August 2nd – 18th, 2016
The Big One. 17 days and 16 nights through the heart of the Temagami wilderness. Our longest, most challenging, most spectacularly scenic route to date. This canoe trip took us on a journey of over 250km through some of the most rugged terrain in the region, with abundant wildlife, magical old-growth forests, sacred spiritual sites and ancient portage trails in use for over 5000 years, through areas of historical significance in relation to industry and environmental activism, and travel upon 5 rivers and 31 different lakes.
PART THREE: What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
Alternate Title #1: For If We Don’t Find The Next Whiskey Bar, I Tell You We Must Die
Alternate Title #2: Home Is Where The Tent Is
August 13-18, 2016
Day 12: Willow Island Lake – Lake With No Name – Lady Evelyn Lake – Diamond Lake (20.9km)
Remaining Barrel Inventory:
Breakfasts: Rice pudding (x2), bacon (x6), granola (x2), oatmeal (x2), pancakes (x1), bannock mix (x1), coffee (1lb), peanut butter (1/2 cup), whole lotta dried fruit
Lunches/Snacks: Summer sausage (x2), pepperoni portions (x2), soppressata(x1), tasty balls (x2), wasabi peas (small bag), tortillas (x2 5-ply lumps), white bean dip (x1), corn nuts (x1 package), melba toasts (x4), rusks (x1, all crushed into breadcrumbs), instant miso soup (x6), Ritter Sports (x4), peanut butter cups (small bag), plenty of hot chocolate, tea, lemonade, and kool-aid
Dinners: Pulled pork (x1 with burrito fixings, x2 for with biscuits), Three Sisters soup (x2), Fancy Ramen (x1), chili (x1), ratatouille and couscous (x1), jalapeño biscuits (x3), cheese (1/2 lb), Shepherd’s pie (x1)
Booze: Wine (750ml), bourbon (600ml), Creamy Beige (750ml)
So, basically enough to survive for a full month if anything were to happen (with the exception of the booze, which will need to be rationed even more than it already has been). Barrel and packs feeling considerably lighter, but probably still heavy by anyone else’s standard.
The weather was cool and cloudy as we woke on Willow Island Lake. We gave ourselves a sponge bath after heating water on the stove, and jumped around afterwards trying to warm up. I was starving, so for breakfast I made rice pudding with a side of bacon. Bog Socks were still not dry from their wash the day before, and after packing up our tent and taking inventory of our food supplies, it was almost 11am before we left our campsite.
It started sprinkling as soon as we pushed off from shore. We didn’t mind. It was a nice change from the blazing sun and heat. We paddled north from our island as the rain fell more heavily, executed some tricky maneuvers to put on our rain pants in the canoe, and then took an easy 500m portage into a Lake With No Name (“been on a portage to a lake with no name, it felt good to paddle in the rain/it ain’t a desert, but it feels quite the same, ’cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain” etc) which was very pretty. The next portage was a bit bouldery but shorter than marked on the map thanks to the friendly neighbourhood beaver, and we waited out a bit of a downpour underneath our canoe at the end of the trail, sipping on bourbon for medicinal and warming purposes before sadly remembering that the bourbon rations were rather low. All songs sung on this second portage were about whiskey.
Entered Lady Evelyn Lake under a steady drizzle. Waves quite high for an open water crossing, but lessened as we entered a southern channel and searched out Indian Head rock. This was pretty cool – a giant rock that when viewed from the correct angle looks like a face in profile – and we left some tobacco on a small ledge before paddling south again. It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached the Lady Evelyn Falls and we were awfully hungry and cold so we stopped for lunch at one of the campsites there. Because we had seen “Falls” on our map, we gave the area a wide berth. Completely unnecessary. The Lady Evelyn Falls are more accurately described as the Lady Evelyn Foot-High Ledge, but I didn’t learn about the history of how a dam had changed water levels until we got home and didn’t check out the “waterfall” until after we had portaged 100m out of the way. Ah well.
