‘Paddle to the rock. Carry canoe. Repeat’
it’s a good preparation for a week canoeing and camping in the lakes.
Our aim: to leave technology behind and paddle about Algonquin on giant Kevlar Evergreen canoes via an experience called portage (from the French verb “to carry”).
It’s lakes not rivers, there are no whitewater rapids, but it involves one unusual challenge. To get from one lake to the next you have to tip the huge canoes upside down and carry them on your shoulders.
The canoes come with a specially fashioned wooden crossbar – think Bavarian milkmaid – and the portage is a one-man job. You’ll need a mate to hold the canoe tip up high as you edge backwards under it and the yoke falls across your shoulders – but then it’s up to you. Tighten your stomach muscles, and step up very (very) tentatively until you develop a pace. The effect is “man wearing ridiculously long hat with constipation”.
Up muddy slopes and along occasional decking, it was a challenge to the mind as much as the body. For those of us who toil at keyboards and screens, the half-mile walks from lake to lake, coupled with the immediate return for the camping equipment, offered a tiny glimpse of real-world work. My tent and kayak mate, comedian Dave Lewis, packed only flip-flops, shorts and a poncho like he was braving a festival in the Home Counties.
Dave and I spent hours talking and laughing without ever
A three-day Algonquin Park Canoe Trip with Call of the Wild (callofthewild. ca) costs CA$480/£280 per adult and CA$384 per child. The price includes all food, permits, equipment hire and the services of a guide.
Algonquin Eco-Lodge (algonquinecolodge.com) charges CA$140 per person per night, full-board.
British Airways (ba.com) flies from London to Toronto via Chicago with summer fares from £324 return. really seeing each others’ faces. I was at the front of the two-man canoe, Dave was at the back. It’s certainly a good way to get to know someone.
To the city dweller there is nothing here. There are no cash machines, phone chargers, taxis, televisions, iPads, bars or shops. No petrol, no alcohol, no radio, no noise. And yet there is everything. There’s peace and tranquillity. There’s thousands of years of natural history. There’s an industry that built the British Empire then disappeared. There are moose and bears and wolves (somewhere). And there’s a clutch of red trees amid the green that look like a jigsaw piece in the wrong puzzle. Coming across a small, clearly man-made weir, we climbed out on to a very small wharf.
“Where we are standing,” our guide Robin announced, “was once Canada’s busiest railway station. A fully loaded engine would leave every seven minutes; such was the rate of harvesting the logs.”
After defeating Napoleon at the start of the 19th century, the British needed to rebuild their fleet to allow them the sea power to build the empire. While fighting the French in what became Canada, they found the Algonquin
James Brown, inset far right, gets to grips with paddling technique, left. Right: a moose and her calf