It has been a number of years since I dipped my paddle in some of the remote lakes of Ontario and B.C.
As a youth and young adult, I made numerous trips in the family canoe to places such as Algonquin, Bon Echo and Killarney provincial parks in Ontario. I loved traversing those waters and hearing the call of the common Loon lording over his watery abode with that wavering tremelo.
It still reverberates within me.
The person who accompanied me on many of these trip is no longer with us, but his spirit lives on.
The wilderness is what attracted my father, who grew up in South Africa, to this nation. While living in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, he always found a way to escape the city to go on numerous paddling and fishing trips with the “boys.”
And when his two daughters, myself included, were old enough, we went along with him and my mom.
The planning for these excursions was extensive. My dad’s army training served us well in organizing what to take.
What you packed had to not only fit into the confines of a backpack – no more than 50 pounds worth of gear – nothing could be left behind. What you took into the bush had to come out with you. Everything had to be waterproofed in dry sacs for the unenviable dunking.
It turns out canoes do tip, even in still water.
As we were “tough” paddlers, we carried everything on our shoulders and backs during the long portages between lakes and rivers. No wheeled trolleys for my dad. He always carried the canoe. The rest of us were in charge of the backpacks and paddles. Sometimes it took two trips.
Before every trip, we would head to Mountain Equipment Co-op to source out those gourmet vacuum-sealed satchels of dehydrated foods.
They may have looked and tasted as if they came from outer space, but after a 12-hour day of paddling, you’d eat just about anything.
Dad would also make his own curry powders to spice things up a little.
You’d think a three-alarm chili would scare off the bears. Think again.
On one memorable trip, my family encountered a hungry ursine sniffing around our site. Luckily, the bags were tied high up into a tree.
My close encounter with wildlife came while using the “facilities” on a small island campsite in Algonquin, I heard something moving in the bush about 10 metres away.
The bull moose noticed me before I could compute what I was seeing, and ran off as quickly as the small yelp escaped from my mouth.
Those are the risks you take when visiting their territory. Respect for the wild helps you survive.
Also unpredictable is the weather. Paddling can sometimes be a slog when the wind blows against you.
The ocean-like waves we encountered while on the return to land on the Bowron Lakes in 2007 turned my stern’s J-stroke into a rudder just to stay upright.
That would be the last paddling trip my dad would ever make. His knees just couldn’t take the strain of sitting for long periods anymore.
We have many memories to sustain us.
Next week, my family and I return to the area that sparked my dad’s love for paddling.
As we say goodbye along with his family and friends in Toronto, we will also head north to the lapping shores of Algonquin, where he will be laid to rest. The call of the loon will follow us for time eternal.