Years ago I remember reading about 2 camp counsellors from a summer camp in Algonquin Provincial Park who had created a challenge to paddle from Canoe Lake (at the southern end of the park) to the Brent Store on Cedar Lake (at the northern end of the park) and back, all in one shot. As most people take 8-10 days to do that route, I thought that seemed a bit insane, and didn't give it any more thought. Fast forward a few years- at a Christmas party this year, a buddy told me about this race he's been doing with a bunch of friends for the past few years on the May long weekend. I may have had a couple of glasses of wine in me at the time, and my response was "that sounds awesome- I'm in!"
This past Friday morning, 5am found a group of 18 paddlers standing in the rain on the beach in front of the outfitter on Canoe Lake. Ahead of us lay about 160km of Algonquin wilderness. In our group there were several boats who were gunning hard for a fast time (25ish hours), and the rest who just wanted to finish (my brother and I were firmly in the "just finish" group).
(note- there was 22km of portaging over the whole trip) and lakes, the field had spread out pretty well. My brother Dave and I were keeping about the same pace as 1 other boat (Jon & Christian) and we swapped leading back and forth with them for most of the first day.
Around 6:30pm, after we'd been on the go for 13.5 hours, we spotted the leaders coming back toward us. They had already been across Cedar Lake to the Brent Store, and were now on the return leg of the trip. They informed us that we still had about 2.5 hours ahead of us to get to the Store, so we soldiered on.
Somewhere along the way, we'd found ourselves separated from Jon & Christian- we'd managed to shoot though a rapid that they portaged around, but then we got lost, and then they got lost, but then shortly after we'd crossed paths with the leaders we met up with them just as they were starting into the longest portage of the route- 2.7km. Dave and I were really hoping to meet up with them again, as it was getting late, we were tired, and we figured that for the sake of safety it would be better to travel with another group of guys than just on our own
By the time we got to Canoe Lake, the sun was going down, and it was a long shot straight down the lake to get to the finish. Even though we were exhausted, we were paddling hard just so we could be done, and 40 hours & 50 minutes after heading out, we hit the beach. Besides our reaction of being so glad to be done, both Dave and I were thinking "I'm never doing that again!" Funny how it goes though- yesterday he texted me and said he wanted to do it again next year. I replied "me too."
It was a pretty amazing experience- we really had to push ourselves to our physical limits, and we had to work together (not to sound overly dramatic) to survive. As difficult as it was, I'm really glad that I did it. I got to see areas of Algonquin that I never would have otherwise seen, I shared an experience with my brother and with a group of other people that the vast majority of the population could never do, and I saw how far my body can go when it's required. I'll be back again!