Instead of doing a neat packing job, I simply collapsed the tent in a heap and rolled it up enough to carry. Since I had to put my knives and flashlight away to do so, I was very nervous. In a very few minutes I had the tent and all my gear stuffed in the canoe and I was almost ready to go. If I could get my food down from the tree, the bear wouldn’t eat it and I could continue my trip without any further problems! Telling the bear all the while what I was doing, I walked over to the tree my food was tied up in, shining the flashlight around the entire time. I got to within about 5 feet of the tree and he came right out of the bushes in front of me and ‘WHOUF’d at me. I jumped right out of my skin, turned around and started running. After running about two steps I remembered that bears like to chase small running critters for food. Not wanting to be mistaken for food, I spun around in a stick-fighting stance - my left hand knife under my right arm, and the right arm (with the flashlight) cocked over my shoulder for an overhead strike. The only problem with this is that the flashlight is pointed behind me.
My heart beating wildly in my chest, I waited for the bear to come close enough so that I could do something to him. The only hope I figured I had was to bop him on the nose with the flashlight or cut his paw as he slapped at me...If I couldn’t do that, I’d try to let him charge over me and stick the knife into his jugular while I jammed the flashlight into his mouth. Not really good odds. Fortunately, there was no bear. He had apparently sat back in the bushes. I shined the flashlight around - nothing.
To hell with the food! I backed down the hill towards my canoe. I had to turn my back on where the bear was in order to get the canoe into the water and in it - Of course as I started to push the canoe in, I heard something *crack* behind me. I took two running steps into the water with the canoe and jumped in, nearly capsizing it as I rocketed away from shore. NOW things were different. He could come out here and the advantages were all mine! Bears need to use all four paws to swim, so he couldn’t touch me. I taunted him a few times from the safety of deep water. He didn’t answer, but I could hear him tearing at the tree trying to get my food bag down. Apparently, it was a couple of feet out of his reach, and he wasn’t happy about it (after all, from his point of view, he had spent about 5 hours chasing me away from his food only to find it out of reach!)
I finally tired of taunting the bear and listening to him tear at the tree. It was a beautiful night and I was the only human being for miles. The stars were out, there was only a light breeze and the midnight air was sweet and pure. I decided to paddle around the lake for a while and calm down. So, I paddled off into the moonlit lake. It was a perfect time to be on the lake, the water like a mirror except for the occasional patch of small ripples...Which was what I was cutting through when I heard a truly horrible sound. A faint cracking sound running the length of my canoe.
Now, Lake Opeongo is deep, and cold. It was past midnight and there was no one anywhere near me. A giant bear had been doing pushups on this poor boat, and here I was paddling around like nothing had happened. Not very smart - and the sound of my keel giving way let me know that in no uncertain terms. Certain that I was about to sink, I began digging hard for a nearby island. Every few strokes I could hear the cracking sound getting louder. Without slowing, I ran the bow of my canoe up onto the sandy beach of this small island. Vastly relieved, and very pissed I threw my gear onto the island and flipped the canoe over to see how bad the damage was. It was....nothing. No cracks. No splits. No holes. The keel was fine. Just a few scratches...Huh?
I sat down on the beach and watched the moon for a while. The little breeze I’d been chasing came back and teased my cheek. I couldn’t figure out what the noise had been. I sure wasn’t going back in that canoe until I did! Watching the moon’s shadow split into pieces as my friendly breeze moved out onto the water, I finally got it. I was used to aluminum or fiberglass on canvas canoes - This was solid Kevlar. Little ripples on aluminum or canvas make a drumming sound - on solid plastic, they make a much higher pitched cracking sound. My breeze had a mischievous streak! I laughed out loud as the built up stress of the past few hours finally found an outlet.
Deciding to make the best of it, I sat back down and leaned back to enjoy the stars and the moon. This of course made me a very attractive target for the mosquitoes, black flies, and every other form of annoying insect in the universe. I sighed and got used to the idea of being a free lunch. - Then something flew right in front of my nose, so close it brushed my skin! I jumped and saw another black shape skimming by my head. Bats! An entire Air Force of small bats had stopped by and were busily devouring every bug within a quarter mile! In about fifteen minutes, the island was bug free and I gave the bats a round of applause in thanks. I took a stroll of my small island, enjoying the trees and the sand. Listening to the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore. No bears here! Unless he followed me....Nawww.
After a short while, I decided not to set my tent up. I was still freaked out after my encounter with Mr. Bear and wanted something a bit more secure....I loaded my canoe back up and headed back to the entry point. It only took me a couple of hours. Jumping at every sound I headed to the phone...I needed to talk to someone human. I called my folks (Your grandparents) and told them my tale of woe (Mind you, it’s about 4 AM at this point!) They helped me to calm down a bit, so I went back and slept in my nice steel car.
