I was cold; I could feel every lump in the hard ground through the sleeping pad and sleeping bag. October in Algonquin is not the place for the faint of heart, but here we were, trying to get through the night, sleeping fitfully, longing for the morning that wasn't in any hurry to arrive. These fall canoe trips always sounded better in the planning stage. Reality however, could be cruel.
The morning finally dawned, cold and windswept. Brushing snow from the tent fly, we peeked out to a bleak view. We were camped on the Tim River, with miles of paddling looming. The sooner we got started, the sooner we would feel the warmth of the car heater when we finally got back to our jump off point. The snow was falling faster now, so we decided to forego breakfast. We packed up, and soon were on our way. Canoe Lake isn't the biggest in the park, but when we rounded the point at the outlet, the scene before us made our hearts sink. Whitecaps! We were loaded pretty heavily; with three grown men in the canoe with all their gear, the gunwales only cleared about two inches.
The wind angled off the port bow, a dangerous situation in the best of circumstances. Loaded as we were, waves hitting the side of the canoe could swamp us before we knew what happened. If we capsized, hypothermia would make survival in the middle of that lake nearly impossible. We had a lot of water to cross.
It was a new experience for me. Every previous canoe trip found me in the stern, providing more steering than power. My eldest son Nate would take the bow, with Matt in the middle, enjoying the ride. They were older now - young men, and for the first time, I had the middle seat. We were set up for the only argument my sons can ever remember having. One wanted to go straight ahead towards an island where we could bail out the water that was splashing over the gunwales, while the other thought we should head directly for our launch point, which meant facing the waves at a dangerous angle. As they argued, I literally thought we were all going to die out on that accursed lake.
We made the island, bailed out, and headed for the launch ramp. I didn't actually do it, but I could have kissed the ground when we finally landed. Tonight, I am not in a sleeping bag on a thin pad with snow falling all around me. I am in a warm bed on a soft mattress. Life is good, and I am thankful.