I was about 11 years old and I remember watching “Charles in Charge” when the show cut to a commercial break. A calm clear lake and a heavy morning fog just starting to lift off the surface of the water; a giant fish breaks the surface of the lake and takes the bait, a fisherman’s silhouette sets the hook, and bright colored leaves fall from the trees. The words, “ONTARIO – YOURS TO DISCOVER” (or something like that) shimmers across the TV screen to end the commercial. At that point, if Charles decided to go on a marijuana smoking binge with Buddy and the rest of the kids he mentors, I wouldn’t have cared or noticed. I was so captivated by the commercial that I went spiraling into a day dream of my own Canadian adventures.
Little such seeds of Canadian wanderlust had been planted in my brain over the years. As luck would have it, a few years ago I took a 1.5-year assignment to work in Toronto. I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself. I convinced my hunnie to accompany me on a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park – a huge wilderness area made up of miles of forests, thousands of lakes, and abundant wildlife. It is one of the best canoeing destinations in North America.
The drive from Toronto to Algonquin took less than 3 hours. We were inside the local shop, renting our canoe, just outside the interior of the park when the 1st black fly struck. The fly found its target right on my hunnie’s collar bone and the area around the collar bone swelled to the size of an apricot. It was then that I realized that my hunnie is to insects what tuna is to cats – irresistible deliciousness. This was not a good sign of things to come.
We decided not to rough it this time. Instead we rented a cabin called the “rain lake cabin”. It was once an old ranger look-out spot and later it became available for rent. A cabin sounds cozy, right? Well, this cabin was…special. The road to the cabin was a 7 mile narrow gravel road. We did not see any other cars. We finally reached the cabin. I went to open the door using the key, but the door was already unlocked. The interior of the cabin reeked of gas. The lights (wicks) and stove were connected to a large propane tank. I was afraid to accidentally fart and blow us to smithereens.
There was no water source in the cabin. The place was simple and had a rustic, yet eerie feel to it. Later that evening my hunnie and I were sitting outside of the cabin enjoying the fire we made, toasting marshmallows, when two people suddenly appeared from behind the cabin. It was a man and a woman and they seemed surprised by our presence. They came over to us and asked if we paid to stay at the cabin. I confirmed that we had rented it and they looked at us strangely. Finally, they wished us a good time and went on their way. The unlocked door when we first got here now suddenly made sense.
I am still not sure what possessed us to continue to stay there, but I am happy that we did. We did not have any more visitors over the next 3 nights and we had finally gotten used to the dead silence. Once you are passed the point of being freaked out and being outside your comfort zone you are rewarded with complete solitude and one truly beautiful piece of wilderness. It was all ours to explore, and explore it we did (via Canoe). The park is a network of lakes connecting to other lakes and it is possible to explore the entire park with a canoe. Fishing was a breeze (maybe due to lack of fishing pressure). Smallmouth Bass acted as though they’ve never seen a lure and we landed fish on every other cast.
But, we had one major problem – bugs. It was the worst I’ve ever seen it. The black flies were making a feast out of us. I went for a swim in the lake when a giant horse fly began to circle around my head. I tried to evade it by diving under, but every time I came up for air the horse fly would dive bomb at me. I ran toward the cabin (bad move) and about 5 more horse flies appeared and pelted my back in an angry fashion.
It was so bad that when “nature called” we would not go about our business without the bug repellant in hand, so that we were armed and ready to ward off any flying bastards that decided to go for our privates. It got progressively worse and we were forced to walk around with mosquito head nets. I felt like Dustin Hoffman in “Outbreak”. On our final night in Algonquin we fell asleep pleasantly tired from our adventures and defeated from hundreds of bug bites. We had so many bumps from all the bites that we started to resemble a well known kid’s film character—Shrek!
On our last day at the park I woke up around 5:30am. I looked out at the lake and saw lots of tiny circles quickly forming on the surface. It was raining, but not raining hard enough to stop me from taking the canoe out for one final paddle. My hunnie was still asleep, but I figured it was best to let her be. I was wrong. I paddled out less than a mile and then I saw two shadows through the rain and fog. I paddled closer and the shadows came into focus—a moose; two of them, a cow and her calf. They darted across the lake like race horses when they saw me.
Then I heard branches cracking and I spun the canoe around to see what was causing the noise. The largest Bull Moose I’ve ever seen (the only Bull Moose I’ve ever seen) elegantly stepped into the water and began a staring contest with me that lasted for about 5 minutes. I was surprised that the animal didn’t charge because the distance between us was enough for him to perceive me as a threat.
The moose had won the staring contest when I finally snapped out of my amazement and began fumbling for the camera. I looked up and the moose had already strolled halfway across the lake and then disappeared into the thick fog.
I looked around for the TV crew, but there was none. This was definitely a moment when “ONTARIO – YOURS TO DISCOVER (or something like that) should shimmer across the screen.