Sunday, September 13, 2009

Killarney Wildlife

One of the biggest thrills of this year's trip to Killarney, was the variety of wildlife that I was able to see up close--for the record, I saw 2 black bears, a red fox, a black snake, 4 beavers, and 2 loons. Well, of course, I didn't get pictures of all of them, but I did get a few....

On my Thursday mid-day canoe trip, I decided I wanted to go to the cove on George Lake that is lined with 2 large granite cliffs on it's sides and has a small wilderness lake right behind it (a small granite embankment separate the two lakes, so you can easily walk up to the little lake). I thought this would make the perfect spot for a picnic lunch.

As I paddled around the tall rock cliff to enter the cove, I discovered that someone else thought this place was a good lunch spot too....a big black bear!!! He was perched halfway up the rocky cliff eating his lunch and was only a few hundred feet away from me. We looked at each other for a few seconds in surprise, and he then continued to eat his lunch as I began to reach for my camera. He stayed up on the ledge another minute or so before deciding that I was taking far too many bad photos of him, so he decided to walk down to the shoreline. I kept my distance and stayed in the middle of the cove ("Bears can swim" I kept thinking to myself!). Fortunately, the bear didn't catch wind of the pepperoni and cheese slices I had in my lunch bag and decided he would rather retreat back to the rock cliffs and forest around the little wilderness lake than come swim out into the cove to steal my lunch.

I stayed in the cove a few more minutes to see if he (or any of his kinfolk) would return, and then decided to briefly park my canoe along the shore to quickly check out the wilderness lake (I wasn't going to be dumb enough to still eat my lunch there, but at least wanted to scope it out to see if any other animals were around). All was calm-- no more bears or other animals.

Amazing to wonder what would have happened had I come into the cove 10 minutes later, not seen the bear, and had set out to eat my lunch on that very rock the bear had just walked across! Wow.

Thankfully, what a thrill it was to share a few minutes in the wild with this beautiful creature in a calm and peaceful way.

After the bear encounter, I thought for sure that'd be the only memorable wildlife sighting of the whole trip, but the very next day, Millie and I decided to take a hike to a granite boulder trail near Georgian Bay on our way to the town of Killarney. Here's a pretty little shot of Millie on the trail:

As we were driving out of the trailhead parking lot, there sat another black bear eating berries along the side of the road. Millie took a good hard look at him and must have deducted that it was "the strangest looking big black dog" that she'd ever seen! This bear wasn't too fond of a Subaru less than a 100 feet in front of it, so it took off into the woods quickly before I could reach for the camera. Same scenario when we saw a red fox cross the road in the campground a few hours later--too quick for a photo opp.

On the water that night with my camera, I had a bit better luck with some of the other animals--
this pair of loons:

and this delightful beaver who let me get really close and take dozens of pictures of her before she decidededto swim away. What a treat!

Canoe Trip to Ontario - Killarney Provincial Park

George Lake, Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario

I bought my first canoe in 2004 after attending the annual winter expo in Madison, Wisc (Canoecopia), seeing all the boats on display in the convention hall, and hearing a number of Canadian and US canoeists give some wonderfully inspirational slideshow presentations. One of the places mentioned often was Killarney Park in Ontario, so it was one of the first places I headed that summer.

That trip in '04 was magical but miserable too! It rained the whole week, was cold, and bugs were everywhere! To make matters worse, I was camping in a small tent and had only brought freeze-dried backpacker food to eat. I was also too fearful and inexperienced to try paddling anything but the one lake next to campground, but ah, what a lake it was! George Lake was the most amazing place I'd ever experienced---virtually wild except for the one campground, with amazing red, gray, and white granite rock cliffs rising straight out of the water-- many a few hundred feet high! And the water!!! Most mornings and evenings, it was perfectly still and provided mirror reflections of the rocks. This was no ordinary "state park"-- it was a revered and spiritual place: THE "Yosemite Valley" of all canoeing lakes on the continent!

As I looked through those old photos from the 2004 trip, I wondered if I'd get the same feeling on the second visit. This trip was certainly more comfortable than the last-- no rain, no bugs, no dreary tent or camp food. Even though I didn't get another one of those mystical foggy morning paddles that I got to experience on the first trip, I still felt every bit as awe-inspired of this place this second time around. Most of the park, the campground, and the small town of Killarney itself were preserved the same way as they'd been 5 years ago. I hope that it will stay this way for years and future generations to come.

Killarney is 5 hours north of Toronto and takes some dedicated effort to get to-- there's only 1 road in and out, and it's a 40-mile drive to/from the highway and gas stations. The little town of Killarney does offer a few conveniences (an awesome fish-and-chips stand, an old-fashioned general store, a marina, a few small lodges, and a small airstrip), but you mainly get your gas, food, and supplies before you get here.

