Dave Duncan

"Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway"

Archive for the 'Camping' Category

Algonquin Trip: Day Three

We got up at a good time, ate some tasty pancakes and started to break camp in a very chilly light rain. Because of the forecast, we were quite confident it would be short-lived. We were wrong.

After a short paddle we hit our first portage. 65m with a bit of a grade wasn’t bad, but by now, the bugs were out in force. We were really hauling. This portage ended with steep decline on rock that was covered in wet pine needles. For some strange reason, not one person fell.

A quick paddle across a pond and we were at portage number two. 570m isn’t too bad… unless the first 100 metres are straight up. We just kept climbing and climbing and climbing… I was keeping my eyes peeled for the Von Trapps.

Another short paddle across a pond and we hit portage number three. This is the one that will go down in the record books. It’s not that it was 635m, because the terrain on the portage wasn’t so bad. It’s that it ended in a shallow bog. So we had to walk out about 250 yards on floating ‘land’ before it started to sink into mire and muck. It was still too shallow to float the canoe loaded with gear, so we had to wade out (keep in mind it’s still raining and FREEZING cold) up to our knees (some of us, higher) to get the canoes out. Even then, once you were in, you had to push the canoe out of the goop with your paddle. Hard bloody work.

Portage four came at the end of a short lake, in a swamp. It wasn’t too bad. There was a channel through the swamp, but we had to pull the canoes over some obstacles. The map claimed it was a 40m portage, but I think that’s just their smallest unit of measurement. It was about 40 feet.

So here we are, wiped out from the bog, soaked to the bone, and shivering but we landed on a good site, and after I rigged a makeshift molotov cocktail out of my socks and some Coleman fuel, we had a roaring fire in the pouring rain. Some of the more enterprising (I guess that means ‘dry’) guys took down a standing dead tree and we cut it up for dry firewood.

Finally, we got all the tents up and started drying out our clothes and gear by the fire when the rain subsided and we got a few brief peeks of sun. We spent most of the evening kicking around our site, or sitting painfully close to the firepit for warmth and dryness. We had rigged some makeshift drying lines all around our firepit and kitchen, and it was starting to look like a makeshift ‘Okie’ camp from The Grapes of Wrath.

After some cigars and fireworks, we all went to bed hoping our last day would finally be sunny and warm.


Algonquin Trip: Day Two

At 5:30 I was stirred awake by people talking a few feet from my tent. Being the lightest sleeper on earth, I was forced out of bed to find Daniel and Duncan shivering by the fire trying to block themselves from the wind. They had spent the night in a large tent with a broken main door flap, so the wind had been buffeting them all night. Poor guys.

For the next few hours, we chatted around the fire and waited for the sun in the hopes that it would kill off the cold. When it finally showed up, it was still bloody cold, so we all ate breakfast, broke camp and headed off down the lake to our only portage for the day.

1810 metres from Rain Lake to Little McCraney Lake. I could probably make the portage sound really dramatic (because it was so long), but it was a breeze. Almost perfectly flat and straight. Mind you, this was where the mosquitoes had been hiding. In no time at all, we’d hit the water and after a brief paddle through the lake and a small channel, we hit the whitecaps of McCraney Lake.

Six canoes all latched together, and thanks to a tailwind and a little UW ingenuity, a large tarp became a surprisingly functional sail. They wouldn’t have won The America’s Cup, but it beat paddling all the way down the lake to our island.

When we hit shore, we opted to set up camp on the lee side to get out of the wind, and what a great decision that was. All afternoon we bathed and napped in the sun without the icy wind howling at us.

For dinner, we had pasta and garlic bread flavoured with TEN bulbs of garlic. Not cloves… bulbs. I think I’m still burping it up. The food was great, and we spent the evening sitting around the fire singing, talking and making fun of David Suzuki.

We all went to bed warm and with full bellies and had a great night’s sleep… which was a good thing, because the worst was yet to come…

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Algonquin Trip: Day One

After hauling my gear from Union Station to Yorkdale Mall, I had a little nap while I waited for my ride. With two full backpacks, a paddle and two drybags, going to the washroom is trickier than you’d think, so I paid a kid a dollar to watch my gear. Thanks, kid.

Fast forward to arriving at so-called Rain Lake in the dark. Four of us with two canoes were meeting another 12 guys on an island somewhere up-lake. The sky was crazy overcast, but the moon was so full that we had a TONNE of ambient light. It turns out that we needed it. We had a wicked strong headwind and a strong current fighting us all the way out to the windiest island that has ever been windy.

