The Journey from the Princess Cabin back to Toronto

I was up at the Princess Cabin the last week and a half. The Princess Cabin is my "home" except for I don't live there full time yet. It's 1600 kms from Toronto to Atikokan the town where the Princess Cabin is.  For most people it's a two day drive, for me it can be a one day drive.   Me and my daughter Maggie used to do it from Sylvan Lake Alberta which is 1800 kms in one stretch.  But she's kinda like her mom in that way. 

It was supposed to be a two week thing. But I got such a great rest and was missing my boyfriend and his daughter who had stayed back in Toronto and due to some stuff it ended early.   That said, I might be able to get my boyfriend out for a quick weekend paddle/camping trip. There is always an ulterior motive! ;)

For the week before the Civic Holiday weekend, I was alone at the Princess Cabin working during the day then heading out in the evening to do things like explore and go fishing, and take an unexpected paddle on Banning Lake at Branch's Seine River Lodge. 

On the August long weekend my girlfriend visited. We made a quick unplanned (they are never planned) 700 km day trip from Atikokan to Sioux Lookout to check it out, and came home the long way! I never take shortcuts if there is a scenic route option. My friends aren’t always happy about it, but the bass that Bonnie reeled in on Verdette Lake somewhere up Hwy 502 ought to have been some reward for her sitting in the car for 700 kms putting up with my driving! It’s fancy all right. Be forewarned if you travel with me, I take corners at high speeds with little notice because I see a turn off that looks like a good spot to cast a line! Poor Bonnie, I love you! She took some great shots at our fishing hole on Verdette Lake.  It's too bad we didn’t get a video of the part where a lady gets stuck in a culvert. It could’ve ended badly, but instead it was one of those moments that instead of ending badly becomes something to laugh about. Isn’t that what adventure is, we run into situations that could end badly, and sometimes they do, but more often than not, they end up being something to laugh about and a hard lesson. Bonnie also got some great shots of Sioux Lookout.  Do know this Sioux Lookout is off the beaten path, but it's so worth the drive.  I baited her in to going with a Giant Tiger!  ;)  Also while we were there there was a blueberry festival complete with a biggest blueberry competition.  While we didn't get to indulge in those festivities we were quite amused by them!  And maybe someday we will really go to the Blueberry festival and find out whatever happened to the walking taco guy!  I loved having my bestie for a weekend date with a short road trip and quiet time at the Princess Cabin.

 We have both enjoyed a colourful life of adventure, some disappointments but mostly triumph. I am really proud that we have grown into the ladies that find fun in crocheting/knitting together and watching the 70s show on my big old console TV with a cup of tea rather than having one too many cocktails or glasses of wine, staying up too late and sleeping in too much. Bonnie sure makes a nice London Fog! At this stage of life we go to bed at a decent time and are up at 7 a.m with a whole day to fill with fun! I like this mature version of us much better. But treasure the memories, the good and the bad, the path that lead us into growing into today’s better versions! It's our turn now to grumble about how irresponsible teenagers and 20 somethings can be.  

I was scheduled to go on a paddle trip in Quetico, it would start on August 2nd, and be for two nights. Originally it was supposed to be me and my boyfriend, but he wasn’t able to come up north. The night before August 1st I was online doing something when I realized oh no, I booked that trip to start on August 1st, not August 2nd. I didn’t think I would get in on August 1st as that was the day my girlfriend was leaving the Princess Cabin to head home.  I didn’t think I could be ready to get in to the Park, plus checking the forecast it was calling for gusting winds, and if you know Quetico gusting winds can turn lakes in to a big hazard! I have experienced this for myself in Quetico and Missinabi, I am no longer a fan of paddling on violent waves. Gusting winds make me super nervous.  I thought I would be wise and cancelled my August 1st reservation.  August 1st comes and well… I never know what I am doing, right? Don’t even ask me what my plan is, because I don’t even know!