We paddled across a channel of Diamond Lake to search out pictographs. These were the clearest and most beautiful paintings we’d ever seen! The rock chosen as a canvas was bright white, so the red paint was highly visible. We saw a moose, a war canoe, and what may be a rendition of Maymaygwashi (small forest sprites who live in rock crevices and play tricks on humans) or even the great horned serpent/underwater lynx Mishipeshu, more commonly painted much farther north by Lake Superior. We don’t like to take photos of pictographs, but we spent about twenty minutes slowly paddling back and forth beside them, trying to determine their meaning and leaving bits of tobacco under our favourite ones. Mishipeshu is known for being a bit of an asshole, so we left the most tobacco under this painting so he wouldn’t rise from the depths of the lake and swallow us whole. [If you’re interested in seeing these, here is a link to more information and photographs of the Diamond Lake pictographs from a fellow canoeing blogger and all-around cool dude.]
Saw some people camped on the western shore of Diamond as the lake opened up to the south. We had made good time today and were happy about our progress, and we chose to paddle west an additional 3km or so and make camp on an island. The first site we found was marked as being a nice big one on the maps, so we lugged all of our equipment up an extremely steep slope to the high site, nearly stepping in a mound of bear poop in the middle of a trail. We should have examined the site before dragging up our bags. There was garbage everywhere and mounds of toilet paper barely covering human excrement, despite the fresh-looking thunderbox located a short walk away. The wind picked up. I felt uneasy. Andrew felt sore, because he pulled something while unloading the canoe on the difficult takeout. I shuffled around, muttering to myself. I was not happy here, and told Andrew as much. He was annoyed with me because he had just carried everything uphill, but agreed that the place had bad vibes and didn’t want to stay there either, so we quickly brought everything back down to the lake and got the fuck outta there. The next site was found on another small island and this one had a much friendlier aura. It was also quite high up from the lake but the wind wasn’t as fierce and there was a nice kitchen area with a scenic lookout to the west. The rain halted briefly while we set up our tent and tarp, and then began again with a bit more ferocity as we made a pot of mint tea and rehydrated chili for dinner.
It had been a long, wet day and it was dark by the time we finished eating and washing the dishes. The rain continued all night and I woke up early in the morning, hearing loud noises and seeing flashing lights that were definitely NOT thunder and lightning. I roused Andrew in a panic and he told me to go back to sleep, which I tried to do but with limited success.
Day 13: Diamond Lake – Lain Lake – Pencil Lake – Wakimika Lake (8.2km)
Grey skies in the morning, but no longer raining. We realized that we were still a day ahead of schedule and had planned a rest day on Diamond, but we chose to alter our route and take several shorter days as opposed to one whole day of doing nothing. Instead of heading south through Small and Bob Lakes to Chee-Skon and Obabika and heading back to the truck the same way we came in, we’d be heading first southwest to Wakimika Lake, down the Wakimika River, across the top of Obabika Lake to Chee-Skon, and then take the Bob Lake crossover routes back to Lake Temagami. This would allow us to explore more and also avoid the long, windy, big lake route, with the added bonus of closing the loop without retracing any of our steps.
After coffee and breakfast the sky began to clear, and a police helicopter circled above us several times. Perhaps that was what I heard and saw during the night? We figured they must be searching for someone and wondered what had happened (after our trip, we learned a kayaker had gotten himself lost in one of Diamond’s marshy bays and was stranded for several days before being reported missing by his family). On the water by 9am on a beautifully calm and still Diamond Lake and under blue skies, we paddled to the far west side of Diamond to check out the remains of an old logging camp. Andrew really likes this stuff, so we explored the site thoroughly and then bravely ran away from a gang of bloodthirsty mosquitoes lying in wait to ambush us.
With about fifty new bites each, we paddled down the rest of the lake and had a snack at the takeout for the portage into Lain Lake. The ‘copter passed over our heads again. The portage into Lain Lake, about 400m long, had some steep sections and large ledges to step over, but was benign compared to anything on the South Lady Evelyn River and we completed our two carries quickly. As we loaded the canoe, we saw a group of very young girls with two adult leaders coming from Pencil Lake.
It was getting quite hot out again as we took the portage from Lain into Pencil and crossed the infamous Red Squirrel Road extension. This was one of the sites of the logging protests and blockades in the 1980s, during which over 300 people were arrested for wanting to save the old growth forest, including Bob Rae who had yet to become Premier of Ontario. [Click here for a timeline of the events leading up to the protests. For photos of the protests themselves, click here.] After crossing the road and taking a wide path through a birch forest, we paddled south through Pencil Lake and reached the Wakimika Lake beach where the protesters had camped, and where we would be spending the night as well.
