Thursday, July 13, 2017

Trip Log: Algonquin Provincial Park, Mew Lake, March 13-14, 2017

I hate admitting to have given up.  For a while, I considered writing this trip log as if we had stayed the second night, but I hate the thought of lying even more, so here it is, we wussed out and headed home a day early.

There were multiple reasons for this, but I'll get to that later in the trip report.

We arrived at the West Gate at 4:30pm, half an hour after they closed.  I knew they were closed but I suggested to Chris we stop in and see if there were further instructions posted for people with reservations arriving late.  As I was reading the sheet on getting self serve permits for people without reservations, the woman working the gate house saw me and let me in.  Bonus!  This meant we wouldn't have to drive back out and pick up the permit in the morning.

Not long after we arrived at Mew Lake.  I had promised everyone I hadn't picked a site that was right at the bathrooms, but when we got there, the site we had, was pretty much right across the road from the comfort station.  I swear, when I was booking it, it looked further down the road...  Anyway, the kids hid in the car while we got the electric fire place going, but everything in the Boler was cold because we had been getting temps of -21 for the past several days at home.  The cushions that make up the larger bed actually had ice under them and were frozen to the fibreglass.  It looks like this spring we are going to have to do a lot of work on the little camper, because water is clearly getting in somewhere.

We have two pieces of an old 2 inch thick foam mattress topper that Chris and I put on our bed to make it a bit bigger since I tend to fall off the outside edge a lot, especially with the dog.  Normally we can roll them up and stuff them in the compartments under our bed, but they were so frozen stiff (and a bit wet in a few spots) that they wouldn't roll, so we ended up having to store them in the car while the bed was set up as a table.  While we were setting up though, Chris put them on the roof of the car.  Yeah, we are the super classy campers...

Also the super unprepared campers.  I realized the morning we left that I must have donated my old winter coat or tossed it.  This left me with a not-warm-at-all pea coat, or a bush jacket.  I chose the bush jacket because it at least could close up higher on my chest.  So yeah, there we are surrounded by people in nice, warm parkas and I'm wearing a bush jacket I got on sale at Giant Tiger.

We got the kids into the trailer, but the fireplace was really struggling to warm the place up.  It was -21 according to the weather report posted in the laundry room.  Thankfully there was no wind, as the trailer is less than perfect when it comes to drafts.

While everyone else sat in the relative warmth of the Boler, I braved the cold and made dinner, sloppy joes and instant mashed potatoes.  Normally, we would butter and toast buns in a frying pan, but with only two burners, and it being so cold, I knew I couldn't toast enough for us all in one batch.  Since we wanted to all eat together, we settled on mashed potato.  The kids were't impressed with them though.  Also, we could have made the sloppy joes with toast.  Chris had the idea of bringing our toaster oven from home.   We figured if it worked out well enough, we'd buy a little one that was just for in the Boler.

After dinner was cleaned up, we started to play a game of Sequence when Squatch started to get a stomach ache.  I walked over to the comfort station with him and waited for him to finish.  We picked up the game again, and a few minutes later, again, he got bad stomach cramps.  So again, I walked him over and this time waited in the laundry room.  I'd be able to hear if anyone flushed and could pop my head out to see if it was him, but otherwise I'd stay warm.  While I was there, I saw the Environment Canada weather report and saw that the next day was supposed to be just as cold but very windy on top of it.  My stomach dropped.  When I'd booked the trip, a few days before we'd left, I had checked the weather.  At home. we'd been getting a lot of days of -20 and strong winds, but the reports for Algonquin looked a lot nicer, closer to -11 and sunny.  I had a feeling nobody was going to be happy the next day.

After the second bathroom trip, we got back and the game was packed up and Chris was setting up the beds.  This is such a chore, and involves a lot of shuffling, frustration and complaining.  Eventually we all got into bed and everyone read for a little bit, then we turned off the lights and called it a night.