Like Algonquin, this is a park with hundreds of lakes linked together by portages (well-worn trails that you carry your canoe and supplies from one lake to the other). But unlike Algonquin, Killarney's hills and mountains seem a bit bigger and have more exposed rock. One of my main goals for this trip was to get into some of the interior lakes and try a few of the portages myself.

Wednesday was in the 70's, partly cloudy, with calm winds-- a perfect day to leave Millie in the T@B and head out for a day-long trip into the park interior. I paddled down to the end of George Lake, and found a nice wood dock at the first portage point, a short 80-meter jaunt over to Freeland Lake. Here's the canoe all ready to go onto Freeland:

Freeland was a long, narrow shallow lake with lots of lily plants and relatively flat, forested shoreline (very different from George Lake's large granite cliffs and deep waters). After 2 hours of paddling these 2 lakes, I arrived at my first "real" portage-- a 400-meter trail that would lead me to Killarney Lake. This portage was a bit more difficult, as it followed next to a waterfall and was a modest uphill climb along a shaded trail of tree roots and granite rock slabs. I decided I had better do this portage in 2 trips-- one to carry my pack and paddles, and the other to carry my canoe. After navigating around most of the mud at the Freeland Lake access point, I made it up the trail to a drop-dead gorgeous entrance to Killarney Lake-- well worth all the effort to get there! Killarney had some similar features as George Lake, but was a bit larger and completely silent except for the crickets and other sounds of nature. After an hour of paddling (and still only seeing a small portion of this lake), I stopped into a quiet cove for lunch. Here was my view:

After lunch, the winds started to pick up and I knew my 3 hour paddle back to the T@B was going to take some effort. Fortunately the killer portage was a bit easier going back as the trail was now mainly downhill. I did the same approach as before-- carrying my stuff first, then returning to carry my canoe next. As I neared the end of the portage, with the canoe perched over my head and my arms and shoulders getting very tired and ready to drop the thing, out in front of me darts a foot-long black snake across the trail...YIKES! Note to self-- wear big tall hiking boots next time! Thankfully, the snake seemed more scared of me and didn't stop for a confrontation. But it certainly put a renewed spring to my final steps! A man watching me said he'd never seen anyone finish a portage quite as quickly as I did! The rest of the trip was indeed paddling into the wind, but at least had no further portaging along snake-infested trails!

I arrived back to camp to find Millie well-rested in the T@B and ready for her afternoon swim in George Lake.

On Thursday, I was still pretty sore from the long trip the day before, so I decided to just stay on George Lake and paddle to a quiet cove there for a lunchtime picnic. Here was my spot on George Lake (looks pretty similar to Killarney Lake with the white Le Cloche mountain range in the distance).

Here are a few additional scenes from George Lake:

On my final morning at Killarney, I did a morning hike around Proulx marsh and the cranberry bog just as the morning ground fog was lifting.

My final evening sunset paddle was a serene end to a terrific trip-- calm waters, warm weather, dry and bug-free. An added bonus for this week after Labor Day-- all the kids were back in school, so even the campground was just filled with older, quiet adults. I think I'll make September my preferred month for all my future Canadian canoe trips!

I really hated to leave Canada and return to the States. I don't know what it is, but everyone just seems friendlier up there and less stressed-out than in the States. Even the dogs seemed friendly-- Millie had no shortage of eager playmates at each afternoon swim!
An older couple who was camped next to me invited me over to their campfire each night and were delightful to talk to-- Jack and Dawn from west of Toronto. They camped in a Sportmobile and had driven it all over Canada and the U.S. (including a trip to the artic circle in the Northwest Territories!).

But alas, I had to head back to the hustle and bustle of the U.S. and turn the laptop and cell phone back on. One final stop to Tim Horton's to use up my remaining Toonies, and my immersion into all-things-Canadian was finished for another year. But I'll definitely be back!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Canoe Trip to Ontario - Algonquin Provincial Park

Dawn, Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario

I had been so busy this summer learning all the finer points to RV'ing with the new Winnebago, that I had neglected some of my other great summertime passions-- T@B camping, canoeing, and an annual trip to Canada. So, when I found some last-minute campsites available at the two prime canoeing parks in Ontario, I quickly reserved them and planned a week-long vacation.

I initially thought I'd leave early Friday evening and stop in Michigan for the night, but the last day of work before a vacation never goes as planned (nor does getting the camper packing finished on-time). So, I got Millie up at 4 a.m. on Saturday and we drove all the way to Algonquin in one lonnngggg day (750 miles in 16 hours). Luckily, I made it to the final town for gas and supplies (Huntsville, Ontario) just before the stores closed, and to my relief, I was not bothering any of the other campers with setting up my camp late at night as a roudy bunch of school kids and their intoxicated parents were making plenty of noise to cover for me (and fortunately, they called it a night about midnight just as I was ready to sleep).