A short and easy day, and a beach vacation?! That doesn’t sound like us at all. We were at the campsite by about 14:30 and couldn’t see anyone else on the lake. This is a popular destination so that surprised us a bit, but was absolutely fine by us. Andrew set up the tent under some trees while I hung out our sleeping bags and pillows to catch the breeze. The site was obviously well-used, but not as messy as others we had seen. Picked up some scattered wrappers and dismantled one of three fireplaces, using the rocks to rebuild the one closer to our tent and the larger one by the beach, and removed a toilet seat from the kitchen area using a tree branch and placed it next to the thunderbox in the back woods. I was about to collect a pair of socks from behind a tree when I heard the grumblings of angry wasps and ran away, unhappily leaving the socks where they were for fear of getting stung.
We whiled away the afternoon, sipping on sangria, washing our hair in a cooking pot, going for swims, and getting our tan on. I tried, without much progress, to even out the white sock line on my legs. My thighs were pretty brown from all the kneeling in the canoe, below my knees I was only faintly bronzed, and my feet were glaringly white. Not a good look. Dinner preparations began early as I had another 5-ply sticky tortilla situation on my hands, and we needed separate layers for a burrito-style casserole. Mexi-Bake has all of the same ingredients as burritos but is assembled to accommodate crushed and broken tortilla bits and baked in the reflector oven rather than rolled, and it is almost more delicious this way, eaten with salsa on the side and out of one shared pot with two forks. Well, the shared pot was so we wouldn’t have to wash more dishes. Pure laziness. Melted cheese is a bitch to clean.
The sunset and moonrise were enjoyed from the beach and the evening became chilly, so we bundled up a bit and had some hot chocolate and Creamy Beige for dessert, and then had a second dessert of a whole Ritter Sport before waddling off to bed fat and happy. I slept well, Andrew did not. He spent an uneasy night tossing and turning due to a developing Uncomfortable Ailment (what can only be described as a saddle-sore).
Day 14: Wakimika Lake – Wakimika River – Obabika Lake – Chee-Skon Lake (11.4km)
Andrew was extremely crotchety in the morning, which probably had more to do with his poor sleep and Uncomfortable Ailment than it did with the amount of time it took me to scrub rice pudding off a breakfast pot, but that’s what he chose to get cranky about. No matter. We were packed and on the water by about 9am, stopping at an island on Wakimika to check out a petroglyph site. We saw some faint etchings and couldn’t make head nor tail of them, but left tobacco anyway. It didn’t take long to reach the Wakimika River which was quite similar in feel to the Obabika but narrower. After a stupid argument about whose job it is to clean the coffee pot and who does more work and basically re-telling the story of Chicken Little with a camping twist, we lifted over a small beaver dam and then a larger one, the latter of which was cleverly constructed at the place of an old human-built bridge. It was before noon when we paddled out into Obabika Lake and the wind steadily increased as we tacked across the far north end of the lake to meet the Spirit Forest.
Some mental gymnastics were performed here. We wanted to camp on Chee-Skon, but the small lake features only one site and it isn’t possible to see if the site is occupied from the portage. Mulling and stewing over this intensely difficult equation, we eventually concluded that it was best to first portage the canoe and barrel, paddle over to see if the campsite was available, and if it was, leave the barrel and then paddle back to the portage, leaving the canoe at the far end while walking back to get our packs. If it wasn’t, we’d just have to portage back to Obabika with only one load instead of two. This all became clear after a nice lunch of sopressata and white bean dip with broken tortilla bits. Maybe we were just feeling stupid because we were hungry, or maybe the two weeks of fresh air and exercise were addling our brains. Anyway, it took us an embarrassingly long time to suss that one out.
Our plan was set in motion. The 770m portage from Obabika to Chee-Skon passes through the Spirit Forest, an incredibly magical old-growth red and white pine ecosystem which has been self-regenerating for thousands of years. The trail was not flat but it was wide, and when we reached the other side what we saw left us breathless.
