Aura Lee Lake is very scenic, and very shallow. Lots of rocks and trees. I'm pleased that I still haven't thumped the canoe on anything sharp the entire trip. I spot a few campers up and about, and even a few empty campsites. I begin to feel better about my decision; this trip has been a 'Nature Trail to Hell'. A few days at home will be nice. As I enter the small creek leading from Aura Lee to Little Cedar Lake,I ground the canoe on a huge boulder. Looking around me, I see why. The whole river is huge boulders. I'm getting ready to soak my boots and try and walk the canoe down river when I see a small channel about 10 meters to the left of my rock. I shift forward in the canoe and hop a little bit and bump the canoe along until she floats free again. I have a few more small thumps as I travel down river, but nothing serious. There is barely enough water to go under the railroad tracks into Little Cedar, but I make it.
This would be a marvelous place to fish, but I a m getting worried about the storm clouds building up on the horizon. I have to go very slowly due to the very shallow water and all the rocks and sticks in the narrow channel, but I do make time. Eventually I come out into Cedar Lake. It's only a few miles now until I reach Brent Store. I dig in and head straight out into the lake, hoping to stay ahead of the storm. If I hug the North shore it will take me several extra hours. I risk the middle of the lake.
Half an hour later, I am regretting my choice. Large waves are smashing the canoe around and the wind is beginning to gust pretty strongly. My right arm is beginning to feel like it is on fire, but I can't switch sides due to the wind direction; Nor can I stop. If I stop, I'll be blown broadside to the waves and capsize. As thunder starts rumbling again I look at my long metal boat and begin to identify with Robert Redford in "A Bridge Too Far" ... "Hail Mary, full of grace...Hail Mary, Full Of Grace...HAIL MARY, Full of GRACE!" I turn the canoe towards the North shore and race for cover. After I reach the safety of the tree line I rest for a few minutes, and then start out, keeping to the lee of the shore and resting my right side as much as possible. Every time I cut across a bight the wind tries to blow me back out into the middle of the lake and I have to use my exhausted right side again. BLEAH!
Finally, I round the last point and.... No store. I see two canoes pulled up on a beach and hear voices. I ask directions and am told I need to go about another 100 meters around the headlands and look for the radio tower. *Sigh* As I round the point I pass two canoes headed OUT. I decide they are either deranged or suicidal. I have seen three big power-boats previously, but nothing so light as my canoe, or theirs. Finally I pull up on the beach of the Brent Store. It starts to rain about five minutes later. At least I'm not the only one rained out. Three other groups got soaked in that storm and one large group had everyone come down ill - and their bus broke down once they got here! Good to see someone else is having a disaster! We commiserate briefly.
Unfortunately, no one is heading anywhere near the Kiosk. The one couple I find willing to give me a ride drive a two seat convertible Mercedes and have no space for me. The owners of the Brent Store tell me that almost no one heads back towards the Kiosk from here. Great. I find out that it is a 100 mile journey to the Kiosk, and my car. Well, if I learned nothing else at Fort Knox, I learned how to march. I start out as the rain stops briefly. I've covered about three miles when a truck pulling a trailer headed back to Brent stops and the men inside offer me and my gear a lift to the highway if I'll help them load and unload the Brent Campground garbage. Yow! No problem. We load up my gear, tie the canoe onto the trailer and ten minutes later we start slinging garbage into the trailer.
My benefactor is named Winston, and his friends are Chatter and John. They seem pretty typical of my impression of a stereotypical Canadian: Strong, friendly, and hard working. A bit scornful of anyone who isn't but always willing to help out someone who is willing to work. After we load up the garbage Chatter and John head back into Brent while Winston and I head towards the Highway and Deux Rivers. He tells me he knows of a gas station in Deux Rivers where I can stash my gear while I hitchhike back towards the Kiosk. We make a pit-stop at his house at the Wendigo Entry point where I meet two Interior Ministry Rangers and Winston's wife Linda. They even invite me to lunch (a very tasty spaghetti variant), and by 3:00 PM, I'm on the road to the highway. We stop off and unload the garbage at the dump. By 4:30 PM I've got everything stashed at the Monroe UniGas station in Deux Rivers.
Lots of cars are passing me by, so I have high hopes that I will get a ride soon. Besides, since I've got my canoe paddle, anyone should know that I'm not just a wandering weirdo, but a wandering weirdo in need of help! Twenty minutes later, as it starts raining on me, I begin to wonder about my assessment of Canadians' willingness to help strange people (and I certainly fit THAT description). I also begin to regret putting on my Winter Camouflage pants this morning. I start walking.
Some 5 miles up the road, after several hundred cars have passed me by, I implore the Gods...."WHAT do I need to do to get a RIDE?! Give me a SIGN!" As I look up, I notice a vulture circling over my head. He is unfortunately out of reach of my paddle. This could have something to do with why I haven't gotten a ride....
