipped his leash on, and then unclipped his seatbelt from the ring and it popped the leash clip back open.  Chris caught him quickly, and the volunteer asked us about what kind of dog he was (we got this a lot through the day.)

I admit I had been leery of taking Biscuit.  At home when I take him for walks, he doesn't like it when people come up to him, and the trail was really busy.  I had visions of him biting children, nipping people on the butt and getting loose and eating the logger's lunch.  He was actually really good.  He pulled a lot at first because he was excited, but calmed down eventually.  People came up to him and let him sniff their hand and he let them pet him!  I was shocked!  He went a little nutty when other dogs got close, but we kept a good distance and it was okay.

The first demonstration wasn't so much a demonstration as a performance.  We arrived just in time to see the start of the Waikimi Wailers start playing.  It was really cool.  Some of the people in the crowd were singing along, and more and more people were piling into the Camboose so we headed out after a few songs to let more people in.

At the stables, they were giving out free temporary tattoos, and scavenger hunt sheets for the kids.  I'm not sure what the prize was, but the kids had fun looking for the answers.  There were people demonstrating how logs were squared off, how a cadge crib worked, and how the alligator boats worked.  It was really cool.  We've walked this trail many times and though there is information there on the display boards, it was nice to get a more detailed description of what it was like to actually do these things. You really get a new appreciation for just how hard these men worked.   For example, it took a team of 6 men a full day to square a log, and it took 18 men, about 28 hours to haul a boom of logs across Cedar lake using a cadge crib.  The Alligator took about 6 hours and less men, but was only really useful on big lakes, of which there aren't many in Algonquin (comparatively speaking)

Squatch got to try out using a cross cut saw, and brought home his timber cookie home.  A booth further up the trail had people branding them, but the wood was too wet, so they had pieces of lumber there to brand and hand out.  Kids could also try their hand at making rope but the line ups in these two spots was really crazy, so Squatch only did one.

We didn't have time for the Logger's Lunch (and the kids wouldn't have eaten it anyway) but it did look good.  Beans, potatoes, fried bologna, homemade bread and a butter tart.  Next year we will try and get Chris to take the day off so we can come back and have time for lunch...and maybe Biscuit will be better behaved around food by then.  Because we were in a bit of a rush, we had to skip some of the demonstrations too, but like I year...

All in all, this is a really fun and educational day with activities that keep the kids from being bored.  I highly recommend it.  It's also dog friendly.  There were "dog water" stations throughout the trail.  Even though it wasn't super hot out, it was nice to have.  We actually had thought they might make the trail dog free for the event, since there were so many people there.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Some Thoughts on Camping With Dogs

We recently did our first canoe camping trip with Biscuit and while the trip itself was a success, there were a few things we realized were lacking in his training.  Also, it wasn't until after we got home that I started to think of other things that could have gone wrong, and how ill equipped we would have been to deal with them.

If you've read the trip report of our canoe camping adventure in Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands, you may remember Biscuit wouldn't sit still in the canoe.  He bounced back and forth from side to side, attacking the water, pawing at it, and actually, his butt fell out at one point too.  He's not exactly good at "go lie down" at home, so I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised he wouldn't stay still when he was so excited.  Until this changes, I think we'll be doing short trips with the canoe...and I hope and pray none of them will be in turbulent waters like our return was.

When hiking the portage trails, he was pretty much walking on his back legs because he was pulling so hard.  Not only was it nearly impossible to stop him, but it made an already difficult trail even more dangerous for the person holding the leash (me.)  He's pretty good when I take him for walks when it's just us two, but if anyone else is with him, this is how he is.  I think if we go for more walks as a family, especially on hiking trails as opposed to around the neighbourhood, he'll get use to it and calm down.

He was surprisingly good at the campsite.  He didn't wander off, stayed with us except a few times he saw a squirrel or chipmunk.  It was great for him to be able to run off some of his energy but there are some very valid reasons why most parks require dogs to be kept on a leash even in the back country.