Entering Chee-Skon Lake was like stepping into a different world. The water was turquoise and surrounded by tall cliffs topped with taller trees. Massive boulders littered the bottom of the cliffs. The place felt old, ancient, and mysterious. Very powerful energies here. We paddled in silence and awe towards Spirit Rock or Chee-skon-abikong (Place of the Huge Standing Rock) and felt so incredibly lucky to be viewing such a wild and beautiful place. The pictographs were different than others we had seen; strange symbols we didn’t understand. We left tobacco here and closer to the towering spire of rock we knew must be the Spirit Rock itself. Respects paid, we paddled to the campsite opposite the rock and went ashore, spending quite some time just staring at this awesome natural structure. I know I talk about good vibes and bad juju and all that sort of stuff which might be strange to some people, but this was most certainly a place which held some immense power, and we both felt that it could be malevolent or benevolent depending on one’s attitude towards it.
Leaving our barrel behind, we paddled back to the portage to Obabika Lake and walked over to collect our packs. We felt very fortunate to be able to camp in such a special place, but I was extremely pissed off upon returning to the site when I found several mounds of human shit covered in wads of toilet paper. How could anyone do that to a place like this?! There was a thunderbox and everything! Thunderbox notwithstanding, fucking BURY YOUR SHIT! It was sacrilege, plain and simple. Unhygienic, Unconscionable, Unforgivable. How dare they. An old-growth forest is not a toilet. And seriously, those rocks you threw over your pile of feces ain’t doin’ squat. Do people think no one will notice? Do they think it won’t affect the soil and the water? Do they poop on their living room carpet at home? /end rant
We spent the first half of the afternoon rearranging the wood pile and Andrew taught me how to split wood for kindling. This seems like a silly thing to say but my father never let me near the axe at home when I was a kid, so it was nice to be trusted with this tool. Andrew was still feeling miserable due to the Uncomfortable Ailment, too, so I felt like I should be helping out a bit more. After our camp was set up we put on our moccasins and wandered off through the Spirit Forest for a nice hike.
We took the yellow trail. We so rarely find ourselves with enough time to do things like go for hikes and thus enjoyed ourselves immensely. Speaking of immense.. the trees! Giant red and white and jack pines and spruce. Even the birch trees were enormous. It wasn’t just the huge trees that made this forest so special. The forest floor was covered in old downed trees that were coated in lush mosses and strange fungi; the air hung heavy and damp. Our moccasins hardly made a sound as we padded across the trail. Though the path was marked, it appeared that no one had been on this trail since perhaps some light maintenance in spring. No wonder they call it the Spirit Forest. It’s a living fairytale. We felt like tiny pieces of dust floating through an ancient world.
We lost the trail on our way back and ended up on the Mud Lake portage, from which we bushwhacked back to our campsite. The sun was sinking and casting a pink glow on the cliffs opposite our camp as we cooked up Shepherd’s pie and toasted the Spirit Rock with the last of our wine. An owl hooted as the moon rose (it was almost full by this point in the trip), echoing off the high narrow walls that surround Chee-Skon Lake. I slept so peacefully that I didn’t even notice Andrew tossing and turning and moaning due to the now-Unbearable Ailment.
Day 15: Chee-Skon Lake – Mud Lake – Bob Lake – Log Lake – Stiles Lake – James Lake – Virginia Lake – Thunderhead Lake (12.7km, mostly bog walkin’)
Grey skies at dawn. I woke feeling rested and strong, but poor Andrew had hardly slept a wink because he was in quite a lot of pain and was extremely uncomfortable as we drank our coffee and ate a horrible breakfast of crushed rusks dunked in peanut butter. I was worried about him, and said if we needed to make our way back to the truck somehow immediately we would do so. He didn’t want to deviate from the Bob Lake Conservation Reserve route we had chosen a few days prior, so we planned to paddle and portage as far as we could to be closer to the access point if things got worse. On a completely unrelated topic, if any of you ever thought mice were cute, as I was using the thunderbox at the campsite a mouse scurried under my butt, ostensibly to munch on last night’s corn. Filthy varmints.
