Two weeks ago we went on a treasure hunt to look for a paddle in Algonquin Park as part of the Paddle In The Park Contest. We missed it by an hour. A week later, a second attempt. This time, we hit gold!
Not only did we find the paddle, but we also won some pretty amazing prizes from portageur.ca, Killarney Outfitters, Algonquin Basecamp, The Complete Paddler, Kingdom Outdoor Products, Becky Mason, and The Happy Camper to name a few - and of course the lovely paddle by Badger Paddles.
In the meantime, here's our story should you choose to enjoy it (more added to the Facebook post)...
This was a tricky paddle to find! Good tricky. It 'tricked' us into doing a loop and go where we've never gone before. Not that we minded as we were planning a 4 day canoe trip for my birthday anyway. The French River will have to wait. Killarney is where it's at.
Today is the day! Paddle in the Park Contest is top of mind. First, a hearty breakfast for the paddle to the end of Grace Lake and the start of the 2010 m portage to Nellie.
As much as we’re in a race to find the paddle. We wanted to enjoy the view and soak it in. This was after all, Frank Carmichael’s (Group of 7 artist) favourite campsite. With a clear view of the entire lake, speckled with little islands, and surrounded by peeks of white quartzite, it’s easy to see why. The more I had researched this loop, the more intrigued I became of the artists known as the Group of 7.
Time to go. All packed – thanking our lucky stars that it didn’t rain overnight. The storm had passed on whew! Excited for the day ahead yet calm that what will be will be. The last thing I want on this trip (or any trip for that matter) is unnecessary stress.
Our goal was to find the paddle but the bigger picture was to celebrate life, enjoy the landscape, and feel the earth under our feet – to get grounded.
The morning was picture perfect.
Blue blue skies and hardly a cloud. Warm. Slight breeze ahhh…
Day 2 of a 4 day loop... As we prepped for the 2010 metre portage from Grace Lake to Nellie, I felt confident that there was no one close behind us. BUT the unknown was whispering thoughts in my head... Is someone ahead of us? Will this be a repeat of last weekend at Rock Lake where the paddle was found before we even put in? Oh well. We'll soon find out. Here we go!
Hiking along the portage was challenging with roots, rocks and river crossings - magnified grossly by heavy downpours the night before. But we were prepared for anything. Determined. Rain or shine. Our paddle - and camp site - was waiting for us.
Up, up, and up. Slow and steady. Sweaty. Slogging through muddy pockets. I used our paddles as trekking poles to lessen the workout on my quads and glutes. My challenge was to not burn myself out and be forced to take unnecessary breaks. But deep down I wanted to burst into a run! This was a race after all. Hard to do when carrying a 50lb canoe pack that was too big for me. I felt like an underpaid sherpa but as Chris was portaging the canoe, I thought it only fair game that he carry the smaller pack.
At the top of one of the many climbs, we stopped for a breather (much welcome) and to pump some water from a nearby stream and refill our water bottles. THUMP! We turned to look at each other. "Did you hear that?"
We looked around for any sign of imminent danger, i.e. bear. Saw nothing. My spidey senses weren't tingling either. Sawyer didn't seem fazed at all - just sniffing trees and chewing sticks. Business as usual. Then I heard voices. Muffled at first.
That's when it dawned on me that someone was coming up the trail - and fast. There were two of them. I could now see their canoe. That sound we heard must have been the canoe hitting a tree while trudging up the hill. Uh oh. We're not alone. Were they here hunting for the same holy grail?
A piece of me wanted to panic and rush off ahead. That paddle was mine! But another piece of me played it cool. Plus, I could see that Chris was pumping away without a pause. Clearly, he was intent on water and I wasn't about to leave him alone. We were in this together, for better or for worse, with or without a paddle.
I cleared our bags out of their way and said hello as they neared. At this point, I noticed they were only carrying one small day pack between the two of them. "Day trip?" I asked. I think they said yes as they smiled and walked by briskly. Yes, briskly - and I mean really fast! With a heavy rental canoe! Who does that way out here in the boonies? Ah ha! Yup - it's game on!
It was time to change up our strategy. Plan B. Drop the canoe, i.e. leave it aside, and only carry packs to the end of the portage. This way, we'll cover ground faster and we'll have three chances to look for the paddle. One to the end of the portage where we'll drop our packs. Second pass will be when we walk back to grab the canoe. Third pass (and last chance!) for a final 'search and rescue'. Let's do this!
We switched packs (thank goodness) and off we went. The guys were long gone by now. There was a chance they would find it first of course but that's part of the fun isn't it?!
As the trail started to level off, the scenery changed. So pretty. So green. Everywhere. This was it.
Clue #2 "At the height of the pass and on the saddle, you will find two girls hiding a paddle", i.e. between Grace and Nellie Lake.
And guess what? Those guys were nowhere in sight - or sound. Interesting...
We slowed our pace and kept our eyes peeled on trees and anything that looked out of the ordinary. On this first pass, we were quite casual in our search, knowing we'd have another go of it soon. Looking right, left, up, down. Nada.
Soon, the trail started heading downhill. With the saddle behind us, a tad dejected (I was anyway), we picked up speed. Watching and waiting for that first glimpse of the lake - and there it was. That's always a good feeling!
We stashed our packs off to the side. Ready for the second pass. Grabbed our granola bars and water bottle and off we went back up the hill. This time as we reached the 'saddle', we picked a side to scope. Chris on the right. Me on the left. Military-like, we marched and took our sweet time.
As slow and careful as we were, I have to admit I was starting to have doubts. Maybe it wasn't here anymore? Or maybe I got it all wrong? Wrong lakes? I pushed those thoughts aside to focus. Keep looking - cuz maybe it is! There's no point in quitting now. So true. Good call. I'm back in the game.
Minutes ticked by and we checked in on each other once in awhile. Keeping tabs on our whereabouts as the gap between us grew (I'm super slow).
While scanning each and every tree, a butterfly caught my eye. How pretty! Then I stopped in my tracks to give my head a shake. Hey. Take it easy and chill out. Look around you at all this beauty - and have some fun! And that's when I thought... Where would I be if I were a paddle? So of course, a song popped into my head and I started singing "Where oh where..." Then my jawed dropped.
My eyes were drawn to something out of the ordinary. All of a sudden, it seemed I developed tunnel vision. My eyes zoomed in on a long black sliver between two trees!
"I FOUND IT!!!!!!!"
I started screaming, squealing, laughing - and bounding over plants (trying not to hurt or trample anything). I still replay this moment and giggle. Reminds me of the cheesy movie moments when running in slow motion towards your loved one lol!
This totally made my day. The Day of the Paddle In the Park Contest!
The rest is history with two more nights of camping bliss under the stars. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
P.S. As we were about to paddle out onto Nellie Lake with Badger Paddle in hand, the two guys who passed us on the trail were canoeing back into this portage. It was then when they revealed that they were here for the Paddle in the Park Contest! I felt bad giving them the news that we had actually found it. They must have walked right by it! Unlucky for them (lucky for us), they went to look on a different portage route. That means they would have traversed 3 portages in one day! Wow that's determination to a whole new degree. Andrew's determination finally paid off as he set out two days later to hunt and finally capture a paddle of his own - the Algonquin Outfitters Paddle. Woohoo!