Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Rock Lake Solo Trip: July 10 - 13, 2007

This is the LONG awaited and much delayed trip log. I apologize for the delay in getting it posted, but I really wanted to be sure all the details were included and took my time doing it. I hope it was worth the wait! Without further it is!

WARNING: This is VERY LONG...enjoy!

ROCK LAKE SOLO TRIP LOG: JULY 10 -13, 2007 ( least that was the plan)

Tuesday July 10, 2007- The Trip from Newcastle to Rock Lake

I woke at 3:30 am and went about showering, making breakfast and getting dressed in the clothes I had laid out the night before. I checked the Weather Network site and was pleased to see only a 30% chance of thundershowers. I had already put my gear in the trunk before going to bed, so after giving my wife a kiss (...she woke up just long enough to mumble "love you") then I was off. I pulled up to Tim's and ordered a Large coffee ( 3 milk + 2 sweetener...just in case you're interested) and a toasted bagel. Initially, I was surprised when the girl at the drive-thru told me they don't have bagels yet. "What?" I thought. Then quickly remembered it was 4:30 in the morning after all! So, with coffee already in hand I settled on a bran muffin and left Newcastle eager to get started.

I was renting my solo shearwater canoe from Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtounge Lake and finding it was my first goal for the day. The trip there was fairly uneventful. There were some periods of rain on the way north, but they were brief and since I had already checked the weather report I was not concerned in the slightest. On the way up the truck in front of me struck a deer. It was awful to watch its carcass be thrown through the air and land hard in the tall grass that lined the side of the road. I stopped to make sure the driver of the truck was OK and both he and his vehicle were fine. I thought about going over to see the deer, but chickened out. I had visions of it jumping to it's feet and stomping me to death and I made myself feel better about leaving the injured animal by saying "...what could I have done for it?". That said, I felt bad for not at least looking. On the way up I saw 4 more deer on the side of the road and it made me feel a bit better about punking out.

I arrived at the AO on Oxtounge Lake at 7:15 and since it didn't even open until 8:00 I used the time to take some pictures, write in my journal and study the map. While walking around the grounds I noticed they had these large canvas tents setup along the lake with signs numbered 1-6. I guess they are for rent? Not something I would want to do, but good for them for making money on what would be otherwise unused space. The staff arrived at 8:00 am and seemed genuinely surprised that I was there waiting for them. They took 15 minutes or so setting up their computers and were apologetic that I had to wait. Like I less then an hour I would be on Rock Lake. The staff were awesome! I had arranged to transport the canoe to Rock Lake using my vehicle ( $5.00 charge) and supply the straps, foam and show you how to do it. They were great and the two young guys ( I forget their names) were more then willing to explain why they do certain things and how to tie the cool knots they used. I chatted with them for a while about my trip and their Algonquin experiences...great guys! A little behind schedule, I pulled out at 9:00, with my canoe neatly secured to the car and headed into the park!

I had not been on Hwy 60 in a long time and I forgot how beautiful it was! As I made my way east towards Rock Lake it was cool to see the signs for all the Lakes that others had mentioned in the countless trip logs I have read since becoming interested in canoe trips a few short years ago. At first it felt a little weird driving with the canoe on the roof. Mostly because I was afraid it would fly off and become a 38 lb Kevlar missile, but it didn't even wiggle!

I arrived at the Rock Lake Permit office at 9:30. The young guy there looked up my reservation and asked all the usual questions,”licence plate number". I responded "XXX XXX". He then asked about my tent colour and I responded with a smile "...I don't have a tent, I use a hammock", trying to make it sound like I did this kind of thing all the time. He asked me a few more questions about the hammock and I told him where I got it and gave him the website. He continued to ask more questions about what it looked like and how it worked, so I gave him the web address for the blog and told him about the video Gerry and I had posted a while ago. He was very appreciative and before long I had my permit in hand and was about to leave the office. As I opened the door I turned back and asked the guy if he could look up the weather for me. He was so eager to help he was almost tripping over himself. He informed me that "... they are calling for a 40% chance of thundershowers this evening". I thanked him again and was on my way!

