Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Summer in overtime

This is not a scene from an antiwar protest. Nor has there been an outbreak of labour unrest in the forests of eastern Ontario. This is my wife, Amy, on a late season paddling trip we took last weekend to Frontenac Provincial Park, near Kingston, Ontario.

After aborting (narrowly) an overnight paddle on Georgian Bay due to a forecast of high winds and rain, we opted for Frontenac, which is pretty well the only provincial park still open for camping.

One of the most underrated parks in Ontario's system, Frontenac is rife with gorgeous little backcountry lakes. Even more appealing, there is no car camping allowed here -- the sites are all either hike- or paddle-in, and the lovely one we set up on was at the far end of Birch Lake, about an hour's paddle from the put-in, the aptly named Snug Harbour. Wet suits were the order of the day; even though the water was definitely survivable, an unprotected bath was not something we wanted to chance.

As expected, there was no one there, and this was the source of much rejoicing as we pulled the boats up at the site, which was one of about six clustered together on a small peninsula. Each had a tent pad, a small bench, and a fire ring -- luxuries in the backcountry.

About an hour after we landed, our solitude was briefly interrupted by a small group of hikers, who lumbered out of the woods just as we were unloading the last of the gear from the boats. It's always startling to encounter other people in the forest on a windy, 8C fall day, but there they were. They said little, just a quick greeting as they passed by and set up on a neighbouring site. At this time of the year, it seems, everyone is out here for the same reason -- the silence -- and no one wants to rob their neighbour of even one moment of it.

As night set in, the temperature steadily fell, finally settling at a rather brisk, shall we say, 1C. About forty minutes after sundown we decided to give up on the outdoors, even though we had a toasty fire going, and huddled up in the tent under a heavy-duty down sleeping bag.

Decked out in several layers, including hats and gloves, both of us quickly fell into a deep sleep, which came to an end almost eleven hours later, when the gentle click-clack of tent poles in the near distance finally roused us. Our neighbours, it seems, were early birds, and were almost completely packed up and ready to get back on their way by the time we emerged from the tent. It didn't rain, thankfully, and once outside we were greeted by a different day entirely. Sunny and bright, it beckoned us back out onto the lake for the paddle back to the car (which we did an admirable job of dragging out).

I find that as I get older I'm becoming more and more enamoured of these trips, far away, as they are, from society's hustle. The result is to keep pushing deeper and deeper into what most people call the off-season in search of an even more unique experience.

Can igloo building be far behind?

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