QUETICO PROVINCIAL PARK , where it all started...

Perhaps in previous posts I spoke about how fortunate I was growing up, because we grew up in Longlac (Greenstone) then Terrace Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior with no where to play, except outside. When school was out for the summer I got to go to Three Mile Lake in Muskoka for an extended vacation often nearly 6 weeks to a family cottage.  I had cousins and friends in our bay, and more in another bay on the same lake.  The best part about all this was that we had a boat buffet!  My cousin had a faster boat for waterskiing as did our neighbour friends, my uncle had a couple smaller fishing boats including a big old wood one... and the neighbours had a paddle boat, a canoe and a little razer type sailboat.  The neighbours were very good to us. They would let us take the canoe or paddle boats, as long as we wore our life jackets of course!  I loved fishing, I loved waterskiing and tubing, but one thing that was just mine to enjoy was in the morning when the lake was like glass I could borrow that little aluminum canoe and paddle the bay before anyone was up, and before the lake got choppy.  So that was my first memory of paddling.  Of course I thought I knew how to paddle!!!  

Fast forward many many years to 2018.  By that time I am a bit older. I own a little vacation home in Atikokan, I have had a first time back country hike-in  experience in Frontenac, which I will blog about soon enough.  I had accumulated many years of tenting experience but not paddling in.   So I am not a newbie, but haven't ever paddled into the wilderness before.  That said, I had been following at the recommendation of Andrew (my fiance that passed away in 2015) a Facebook page about a modern day voyeageur by the name of Mike Ranta.  He had paddled from British Columbia to Nova Scotia 2.5 times!!!  I had followed his adventures on Facebook and so wanted to know some of those experiences for myself.  

So here we are 2018, my then 12 year old daughter Maggie is with me in Atikokan.  We were out at one of my friend's cabin to visit.  I noticed he had a canoe, so of course I asked him if I could borrow it with Maggie.  He graciously agreed, so off me and Maggie went paddling a little in the bay surrounded by the ultimate wilderness of Northwestern Ontario.  It was then that I felt that feeling again, much like the joy of paddling the bay at the lake in Muskoka and how much I loved it.  I felt so at peace, and swore to myself that I would be doing a lot more of it!  We weren't out on the water long, but just long enough for my heart to know just what it needed more of, paddling!!! 

I want to share that my youngest daughter of my three girls is the one who does the least complaining and the most laughing on a road trip.  We regularly did road trips back and forth from Alberta to Atikokan (1900 kms) and often one stretch of driving.  Just enjoying the scenery and a healthy dose of mom-daughter time at the Princess Cabin (my little house), fishing and general joy of being unplugged. So she was a natural to be appointed for the idea that would be born from that one fateful moment on Eye Lake.

Our 2018 summer vacation is over, back to Alberta, but 2019 is in the works... 

It is early 2019 that Mike Ranta releases a book about his journey. Now let me tell you I love reading but a 500+ page book isn't my norm.  That said, his book I couldn't put down!  If you ever get a chance it's called "Mike and Spitzii's Great Canadian Adventure: Cross-Continental Coast to Coast Record-Breaking Solo Canoe Expedition".  First, I think this book should be read by every Canadian.  Never mind your geography text books etc.  This book is the greatest modern day tale of real life Canadian Geography, the land and her people told as part of an amusing and humble adventure.  I took away from it some important things, first that every region of Canada is unique and has it's own culture and it's own challenges on a paddle trip.  Also that despite all his challenges, the part where he paddles northwestern Ontario resonated with me, as in what did I have to be afraid of.  I grew up in this. There was nothing to be intimiated by, I knew there might be bears, wolves.  I know the bush trails can be fun, muddy and full of killer blackflies.  Though I would paddle off in the wilderness, I was paddling in to something somewhat familiar.  I grew up in northern Ontario...  And so the idea was born, I needed to do a Quetico trip.  

At first the trip was supposed to be me and some friends, but one by one they cancelled on me.  I wasn't comfortable going alone, but I had one girl I knew would come, my daughter!!!  I just needed a guide now.  Lucky for me the same guy that loaned me his canoe at Eye Lake had a sister that used to work in Quetico that would offer to help guide me and my daughter on our first canoe trip.  I booked the first week of August for a 4 day/3 night trip!  

