Algonquin Park: Western Front

Friends tell me I have a competitive edge and I can’t deny it. Take paddling for instance. How many other people do you know instinctively begin to paddle faster the moment they see another canoe ahead of them on the horizon? Start humming the Jaws theme song as they close in on hapless paddlers out for a leisurely dip? Or try to make their strokes seem effortless as they glide by their splashing prey?

Not too many I bet. But I do. I can’t help myself.



Often that skill has come in handy in the past. Especially in Algonquin Park where overnight permits are issued up to the exact number of campsites on any given lake leaving latecomers paddling out to each and every marked site till they find one that’s still available. It’s nice knowing my paddling skills are good enough to often overtake a less-experienced canoeist in a race for a spot for the night if need be.

As a result, I wasn’t too worried this past Canada Day when my girlfriend Aline and I reached Misty Lake after finishing the last portage of our day around 4PM. We were on the second-last day of a 60KM loop along the Petawawa River and back through Misty, White Trout and Timberwolf Lakes and we were looking forward to a little rest and relaxation. The sun was shining. It was early. And there were plenty of campsites on Misty Lake. So off we started for our preferred island spot about two kilometers off. That is, of course, until I spotted another canoe far off in the distance paddling across the lake from another direction heading toward the same campsite. The cheek! The nerve! And so my pace quickened. And my strokes cut deeper through the water as our two canoes both beelined for the island campsite we could see was still beckoning us. I urged Aline onward as I could see this was not going to be an easy contest as the other couple bore down on the site with the same determination as us intent on getting there first. It was with a sinking feeling I realized with 500 meters to go that this was a race we were going to lose. There was no way we were going to overtake the other canoe. In terms of a campsite, (insert groan here) we were up the creek without a paddle.

So we pulled out the map and examined our options. Of the four campsites in our near vicinity, three were already taken and a fourth was hidden around a bend in the lake. So off we started for it hoping it would still be available.

As we rounded the point our efforts were rewarded. The campsite, hidden in a grassy bay on the northwest side of the lake, was open. Better still, munching contentedly among the reeds further down the bay, was a beautiful bull moose. Its rack of antlers dipping down everytime the animal grazed below the waterline. The late afternoon sun dancing off its hide and shimmering across the water. And there were we, witnessing it only because we had lost in our race to get to a particular campsite.

But now a new urge swelled in my veins. How close could we get to this beast? One hundred meters? Fifty? Closer still? Unfortunately, the extent of my moose knowledge was about on par with my knowledge of piloting a spaceship. Nil.

How close was safe? Sure, I reasoned, we could always outpaddle it if it charged. Or could we?

Sitting comfortably in the stern, I could always make sure the charging beast got to Aline first but I was pretty sure that wouldn’t go down too well with her parents or our friends if I escaped unscathed while she was devoured. No wait, moose were herbivores. So at least she wouldn’t be eaten. Just trampled.

Decisions. Decisions. I finally proposed to Aline that we quietly paddle to within a safe 100 meters and reevaluate.

Ever so slowly we silently paddled closer to the still grazing moose. And then a little closer. And then a little closer still until ten minutes later we had finally inched our way to within about 70 meters and as close as either of us dared to go.

And it was there, on the glistening water while silently taking photo after photo of the magnificent moose, that it dawned on me. Canoeing doesn’t have to be about paddling 40KM in a day or finishing a brutal bug-infested portage faster than the next guy or outpaddling another canoeist to a campsite first. Sometimes canoeing is about enjoying the majesty of your surroundings.

Sometimes losing a race is better than winning one.

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