That Time We Slept On A Portage

There are a few moments in every camper’s life where things get a little intense, vulnerability strikes, and we’re forced to improvise and adapt. That’s what it’s all about, right?

A few years back, Aaron and I were in the middle of a week-long backcountry canoe trip in Algonquin Park. We usually consider ourselves to be pretty adept at handling whatever the backcountry throws at us, from years of guiding and countless nights in the bush, we must be pros by now? Leave it to the woods to humble you every time.

About 2 days into our trip, sitting in the stern of our canoe, I noticed a couple raindrops on my head. A few hours later, and after our canoe had a slowly forming puddle at its base, we agreed that it was raining. Mind you, I’m generally a tripper that looks to be at our site with enough time to settle in, gather firewood, and enjoy some down time. That day, we were late. So late, in fact, that as the sun started to make its way below the horizon, we counted 5 lakes between us and our intended stay for the night. The rain hadn’t slowed.

By 9:30 it had officially become ‘dark’, and as we pulled up to our 3rd last portage of the evening we agreed that snack was in order. Boom came the thunder as lightning started to flash all around us, sitting there with our sopping wet protein bars and licorice. I was wiped, Aaron was wiped, and hands shivered from the blowing wind.

Sitting in silence, Aaron suddenly suggested, “Why don’t we just set up our tent here tonight and call it a day?”

“Done.” I didn’t hesitate to agree, knowing fully well that our safety in this storm came before the Park’s rule of never camping on a portage trail. Ah well. Within minutes, we found a patch of trail wide enough to fit our tent, whipped out the stove for a heartier dinner of oatmeal and more protein bars, hung up our clothes to dry in the rain, and tried to crack some jokes. A fire was out of the question – last thing we’d want was to leave a trace of our ninja-like camping skills.

There wasn’t much sleep to be had that night. Cedar roots pushed up through our sleeping pads, the wind howled a threat to blow down a tree or twelve on us, and lightning made our headlamps useless. There’s a funny thing about going to sleep a little spooked in the woods. Sooner or later, in the chaos and eerie sounds of the night, you blink and wake up to light. No problems, the bear thudding around your tent gone. Suddenly, the trail seemed wider, the bridge we hung our clothes on seemed a little less creaky, and the rain had slowed to a drizzle.

Thinking we heard someone putting their canoe in at the trailhead, we scampered our make-shift site back into the sopping wet canoe packs, laced up hiking boots that must’ve had a quarter cup of water sloshing around in each, and of course, munched on a couple protein bars as we loaded up the boats. We laughed at ourselves, gave each other a tight squeeze, and started playing catch up. Where to next?

Pro Tip: Plan your days carefully. Or, don’t, and be ready for whatever the bush might throw at your. And, Twizzlers are always an acceptable dinner when sleeping on a portage.

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