The preparation work would begin, I took my paddle course at Fort Assiniboine.  Then I started gathering gear, not too much.  I was very fortunate that Mike Ranta helped me out with some recommendations.  He kept it so simple.  And I trusted his recommendations.  Anyone that had gear take care of him from coast to coast ought to know what he's talking about, right?

Every day that spring until August the paddle trip crossed my mind.  I played with gear, thought about food, talked, read stories, watched Youtube videos and read more books about paddle trips.  Kevin Callan has one too, Quetico and Beyond, a great read for aspiring trippers!

Let's get to the trip..  It's now the beginning of August.  Maggie and I have made the car ride from Alberta to the Princess Cabin with much laughter and joy enroute.  I couldn't be prouder that she had agreed to join her mom. 

We had one rest day in Atikokan before the paddle trip. Lucky for us the guys that run the bush planes had let us take out a canoe at their property just to get our feet wet!  If we didn't see a bear!  But we sang it off with some AC/DC.  We got some fishing in, and just enjoyed some rest and some last minute preparation the day before our trip. 

Trip day had arrived on August 6th I believe it was.  We met up with Rachel at Canoe Canada in Atikokan the first time I met her.  But so grateful to her!  We were lucky we didn't need too much guidance though because we had our own experienced supervisor joining us, Rachel.  We were there mostly to pick up our canoes, permits and get shuttled over to the put in at Beaverhouse Lake!!!  To this day when I see the Canoe Canada sign my heart lights right up with joy! 

At this point I am so excited...  You have no idea how amazing those few moments getting to Beaverhouse felt.  The drive to Beaverhouse Lake put in is about 70 kms some of it highway but more of it is good 'ole bush road!  Which I feel at home in.  My dad's occupation was accounting in the forest industry when we were growing up so bush / logging roads were just part of life for us.  

Once we got to Beaverhouse Lake, we had about a 500 metre portage which wasn't that big a deal since Canoe Canada rangers helped us get our gear to the put in.  Cheating!!!  The portage was mostly boardwalk with a bit of bush trail but nothing overly challenging...  Also Rachel is one tough lady and helped with gear too.  I have a heart condition that while I am very good with endurance , and can carry stuff, I can't LIFT anything without feeling like I will pass out.  I have the weirdest symptoms due cardiomyopathy. That said my heart is sick but it wants to carry on.  I have no desire to slow down, only to take my time when I need to.  So what would likely be a double carry for me alone with Rachel is single carry.  

Rachel and her pal Mukwa (black lab) had a 16' Souris, and me and Maggie would share a good 'ole 17' Souris. We loaded up the canoes, waved good bye to Canoe Canada and off we were..  I can't even express the absolute heart warming feeling it was to start that trip in to the unknown with my daughter, as we paddled off we disappeared.  We disappeared in to the wilderness.  Surrounded by nothing but trees, rocks and water, we were reliant on nothing more than what we had in our backpacks, our friend Rachel and that was not a scary feeling at all, it was an empowering feeling!  

We paddled from Beaverhouse Lake south towards a short portage to Quetico Lake.  The portage was uneventful and only about 200 metres.  Wait..  wait.  Let's ask Maggie about the portage.  

Maggie's words, "mom you threw me in to the bush under a canoe!"  The first little bit of the portage we learned quick the challenge of trying to navigate a canoe over uneven ground.  Being newbies, we weren't going to over head the thing, she would take one handle, I would take the other and off we would go with packs on our backs.  Being a good mom, I let her go ahead.  I figured that way we would go at her pace.  Turns out my pace on easy terrain isn't the same as her pace on uneven terrain and so yes, she got thrown in to a tree and in to a bush with a canoe and scaped her hand!  She was already so amused by this trip, NOT!  But she carried on.  My trooper.. 

We finished the portage then in to Quetico Lake where Rachel lead us to a beautiful sand beach.  Good idea, right?  It was.  We got in a nice lunch, a beautiful swim on a sandy wilderness beach.  it was surreal.  It was like having a wilderness playground all to yourself with a beautiful sand beach!  Seems uneventful, right?  Well...  