Tuesday July 10, 2007 - Rock Lake to Pen Lake

At 9:45 I pulled up to Rock Lake proper. I got out of the car and just stared in amazement that I was actually here and this was really happening! It looked just as Mark in the Park had described and now it was official....I was excited! Despite the numerous cars in the parking lot there were not many people at the put in. As I assembled my gear and released the straps from the canoe a small group of kids returning from South Rock Lake arrived and any silence I was enjoying was quickly broken. As I brought my pack down to the dock it was hard not to notice the tension in the voice of one of the leaders of the group of kids. "Don't throw the paddles...what are you doing?" he barked. I laughed to myself and thought of my own kids, much younger, but at times all capable of getting me in the same state. Before I had left, my daughter had drawn me a picture of here to take with me for good luck. I taped my pocked to make sure I had it with me and the crinkle of the paper was assurance enough.

Removing the canoe from the roof of the car by myself proved much easier then I had anticipated. I just lifted it up, took 3 steps back, and then placed it on the ground. Then with relative ease, moved it down to the dock and went about bolting on my cushiony Yoke pads to the removable yoke.

The canoe was light and it was very easy to lift. I was not expecting the removable yoke though, but after seeing that the seat is in the middle (I would find out later that this is standard for solo canoes) it made sense that it had to be removable. Duh! The seat was different as well. It was not fixed and could be slid forward or back....I am still not entirely sure why, but would guess that it would limit the head space while portaging?

This would be the first real field test for several new pieces of gear. The Bent Paddle, Amigo Pro Water filter, Yoke Pads and the Hennessey Hammock.

At 10:05 I loaded up my pack and took a few pictures before climbing in. I looked back at my car, took a slow deep breath and quietly said to myself "you can do this". I pushed off and paddled south.

I immediately felt the speed and ease of paddling that the bent paddle provided. It was almost effortless and I was impressed with how little energy was needed to propel myself with great speed. The paddle was awesome! Phew....I was a little worried about how it would work and with that load off my mind I weaved my way down the narrow waterway into the expanse of Rock Lake.

Before this trip, the only Algonquin experience I had was Access point #27 in Brent. It didn't take long for me to see just how different Rock Lake was from Brent. There was a lot of traffic, motor boats, canoes and kayaks streamed in every direction. Some coming from the beach just off the car camping sites and others from the countless cottages that dot the shore of Rock Lake. I could see the appeal of a cottage here, but for someone like me who only goes to Algonquin for interior trips, they were a bit of an eyesore and took away from the natural landscape.

As I continued south some very dark clouds moved in. Only a few at first, but soon they were everywhere until I could no longer see anything but a sea of gray. Once I was about half way down the lake it started to rain. Just lightly at first and I remember thinking how it felt refreshing. It was at this point that I remembered packing my rain gear in a now unreachable part of my pack. DOH! Well that gentle rain didn't last long. The sky opened up and it continued to rain hard for the next 10 minutes. Oh well, I continued to paddle south thankful that the rain had not brought any wind with it. Then without warning it just stopped and the rain disappeared as quickly as it had come.

I reached the portage from Rock to Pen Lake at 11:45 and man was it busy. There were over 10 canoes and I would guess at least 20-25 people standing, talking and portaging. It was crazy and I had never seen anything like it! I wanted to get out of there as quick as possible, but wanted to find the spring first. I had been told that there was a tapped spring here and I had no trouble finding it. After the first boardwalk follow the path to the right and it will take you right to it. I filled both my nalgene bottles and had a few sips. Ahhh great water!

I then collected my gear and walked the portage. I decided to double carry the relatively small 375 meter distance taking my pack first. The portage was easy. Some decent inclines at the start, but nothing difficult. This was my first time using the yoke pads on a canoe (Remember the Yoke pad gear test?) and they were great. Worked just as described and before long I was sitting on the dock on Pen Lake enjoying my cheese bagel lunch.

