UCC’s Outdoor Club offers three four-day trips each year-canoeing, snowshoeing and hiking. It’s a great club with opportunities to build lifelong memories, fortitude and a love of the outdoors of course. Here, Upper School student Kevin Liu writes about the club’s first big trip. It’s quite a tale.
For more information and to join the club contact its staff superviser, David Borden, at email@example.com
I’ve canoed and camped many times before, but my first experience of a portage trip in the wilderness just took place a few weeks ago. It was an experience that will surely be inscribed in my memory for the rest of my life.
As a member of the UCC Outdoor Club, I left on Friday, Sept. 29 for a four-day canoe trip away from all connection with the rest of the world — except for an emergency satellite phone. I went with 16 other people including three teachers — economics teacher David Borden, English teacher Nick Morris, and residential superviser Zack Williams. I was one of the two youngest boys. We travelled to Algonquin Provincial Park and embarked on our journey on the first day from Kawawaymog Lake, to North Tea Lake, Manitou Lake, Three Mile Lake and Biggar Lake, and then eventually came back on the fourth day to North Tea Lake and Kawawaymog Lake.
The Rain and the Shine
Our first day was completely rained out. It rained for the whole afternoon, from when we got on the bus until after I fell asleep in our tent that night. At the outfitters, as we waited for our canoes, we were already wet. As we canoed across the lake, the rain soaked everything outside the dry bag including our shoes, our clothes and even our raincoats. The one thing separating me and sheer discomfort was a tuque covering my head. As we canoed on, especially during our crossing of North Tea Lake to reach our first campsite, the waves grew to the point where they were noticeably rocking the canoe. At the campsite, we set up our tents and made futile efforts to dry out some of our piles of wet clothes.
After spending our first day in the rain, I was anticipating the same harsh weather for the rest of the trip, though I knew the weather was going to get better according to the forecast. I thought the whole trip would be just a challenge to get through various adversities. That night, I tried to fall asleep to the sound of rain outside the tent in my damp fleece sweater. I recalled that the last time I camped and canoed in the Algonquin Park was when I was in Grade 4 and the temperature was well below zero at night. And ever since that experience, I know that the weather makes or breaks any outdoor trip. With that in mind, I did fall asleep, a bit worried and totally exhausted. And when I woke up the next morning, I was cold and I was still damp.
I stepped outside the tent as quietly as I could, as everyone else was still sleeping. I immediately noticed three things: it was no longer raining; the sky was a clear blue; and there was a touch of orange on one side. I walked around the campsite to the tip of the island.
I stood there freezing as I admired the mesmerizing surface of the water. The waves drifted inwards toward me. The blue sky and the clouds floating around the rising sun creating a nice blend of blues, pinks, reds, and whites, almost as if someone accidentally dripped red, orange and white paint on a palette of blues. In the water, the same colours were mixed together, more blurry and almost forming a pattern in the waves. On the crests of the waves there were sparkles of sunlight, orange, yellow and bright white, creating sharp contrast to the blue water. Farther away, a layer of mist shrouded the lake, rising like smoke from the “burning” water into the air, almost blending with the clouds above.
Looking right, I saw the bear canoe in the middle of the mist, floating peacefully, and behind it were the dark-green and dark-orange trees on the land behind, a reminder that it was already early autumn. Back toward the island, there was a nice orange glow on the tents, the trees and the rocky bay on the small island. I was alone: no one else had gotten up yet. This was a sight only I had seen.
For me, this was one of the most placid yet sentimental moments of the whole trip. Sure, there was a similar sight every morning for the three days during the trip. However, this moment became printed in my head rather than the next two sunrises, as it had just rained hard for a whole day and I had not seen such a magnificent blue sky for the trip yet. The sunrise itself was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The mist on the lake was something completely unexpected. The whole thing looked like a work of art, or something in the middle of a dream. It looked just like the work of Impressionist painters. No wonder it had inspired the Group of Seven. All in all, it was quite overwhelming. The beauty of nature was so striking, so simple yet so complex, and so mesmerizing. I realized the truth in the statement, “The weather makes or breaks the trip,” the sheer power of nature and how powerless we were compared to it.
