Origin Stories: Algonquin and Me

Hiking through the bush at a brisk pace, sweating from the heat, and swatting at mosquitoes, I start to wonder why I put myself through this.  My feet hurt and it feels like I’ve been hiking a long time.  Eventually the trees open up and I can see the lake ahead.  I pause in a clearing of rock and, as I stare out over the lake, I comprehend the quiet.  The odd frog breaks the silence and in the distance a few birds chirp away happily, but my ears still hear silence.  No sounds of traffic, no buzzing air conditioners, no lawnmowers or sirens….just quiet.  Even the bugs seem to have disappeared.  It’s as though they aren’t willing to venture into this small slice of paradise…although some still do.  Many of my road trip/camping traditions have been born in this park.  There’s something amazing about this place.  Something that draws me back again and again.

Algonquin and I have a long history.  I’m not completely sure what originally made me want to go there, but I do know that it was a childhood dream.  I recall writing some life goals for a school project, and visiting Algonquin was one of the items on the list.  My desire to go there may have started when we went to a cottage near Parry Sound for the first time.  I was 13, and remember being interested in learning how to read the road map, and paying attention to where we were as we drove.  I was glued to the windows as we passed the rock cuts by the side of Highway 69.  The Canadian shield was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.  I’m not sure how I got it in my head, but I believed that Algonquin was the ultimate way to experience it.  It probably had something to do with the fact that on the map of Ontario, the green splotch of Algonquin is massive, with very few roads running through it….so wild and untamed.  It helped that the picture on the front of our old road map was from Highway 60 in Algonquin.  Whatever the reason, I wanted to go.

When I got my first car, plans began to surface to visit the park.  My first road trip was to Bruce Peninsula.  I had originally wanted to go to Algonquin, but had been convinced that it was too far away for a first road trip.  Two years later, my parents rented a cottage near Bancroft.  This was the first year I would be driving my own car up to the cottage, and I noticed, as I plotted out the way on the map, that Bancroft was kind of close to Algonquin.  Thus a plan to do a day trip to Algonquin was set in motion.  So my brother and I went on  a daytrip from the cottage.  We came into the park via the East Gate, which is actually a stone and log sort of toll booth on the highway.  Seeing that imposing, yet rustic entrance to the park made it feel like we were entering a magical, wild land that was somehow separate from the world around it.  The road signs all became that provincial park brown and yellow, which added to the sense that I had entered another world.  Even the road became twistier, as though it clung to the landscape rather than going through it.  We got a map of all the day trails, and started hiking.  The Lookout trail was the very first trail I walked on in Algonquin and I still have some poorly shot pictures from my original 3.2mp Canon point-and-shoot camera.  We hiked a few of the shorter trails, and then started the Mizzy Lake trail….only to turn around because it was just too long.  Either way, Algonquin had lived up to my expectations…I loved it.  For the next two summers, we would make a day trip to Algonquin from the cottage.

Original picture of Mizzy Lake, taken in 2006
My first picture of Mizzy Lake, taken in 2006

I was getting familiar with day trips and hiking, but I still hadn’t been on a camping trip.  I had a few experiences with camping with the Cadet group, and by the river on my friend’s farm, but I had never actually planned a camping trip myself, and certainly not that far from home.  It took some doing, but in the summer of 2007 I convinced a few friends to go camping with me in Algonquin.  It wasn’t very organized…we basically threw what we thought we’d need into the back of our cars, strapped some canoes to the roof, and set out as a three car caravan for Algonquin.  It was a good time hiking, canoeing, and talking by the fire.  There are two memories that stick out:  First, we went canoeing on Kearney Lake at midnight.  It was the blackest night I’ve ever seen and the most awesome stars I’d ever seen.  It was also the first time that I saw the milky way….as a fuzzy band crossing the sky above the lake as we canoed.  Absolutely amazing.  Second, I decided to get up early and watch the sunrise.  It was just me, sitting on the shore of Kearney Lake, enjoying the silence.  That sunrise is still the most amazing sunrise I have ever seen.

Sunrise on Kearney Lake
Sunrise on Kearney Lake

I took a break from Algonquin for a year, then returned twice in 2009 for day trips.  Living in Hamilton worked well for that since it was only a 3.5 hour drive if you left early enough to miss the traffic.  2009 was also the first time I ventured up north to see the fall colours…in Algonquin of course.  The view of the vibrant colours from Booth’s Rock trail is terrific.  That trip was also the first time I heard true silence.  We were on the beginning of the Booth’s Rock trail, early in the morning, and we arrived at the shore of a lake.  There was no wind blowing, so the water was like glass….and there wasn’t a sound to be heard.  It felt like suddenly I was wearing earplugs, it was that quiet.  I have only heard true silence a few times since, and it’s an awesome thing.

Silence
Silence

I’ve been to Algonquin almost once a year since 2006.  I feel like I know it very well…almost like it’s my home campground.  I’ve hiked every trail on the Highway 60 corridor at least once, and most of them 2 or 3 times.(except the Centennial Ridges…I’ve never done that one)  The Mizzy Lake trail is somewhat of a tradition and I’ve hiked that 12 km loop five times.(and every time asked, why in the world did I do that…)  Algonquin is also where I saw my first moose.  Seeing a moose used to be such a big deal…  I have yet to be on an actual canoe camping trip, but I have greatly enjoyed the camping I have done.

Moose on the Mizzy Lake trail
Moose on the Mizzy Lake trail

It may not be the most spectacular scenery…but it has a wild, untamed feel that I love.  It feels kind of like coming home every time I visit.  It was in Algonquin that I learned to be still, just sitting by the water, listening to the silence and praying to the awesome God that made it all.  My experiences in Algonquin made me love travelling and experiencing the wilderness.  I’m sure it is a big part of what shaped me into who I am now.

Classic Algonquin. Berm Lake, Eastern Algonquin.
Classic Algonquin. Berm Lake, Eastern Algonquin.

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