Sunday, 22 August 2010

Back From Camping-2010

Just came back from a nice two week vacation at Bon Echo Provincial Park over in Eastern Ontario. Overall we had a great time. Bon echo is a beautiful park with a lot to offer. We know we want to go back as we didn't experience everything we wanted to.

Every time I go camping I experience a "moment". A period of complete calm and harmony. It's always experienced while in the woods, on a calm sunny day with a gentle breeze. I finally put words to it:

"There is no moment uplifting that one experienced on a sunny day in a Canadian forest with a sharp breeze rustling the leaves above you. It infuses the body with a freshness that defies description. It is moments like this that bookend my experiences in life; fuelling my soul and filling me with the essence of life."

That is the closest I can come to describing how much I love camping. I haven't tired of it yet.

That isn't to say it was all calm sunny days. There's something about Sundays at Bon Echo that tries your patience a little bit. On Sunday August 8, we departed from Cambridge at 10am and hit the 401. With the young 'uns in the back, I wasn't sure how many stops we would have to make for "potty" and other needs of the very young. Turns out we only needed two. We flew across Toronto on the 401 with no traffic delays of any sort. We were at the Greater Napanee exit onto Country Rd./Highway 41 by 2pm. That's where things started to sour on us. It started to rain.

At first it was a gentle misting type of rain. The one that annoys drivers because it's not quite hard enough to justify turning on the wipers, but enough that you have to manually turn on the wipers for a single wipe every few seconds or so. That resolved itself as it started to rain harder, and harder and harder. By Kaladar on Highway 7 it was a full out shower. And then it got worse. By the time we arrived at Bon Echo, it was an all out downpour. I registered, got my site permit and a map and off we went to find our campsite. The rain abated a bit, but it was still falling regularly.

Our site that we had reserved was up in the Hardwood Hills section of the campground. During our visit, we learned that this was not appropriate for us. Hardwood Hills is about 6 kms from the main section of the park, where all the facilities are located (like the main beach,7.5 kms away!) We were under the impression that Hardwood Hills had its own beach on Joeperry lake, and that the main beach on Mazinaw lake was for the rest of the campground. Oops! End result was, anything we wanted to do required us to drive. Other than our own loop and the comfort station (which fortunately we were near) everything was a drive away. If you go further in to Hardwood Hills (we were in the 401-413 loop), even a shower requires you to drive. I did bike down to Mazinaw lake and back, just to see if I could do it. It took me just over an hour to do the 14 km trip from site to beach and back. Did I mention that Hardwood Hills is so named for a reason? Yeah, the ride back was 7.5 kms..... uphill. And I ain't an experienced rider. I made it most of the way, but had to walk my bike up the last slope into the loop. It was too much for this pencil pusher, er, keyboard user.

Anyhoo, so we had to setup in the rain. Which, as you can imagine, was not much fun. Kids had to stay in the car while my wife and I got soaked putting everything up. The rain finally died out around 8pm.

Monday everything started to clear up. We went to the beach, had a campfire (which took an hour to start, wet fire-pit and wet wood make for a challenge). Tuesday morning we all woke up with little bites all over us. Never saw the buggers that did it. I counted 17 bites on one leg alone. They were probably no-see 'ums. Fortunately by Wednesday we were no longer affected by these critters. The one thing we noticed about Bon Echo is that it has very effective drainage. Water does not puddle for long, which quickly removes breeding areas for no-see 'ums and mosquitoes. Overall the number of bugs was very,very low. Which was a pleasant surprise (we had loaded up on deep-woods off expecting the worse, didn't need it in the end.) We have many more mosquitoes in our yard at home than we experienced in the park.

Because we had to drive by the main gate (and under the highway) every time we needed to go somewhere, we had ample opportunity to track the weather forecast posted at the gate.  From Monday on, the forecast was for rain on Sunday the 15th.  It varied from showers to thunderstorms, but it was going to rain.  The entire week was dry until this point, so we made plans to go into Belleville for the day.  On Sunday it started to rain during breakfast, so we loaded into the truck off we went to Belleville.  When we got back, we saw that we had new neighbours.  One man, three(!) women somehow divided between two itsy bitsy tents.  No shelter or tarp to be seen.  According to their site permit, they intended to stay until Wednesday.  The rain had abated at this point, and we fixed ourselves dinner and retreated into our screen shelter to dine.  Our neighbours were obviously newbies at this whole camping thing as the lone male appeared to be trying to cook dinner over an open flame in his fire-pit.  Now on the best of days, that is going to be a pretty ineffective method of cooking dinner (you cook over coals, not flame, and you need to be within inches of the coals.)  And of course it started to rain again. Our poor neighbour pulled out this tiny little tarp and quickly tried to erect it over his fire somehow.  Since it was so small, and his rope so short, there was no way he could tie it to the trees.  He wound up backing up the car to the fire, raising the hatch and tied the tarp to the hatch.  And then it started to pour rain, which put out his fire completely.  He then grabbed the two tents, ripped them out of the ground and shoved them into the back of the car and they were packed up and gone within  20 minutes.  Thirty minutes later the rain stopped and the sun came out.  The storm had moved on.

I laughed.  Our short-term neighbours were woefully unprepared for rain (which was fore-casted for a week!)  I can understand tenting it without a shelter, but setup the tents and then head into town for dinner!  you don't have to stay in the rain.  Boneheaded shortsighted loser I thought.  Well karma has a way of coming around.....