The portage into Mud Lake was, unsurprisingly, muddy. The trail was roughly 800m long and reasonably flat and easy until the put-in, where I took a misstep on a log and sunk in thigh-deep into a stinky puddle. After pushing our canoe out from shore, we paddled north and determined that Mud Lake gets a bad rap as it really was quite pretty if you weren’t floundering in the mud with a heavy pack. We met with a mother-daughter canoe team at the portage into Bob Lake and exchanged pleasantries before Andrew carried his pack and I took the barrel over the portage. Just before we reached Bob Lake with this first load, disaster struck. The bubble burst, so to speak, and my poor darling fiance was hopping around buck-naked on the trail in a panic. This was getting us nowhere, so I quickly ran back to Mud Lake to retrieve my pack which contained the first aid kit and once I made it back to Andrew, I handed him alcohol swabs, sterile saline solution for rinsing, and gauze with liberal applications of polysporin. I was not allowed to assist with the dressing of the wound so I made my way back once more across the portage to retrieve the canoe and Andrew’s day pack. This will probably make me sound like a chump but it’s very rare that I’ve hoisted the canoe on my own. I suppose my adrenaline was flowing because I succeeded in awkwardly lifting the canoe, crawled underneath it and carried it to the other side. By this time I was starving from all the exercise and excitement and I munched on some pepperoni while he finished tending to his wound. I do not lose my appetite easily.
Andrew was feeling much better after his horrible and embarrassing ordeal and was no longer in pain. We had a strong medicinal swig of bourbon before paddling north on Bob Lake under a light drizzle and turning east towards our next portage of the day into Log Lake. This portage crossed a logging road (duh) and was less than 100m in length. We paddled across Log through the rain and spied an old cabin on the far eastern shore. Older reports stated that this cabin was a complete mess, but when we went ashore to investigate we found that it had been outfitted with a new roof and was very tidy. Andrew opened the storm door to get a closer look and noticed a working clock inside, displaying the correct time, and was decorated with new and clean furniture. It was obvious to us that somebody reclaimed the cabin and restored it, probably as a hunting or fishing camp, as it would be accessible by ATV on the old logging road nearby. Nicer to have it spruced up than let it rot, we supposed.
The next portage, into Stiles Lake, was somewhere between 500 and 600m depending on which map we looked at. It was a bit overgrown but nice and flat, with a small boggy section in the middle. We had a quick snack at the end of the portage before heading across the lake to the next portage that began with about 100m of boot-sucking muskeg, which we pushed and poled through until we were completely stuck and then leapt from twig to twig to bush with our packs to reach the trail proper. I found some fallen trees by the trailhead and dragged them back over the muck to create an improvised corduroy bridge so it would be easier for Andrew to portage the canoe across the bog, and after that we completed the ~220m portage quickly.
James Lake was quite striking as the water was ringed with smooth, orangey-red rocks that looked like something out of a Salvador Dali painting minus the melting clocks, and we stopped at the next portage to filter some water because we hadn’t wanted to clog up our filter on muddy Stiles Lake and were very thirsty. It had stopped raining at some point and patches of blue sky began to appear. The portage from James to Virginia Lake was much longer – anywhere between 1000m and 1300m, once again depending on the source – and though narrow, it was only steep at the put-in and not all that difficult. There was a small waterfall flowing into Virginia just before the end of the portage, which we checked out on our way back across the trail.
After completing our double carry, we decided to check out the campsite on Virginia after paddling through the shallows. The first part of the lake was surrounded by mature jack pines and some lovely adorable boggy mats that supported a healthy population of pitcher plants. The campsite was quite nice but very small, and since we were still feeling good we chose to paddle further east and take on one last portage before ending the day. A frog decided to hitch a ride in the canoe after I nearly stepped on it on the Virginia Lake campsite. The poor thing found itself in a whole new world when Andrew lifted the canoe and dumped it in the lake at the next takeout. We carried through some mud (bogs were order of the day, I suppose) and a large birch stand for about 400m to Thunderhead Lake, and on our way back a feisty pine marten barked at us from its perch in a tree. It was neat to see a marten in the summertime; they’re much easier to spot in the winter when their brown coats stand out against the snow. We chirped back at him for a minute before leaving him be and before long we were paddling across Thunderhead with the sun sinking slightly behind us.
