Solo Canoe Tripping in Algonquin Park
An Algonquin Park Solo Canoe Trip Adventure by Shawn James, My Self Reliance
It is 6:00 am and I lie awake, staring up through the roof of my fly-less tent at a billion twinkling stars, watching them slowly fade as the eastern sky erupts in the subtle colors of a September sunrise. The haunting cry of a loon breaks the morning stillness, echoing off the rock cliffs that line the shoreline. The call is answered; not by another loon, but by a bull moose that grunts repeatedly as he pushes his way through the shoreline alders in search of a mate.
I climb out of my sleeping bag and wander down to the water’s edge, perching on the smooth granite bedrock to splash cold water on my face. The lake’s surface is a plate of glass, now reflecting the sun as it clears the top of the ancient white pines, bathing the entire landscape in a soft golden light while a light mist slowly drifts across the scene. I breathe deeply, the cool morning air filled with the scent of sun-baked pine needles and smoke from a smoldering campfire. This is serenity. This is Algonquin Park.
Why Go Solo?
I love sharing this kind of experience with friends and family, but I have to admit there is something extra special about being there alone. How often in our regular lives do we hear nothing but complete silence, interrupted only by the peaceful sounds of nature? At home, at work or on the road, our senses are so inundated with unsolicited stimuli that we subconsciously tune it out, snapping out of it when someone nearby speaks. When I’m alone, I become one with my surroundings – every noise, sight and scent grabs my attention.
From a practical standpoint, going it alone in the outdoors has several advantages over
tripping with a group or another individual.
- Scheduling conflicts – When I want to go, I just go. I don’t have to work around someone else’s schedule, and I don’t have to worry about them dropping out of the trip at the last minute. It is particularly inconvenient when the dropout was responsible for driving or supplying some of the food or gear.
- Flexibility – As often as not, I adjust my itinerary mid-trip, and not everyone would agree with or support my agenda. I may want to paddle right until dark in order to reach a new destination or I may discover particularly good fishing that I want to enjoy for another day. I can linger longer and I don’t need consensus from a group to do so.
- Ambition – Not everyone wants to paddle 35 kilometers to camp on Grassy Bay the first night of a week-long trip in order to experience the solitude of the Algonquin Park interior sooner, but I do. On such an occasion, I’m on my own, whether I like it or not.
- Physical fitness – When I canoe trip on my own, I seek solitude and unique experiences, which often means travelling long distances. It is physically demanding, and I would never expect my wife and daughters, my usual companions, to embark on such a trip. If I wasn’t willing to travel solo, there are just too many places I would never get to see.
- Skill – Group travellers should always plan their itinerary to accommodate the weakest and least-skilled member of the party. Often, that means avoiding the large lakes and whitewater rivers that I may be proficient enough to visit on my own.
- Self Reliance – Travelling solo is inherently riskier than travelling with a group, and those risks should never be underestimated. Breaking a bone or capsizing a canoe deep in the interior is inconvenient for a group – it can be deadly for a soloist. When you canoe trip on your own, it is imperative to hope for the best, but plan for the worst. That means continuously honing your outdoors skills and using the highest quality gear you can afford, from your canoe right down to your fire starter.
When you achieve the level of proficiency necessary to canoe trip solo, your self-confidence will soar. This is a wonderful feeling, but it goes deeper than that. Self-reliance does not just benefit you; it benefits everyone around you as well. If you’re self-sufficient and capable of surviving in the wilderness on your own, you will rarely be a burden to your partners on a group trip. And, if they get into trouble and need assistance, you’re just the person to help them.
How do you get started?
Solo tripping is not for everyone, but if you have the ambition, skill, physical fitness and mental acuity to spend time alone in the outdoors, then it is time to start planning your first trip. There are several things to consider that are unique to solo trips, so a little bit of research and a lot of planning is necessary.
- Mentors – Visit online forums, such as those found on AlgonquinAdventures.com and MyCCR.com, and browse through the solo threads. Ask questions – members are more than happy to help you out.
- Watch YouTube videos – Observe such things as the person’s gear choices, their canoe routes and meal plans. Pay particular attention to time spent in camp. Solo tripping is mentally challenging, and some people find it unnerving to be alone on a campsite at night.
- Select the right gear – Most of the gear you use for group trips is also suitable for solo tripping, but there are some items that are designed specifically for soloists and will make your adventure safer and more enjoyable – a lightweight canoe and 1-person tent for example. I suggest waiting until after one or two solo trips before buying something that you may not use again.
- Use an outfitter – Good outfitters have the experience and knowledge to put you on the right track. They can help you plan your canoe route and your meal plan, suggest the appropriate gear, and of course, rent or sell you literally everything you need for your trip. Nobody does it better than Algonquin Outfitters.
Relax and have a great time
A little bit of anxiety before a solo trip is natural, but if you are well prepared, you have nothing to worry about. Take it easy on your first trip. Start with one or two nights, and don’t travel too far. Stay close to an access point so help is nearby if you need it, or if you decide to cut your trip short. Leave plenty of time at the end of each day to set up camp, collect firewood and just relax. Build a small fire, make a hot drink and sit down by the lake as the day comes to an end. That first sunset on your own will be special. The sunrise the following morning will hook you on solo tripping forever.
Algonquin Park Solo Canoe Trip Day 1: Magnetawan to Grassy Bay
Shawn is an entrepreneur specializing in renewable energy and online education. When not spending time with his wife and two daughters, he can usually be found plying the waters and hiking the forests of Ontario – solo.
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