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.