The one site on Thunderhead was absolutely lovely. The ground was carpeted in soft mosses, there was a proper double three-wall fireplace that was so sturdy it could have been made out of brick, an almost-level tent pad or two, and a family of inukshuks built on a high point just east of the kitchen area. We sat down for a bit and had a little nip of bourbon before setting up our camp, and as the sun went down the temperature dropped considerably so we sat right next to the fire while we heated up some Three Sisters Soup and baked biscuits in the perfect firepit. We treated ourselves to another full Ritter Sport and some hot chocolate with Creamy Beige for dessert. It was a perfect end to a day that began so poorly, and I read more of The Cabin to Andrew in our tent before we drifted off to sleep.
Day 16: Thunderhead Lake – Sharp Rock Inlet – Napoleon Portage – Sandy Inlet, Lake Temagami (13.6km)
I used the weather forecast feature on the InReach for the first time this morning. 50% chance of torrential downpour. 50%?! So, maybe, maybe not? Informative. Thunderhead was not living up to its name. We had packed up the tent and were having oatmeal and bacon for breakfast (a weird combo but somehow awesome) when it started to drizzle a bit, so we stayed under the tarp for a few minutes before packing that up too and loading the canoe.
The portage from Thunderhead to Sharp Rock Inlet on Lake Temagami was just over 300m and fairly flat and straighforward. There isn’t too much elevation change on any of the portages through the Bob Lake Conservation Reserve with the exception of the steep landing to enter Virginia Lake which made this section of the trip pretty easy. We liked to think we were just becoming stronger and better portageurs and that’s why we weren’t struggling much, but I’m not sure that’s the truth as our packs were lighter and we had certainly lost a bit of weight. We were looking pretty scrawny as we paddled up through Sharp Rock Inlet and searched for pictographs on our way towards Beaver and Deer Islands. We checked out a couple campsites on Lake Temagami, including one that held ruins of the old Lady Evelyn Hotel (some old rusty bed frames and bathtubs), but they all had too much furniture and garbage for us to enjoy a night there. As we left the site, an Ontario Provincial Police boat stopped us and asked if we had our PFDs. Sheesh. Day 16 and 200+km into our trip and we’re getting stopped by the cops. Yes, officers, we have our PFDs. What a ludicrous experience that was.
We heard a few grumbles of thunder and headed ashore at the Napoleon Portage. We had wanted to stay somewhere in the north end of Lake Temagami this evening but because we couldn’t find a site to our liking, we chose to carry over the Napoleon into Ferguson Bay. This portage, approximately 800m long, was not exactly Napoleonic. Yes, the put-in is steep and it would be difficult heading east to west, but the steep portion is only about 50m long and the rest of the trail is wide and easy to follow. After our days on the South Lady Ev, our perception of difficult portages was completely altered. To us, the Napoleon was a cakewalk.
The bourbon supplies were low, so we joked about making it back to the truck for a beer run on our last night. I didn’t really want to make it back to the access point so soon, but for some reason we just kept paddling and portaging, getting closer to the truck with every step and paddle stroke. Upon hearing more thunder, we paused on a tiny campsite and set up a tarp to wait out a storm we believed was imminent, but it didn’t come, and in time we set off again to Sandy Inlet.
How anticlimactic. We were a day ahead of where we had planned to be and back at the access point and civilization much too early. We weren’t expected at the lodge until the next night, so we tried to find the cleanest campsite at Sandy Inlet which was easier said than done. The beach was a mess. Everywhere I looked I found garbage and toilet paper, cigarette butts and aluminum foil, stumps of live trees that had been cut for bonfires, spent fireworks and plastic and broken glass and bits of old rope and tent poles. We went for a beer run up to the truck and found that our stash was remarkably cold for sitting in a cooler full of water for over two weeks, which was very nice. The cooler was brought down to the beach and the beers were a wonderful treat, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of extreme sadness. I sat down in my chair and looked out at the lake while Andrew did everything: set up the tarp and tent, hung out some clothes, and generally tried to make me comfortable. I began obsessing over the state of the fire pit. It was a giant rockpile, full of trash. I began rearranging the rocks into a three-wall only to discover that I was building it right over a veritable garbage pit. Frustrated, I moved the rocks again, and then burst into tears.
