Credit: Kevin Callan
Our initial plan was to camp at Whitefish Campground. However, after being soured by the obnoxious campers down at the beach, Andy and I quickly changed our minds.
The problem was, there wasn’t a legitimate interior campsite to stay on until we reached Tanamakoon Lake — making it a full 11-hour day of paddling and portaging. We still went for it though, paddling up the ever-twisting Madawaska River, blocked by several beaver dams, mud-caked portages and a moose who refused to move out of our way while we tried to paddle past.
At dusk, we reached Tanamakoon Lake and took the very first campsite, pitching our tent on a small island populated by a flock of Canada geese who seemed to have pooped freely everywhere. The geese weren’t happy to share their island — and neither were Andy and I. But we tried our best to co-exist until morning.
The only good that came out of the site was the invite Andy and I received in the morning for a free breakfast from the neighbouring Camp Tanamakoon. I’m a huge fan of youth camps (and free breakfasts). I worked as an outdoor educator in my 20s, and even recognized the traditional camp songs sung before and after breakfast. Visiting Camp Tanamakoon, and later the nearby Camp Pathfinder — whose participants paddle Algonquin’s Meanest link route every season — refreshed the trip for me. It reminded me why places like Algonquin Provincial Park are so important. Imagine growing up spending a summer canoe tripping in this accessible wilderness; it would seriously change your life. And it did to so many influential people. Look who went to camp: Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Chevy Chase, Martha Stewart and Albert Einstein. Prime Minister Trudeau even went to Algonquin’s Camp Ahmek, and so did his son, Justin.
After having seconds, and thirds, of bacon and eggs, Andy and I continued on our trip. We finished the upstream paddle on the Madawaska River and then went downstream on our last river of the trip — the Oxtongue. I was very familiar with this waterway, having paddled it many times in the past. It’s an easy float through a very accessible but uncrowded wild area, especially after it leaves Algonquin’s western border. Of course, this wasn’t the case when Andy and I started paddling it. The dam had been closed for construction on the nearby highway and only a mere trickle of water was flushing down.
We found ourselves walking the canoe down each shallow rapid. Making it worse was the smell; the river reeked of rotten vegetation. A major flood in the spring also left a number of snags blocking the way. I kept thinking of the movie Groundhog Day. Andy and I had gone back in time and found ourselves, once again, wading a river. At least it was the last couple of days rather then the first, and we were going downstream instead of up. I still have nightmares of my time spent walking up the Big East River the first week of our trip. Never again!