August 1st me and Bonnie are up early and she’s off on her way back to Schreiber. I decide I will start tidying up the house not that there is much to do as Bonnie and I are very good at cleaning up after ourselves. No wonder girls like girl time!  The Golden Girls weren't wrong.  Not to venture off topic, but women in general love to look after people, but we often forget to look after ourselves and take much needed breaks.  Having mature girl time where two ladies just know to take care of their own mess so that someone else doesn't have to, and it's literally only their own mess, not other people's too, it's a real treat.  I think only other ladies will appreciate what I am talking about...  The Princess Cabin is all about that.  The bare minimum to look after so that there is less time dealing with cleaning and organizing, and more time to do things like crochet and last minute run off to Sioux Lookout! 

Cleaning up consisted of washing the sheets, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom and a quick dust of window sills etc. Before you knew it the place was clean. Garbage was out to the car. Now it’s so clean in fact I don’t want to disturb all my work. I am very particular about how I leave the cabin as I want to come home to a perfectly cleaned place, and be 100% sure I have taken out garbage, turned out all the lights and made sure that all water is off, thermostat is set right, and everything is unplugged except the fridge and security camera. I want to make sure I leave not an ounce of unnecessary hydro power being used while I am absent. So now that the place is cleaned up, I decide hell with it I am going to load up the car with my stuff and gear, and start heading to wherever I land… I am not going back into the Cabin and messing up everything I just cleaned and shut down.

I sit on my front step for a moment and think about my plan and check out the weather forecast. It’s currently quite nice out, but weather is still calling for a windy day tomorrow with thunder storms. Hmmm. What should I do. On the way out of town I dropped off the GPS I had borrowed from my friend Lyle. As I get on the first stretch of highway I decide I will go check the put in at Lerome Lake to see how the lake looks. It looks pretty darn good actually. Hmmmm.. Brain juices are flowing. Then I drive 40 kms to the Dawson Campground of Quetico and take a look at the waters there. Hmmm. A little more choppy, but the day is great, and it looks reasonable! Now my heart is dreading not going in. So in to the park office I go, it is now afternoon.

The park ranger advised me that they did have some permits left on French Lake. So that was it, I was hell bent on getting in a canoe and heading into the park into Pickeral Lake! Back to the car I go to call the closest two outfitters, neither of them have a canoe! That’s fine, I have a plan. A last minute plan, as usual. I will run back to Atikokan and go see the wonderful people of Canoe Canada, they will have a canoe for me on short notice. So I drive the thirty minutes back to town. The friendly girl at the office tells me her boss told her not to rent out anymore canoes! But I say , please you gotta have at least one 16’ left! She advised me to wait a few minutes until her boss gets back and she will ask.

Turns out her boss was willing to rent out a 16’ canoe! They found me one. I do a quick practice of over heading the canoe on to my shoulders, there is technique for this.. something I don’t really do, as that’s my boyfriend’s department to portage the canoe, I carry packs! I am rusty at it, and not very strong due to a heart condition but I can get it over my head.

I have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and have experienced runs of ventricular tachycardia which can result in cardiac arrest. Though I can walk forever, lifting heavy things and hills leave me incredibly breathless and dizzy. Quite frankly I am advised against lifting heavy things by my cardiologist. Lifting is a very different thing than carrying a pack for someone with a heart condition. Actually my heart condition could have me laid out doing very little due to the breathlessness but instead I surprise my cardiologists all the time. I have an implantable cardio defibrillator in case I go into cardiac arrest so my doctors do know my activity level. They ask all the time “do you ever sit still?”. I try not to unless I am reading a book about backcountry trips, or watching a youtube video about backcountry trips, or sometimes crocheting. Other than that no, I dont’ sit still! I love to walk, and often end up walking for 8 or 10 kms or even 17 kms checking things out. So while I have endurance, I am actually quite weak! I am not as strong as one would think.  

So we got the canoe loaded up on the car. I am so excited, I am doing this. Although my arm is quite irritated from fibreglass particles from the canoe, but its just a little irritant.   Don't care, I am going on a trip finally. I am nervous as hell. But I am going to do this! I get just across the tracks at the edge of town when I realize in all the excitement I didn’t grab a throw bag, life jacket or paddle. I am not going far without those. I turn back to Canoe Canada arriving to frantic looking ladies who were very concerned I would get to French Lake with a canoe and no way to paddle. Thankfully I caught the error early on!