BEARS: Many dogs will run towards a bear, barking and then realize "holy crap, that's more than I can handle in a fight." and run back to their owner, inadvertently drawing the bear behind them.  Many people feel taking a dog with them in the back country can be good protection, but in this scenario, the dog is putting your life in greater danger.  We didn't have any kind of bear spray, bear banger or other protection with us.

SKUNKS: I don't know about you, but I really wouldn't want to spend the night with a stinking dog in the tent.  Biscuit likes to roll all over our sleeping bags before settling in the spot he deems most comfortable (usually my pillow) and the thought of him doing that with skunk spray all over him?  Yuck!

PORCUPINES: I've never had to de-quill a dog, but I  watched my parents have to go through it with dogs when I was a kid.  Not fun.  Imagine having to do that 3 days away from your car?  Even the thought of having to paddle back a few hours with Biscuit freaking out, in windy, wavy conditions would make an already arduous paddle even worse.

Another thing to think about is how prone your dog is to eating things.  Biscuit spent half his time rooting through the ashes in the fire pit, so I can only assume there was unburned food/garbage beneath the top layer.  He's also pretty likely to eat berries he finds on bushes and mushrooms.  It's gotten better the last few months, but after spending all spring dealing with the fall out of him eating rabbit poo in the back yard, the last thing I want to be doing is cleaning up doggie diarrhea in the tent.

Speaking of poo...when he's running around, it's hard to keep track of all his messes so they can be cleaned up.  I kind of felt like I had to constantly watch him incase I missed some since I really didn't want to leave it for the next campers to step in.  For some reason, Biscuit goes about ten times as often when we are camping compared to at home.  During a recent trip to Six Mile Lake Provincial Park, Bubbie and I took him for a short walk while Chris and Squatch slept and he went five times!  Thank goodness he didn't go a sixth because my roll of poopy sacks ran out on the fifth one.

I think there needs to be a compromise and in the future, we will let him run when we are able to fully pay attention, but when we are eating or busy with camp chores, he will probably be tied up.  Also, as dusk approaches, I think tying him up would be smart too.

Everyone's dog is different, and this is a topic with a lot of varied opinions.  I get the arguements for keeping a dog on leash in a front country campground.  We've had dogs come close to peeing on our tent, had them rummaging through our food bin, and it's just plain worrisome to have strange dogs run up to your kids when there doesn't seem to be an owner around.  On the other hand, I've seen people leave their dog tied up in camp while they left for the day and the dog barked, got tangled up and nearly strangled and tip over their water on a scorching hot day.

I'd love to hear opinions on this subject, or other things that can be a concern when camping with dogs.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Trip Log: Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park -Head Lake to Fishog Lake - July 11-12, 2014

 The kids first canoe camping trip!  They've been waiting so long for this and were so excited to go.  I on the other hand, kind of dreaded it.  Not because I didn't want to canoe camp, but if you read my last post about the route, and the portage, you'll remember I was nervous about the dog's behaviour in the canoe and on the hilly (cliffy) portage.  I wasn't wrong.  But let's not skip ahead.

One of the Gull Rocks on Head Lake
We arrived at the put in around 1:00 and hauled all our gear down to the water.   Right away, we realized one of our fears wasn't unfounded...fitting all our gear, plus two kids, a dog, and us, in a 14" canoe was a logistical nightmare.  I had the big pack in front of me in the bow, and the Pelican camera case between my knees.  I couldn't really kneel properly.  The tent went under the yoke, Squatch and the kids two packs went right behind me, then the 30L food barrel, Bubbie and Biscuit went in front of Chris.  We have two kind of big, bulky sleep pads, Chris stuffed them in the little space behind the stern seat and used them as a back rest.  Neither of us were comfortable paddling.  Chris had to contort himself with every stroke to avoid bopping Bubbie on the head and I kind of looked like in the movies when a 6'3" man is using the toilets in a my knees were up by my ears.  To make things even more interesting, Biscuit was so excited he kept running from side to side, standing on the gunnels and biting the water.  This meant every two seconds we had to adjust our weight to counter balance 40 pounds of hyper dog to keep us from tipping into the middle of the lake.  Surprisingly though, he barely noticed the gulls and terns attacking us as we paddled by the rocks in Head Lake.
Waterfall on Head River

