Ralph Bice Lake
Total Distance: 7 km
Number of Portages: 4
Total Portage Distance: 860m
Video log: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XVNJ_vh0tg
I started out of the city at about 5:30 on Thursday June 19 in order to beat the traffic heading into Toronto. I was wide awake and alert as I hurdled up the 400/11 corridor towards Algonquin, excited to be on my way again. This was my third solo trip, the first solo trip in Algonquin, and would be the first that I was able to do across multiple nights so I was more excited than usual.
I got to Kearney in record time, even allowing for a coffee stop and seperate bathroom break, and had my permits in no time. The weather report said that the sun would be shining for the next three days and that the nights wouldn’t get too cold, everything was starting to line up. 45 minutes later I was in the parking lot of Access #3 again laughing at the bouncy trip down the access road.
Unloading my car took minimal time because I only had one pack this trip, stowed in such a way as to maximize efficiency along the portage routes. I had absolutely everything I would need…right? I’m beginning to think I’m going to be the eventual king of forgetting important things, because I had left my lifejacket sitting safely on the shelf at home!
This was extremely disconcerning for me, as I love my lifejacket dearly and didn’t want to venture out onto Ralph Bice Lake without it. Compound that with the fact that earlier in the year 2 people had already died tragically because they didn’t have lifejackets in cold and windy water, and you had one slightly nervous tripper. But! I wasn’t going let that get me down or keep me off the water. My pack is waterproof and floats, which gave me a good sense of security if the need should arise. There also wasn’t much in the way of wind and I’m a strong swimmer, so I felt capable of handling an emergency in a cool-water environment.
So, mentally kicking myself for forgetting another piece of important gear, I set off onto Magnetewan Lake around 10 o’clock heading for the first portage of the day.
I was using the little bungie cords I had bought for my last solo trip to secure my two paddles and fishing rod to the seat/yoke for portaging, and it once again worked perfectly. I bring two paddles so that if I drop one, or one breaks, I’ll still have the means to propel myself at hand. The portages were short on this trip, but I am confident that with the lightweight setup I had on would be a great means of moving overland. Magnetewan and Hambone Lakes went by quickly, with little in the way of touring around as I had been here just a year earlier, and little had changed.
When I got to Ralph Bice, the wind was channeling across the whole lake into the bay where the portage spat me out. I was glad I brought a paddle other than my rather elegant ottertail paddle, which is more suited for calm soloing than strong paddling demanded by paddling into the wind.
As I rounded the first bay, I faced a decision regarding whether or not to press on to the northern island site, grab a site along Ralph Bice’s northern shore, or to rest when needed on sites and wait for the wind to die down. The wind was getting worse as the day went on, and pretty soon the decision was made for me by the call of nature. I sidled up to the site closest to the portage, secured my gear, and waddled my way to the well-appointed thunderbox.
Looking around the site I regarded the large lake in front of me. I took into consideration:
-The wind, blowing at about 10-15 kmph
-How nice the site was that I was currently on
-The mediocre reviews of the island site I was shooting for
-My lack of a lifejacket
After pondering over a lunch of gorp and water, I decided that I would set up camp here for the day, and maybe relocate the next day. I set up my food up a tree (I get paranoid when I’m solo), and assembled my tent before going about the usual chores of living in the woods.
I spent some time gathering wood, nothing beats a fire for a sense of purpose and security when you’re alone in the woods. It gives you something to constantly tend to and takes your mind off of the things around you making noise. A storm had blown through the area earlier in the week, and while felled wood was abundant directly on the site it was mostly green. For the first night I had enough dry stuff to work with, but I would need to go out beachcombing the next day.
I tried some fishing too, but it was entirely from the site. The wind was too heavy to troll from an unleaden boat like mine, which tends to buoy around. When you have a pack in the front of my boat you can dance a jig on Georgian Bay with a salmon on your line, but with just yourself in it the Ewok rolls around like a piece of styrofoam. Also…no lifejacket.
