This past paddling season, I was honoured to be a part of the Paddle in the Park project.
The objective was to get more people out in the woods — and what better way then to hide a bunch of paddles in a series of Ontario Provincial Parks. A total of six Badger Paddles were hidden.
Author and outdoor guide, Hap Wilson, hid two in Temagami; Preston Ciere, popular outdoor blogger, hid two more in Killarney and Algonquin; and I hid two more in Algonquin.
It took the whole season for all six paddles to be found. Some were easier to locate then others. My first paddle was found quite easily, even though I stuck it in a bog off a secluded portage. My second proved to be more difficult. I placed it behind a small birch tree a few metres off one of Algonquin’s lengthy portages leading out of Opeongo Lake. I have a feeling it was the length of the portage the kept it hidden for so long.
Many stories came out of this event. The contest definitely got more people out playing in the woods; and it also created some incredible tales.
One of the best accounts to come out of the event was a couple of canoemates paddling in Killarney Provincial Park who came across paddle number five. Here is Doug Gordon and Tim Doherty telling their fantastic story:
"Near the end of July, my friend Tim Doherty and I found paddle number five on the west end of the 455-metre Killarney Lake-O.S.A. Lake portage in Killarney Provincial Park. The paddle was tied to a tree about 50 feet off the path. Anyone who was unaware of the contest would have walked by unknowingly — as dozens surely have since it had been hidden on June 29.
I had been following the clues throughout the contest and knew when the latest clue came out for Paddle 5 that it was likely hidden on O.S.A. Lake.
I was pretty sure that the paddle was hidden on O.S.A. Lake. But how to get it? I had plans to canoe-trip with my family in Killarney’s northeast at the end of July, but would not be in the O.S.A. area. I thought through my options and felt that doing a day-trip to the O.S.A. area was the only possible option — reserving a last minute campsite for an overnight stay in mid-July in Killarney is about as likely as winning a lottery!
Doherty lives in Zurich, ON. We have been friends for about 14 years and share a common passion for the outdoors and specifically for wilderness canoe trips. For about five years, we worked together in Stratford, running leadership development programs for high school-aged young people. For at least the past dozen years we have been talking about doing a canoe trip together. Joint plans for several trips had been started but always unravelled for one reason or another. Last month, Tim accepted a job in Edmonton. He was to move there with his family in August. I suspect that after the move, our chances of going on a canoe trip together would be significantly reduced.
And so, I called him to see if he would like to do a crazy day-trip to Killarney with me to find the paddle — if indeed it was there. I proposed that we leave Thursday morning around 2:00 a.m.; drive to George Lake; canoe in to O.S.A. and back; and then drive home. His initial response was, 'This sounds like something we would have done when we were 26.' But, he was intrigued and asked for a few hours to talk it through with his wife. He called back that night saying he was 'in'and we started making plans.
Tim and his wife had just made the tough decision that they would need to cancel their planned annual trip to Killarney, which had been set for the end of the month. This would truly be Tim’s last chance to enjoy Killarney before his move — thus, our day-trip became both a first wilderness canoe trip together and a last hurrah. It promised to be great, even if we returned home paddle-less.
Coffee in hand, we left Stratford at 1:56 a.m., after packing and managing less than two hours sleep. On the drive north we shared philosophies, stories and driving stints. Our discussion on the cyclical versus linear nature of time culminated in watching the sunrise from start to finish. I told Tim about the Anishenabe (Ojibway) belief that for a few minutes each dawn emptiness balances fullness and each individual is reminded that they have a choice about how they will live. This concept is exemplified by a unique purple-blue-grey colour that results from the balance of sunlight and darkness. It was fun trying to figure out which shade of day-night showed that “impossible” colour. About halfway along the Killarney road we met a young red fox, pulled over and spent about 10 minutes taking photos and interacting with him. By the time we got to George Lake, it had already been a memorable day.
We left the beach on George Lake at about 9:30 a.m. after buying our vehicle day permit. An occasional gentle rain shower and mainly cloudy skies kept the temperature cool. We kept a good pace and arrived at the 455-metre Killarney Lake-O.S.A. Lake portage a few minutes after 11:00. Our strategy was to cross over the two Killarney–O.S.A. portages looking for the paddle first, then canoe to the western end of the lake and check out the portage there. If the paddle wasn’t on either of these three portages we would continue down the chain of river and lakes towards The Pool on Georgian Bay.
As it turned out, we found the paddle at the end of the first portage. I was carrying the canoe in front, while Tim carried a pack, paddles and lifejackets and did a thorough scan of the surrounding trees behind me. The clues had indicated that it would be tied to a tree which was surrounded by hemlockand large birch. The first three-quarters of the portage is through mixed hardwoods and though I scanned for the telltale ropes it seemed obvious that the paddle would be hidden elsewhere. Tim stopped for a minute about halfway across to make some adjustments while I continued on. As I rounded one of the last curves in the trail heading down towards O.S.A., I saw a large stand of hemlocks ahead and thought, “Now this looks better.” As I neared the final curve I noticed the ropes dead ahead but well off the trail. I put down the canoe and let out a “whoop.” I stayed by the canoe until Tim arrived, all the while encouraging him to hurry. It seemed appropriate to approach the prize together. As a result we were both able to shoot video of the discovery. Watching the videos again brings back the intense excitement of the moment for us. When we unwrapped the paddle we were struck by its simple beauty and thoughtful design. Branded as “Sliver,” it is a beautiful, lightweight, narrow-bladed ash deep-water paddle. The moment seemed slightly surreal to both of us probably because of the intense effort we had to put forth in order to get there. And of course there was the reality that we never quite knew for certain that it was on O.S.A. or if someone else had already found it until that moment.
The trip home involved managing our fatigue. It took us at least half-an-hour longer to paddle out. En route we had a wonderful encounter with a loon family on Freeland Lake. The family’s two chicks were probably little over a week old and stayed very close to their parents. Sliver performed beautifully as Tim and I took turns paddling with it. After swimming and showering at the George Lake campground we reluctantly got back in the car and alternated driving and snoozing our way home. By an odd twist, we arrived home at 1:56 a.m. on July 19th, Tim’s 46th birthday. Our adventure had lasted exactly 24 hours — one complete rotation of the planet which ended on a day where the planet was in the exact position relative to the sun that it had been on the day Tim was born. Fitting metaphors that help to give personal meaning to our earlier philosophical discussions on the nature of time – the mysterious fourth dimension.
As to what to do with Sliver, Tim and I came up with a unique idea while we were on O.S.A. We discussed how ownership could look however we wanted it to. We decided to make the paddle part of our personal “Paddleshare” program. I carved an ash ottertail paddle several years ago which we also paddled with in Killarney. On that paddle I copied a rock painting that represented my own personal mantra of “Peace & Safe Passage” – a human figure standing with his arms outstretched, palms up and the sun overhead. The two paddles are comparable in length and colour. We decided that one of us should always have either “Sliver” or “Peace” to trip with. In future years we plan to exchange the paddles until the next time we see each other. Both paddles will become a legacy of our friendship and of a wonderful day spent together in a beautiful part of Ontario."