I'm invariably the first person in my tent at night on any camping trip.
It doesn't matter where we are, or whether we're hiking, portaging or car camping; I just really, really like being cozy in my tent at the end of a long day, with nothing to do but wrap up in my sleeping bag and relax.
Lazy bastard that I am, I'm also usually the last one out of my sleeping bag in the morning.
Such was the case on Day 2 of our summer portaging adventure through Algonquin Park. I sacked out early while Jay, Stan and Krystin burned the midnight oil, and Uncle Darren turned in shortly thereafter, attempting to sleep on a steep slab of bare rock.
I daresay Loki the trail boss was the first creature up in our campground the next morning, but gradually we staggered to life and were packed and in the boats by mid-morning.
Our first objective was a 2km portage just a few hundred meters from the campsite; a fairly gruelling way to start the day, especially as it was punctuated by a short stretch of impassable marsh that required getting back in the canoes and paddling for all of two minutes.
By the time we made the other end of the portage, we were all hot and sweaty as hell, and when we found ourselves greeted by the prettiest beach we'd find on the trip (in fittingly-named Happy Isle Lake), swimming was a no brainer.
The swim put a dent in our schedule, and we'd pay for it later, but at the moment, life was pretty good.
We spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon alternating paddling and portaging. The weather was wonderful, and we'd killed our longest portage right off the hop, so morale was pretty high, even as paddling fatigue began to set in toward late afternoon.
Our goal for the night was Lake La Muir, where Jason, our fearless leader, hoped to catch us a brace of fish. He'd been shut out on previous trips to the park and had heard that La Muir was the spot for good fishing.
When we stopped for a quick break on Big Trout Lake late in the afternoon, however, we realized it was more and more likely that our mid-morning swim would cost us a spot on La Muir.
We were lagging behind.
We didn't let that affect the mood, though; there were rapids to run up ahead, and Stan and I, in the lead boat at that point, saw a moose at long range as we paddled through marshy water.
We settled for the night at a beautiful spot on Burntroot Lake, one mile shy of our objective, and as the sun set, Jason made a valiant effort at catching us our dinner.
For all his hard work, we ate dehydrated dinners that night.
The next day was a day we'd been fearing since the start, featuring as it did a monster 3750m portage between Hogan and Big Crow Lakes.
As Stan and I paddled against the wind to the portage's approach, we wondered how the crew would handle the slog; Uncle Darren, in particular, was dealing with some injury issues, Krystin was on her first canoe trip, and even Stan and I were kind of daunted by the prospect of lugging our gear four clicks through the bug-infested wilderness.
We stopped for lunch at the trailhead, at which point Loki made it his mission to steal another group's canoe, and Darren took some, ahem, alternative medicine combinations to help his injuries.
Then we set off up the trail.
Stan and I took the lead, and we powered through pretty steadily--at least until the midway point, whereupon I dropped the canoe on Stan's head as we tried to swap the boat from his shoulders to mine.
So with Stan bleeding profusely from the head, we took a quick break and I prayed I hadn't given the guy any permanent brain damage.
Remarkably, the wound didn't seem to affect Stan's morale at all, and we continued on our way in short order, and after a few more injury-free canoe swaps, we rounded a corner to see water in the distance, and fairly ran the last few meters to Big Crow Lake.
We'd been hoping for another beautiful beach, but the water was instead pretty shallow and marshy. It didn't matter; it could have been the French Riviera at that point.
We jumped in. Then, refreshed, we set out back down the trail to find Jason, Darren and Krystin, wondering aloud how they were making out, and what morale would be like when we found them.
To our surprise, we came across them not far behind us, cheerful as all hell. Darren's alternative medicine solutions had paid off, and their boat had powered through the portage like champions.
So we basked at the trailhead like conquering heroes, and with no portages standing left between Big Crow Lake and our objective at Lake Proulx, we all felt pretty good about how the rest of the afternoon would pan out.
And as it turned out, the rest of the afternoon would be fine, though better for Jason, Darren and Krystin's boat than for Stan's and mine.
Whether it was Darren's medicine or just a team coming into their own, the other boat smoked ours along the final challenge of the day: a loooong, torturously winding river that happened to be flowing against us as the wind blew in our faces.
Stan and I watched in dismay as our counterparts paddled with the cohesion of an Olympic team, making short work of the bends and curves as we languished behind, until they'd disappeared in the distance.
Forget the monster portage; that stretch of river was the crux of the trip for me, and I was extremely happy to be out into open lake again, where we found our second wind and mostly caught up to Jay's boat.
We were on Proulx, our objective, but in contrast to the other lakes, this one was filled up. We had a campsite reserved, but not any site in specific, and we paddled the lake looking for somewhere to pitch our tents.
Finally, after paddling nearly the full lake, we found a spot, though it was hardly ideal.
The "thunder box" camp toilet was located in plain view of the cooking and eating area, so Darren heroically built a screen.
Then there was the small matter of the large pile of bear scat we discovered nearby, when we were trying to find a place to hang our food for the night, well after dark.
By that point, it was too late to move, so we ate and drank as much as we could, hung up the rest, and as a thunderstorm rolled in overhead, I tucked into bed.
The rest of the group apparently had a wild old night, singing and carousing and, you know, frolicking in the rain. I didn't hear any of it--but they sure heard me snore.
We'd made it to within one portage and one lake of the final objective. With two nights to go, that was as good a reason as any for a party.
But we still had to make it out of the park, and with Jay's vehicle still impounded, it wasn't as though our tribulations were quite over yet.