A PADDLING ADVENTURE (Bon Echo Provincial Park, Part 1)

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Feeling apprehension that Tessi would end up tipping us over, I went ahead anyway and rented the canoe for the allotted four hours $20 allows. I had always wanted to try canoeing with her, but feared the craft’s characteristic instability might cause her to jump out. I needn’t have worried; our rental turned out to be more of the flat-bottomed style. When I saw Tessi stand and lean over the edge for a drink of water, I knew she was fine. The other challenge involved drawing upon my scattered bits of canoeing experience. I’ve only paddled a few times, the last being over 10 years ago. Arrival As Helen, Missy, Tessi and I headed up to Bon Echo Provincial Park, my thoughts danced around the possibility of canoeing as they usually do when our destination features the activity. I assumed, however, we would stick to hiking. I especially looked forward to exploring the trail high up on Mazinaw Rock. While I waited in the gatehouse to claim our reserved campsite, I perused the park’s information guide, where I came across a section about their canoe rentals. Skimming through it to find out if dogs are allowed, I found it confirmed they are and, furthermore, it included tips on how to make their ride comfortable and enjoyable, along with tips on how to improve our own experience. Obviously, they expect renters of assorted levels of expertise. After signing in and returning to the car, I excitedly mentioned the possibility of canoeing to Helen. She was definitely agreeable, but also claimed little experience. And like Tessi, Missy had never ridden in a canoe either. Besides, if we were to hike on Mazinaw Rock, we’d have to paddle over. I learned that the Upper and Lower Mazinaw Lakes separate the escarpment from the rest of the park. Dogs aren’t allowed on the available ferry. At the Campsite Before making specific plans, we needed to set up camp. From the main entrance, an approximate 10-minute, curvy, meandering drive took us to our site at the Hardwood Hill campground. Since Helen now owns a humongous tent and I still use my old large one, I had hoped for a generous sized lot. We weren’t disappointed. An open area among tall, slim trees provided lots of room for our tents. Beyond additional spots for a car, the firepit and the picnic table, the trees were moderately spread out and offered no discernible boundary. No one camped near us either. Our section of the campground was mostly vacant. Looking up, I barely saw the sky. The forest canopy blocked most it. Tessi and Missy managed to find stray rays of sunlight to lie in while they waited for us to raise our tents and get organized. Hidden Away by Trees Afterwards, we drove down to the bustling Mazinaw campground, where apparently the activities take place. Finding our way around proved confusing. What looks easy to find on the map in the information guide is in reality hidden away by the thickness of trees. Signage is adequate if you are attentive enough. We eventually located the canoe rental place at the Lagoon. I noted the opening time of 9 a.m., since it was closed for the evening. I was relieved to see that we would be able to load the canoe at ground level, likely making it easier for getting and keeping a possibly reluctant Tessi in. While exploring the rest of the park, we unexpectedly came upon the canoe rental place again, but from a different direction. The Visitor Centre and the Greystones Gift & Book Shop also seemed hidden away. We found them after a bit of a walk. I kept thinking there should be an easier way to reach them. If there was, we didn’t find it. While looking, we came across a spectacular view of Mazinaw Rock aglow in the late evening sun. The small beach we perched on the edge of, so we could take pictures, doesn’t allow dogs, like most of the beaches in the park. Both businesses were closed for the evening. We agreed to stop back the next day after our water outing. We returned to our quiet campsite. Our busy day easily pushed sleep into our weary bodies.     Chipmunks We delighted in visits from very friendly chipmunks during our stay. They appeared out of nowhere whenever the food came out. Seeing scattered peanut shells confirmed these guys are used to being fed. I don’t think they were used to a dog like Tessi though. Dogs have to be chained or leashed while in the park. (Later, we would find official off-leash areas). Tethering Tessi is probably a smart idea anyway; otherwise, I’d have to struggle to keep her from chasing the creatures. At one point, while she sat under the picnic table, a chipmunk moved closer and closer to her. She remained still and waited. Incredibly, it came within a few inches. She then lunged and chased. A good tug on the chain reminded her she was limited in her reach. The chipmunk barely escaped. The creatures continually came close to her—albeit not as close—and skitter around her, oblivious to her sharp teeth and killer intentions. Having swiftly learnt her limit, she sat and watched, nose stretched out in hopes one would eventually cross her boundary. Coffee I wondered if the chipmunks cuddle up together at night to keep warm, as the night had turned chilly. And the permanent shade kept