September 11, 2021

Getting Out of your Own Way, Alone in the Wild.


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One of my favourite solo adventures from last year, was a trip I took with my dog Abby, late in September to Cedar Lake.

There is a lovely, little lake called Carl Wilson, up in the northern part of Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada. Getting there involves a challenging route with lots of tough, steep uphill portages—but the payoff is a crystal clear, turquoise lake and utter isolation in the wilderness of the park. I was so excited to get there.

After a day of travel, we stayed overnight at my parent’s cottage near Rousseau, and I was up early to catch the 6 a.m. mist in the park (my favourite time of the day). After picking up our rented featherlight canoe, we headed four hours further north toward Cedar Lake.

It was a beautiful drive north, following the Mattawa River. After two hours on an incredibly bumpy logging road, you come to the Cedar Lake Campgrounds. We got to the campgrounds beach with plenty of time to paddle to our first site on Cedar lake just before the first portage the next day that would take us toward Carl Wilson. The lake was calm, no wind or waves; rare for a big lake like Cedar, so I was happy to take advantage of it.

I hurried to unload my gear from the car, and portage the canoe to the lake. Abby ran around excitedly, sensing we were heading out shortly for another adventure. She loves our canoe trips, especially the portages!

Once I unloaded the car and got the canoe packed and ready to launch, Abby hopped into her spot in the bow of the canoe and I took my paddling place, aiming the canoe out toward the direction of our first campsite. The water was calm and there was no wind. The sun was hot, it was a beautiful day, and we were not in a hurry as it should only have taken two hours to paddle to the site.

I kept checking my map and things seemed a bit off, I was passing features that weren’t located on the map and while the map showed that there should have been campsites along my paddle route, I was not seeing any. I figured maybe I had the map upside down. But, I kept going, and seeing a few other canoeists coming back from the direction I was paddling toward gave me some comfort.

After about an hour of paddling, I had crossed the widest portion of the lake, and the winds were starting to pick up so I aimed the canoe closer toward shore, not wanting to get caught in sudden wind or waves which can come up quickly on these lakes and you can get in trouble easily, especially solo.

The waves were building and I was struggling to control the canoe. After about 15 minutes of fighting against an increasingly gathering wind and wave, I decided it best to just give in to nature and let the canoe follow the current without fighting. I would find a campsite close by and stay the night there, then get my bearings the next morning. I drifted with the waves and wind, steering the canoe around various small rock outcroppings and small islands covered in brush. I was still not seeing any campsites where I could set up camp. I decided I must have had the map wrong.

With the wind pushing my canoe around a sharp bend, I saw up ahead what looked to be a campsite. A rock outcropping at the end of a flat bit of land covered in pine and sheltered by large white pine trees. The sun was shining on the site, lighting it up light a spotlight. The wind and waves suddenly stopped. “Okay,” I thought, “I get the hint. I guess this is where we are staying.” I laughed out loud to Abby, who was watching our approach to the rocky shore with anticipation, getting ready to jump out of the canoe as soon as we landed.

The site was magical.

It was late afternoon, early evening around 4:30 p.m., when the canoe made contact with the pebble beach where I pulled ashore and jumped out to explore. I felt strangely that I had been literally pushed toward this site; the lake now calm and flat as glass, not a ripple of wind or wave. You would not have guessed from its appearance that just minutes before it had been full of choppy waves and a strong wind.

The site was beautiful.

As perfect a site as you can find, a really magical moment for any backcountry camper. It had a small rocky beach where my canoe was pulled safely up onto shore, and where I could easily rinse dishes and laundry out over the rocks. It had a large rock outcropping perfect for watching the sun go down over the lake with a cup of tea from. It was flat with lots of soft pine needles, and protected by large, tall white pines.

The smell is indescribable! I breathe as deeply as possible on these trips, trying to trap all that air in my lungs to take with me home to sustain me. A firepit, with wood stacked neatly, was further up near the wooded area where I would put my tent, and there was a perfect tree from which to hang my pack to keep it safe from hungry bears.

It was the perfect site.

I marvelled at how beautiful it was and how I never would have found it if I would have insisted on pushing against the wind and waves, determined to make it to my planned site. I bet my planned site wasn’t even as beautiful as this site was.

I just had to get out of the way and let the wind and waves take me—and now here I was in total peace and serenity.

I unpacked the canoe, set up the tent, and got to making dinner (campfire pita pizzas). Then, I boiled some water to make some peppermint tea with, jumped naked into the cool, refreshing lake to wash the day off, got into my comfortable, warm pj’s and settled cross-legged on the rock outcropping, watching the sun set over the beautiful calm lake.

Fish jumped occasionally catching their dinners, and from somewhere not far off, I could hear the rushing sound of a waterfall. I told myself I would explore more the next day, making the decision to stay at the site for the next night and forego Carl Wilson to another trip.

I figured that there must be a reason Mother Nature wanted me here, at this particular site. Who was I to question her ancient wisdom?

Sometimes the most magical things happen when you just let go and give in to forces that are beyond your control. Letting the current take you, you just never know. You just might find the most magical place on earth. And it might just be exactly what you need.

I think of this site often now; sitting on that rock, watching the sun go down over that lake. I felt so at peace. So at home in my soul. It gives me so much comfort now during my cancer treatments, and it helps me in my healing visualization practices. I imagine I am still there: I smell the pine trees, I can hear the loons calling, hear the splash of the fish jumping and the rush of the waterfall in the distance. I close my eyes and it’s as if I am there again.

I don’t know what would have happened if I had of pushed through and continued my original course, I likely would have been swamped actually. But I’m willing to bet that nothing would have compared with the serenity and peace I felt that evening. And there are always more trips waiting. Maybe this year I will get to Carl Wilson. Maybe not. I’ve learned to let go and trust a wisdom more ancient and more intuitive than my own.



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