Date: August 23 – August 28th, 2003
Blue Canoe: Ian Greenwood & Shawn Silver
Green Canoe: Jenn Fournier & Paul McLaren
Red Canoe: Marc Ducharme & Lana Roberts
White Canoe: Adam Silver & Jenny Faller
Starting point on Lake Temagami at Manitou Landing, north into Kokoko Bay, portage into Kokoko Lake, returning to Manitou Landing via the same route.
Day 1: Wind
On the morning of the trip, Adam and I awoke to the panicked call of Lana, one of the trippers. Nearly in tears, she told Adam she would probably have to back out of the trip because her truck refused to start. Without transportation for her canoe, she wouldn’t be able to even start the trip, let alone join us on it. After talking to her, we came up with about three possible solutions for the problem – one of which had been decided on – only to hear back from her that her truck had started and all was well. An eventful trip already and we hadn’t even gotten out of bed yet. To be on the safe side, we decided to follow Lana’s truck to Temagami in our car, in case it quit along the way.
We arrived at Loon Lodge, our planned meeting place, only about an hour late. As our last meal to be had indoors, most of the eight of us enjoyed the Lodge’s infamous Loon Burger… and a fine burger it was. Once we had finished eating we headed over to Manitou Landing, mentally preparing for the transfer from car to canoe.
The landing itself was an exceptionally busy place that afternoon. At least one of the camps on the lake was letting out, and there were people everywhere singing drinking songs, hugging their parents hello and their friends goodbye, and generally causing incredible amounts of chaos. In this confusion we were forced to put in our canoes and attempt to load them. With some effort and a lot of camper-dodging we succeeded and organized ourselves just barely enough to take a couple of group pictures before launching into the wind.
Ah yes, the wind. I haven’t yet mentioned anything about that. All day there had been a strong wind from the northwest – tossing around our car with the canoe tied on top, blowing our hats off as we tried to load up, and creating enough waves to make loading our canoes just the tiniest bit more challenging than usual. And then we launched into it, and the first day of canoeing truly began.
Adam and I had chosen this year to rent a white Kevlar keel-less Arrow canoe to make portaging simple and light. This proved to be an issue when we were faced with a strong wind coming from the northwest. Note: Kevlar keel-less canoes are exceptionally difficult to control in a strong wind unless you kneel instead of sit. It took us a few hours to figure this out. At least two of the canoes – the ones used by Ian & Shawn and Marc & Lana – seemed to handle the wind reasonably well, maintaining a relatively straight path towards the bay we were aiming for. The other two fared not quite so well.
We pushed against that wind as hard as we could, but sometimes it seemed like a hand just picked us up and carried us away with it. After we went in a few circles trying to get back on track, we decided that it was the hand of the canoeing god trying to teach us a lesson. Paul & Jenn in their green canoe didn’t seem to be doing much better than we were, although it was hard to tell from my perspective. We kept on for what was probably over an hour but felt much longer against that wind until we came around the first point of the main channel. It was then that the wind decided we would go no farther in that direction. Paul & Jenn followed Adam & I into a small bay just around the edge of the point, since the wind had decreed that it was either take shelter or go directly back to Loon Lodge. Ian & Shawn in the blue canoe were so far ahead that our whistles couldn’t reach them, so Marc & Lana in their red took off after them to let them know what was going on. We waited and rested and looked at the map, trying to figure out where exactly we were trying to go.
As the red and blue canoes came back around the point looking for us, Jenn came up with a possible solution for our breezy predicament. Judging by the map, she figured if we cut diagonally across the channel that had just forcibly pushed us back, we would be able to make it into the bay we were reaching for. It was either that or turn back and take the nearest campsite. At that point we were still in view of Loon Lodge, and we decided as a group to go on and at least try to make it into the bay and find a campsite there. We would not be defeated by the wind.
Before we left our sheltered little bay of calm, we decided to take a breather and relax. As we floated close to shore rafted together, I decided that I should put my sunglasses back on before we tried to put back out into the channel. I reached down to the floor of my canoe, picked up the glasses and started to put them on. Unfortunately, my aim was off, and instead of placing them neatly on the bridge of my nose I caught part of the glasses on my mouth, which made them flip neatly out of my hand and over the edge of the canoe. It was as I reached into the water trying to catch them that I realized to my dismay sunglasses don’t float. I watched them slowly drift to the bottom, noting where they landed amidst the rocks and feeling sad.
Naturally, in the spirit of not being defeated, I chose to go after them. I had dressed appropriately in my bathing suit, so I climbed carefully out of the canoe and landed in the comfortably warm water. The rest of the trippers seemed quite amused by my situation.