With lunch out of the way I paddled South on Pen lake and spotted a site with an awesome sand beach. On the Algonquin map it is the 3rd site down on the East shore. A bit of a peninsula that from the water looked much better then the site I had planned on staying on which was further south. I paddled over to take a closer look and it looked great, so I decided to get out. What a great site! It had everything you would want, a beach, 2 spots to put in, hills, trees and even a table that was made by tying a board between two trees. That was all I needed to convince me to make this my home for the night.

It was kind of funny how quickly I was able to set up camp. I guess when you don't bring much; you don't have much to set-up! Within 30 minutes I had set-up the kitchen, found a good spot for the food bag, hung the tarp and converted my thermarest into a chair. All I had to do now was to choose where I wanted to have my hammock. I had one place that was protected by the wind, but would not have much of a view. The other spot was on the crest of a big hill and gave views in all directions, but was very exposed to the elements. After a great deal of thought I decided on the hill top because the chance of thunderstorms was so low and I was sure the hammock could handle a minor storm, even if it was exposed.

With the hammock up I made this video tour of the site. This would be the last time I would use my camera today...shortly after this video was shot this turned into one of the most frightening experiences of my life. Please make note to the time near the end of the video...

Tuesday July 10, 2007, - Mother Nature is one Pissed Off

4:35 pm

I now set about getting diner ready. The fire pit had a great grill so I built a fire and started to cook my meal of Italian sausage on a bun with Pino Grigio. The sausage was just about cooked when it started to rain. A little at first, then an all out downpour. I grabbed the sausage and ducked under the tarp I had set up over the kitchen area. I didn't think much of the heavy rain as I ate dinner. The sausage was a little undercooked, but still good and the wine was terrific. As it continued to rain I decided to read, propped my thermarest chair on a stump and sat with my back to the wind. I continued to happily sip away at my wine as I read, all the while oblivious to what was brewing in the sky behind me.

5:05 pm:

I had been reading for about ten minutes, when I heard a loud rhythmic crashing. I looked up from my book and to see 2 foot waves smashing into the shore just north of the little cove I was in. It was at this point that I looked around and realized how dark it had become. I was thinking " ...that's's only five o'clock...” when a suddenly a huge gust of wind came out of nowhere and at the time I heard a loud CRACK! I jumped to my feet and looked behind me and was shocked by what I saw. I looked up the hill and witnessed two of the 4 ropes that tie down the tarp covering my hammock being ripped out by the force of the ever growing wind. I sprinted up the hill as the rain started to come hard and the wind continued to become more and more violent. I knew that if the other two ropes holding my tarp to the ground broke before I got there the tarp would be blown into the lake and I would be in real trouble. I was half way up the hill when I hear another loud SNAP and watched as the third rope was ripped away. The tarp, not only held on by one support rope was now being thrashed about by the now gale fore wind. I remember yelling " No....", thinking that it would let go at any moment.

I continued to run up the hill, it felt as though everything was in slow motion. The wind was now so strong that it pushed me back and it took even more effort not to be pushed down the hill. The rain was insane! It was coming down so fast and hard that it actually hurt as each drop struck me like a very truck. It wasn't even raining down anymore; the wind was pushing the rain sideways making protecting myself all but impossible. I reached the flapping corner of the tarp and it slapped me in the face for my trouble. It friging HURT, but I continued to real it in.
It was at this point that I realized three things:

1) I had put my sleeping bag and small pillow in the hammock and it was now as soaked as I was
2) The sky was a dark green colour and this storm was far from over
3) I might be in serious trouble ...

I did my best to hold the tarp over my now wet sleeping bag, all the while fighting with the wind that continued to try and rip it away from me, but I would not let way! I pulled the tarp over my head, desperate to escape the liquid bullets that pounded my body. I had never felt more scared or alone in my life and I questioned why I was here by myself.
I couldn't walk away or seek shelter for fear that I would loose my tarp. After a few minutes I came to the realization that all I could do was to stand there and wait for it to be over.

