Credit: Kevin Callan

It was the odd pink ribbon that got us to the end of the “lost” portage section of Algonquin’s Meanest Link route.

Park legend, Craig MacDonald, had recently marked the traditional portage trail between Hood Lake and McCraney, which allowed Andy and I to trudge up-and-down a giant mound of granite, through an entanglement of maple and birch saplings and to the shore of McCraney. The hot-and-humid weather, plagued by hordes of mosquitoes and deer flies, became tolerable with the slight breeze coming off the lake — and a loon wailed off in the distance, almost as if to welcome us to this pocket of semi-wild landscape in south-central Ontario.

We were officially in Algonquin Provincial Park now. The portages would be marked with bright yellow signs and the campsites would have miniature outhouses, labelled “treasure chests." The going would be easier — relatively that is.

Andy and I also came across our first park paddlers — a mid-aged couple equipped with a lightweight canoe, matching packs, designer paddles and wide-brimmed hats. They also had a white poodle with its own PFD. They took one look at us, probably labelling us as "crazy yahoos," and asked how we had accessed the lake from the southern end. Andy replied “Just walked up the Big East River... you should try it.”

We so wanted to make camp on the first island site on McCraney Lake. It looked so “civilized,” with cozy tent pads, a sculptured fire-ring and a makeshift plywood table nailed to two big pine trees. But it wasn’t even noon yet. So we continued on and portaged into Rain Lake by way of a long trail that made use of an old road. The bugs were out in force but Andy and I had such a bad odour to us that the majority of mosquitoes kept a good distance.

We camped on Rain Lake. Our campsite came with a slight breeze, so Andy and I got naked and went for a dip to wash off the sweat and dirt from hauling up the Big East — a nasty moment in our lives that we were already beginning to forget. Only problem was that as we sat on a rock slab along the shoreline, air-drying our private parts out, a canoe approached. It was Randy and Lynn, a couple who volunteered to bring us our first food drop. First thing Lynn said as they beached their canoe was “You look better then we expected... a lot better than most who survive the Big East.”

Our visitors were a godsend — not only did they have our fresh supply of dried food (and new flask of Black Grouse blended whisky) for the next six days, they also gave us a can of cold beer, thick-sliced bacon and massive steaks. We hugged them, even though they were complete strangers. Then hugged them again. Randy also brought a power drill to fix our canoe. I had called Algonquin Outfitters a couple days earlier on the satellite phone to say our new Nova Craft Prospector canoe was losing its outer wooden gunwales. The screws used were too short. It was merely cosmetic, and a simple mistake made during production, but it would be better to continue on with a fully functional craft. Andy and I fixed the canoe while Randy and Lynn swatted bugs. They were fresh meat. We were used to the nuisance pests; they weren’t. The evening squadrons of blackfies zeroed in on poor Lynn’s forehead and she lost a pint of blood by the time they paddled back to their car at the Rain Lake access.

Our usual morning porridge was replaced by the bacon. Problem was, Andy and I cooked it up in our bug shelter and for the rest of the trip the screened-in sanctuary became a bear attractant. It was worth it though. This was that kind of bacon you’d totally avoid cooking without a shirt on. The hot grease splattered everywhere the first minute it cooked up in the frying pan. It was delicious.