I woke up to flashing blue and reds through the windshield of my friend Jason's truck.
We were on the highway in the middle of nowhere, Ontario, and a provincial police officer had just lit us up as we and some hapless vacationers in a minivan pulled out to pass a slow-moving driver.
We pulled over. Waited. Watched in the rearview mirror as the officer ambled up the shoulder toward us.
He was a young guy. He leaned in through my window and took Jason's license and asked us where we were going, etc.
Then he looked at Jason, square.
"So what are we going to do about a ride for you guys?"
Jason did a double take. "What?"
"I have you doing fifty over," the officer said. "Stunt driving. I'm impounding your vehicle."
The specifics of Jason's case have yet to be established in court. Anyway, I was asleep when the alleged incident occurred.
But no matter what happened or didn't happen, in short order we found ourselves standing by the side of the road about a half-hour on the wrong side of Bancroft, our camping gear stacked beside us as a tow truck took Jason's truck away and a steady stream of long weekend vacationers gawked at us as they drove past on the highway.
It was an inauspicious beginning to what was supposed to be a great canoe trip.
This year, we'd stayed east, on Jay's home terrain, for a four-day portaging trip through Algonquin Park.
At least that was the plan.
Now we were stranded, two hours from the park gate, and with the evening's objective still a long drive and an even longer paddle away.
To say nothing of the fact that Jay had just watched his truck carted off.
I feel like most people would have called it, at that point.
Packed it in, aborted the mission, switched focus to finding a way back to Toronto, three hours to the south, and then, you know, drinking away the pain of what was sure to be an extremely expensive dalliance over the speed limit.
But Jay would hear none of it.
And after a fifty-dollar cab ride, a rescue by the generous and talented artist Joey Bruniand some unsung hero driving by Stan, who drove an extra couple hours to pick us up, we found ourselves by the dock at Lake Opeongo, trying to coordinate our canoe rental while simultaneously looking to book a ride out of the park at weekend's end.
(And worrying about the paddle ahead. It was a long weekend, and campsites were in short supply. We'd reserved a spot on the north arm of the lake, and some reports made it a four-hour paddle. Others said eight hours.
It was mid-afternoon. We had no time to spare.)
There were five of us. Two canoes. Our fearless leader, Jay, anchored one canoe, with Jay's sister, Krystin, and the inimitable Uncle Darren.
Stan and I took the second canoe.
Oh--and Stan brought his dog, an irrepressible, sassy, hilarious, morale-boosting wolf of a creature named Loki, who lived up to his name at every turn.
I was a little apprehensive. I haven't paddled more than a few hours in the last, I dunno, twenty years, and never with a dog aboard.
Moreover, my last big portaging trip found me *crying* in my canoe as we paddled through a thunderstorm across a big Algonquin lake, convinced that my sleeping bag and dry gear had been forgotten on the dock when we set out a day earlier.
(I was, like, twelve. It was summer camp.)
(The gear showed up in the bottom of someone's pack, a day or so later, after I'd spent a couple of cold, soggy nights sleeping on a tarp.)
In any case, I was concerned I wouldn't be able to pull my weight. Particularly when Jay and Stan are portaging all-stars, who've done Algonquin and nearby Killarney numerous times.
But one of the things I appreciate most about adventuring with these guys is the challenge, not just on a physical level, but on a mental level as well.
Very early on our first trip up Black Tusk, I decided that while I wasn't necessarily the smartest, strongest or most outdoor-experienced of our group, I would compensate for what I lacked by:
1) Working as hard as I damn well could at all times, and
2) Never *ever* complaining.
And that's kind of been the ethos that I try to live by in the wilderness. I aim to be something of a pack horse; indefatigable and 100% reliable, if kind of dumb and perhaps lacking in initiative.
And I strive to keep a positive attitude no matter the circumstances.
It's served me well.
In any case, we got our canoes packed and set off in short order, and with Stan handling the heavy lifting of keeping us pointed in the right direction, I set my mind to paddling, and we headed off across the lake.
To our immense satisfaction, we quickly discovered that it wasn't going to take eight hours to get across the damn thing, even as we ironed out the kinks of the whole steering thing.
To MY satisfaction, neither I nor Loki tipped the canoe. Small victories.
We made good time across that first lake and were at a lovely campsite within a few hours, setting up our tents under skies that threatened to storm, and hordes of bugs who did more than threaten to bite.
I took advantage of the lull in the action to go for a swim, discovering to my immense delight that a summer of swimming in glacial lakes made Algonquin water feel positively hot by comparison.
We ate our dinners on giant slabs of smooth rock overlooking the lake, and though the park was supposed to be crowded, we saw only one intermittent light across the water as the sun dipped away and night closed in.
Despite the threatening storm, the stars were spectacular, and we lay out there in the dark for a long while, staring up at the Milky Way and listening to wolves howl in the distance, watching the flashes of lightning like artillery barrages over the horizon.
It would rain overnight, and we had a couple of big portages to look forward to tomorrow. And there was still the matter of Jay's truck to worry about, and how we'd get out of the park at weekend's end.
But at that moment, none of us were thinking that far ahead. And if the others felt anything like I did, it was a sense of peace that pervaded, of serenity after a tumultuous day, of accomplishment and excitement for what the journey would bring.