Shirley and I, Canoeing Algonquin
  For so many people, Algonquin Provincial Park is a familiar place, where they have spent holiday weekends and sometimes even significant parts of their youth. To me, Algonquin was a mystery, a somewhat foreboding place in the depths of the Canadian bush. An urbanite through and through, my interpretation of roughing it was visiting cottage country outside of Barrie. My youth was spent in the depths of Toronto.

I had paddled a canoe on a lake both solo and with brothers and friends. This gave me at least a rudimentary understanding. The word portage was alien to me, something I saw on television performed by mountain men or coureurs des bois. As for camping, yeah sure, we had a tent in the back yard and my uncle had even taken us kids to a provincial park in his pop-up on one occasion.

So what induced me to start planning a weekend in Algonquin Park when I had so little knowledge of anything primitive or wild? Mid-life crises, pursuit of enlightenment? Perhaps a deep seated desire to test my limits? No, it was Shirley.

I met Shirley at a friend's house and we hit it off right away. Shirley was my complement, the exuberant type, willing to try anything once and always ready for a new experience. I guess with my staid manner and sedentary life style I really needed someone like Shirley.

In a casual conversation with Shirley while stuck in traffic in Toronto, I just happened to mention Algonquin and how friends' tales of the park intrigued me, at least from a comfortable distance. That was enough for Shirley. She was off. We would take advantage of a few days we had planned together in June. We would drive up Friday, camp out the first night, then take off into the middle of the park wilderness. I wasn't really sure that I wanted to do this, but my mild protestations and sorry excuses were no match for Shirley's enthusiasm.

With the weekend idea settled, we both bargained for an additional day off on the Monday before Canada Day on July 1st to give us three full days. We had previously planned to kick back and just unwind on that weekend. No such luck. Fierce regimentation was in order for the next couple of weeks. My first task on this military like maneuver was to make a list of everything we needed and to determine where we might borrow, rent or purchase all of it. I consulted with a close friend who advised me as to what we might need and I was a little discouraged by the sheer number of items. At this point I started lining up my friends, acquaintances and even people I don't like whom I suspected might be campers.

Tent, bags, stove, water filter, first aid kit, rain gear, packs. On and on and on. Amazingly enough, everything started to come together. I sensibly decided to rent the canoe, paddles and life jackets, a very good choice for us "novices". Finally we purchased the last few items on the list. These included a few packaged camp foods in case our own preparations were unpalatable.  
  Meanwhile, Shirley was busy collecting the information we needed from the park and the friends of the park. She made travel preparations and reservations, and outlined our itinerary. She acquired the canoe map which allowed us to lay out our route. Of course we disagreed over the distance we would travel but for once I prevailed and our adventure was down graded from what I saw as an expedition to something we could manage, given our skill and endurance levels. We entered the park from the west entrance at Dwight and headed for the Coon Lake campground, which was chosen at a friend's behest, rather than for its ease of access. We drove endlessly through the park, and just as it seemed we would reach Labrador before the campground we came upon the side road which leads to the entrance.

My first challenge upon arrival was putting up the tent before darkness fell. I had tried a dry run with the tent in my back yard and I though I had a mental formula. Amazingly, I failed to break a pole, ripe the fly or skewer Shirley. Everything went together properly and we now had a shelter. I was proud.

  Maybe it was because it was the week before the Holiday weekend or maybe it was Algonquin's reputation for having man eating bugs (there were none) in the month of June, but we had the whole campground to ourselves.
  Algonquin can get very crowded so we felt really lucky to have such privacy but it also made us feel a little uneasy to be so alone, until we settled into the tranquility and watched the moon rise over the lake. We began to feel truly comfortable with our surroundings after Shirley built a fire and we let our minds drift with the rising smoke.
  Next Page: The Wilds of the Park


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