Finally we made it to the river and within minutes, Bubbie had lost her hat and we had to back paddle to get it.  Biscuit decided Lily Pads were the enemy and nearly jumped out of the canoe to bite them as we passed.  Finally we made it to the portage, and as I'd feared, I nearly fell multiple times as the dog dragged me up the hills.  I shouldn't call them hills, because a hill I could have managed.  It was the sections that were more like 6 foot tall rock walls where you had to pick your footing on little ledges that made it interesting.

We made it to our site at 2:30, and thankfully it wasn't taken.  We had picked it out the day before, with a few others as back up choices.  Chris had wanted to pack up the night before and leave super early because he really liked that site and was sure it would be occupied.  (Actually it was a good thing we got there when we did.  Boaters from cottages passed a few times both days we were there and we could hear them say things like "darn there are people there!")
Kitchen set up on our site

The site is pretty damn awesome.  There's a huge clearing near the back where we set up the tent. We brought our big 6 person, 2 room tent which I knew is kind of big to carry over the portage, but Biscuit is prone to pacing in the night...he likes to get a bit of a snuggle with everyone and our 4 person tent is just barely big enough for us...we'd be getting stepped on all night if we'd brought it.  We'll have to use it for other trips because not all sites are going to have such a huge tent pad, but for this one, we took advantage of the luxury.

The fire pit was ridiculously huge.  I think it must have been 5 feet across.  The site had a really nice kitchen area where someone had built a plywood and 2x4 counter with a lower shelf for storage.  Someone had left a chair and some saw horses there.  There was also a wine rack!  Talk about luxury.  I'm guessing fishermen use this area a lot and that's why there's so many improvements.  One site on the lake has a floating dock.  We almost went there because it would have been fun for the kids, but the mosquitoes on that site were pretty bad the day before.
Enjoying the "hot tub" 

The first thing we did is...go for a swim.  It took a few minutes to decide where to swim because there are several possibilities.  There's the shady sandy area where we pulled in the canoe, an area of shallow rock ledges that drops off right at the point (we called this area the hot tub), and on the other side of the point, a rocky area that goes out a few feet then drops off.  They tried them all out while I took pictures.

We had let Biscuit off his leash to see how he would behave.  I was pretty sure he'd take off and I'd spend the whole time there worried about getting him to come back.  It was a big surprise that we didn't have that problem at all.  He ran like a crazed thing over the whole site, but when ever one of us called he came right back.  Once swimming was over with and everyone was cooled off, we set up the tent and broke out the trail mix.  The plan had been to have Kraft Dinner for lunch, but we all decided to just nibble on snacks then have dinner.

Dinner that night was pasta shells with chunky vegetable sauce.  I only have one pot in the mess kit I bring but I decided to use the pot from my old rice cooker as a second pot/bowl.  Its the perfect size, except I need to get Chris to rig up some sort of handle.  I hadn't brought any oven mitt, or work glove and ended up having to use a sock to pick it up.  We ate supper on the rocks looking over the lake.  It was awesome.  Other than one fishing boat we hadn't seen anyone on the lake all day.

Little small mouth bass
While I did dishes, Chris and Sully fished.  We'd only brought Chris's fishing rod but next time will bring the kid's as well.  Chris caught a few small mouth bass, not too big, maybe 6-8 inches.  Sully had a bigger one on the line but it jumped off before he could get it in.  He's completely hooked on fishing now, no pun intended.  Chris lost one of his lures on a log but the next morning was able to get it back. As the sun began to set, the fish began to jump.  Some were good sized fish, others more like minnows.