I could hear faint screams coming from a site just north of sounded like children and I hoped they were OK.

5:40 pm:

The wind, rain and hail continued to pound away for 35 minutes. I stood there with my upper half covered by the tarp until the rain and wind just stopped. I came out and surveyed the damage. Several trees and broken branches littered the ground. With some trepidation I inspected the tarp. The wind had ripped the ropes and the fabric loop that held them clean through. They appeared to be gone. I then spotted a large knot at realized what I was looking at. The wind had wound the three ropes into a hardball sized ball of knots and I spent the next hour and a half untying them. It was no fun, standing there, freezing cold and wet, but the fear of the storm returning was all the motivation I needed to get it done.

7:10 pm:

The ball of knots now returned to ropes. I assessed the condition of the fabric loops, found on the corners of the tarp. Three were ripped away and needed to be sewn back on. One was so badly, torn that I only had a tiny piece of fabric to sew back, but with the weather still holding I managed to sew all three back in place in an hour and fifteen minutes. My fingers were raw and bleeding from the countless needle pokes and I was getting tired, but I knew I still had work to do. I started to think about my family and my home and wished I could be transported there. I pushed these thoughts aside...I had to focus. "...c'mon Jim", I remember saying aloud, and then with tears forming in my eyes, I started to dismantle my hammock.

7:55 pm:

I needed a place with more protection from the wind...make that ANY protection from the wind. I ended up setting up the hammock in the "other location" I had considered when choosing sites just a few hours felt like days ago that all that happened. The bottom third of my sleeping bag was soaked, but my pillow and most of my bag remained fairly dry. Finally some good news! Before long I had set-up the hammock and was preparing to go to bed. I peeled off layers of soaked clothes. They were, so wet you would have thought I had jumped into the lake and it felt good to get them off. I got into my sleeping bag and decided to read to get my mind off of things. I reach into my pocket expecting to pull out my headlamp, but instead a color blotched piece of paper appears. I unfold it to see the picture my daughter had drawn for me, now ruined by the rain. I stared at it for a few moments and I began to feel sad. I missed them. I fell asleep within minutes.

Wednesday July 11, 2007

1:30 am:

I awoke to the feeling of rain striking me on the face. One of the fabric loops had broken again and the tarp flapped in the wind. It was raining, but not nearly has hard as before and I was thankful. I found my headlamp and my sew kit and got out...I had to sew it back on in the rain. It didn't take me as long to sew this one (only about 15 minutes), but I was standing there in my underwear and was now colder then ever. I had been using a lighter to push the needle through the thick fabric and just as I was about to tie it off the needle ONLY needle. I had done all I could do. I was about to get back in when I thought I would tie rocks to the corner ropes in case the wind picked up again. That way, the tarp would not be wiped around as much. I made quick work of it and by 2:15 I was back in the hammock and drifting back to sleep. I would wake-up a few more times throughout the night...mostly when the wind would rattle the tarp.

8:30 am:

When I woke I was pleased to see that my tarp had held and was quite proud of my idea to tie the rocks to the corners. (I would find out later that had I read the instructions, I would have already known that this is exactly what Hennessy Hammocks tell you to do in high wind...Doh!)
I was alarmed to see that my canoe had been flipped over by the wind and had a large branch in it. I approached it fearing that it had caused serious damage. The branch was 6 inches around and had landed directly on the seat, crushing it in two. The canoe however, looked fine. I took the canoe out and was relieved that it had somehow escaped without any damage. Phew! I used duct tape to piece it together and then put my nalgene bottles under the broken seat. Presto! It was a little wobbly, but it worked.

The weather was better. Still the occasional dark cloud, but no rain to speak of. I made breakfast (chocolate protein powder and Quaker instant Oatmeal....Yum!) then sat and considered my options. I still wanted to continue, but with a broken seat, damaged tarp and me being more then a little gun shy about the weather, I decided to head back to Rock Lake and go home. I then began packing up.