Now the 30 minute drive back to the park with a permit in hand. I park the car at the French lake lot which has a small portage from the parking lot to the lake, maybe about a 50 or 80 metres from my car to the lake shore. My first order of business is to get the canoe off the car. One problem, I have never paid attention on how to undo the ratchett strap. I never had to! So I spent a good 15 minutes trying to undo the stupid rachet strap. Like where the heck is the dohicky to get this thing loosened. Ugh. It’s funny when you are stressing out it never comes.. Then I walk away take some deep breaths and come back to it. This time I realize there is a little button for me to depress, and whoop there it is, the strap is loosened. But a reminder that I should pay attention to these smaller things. I got the canoe off the car ok on my own. And portaged it down to the lake it’s a short one. OMG it was hard work. It was surprisingly tough work. These 16’ Souris River canoes are only 40 lbs but they are awkward to balance on your shoulders if you aren’t practiced at it. I am sure doing it more than once in my life I would be a champ but for the first time, it was tough work, reminding me that I was glad I canceled the trip from Lerome that involved an 800 metre portage, i would’ve never been able to do that on my own, not as a first timer anyway. Maybe next year! ;)

I have to say I am super proud that I portaged that darn canoe by myself to the lake, and watched two strong men carrying a canoe together…. Reminding me that I am weak, but determined, or ridiculous, or whatever.

So the canoe is loaded up! Me and Presley are ready and we are off. Packs are strapped in, my map and my compass are in front of me. Darnit, I should’ve never returned that GPS! I will be fine though, it’s just french lake to pickeral river to Pickeral Lake. The wardens have advised there was only one charging bear issue on Olphant Lake probably people on the campsite before had left food or something, I will be fine! I just gotta get there well before dark which is usually when my mind starts to over work itself into bearanoia anxiety. If i get out to the Pickeral quickly I will be able to get my tent up and in to bed nice and early so that I can sleep off my bearanoia!

There is a head wind on French Lake which takes a little bit of extra effort to paddle in, especially with me by myself. And I have to say in my experience sol paddling in a 17’ canoe, though not as easily steered, feels more stable than this 16’ canoe. But I will be fine. Now I have paddled this before, I know that the first exit is a creek and it’s not til the second one that you reach the Pickeral River that takes you into Pickeral Lake. But I come to this nice wide opening to a waterway, and ignore my instincts. This has to be that Baptism creek, but the opening to it is so wide, maybe it is the river! It can’t be the river, I am going to paddle down it anyways like a fool! It’s a beautiful little paddle, I’ll just watch the compass and if I’m generally heading west I am on the right path, if I am heading south, it’s that darn creek. After a bit, I am passing what seems like campsites and then the compass changes. Now I know for sure, I have headed up the creek! Sh!t. I am headed south, not west! I should’ve taken that GPS with me! Now cuz I got started so late in the day and have now headed up the creek instead of the river, I feel a bit defeated. And I know now it could be ugly if I get to Pickeral and it’s more choppy then French, and I have no time to find a campsite in the first section that would be a little less open to the wind effects. I am defeated. Except for the part where I was proud of myself for knowing to navigate and be able to at least know I was headed the wrong way. That said a GPS as a support to confirm my thoughts would certainly be nice. I definitely want to get one now. I know it’s a really bad idea now to keep going. As I would still have a bit of time to get to and travel up Pickeral river, and possibly find myself without a campsite in the quieter bay.   I could find myself having to paddle the larger water, and that wouldn't be good with tomorrow being a particularly gusty day according to the forecast. 

So tail between my legs I head back to shore at French Lake. I loaded all my gear back in the car, this time I have to portage the canoe, up the little incline to my car. It’s way harder going up! Getting the canoe back on to my car, I scratched it. My car officially has a canoe injury! That was disappointing. Then the learning would begin having to tie the ropes properly without a coach.  A second battle ensues between me and the ratchet strap! But determined and really no other choice, I got it all tied down good and strapped to my car. I headed back to the park office to cancel my permit and book me a campground site on the very creek I just paddled down. I was staying in Quetico that night, it just wouldn’t be a site on Pickeral Lake! I got my tent set up. Then headed down my little path from my campsite to the shoreline, I will be darned if I am not going to have a Baptism creekside dinner. I brought my chair, stove and my dehydrated lentil dish to the creekside and made myself some dinner right there on the pretty little creek that I had just paddled! I earned at least that much.