The island site was large with a giant chimney on it (from a former cabin) and the firepit was nicely situated in the windiest part of the site. I met most of the guys whom I hadn’t met before, set up my tent, sat by the water for a bit enjoying being out of the city, and when I went to bed at 2am, there were flurries.

Cold air + down sleeping bag = a good night’s sleep… usually. I would sleep only three and a half hours.



I have returned from the Great White North (there were flurries on friday night) injury-free, but with sore muscles, stinky wet gear, and a sore belly from laughing way too hard. Aside from the weather being total garbage (freezing cold, overcast, and partially rainy), it was a great trip. We had some beautiful lakes to paddle on, some great laughs around the campfire, a couple of good sleeping nights, and some awesome food. We even had some crazy portage challenges that you hate at the time, but end up loving for the stories.

For example, one portage went almost straight up for about 100 yards. Awesome. Another portage ended with a wade through a bog… an ice-cold bog.

Because of the weather, I didn’t get too many photos, but I’m hoping to compile everyone’s photos from the trip in my gallery. I’ll go into more detail on the trip in my entries this week.

Now it’s back to work.

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Keep Reading for a Hot Tip

In preparation for a canoe trip in a few weeks, I had to pick up a few things at MECca… I mean ‘MEC’. Now, a trip to MEC is less of an errand for me, and more of a feast of the senses and the imagination. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Mountain Equipment Co-op is an outdoor store with camping, cycle, paddling and climbing gear and equipment. It’s a little trendier than most camping stores, but it’s known for high quality and a decent selection.

Anyways, I needed some white gas (aka Coleman fuel) for one of my camping stoves and when I went to mec.ca to price it out, I noticed that my Apogee 3/4 length self-inflatable sleeping pad (thermarest) is being discontinued so it’s no longer $50… but is now $20. They weren’t selling them online, and they had no in-store information on the site. That warranted the trip on it’s own, but I also wanted to get a waterproof map case, some smoked salmon jerky I’d seen before, and a thermos.

When I got there, I was VERY pleased to see that not only was there an Apogee mat left… but there were dozens… so I knew that I could pass this deal onto YOU, my loyal readers and friends… or I could pick up two more for a set of four. 🙂 Since they’re still there AFTER the long weekend, I’d say you have a bit of time to pick one up, but don’t hold out too long.

I also found my 4L can of fuel, but the map case I wanted was nowhere to be found. Ditto for the salmon jerky. I would have been very disappointed but for a VERY pleasant surprise…

Back in the winter, after reading about it for a long time, I picked up an Orikaso plate. Orikaso is camping dishware that you fold together like Origami, so it folds flat for easy packing. MEC only had the plate at the time, so I figured I’d give it a try and see if I like it. Oh man, it’s cool stuff. I tried it with hot food, cold food, wet food and dry food and it’s awesome. It’s easy to clean and works like a charm. So I asked around at MEC about getting the bowl and cup as well. No dice. They claimed they wouldn’t see any more until fall 2006 or winter 2007. They couldn’t keep it in the store. Well, there I was… standing in the dishes aisle yesterday looking face-to-face at the cup and bowl. Schweet. I bought them both, and although I haven’t actually tried them out yet, they fold together like a charm.

On the way home, I hit up Active Surplus for a funnel (to get my camping fuel into my fuel bottles). There are few things funnier than the looks you get walking down trendy Queen St. West carrying a can of camping fuel and funnel in one hand, and a rolled-up thermarest in the other. I think people were expecting me to roll out my mat, start doing Yoga and then pour fuel on myself and light up in protest of something.

So… long story short, you can get a great sleeping mat for cheap at MEC, flat camping dishes are the bomb, and if there was an arson on Queen West last night, the police are going to want to have words with yours truly.

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Algonquin Trip Photos

I got my act together last night and posted all our trip photos to my gallery. They’re filed under ‘Camping’, and there are some great pictures in there. Steve went pretty hog wild, which I’m thankful for since my batteries died on me. I’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen on my next trip (more details to come on that).

You can see the less ‘super sexy’ pics of Steve there… as well as some pictures of our *ahem* homemade urinal (yes, that photo is staged), and the construction of the giant fire. Enjoy!

