July - August 2016
  • Day35

    Last day in Canada

    August 29, 2016 in Canada ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

    Up earlier than we needed to be this morning, but we used the time and headed out for a walk in Chinatown before returning to the hotel to utilise the late check out and shower.

    Once checked out, we headed for a walk around the city, through the Eaton Centre and down to the harbour front, before heading into the Blue Jays store so Ben could buy a souvenir baseball (and I got a baseball bat pen ☺).

    Heading back up Yonge for a cheap and quick dinner in the Eaton Centre, a final farewell frozen lemonade at Tim Horton's and a game of crib at Bar Hop (in which Ben lost one of my crib pegs...😟). As much as the frozen lemonade is amazing, it does have a tendency to result in crippling brain freeze, which won't be missed.

    We picked up our kit from the RCMI and headed to Pearson airport for our midnight flight, where a boring wait was made more interesting by the presence of the Canadian Paralymic Team flying out to Rio.

    After an epic five week trip, and with the promise of my own bed calling, I'm still not ready to go home and face reality!
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  • Day34

    Aquarium & Bar Hop

    August 28, 2016 in Canada ⋅ 🌙 23 °C

    A lazy morning this morning, with the luxury of a mattress (of sorts) in the tent cabin. We had a hearty breakfast of a CLIF bar each which is my favourite find of the holiday. It also became apparent that the sun had been strong on our last day of paddling, with Ben wearing knee high sunburn socks and v-neck! We said goodbye to Algonquin Outfitters and to our guide Vanessa with a chuckle - being British on immediate arrival at our first campsite I had offered her a brew, which she politely declined having to canoe back solo...divided by a common language as while I was offering tea she thought I was offering beer!

    Taxi back to Huntsville for more triple fudge brownie at the Whimsical Bakery before the bus to Toronto. The rather flustered driver was sure we'd be at least an hour delayed before we started due to 'cottage traffic' (those returning from their country retreats for the weekend to Toronto) and an earlier accident. It was more like 90 minutes in the end.

    This precipitated a brisk walk from the bus station back to the RCMI, quick change and straight back out for date night at Ripleys Aquarium - entrance, food , guidebook, photo and giftshop voucher for one price. While it was still full of children and still quite busy, it was nonetheless a fun night out. Lots of jellies and sharks and the chance to 'stroke' a horseshoe crab. It was rather overaweing in terms of the Americanised atmosphere which was a shame. The gift shop voucher was put to good use, with a cuddly turtle for me and a vicious cuddly camoflaged shark for Ben...

    We called in at Bar Hop on the way home, a grand microbrewery with a great rooftop patio. While Ben tried the home brew, I enjoyed some farmhouse cider and we both took advantage of Sunday's buck-a-shuck to try oysters for the first time.

    The kind people at the RCMI are letting us check out at 1pm tomorrow - a long lie-in in a real bed for the first time in over a week!
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  • Day33

    Last day in Algonquin

    August 27, 2016 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    A beautiful misty morning on Lake McIntosh for our final departure. After breakfast of eggs and bacon , we set out with the knowledge of a 2.5km portage looming early in the day's journey.

    The south of McIntosh Lake was narrow marshy channels which made for pleasant paddling and wildlife spotting before heading into the big portage.

    The ground was very undulating and rocky, but as it was still quite early the heat was bearable and the journey going well...until bloody mosquitos. About a quarter of the way into the journey, we were assaulted with a swarm of the biggest mosquitos I have ever seen. One of the buggers even bit me through my shirt. So we had a quick deet stop, spraying on more of the stuff than we've used all holiday. It mercifully seemed to do the trick.

    The rest of the paddle was very pleasant, down Little Oxtongue river with a quick lunch stop before heading back to the permit office on Canoe Lake for a pick up.

    Back at base, with all our kit returned (and no black pans!) we enjoyed our first non-lake wash in a week before dinner again at Lobo's as we started 😊
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  • Day32

    McIntosh Lake

    August 26, 2016 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Beavers, sodding bloody beavers.

    Today held a promise of wildlife - the best chance of the route apparently, and Ben was hoping for a moose.

    Up early and a second attempt at pancakes which fared no better than the first; so nutirgrain bars and
    chocolate chips for breakfast, before heading off Big Trout and into 'the narrows', which were considerably wider than most British rivers.

    On arriving into the marshland, while the view was great, the path meandered wildly and we battled with a headwind for most of the day. Nonetheless, huge excitement at seeing a family of four beavers close to the boat...little did we know.

    As we continued, the reeds narrowed the channel to a metre or two and the beavers had decided this was a good place for a dam...loads of the bloody things. Each dam requiring exiting the canoe and buffeting it over however we could, before rounding the next corner to find another one.

    The portages were heavy going too - clearly on a path less well trodden the roots, rocks and inclines made the 800m and 500m portages hard work.

    At camp, the day clearly took its toll, both of us feeling rather weary. We made the effort to go for a swim though before a lovely dinner of beef stroganoff and creme brulee, with a cheeky chipmunk joining us.

