Sunday, May 31, 2015

Algonquin Park Canoe Trip Reflection

The Algonquin Park canoe trip was the trip I was the most excited for this year in Outdoor Ed. I kept hearing stories about past canoe trips and people saying how amazing and fun the trip was. I was not let down. The weather was sunny a lot of the time, the water temperature wasn’t too cold, the sceneries were beautiful, and the company was always enjoyable. Even at night I was never too chilly and I slept pretty well; which is something I always fear on overnight trips. I am really happy to have had the opportunity to spend a few days in Algonquin Park canoeing, portaging, and cooking and I would do it again in a heartbeat. 

There are many things that I have learned from this experience not only about canoeing, but also on how to have a successful and pleasant trip. For example, it is crucial to never panic in a situation where your canoe might be tipped over and you could end up in the water. Thankfully, that never happened on our trip, but it was definitely a possibility. While we were canoeing, it was decided that we would all try to canoe through these rapids that were shallow in some parts and had rocks sticking up. It was important that the steering was relatively perfect so that we wouldn't run into any rocks or other canoes. It was also essential that the person in the bow did not stop paddling in some points of the rapids. At one point, a canoe got caught on a rock and was stuck horizontally in the middle of the rapid while everyone else tried to avoid them. It was almost impossible to go slowly into the rapids since the water was being pushed hard, but as my canoe was trying to steer past the canoe that got stuck, we had just hit the tip of the back of the canoe which made ours turn a bit and get stuck on a branch at the side of the rapid. It took us a minute or two to remove ourselves from the situation by pushing off the branch with our paddles and bracing ourselves for the impact that we knew was coming from oncoming canoes that also couldn’t come in slowly. What we learned from the experience is that instead of panicking and letting go of the paddle, it is vital that you stay calm and steer away as best as possible. Kneeling while paddling will also help the canoe feel more secure. There are always the small things that people sometimes forget on the trip that they later regret. For instance, forgetting to reapply sunscreen will often result in huge sunburns that will definitely sting and make the trip a little more brutal. I learned that the hard way. Drinking water and keeping hydrated is also imperative, especially in the heat. Staying warm can often be difficult at times because of the wind or rain, so it is important to bring enough warm clothes and rain gear. Collecting a lot of firewood helps the fire last longer which is also a big factor in staying warm. 

There was never a dull moment on the canoe trip since there was always something that had to be done or taken care of. There was always food to be cooked, tents to be set up, canoes to be unpacked, or camps to be cleaned up. Everyone always had a job and they were all important. As soon as we got to camp and unpacked the canoes, my tent crew made sure to set up the tents right away before it got dark or started to rain. It would never take longer than five minutes, but it was sometimes hard to find a nice place to put the tent that wasn’t too windy but had shade, and had soft terrain that made it easy to peg the tent and the fly down. On the second night, it was more difficult to find just the right spot because there were rocks and branches everywhere, so we settled for a spot that had shade but the ground was hard. We could only manage to peg down half our tent which made our fly stick to the tent. We knew that if it rained we would certainly get wet, so we just hoped it wouldn’t. We collected most of the firewood either after we were finished a portage or at the camp, either way, there was always a lot that had to be cut. I remember from last year on the hiking trip, we found a lot of wood already cut up for us on the second night so we barely had to cut any at all. This year, we had to cut firewood every day and I did try to help out, but I’m apparently not so great at it since I take a while to cut one long log. I also helped out Mrs. Lalonde on the third day to fill up the water jugs which I assumed would take a few minutes. It took longer than I thought though; we canoed to the middle of the lake where the current was a bit strong so we had to paddle a bit upwards so we could make it back to camp. We had brought the two water jugs and a few pots. It took a few minutes to fill them all up and when we brought them back to camp, they were heavier than I thought they would be. All the chores on the trip were necessary but never too straining. 

The food that we ate on the trip was delicious and I probably ate better there than I usually do at home. It was important that all of the cooking crews made sure that their meal was healthy, full of calories to help keep warm at night, and made sure that there was an alternative for a vegetarian diet and certain allergies. It’s true that sometimes the food took a while to prepare and cook, but they were worth the wait. My cooking group had to prepare dinner the second night, which was stew. We had two pots full of veggies such as peppers, onions, and beans. Eventually we added the pre-cooked beef and parsley and everyone got served a good portion of stew along with some chicken noodle and onion soup that was already made. For Mrs. Trumpower, all we did differently was have a separate pot for her without any meat. Although we had started preparing the meal as soon as we had got to camp, it still took a while to finish since there were many vegetables that needed to be chopped. For dessert, we were originally going to make bannock with cinnamon sugar and jam, but there was some miscommunication with the ingredients and we ended up bringing out four different types of cookie boxes for people to eat instead. For lunch the next day, we made quesadillas which contained cheese, chicken, peppers, onions, and salsa or sour cream on the side. Since the chicken was already pre-cooked and the cheese was in packets, we only had to cut and cook the peppers and onions. On the fire, there was only enough room for two cooking sheets at a time which could fit 4 quesadillas each, so it did take a little bit of time to cook all of them. That was one of my favourite meals and everyone had at least one and a half of quesadillas. That day, after a portage we handed out our snacks which consisted of oranges, apples, and gummy bears. My cooking group was also in charge of breakfast on the last day. We knew that that morning was going to be the most stressful, so we got up extra early and started to mix the cream of wheat in two big pots on the fire. It took a while for everyone to come and eat because they were instructed to take down their tent before they could come down. The cream of wheat tasted very bland alone, but really good once brown sugar was added. As everyone started to come down to eat, we added the english muffins on the fire where people could pick them up and put jam on them. We had a ton of english muffins so some people even had thirds for breakfast.  

The gorgeous setting was the part of the trip I enjoyed the most. As we were canoeing along, my eyes couldn't help but wander to the long lake ahead, the mountains above, or the birds flying overhead in the clear blue sky. I go to Algonquin Park every year with my dad to go canoeing and I remember going to High Falls when I was younger and sliding down the water slide. Of course, this year when I saw High Falls for the first time in years, it looked smaller than I remembered, but beautiful all the same. The part I liked the least about the trip was the first time we went canoeing on the first day because the waves were huge and you had to rely completely on the person in the stern to steer at an angle where the canoe wouldn't tip over. I got soaked in the bow and I was constantly thinking about a video we watched in class about how students died of hypothermia after they fell out of their canoes in the freezing water. But it wasn't long before we made it to shore and portaged to a much calmer part of the lake where we eventually tried sailing, which was a cool experience. 

I think the main thing I would do differently would be to challenge myself more. I didn’t try the stern once on the trip because I wasn’t comfortable with steering and I was afraid I would slow my partners down. I portaged a 750m and a 350m portage with a canoe on my shoulders the entire way which I was proud of myself for, but next time I hope to portage an even longer distance with a canoe. All in all, I had a wonderful time on the canoe trip and didn't miss my cellphone at all! I hope to go on a similar trip in the future. 

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