Speedo Man
Credit: Kevin Callan

I just got back from taking Speedo Man on his first winter camping trip — and yes, he wore his Speedo.

You gotta question why I would spend quality time in the woods with someone that sports a “grape smuggler.” To help explain, here’s the history of the legendary Speedo Man from my book Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer.

Adventures with Speedo Man

I’ve had some odd-ball canoe partners in my life but my neighbour, Ashley McBride takes the cake. The first time I experienced his offbeat behavior is on a mid-summer paddle down the French River when he proudly sported a skin-tight, G-string black Speedo (with rainbow racing strips down the side). He loudly announced that he was wearing something far more appropriate for swimming at the campsite then what I was. I happened to be swimming naked. I prefer it that way. As far as I’m concerned, swimming in a bathing suit on a canoe trip is like wearing underwear in the shower. It’s invigorating to swim naked, and it’s hard to argue with the nudist belief that if we were meant to be clothed, we would have been born that way. Besides, it’s more practical. I swim naked to keep my clothes dry.

I informed Ashley that if a group of women spotted me naked they would surely giggle — but if they saw him in his revealing speedo they would be disgusted. There’s a distinct difference between the two.

Ashley continued to wear his indecent swimwear for most of the week. It was more than a tad embarrassing but we lucked out and only caught a brief glimpse other people from a distance. The last night of the trip things changed, however. We both decided a swim in the river would be fitting. While Ashley suited up, I wandered off and found a nearby spot to leap into the water — naked as usual. During the plunge my left foot struck a submerged rock, breaking it in three places. I screamed out for assistance. Ashley refused to help me out at first. It had something to do with being uncomfortable pulling a naked man out of the water. I was more uneasy about the circumstance than he was. The idea of someone wearing an infamous banana-hammock tossing my nude body over his shoulder fireman-style was hard to grasp. Worse was the idea of Ashley holding me by the waist so I could put my arm around him — naked hip against spandex waistband — and shimmy me up the slippery riverbank.

It was a dilemma for sure. But Ashley is a good friend and switched into rescue mode. That’s when the six canoes full of camp girls drifted around the point. One yelled out “There are two naked men.” Ashley answered back, “I’m not naked; I have a bathing suit on!” He then dropped me back into the water and left me to find my own way out of the water. Their laughter echoed across the water for what seemed like eternity.

The only saving grace about the incident was that I came back with a great story — a story that gained me enough financial incentive to head out with him again. Next trip he dressed in a woman’s wig, lipstick and two-piece bathing suit. I snapped a shot of him posing with a plastic martini glass and sold the photo and accompanying story How to Make a Bush Martini — it ended up winning an award. What followed was the best yet; Ashley with a blow-up doll with the headline How to Make Love in a Canoe. I received another award and more cash, followed by a note from my editor to keep going on trips with Ashley.

As a paddler I was a little concerned. After all, who you’re travelling with can make or break any wilderness excursion. As a writer though, I couldn’t ask for a better canoe partner. So, when planning a spring canoe trip to Algonquin’s Lake Lavieille and the lower Crow River in Algonquin Park, I asked Ashley to return to the woods with me once again, and I have to say it was it a life altering experience. I also have to say that I’m certain my writing career will definitely continue to flourish.

The route chosen was to backtrack a good portion of the route taken by author John D. Robins in his 1943 classic book The Incomplete Angler. Joining us were good friends, Jim and Ben, who were both excited to fish for brook trout and lake trout only a week after ice had melted off the lakes. And they did catch fish. Everyone did, except for poor Ashley. Truth is, he caught three brookies, all smaller then the lure he caught them on. To put it mildly, Ashley was having a bad trip. This was to be his first real full-length canoe trip and things didn’t exactly go as planned. For starters it was a chilly ride on the boat shuttle across Lake Opeongo and Ashley (and the rest of us) absolutely froze. Then we ran into a bear (a nice bear) on the second of the two short portages taken before walking across the notable 5,305 metres to Dickson Lake, the lake prior to Lake Lavielle. The blackflies were out in full force and Ashely complained the entire way across the portage.

The lack of fish, the bear, and the bugs, Ashley managed fairly well with the majority of mishaps. It was when he showed off his Speedo costume to Jim and Ben that the trip went undeniably downhill. The air temperature was so cold Ashley had to wear a wool toque and knee-high black socks to keep from freezing, lessening the effect it had on Jim and Ben. In fact, they took little to no interest with his outfit at all. Sulking somewhat he wondered off in the back of the campsite to make use of the thunderbox (this, by the way, was to be his first full bowel movement in the woods). That’s when the storm hit. Hail the size of marbles came plummeting down and winds started toppling trees, trees that were rooted around the poop-chest Ashley was sitting on.

He came out of the ordeal without major injuries but made a declaration never to poop in the woods again.

Ashley’s mood wasn’t exactly upbeat when we backtracked on the five-kilometre portage back to Lake Opeongo our last day out. In fact, a few minutes into the carry, he threw his pack down and had a bit of a tantrum. It was then that two attractive female paddlers dressed in tight spandex outfits caught up with him on the trail. As he watched them pass, gawking in disbelieve, they stopped dead in their tracks and asked, “Are you Speedo Man?” They had recognized him from my award-winning article. Ashley proudly confirmed his identification and then proceeded down the trail behind the girls, keeping up with them the entire way to the put-in.

They completed the portage in one hour and 37 minutes, which proves my wife’s point she’s always trying to make with me — women rule!

Once again I had secured a story by tripping with Ashley. And I had also gained a solid reason to go paddling with him once again.

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