Though that trip didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, I learned a lot. I am ready now… I experienced my first solo portage, and learned a lot about tying down a canoe and how to use a ratchet strap, and the value of my instincts and the benefit of having a GPS if you can! It wasn’t all a loss to me. I still got a night in Quetico and a paddle on a pretty little creek.   If nothing else, that whole thing became an experience I can use as a frame of reference for planning future trips. I know how much portage I can handle solo, definitely more than a 100 or 200 metres would be too much for me alone. Also I really do like the 17’ canoe vs the 16’ for many reasons, especially on a lake, stability, tracking and a bit of pace.

The 17’ Souris is a caddy of the water.

My night at Quetico’s Ojibway campground was uneventful, and perfect otherwise. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite campground but it’s very nice! There was nothing wrong with it.

If you know me come morning I am usually up and at ‘em early. So it was. I was up and at ‘em early to head back to Canoe Canada to drop off the canoe. It’s time to head towards Toronto. So I drove 40 kms to town to drop off the canoe, and that would be it. Grab a coffee, a bagel and hit the road bound for Pancake Bay, 800 kms away. I am bound and determined to get there good and early to catch a beautiful sunset on Lake Superior! Pancake Bay is home to one of the most beautiful sand beaches that Lake Superior has to offer. I think it’s 2 kms long? Maybe more!

The 800 kms road trip to Pancake Bay is beautiful. Seeing all the vistas of Superior never gets old. I could do it every day and never get tired of it. It’s soul food! As I was getting closer to Pancake Bay me and God had a little prayer session. Dear Lord, please let me make Pancake Bay in time for a beautiful sunset, please don’t let me miss this sunset, please let me have a good night at Pancake Bay. God is funny though like that… In the back of my mind I will have a good night at Pancake Bay, then the next day I can be in Killarney early for a redeemer solo trip! My boyfriend had checked and while no sites were open at the moment, I knew come morning that could change.

As I was approaching Pancake Bay, I could see I was likely gonna miss the best of the sundown show! Bummer. But it’s still Pancake Bay, it will be perfect.

At Pancake Bay I don’t ask if there will be bears in the park, instead I ask how many. Last time I was there, there were three! And one in particular was quite assertive about helping himself to people’s coolers in broad daylight! This trip there was only one. Apparently a camper had decided it was okay to leave his dog food in the box of his truck instead of putting it in the cab properly, no doubt a bear thought that was a great opportunity for dinner. So a bear was hanging about the campground. They do that, once they find food, they look for more! I got put in to a nice site at Pancake Bay, not waterfront like I had hoped but a quick walk to the beach. I asked the campers near me if they had seen a bear , and none had, so i felt good about that. I could see the campers across from me would leave their site for short time with coolers left out, that bothered me but I felt like I would be fine. There was also another lady, also camping on her own a couple sites down from me. When I see other people’s sites, I kinda feel good knowing that due to my growing up with bears, nobody’s site will be more bear proof than mine. I only have to be the least opportune site for a bear! And I am. I leave no reason for a bear to visit me, so if one does, it is me he is after!

I got my tent set up! Ha ha…

For those that camp a lot, they know that some sites offer the greatest place to peg your tent down and others offer ground that is not easy to peg your tent down. For me I got the latter! I was able to peg some of my corners in but there was a few where the ground just wouldn’t give to the peg. What I should’ve done was been more stubborn and got the pegs in, instead what I did, was say what the hell, I won’t need that peg!   Ha ha.. I know better! But sometimes we let our guard down, like fools. I was simply in such a rush to get down to the lake to enjoy the panoramic beach view!

Presley and I grabbed her food, and something for me to snack on and down to the lake we headed for her to play sticks, except there was no sticks so my wooden spoon would have to do! We enjoyed some time at the beautiful beach listening to the waves. But no beautiful sunset, I had missed the best part of the sun glistening over the lake. These things happen. It’s getting close to dark, it’s time to head to the outhouse, and get into the tent for a good sleep. *insert eye roll*...

