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A Great Algonquin Portage

We arrived at Algonquin just as a dark wall of ominous clouds blanketed the park. “Is this foreshadowing?” I thought to myself.

It was my first time visiting this provincial gem. My boyfriend and friends surprised me with the long weekend getaway for my 23rd birthday and I was relieved to ditch the city for some nature-induced fun. What I didn’t know, was that another surprise awaited me at the entry of the park. We weren’t just camping…we were tackling a great Algonquin portage!

Portaging entails carrying your canoe across the land between lakes until you find a marked campsite that suits your liking. I predicted portaging with my boyfriend, who is an extremely ambitious camper, would entail a weekend of intense physical activity, refined outdoorsmanship and throbbing muscle cramps. Sure it wouldn’t be the weekend of suntanning, swimming and relaxation that I had anticipated, but it was an adventure.

Meeting the gray skies, we quickly unpacked our cars and loaded our waterproof bags into three canoes. In the final moments of sunshine, we paddled around the small lakes searching for the perfect campsite. Note to self #1: Never expect perfection while camping.

After an hour-long search that was decorated with spats of rain, we pulled up to a small, hilly island. We docked our canoes and scoped out the plot. It was spacious enough for three tents and even had a pre-built fire pit. “Guys! Come here!” my friend suddenly shouted. We all rushed over to see an aged memorial plaque for a young girl who died on the island years prior. “Nope!” one of my friends said, completely spooked out. We hopped back into our canoes and begged our biceps to paddle on. As we departed, in some sick joke mastered by the universe, a little red shoe floated between our boats. Note to self #2: Stop watching horror movies.

We passed site after site. That one is too bare…that one is too small…that one isn’t marked…until a loud boom echoed across the lake. Have you ever watched that scene from The Notebook when Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are passionately proclaiming their love for one another while sitting in a rowboat in a torrential downpour? Now imagine that, minus the charming words.

We could barely see each other as we headed for land to escape any potential lightning. When it slightly let up, we caught sight of flames flickering on the shore. An older couple made their way out to the opening. “Are you guys OK?” they shouted. It’s funny how pickiness tends to wear off in moments of desperation. Attempting to seek shelter, even for only a few minutes, my friend shouted back, “Hey, do you guys have room for a couple more people over there?” For a moment, all we could hear were the pellets of rain slamming our tin canoes as the couple stood still on the shore. Finally, the man put his hands up to his mouth and shouted a half-assed, “Ha-ha!” that reverberated across the open water and into my nightmares for the remainder of our stay.

Although miserable, tired and drenched, we eventually found a marked spot that was, ironically, almost perfect for our weekend. After setting up our tents, we spent the remainder of the drier days exploring the island, cooking delicious meals and laughing around the fire. Note to self #3: Never turn down a surprise camping trip.

To this day, my boyfriend tells people, “Yeah, it was raining. But the only thing filling up the canoe was Courtney’s tears.” Which isn’t true, of course, but it is funny. And if the outcome of an adventure is a funny story, then, in my opinion, it was an adventure well-lived.