Millie and I stayed at Canisbay campground, one of the many along the "Highway 60 corridor." Algonquin is really 2 different parks in one-- a populated corridor of campgrounds, lodges, cottages, and lakes that are easily accessible from the road; and the interior park of hundreds of additional lakes that are only accessible via multi-day backcountry canoe tripping. I opted for the comforts of the corridor park for this visit.

We had a large electric site at Canisbay so I decided to rig up the rope lights. Millie and I also enjoyed our nightly Firedancer campfire-- what a "must-have" camping item for campers like me who can't ever seem to keep a real campfire lit (and who don't want to mess with hauling/chopping wood around with them). When we later got to our non-electric site at Killarney Park, the Firedancer did double-duty at providing lighting for the inside of the trailer (so my battery power could be used solely on keeping the fridge running).

Our daily routine at Algonquin was to putz around camp in the morning or take a hike, then take Millie for a swim after lunch, and let her sleep and dry off in the car while I would go canoeing for a few hours. (A bit of history-- when Millie was a puppy, I had visions of her growing up into one of those great canoeing dogs that just sits quietly in the front of the canoe and enjoys the ride....but alas, she much preferred being in the water than on it inside some tippy boat).

Since I knew I'd be canoeing a lot of lakes at Killarney, I decided in Algonquin to take advantage of the Madawaska River that connects a number of the corridor lakes to each another. This section connected the very large Lake of Two Rivers to Pog Lake and featured a number of lily plants.

While most of the lakes in Algonquin prohibit motor boats, some of the larger corridor lakes allow them. These are also some of the lakes that still have "grandfathered-in" private lodges and cottages on them as well. As I paddled the connector between Rock and Whitefish lakes, I came across this classic old cottage that had a great dock to sit on-- pretty nice digs!

Pog Lake is a very popular campground and canoeing lake-- but fortunately, for me this day, the campground had just closed for the season, so the lake was completely mine to paddle!

On Tuesday after Labor Day, we left Algonquin for a pretty 4-hour drive over to Killarney Provincial Park along Georgian Bay. Our days in Algonquin had been warm and sunny with virtually no bugs. My only regret was not getting to see a moose (which apparently are all over the place here in the spring and fall). In fact, I didn't see much of any wildlife at this park-- they must all know better to stick to the vast interior sections of the park and leave the corridor to the wild humans.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Confession -- I've been leading a double life

Well, it's time to finally come clean with a confession. For the past couple of months, my T@B camping has been minimal because I bought a new RV this spring. I love my T@B and the wonderful community of T@B owners, but a few events earlier this year moved me to buy a new RV much sooner than I would have ever planned to.

Earlier this year, after returning from the trip my mom and I took to the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, my mom was hospitalized and nearly died from Legionnaire's Disease. She apparently had contracted it while on our trip and likely from one a shower facility at one of the campgrounds we had stayed at. Legionnaire's is a form of pneumonia that's contracted from breathing infected water vapor into the lungs. Most non-smokers don't get it because the cilea in their windpipe catches this and other bacterias and keeps it from reaching your lungs. But for smokers, it's a different story (which explains how my mom happened to get it, yet I did not).

Well, never in a million years would I have thought that taking a simple shower at a campground or hotel could be life-threatening, but it indeed can be just that. So, that experience got me re-thinking the idea of camping in a small T@B for long trips (and having to rely on commercial facilities for showering). But on the other hand, my long T@B trips, made me realize just how much I loved to be out on the road seeing new things and meeting new RV'ing friends. So, I knew I wanted to continue my periodic "full-timing" RV adventures and knew I would ultimately want a bigger RV to make those long extended road trips more comfortable for working and living.

Then, the recession kicked into high gear--- RV dealers began really cutting prices on their remaining inventory, the government offered a sales tax rebate on new RV purchases for this year only, manufacturers up'd their cash-back incentives, and by the grace of God, my job and company stock happened to be one of the lone bright spots of this economy. All the stars were now aligning to make this year the time to buy that new RV rather than waiting for I did it.

In May, I found a still-new 2008 Winnebago View with all the features and colors I wanted at a great price. As my storage space is starting to fill up on this blog site, I've started a new travel blog called Winnie Views to record the trips I take with the new motorhome.

I've still got my T@B, but it's been taking a rest this summer at the storage yard while I learn all the finer points of driving and maintaining a 25-foot, 10,000 lb diesel-powered rig. Like my camping pal Terry says, "you can never have too many campers", so I guess my camping collection has officially begun!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

International T@B Rally at Sunset Lakes

Millie, Mom, and I just returned from the 3rd International T@B Rally out in the Quad Cities. About 44 trailers attended-- many folks I had already known from previous rallies, but I also got to meet some new folks too. I gave a seminar on various technologies for the road (portable TV, wifi, & cellular), and also took the group photo above. Others gave seminars on dutch oven cooking, T@B electrical systems, and various modifications made to their trailers. Each night we had great food and/or entertainment (one night even featured an outdoor movie of Lucy & Desi's "The Long Long Trailer" which was fun).