    We made a fire on the point of the site overlooking the lake and the sunset in the evening, and we're treated to another beautiful sunset and some bannock bread, as well as a little froggy visitor.
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  • Day31

    Big Trout Day 2

    August 25, 2016 in Canada ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Smores went down a great last night, despite getting marshmallow everywhere and subsequent concern that this might make us bear attractants!

    A lazier start this morning knowing we didn't have to take down the camp. A breakfast of "hash browns" apparently...which when dehydrated were rather more like small chips than anything else.

    We were heading out east on the lake today, to the marshy areas in hopes of seeing some wildlife. After paddling a few hours, seeing birds and frogs, we headed back to camp, against the sodding wind. It was a hard paddle along the north shore before crossing back to camp for a late lunch, thoroughly knackered!

    Post lunch, we toyed with more canoeing but opted instead for some swimming, first of all out of the canoe. Ben's first jump in submerged the entire canoe...swim to shore, empty and reset. Take two was much more successful and we had a happy paddle in the middle of the lake.

    The day was marred however by one thing - sunburn. Despite sunscreening up, and managing to avoid sunburn for four and a half weeks, my legs got caught on the canoe back and it really showed up in the evening. It looked worse than it was but my knees were a little warm.

    I went for a post dinner swim to cool my legs and Ben for a solo paddle. The water was so fabulous that we ended up out for about an hour. We were the treated to a beautiful sunset over the lake to round off the day.
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  • Day30

    Big Trout Lake

    August 24, 2016 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Best dinner last night - especially given the ease of preparation! After sitting around the campfire, drinking hot chocolate and playing crib, we retired to bed after we lost the sun (and a beautiful sunset).

    A brilliantly warm night at Otterslide - considerably warmer than the night before. All of this area of the park is inaccessible by road and therefore there is no noise and few people. As we went to sleep, the chipmunks and loons were calling; at least they were the only ones we recognised.

    A difficult start this morning...up earlier today and a promise of pancakes for breakfast but all went astray as our frying pan is so terrible I think even the oil would stick to it. Sadly abandoning the pancakes, we had porridge for breakfast and made our way to the Otter Slide. The frying pan is, surprisingly, still with us and not at the bottom of a lake...close call though.

    The day was spent paddling and portaging through the Otter Slide, a narrow marshy channel connecting two lakes, with a vastly different environment from the day before. Frogs and flowers the order of the day, sadly no moose. One little frog happily sat on the end of my paddle catching a free ride!

    Our longest portage yet at nearly 800m was an interesting challenge...We have a 2k portage to come on our last day. Hopefully our food bag will be lighter by then making it easier.

    Once again we bumped into very few people, and paddling through the marshland was incredibly serene, as we kept quiet hoping for some wildlife. The wildlife causing the most chaos was beavers - not seen but building bloody dams that needed negotiating somehow. Most common here are the loons, apparently territorially nesting in pairs on the lakes (and also on the back of the one dollar coin - a 'loonie'). Compared to the number of people we set out with, it is astounding how few people you see in a day here.

    We left Otter Slide at a very gentle paddle, and entered Big Trout Lake - wind whipped across here buffeting the canoe and raising waves on the water, needing much greater effort than the day had so far taken. With a bit of grit and determination we found a campsite on a tiny island in the middle of the lake. After a quick, freezing dip to wash off, the ants got the better of Ben and we decamped to the site at the other end of the island. Despite the wind, the weather has been stunning and the trip all the better for it. While the clouds have come over in late afternoon, they disappear at night to reveal a myriad of stars.

    We plan on staying here two nights, so with coffee in hand and dinner all ready to go, we sit now and plan tomorrow's route out and back. Dinner holds the promise of smores, which Ben is very excited about and has cut a huge pile of firewood for!
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  • Day29

    Otterslide

    August 23, 2016 in Canada ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    No alarm for today as we'd clearly be up with the sun...We woke up at 9am...

    Anyhow, more fresh food for breakfast of eggs, bacon and muffin, whilst disassembling and repacking everything. We both awoke to a few mosquito bites but as usual mine were rather more red. By the evening the one on my leg was a welt over an inch in diameter...bloody things.

    We headed out a little after 10am knowing we had an early and long portage this morning...nearly a kilometre with all our kit. Whilst it was exhausting and challenging, it was nonetheless fun and it out us on to Little Otterslide Lake.

    About four hours of paddling all told, the highlight of which was a channel full of water lilies which was beautiful. It is amazing how few people are around. While we knew the park was massive, the canoeing routes are so well marked that I expected more people. We've maybe passed a dozen people today but not had anyone paddling alongside us all day.

