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.