The following Thursday (the 19th) there was a chance of scattered showers.  We needed some groceries and headed into the town of Northbrook to get a few things.  While we were there, a thunderstorm blew in very quickly and just opened up on our campsite.  It was one of those cloudbursts that just drops 6 inches of rain in 15 minutes or less.  And we had left the trailer unzipped, the shelter flaps rolled up and basically everything was left out in the open.  We were washed out.  There were puddles on our pillows in the trailer.  Our beds were soaked, our seating was soaked, everything was soaked.   So we came home two days early.  Who's laughing now?

Despite all this, we did have a good time.  And we saw a lot of wildlife.  Deer, lots of frogs and toads (had to chase them out of the fire-pit every night), a heron, snakes and other critters.  But no bears! Saw my first real live owl, a Barred Owl in a tree near our campsite.  It was too high up, for my point-and-shoot, so no pictures unfortunately. 

We also frequently heard this little critter (the image was borrowed from the Internet, the audio I recorded with my BlackBerry):

From what I was told, that's the call of the Screech Owl.  And they would make that noise all...... night.....  long....

Fortunately for most nights they were way off in the forest and we could just faintly make them out. But one night, one decided to take up residence in a tree just outside our trailer. By 3am I had had enough. I grabbed my flashlight and went out to see if I could scare the bugger away. He was sitting on the lowest branch, cute little bugger. He looked right at me and let off that screech. I walked under the branch and he waddled around to keep an eye on me. I chucked a couple of pebbles at him, and even hit the branch right where he was sitting. He just looked at the point of impact, looked back at me and screeched at me again. Defeated, I went back to bed and waited until sunrise, so I could catch a few hours sleep.  But now I had seen two owls in the wild.  Never had before, and probably never again.

If you're still reading, here's some pictures (click to embiggen)!

Our home away from home
The sun setting through the trees.
The beach on Mazinaw lake.  Narrow shore, but nice warm water.

A storm to the southwest that we DIDN't get.  Phew!

Cardinal Flower in its native habitat.  Stream and marsh.  Sorta explains why we have been unable to grow it in our garden at home.  And no, I'm not putting in a stream.

A heron we saw while canoing.  Yes, we got that close.
Map of Joeperry lake.  This lake is about 3 kms from Hardwood Hills with a 500 meter path.  The lake is surrounded by several canoe in campsites (the first two are hikable as well, we walked to one of them).

The main trail to Joeperry lake

View to the north from the main dock.

Another view of the North end from a beach just up the trail along the shore.

A crayfish!

One of many frogs
Water lilly

Mazinaw rock.  Mazinaw lake is the deepest inland lake in Ontario, at a maximum depth of 145m.

Looking straight up the rock face.

Yes it is popular with climbers (For conservation reasons you have to be certified and registered.  Not just anyone is allowed to climb.


Also popular with canoeists.  Traffic jam on the lake!

An unknown yellow flower.  Any botanists out there that can identify it?  We think we want this in our garden.

And a tree frog.  This little guy was inside the comfort station sitting on the wall for some reason.  I rescued him.  And then took this picture.

Now that I'm back, regular snark and commentary will resume shortly.  But from what I have read about the last two weeks, I didn't miss much!


Marc Bernard said...

Good tips on campground selection. We've tried to get into Bon Echo a few times, but it's always packed for the dates we'd like. Maybe next year...

We do six or seven trips a year, and we've never (knock on wood) set up in the rain, and only packed up in a downpour once. So far. :)

Catelli said...

I noticed you get out a lot! I'm a wee bit jealous....

Though I cannot for the life of me go weekend camping. I have to be out minimum 4-5 nights to make it worthwhile.

Marc Bernard said...

We just do one short weekend a year, usually Father's Day. Other than that, they're all longer.

Trying to plan for next year now. Maybe the Boston area...

Ken Breadner said...

Welcome home. I too want to go to Bon Echo one of these years. Grundy Lake has been my home park for most of my life and I'd like to go somewhere new.
As for what you say about the essence of life: for sure. I'd add a moment of my own: falling asleep in the tent with a light rain falling. Ahh, bliss.

Catelli said...

Grundy is one of my fav's too (Marc was just there not that long ago).

Are you a White Pine or a Red Maple loop kind of guy Ken? I' a White Pine, mainly for the beach. I absolutely love that horseshoe shape beach. Another favourite moment is going down for an early morning swim and having the beach to myself.

SeanStok said...

Meadow Buttercup - according to my Lone Pine "Ontario Wildflowers" guide.

Great description of your holiday! We had the trailer up to Bon Echo in July with our kids, and just got back from a week at Grundy.

It was our first time at Bon Echo, and we definitely want to go back next year.

Catelli said...

Awesome! Thanks!

Catelli said...

Though I think you might be incorrect: The stalk and leaves are all wrong. The flower is very buttercup like, and that was my first thought too.

Maybe another variety or a hybrid?

SeanStok said...

The woody stalk and leaves aren't an exact match - you're right. But darned if I can find anything closer. The flowers sure seem identical.

Two cool on-line resources I've discovered in my search, at any rate.

I'll keep at it and get back to you if I can find a better match

Catelli said...

A variety of Evening Primrose. The variety in the picture on the left looks right when I zoom in my full def image still on the camera.

Thanks for the help!

Ken Breadner said...

Catelli: yeah, White Pine, that's a great beach. Looking at the Bon Echo site, that place looks even nicer.