The rally was held at a pretty RV resort called Sunset Lakes-- which really lived up to it's name one night with this spectacular sunset--

Most of us got big shady sites along the lake which worked out great for me as I could launch my canoe right from my campsite and could paddle around to see the other T@Bs from the water.

Millie had a great time as well playing frisbee every morning in the dew-covered grass and going swimming every hot & humid afternoon to cool off. After a swim, she'd come in to lay down on her raised canvas bed to drip-dry-- what a perfect dog vacation!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wakulla Springs

For our final day in Florida, we decided to drive northeast of Carrabelle towards Tallahassee to a state park I had read about, Wakulla Springs. It was an old 1920's resort that sits on top of a large deep aquafer spring. The resort still has a working lodge and restaurant, along with large spanish moss trees and some interesting rhododendrons:

The big feature of the park are the boat tours you can take along the Wakulla river, and the glass-bottom boat tours you can take directly over the spring itself. We decided to take the latter tour and it was a blast. Before hitting the springs, I saw fish jumping out of the water, a heron drying it's wings, and even a large gator taking a mid-afternoon nap along the shore.

Pictures didn't do justice to the views out the glass-bottom boat of the springs. There were various kinds of catfish, garr, and trout swimming underneath us. Even a manitee had been spotted, but unfortunately, not during our cruise.

There's a ledge at the edge of the aquafer where water levels drop from about 14 feet to over 200 feet deep. The water can sometimes appear crystal clear (as it did for us), or can be cloudy and dark if there's been excessive rains and groundwater drainage. In 2007, they were only able to run the glass-bottom boats for 2 days the entire year because of this. So, we felt extremely lucky to see it! A great way to end our trip.
On Saturday, we began our journey back to Chicago leaving the the upper 70's Florida just as a storm was approaching. By the time we got to Nashville that night, a big snowstorm was hitting southern Tennessee and Alabama. We were lucky to leave when we did!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Carrabelle & the Forgotten Coast

Our home for the week was a terrific RV park in Carrabelle, Florida right across the street from the beach. In fact, looking out the T@B windows you could see the Gulf and hear the waves. Mom, Millie, and I were all delighted!

They call this area of the Florida panhandle the "forgotten coast" because most of it lacks the big wide white sandy beaches and wall-to-wall condo buildings that are found in the Destin area (and in most coastal towns in Florida these days). But the "Forgotten" coast between Panama City and Tallahassee have virtually no large buildings or dense populations of tourists (or locals for that matter).

The neatest town along this stretch is Apalachiacola, the oyster capital of the world, and the original state capitol of Florida. It's a small historic town with cute little shops that are lit up with white christmas tree lights at night. We stumbled upon a terrific restaurant at the main intersection in town called The Seafood Grill. Wonderful oysters, crab cakes, shrimp, as well as some "to die for" desserts! Friendly service and great prices too. We liked it so much we ate there twice!

The best beach in the area is out along the longest barrier island called St. George. You drive out a long 3 or 4-mile bridge to get there, and a cute lighthouse welcomes your arrival to the island. There's a nice state park with camping at the very end of the island. I would have loved to stay there, but I needed to work a few days and needed the wi-fi and cell phone connectivity available in Carrabelle.

Our park was called Carrabelle RV Resort and had 1/2 the sites available for purchase or long-term rental, and the other 1/2 available for shorter-term stays. They had great facilities too-- a newer pool and bathhouse, nice clubhouse, etc. Many folks in the park were retiree snowbirds who come down year after year to enjoy this quiet peaceful place.

The park is across the street from the only large beach for a good 50 miles east of Apalachiacola. Fortunately, the state of Florida owns it and has a nice roadside picnic area there (so no big condos can ever block the view for RVers!).

Maybe this beach gets more crowded in later spring and summer, but while we were there (the last week of February), there was never more than 4 or 5 people on the beach at one time.... and it's a huge beach!

But the absolute best thing about this beach is that it's about the ONLY large beach in Florida that is dog-friendly (only Franklin and Gulf counties along the panhandle permit dogs on beaches--- all other Florida counties prohibit them).

Millie had not done any swimming since her visit to Maine in October, so she was eager to get in her daily afternoon swim time!

Our last full day in Carrabelle, Millie and I got up early to watch the sunrise. Each morning walk along the beach revealed different wildlife-- one day I watched a group of dolphins swim up and down right along the shoreline; another day, a blue heron walked along the waves in front of us. A fabulous, fabulous place to be a snowbird!