There’s a map of Algonquin Park on the wall of my wife’s parents’ cottage. This makes sense. My in-laws’ cottage is on Canoe Lake and Canoe Lake is smack in the middle of Algonquin. Between stays at their lease and my years spent as a staff member at Camp Ahmek (also on Canoe Lake) I’ve been lucky enough to have been a regular visitor to the Park for the past couple of decades. Which is why, in the spring of 2016, that map started to bother me.
See, Algonquin Park is huge. It’s bigger than 11 European countries. It’s bigger than 2 U.S. States (take that Delaware). Heck, it’s even bigger Prince Edward Island, albeit with fewer potatoes. And it’s bigger today than it was when it was established back in 1893. Like a large gelatinous blob rolling downhill, various chunks of land have been added on to the Park boundaries over the years. And inside those boundaries there are lakes. Like, a ton of them. Over 1,500 to be inexact. And stretching between those lakes are thousands of kilometers of portage, river and creek (as well as quite a few soul sucking swamps that the map says are supposed to be portages, rivers or creeks). That’s a lot of area to cover. And, as of spring 2016, I’d barely seen any of it.
Which is what was bothering me.
It seemed like a waste. Here I was in the middle of one of the most beautiful and accessible pieces of wilderness in the country, and it had been years since I’d been further away from highway 60 than Joe Lake.
That needed to change.
I set a goal that year to paddle 100 of the Park’s lakes over the next 100 days. I started off with day trips to the lakes around Canoe Lake then added in some overnight and two day trips that took me a bit further away. I hit my goal, getting to the 100 mark 97 days after I started, but, to be honest, it’s kind of a miracle that I did.
While I’d done a decent amount of tripping in the early 2000s, including an incredible 35 day trip through Quetico Park back in 2004, it had been over a decade since I had done anything more ambitious than take a morning paddle up to Drummer Lake. To say I was unprepared to get back into proper canoe tripping would be like saying I’d be unprepared to start a career as a moose whisperer. It’s not just an understatement. It would have to dig upwards through three miles of crap and poor planning just to get high enough to become an understatement. However, what I lacked in preparedness I made up for with unearned confidence. Boatloads of it. I had no idea how much I didn’t know. So I grabbed my paddle, threw my pack in the canoe and headed out.
This was not the best plan.
While the full-scale disasters were (thankfully) few and far between, the rookie mistakes came on like Vin Diesel, fast and furious. I forgot equipment, didn’t pack enough food (or any food in one case) and dramatically overestimated both the distance I could travel and my fitness level. In short, I had a lot to learn.
There were simple things, like what gear I needed. Basic planning concepts, like the fact that 10 kilometers on a map looks a lot different when you’re sitting at your kitchen table than when you’ve still got that far to travel at the end of an already long day. And then there were the bigger lessons, the ones that could have ended up with much more serious consequences, like when and how to roll the dice against an oncoming thunderstorm (spoiler alert: the answers are never and don’t).
Over the past few years I’ve come face to face with each of these situations, along with quite a few others that I, quite frankly, hadn’t given any thought to before they happened. That’s where this site comes in. I’m not an expert. But I have made enough mistakes to fill a website (like this one!). And, fortunately, I’ve learned a lot from those mistakes. In fact, it seems like every trip I do gives me the opportunity to learn something I probably already should have known (for example, it turns out that packing a map is an important part of your trip plan. Who knew?).
The good news is that it’s not all bad news! The past few years have also given me hundreds of wonderful and enriching experiences, the kinds of which you’re just not going to find anywhere else. Algonquin is an incredible place. You can paddle along its waterways for weeks and still not see everything there is to see. I’ve crossed lakes of every size, from bodies of water that are little more than oversized puddles (looking at you South Canisbay) to whatever adjective you want to use to describe the immensity of Opeongo*. *Immensity works* I’ve cursed my way up creeks, dragging over beaver dams and across mud flats, and had the current carry me down wider rivers at the end of a long day. I’ve found waterfalls, swimming holes, jumping cliffs and rope swings. I’ve visited historic sites, tripped over artifacts from the Park’s early days and stepped inside the crumbling ruins of old ranger cabins and saw mills. I’ve seen moose, bear, otters and many of the Park’s other animal inhabitants, and I’ve questioned loudly and angrily why beavers have to be such goddamned efficient engineers.
Each of these experiences, good or bad, has taught me something. My hope is that in sharing the triumphs and mistakes with you, and the lessons I took from them, it will help you be better prepared to experience the joys, and face the challenges, that come with tripping in Algonquin Park.