Due to the bear in the park, this time I made sure I had it all on hand beside me in the tent. My bear spray, my new bear banger (not that I would use it in a park like this, but it made me feel safer), and my usual knife etc. I fell asleep relatively quickly but was woken to the sound of a heavy downpour, and thunder/lightening. And a pillow that seemed to be wet on the side closest to the wall of the tent, what the hell? Must be a fluke. I try to get back to sleep. Slowly the wetness is spreading closer to my head, then my shoulders. Then what the hell is going on here! Why is there so much water coming in on that side of the tent. This tent has been through worse storms then this and never had a problem! What is going on here? Though I was wet, my gear kept me warm. So I was soggyish warm. I ended up having to turn myself around in the tent and sleep in the other direction to get away from the side that had the pooling water. I went to grab something in the vestibule of the tent, and wouldn’t you know it I zip my hair in to the zipper. There I am caught. Hair in the zipper and can’t move, and I have nobody to help me! I am tired, wet miserable and now stuck! Again after I chose to calm myself down instead of getting angry I was able to free myself from the zipper without too much more pain and suffering.

The new sleeping position was horrible. I was sleeping with my head lower than my feet, and I hate that! But it was that or my head in a pool. Now the foot of my bag would be slightly soggy too. It was just one of those nights.. I didn’t get a proper sleep at all. The storm though, that part was beautiful. It wasn’t til the next day when I got home and looked at the pictures that I could clearly see why I had water in the tent. That one peg I gave up on! I think the fly was blowing up against the tent leaving the screen part exposed so that water could get right on in. A hard reminder, peg your tent down! Or at least tie down what you can’t peg down. The fly is designed to keep water off ya! But it can’t do that if it’s not pegged down. I do know these things, but every once in a while, my excitement gets the better of me, and I ignore good practice for momentary convenience that result in very inconvenient kick in the @ss. It was still raining in the morning when it was time to get up. So I loaded the wet soggy tent and my soggy sleeping bag and air mat to the floor of the car to hopefully dry off some.   

You have to know because I usually camp in remote areas, I don’t pack towels. I don't pack anything I don't absolutely need.  Most of my self cleaning involves the lake water and a drip dry! But I really needed a shower. I had a bar of soap I had bought the night before at the park office. You would be surprised at how very acceptable a bar of soap is as a shampoo too. I got cleaned up, and shook off like a dog. I put on the loose style clothes over my damp body, and that was it.  Good to go, and no soggy towel to carry with me.  I will be dry in no time! 

I only have about four hours to Killarney! :) I still have another tent in the car (the four man!) and my gear should be dry, if I get to Killarney maybe I can do a redeemer trip!

It rained, and it rained. There was no way I would be able to get in to Killarney. While I don’t mind it raining while I am on a trip, I don’t like starting one in a heavy down pour. So as I passed the Killareny sign I cried a little on the inside. But I called my boyfriend, and there seems to be a site available this weekend! I headed back to Toronto, happy to see Stephan and his daughter. A little sad that my vacation had ended prematurely. And a little defeated that I didn’t get a true solo paddle trip in but satisfied to some degree with the two nights in the tent. That said, there is still a few weeks left in the summer! :) It’s not over yet…  I have a site at Windy Lake booked for the long weekend, and I know for sure my friend Janice is planning something, right Janice?   Something with locks or something!  

As for the Princess Cabin, I will be back… See you in November with my Princess Maggie!

Road side bear I saw enroute to Princess Cabin from Toronto.


Photos from fishing and paddling at Banning Lake at Branch's Seine River Lodge. 

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Credit to Bonnie Brake for these next few photos of our trip to Sioux Lookout and fishing at Verdette Lake.  

Sioux Lookout Beach in Black and White

A duck we made friends with at the dock with the sharp fast turn in to the road!  Right Bonnie?


Danger sign..  As I explained to Bonnie danger signs aren't as bad as caution signs.  If you are careful!  We didn't go past the sign, I swear!  I peaked over.  

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Bonnie's best catch of the evening bite.  


One of mine... 

Loaded up at Canoe Canada..
                                                     (Next photos are mine again.)  


Headed to the park...


Ready to trip. We got this..


Paddling what is NOT the River..  The Creek.. 


My defeated look.  


Back to the campground.  Pics from the Ojibway campground..  And my creekside dinner.








Photos from Pancake Bay camping...