I wasn’t ready for our trip to end so suddenly. It was our last night in paradise and we were camping in a landfill. Andrew didn’t know what to do with me… He had tried to make me comfortable by setting everything up but I was so upset that I yelled, “I hate this place!” and sat down in the sand, bawling. The amount of trash was overwhelming, and so was the notion that our journey was over. We shouldn’t have pushed so hard the last few days. We should have taken our time and slowed down so our last night in the wilds would be more special. I was so miserable.
It began to rain as we boiled up water for Fancy Ramen, so we retreated to our tarp shelter to eat. The rain came down hard, and we saw lightning flash menacingly to the north. The weather on our trip had been damn near perfect, and I relished the thunderstorm as it matched my gloomy mood. It didn’t last long, however, and the full moon appeared over the lake before we retired to our tent. From new moon to full moon we had been out living in the backcountry and travelling through the wild places. It was a shame our last night was spent in a place where other people had no appreciation for the natural environment we loved and cared for so greatly.
Day 17: Sandy Inlet, Lake Temagami (1km – we had to go for one final paddle from the beach to say goodbye)
The storm brought in heaps of fog on our final morning. We couldn’t see the lake from the beach! Not a breath of wind as we made coffee and rice pudding, and we sat on the beach staring out into nothingness. Slowly, we tended to the campsite; filling two full garbage bags with tiny scraps of foil, rope, bread tabs, and cigarette butts. We couldn’t do anything about the feces and toilet paper in the backwoods.
After a few hours of maintenance, the fog lifted and after portaging our gear up to the truck, we walked back down to the beach for one last paddle. We went for a quick tour of the bay and a swim before loading the canoe onto the roof rack and driving down the Red Squirrel Road back to the town of Temagami. The highway left me a bit shell-shocked. We went to the LCBO to buy beer for our last night at the lodge, and the air conditioning gave me goosebumps. We grabbed a burger and poutine at a roadside stand and chewed in silence, staring at all the people and dogs and vehicles racing around. Before long I had had enough of the bustling metropolis of Temagami (population: 840) and so we drove back to the lodge.
I felt happier once we reached Smoothwater again. It was nice to see Johanna and Francis and some other people that were setting up their tents on the lawn in preparation for an upcoming trip. We wandered down to the dock and placed some phone calls – we had to share our engagement news with our families – and then we showered and went back to the main building for an amazing dinner cooked by Johanna and Francis. We had grilled steak, homemade gnocchi with garlic scapes and cream sauce, several salads, and red cabbage. We talked with Johanna for quite some time and later that evening her father, John Kilbridge of Temagami Canoe Company came by to visit. We had a wonderful time talking with him about canoes, wannigans, and the genius of the tumpline; the magnificent and laborious portages on the Lady Evelyn River; his work cleaning can dumps in the 1970s and his portage maintenance today; our shared anger and disgust at the lack of knowledge about how to shit in the woods; how many brass tacks go into building a cedar-canvas canoe (2000) and how many times each tack must be struck (4-5); folk music and Stan Rogers; our love for Temagami. After several hours of fabulous conversation we made plans to visit his shop on our way out of town in the morning, and we were off to bed.
Temagami is a place of special magic. It’s rugged, wild, ancient, and bewitching. The old-growth forests are majestic and imposing. The portages are precarious, the waterfalls exquisite, the lakes clear as glass. The canoe routes and nastawgan here have been in use for over 5000 years. One feels small and insignificant in this place, a brief passerby through a primordial world of colossal trees and tumbled rocks; deep-water-by-the-shore. We will keep coming back to explore this vast wilderness year after year. There’s nowhere else quite as bewitching to us as the mysterious landscape of wild Temagami.
Far in the grim Northwest beyond the lines
That turn the rivers eastward to the sea,
Set with a thousand islands, crowned with pines,
Lies deep water, wild Timagami:
Wild for the hunters roving, and the use
Of trappers in its dark and trackless vales,
Wild with the trampling of the giant moose,
And the weird magic of old Indian tales.
All day with steady paddles toward the west
Our heavy-laden long canoe we pressed:
And saw at eve the broken sunset die
In crimson on the silent wilderness
-Archibald Lampman (1861-99)