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Algonquin Trip: Day Four

Monday was all business. I had arranged to meet my parents in Bancroft at 4pm for a ride back to the city, so we had A LOT of ground to cover before then. On sunday night, we’d done some rough calculations about how long it would take us to scramble through our portages and paddle across the lakes and we decided for a 7am start (but wondered if maybe we were cutting things close).

We both woke before our 7am alarm and were greeted with an eerie sight. Our entire site and lake were shrouded in DENSE fog.


First thing, it was even up in the trees and obscuring the firepit that was a mere 20 feet from my tent. As we lumbered from our tents, we walked to the water’s edge to get a closer look at the fog burning off.


We blew through our hot breakfast, took down camp, loaded the canoe and were in the water… a full half hour ahead of schedule. The water was ridiculously still (which we hadn’t factored for in our time estimations) and our spirits were high.

We gunned our way through the first portage and came out over an hour ahead of time. In the river, on the far side of the portage, we encountered giant bullfrogs out enjoying the calm water. Sadly, we couldn’t catch one with our paddles, but we didn’t waste much time trying… after all… this trip was all business. No shenanigans… just hard paddlin’ and portagin’.

Hard work

We had a little trouble finding our second portage, but we were ready for it. I guess that day of rest let all the new muscles get settled in, because the portages got easier and easier. The second portage was the one with the fallen tree over the trail on the steep hill, you may remember from day one. Well, someone had broken the tree, but it still lay across the path. On our second pass, we rolled it (with some difficulty, and nearly the loss of my life) off the trail. That was our good deed for the day.

Even the last portage (the long one with the bog) wasn’t too bad. We knew all the side routes this time, and had established landmarks to keep us on track on how far along we were. The bog was wetter than it had been on friday, but we avoided the actual mud for the most part. By the time we got our feet wet in the last lake, we were a few HOURS ahead of schedule and only had some light paddling ahead of us, and a trip to the outfitters to drop off our canoe. So we took our sweet time on Kingscote Lake and soaked in the sun and scenery.

Kingscote Shore

When all was said and done, we got to Bancroft two hours early, and my parents were still 2.5 hours away at the cottage, so I got to dry out all my gear in a sunny park while I waited… patiently… sort of.

It was a great trip, and all the hard work was worth getting to our site on Scorch Lake, but in the future, I think I’d like to get myself into slightly better shape before portaging through the wilderness. Hopefully I can make one more trip this year, and if not, I’d love to pull off a trip in early spring before the bugs get bad. Maybe Jorge will have forgiven Steve by then.


Algonquin Trip: Day Three

Well, even God took a day of rest (mind you, He did a LOT more work than we did first) so we took a tip from Him… on Sunday, even. From the looks of things, rest couldn’t have come any sooner. Steve was starting to melt…


… and I was going into some advanced stage of shellshock… complete with the thousand-yard-stare.

The horror

After a cold, damp night, we fired up the stove and got some nice warm porridge and hot chocolate in our bellies to get us started, then we collected A LOT of firewood (more to come on this next week) while our cinammon buns ‘baked’ on the stove. Well, we started out just having the pan on the burner, but when the buns started to scorch, we got creative. Steve got the brilliant idea of using a pot full of water to make a double-boiler. Sadly, we didn’t get any pictures of the process or the final result, but it was both McGyverish, and very tasty.

We gathered MORE wood after gorging ourselves on baked goods, and then just sat around napping for a bit, and generally relaxing and soaking up the great outdoors. After a few hours, we decided to explore the lake a bit and went for a short paddle (in the strong sunshine) around our end of the lake.

We got back, and spent some more time chillaxing at the site and appreciating our HUGE pile of firewood (I keep building this up for a reason). We also started watching a red squirrel stealing pinecones from a tree by the lakeshore. Steve named him ‘Jorge’ and began to heckle him incessantly for the rest of the day. He would chew branch tips off to get a pinecone, letting the other pinecones fall into the lake below. I guess Steve was trying to encourage him to get all the pinecones using negative reinforcement to motivate him.

We watched a great sunset while boiling drinking water (the lake was too murky for my poor hand-pump water filter) and prepping our dinner. We spent the rest of the night burning our pile of wood and trying to melt rocks and each other, and to generate a pile of glowing coals so big and hot, it would still be going in the morning.

We went to bed after deciding that our trip home would be ‘all business’ and we would show those portages who’s boss. To be honest, I thought this was going to be my last night on earth. I fully expected to die mid-portage surrounded by trees, rocks and bogs… with Jorge nibbling my fingers off to add to his winter stores, and Steve heckling him for not doing it right.

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