We got in the boat started paddling when suddenly this swarm of crazy bugs, that apparently love sand were chasing us and making a lunch out of our ankles.  They were relentless.  Ankle biters!!!  never mind trying to paddle faster, never mind pulling up your socks, never mind, these things will get you.  I have since learned if I ever paddle quetico again, I might consider duct taping my ankles to keep those little bugs from making a meal out of my feet.  Despite having to pick between saving my ankles and paddling a decent speed, we eventually found the perfect spot to camp.  A little island on Quetico Lake.  The landing was a bit of a pain as it was rock, not level.  But the campsite itself was higher and gave us a beautiful view of where we were. Rachel had a nice spot for her tent, we found a nice spot for ours...  it was all perfect.  While we were supposed to be doing a trip from Beaverhouse on to Nym Lake, Maggie thought that we might enjoy base camping right where we were.  She wasn't wrong, we were able to catch bass.  In the evening we would get out to do some fishing.  OK, Rachel, your turn for a story....

I have been fishing as long as I can remember. My uncle was known on Three Mile Lake to know where the fish were at any time.  One of the best, in fact I have some of his trophies.  Though I am no where near the fisherman he was, I am not a newbie.  I was often known to catch the first fish and often the biggest!  Bass, walleye and pike were my usuals.  I can usually tell what I am catching by the way it fights.  Bashing under the boat, it's a pike.  Pulling it's a walleye.  Fighting like crazy its probably a bass! 

At Quetico though Rachel is your girl.  She knows how to find the pickeral weed and where to drop your line.  While I was well equipped with my soap dish tackle box and a fishing rod, Rachel brought a stringer!   This is the rest of my fish that got away story.... 

My catch went like this.  I am casting and suddenly I feel a bite..  I do my usual jig and start reeling.  I say to Rachel I don't know about this one, it feels like i am pulling up a log!  Like it's not really fighting it's not really pulling it's just heavy.  I reeled up slow as i didn't want to snap my line, at this point i have no idea what's coming but I have every reason to believe it might be a log!  The resistence was nothing like I ever felt before...  I have caught I think at biggest a 5lb walleye.  The fish finally made it to the canoe, wouldn't you know it the biggest walleye I ever caught.  A beaut.  The kind people from all over come to Quetico to find, I found it!!!  Not that much longer afterwards Rachel also caught a large walleye, another biggie.  On the stringer they go...  I can't wait to get to shore to get my picture with the fish of my life...  We paddle to shore, I am not sure how it happened, or if I could've done something to have prevented it, but those two walleye somehow managed to swim off with the stringer never to be seen again!  There will never be a picture of that catch.  So tail between our legs no walleye dinner, back to camp to eat dehydrated meals.  They weren't bad.  Three Sisters Stew and Mac & Cheese.  For three girls two - two serving size dehydrated meals did the trick to feed all of us.  

The next morning I was so excited to try out my gel can set up to make pancakes.  It didn't work so well, so I got the lesson on the MSR stove that Rachel carries.  We got in some pancakes, and had a beautiful day at camp.  Just relaxing. Mom and daughter time with our coach!  On day three we woke up with every intention to get paddling...  but it was super windy.  We weren't going anywhere.  The water was far too dangerous to paddle.  So we sat and were going to wait it out. A couple times we would go to leave and as soon as we would get the gear back in to the canoe, thinking things would calm the wind would pick up again! 

Then it happened..  this one is all my fault!

Mukwa the dog started acting really strange for some reason.  Staying close, not seeming to want to get too far from us.  This gave me flash backs.  Rewind many years to life in Terrace Bay when I had this dog named Ginger.  We had a 1 km trail from our house through the bush to a beach on Lake Superior.  It was a beautiful trail that we often did with our dog Ginger.  Ginger loved that trail.  And once you let her loose she would run so far ahead, and once in a while come back and check on us, but then take off again.  Except that one time.  She ran up far ahead, came back, and wouldn't leave our side. That's when you know something is up, right?  As we got further up the trail sure enough there was a tree freshly marked by a bear.  A freshly marked bear tree has saliva, pee, bear hair stuck in the bark, plus their claw marks. It's really unmistakenable.  So that explained why she was staying close.  We never did see the bear, but Ginger must've felt it's presence and wanted to stay close.  So here we are watching Mukwa acting strange and I have a very active mind, so now I am convinced there is a bear on the island.  Why else would the dog act like this.  It was a really tough situation because the water wasn't really safe, but I wasn't feeling too comfortable about being stuck on an island with a bear! 

So group meeting what are we gonna do. We kind of decide to hang out a bit longer and try and let this pass, but Mukwa is still acting strange and it's gonna get dark.   My thoughts were if I have to make an emergency escape I would rather do it in the daylight then in the middle of the night if the bear does become a problem.  (Mike Ranta would later hear this story and tell me , you never get in the boat on water like that unless the bear is chasing you into the canoe!). 

