Up the Creek with a Paddle but no Brains
     An epic story of survival and moronic behavior in the Kawartha Highlands

 

 


A sense of excitement filled the air as I made my reservations for a fibreglass Prospector canoe at my local outfitter. The destination was decided, the equipment ready and the only thing left was to finalize my partner for this 2 day excursion. My regular partners were either out of town or had prior commitments but that was ok because I remembered an aquaintance of mine who was always begging me to take him on my adventures. He claimed to be a great lover of the outdoors and was really into fishing. Thirty seconds was all it took for me to convince him to join me on this trip.

The following day, we had a quick chat on MSN Messenger in which he asked me if there were any alligators in the waters up north. I responded with an "Open-mouthed smily" emoticon (:D) and waited for him to do the same. But it never came...

At approximately 8:00am on Saturday, I arrived at my partners home in Markham in my Camaro which was loaded to the max with a pair of sleeping bags, a pair of air mattresses and a pair of backpacks along with a tent, camping stove and provisions for 2 days. While we were securing the canoe to my roof, I just couldn't help but notice his choice of "outdoor clothing". After all, a pair of black jeans, black cotton T-shirt, black running shoes and a black (imitation) leather jacket would NOT be my first choice for canoeing. Hmm... Are we actually canoeing? Or breaking into a cottage?

During our drive to the Kawartha Highlands, he decided to ask me where we'd be staying for the night. I responded by telling him that we'd be canoing into Bottle lake to find a vacant campsite - preferrably one on an island. Upon hearing that, he looked at me in shock to tell me that we'd both drown to death. "What happens in the evening when the water level goes up ?", was his question. I calmly explained to him that we were sleeping on a small LAKE which was unaffected by tides. This answer was obviously unsatisfactory as he stared into the open fields in ignorance but luckily for me, he eventually nodded off into a deep sleep. Tides?! You've got to be kidding!

No ! Not the Camaro !After a quick stop at a McDonalds in Lindsay, I continued to drive for another hour until we reached Beaver Lake Road just off of Hwy 507. We continued onto a gravel parking lot before a small bridge where we unloaded the car and set off towards Catchacoma Lake in our fully loaded canoe. After about an hour, we portaged across a dam and continued onto Bottle Lake.

Bottle Lake was a medium sized lake which offered a sandy beach along it's northern/eastern shore. A couple of cottages were located along the western shore but were relatively non obstructive except for the occasional sound of a motor boat leaving their docks. My partner and I paddled into the first campsite which was located on the northern end of the lake. The site offered a great view and had a beach, firepit, table and even a crude toilet which was constructed from a plastic lawn chair with a hole cut from its center. The time was just after 2:00pm when I suggested that we drop our equipment and canoe around the permiter of the lake to see if there was a better place to camp. Upon hearing this, he stared at me in disbelief. "Are you nuts? People are gonna steal our stuff! We can't leave it in the open". "Huh? Give me a break", I said. "Who's going to steal our equipment? We can see for miles and there's NOBODY around us!" My partner was obviously unconvinced as he decided to keep his backpack in the canoe with his imitation leather jacket, cigarettes and cell phone within. What the hell is with the cell phone?!

After leaving all of my personal gear at the first campsite, we took a quick tour along the perimeter of Bottle Lake and came to the conclusion that our site was amongst the best on that lake. So we decided to turn around.

Our campsiteThe paddle back to our campsite was a little rough due to the increasing winds and wave activity. At one point, a couple of litres of water poured into the canoe from the starboard side which was ok. Unfortunately, my partner thought otherwise as the expression on his face resembled that of the sailor in Titanic as he watched the iceberg collide with the side of the ship. As my partner gazed in horror at the water in the canoe, his hands suddenly went limp which resulted in the paddle slipping out of his hands... which was still ok... until he decided to lunge for the paddle. The only words i was able to get out of my mouth were, "What the fuc" before I was flipped into the water below.

I immediately came to the surface and held onto the inverted canoe. We were about 20m from shore and my partner was starting to panic... searching desperately for the pack which contained his meager possessions. "Fuck the bag, we've got to get to shore... and what the hell were you thinking?", was all I could shout before swallowing a mouthful of water. "I was afraid the paddle would sink. Damn! My cell phone... my smokes!". Give me a fuckin break, we're floating helplessly in a lake and this guy is worried about his smokes? And all because he thought a plastic paddle would sink?

Luckily for us, the same current which rocked the boat was helping us by pushing us closer to shore. After a minute of shouting insults back and forth, we were able to stand on the lake floor. Well... at least I was able to stand. My partner continued to kick his feet in the water like a wounded seal and was extremely hesitant in standing on the ground. "What about the sharks?! And those blood sucking things in the lake?!", was all he could say. I shook my head in disbelief and continued to drag the canoe to shore. Luckily for us, the backpack was trapped under the canoe and was retreived along with the other contents of our canoe.

Drying out some stuffBy the time we reached our campsite, it was just after 3:00pm - which gave us just enough sunlight to dry the synthetic sleeping bag I had lent my partner. The cigarettes were obviously destroyed and the cell phone was damaged beyond repair. The wallet in his imitation leather jacket was obviously soaked as well. I took the opportunitity to take a photo of his mess...

As we were setting up camp, we noticed a whitetail deer emerge from the forest beyond us. "We should have brought a gun", my partner said. I pretended to ignore him and watched the deer as it gracefully dissapeared back into the forest.