The next morning, I stopped in at the Ranger’s Office and made an ‘incident report’ (They like to keep track of human-bear interactions so that they can move problem bears to a place far from people) I made sure they knew that although the bear had scared me silly, he hadn’t threatened me, hurt me, or tried to hurt me. Just wanted me to keep away from ‘his’ food. The head ranger knew about the bear - Algonquin had been trying to trap him for several weeks now. He’d meet me back at my camp in a couple of hours.
I got back in my canoe and headed for that same point of land. When I got there, the ranger was right behind me. We got out and walked around the campsite. He showed me the bear’s footprints (they were HUGE) and the claw marks on the tree - way up the tree - and on the rope I had used to tie my food up. He told me that there was a live trap a few hundred meters up the coast, loaded with raw meat, but that the bear was too smart. They were going to mark this campsite as closed now to keep people away from the bear. He explained that he had been rangering in Canada for 20 years and this was the biggest bear he’d ever seen. His guess was that it was between 550 and 600 pounds. Judging by the claw marks, he could easily reach 10-12’ up (which was a couple of feet too short to reach my food. No wonder he was pissed!). I thanked him and asked him what I had done wrong - what had I done to attract the bear? He told me nothing. This bear was a known problem. Several people had fed him, and left treats for him when they left the site - He saw people as a source of easy food, so any time he smelled people, he went looking for the goodies he knew had to be there. Just my bad luck!
The ranger went about his business and I continued on up the lake. There was an island right in the middle of the dreaded Straits of Opeongo that I wanted to get to. You may have heard your Dad talk about that place. On our first trip to Algonquin many years ago we tried to get through the Straits - and had a very hard time doing so. Three different parts of the lake come together there with wind and currents going in every direction you can imagine. So, when you start trying to canoe through it you get pushed, blown, and knocked around all over the place. Even with your Grandpa Bud we only made it half way through the Straits before we made it to a small island in the middle for the night. We were all exhausted (well, not me, I rode in the middle of our canoe making obnoxious comments) from the effort. That evening when things settled down, and the next morning before the wind came up, they were as smooth as glass and we glided away without any trouble at all.
Since I thought I knew the secret of the straits, I headed towards them without any real worry. I wanted to take my time and arrive in the evening when the winds and the current should have died down. Unfortunately, I made good time and things were getting a bit bumpy by the time I got there. Not being one who spends much time doubting my own abilities, I started in. That was definitely a mistake. Within a very few strokes of the paddle I could feel the waves picking up and the currents starting to push and pull at the canoe. The islands looked a lot further off than I thought. The closer I managed to get to the islands, the more the currents and winds were blowing me towards the middle of the straits. There were also some very large, very sharp mini-islands waiting to gut my canoe. Several times I had waves break over the gunwales (the sides) of the canoe and I was starting to get a lot more water in the boat than I was comfortable with.
It was beginning to look like I wasn’t going to get out of the straits. I was closing on one of the smaller islands - the first in my path, but the current was dragging me past it faster than I was getting TO it! More water was splashing into the canoe and I made one final effort to get to the island - And missed. I did make it into the wind’s ‘shadow’ of the island though, so I was at least out of the wind and the currents. I turned the canoe to the island and paddled towards shore. This wasn’t the island I wanted to camp on - in fact, there wasn’t any campsite ON the island. However, if I could paddle around to the other side of the island, staying close to the shore so the current didn’t grab me again, I should be able to get to where a short straight shot would get me to the other island.
I rested for a bit with the bow of my canoe beached on this small island. I drank some Gatorade and ate some of my beef jerky. After about twenty minutes, I was ready to try to get to my planned stop. I pulled the canoe back into the water and crept around the north end of the island, staying VERY close to shore in case the currents or the wind got nasty again. In a very few minutes I was straight across from ‘my’ island. If I had judged it right, the current between the two islands and the wind would push me one way, and my paddling should help counter that, leaving me just about at the middle of the island when I finished. And for once, I planned it right! It only took me about fifteen minutes and I was safely at my night’s stop; And nearly as exhausted as when we landed on that same island so many years ago!
Tired as I was, I hauled
all my gear out of the canoe and set up camp. I started my little stove
so that I could make dinner as quickly as possible – I was too tired to
even light a campfire. But, after a few minutes of rest and a nice warm
supper, I was recovered enough to explore the island. I remembered some
of the trails from our last trip. I walked to several high points on that
island and went
to see where everything was around me. It was as beautiful as I remembered
it. From shore,
the straits looked relatively serene. Some small waves, but no hint of
the wind and the currents. I shook my head and started back to camp, spending
a few minutes trying to get a small red squirrel to sit still for a picture.
He wasn’t very interested, but I managed to get a shot – of sorts.