    Our arrival into camp was perhaps the most difficult part of the day. We had 11 spots to choose from and the first two weren't great. We headed to a third across the lake, with the wind on our left and to keep the canoe going straight was a real challenge! Eventually we made it, and now, having set up the tent, got the firewood ready and sorted out the rope to hang food from (like a well oiled machine), we're relaxing with some freshly ground coffee 😊

    Chicken noodle soup for starters for dinner (left over from lunch as we didn't want to cook...so lunch was crackers, celery and Ben ate a block of cheese), then curry & naan followed by strawberry cheesecake...
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  • Day28

    Lost Joe

    August 22, 2016 in Canada ⋅ 🌙 11 °C

    Despite the rustic and rural nature of the outfitters, we were awakened by our rather noisy tent cabin neighbours packing up for their trip. AO kindly laid on breakfast for us before the girls began packing our bags with frightening efficiency. With their expertise we were able to get everything into two, albeit large, bags. One was the food bag, with every meal in its own named and numbered bag, along with pots, pans and the like. The other was the kit bag - personal kit, sleeping bags, tent and a bloody great saw (for firewood).

    Our guide (we hired one for the first day only) had apparently got his dates mixed up. This was remedied by reallocating us a lovely guide named Vanessa. On the way out to the truck, I noticed a bunch of paddles signed by ULAS - small world.

    We headed into the park proper, paid up our permits, and set out on Canoe Lake aiming for Lost Joe. Initially we were with quite a few boats but this quickly thinned out. The wind however made for tricky paddling.

    The scenery was stunning. From big open lakes to rivers to shallow narrow channels, the sun shine and the vista was beautiful.

    We did have to learn how to portage with so much kit. This entailed getting a huge kit bag each on our backs, upending the canoe and resting the seats on the top of our packs...from the side we would have looked very odd!

    At camp, Vanessa showed us the ropes. A campfire already set up, we found a tent spot and we're shown the 'thunderbox' (toilet...sort of. A wooden box with a seat over a long drop...still more than I expected!). We had a quick swim in the lake before dinner which was surprisingly warm. For tea tonight, the luxury of fresh meat (lots of freeze dried coming up) - steak, broccoli, onion and potato. Despite the annoyance of an ever more blackening pan, the steak was delicious.

    Ben toddled off to cut some firewood and set a fire, before retiring for a game of crib and bed.
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  • Day27

    Algonquin Arrival

    August 21, 2016 in Canada ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    In order to make our way to canoeing, we had a reasonable journey ahead. We checked out of the RCMI whilst also booking in one more night there - our final of the holiday. We then headed to the coach station which was fortuitously across the road - not by planning! The bus was a four hour journey to Huntsville and with a bit of napping was perfectly pleasant.

    In Huntsville, rather than calling a cab we walked into the centre for lunch - this turned out to be a great call thanks to the Whimsical Bakery. This little cafe made us a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich and we bought dessert for later on - I had triple chocolate fudge brownie and Ben had a massive blueberry crumble. I am amazed they did not get eaten on the way to Algonquin.

    From Huntsville, we had a half hour taxi ride with a lovely fella named Jim who kept us entertained the whole way with war and weather stories.

    At Algonquin Outfitters, we were shown to our pre-departure accommodation - a four man tent cabin (but just for us!). We were then walked through every meal (I have never seen so much food), the route and the gear, including how and where to tie up your food to prevent a bear eating it. We were also briefed that our water for the trip was to come from the lakes, so boiling or purifying tabs were required.

    After trying to take in all this information and an hour relaxing on the Oxtongue Lake dock, a brief walk to locate some dinner was in order. Informed by the locals, we headed 15 minutes up Highway 60 to Lobo's who, apparently, do great pizza. While they did, and it was lovely, there wasn't exactly any competition!

    Back to the dock for the Whimsical desserts...safe to say we shall be calling in on our way home too! A few games of crib before bed and our first day of canoeing lying ahead.
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  • Day26

    Warriors Day

    August 20, 2016 in Canada ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Stepping off the streetcar it was evident we were in the right place from the number of uniforms in sight, and number of pipe and drum bands that could be heard practising. As the parade was in the same place as the Canadian National Exhibition, which began yesterday, we were unsure where the Warriors Day parade would be. In asking the very helpful desk, we were presented with free tickets. This turned out to be an incredibly nice gesture as it saved us the cost of entry to the whole exhibition, which we didn't realise at the time.

    We seated up for the parade and watched a huge, hour long procession of cars, tanks, veterans and bands from all over Canada and the US too. The number of pipe and drum bands was unbelieveable, with more bagpipes on display than I've ever seen in Scotland!

    Afterwards, we explored the rest of the CNE - it was like a county show but on a much bigger scale. Stalls, displays, livestock and fairground rides all spread over a huge exhibition area. We watched a 'superdogs' show of dogs and trainers, and then hoped to watch some acrobatics but it was sadly full. There was stall after stall selling goods from almost every country around the world, from first aid supplies to hot tubs and boats.

    Being back in Toronto, we were reacquainted with the blinding heat - dry, but inescapable - and by mid afternoon we'd exhausted the show and headed out for food. Being mercifully back in the land of Tim Horton's (and away from Dunkin' Donuts!) a frozen lemonade was in order.

    Dinner was a pleasant find. We went to Blaze Pizza which gave us an opportunity to 'build your own' pizza - think of a Subway counter but for pizza toppings. As many as you wanted for just $10.45 - more fun than it should have been and a cracking dinner.

    Now to pack and prepare for a week of canoeing in Algonquin.
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