(This 844th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on May 27, 2007.)
Greg Chaves, Dick Alessi, Marc Chaves, Gerry Rising, Bob Hammond and Rick Stotz
preparing dinner. (Note the only one with hands in pockets.) Photo by Peter Dow.
A major factor on many canoe trips is wind.
I recall one Algonquin trip years ago when our three canoe group from Camp Pathfinder paddled across White Trout Lake in foot high waves. I had two eleven-year olds in my canoe and the youngster in the middle was so frightened that I had him stop paddling and simply hold onto the gunwales. We had a following wind but even that created problems. Wave tops were higher than the sides of the canoe and we began to take on water. As we approached shore my middle man was able to let go with one hand in order to bail.
We finally neared the north shore campsite but our problems were just beginning. The site was on a point with no protected harbor and the waves crashed up against the rocks. The first canoe capsized at the landing and wet packs and wetter kids were frantically hauled up on shore. But once they had their canoe pulled up, they were able to help us in the last two canoes get out only half soaked.
We could hardly put up tents the wind was so fierce. In those days before stoves were part of standard equipment, I had to light a fire in the campsite fireplace. No sooner had I done so when a burning twig flew up against a tent and set it on fire. We quickly put that out but a black-edged hole was quite evident. As a young counselor in charge of my first trip, all I could think of was how I would get that tent checked back in without anyone discovering the patch we improvised.
Things finally settled down but we were stuck on that campsite for two days. On the third we got up at 3:00 a.m., packed in the dark and caught a relatively calm period to get back across the lake. Even with that start, however, we still had to cross the end of Burnt Island Lake. The half mile of paddling there was very heavy going.
I thought of that experience a few weeks ago while I was on a three day trip to Algonquin with a Lancaster group. Early May is a good time to go because black flies and mosquitoes are not yet out, but it is a time just after the ice has left the lakes and weather can be a problem. I half expected snow but we hit a perfect weekend. In everything but wind, that is.
This was not the kind of challenging trip we took as much younger voyageurs. Much younger indeed. The average age on this trip was 65. The twelve of us brought together well over 700 years of experience -- if you can call it that -- 700 years of stories in any case.
Fortunately some were younger. Two of them, Dave Chaves and Rick Stotz, not only balanced my age but also took up the slack in my paddling at different times. I have become quite adept at the fake procedure known as paddle dipping.
This simple trip took us down Smoke Lake, on through Ragged, over a quarter mile portage and across a bay to our campsites.
There was a breeze but on the way in it didn't hinder us too much. By the second day, however, the wind had increased significantly. With us elder citizens grumbling, nothing would do but we should take a side trip further down the lake. The paddling was heavy going and these guys don't stop to rest. I would have pontooned -- holding paddles aloft to catch the wind -- but not these guys. That's when I began to think of that earlier trip.
We made it back okay but we faced the prospect of fighting still larger waves on the trip back up Smoke the next morning. We got up at six -- far too late, I thought -- and headed out. When we got to the portage landing, I could already feel the wind coming off Smoke Lake. This was going to be heavy going.
But, thank goodness, the wind simply died. Relieved, we made our landing without further incident and headed for our postponed pancake breakfast at Tea Lake.-- Gerry Rising