My First Trip to Algonquin

My First Trip to Algonquin

In 2019, my husband suggested that we take our first camping trip together. I had previously been camping at a park, but the kind where you camped beside your car… and there was a shower on site to use. He suggested several days through Algonquin Park involving long day hikes and pitching our tent in a forest. This prospect was both exciting and terrifying. I am anaphylactic to peanuts, which just so happens to be a very popular camping food. We made a plan to bring every Epipen I owned, a satellite phone, and the best adventure team you could ask for. The plan was to take the trip in the summer of 2019.

Our Adventure Team:

  1. Ian’s mother, Maria. She is the most valuable member of our team by far. Years of experience in the wilderness, a level head during emergency situations, extensive medical knowledge, the best chef you could ever hope to meet, and a lot of fun to spend time with. She is our favourite person in the universe.
  2. Ian, husband extraordinaire. Ian is the real-life equivalent of James Bond mixed with Indiana Jones. Ian is a veteran who served 10 years as a lieutenant in the Navy and was deployed as an intelligence officer. Ian was a ranger and spent his summers taking underprivileged children on canoe trips. He is a certified CPR instructor, canoe instructor, kickboxer, archer, and all-around wilderness expert. 10/10 recommend as a travel companion. (Yes, he will be holding wilderness classes at Otter Pointe in the future when he has more time).
  3. Abi (me), a new wilderness explorer who is allergic to half of  known food, has the coordination of a newborn panda and whose main goal of the expedition was to locate and befriend wildlife (like a Disney Princess).

At this point, it may become apparent that our team did not possess equal skill. However, what some of us (I) lacked in skill, we made up for in enthusiasm!

(Please note the pictures taken on our trip were on a disposable camera that was hard to find, tricky to use, and had to be shipped to the US to develop. This is to say- forgive the picture quality).

The summer is a pleasant time to be outdoors, so I planned on the beauty of nature and a mild climate to offset any lack of ability I may have had. Cut to a couple of weeks before our trip, and we had to reschedule. Sad but inevitable. We decided to book the only available dates for the year- in October of 2019. October had historically been relatively warm, and we had planned to bring warm sleeping bags (good to -5) and many layers of warm clothing. Clearly, I thought, this trip would be a raging success.

We planned, packed, and departed into the wilderness of Northern Ontario. I can feel people from Northern Ontario laughing at me right now, as Algonquin is still considered “down South.” Please keep in mind that while I have since moved to the North Bay area and experienced Timmins in all of its glory, at this point in my life, I was a woman from Niagara, and this was as far North as I had dared travel.

My first glimpses of the coniferous forests and lack of multi-lane highways mesmerized me. We got to Algonquin Park, and I was a little uncertain about the trip when I saw a sign warning that I was passing the last bathroom for a long time. Ian informed me of treasure chests in the park (I had no idea what it was, but he made it sound exciting, so my confidence rebounded). We strapped on our backpacks and walked across the long wooden bridge into the park. 

If you have never enjoyed spending time in an old-growth forest, I urge you to do so (there are day hike trails that only take a couple of hours to complete). I had never felt so free from technology, noise, and pollution. All we could hear were the animals of the forest and the leaves crunching under our shoes. I felt driven to run ahead to drink in everything I could find or climb.

At this point, you may think, “But you implied heavily in other blog posts that this was an unmitigated trip disaster. You sound like you are having a great time.” Things are about to turn for the worse in this story, but despite some mistakes (and a lot of bad luck), I had a fantastic time.

We pitched camp overlooking the water on a ledge peppered with trees. There was a path down to the water to refill our water bottles and wash our dishes. It was far too cold to swim, but the view was enough to make it relaxing and tranquil. I felt like I had walked into a painting.

The clearing we set up camp in abutted the edge of Maple Leaf Lake. Many people who like to traverse Algonquin Park choose to go to Maggie Lake for their first night. My band of travellers picked a closer spot for our first night out of consideration for my lack of skill.

It had started to become quite cold, so we bundled up. For reference, I was wearing seven shirts and four pairs of pants. I struggle to warm up once the cold sets in and have difficulty retaining heat. My comrades bundled me up next to a tree and let me read while they started a fire and cooked dinner. I cannot overstate how pampered I was. 

We dried our very wet socks on a makeshift clothesline by the fire. At this point in our exploration careers, we realized that our waterproof shoes were not, in fact, all that waterproof. This contributed to the general cold we felt and were trying to ward off. During dinner, we saw several squirrels and chipmunks, which contributed to checking off some of my goals for the trip. My main takeaway from this trip was that I love nature and am much happier in a forest than I ever could be in a city.

After we went to bed, things took a turn for the weird. First, there was a thunderstorm. Rain pounded at the roof of our tent, and the wind came underneath, shaking our structure violently. While we had winter sleeping bags, we had brought a summer tent. It barely managed to ward off the rain and did nearly nothing to fend off the bitter cold the wind ushered in.

If you are not aware of the differences between summer and winter tents, here is what you need to know: A summer tent works to keep you cool in hot temperatures and, when it is cold, does as much to insulate you as a tissue does to protect you from a tornado. We may have been warmer camping outside without a tent. This directly led to the purchase of an expensive, warm tent that we used on subsequent trips to Algonquin and Nunavut.

