A Bad Year for Canoeing

Rabbit Blanket Lake - Lake Superior Provincial Park

As winter nears, I realized that I have not been on the water this year as much as I would have liked. Spring of this year consisted of me restoring the old canoe. It's been with me since when I bought it with all my savings from mowing people’s lawns and doing other random labour back in high school. In retrospect, this canoe was my first major purchase in life. I would imagine, most people's first major purchase would be a car, or maybe even a bike. But as a teenager, my preferred mode of transportation was by water, on crystal clear Ontario lakes, and after a year of saving it became a reality. I was super happy to be a canoe owner, and it made our camping trips so much better.

Last year however, it suffered some abuse. Maybe abuse isn't the best term, more like it went on lots of exciting, partially sketchy adventures. A friend and I tried running some shallow rapids on the Pancake River last spring. It did not work out too well. After heading back onto the bay, more and more water seemed to have gathered inside. Upon hitting the beach, I laid eyes on the decent sized crack that must have developed after hitting a few rocks around the rapids. Instead of repairing it fully, I just sealed the hole, and it worked for the most part. It would only leak a little if there were two people in the canoe, otherwise it didn’t stop me from heading out almost every week or so that summer.

However, after the snow melted this spring, I had no choice but to actually repair the haul with some new fiberglass. It was quite the process, and I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. Using YouTube as our guide, my dad and I managed to get the holes patched and then came the fun part, the new paint job.

From a subtle burgundy, the vessel transitioned to a bright orange colour. I actually matched the paint to the orange ink I use in my illustrations. To add some extra flair, two white stripes were painted on. I really liked how it turned out, and the whole project was a great learning experience.

Campsite B1 at Wakami Lake Provincial Park

Now you would think that after you restore a canoe, you would go and test it out, see if the patch holds and start enjoying the good times on the water. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The canoe sat until late August, when we took it to Wakami Lake Provincial Park for some backcountry R&R.

This past summer was hugely uneventful for me in terms of going out on adventures. Mainly because I was working lots and also focused on other creative projects expanding Naturally Illustrated. I don’t regret it, because my creativity was on fire this year which I am super thankful for. But everyday when I looked into the backyard, I saw my canoe and longed for a quiet lake to paddle on.

Being only fourteen feet in length gives it the edge in solo paddling situations, something I got comfortable doing last year as most of my outings were by myself. I love solo paddling a canoe. There’s just something with the rhythm you get into with every stroke of the blade going in and then pushing the paddle outwards to correct the steering of the boat. Just thinking about it as I write this makes me feel so calm. I realized how much I missed it when I recently went out for an evening paddle on Rabbit Blanket Lake in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

It’s the end of September and finally I got out paddling on my own for the first time this year. It was also the first time out on this lake and boy was it stunning. Instantly as I launched off the shore, my eyes gazed at the distant mountains. The fall colours were also at peak too, and the sun was peeking through the clouds for the first time in a few days. I felt so happy out there, being the only canoe on a nice small lake and seeing the beautiful Algoma landscape just couldn’t get any better.

As I made my way towards the end of the lake, I entered a stream that was flowing into it. It zig zagged through some wetland areas leading to a few dead ends resulting in me having to turn back a few times. It was pretty exciting because you never knew what to expect around each corner. There was a sound of a small waterfall in the area. Once I turned a corner, there it was in front of me, a beaver dam. Luckily, it wasn’t too big and a quick and easy lift over kept me exploring more of the river. The scenery was getting intense as the mountains I saw across Rabbit Blanket Lake got bigger the closer I got to them. You can see one of the lookouts from the Peat Mountain hiking trail, which a friend of mine and I accomplished last year, one of the more challenging hikes in the park.

Lift over the beaver dam

I wish I could have continued further. Looking at a map, it looks like I turned around just shy of the start to a portage that takes you into Peat Lake. There’s a backcountry campsite there. Having paddled this gorgeous section of waterway, I can only begin to imagine what lies beyond. The Rabbit Blanket Lake canoe route is now added to my ever expanding camping bucket list.

The darkness started to fill the sky as I made my way back to my campsite for the night. I reflected on how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful area and I was really thankful that I made the trip out here in the first place. I almost didn’t make the trip with the weather being so grim, but I am glad that I went for it.

Canoeing is special to me. I enjoy it more than kayaking, however on rougher waters I will choose a sea kayak over a canoe any day. The canoe is just something that hits close to home. It’s not just a boat to me. I think the heritage that canoes have from the indigenous people and the fur traders who used them as their way of getting themselves and goods across the land to be so engraved in the sport for me today. Also, the open feeling of the boat along with its more upright seating position and single blade paddle all make it a very enjoyable experience for me. Not to mention, they are also easier to portage, which is something that makes exploring by canoe even more special as you can really get into more and more remote wilderness. That’s the whole allure of it for me, to be in the quiet where few people tread.

After my fall camping trip was over, I pondered about my time paddling that evening. I noticed that I did not go canoeing as often as I would have wished this year, and I also have not incorporated too much canoe culture into my illustrations either - even though I have thought about it many times before. Inspiration quickly came to me as I created a new illustration inspired by Rabbit Blanket Lake. There is a small island on the lake, just like in the drawing, and of course, you can’t forget about the stunning Algoma landscape out in the background.

As 2020 starts coming to a close, I am thankful for my time out this past September, however I hope that this year is going to forever hold the title as the worst year for canoeing. My ambitions are to go out on the water much more in the future years to come. With so many possibilities around my home in Sault Ste. Marie, I have no excuses why not to. To finish off I want to end with a quote by Kevin Callen, a canoeist and author I admire. “What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.” I may have not paddled a hundred miles that one September evening, but I still felt the purification and direct connection with the nature around me, and that is worth more than all the material riches possibly found on earth.

The more connections with nature we get, the more grounded we will feel. The more connections nature receives with us, the more it will thrive with us.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog! Consider sharing this blog with a friend or family member. If you would like to purchase the canoeing illustration featured in this blog, it is currently for sale on my Etsy shop, along with prints available in many different sizes. Your support will help me expand my brand in hopes to bring more people closer to nature and the outdoors. I really appreciate your support!