After I had my bagel and cheese lunch, I took a few pictures, loaded up my canoe and pushed off. I paddled out a bit and looked back at the site...did all that really happen? Just crazy!

The paddle north on Pen was fine. The wind was high and blew me around a bit, but the waves were still manageable. I pulled up to the dock at the portage going into Rock Lake at 12:45 and there were many people just as eager to go home. I single carried this portage and at the other end a young woman helped me, put my canoe down. She took one look and my blood and dirt stained clothes and said ".you must have been on Pen Lake to?” I introduced myself and her name was Cathy. We shared stories of our experiences the night before and it turned out she was on the site just north of me with 15 kids and 3 other leaders. The screams I had heard were when one of their tents had blown into the kids in it, but the tent and the gear of 4 kids were gone. We talked for a while and she wished me well...nice girl!

The portage was even busier then when I had been here the day before. I put my canoe in the water and pushed off. I had to navigate around some guys fishing from a motor boat. They pulled out their lines, so I could pass and I waived in appreciation.

The trip back was fast. I put the bent paddle to the test and made it from the portage back to the Rock Lake take out in and 65 minutes. I was pulling up to the dock the same fisherman that I saw at the portage were just motoring by and yelled " Nice Job buddy!", noticing how quickly I had made it up the lake. This made me puff up with pride and their were a number of people at the take out that looked in my direction after that. Very cool!

After a change of clothes. I loaded the gear, strapped down the canoe and before long I arrived back at AO to return my canoe. A young guy came up and began to help me un-strap the canoe and as he did casually asked me "Where are you coming from?". "Pen Lake" I responded. He stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said “You were on Pen Lake last night?". "Yeah" I said, half wondering why he was staring at me as though he had seen a ghost. He continued to stare at me a blurted out "...there was a tornado there last night!” Then it hit me like a sky, sideways rain, gale winds, hail...oh my god of course it was a tornado!
As we started to remove the straps again, he asked me a bunch of questions about what it was like and I answered as best I could. I helped him carry the canoe over to the shop and told him about the seat and how it had happened. He didn't care about the damage in the slightest and we talked for a while, before I left to go settle up in the main office.

This was the official tornado warning:

5:20 PM EDT Tuesday 10 July 2007

Tornado warning for
Fenelon Falls - Balsam Lake Park - Algonquin Park- Northern Kawartha Lakes -

At 4:40 PM radar showing rotation in a line of severe thunderstorms from east of clear lake to near bolsover. Storms are moving eastward about 80 km/h.

This is a warning that severe thunderstorms with tornadoes are imminent or occurring in these regions. Monitor weather conditions. Take immediate safety precautions.

The girl in the office had pulled my reservation and had just said "...oh, you're back a couple of days early...", when the young guy that helped me with my canoe burst in saying “He was on Pen Lake last night!". Then all the 5 staff wanted to hear all about it, so I told them all the full story and they all looked at me with amazement. This single experience made the ordeal almost worth it! I then settled up and left for home.

Before pulling out of the parking lot I called Tanyia to let her know that I was OK. My fear was that she had seen the tornado warning for that area and was worried sick about me.


Me: "Hey Tanyia....fist off I am OK and everything is fine."
Tanyia " OK...why are you back"
Me:" There was a tornado on the lake I stayed on last didn't know?"
Tanyia: "No...I didn't want to know, so I skipped watching the weather"

Funny! Well, at least she wasn't worried!

I arrived home and my family was there to see me! I hugged and kissed them all and decided to spare the kids from hearing the details, but spilled it all to Tanyia. After I was finished she gave me a hug and said " smell, go have a shower"...she always knows just what to say! LOL!