Chris got a big fire going and the kids (I include Chris in this) toasted marshmallows.  We had brought their Grampa's Fire Forks...which worked well until Bubbie let her stick catch fire and the fire fork fell in the fire.  Biscuit kept trying to steal the sticks while they were toasting marshmallows on them.

Sunset on Fishog Lake
As it got closer to sunset Bubbie tried to film the sun going down but the memory card filled up before the final event.  Chris went to hang the food barrel and the branch he'd gotten all ready with the rope snapped.  By now it was pretty dark in the bush, but he managed to find another tree to hang it in...then the problem became the rope.  Dollar store rope isn't a good choice when hanging 30lbs of stuff in a tree.  The mosquitoes were also really bad.  I sent the kids into the tent with Biscuit while I put out the fire.  The problem with a huge fire pit?  It takes a crap ton of water to make sure the fire is out.  I swear I hauled 10 buckets up and even though I could pick up the logs, there was still a lot of crackling so I got Chris to do a few more once he got the barrel hung.

When we finally got into the tent, we realized we hadn't set up the sleep pads at all, which was not fun to do while the dog was walking all over them.  We got ourselves all sorted out and Bubbie realized she had forgot to pack sleep pants.  We had only brought small sleeping bags (the kids had fleece liners) so I let her wear mine and I slept in shorts.  We were all a little chilly that night.  Not bad, just enough to wish we had another light blanket.

I was thrilled to hear Whip-poor-wills singing!  As a kid, we used to hear these every night we could sleep with our windows open and I hadn't heard them in almost 15 years.  Everyone else was less than thrilled.  They found them annoying and kept asking when they would stop singing.  At one point in the night, there was one right outside the tent.  I could hear it moving around and singing a few feet from my head.  Around 10ish we heard what sounded like waves lapping on shore but there was no breeze and the lake had been like glass.  I got up and looked out the window.  It was two canoes paddling past.  I would not want to be looking for a campsite here in the dark.  There's no signs, you just have to look for evidence of prior use, like a fire pit.  We also had a few fireflies hovering around the tent most of the night.


Biscuit woke me up around 6, I didn't have my watch so I don't know the exact time.  He went out, did his business, then we went back to bed until 9.  Breakfast that morning was instant cookies and cream oatmeal for the kids, with hot chocolate.  Chris and I had a camp version of an oatmeal recipe I make at home.  The original is from the vegan cookbook Oh She Glows and is super yummy.  Chris had coffee and I had tea.  While I cooked and cleaned up, Squatch fished and lost one of Chris's lures.  He quickly got changed and went hunting for it when Chris offered to pay him $5 for the service.

Bubbie and I sat in the "hot tub" after breakfast.  This was the area right at the end of the point where the water was only about 6 inches deep.  When it's sunny, it's nice and warm.  It wasn't really sunny there yet, but it was nice to just sit quietly and watch a boat full of people swim on the opposite shore.  When Chris and I had explored the other day, that rocky ledge was covered in goose poop, so I'm not surprised these people were disappointed not to be able to use our site for their swimming.

Squatch got a lesson in knife safety from Chris so he could try whittling with the little pocket knife he got for his birthday.  He made himself a tiki while chris made a chess piece and a little surf board.  Bubbie and I did a bit of packing up of the things in the tent while they did this.  We had brought enough food for 2 days but weren't sure if we'd stay that long.  The weather was calling for storms on Sunday, and we didn't want to pack up and paddle back in the rain.

We had lunch, the KD we didn't make the day before.  The kids were going to have Mr. Noodles, but the rice bowl pot tipped and spilled half the contents on the counter.   I'd balanced the vital stove on a flat rock, but it wasn't quite big enough.  With no handle to support the pot, it was pretty tippy.  She ate the half cooked noodles anyway.

