It was the schoolyard bully that initiated our family canoe trip across Algonquin.
My daughter’s arch nemesis had teased her at recess about not seeing a moose before. I doubt the ruffian had seen one either — she was one of those priggish little girls who judged everyone but herself. It was the last day of school before summer break and Kyla came home that night with a determined look on her face. I’m not sure what bothered Kyla the most; the teasing of the school bully or the fact that she’s been wilderness canoe tripping since she was six-weeks old and had yet to see a creature that Bill Bryson defined as, “a cow drawn by a three-year-old.” Whatever the reason, Kyla was intent on seeing a moose (maybe even two) before going back to school in the fall.
Algonquin was a good choice for a moose-spotting trip. The population is around 3,500 with the added bonus that the majority of them aren’t camera shy. Algonquin is one of Canada’s busiest provincial parks and the wildlife that call it home have adjusted to the crowds. Combine all that with Algonquin’s 2,000 km of possible canoe routes and we found out hunting grounds for the summer.
The route was a solid one. Two weeks of paddling and portaging from the west end of the park to the east end. It was a trip my wife, Alana, and I had always wanted to challenge ourselves with and it seemed timely to make our dream a reality. For Kyla the route we planned had little meaning — as long as there was lots of beaches for swimming and frogs to catch she was okay with our choice.
Since it was a linear trip there was a bit of homework on the logistics. First off we needed someone to shuttle our vehicle and we chose Jason from Algonquin Bound Outfitters. It worked out perfect. We arrived at their store just outside the west gate on Highway 60. From there we had someone from the store join us in our vehicle as we drove to the western access (Magnetewan Lake). Once we unloaded our canoe and gear, the driver took our vehicle back, to be cached at their other store in Madawaska — located along the access road to our end point on Crotch Lake. The only downside was that it was pouring rain when our shuttle driver left us. Rain doesn’t bother me too much on trips, except when it happens the first day out.
We made the best of the wet weather and spent a couple of hours paddling and portaging from Magnetawan Lake to Daisy Lake. Out first night was spent on the west side of Daisy’s centre island. By then the rain had stopped and Kyla went in for her first swim of the trip. She loves swimming, even though she’s not all that good at it. Not sure why. We’ve registered her in swim classes since she was a toddler. Our dog, a springer spaniel, can’t swim well either. That’s like a retriever not knowing how to fetch a stick or a husky afraid of the cold.
The area we were paddling the second and third day of the trip was a trip down memory lane for me. We kept to the Petewawa River, camping on Misty and then Big Trout Lake. It’s the same waterway I took countless spring fishing trips on with my high school buddies. We had canoe tripped together since grade eleven and continued our annual visit to Algonquin through post-secondary, graduation, family and full time employment. I’m not sure what ended it all. Thinking back, it was a blend of things I guess. Some of us wanted to challenge ourselves on more northerly routes and others wanted to simply rent a cabin for the weekend. There were also differences amongst the group that caused friction; friendly banter around the evening campfire had turned into heated debates, even nasty arguments that created reversible bad feelings. Some of us still meet for the odd golf game, and a few got together for a beer at our high school reunion, but a full week venture down the Petewawa River searching for trophy brook trout became a thing of the past.
I think Alana and Kyla grew a little tired of me rambling off elaborate anecdotes of past fish caught and practical jokes played on my high school chums. To them this section of the park was new and exciting, not familiar and full of good (and bad) memories. I switched my tune by the afternoon of day two and rather than cast a line into a recognizable trout hole I would stop to catch frogs with Kyla.
Our time together was well spent. We caught lots of frogs and the bond between father and daughter was immeasurable. It always has been. Since she was out of diapers I’ve made sure Kyla was part of the trip rather then someone tagging along on it. She carries her own pack on the portage — even though it only contains a collection of Barbie dolls and her favourite books. She has chores to do around camp as well, like helping mom put the tent up, fetch water or gather firewood. She even paddles some of the time, but not all the time. Our relationship on a canoe trip is somewhere between being a camp councilor and an overenthusiastic and ever watchful parent; and it seems to work.
It was on the portage leading into Little Trout Lake at the end of day three Kyla had her first moose encounter. I was just ahead of her on the trail, balancing the 17-foot beast of a canoe over my shoulders, when I caught a glimpse of four dangly legs a few metres off the overturned bow. It was a young bull, one that had definitely seen humans before. I unloaded the canoe and then jogged back on the trail a bit, catching up with Kyla and whispered, “Your moose is waiting for you just ahead.” She did a slight scurry past me to catch a glimpse, and then stopped dead in her tracks when she saw it.
“It’s big! Bigger than I though,t” she muttered back, and then proceeded to motion me to go first on the trail.
Pictures of the moose were taken by my daughter, my wife and myself. I swear the moose posed for them. It also took its sweet time moving out of our way before we continued on our route. We waited patiently, however. Moose can be dangerous and encounters can go horribly wrong. The problem with Algonquin moose is that they seem tame at first and usually react like a zoo animal when you first approach them. In less-travelled parks you’re lucky if the moose stays put for half-a-second before escaping into the dense bush. Be warned, however. Algonquin moose’s gentle, almost domestic character can switch back to its wild state when you least expect it. One minute you’re getting the photo of a lifetime and then suddenly the beast’s hackles go up and it blindly charges.
We escaped the moose encounter without incident and found ourselves camped on a banana-shaped island on Big Trout Lake a couple hours later. A group of vociferous terns were our neighbors, which became a problem when CBC Radio called on the satellite phone. Michael Bhardwaj of CBC’s In Town & Out had scheduled a few interviews with us while we made out way across Algonquin. Michael said the squawking birds added to the “live” quality of the show. I just found them annoying. So did Kyla. She was interviewed by Michael as well, and she did a great job rambling on about how she felt about being on an extended canoe trip with her parents. Funny part was that after the interview she handed over the phone and said, “That’s not my thing dad, next radio interview you’re on your own.”