The water was deeper than it looked – I could see my sunglasses under me when there was some sunlight, but not when the canoes drifted over them. I tried to reach them with my feet – unsuccessfully – and realized at that point that it might be a good idea to take off my PFD. Floating doesn’t help you when you’re trying to reach something at the bottom of the lake. I tried to push myself under the water off the canoes, which didn’t particularly work well, and ended up spluttering and coughing. Poor planning, really. I finally grabbed the goggles and positioned myself over the glasses, which looked to be in about six feet of water. They were tough to see, being a mottled brown and darker brown plastic design against a mottled brown against darker brown rocky lake bed.
Treading water and clinging to the side of a canoe, I checked and re-checked a few times for the position of the sunglasses and finally took the plunge – feet first, since head first just wasn’t working out. Fortunately I can grasp things with my toes, and that’s what I did with the glasses. Success! I had my glasses back, and had only to climb back into the canoe to complete my mission. I hadn’t ever tried to climb out of water into rafted canoes before – it was an interesting experience. At least I can safely say that no canoes tipped in the making of this adventure. The air when I got back out was freezing compared to the warmth of the water, so I wrapped myself up in my sarong, my PFD, and my towel. Everyone thanked me for providing them with entertainment on their rest from paddling, and we prepared to head back out to cross the channel.
As it turned out, diagonally crossing the channel was considerably easier on us than going straight had been. By this point Adam & I had decided to try kneeling in our canoe, which also seemed to help immensely. In short order, we had made it across the channel without incident, and had to figure out which of the many bays we were staring at was Kokoko Bay. The map was passed around the canoes as we conferred and agreed on a bay that seemed to be in the right place.
We started into the chosen bay and went around an island, which brought us to a fork of some sort. Again we had to confer about which route would take us where we wanted to go and which would take us to the North Arm of Temagami. Once we were sorted out, we continued onward into what we hoped was Kokoko Bay.
It was a little while before we were completely convinced that we had taken the right path. Not until we saw the first campsite (which we all agreed at the time could potentially be our last campsite on the way out of the bay) were we totally convinced that we were in the right place. As long as we stuck close to the shore, the wind didn’t seem to push us around too much. We paddled past the first campsite we saw, since it was taken, and moved onward towards the next two which were close together. We pulled up to the first one and Adam hopped out of the canoe to check if it was big enough. Just as Paul & Jenn and I were waiting for him (and for the red and blue canoes to catch up,) a friendly fisherman went by in his fishing boat and told us quite confidently that the next campsite around the corner was a lot nicer as well as empty, and we should move on to that one. Adam came back from checking the site (he said it looked pretty nice.) We told him about the wise fisherman who had appeared, and we decided to take the fisherman’s advice and moved on.
I would have to agree that the fisherman was right about the site being a nice one. We landed and unloaded our packs before I took a minute to look around the site, but I quite liked the place, and it had a superior rock that seemed to be almost designed for star-watching (and, by consequence of Mars being the closest it’s been in 60,000-odd years, Mars-watching.)
We set up camp and took a look at how far we had actually gotten in that day’s paddling. It didn’t seem like much on paper, but we had been going against the wind for hours, so it felt like a long trip to us.
The evening was spent cooking over camp stoves. The first night of trip seems to always bring great food, which tends to decrease in quality and freshness as the trip progresses. This trip was no exception. We all enjoyed our meals, although Marc’s leftover steak going into the campfire almost gave Ian an aneurism. Meat wastage is against Ian’s religion, I think.
The sun was setting as we lit the campfire. We noticed, as the sun slowly sank, that the wind had all but disappeared. The lake was calm as ice, not a trace of the whitecaps that had hounded us the entire day – a typical trait of Lake Temagami, in my experience. The sky was clear and the night cool – a perfect night for stargazing.
I wandered out to the stargazing rock to check it out, and went back for my camera and tripod. I had decided that I wanted to try and take a picture of Mars while it was close to Earth, and the rock provided a perfect platform to set up my tripod to do just that. After setting up, I watched the stars come out one at a time until I couldn’t possibly count them anymore. I headed back to the campfire for a while, then went back out to the rock and spent a great deal of time there, passing binoculars back and forth between Adam, Shawn and Marc. I stayed out there until Mars rose above the tree line before going back to the campfire to warm up.
Somewhere in the course of the evening, lying on the stargazing rock, we came up with the concept of the Pooh Collector. The Pooh Collector, you see, is an ancient, hooded man in a dark cloak with a lantern hanging from his staff. He follows you around in the woods, waiting for you to deposit your pooh somewhere that he can collect it. It seemed to us as we laughed about the pooh collector that the spirit of Vachel, who couldn’t make the trip this year, had joined us. The pooh collector followed us on our travels in the Kokoko region.
Later that night we saw a show of northern lights to a chorus of loon calls across the lake. Ian and Lana chose to sleep outside rather than in their tents, which was a reasonable idea since it wasn’t unbearably cold at that point. The entire night seemed to epitomize the Temagami canoe tripping experience to me. Everything had fallen into place perfectly after a rough day on the lake, and we were all comfortably tired, and hoping the next day wouldn’t be as difficult as the first.