the campsite from warming up much the next morning. I tried getting some coffee going. I hate instant coffee, but Starbucks offers an acceptable version, so I include packets when I travel. The immersion heater I had hoped to buy was out of stock at Novack’s, my favourite outdoor store. Because I left my shopping till too late, I ended up buying, at Canadian Tire, a cup warmer in the shape of a sleeve that fits over the bottom of a travel mug. A warmer is what it’s called, but I had hopes of it heating up the water enough for coffee. It didn’t; it barely warmed itself up. Since my fist fits in it in perfectly, I’m keeping it as an emergency hand warmer for winter. That’s about all it’s good for. In desperation, we headed off to Cloyne, the closest town. Unsurprisingly, since it was an early 7ish, the makings of a ghost town greeted us. Mist rising off the small bodies of water along the highway rewarded us in its own way. We returned to our chilly campsite with only wishes of caffeine and the hot liquid it comes in. Paddling Time By then, we didn’t have to wait long to head off to the canoe rental place, where only one family waited before us. I had been concerned that there would be a crowd because of the place’s late opening. Once signed up, we donned the included life jackets and pulled the canoe into the water. The girls easily settled in. We added in the included paddles, safety kit and our own supplies and set off. Before heading to the dock at Mazinaw Rock, where we could leave the canoe during our hike, we paddled through the Narrows to the upper lake to find the pictographs the park is known for. Considering our lack of experience, we maneuvered through the water quite well. The Narrows is accurately named. We managed to avoid bottoming out on the stones hidden along the edges of the shallow water. I recall my previous time paddling to entail a lot of zig zagging. I’m happy to say we kept a fairly straight line on this outing. I always consider scenery from elevated sources to be amazing, but looking up from the bottom of that rugged granite wall abruptly jutting out of the water was spectacular. Tessi kept looking up too, giving me the impression she was as interested in the sight as I was. We had trouble spotting the pictographs. As we came upon the family that had been ahead of us in the rental line, they pointed them out. The red markings looked like graffiti to me. I guess they were in a way - just thousands of years old. We decided paddling was easy and thought we were doing really well until we turned towards the dock. The newly developed breeze sent ripples of waves against us. Fitting ourselves alongside the dock proved to be a struggle. Once accomplished, Tessi almost hurt herself jumping onto the dock. As she pushed off the canoe, the motion shoved it out. Losing her back footing, she struggled with her front paws to find purchase on the wooden platform. She managed without falling in and, thankfully, I didn’t see any scrapes or scratches on her belly. Climb to the Top Most of 100 m (328 ft) climb to the top of the rock offers the convenience of stairs. One small staircase sits at the trailhead. The longer set appears farther up the trail. Unfortunately, they are made of the steel grating that is hard on Tessi’s paws. She started heading up the first set with determination before I realized their construction. As we climbed, I could see each thick metal slat digging into her pads, spreading her paws apart as she tried to grip. Between Tessi’s paws and our lung capacity—especially on the longer set of stairs, we suffered a tough go, though each step up unveiled more of the beautiful scenery—not that Tessi appreciated it, but I know she was interested in discovering scents threaded throughout the scenery ahead of us. There are several lookout points along the 1.5 km (almost a mile) trail. They offer a grand view of the Lower and Upper Mazinaw Lakes. Below the blue sky, a carpet of forest filled in the rest of the panoramic scenery - Bon Echo covers 8295 ha (20487 ac) of land. I found out in later research that trail guides are available in the gift and book shop. The trail led us through forests and onto sunny, rocky hills. Some of the hard, grey surface is cut with strips of quartz, like it was ready to burst out of the granite before it hardened. As we returned to the dock, we started seeing more people. We passed an older woman struggling with her cane to climb the first staircase. I wondered how she was going to manage the bigger one. She told Helen she had had a stroke. I’m impressed with her tenacity. Helen did warn her of the upcoming challenge. We found the dock lined up with canoes and kayaks. As usual, we had lucked out with our preference for early excursions, thereby avoiding the bulk of the crowds. We managed to exit the area without bumping into anyone and easily navigated back to drop off the canoe and included sundries. With our water adventure over, we would stick to terra firma for the rest of our stay. We would be further challenged to decipher the map to find the off-leash areas it indicates. For More Info  

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2012

Story continued in The Dog Friendly Spots 


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