I knew it was too good to be true. The plane flying me home after I presented at the paddling show in Minneapolis was on-time; early in fact. The joyful passengers, including myself, boarded in an organized manner with everyone being considerate of each other. Life was good — or at least the best it can be at a busy airport.
Once the plane taxied out to the runway, however, things changed. The revving engine dropped to a faint hum and brakes beneath us began to squeak. Not long afterwards, the pilot made an announcement that there was a delay in Toronto and we would have to sit patiently on the tarmac until we got the go ahead to take-off.
Ten minutes into the hour-an-a-half wait and the same friendly people became barbaric. Intolerance took over from compassion. The steward got the worst of it — but he also was one of the rudest flight attendants I’ve ever come across. The guy beside also smelled bad — made up of body odour, foot odour, bad breath and something identifiable. I hated being there. It was so claustrophobic and I felt like a goldfish in one of those tanks used at the fall fair — I prayed someone would throw the ring over the pin, win me and take me home in a baggie. To survive this I knew I needed to go to my happy place.
Sleep was impossible, I read the magazine I packed along three times already, and the battery for my minipad was totally drained. So I searched my side bag for something to entertain me and found an old Algonquin Provincial Park map stored on the very bottom. It was stained with coffee, weathered and torn at each corner, and even had a few dried up mosquitoes squashed on it. Planning my next canoe trip in Algonquin became my salvation and out of it came a 20-day, 350-km trip around the park called The Meanest Link.
It wasn’t until a couple weeks later I rethought my idea to paddle the legendary Meanest Link. After all, it has 93 portages, ranging from 50 metres to five metres, adding up to 68 km. That’s if I only walk them once across. I generally go across twice, multiplying the length. Yikes. I guess I’ll have to leave the camp chair and pillow at home for this one.
This route is the brain child of the staff at Algonquin Outfitters, Alex Hurley and Gordon Baker, devised in the summer of 2004. They combined four challenging canoe routes connecting the four Algonquin Outfitters stores serving Algonquin Park: Oxtongue Lake, Huntsville, Brent, on Cedar Lake, and Lake Opeongo. It was named in honour and memory of Bill Swift Sr., one of the founders of Algonquin Outfitters. Swifty, as he was most often called, had other nicknames, such as Mean Dude, or Meanest, which were a tribute to his gruff exterior persona.
There’s only a few rules to follow — one is you can’t go solo, due to safety. I may how to break that one, however. I’m waiting for my regular canoe mate, Andy Baxter, to see if he can get the time off work. I hope he does.
Stay tuned for more details as the planning progresses. I’m going in June when bugs are at their prime, the water level are up and the Algonquin portages aren’t too crowded.