We decided to just stay the one night, and by 4:06 we were heading back across Fishog Lake.  Since I didn't know when the following day it was supposed to storm, we didn't want to risk it. We were a little more organized on the portage and I ended up just letting Biscuit run free across it.  He'd "attacked" the water so much on the short paddle he had to pee so bad when he got out of the canoe he ended up peeing on his leash.  Once we got to the lake, we saw that the water was a crazy mess of waves and white caps.  We probably should have pulled into the site at the river mouth and waited a few hours in the hopes it would calm down.  We had enough food to stay if we had to, but once we got out onto the water we couldn't turn around without capsizing so we just kept a steady pace, turning into the waves when they got big, but taking advantage of brief lulls to get us more in the direction we needed to go.  It took an extra 45 minutes to paddle than on the way in, but we made it.  Poor Biscuit had to pee so bad he actually settled down for the second half, and the wind kept the gulls from attacking us.

It was quite an adventure and the kids had a blast.  Once we made it to shore safe and sound, everyone was elated (not to mention relieved...especially the dog who leapt out and again peed on his leash.)  We all decided we have to do this again soon...only next time we'll keep the paddle short at least until Biscuit is a little more calm in the canoe.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day Trip: Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park - July 10, 2014

Chris and I did a pre-camping trip scout of the Fishog Lake campsites.  We put in on Head Lake at the access down the Digby-Laxton boundry road, and paddled across the lake to the Head River.  Head Lake is a fairly big lake, but it was nice and calm for our paddle.  We passed several rocky islands that were home to sea gulls, common terns and cormorants.  The gulls and terns were not happy with us for passing by, and dive bombed us repeatedly until we were well passed.  A few times we came close to getting pooped on, the birds having missed us by mere feet.

Once on the river, we passed a few cottages.  It's a nice little paddle, with no noticeable current to hinder our process.  A few minutes before we saw the water fall which we'd need to portage around, we could hear the rush of water.

The portage is no fun!  It's not marked except by no trespassing signs.  At first we weren't sure if that was where we needed to go, but I'm assuming the signs mean not to go off the trail.  It's a doozy.  It's steep at first, levels out for a little bit, then you climb and descend rocky hills with awkward footing, then go down a fairly steep hill to get to the put in.  The trail forks at the top of the hill, stay to the left for an easier put in.

You paddle a bit more in the river before it opens into Fishog Lake.  Chris and I spent a few hours checking out campsites.  Some were amazing, some were obviously never used as the fire pits were overgrown with grasses and ferns.  Some we couldn't even find.  I have an app that lets me download PDF maps and one of them is a map of Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park.  As we paddle, a blue dot shows up on the map to show our location.  As we went, I was using it to find campsites and more than once we paddled right past one without being able to tell it was a campsite at all.

Fishog is pretty, with lots of rocky cliffs, a mix of hard and soft wood.  When we told my parents where we were thinking of going, I said it was near Norland...their response was a sarcastic "Ooooh! Exciting." In all honestly, I had my doubts about the area even though I'd watched a few youtube videos

The deer and horse flies were pretty bad on some of the sites, and the mosquitoes were brutal on the portage and at few sites as well.  After the portage, on the way back, there was no breeze to shoo them away so we had to deal with swarms of them until we got back out to the lake.

Our thoughts on the area for the next day's camping trip were mixed.  If we could get one of the good sites, it would be wonderful but the paddle, though only a little more than an hour would be difficult with Biscuit if it was anything like our last time taking him in the canoe.  Also, the portage, short and not too crazy, would be utterly nightmarish with him dragging me up and down the hills.  I kept seeing myself sliding down a rocky hill, burdened down with pack and gear.

We debated the whole evening, and by the next morning, still hadn't decided if we were going to go there or find somewhere else.  We really didn't want the kids first time canoe camping to be a painful experience (for any of us.)  In the end, we decided to just go for it.  The trip log and pictures from that trip will be up in the next day or two.

Friday, July 4, 2014

TRIP LOG - Presqu'ile Provincial Park, May 19-20, 2014

Our usual Victoria Day Weekend plans got cancelled this year.  We normally take the Monday and Tuesday nights to go camping but this year, because of school issues, we couldn't take the second night.