I started my fire well before dinner needed cooking over it (chicken and rice! Yum!) because the previous tenants had left some trash in there and I wanted my chicken cooked in a perfect bed of coals. Once it was ready, I had a drink as I carefully cooked my dinner and waited for the sun to go down. To be perfectly honest, I probably had one drink too many that night, but everything that needed to be done had been and I was on vacation. I slept like a log that night, despite it being a bit on the cold side for June.
I awoke to my tent flapping around me, much to my dismay. The wind hadn’t died during the night and was still blowing hard enough to keep me on my site. Despite this, one of the first things on my to-do list was beachcombing. My firewood supply had dwindled, but I had enough to get the fire going from embers left over from the night before.
I set out directly south from my site, across a narrower part of the lake. I had spotted a downed tree which had become sun-bleached and looked ripe for harvesting. When I got to the tree, I had quite a job trying to steady the canoe, saw the lumber, and keep the boat from drifting along the tree, but I managed to get at least one good nights worth of wood in the boat and secured for my journey back. The wind was at its highest point yet of the day, and whitecaps lapped against my hull, but it was a short jaunt and I made it back without incident.
I spent the rest of the day reading, making videos, exploring the area, taking photos, and generally lazzing about. The wind eventually died down and I tried my hand at deep-water fishing. It was a disaster. The weight I brought along to get the lure down to trout-level was FAR too heavy, and acted as an anchor more than a sinker. My braided line turned out to be garbage too, regularly falling apart at the slightest tug (seriously, I pulled it apart by hand, lost a lure casting, lost another to a snag, and once the line snapped as I was hooking the lure to the rod for storage). What’s more, the wind picked up once I rounded the point, sticking me in the worst place in the lake to be in a lightweight canoe.
As I was setting about making dinner and hanging my food, I discovered that a giant dead pine tree had lost a large sliver of its trunk which had fallen near my food bags hanging spot. This plank was bone dry, 3 inches thick, and about the rough size of a large snowboard. When combined with my pile of bleached driftwood, I managed to feed this sliver into my fire all night. It had clouded over enough to block out the stars, but it was still one of those magical nights where you’re warm and entertained around the campfire.
On the morning I was to leave my little slice of heaven, I finally got what I had been waiting for all trip. The lake was like glass, not a breath of wind to be found. This made for a great morning view. Unfortunately, I soon wished the wind would pick up immediately, as the reprieve allowed the full might of the June bug population to descend upon me. Up until this point I had recieved remarkably few bug bites, but not anymore. I packed up quicker than I wanted to and was on the water heading out around 8am.
I fished a little on Ralph Bice as I meandered towards the first portage, not really wanting to give up the mirrored surface that I was paddling on for the bumpy road out, but my weak line continued to give me trouble. I got everything ready for the portage while I was still well away from shore, then paddled onto the beachy shore between Hambone and Ralph Bice.
I was expecting bugs, and I was surprised at the lack of them until I set the canoe down 295m later. The battle of Hambone Lake was on! A teeming swarm of needle-nosed invaders took to the skies as I flopped into my seat and tried to turn my craft towards the open water, but it was too late. Already bitten and spitting out my little foes, my canoe became a buzzing island as it moved across the still waters. I managed to kill many of them, but they had a good portion of my blood when they eventually flew off.
I sang portaging songs as I pulled into the last portage of the trip, and repeated the fight against bugs all the way to the take-out. I quickly got my gear in/on the car, washed off some of the grime I had accumlated over the past few days, and set off down the road again in search of what I like to call “The Big Dirty”, which is my first meal after a canoe trip. It’s usually the biggest and greasest meal I can find, and I look forwards to it the whole trip.
This time, it was the “Lumberjack Stack” at the local Kearney chip truck (they take forever to get you food, but it’s pretty good). I had to eat it like an apple.