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My first paddle.

In 2019, I was turning 30. What do most people do to celebrate their 30th? I bet you're thinking... get belligerently drunk? I definitely did that but I, like many others wanted to celebrate with some kind of adventure and so I tasked my boyfriend with planning my birthday trip. That was my first mistake.

Martin is many things, organized is not one of them. Leaving planning to the last minute for the August long weekend meant we were limited for choices. The trip was kept a secret for a while, but I don't do well with surprises and eventually discovered my epic 30th birthday adventure was... back country camping. Not just any back country camping, a 25k paddle in and out for my very first time. Needless to say this was not the glamping I had in mind.

I read all I could beforehand, acquired bear spray, and mastered our first grocery haul and food pack. We hit the road early and eager but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Thanks to his last minute planning, the canoe pickup was a HUGE detour from our launching point and we "didn't have time" to stop for breakfast. We finally got to our launching point (Access Point 1, Kawawaymog Lake) just past noon and put our paddles into the lake. A treacherous 30 metres later... I was already complaining.

"You grossly overestimated my abilities... I'm already tired. How could you do this to me?! This is not what I envisioned."

And then I realized... I was hangry. We unpacked our sandwiches in the middle of Kawawaymog Lake and all was right in the world again. We paddled through the lake and a long windy boggy river and got through our first portage without issue or so I thought. After a quick trail mix break our paddles were in the water again in the west arm of North Tea Lake and that's when Martin realized he lost his sunglasses. No biggy right? But nope, these were brand new Maui Jim's that I bought him a month ago for his 30th...

Who brings $500 sunglasses on a canoe camping trip???!

There was a backpaddle and quick search but with no glasses in site, we moved on. I'm going to put it out there - North Tea Lake is HUGE and I was not in good shape. As is always the case when paddling, the wind was against us but we persevered and made it through another lake and another portage. At this point I was feeling on top of the world, this was the homestretch and I made it (okay we made it... I was still bitter about Martin's glasses). Just like that we were in Wilkes Lake and good thing too because it was already 6PM at that point. Exhausted and hungry we spotted a campsite next to the portage but nahhh.

Who wants to stay on a campsite next to a portage amirite?

So we paddled on and site after site was occupied. It was a gentle dance between paddling close and pulling out the binoculars only to move on again and again. Hope dwindled and I was done. We headed back hoping no one wanted the campsite next to the portage and for once, something went right. We settled in - Martin setting up camp while I got to making dinner, not without a quick trip to the lake to wash my hands and man WAS IT A QUICK TRIP. I slipped. Fell backwards, smashed my head and elbow on that great Canadian shield and just started crying like a little kid. Martin ran over, his face aghast worried how we would make it back if I was hurt and it just started to pour out of me.

"I hate this! I hate you! How could you do this to me??!"

Again, I was just hangry. We had dinner and climbed into our tent for some shuteye, which being next to a portage didn't last long. This is exactly why campsites next to a portage aren't ideal but desperate times. We had a permit on North Tea for the second night so we took our time packed up and portaged back into the lake. The day before we noticed an amazing beach campsite next to the portage to Lorne Lake... I know I was just harping on the portage campsites but this portage was 2 km so we figured it wouldn't get much traffic. We figured right. The second day was sweet bliss, hammocks and relaxation.

The weekend was over and we had to pack up and head back on another long paddle to the car. The headwind was brutal, the waves were choppy all the way through North Tea Lake. The winding river provided little reprieve and at this point we weren't even talking, discouraged and tired. Kawawaymog Lake was not kind to us either, the headwind picked up even more and we literally could not stop paddling or we would drift backwards. With the wind and lake spray in our face there was nothing to do but close my eyes and just paddle. According to Jeff's Maps this should've taken us only 25 minutes but with the headwind it took closer to an hour.

With my hands paddled raw, my arms shaking, and my legs stiff from the canoe we were back on land and within arms reach to our car. I have never felt more accomplished in my life.

I take back everything I said when I was hangry. I'm hooked.


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