We decided to still do a night, and originally were going to go canoe camping, probably at Kawartha Highlands.  It's not too far to go, and we could get to a campsite after a 20 minute paddle, then I started thinking about Queen Elizabeth II Wildlands Provincial Park...we were all set to go there when the night before I thought I'd see what sites were available at various parks for the night.  As luck would have it, our favourite site at Presqu'ile was available so we threw everything into the boler and headed there instead.

After a late start (having to reorganize everything that was in packs, then having wiring issues with the trailer lights...) we got to the park around 2 in the afternoon.  We were all starving, so we made lunch right away then it started to rain while we ate.  Lunch wasn't anything special, though it's one of the kids favourites.  Macaroni with canned tomatoes.

After lunch, Chris had a nap while the kids and I played various games from our rainy day fun box. Around five, the rain died off so Chris decided we should drive down to the lighthouse.  Then he took off with the dog while i got the kids ready.  We sat in the car waiting, not knowing where he was going or if he'd maybe decided not to bother with driving and ran to the light house instead.  He came back after ten minutes and we headed out in the car.

As soon as we got there, it started to sprinkle a bit.  We figured we could still take some photos so we kept moving towards the lighthouse.  Then the sky opened up and it started to pour like crazy.  We made a dash for the little covered shelter behind the lighthouse and watched the rain on the lake.  The water is such a range of blues here that it's quite pretty.  Then Chris noticed a rainbow, and a few minutes later, it became a double rainbow.  None of the pictures really pick up the second one, because it was really faint, but the main rainbow seemed to light up the water at each end. It really is easy to see why people could think they are made from magic.

Dinner that night was an adaptation of a recipe off the back of a Minute Rice box.  I'd made it all up ahead of time (substituting lentils for the ground beef) and dehydrated it since we'd originally planned to go canoe camping.  It turned out really well, and the whole pot got eaten up with no left overs for the dog.

We had a quick fire that night, and the kids and Chris toasted marshmallows.  Squatch's shoes had gotten soaked from playing down at the water, so we tried to dry those out a bit, but it didn't really work too well.  After the fire was out, the kids and Chris played some cards while I made up the beds then we all read for a bit and went to sleep.

I got up early the next morning and Biscuit and I walked all over the park for two hours.  Did I mention that when we first arrived, the site next to us had a Boler on it?  I talked to the man who owned it for a few minutes that morning.  We often see a Boler or Trillium on a trip, but to have one right next to us, on a mid week, off season trip when the park was pretty much empty was really cool.

Breakfast, once everyone got up, was oatmeal with coconut, Craisons and brown sugar for Chris and I, and cold cereal for the kids.  We also had tea and hot chocolate.

Packing up was depressing, because it ended up being such a beautiful day.  Such a short trip, but a good one.  It was just nice to finally be out camping.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Trip Log: Silent Lake Provincial Park, July 1-2, 2014

This was just a quick over night trip, unfortunately.  A few days before, we'd gone to Silent Lake for a day trip with my parents, just to have a picnic and let the kids swim.  The kids loved it there and decided they wanted to go back right away.

We arrived around 2pm, and picked out a site in the Granite Ridge Campground.  We'd stayed in the Pincer Bay Campground before and wanted to check out the other area.  After setting up the tent, Chris and the kids drove down to the beach and I walked Biscuit down to the canoe launch near our site.  From there, we followed the Lakeside Trail to the Pincer Bay beach, where I watched them swim and jump off the floating dock from a shady little rocky shallows.  The floating dock was one of the kid's favourite parts of this trip.  No other parks that we've been to have them, and none of the beaches we go to do either.

Once we got back to the site and I set up my new clothes line. SEA TO SUMMIT LITELINE CLOTHESLINE is meant more for backpacking or canoe camping, but I really wanted to try it out.  It worked REALLY well!  It attaches easily to trees by looping around and clipping back onto the rope.  The centre section of the line is two ropes and a bunch of black beads that you can use to squeeze the corners of things like dish towels.  It got pretty windy and nothing blew away.  I'll be honest, I didn't think it would work very well, and I figured I'd have to take a few clothes pegs with me.  I'm so glad I was wrong.  It's also small, comes with a little carry pouch that's attached so it doesn't get lost, and would be perfect for canoe camping or backpacking.