Our dinner for that evening would consist of a pepper sirloin steak along with potatos, mushrooms and onions along with a caesar salad. My partner grinned like a child who was watching Santa Claus unload his bag of toys as I unpacked the food from my dry pack. The first thing to do was to prepare my stove and boil the potatoes but in the meantime, I asked my partner to dice up some onions which he was more than happy to do. I had just started to fry the mushrooms in some butter when my partner returned with the sliced onions. "Hey! What the fuck is this?!", I asked. "You're supposed to peel the onion before you slice it!". "Huh?", he replied. "How am I supposed to know?". "Haven't you ever sliced an onion before?!", I shot back. "That's a womans job.", was his simple reply. At that point, I just about had enough of him as I told him to go start a fire so that he'd leave me alone. An onion! Was that too much to ask?! A damn onion!

Our Saturday night dinner was simply delicious. The steaks were soft and juicy and the potatos were just right. The salad was still crisp and even the onions were terrific... once you separated the occasional peel. It all went down with some lake water which was filtered from the deepest part of the lake - which tasted much better than any bottled water in the city.

During our meal, we saw some ducks on the water and to no surprise, my partner started mumbling about a shotgun or something...

After cleaning our pots and utensils, we decided to sit around our small fire and observe the sunset. Firewood was at a premium at this overused location and I estimated that our fire would only last an hour or two. Which was fine since it'd serve the purpose of burning our leftovers and packaging material. By 9:00pm, our fire was down to it's final set of logs and the sky was progressively getting darker. It was a moonless night with not a single cloud and the stars seemed to be multiplying exponentially. The wind had died out completely and the cottages had been abandonded - only to leave us with complete silence. The occasional <pop> from our fire, <snap> of a branch and <blop> from the water was all we could hear. Ah... this was what camping was all about.

But silence to me was apparently hell to my partner. In fact, I must have counted at least a dozen instances of "Did you hear that?" and "What the fuck was that?" along with some more references to firearms and knives. I tried to ignore most of them but I did take some pleasure in telling him that we were probably being surrounded by a pack of wolves. I even asked him if he ever saw the Blair Witch Project when IT HAPPENED!

The dark black sky was suddenly transformed into a heavenly planetarium as blue streaks of light suddenly appeared above us. A halo of light red engulfed the northern sky and fingers of blue came down from the sky.

"What the fuck is that?", shouted my partner. "Haven't you ever heard of the Aurora Borealis? The Northern lights?", was my response. "No, what's that?". I tried to summarize the scientific process which was involved when he suddenly interrupted me by saying, "OH! I know what it is! I've seen this at Canada's Wonderland!". I didn't know whether to laugh or cry as I shot back, "You idiot! Why would someone go through the trouble of setting up a laser light show in the middle of nowhere?!". My partner started muttering something about ghosts when he immediately turned around to shine his flashlight into the bush behind us. The aurora lasted about an hour but sadly enough, my partner spent most of it examining the bushes around our campfire for an unseen predator. Here we are sitting beneath a natural wonder and this moron would rather look at some bushes for a possible frog or squirrel?!

By 11:00pm, our campfire was slowly becoming a heap of burning embers and it was getting colder by the minute. My partner grabbed his now-dry sleeping bag and started examining every square centimeter with the flashlight. He mentioned something about being paranoid of ants crawling into his ears and made a sudden jerking reaction with his head and arms whenever his flashlight came across one of those harmless little insects. For once, I actually found it kind of amusing to watch him. It reminded me of those break dancing moves from the 80s. If only we had some GrandMaster Flash to go with it...

After brushing off his last ant, my partner retired to the tent and asked me when I was going to sleep. That's when I told him that I had decided to sleep outside on the beach so that I could stare up at the constellations and fall asleep under the stars. To my surprise, my decision didn't go well with my partner. "You're going to die when the water levels rise...", was his reaction. I ignored him as I fluffed out my down sleeping bag. "Come inside or the bears will get you! You'll be safe inside this tent...". I chuckled to myself as I crawled into my bag. "I'm scared! Please don't leave me alone!". I put my head down on my rolled-up-fleece-jacket and stared towards the sky.

Bearproof & Airproof TentAfter a couple of minutes, the golden silence was broken yet again. "Ken? It's cold in here!", came a voice from the tent. "Shut both layers of the tent and you'll be fine!", were my final words as I zipped up my sleeping bag. "But I'll suffocate in here! How am I supposed to breathe if I zip up all the covers?". I rolled my eyes in disbelief and wondered to myself how he would react if he were to wake up the next morning to find that I had departed with all of my equipment and the canoe - less the tent he was in. For the first time that day, I grinned from ear to ear and fell into a deep sleep.

The following morning, my partner emerged from the tent to tell me that he was cold. "I froze my ass off! You told me your sleeping bag was warm!", he shouted in anger. Knowing how much of a numbskull he was by now, I decided to ask him a question which would be too embarassing to ask a normal person. "Let me guess... You didn't sleep INSIDE the bag did you?". "Huh? You're supposed to sleep inside it? I just put it on top of me.", was his suprised response. "There's a reason they call it a sleeping BAG and not a sleeping BLANKET!", was all I could muster.

Needless to say, we didn't speak too much that day. We ate a quick breakfast, packed up, paddled back to the car and drove back to Toronto with just a few words between us.

Oh... By the way. Did I mention that my partner was 24 ?

I've met a lot of rookie campers in my life and some of them have turned the idiot knob to the 1 or 2 position now and then. But this guy ?! He turned the knob all the way to the right and snapped it off !


A sad update to this story. On May 24, 2008, my partner and friend passed away from injuries sustained in a motorcyle accident. Despite the events from this trip, my partner and I have always maintained a great friendship outside of the wilderness.

Rest In Peace my friend.

 

Brought to you from the archives at www.takabe.ca