The Trip That Started It All

The Trip That Started It All. With the launch of quickescapes I thought it only fitting that I reflect back upon another time in my life that I set out and tried something new.  While I don’t outright recall all of the dates or details, I do have very vivid memories of my first backcountry canoe trip.

During my later years in high school, likely 1998 or 1999, my good friend David Welte and I got the idea in our heads that we wanted to do a canoe trip.  Now I had canoed before but generally only day trips down lazy rivers or out on glass calm lakes and just for a few hours.  I had also had a long history of camping as well, but these trips were more along the lines of car camping with my cooler and hibachi close at hand.  In short, backcountry camping was as foreign to me as speaking Latin.  

Dave on the other hand came into this trip with a considerable amount of backcountry experience.  Dave was a long time member of Scouts Canada and had been tripping for years.  Dave was the one that suggested we try our hand at the Gibson-McDonald Canoe Route, a route that he had completed previously.  

I was the noob on this trip and I was taking my cues from Dave.  He suggested that we pack light and travel fast.  This sounded like a pretty good idea to me.  The route is 56km and Dave and I had planned on completing it in 3 days and 2 nights.  I packed as light as I knew how to which included a minimal amount of food (more on that later) and just the clothes on my back. 

Dave and I set out early in the morning.  Keep in mind that we were in high school so early for us meant 9am.  Six Mile Lake is a relatively short drive from our home town of Wasaga Beach and we were on the water by about 11am. 

Flash forward about an hour and we were lost on the lake.  Even though we had a map that the Ministry of Natural Resources provided us, it wasn’t the highest quality.  We ended up slipping into a bay that came to a hydroelectric dam and we were forced to backtrack.  

Once we corrected our course we came across a section of the lake that was well grown over and the low water levels made it impossible to paddle.  Dave and I jumped out of the canoe into a couple of feet of mud and proceeded to pull/push it through 500 meters of rotten vegetation.  I must admit that this was not the most pleasant experience but I quickly learned that you sometimes have to take the good with the bad.  

At 7pm, after 8 hours of paddling we landed at our campsite on Three Rock Chute.  Day one proved to be extremely challenging but at the same time rewarding.  Camp was hastily set up and a fire was started to cook our dinner, beans out of a can.  Given the day’s events it wasn’t long before we were asleep next to the fire.  

The next morning we were up early and it wasn’t long before we both realized the toll that the previous day’s trip had taken on us.  Our backs and shoulders had stiffed overnight and upon examining our rations we noted that we really didn’t have as much food as we would have liked.  

Breakfast came and went and we were once again on the water, navigating the Gibson River and heading east towards Georgian Bay.  Day two’s paddle was much more leisurely and we were able to enjoy our surrounds much more.    

After just a few short hours of paddling we had made it to McCrae Lake where we would make camp for our last night.

I had mentioned above that Dave’s motto for the trip was fast and light.  To achieve this, certain comforts were sacrificed and we brought, what we thought, would be the minimum amount of food for the trip.  By dinner time on the second night, Dave and I were effectively out of food.  With an entire evening ahead of us and several hours of paddling the next morning, this was a legitimate concern and our mood sank as we approached our campsite.  

The canoe gods must have been looking out for us because as we pulled onto our site we noted several cans of food, left behind by a previous camper.  In all my years of camping I have never once found food when I arrived on a site.  Although it is nearly 20 years later, I would like to thank those campers who left us unopened cans of Puritan Irish Stew and Meatballs in Gravy.  We ate well and enjoyed a peaceful night under the stars.  

The next morning we rose to complete the last leg of our trip.  The final few hours proved to be uneventful which is generally a good thing when backcountry tripping.  We returned to our starting point at Six Mile Lake and upon setting foot on shore shared a great sense of accomplishment and at the same time regret that the trip was over and it was back to reality for us.  

Today the Gibson-McDonald Canoe Route is a shadow of its former self.  With an increase in access to the route and a clear lack of respect for the ‘leave no trace’ style of camping, I am sorry to say that this route’s glory days are long gone.  I still like to travel this route from time to time.  It has proven to be a great starter loop for people eager to venture into the backcountry and the memories that I have from past trips are never as vivid as when I am paddling the waters of the Gibson River.  I also left this trip with a friendship that will last a lifetime and a love for the outdoors that will be with me until my dying day.