The Voyage and the Portage
For the remainder of the trip, canoeing felt so relaxing in the nice, warm sun, under the clear, blue skies and on the placid water. We passed by lots of rocky islands and lots of rolling hills in display of early autumn colors, and we even saw two moose along the way, drinking water on the side of the lake (before they ran away, I guess). On the surface of the water, there were mixed colours of sparkling light from the sun, different shades of blue, and the reflections from the trees towering over us. The water looked as if it were painted on with brush strokes from Tom Thomson’s artwork. I stared out into the distance or on the hypnotizing water surface and my paddle creating two tiny whirlpools on the water with every stroke.
I was in the three-person canoe with Mr. Borden who is a veteran trip leader. Therefore, we were almost always at the front (except sometimes when Shaan Hooey and Skylar Kim suddenly decided to race our boat). So we usually had to wait for the other canoers and during that time, I took a lot of beautiful pictures of the scenery. Even though canoeing can be considered extremely monotonous and tiring, I enjoyed every bit of it, even the canoeing during the first day in the heavy rain. As my dad always says, “Every experience is a good experience if you look at it that way.” Sometimes, the most monotonous thing feels great as it clears your mind and calms your mood in general. The vivid and picturesque scenery made floating on the vast lake in a small canoe feel even more surreal.
In between the canoeing, we also portaged quite a bit to get from one lake to another or to bypass the rapids of a river. Our longest portage was 2.8 kilometres, taking us from Manitou Lake to Three Mile Lake. We all carried some combination of packs, food barrels or canoes. As I was one of the smallest and youngest members of the trip, I only had to carry one pack, but it was heavy enough for me. It was so heavy I could not lift it onto my back unassisted and it not only felt extremely tiring but also hurt my shoulder blades no matter which position it was strapped on. In fact, the portages made my back sore for a few days afterward.
Even though the portages seemed like a huge hassle interrupting our pleasant canoeing, they were an invaluable part of the full experience. Looking back, I would much rather have done the trip the way it was than to have done it without portaging. As the cliché says, no pain, no gain, and the pain makes the gain feels more gratifying. This was especially true when we share the burden/pain together — during the portages and during the rest of the trip, I always felt well taken care of by other members and teachers of the trip.
The Laughter at the Campfire
The other members of this trip were all very friendly and helpful to each other during the trip, like during the portages. However, what made them truly amazing companions was that they all loved socializing around the campfire in the morning or evening.
We would sit by the warm fires that gave us respite from the cold night, roast marshmallows, joke around and chat with each other. Whether joking about invading a girl school’s campsite, voting on who to be kicked off the island or chatting about school, the time we spent together around campfires was the most pleasant and memorable part of the whole trip. At the fires, we’d also had our share of simply stupid ideas, some of which actually turned out quite entertaining. For example, in the cold morning on the second day, we decided to take a small “Christmas tree” and stick it in the fire, creating a giant blazing inferno more than a metre high. We also successfully dried some of our clothing by holding it near the fire, without any major casualties.
Personally, as a new student in the Upper School, I gained a lot socially from this trip, as I now had some relationships with people in higher grades as well. Now back in the dining halls or in the student centre, those people on this trip from higher grades have gone from complete (and sometimes a little scary) strangers to some friendly, familiar faces in the crowd. And that means a lot.
Back to “Civilization”
On the fourth day of our trip, at around noon, we touched down at the point where we launched from the outfitters on the first day. It felt so different to see the outfitters again. For one, we had just been in a whole other dream-world for four days and even though I was very much expecting it, coming back to the real world really threw me off for a second. It felt nice to be safely back to “civilization,” yet it felt quite melancholy that the trip was now over.
As our bus ventured farther back into society, there was one particularly meaningful moment. Yes, there were the magical moments where our cell phones picked up the first scraps of signals and received all of our notifications from the past few days and we reconnected with the rest of the world.
But the actually meaningful moment was not pleasant. When we entered Harvey’s, ordered our huge meals and waited, we stared at the TV on the wall showing a whole lot of breaking news. It was showing the terror attacks in Las Vegas. The deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. had just taken place the night we were laughing around the campfire. It also showed footage of a truck ramming attack in Edmonton, Canada.
I realized that, unfortunately, hatred and ideological fights and crazy politics are a growing part our society. Yet I also realized that the world should be beyond that. During the trip, I realized the true power of Mother Nature, something hidden away from most people today by our big cities, our competition for jobs, our constant battle for monetary resources to support our families and our ideological, political, racial and religious differences. The true power of nature lies far above that — the beauty of the wilderness, of the orange and blue sunrise above the misty lake. And the love for our nature and our world should hold the power to heal the wounds from hatred and guide us towards harmony, eventually.