Supper that night was penne with chunky vegetable tomato sauce.  I'd dried the sauce, and it was fine, tasted like it had before I dried it, but next time, I'll do the vegetables and sauce separate.  I think it would have come back better.  While dinner was cooking, we ended up eating banana wraps because we were all so hungry.  These are just whole wheat tortillas with either peanut butter, Nutella or chocolate peanut butter, wrapped around a banana.  It was sort of like dessert before dinner.

While I washed dishes, Chris took the kids down to the canoe launch to fish.  They didn't have so much as a nibble, but blamed it on the fact they couldn't fish from the dock.  A group of guys were sitting there drinking and chatting, so Chris took them a little further down shore to a rocky outcrop.  Biscuit and I came down after we finished cleaning up, and watched for a while, and we saw a HUGE garter snake.  It must have been 3 feet long at least.  It slithered into the crack in the rock, then poked its head out to watch us.

We had a fire for a while until the mosquitoes got bad, then we went into the tent and played a round of Crazy 8s and then a round of Yahtzee.  By around 11pm, we turned out the lights and fell asleep watching fireflies flying all around our tent.  At any given time there were about half a dozen.

The next morning, I got up early (didn't have my watch) and took Biscuit for a walk.  We saw a deer while on our little walk, then we crawled back into the tent and slept until about 9.  Everyone got up then and I made coffee (in my new GSI Ultralight Java Drip), oatmeal and made my first attempt at baking in the reflector oven.  We didn't have much wood so we couldn't get a good hot fire going, but I managed to make some kind of cinnamon roll that wasn't actually rolled.  It was tasty, once we finished cooking the bottom on the propane stove because it was taking so long with the piddly little fire we managed to make.

Since I was distracted with making the cinnamon layered pancake thing, I overcooked the 10 grain hot cereal I was making for Chris and I.  The kids decided to call it slop...though it wasn't really sloppy, more like how I imagine it would look if you course-chopped a few kinds of rice then cooked them.  Another problem I'd had was I took only the kitchen stuff I planned to take for canoe camping...and now realize one pot and no mixing bowl probably won't work.  The Bisquick came in a pouch that made 6 biscuits so I used that but it wasn't really big enough.  Maybe if I'd taken an extra Ziploc bag it would have been better.

By noon we were packed up and headed back to the beach so the kids could have one last swim before heading home.

Silent Lake Provincial Park is a beautiful park.  The sites are hit and miss, some are wonderful, some are just really small, but the beaches are wonderful, the privacy is mostly good, and there's enough to do to keep the family from getting bored.  We did hear highway noise at night, and there's no park store to buy things you might have forgotten, but it's still definitely a place we will go to again.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Trip Log - Restoule Provincial Park - August 5-7, 2012

I just realized I reviewed Restoule Provincial Park, but didn't do a proper write up of our trip.

Chris's sister and her boyfriend were joining us for this quick two night camping trip.  We were meeting up at Chris's parents house north of Huntsville the day before for their annual family reunion/party thing.  In the past, a lot of Chris's family would show up and sleep in the back field in tents, there'd be a lot of burgers grilled and various types of alcohol consumed.  It's toned down a lot in recent years.   There's still lots of burgers and booze, but each year the number of people camping out in the back yard has fallen.  This year, there was us, Chris's sister and a cousin from the states who brought their little trailer. (It should be noted that the following year, it was just us...Everyone else would rather crash on whatever section of floor they can find inside...)

So since we were already going to be so far north, and Keri had to go back to Petawawa after the trip, we'd head further north and not make her journey any longer than necessary.  Restoule seemed like a good choice.