Squatch woke up around 4 and got out of bed to check the time, he also told me he was very cold.  I realized he had a t-shirt on and no socks, even though I'd given him a nice dry wool pair after he was in bed so he wouldn't get them wet walking on the Boler floor.  After a brief argument, I got him to put his sweater into his sleeping bag for a minute, then to put it on.  The next morning both kids had said they were cold through the night.  This was the point I started thinking maybe we should head home early.  I knew if they'd been cold when there had been no wind, they'd be miserable with cold wind whipping in through the gaps around the door.

We made our bagels, which had frozen solid over night.  We had to run them through a toast cycle to thaw them enough to cut in half, then toast them  We also had a box of corn pops that we just handed around.  I made coffee and hot chocolate, but the wind was picking up a bit and kept blowing the stove out.  I admit to being a little depressed at this point.  It seemed like nobody was having fun, and we were likely to end up sitting in the trailer all day reading or playing on phones/ipads.  Luckily, Chris got everyone dressed and insisted we do a short hike to the water fall.

There were protests.  Neither of the kids wanted to go outside at all, but we talked them into it, and headed out to the start of the trail.  When we got to the garbage area, I saw some movement and we realized there was a pine martin in the tree.  We spent quite a while taking pictures and then another one showed up.  They chased each other around for a while then scampered off out of sight.

We made our way to the bridge along the backpacking trail, and stopped to photograph a gray jay who was curious about us.  Normally we just head back, but we decided to continue on along the backpacking trail for a little ways.  The kids started to complain a bit, but kept going.  After a few minutes, we came to the rail trail.  I tried to check the map on my phone and the battery, which had been full when we left, died almost instantly.  We ventured to the right for a little ways, then came back and went to the left.  When we went to the left, we came across a sign for the Bike trail with a map, and I realized we were close to the bridge that you would cross if you were taking the Old Railway Bike Trail.  We opted to cross there and head back over the airfield and back to camp.

We decided to head to the visitor centre for lunch, mostly just as a way to warm up.  On the way back to Mew Lake we stopped at the Spruce Bog Board Walk Trail to try feeding the birds.  Squatch wouldn't keep his gloves on, because no birds would land on them, and I was starting to get worried and irritated.  My hands were frozen with gloves on, so I knew his had to be even worse.  We weren't getting many birds anyway, so we headed back to the car and tried a bit more there.

I was trying to get everyone to get back into the car when I looked towards the trail and saw a fox just sitting there watching us.  My first thought was that it was kind of odd behaviour, so I ushered Squatch back down from the snowbank he was standing on.  The fox calmly walked around the car, came within 5 or 6 feet of us and began eating all the birdseed previous visitors had tossed around.

A little cold, but in good spirits, we headed back to the Boler and turned on the fireplace again.  Crackers were handed around and I headed back outside into the cold to make dinner.  I had planned to make a sort of tex mex thing over rice.  Basically it was canned beans, corn, green chilies and tomatoes thrown together into a pot.  Unfortunately, all the canned items were frozen solid.  I was able to scrape most of them out, but that meant that the corn and beans weren't drained and so I had to boil them longer so the meal wasn't all soupy.  With the temps now dropping, and the wind whipping through camp and blowing out the stove every little while, it seemed to take forever to get the food hot, let alone have it boil down a bit.

Eventually, we were all cozy in the trailer eating and I brought up the possibility of going home.  It was around this time that the stove stopped working.  Chris went out and checked the plug and it turned out the switch on the electrical hub had kicked off.  Not a big deal but in the middle of the night?

Nobody argued against going home, but my big concern was that Chris would make fun of me the whole time.  It was about 7pm and already we were cold, even with the fireplace pumping out heat.  So we called it, did a quick lock down of the stray gear, and got back into the car to head home.

All in all, I don't regret going, nor do I regret leaving early.  The trip proved to be a valuable learning experience for us.  We now know that the Boler needs a bit of work done before we can comfortably camp in very cold weather.   But we saw lots of wildlife, and had a good time.  We were able to leave on a good note rather than in the morning when everyone had spent a miserable night, which would have left us all with a negative impression of the trip.  Now, when we look back we will remember that, yes it was really cold, but we saw two pine martin, a fox and had a great time.

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