What I learned:

My goal was to learn about myself and although I didn't go the full distance, I feel I learned more about myself in 24 hours then at any point in my life. I was able to make decisions on my own, prioritize and when needed fly by the seat of my pants and these were all things I was unsure about before. I have always been an insecure guy and to some degree, probably always will be, but this experience left a positive imprint on me that have changed me for the better. I find I don't second guess myself as much anymore and I answer others with more confidence that my decision is the correct one. When I am wrong, I don't get upset about it like I used to...I just try to learn from it.

I guess the most important thing I learned was not to put limitations on myself, like " I can't do this or that because I know that if I could handle all the problems that occurred on my trip and still come out smiling...then maybe I could handle anything that came my way.


Chris said...

Awesome write-up, well worth the wait, and I'm glad things worked out well in the end. Our running coach was always fond of the "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." quote from Nietzsche. Sounds like you passed the test with flying colors.
Best wishes!

Jim said...

Thanks Chris!

It's always good to know that all the effort is appreciated by those that read my blog.

Thanks for reading buddy!

Mungo said...

Sounds like you had an incredible, and exciting time! Solo trips can be very rewarding - I was in the backyard today gathering my camping gear, and sorting it into 2 piles: not to bring on a solo (as it is too heavy or luxurious), and what to bring on a solo.

As an aside, I was in Galeairy Lake at the same time, and used the Rock Lake entrance to get there. In your photo at the dock, that's my Honda in the background!!! Neat!

My dad and I experienced a sudden storm, rotating clouds, and with me being 210 pounds, him being 190 pounds and Monty my beagle being 45 pounds - 445 pounds combined - we could hardly hold the tent down from being blown away. The water was blowing off the lake up about 5 feet into the tent - incredible power of the storm/tornado system.

It stopped fairly quickly and I was out by the fire stoking it up again within a few minutes.



Mungo said...

Sounds like you had an incredible, and exciting time! Solo trips can be very rewarding - I was in the backyard today gathering my camping gear, and sorting it into 2 piles: not to bring on a solo (as it is too heavy or luxurious), and what to bring on a solo.

As an aside, I was in Galeairy Lake at the same time, and used the Rock Lake entrance to get there. In your photo at the dock, that's my Honda in the background!!! Neat!


My dad and I experienced a sudden storm, rotating clouds, and with me being 210 pounds, him being 190 pounds and Monty my beagle being 45 pounds - 445 pounds combined - we could hardly hold the tent down from being blown away. The water was blowing off the lake up about 5 feet into the tent - incredible power of the storm/tornado system.

It stopped fairly quickly and I was out by the fire stoking it up again within a few minutes.



Markus said...

I'm a fan!
That was a great read Jim.
I've never experienced or even seen a tornado, and keep wishing for one. Ya know they say, "Careful what you wish for, you may just get it!". I think I'll wish for a moose sighting instead!

JDL on the AA board mentioned that it's best to not let that incident put you off any future trips. I agree, don't let a storm chase you away. Although severe weather can be a part of camping, how you deal with it, and the aftermath, is part of the experience if ya will. You were very lucky, that you were not caught out on open water when that happened!

That was not the site that I had wanted to stay on. I stopped at the site, and found it highly exposed and very windy and decided to leave. Your choice of occupying that campsite was not a bad one, in fact, it was ideal...for summer. I was there the first week of May, so you can imagine why I didn't camp there. I would've froze my arse off! There was lots of shoreline rock rimmed with ice as I made my way down Pen Lake in early May.

For a first solo trip, you sure pack light. Great job.
Again, a great write up, and am glad the story has a happy ending. Thanks for posting!

Paul said...

Very interesting and well-written account of your first solo canoe trip, Jim.I enjoyed the video showing the hammock and where it was located.

I'm off on my second solo canoe trip to the Barron Canyon for a week beginning September 23rd. My first solo was 3 years ago to the same area at which time a wolf or wolves were on my campsite on my last night howling and harrassing beaver that were slapping there tails in the Barron River. Quite frightening!

Regards, Paul.
in Haliburton.