So we all discussed our escape plan.  To be safe, we would load up the 17' canoe with all of us, the dog and half the gear and we would tow the 16' canoe behind us with the other half of gear.  We took a bit of time to discuss how much rope would need between the two canoes, opting for a longer, rather than shorter length in case we have to let the other one go.  It was time to escape the island.  Whatever it was we will never know but if it was a wolf the dog wasn't safe, and if it was a bear, well.  We won't ever know if we were safe or not.  I have never been super scared, but that was one time when I felt I was at the mercy of God, and of course Rachel and her paddling!  We planned our route and where we would head to but the winds had other plans.  As hard as we might have paddled between the head winds and the cross winds we would just end up where we ended up.  Our goal was to get off the island and to safety, a crash site if we had to.  In waters like that paddling with a canoe in tow there is no stopping... You just paddle.  Momentum is everything.  Thankfully the 17' canoe was weighted down so much that it gave us a decent amount of stability.  Poor Maggie in the middle on a pack with the dog, and me and Rachel paddling.  At this point I'm not that experienced but was so grateful for that course I had taken because I did need to use some cross draws etc to point us over some competing waves! Across open water , I was scared..  We finally were getting in to this little bay, and towards the end a few waves did splash water in to the boat reminding me just how easy it would have been for the wrong waves to create havoc!  But we made it to shore.  Unbelievably we made it to shore with both canoes upright and all our gear....  And the best part, shore was this beautiful west facing beach!!!  

To this day that tent view is one of my faves of all time because it was the reward after a very scary moment.  On a beach, looking west watching the sun go down...  No regrets for me, except for the part where my daughter had an experience that I fear tainted her view of tripping...  at that moment Maggie swore she would never paddle with me again.  She says never go on an adventure with my mom, something bad always happens!  She's not wrong.  But I would say it that if you go with me, you are guaranteed to have unforgettable moments of learning!  :)  Much better put in perspective.

After a good sleep on that sandy beach it would be time to paddle back to the Ranger Station at Beaverhouse Lake.  Again Rachel took her boat with Mukwa and Maggie and I in the 17'.  The water was still quite choppy from the day before but very manageable.  Just work more than anything.  We finally landed at the ranger station.  Rachel knew the park lady there so we got to share our story of what happened.  The Ranger's theory was it was likely a wolf on the island.  Which if it was we probably saved the dog!  Because in Northwestern Ontario, it's not uncommon for wolves to take dogs right in front of you!  We won't ever know.  

But the other thing the ranger said, "how did you girls do that"  So many boats, even the Park's rescure boat had swamped in that wind.  I guess my prayers worked, as did Rachel's skill and leadership!  To this day, I don't know how we did it, but we did.  Also, I didn't learn a thing because at Missinaibi under another blog, I took an island site again! When will I learn, probably never, but I won't get on a windy lake like that unless the bear is chasing me in to the boat!  Whatever had happened, while it may have scared some, it was just the beginning for me.  I was in love with backcountry tripping...  I saw the hard part for what it was, a lesson.  And I will learn many in my travels, and I will take them with me on to the next trip.  But being in the wilderness like that, it's just beyond words a soul filling, peaceful and fulfilling experience.  

To this day Maggie still wont' come on a paddle trip with me, but I tell her every time I can that trip was a vacation that will forever stay with me, and I was so so proud of her!  Seeing her with her bush shirt and knife on her belt, fishing and playing with frogs and snakes, it warms my heart to see my child just enjoying the simple things.  I really do hope she comes with me again.  The good news is, I have a few more trips under my belt now.  I am getting a little wiser...  

I have been to a few parks since that trip in 2019, but Quetico has never left my soul!  It's now scheduled for the first week of August for the rest of my life!  :) 

As 2022 camping season begins...  I hope to get to my chromebook to share this year's adventures as often as possible.  I have so far been up to my Princess Cabin in Atikokan for the last week of April and 1st week of May, to Killarney to hike the crack and next weekend off to Frontenac for a backpacking trip.  I will get blogs out about those trips and the others as the summer unfolds. 

I enjoy sharing and trying to get the message out there, that this is fun stuff, and anyone can do it.  It just takes a little prep work and a desire to get out there and make it happen.  Don't think about it too hard, just take advantage of those moments when you can go, and go!!!