Town Mouse Portaging
A city dweller’s guide to surviving — and enjoying — a canoe trip among the great outdoors.
Published: June 19, 2013
Poor Mark was beat after having stayed awake throughout the night, driving toward this yearly respite. At some point later in the day he ended up nodding off, his head propped up on a boulder.
As dusk settled in, Mark and his one friend set up their pup tents while his other friend and I searched for firewood.
That night, with our camp made and a fire lit, the bacchanalian steakfest commenced. The three friends enjoyed their meat while trading memories of funny moments from previous years’ trips. As a stranger in a strange land, I just took it all in — as well as a shot or two of the communal bourbon; some liquid courage and I felt sufficiently ready for what lay ahead.
The next morning I learned, first-hand, what the dictionary had weakly tried to describe. Rucksacks on our backs, the pairs of us grabbed our canoes out of the water and carried them — overhead — about one kilometer to the next launch point.
It was hot, muggy, and for anyone who has ever trekked in damp, bug-laden forest during summertime, add the weight of a rucksack and canoe, and you know this trip was not for the physically faint of heart. Yet, I also dug the appeal of its ruggedness. It was prototypical self-dependence. No valet was coming to carry the canoe. No tiki bar waiting at the next beach. Making it to the next leg of the journey, we headed off.
Mother Nature’s Opus
Algonquin is truly an amazing place. Pristine, expansive — the park covers 2,946 square miles — and bio-diverse. Its Earth science attributes include glaciofluvial landforms, formed by meltwater channels during past glacial drainage, according to the Friends of Algonquin Park website.
The park is an example of a typical ice stagnation environment, born from glacial encompassing and retreat; it holds surficial features like eskers, terraces, deltas, outwash plains, sand dunes, beach ridges, meltwater channels and boulder deposits.
According to park geologists, Algonquin also contains the largest kame-moraine complex in the region. There is also a fault canyon (Barron Canyon)and Brent Crater, which was formed by a meteorite strike.
The area’s latitudinal position resulted in southern hardwood forests merging with northern coniferous forests, creating a diverse presence of birds from both timberlands. Outside of New York’s Central Park, I don’t know another place in the Northeast where such diversity exists in such a concentrated area — more than 272 different species, according to park geologists.
More than 50 species of mammals have been recording within the park’s boundaries, too, most of which we thankfully had no encounter with. There was the thrill of seeing a brown bear cub picking berries adjacent to the shore during one of our canoeing commutes. The majority of game animals one could see include moose, white-tailed deer, beavers, black bears and wolves.
With all those mammles, the fear of becoming a news clip with the title, “When Animals Attack,” was never too far from any of our minds. Each night, after we’d let the fire die out, one of us would make sure our foodstuffs were securely hung by rope, along a tree branch, off the ground. However, those asshole raccoons reminded me there was little room for error when I left an errant orange in my rucksack one night.
While we never did any fishing, the park has more than 1,500 lakes, 930-plus miles of streams, and countless ponds and bogs. Park geologists say more than 50 different species of fish live inside Algonquin’s boundaries; the two largest fisheries are brook and lake trout but other species, such as
Smallmouth bass, lake whitefish, yellow perch, northern pike, muskellunge and walleye also call the park home.
After that first 24 hours, and my baptism by fire had concluded, I allowed myself to drink in Algonquin’s splendor. From the call of the loons during dusk to the amazing nighttime sky, where the absence of light pollution gives you an unrivaled view of the Milky Way, the trip became for me what my fellow portageniks had crowed about: wondrous, physically laborious and friendship-enduring.
I am still a town mouse, but by the end of the trip there was no question in my mind as to why my country mice friends looked forward to this trip each year. The sense of peace that nature instills, a feeling of accomplishment from tackling the physical demands that portaging asks, and the inherent education associated with living off the land, are all aspects of life no town mouse should ever go without knowing.
Would I do it again? Probably.
Would I recommend it? Without a doubt, yes.
Bryan Gottlieb is the editor-in-chief of Metro Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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