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When the Portage Seems to Weary You, You Need the Strength of Kids

August 16, 2014


panorama pinetree lake

I just came back from a few days in Algonquin Provincial Park with my daughters for our annual interior canoe trip.

While there were many pivotal and certain long to be cherished moments I found myself upon return needing to write about portaging in particular.

Knowing there are readers of this post around the world and not everyone is necessarily familiar with portaging, it is the act of carrying your canoe and gear from one lake to another or around a set of rapids in a river. Very few people enjoy portaging. In my case, being a long distance runner I must admit I do get a sense of accomplishment and an almost giddy feeling when I have finished carrying my 70 lbs fiberglass canoe nicknamed Prairie Smoke over a height of land. There are other reasons why portaging is grand too – some of which can be found in the article 5 Reasons Portaging is Better Than Canoeing via  I do recognize I am in the minority though and as I get older, I will quietly admit that the thrill, while still there is slightly less pronounced.

Carrying a canoe upon your shoulders over 1.8 kilometres (the longest portage this time around) along a rocky unmaintained trail can lead to all sorts of thoughts. Typically, there is little view other than the trail five or six feet in front of you as the bow of the canoe blocks the wondrous view of the canopy of the forest and any wildlife you may be passing. The effort of carrying the extra weight tends to cause one to breathe harder and the mosquitoes and blackflies are drawn to the underside of the canoe with your face. One’s exposed face and hands upon the gunnels of the canoe are open season at such a time since balancing the canoe is the main priority. If raining the insects quickly recognize that it’s dry under the canoe as well and the number of biting insects grows logarithmically it seems.

Yes, as I get older I notice these things more than I did in the past.

But portaging with my daughters has taught me other things as well. We did one portage in complete darkness. Walking without a flash light and letting our eyes adjust to the world around us. While at first nervous about not being able to see far, the girls soon become enthralled by the Barred Owl calls and the site of the Supermoon when the canopy allowed.

Algonquin 008


We planned this trip at this time purposely for the Perseids meteor shower and it did not let us down either. We saw numerous shooting stars – certainly more upon the lake but it kept us excited on the trek as well.

While portaging during the day I learned a heck of a lot while carrying the canoe and trying to keep an eye on my girls as well. Watching and listening to them as we trod the trail

  1. I learned that the mud splatters higher on one’s legs when jumping into a puddle on a portage if you are carrying a load.
  2. I learned that chipmunks “fart” when startled (in an 8 year old amateur naturalist’s scientific opinion)
  3. I learned that you can tell whether a tree is newly felled by which way the shelf fungus is growing upon it (vertical vs horizontal)
  4. I learned that Yellow Birch which loves to grow upon the rotting remains of older stumps are just young trees holding onto the “roots” their forefather’s provided.
  5. I learned singing silly campsongs while portaging causes the giant hemlocks to blow in the breeze.

Okay, while there not be a heck of a lot of science in the discoveries they made, there were observations they made that made me proud as a naturalist and father.

And, I learned that a heavy load on one’s shoulders on an uphill trail in the pouring rain is made so much easier by having your kids break the trail ahead sometimes.

But most parents and educators already know that don’t they?


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