A few hours into the thunderstorm, lightning struck a tree about 30 feet from our tent. Keep in mind this tree was approximately 100 feet tall. It barely missed our tent as it crashed down. The impact was so forceful that the ground shook, and we were jolted awake, thinking a bomb had exploded somewhere nearby. Ian was nominated to investigate and determined we were not in immediate danger. After we snuggled back into our sleeping bags, the hail began. A very normal meteorological event to take place at 3 am in October, I kept assuring myself.

We listened to the knocks and thuds as the hail mercilessly assaulted the trees (both standing and lying on the ground), our tent, and anyone unfortunate to be in the park that night. By 4 am, the hail stopped, and a blizzard hit. You know, those mid-October blizzards that strike after thunderstorms and hail? It was easily below -10 °C  at this point. Our sleeping bags were not doing much as the temperature had dropped below their thermal level, and the tent may as well have not been there for all the cold it let in. We shivered and shook until about 5 or 6 in the morning, when we gave up on the dream of sleep and got up for the day.

When we got up, it was absolutely freezing. Maria and Ian gave me their extra layers because they were frightened by how much I was shivering. I could not warm up, even wearing twelve shirts and seven pairs of pants. We went outside to see the world covered in snow and noticed that the fallen gigantic tree had overtaken most of our campsite.

Ian, being both an incredible person and feeling bad about my inability to warm up, decided to start a fire. You may note that it had snowed the night before, making all of the surrounding wood wet and cold. Our prospects of starting a fire were abysmal. 

However, Ian had an axe and ventured to chop up the tree that had fallen in the night. He said that while not ideal, beneath the bark, the wood should be easier to burn than any other wood we had access to. Given that the trunk was about 3 feet tall, I was inclined to agree that some moderately dry wood should be held within. At this point, Maria ventured off to see if she could find any other dry wood or kindling to start a fire with.

I grew concerned shortly after he began his quest to disassemble the fallen tree. As he swung his axe, pieces and chunks of wood flew in every direction at frightening speeds. I ventured to ask, “Are you sure it’s safe to do that? Should you get a pair of sunglasses to wear for safety?”

He proceeded to deliver a very eloquent speech about his skill with an axe and his over 20 years of experience chopping up trees by hand. How the likelihood was so low of any of the splinters and chunks of wood that flew about him in a ballet of terror ever hitting us was laughable even to consider. He said I had a greater chance of being struck by lightning than either of us, even being close to the wood debris as it ran down (given that we had almost been struck by lightning mere hours before, this was not the most persuasive argument he could have used). While Ian delivered his speech, I watched medium to large pieces of wood rain down around and near me, not quite heartened by his assertions.

About 15 seconds after the conclusion of his impassioned speech, a hunk of wood the size of a baseball flew away under the force of his blow and smacked me squarely between the eyes. I was now shivering, had a lump between my eyes, and had fallen from my log perch in astonishment.

Ian felt terrible. His wife had never been on a camping trip like this, and during her first brave attempt, she froze, lightning almost struck our tent (it had knocked down a tree only 10 feet away from us), hail assaulted us, a blizzard struck, and now, while contemplating whether or not she had hypothermia, in an attempt to make her a fire, Ian assaulted her with a piece of log the size of her hand. 

I quickly reassured Ian I was okay, partially because I was freezing and wanted him to keep going so the fire could be lit, and partially because I was so cold, I couldn’t feel the skin on my face, so the impact didn’t hurt. Seeing no other option, Ian ventured forth in his quest to turn a massive trunk into burnable logs for the fire. 

It hadn’t been more than 2 minutes since my injury when a hunk of wood sailed straight back into Ian’s right eye. I was beginning to think we were camping on cursed land.

Ian was undeterred by something so minor as an injury to his eye, tied his bandanna around the top of his head to make a makeshift eyepatch, and proceeded to continue to chop away at the tree with his axe. At this point Maria returned and, having only been gone for about 10 minutes, was rightfully surprised at the state she found us in. She helped Ian to start a fire over which we tried to cook our socks to warm them up as they were still wet from trudging through puddles the day before, and were now cold and frozen to boot.

Here is a picture of the aftermath- Ian roasting my sock gently over the fire, wondering if it would combust, you can make out the bandanna eyepatch tied under his hat. I was bundled up by the fire, waiting for feeling to come back to any of my limbs (I wasn’t being picky at this point). At the bottom of the picture, you can see hunks of wood that came off of the giant tree. They accurately depict the size that assaulted both Ian and myself.

After we sat by the fire, ate, and realized we were all still freezing, Maria proclaimed we were turning around. Our week-long hiking trip would be over less than 24 hours after it began. Maria pointed out that we had experienced more adventure in those few hours than most people do in two weeks out there. I hobbled out of the forest, feeling slowly returned as we walked. I was immensely grateful that we had only hiked about 5k the day before because I wasn’t sure if I could have managed a longer walk in my present state.

I’ll be honest: while my experience wasn’t what I had expected, it was an adventure, and I survived. I was proud of myself for taking a chance, persevering, discovering that I could accomplish more than I thought, and now have a story to tell. The moral of this story is that unexpected things happen (sometimes all at once). Be prepared to deal with emergencies and inconveniences. Have a plan and a backup plan, which includes emergency supplies and the ability to pivot. Most of all, if you decide to embark on an adventure, make the most of it, try to have fun regardless of your circumstances, and be proud of yourself for overcoming obstacles you may have previously thought were bigger than yourself. 


Below are some pictures of a subsequent trip to Algonquin where nothing was struck by lightning, fell on our camp, and no snow fell. 

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