Ten miles later as I'm beginning to wonder if there aren't legends in this area of the Mad Canoe Paddle Slasher, a VERY nice BMW finally pulls over and I hop in. The driver, a local lumber baron, offers to give me a ride to Mattewa. I gratefully accept, despite the fact that the inside of the car smells like a forest fire. In the short drive to Mattewa, he and his wife smoke FIVE cigarettes. I suppose it's only fair as I am by now smelling as ripe as the garbage I unloaded some hours and many miles earlier. In any case, they are very nice people and give me directions to the Kiosk from where they drop me off. I thank them profusely and jump out to head towards the nearby gas station. I feel GOOD. Its amazing what that first ride will do for you. I'm now within 30 miles of my car. I begin to realize that this entire trip had a purpose. I've spent my life ignoring people as useless wastes of energy, and looking only to animals and places as sources of what the Amerinds called Good Medicine. I now know that people can be good too. I spent a good portion of this trip scowling at all the people I was seeing, but wasn't really SEEING them. My two friends from Toronto who made the entire trip easier with their kind advice, the rangers at both the Kiosk and Wendigo Entry points; In fact, most of the people I've encountered have been unfailingly helpful and friendly. I think maybe my attitude towards my fellow man needs some looking at. I walk maybe a mile after this revelation when the next car pulls over. This one is a Mercedes driven by one of the local communications bigwigs - he owns the local phone company supplier.
He and his wife, who spend their winters in Florida, drive me all the way to the Kiosk turn near Eau Clare. I'm now within 19 miles. I trot into the store on the corner of Highway 630 as I have noticed a Ranger's truck parked there. Unfortunately, he's headed OUT for the evening. Ah well, 19 miles is only another 5 hours at worst. I start walking. There are NO cars. I've walked maybe another two miles and been passed by one car when an old pickup truck pulls over and a gentleman offers to take me another few miles down the road. We get to talking and he offers to take me all the way to my car. Salvation! I finally arrive at the Kiosk entry at about 7:30 PM, only 7 and a half hours after I beached my canoe.
I get to laughing with the clerk at the desk, as I had told her that I couldn't imagine any disaster that would get me out of Algonquin early. She gives me my refund after listening to my tale of woe and I get in the car and begin the long weary drive back to Deux Rivers and my gear. It is full dark out when I arrive, but I knock at the door of the people who own the gas station and let them know I'm there. Good thing too; I've managed to load the canoe onto the car when the Ontario Provincial Police show up...They're polite enough to ask the lady of the house before harassing me, and drive off without ever even bothering me. I've finally gotten everything loaded and ready to go by 10:00 PM. I drive to near Mattewa and pull off for a hot dinner. The Cheeseburger I get should be served as a gourmet meal, 'cause I've rarely tasted anything this good. This is the first solid food (other than most of a pound of Jerky and a Tiger's Milk Bar) I've had since dinner the night before, and I've been awake for 15 hours of hard work. I am exhausted, but decide to head back.
I regret that decision about an hour later. I'm too fogged to understand what the white blur in the road is. I shake my head and re-focus and realize that it is a huge white owl. It sees me seconds too late and tries to leap into flight. I hit it square in the middle of my car and it cartwheels off into the night. I can't stop quickly with all my gear on the car, but slowly pull off. I don't even bother going back to check. My fog light mounting has been broken, my grill shattered, and something has punched a hole clear through one headlight. Damn. Great Snowy Owls are rare too. I drive until I find a rest station south of North Bend and pull off about 12:30 AM. I sleep as soundly as you can in a car and get up at 6:30 AM and drive off in search of a gas station - I'm on fumes again. I finally find one and tank up. Homeward Bound!
The wind is picking up as I enter Toronto, and tossing the canoe around very badly. I have picked up a hitchhiker headed into Toronto (I couldn't stand to see him standing on the side of the road after my little jaunt through Northern Ontario), and drop him off. I'm not paying the attention I should and head East through Toronto....This isn't the way back to the U.S. unless I'm headed for Maine. I figure it out just before I leave the city. Arrrrggghhh. I get back on the highway and drive WEST. Just after leaving Toronto I have to pull off and add extra ropes to the front of the canoe. No big deal though. I finally make it back across the border at Port Huron. It feels good to be back in the U.S. and only about 3 hours from Home.
It's just about 6:00 PM when I pull in the driveway. My roommates are more than a little shocked to see me - of course, I look like a Zombie three days dead, but Hey, I look that way every morning! In any case, I survived the trip, and I learned a lot about myself. That was why I went in the first place. Not quite what I had been dreaming about for 17 years, but not as bad as it seemed either. A disaster from start to finish, I loved every minute of it.