Chris's dad was upset we were leaving.  He didn't understand why we were going somewhere else to camp when we could camp in his back yard for free, but we had already made reservations (and nobody at Restoule suddenly remembers household maintenance they need help doing since two strong young men are there...)

I felt kind of bad for Matt, Keri's boyfriend.  He'd been having stomach issues the whole day before but swore he was good to go.  He's military, and has a lot of skills in the camping department, so I think it was kind of a let down doing front country camping, and he didn't even get to use his stove or gear because we had all our big car camping stuff.  He did start the fire and impressed the kids by doing it the way they always see in Youtube videos - with birch bark, twigs and a sparker.

The beach at Restoule kinda, well it kinda sucked.  Water levels might have been low and there were fire bans in a lot of nearby areas, so maybe it would be better with higher water levels.  The water stays shallow for quite a ways then drops down to sticks and mush.  Luckily for us it was a little chilly for swimming anyway so we didn't feel like we were missing out.

Dinner was foil roasted potatoes, little pork chops and vegetables.  We had banana boats for dessert.

Keri and Matt only stayed one night.  Matt wasn't sure he'd be able to stay the full time, so we kind of expected it.  They stayed long enough to do a hike with us (The Fire Tower Trail which was awesome but definitely bring good shoes...flip flops are not appropriate as I found out)  and left after lunch.

It was kind of sad for the kids I think.  They really like having other people camp with us. I don't really remember what we did or ate for meals after they left.  Probably spaghetti for supper and cold cereal for breakfast.

I'm not sure where the pictures from this trip are.  I'll try to dig them up but I don't think there were many.  Next time we go camping with Matt and Keri, we are going to canoe camp...we just have to get them a canoe for their upcoming wedding!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Trip Log: Balsam Lake Provincial Park - August 20-21, 2013

This was just a quick one night trip with the Boler.  Bubbie wanted to bring her friend camping with us,  so we just picked a spot fairly close to home, and brought the kids bikes.

For a last minute trip, we obviously didn't have a lot of choices as far as sites go and ended up with one of the back sites in the lakeshore area.  It was fairly close to the bathroom and the park store, so we figured it would be fine.  We'd actually put a lot of thought into picking a site.  Since Bubbie and her friend would be in the tent, while the rest of us were in the Boler, she was worried about being too far back in the bushes (not really a huge issue in Balsam) but since her friend is used to back country camping, Bubbie also didn't want to look like a giant wuss being out in the open.

Mostly, the kids just rode their bikes around.  Balsam is great for that.  There are so many roads through the campgrounds you can ride all over, and the kids had fun making their own little routes.

Supper was spaghetti, and maybe salad or garlic bread.  I honestly can't remember.  Only two memorable things stand out about this trip.  First, Squatch had some issues with his bike, and ended up getting left behind.  The girls showed up without him, and had no idea where they'd lost him. Bubbie and her friend had to go look for him, on their bikes while Chris and I went on foot.  I had a minor panic over him disappearing, but it all got resolved with no problem.

Second memorable thing was sometime in the night, I could hear the people across from us talking.  The grandparents had brought their two grandsons, and they had two tents.  One of the tents was a pup-style tent, and I guess the grandfather and one of the kids had slept in it, while the other kid was with the grandmother in the dome style tent.  For whatever reason, they didn't have the pup tent zipped closed all the way, and the grandfather woke up to an animal nosing around his face.  He figured it was a squirrel and swatted at it.  Turned out it was a skunk.  They ended up spending the whole night showering and washing bedding and clothes.

Oddly enough, none of us smelled anything.  Usually if a skunk sprays 10 feet from you, you notice.  I picked up a hint of it in the morning, but not very strong.  We woke up to a bunch of sleeping bags drying over the side of their truck's box.

We had spam hash and eggs for breakfast, did some more biking, then headed home.  The kids had fun, Chris got to relax a bit, and I was just happy to be out camping.   We didn't take too many pictures, but the ones we did take...well Bubbie's friend doesn't like having her picture taken I guess and she deleted most of them.