Friday, 29 August 2014

Packing for a Weekend Canoe/Camping Trip

A post by Ed Arsenault.

I am back with another article on how to pack up for your upcoming adventure. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my original article on packing up a carry-on suitcase for an all-inclusive trip.

The theme of today’s packing tutorial will be based on our annual Man of the Year camping trip. This trip sees us gentlemen off to the beautiful French River, Ontario region where we canoe out to our island and set up camp for two nights. This is by no means a survival trip or a survival packing tutorial as we still take many luxuries. This is a tutorial to help you pack less while still having some luxuries on a fun manly excursion into the woods for a day or two. With that said, I present to you my how-to pack guide for a not-so-serious weekend camping/canoeing trip.

Everything I would need for this weekend camping trip.

All needed camping gear

Pictured Above:

1 pair of swim shorts
1 pair of shorts
3 pairs of underwear
2 pairs of socks
1 pair of sweat pants
1 sweater
3 shirts

55L backpack
Fishing kit (reduced to have three spinners, bait, one lure, spare hooks and parts, gloves and a knife)
Fishing rod
Single sleeper tent
Heavy duty tent stakes
Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad
15L compression sack
Water shoes
Fillet knife
Utility knife
Bungee cord

Not Pictured:

Clothing I wear day of:
Comfortable shoes
1 pair of shorts
1 t-shirt
1 hat

Folding chair
Snacks (jerky, trail mix, granola bars)
Dinner (stored in a group cooler)
Toiletries (I brought them but didn't show them in this tutorial) 

The Process:

Uncompressed Sleeping Bag
Uncompressed sleeping bag (black) and 15L compression sack (bright green).

Sleeping bag compressed to fit in backpack
Compressed sleeping bag ready to be packed.

Tent Stakes Added to Back Pack
 I add the tent stakes first to the bottom to avoid any tearing and ripping of fabrics.

Putting my Tent Into my Back Pack
Then I squeeze my tent into the lower 10L compartment of my bag on top of the stakes.

Now I put my sleeping bag in through the opening up top. Note that I put in vertically then maneuver it to be horizontal in the bag.

Adding my fishing kit to my pack
I then add my fishing kit and squish it in beside my sleeping bag on the front side of the pack. This gives me a nice flat front to my bag.

Adding clothes to my pack
Next I jam my clothes into the sack on top of the fishing kit and the sleeping bag. *I would recommend a compression sack for all your clothes too. I, unfortunately, didn't purchase one in time for this trip but will in the future.

Bag is nice and sturdy and has a flat front
Here you can see how sturdy this set up is and how flat the front of the bag has become.

Adding flashlight and bungee cords to side pocket
Utilizing the side pockets of my pack, I place my flashlight and a few bungee cords in. I use bungee cords on trips like this because it is quick and easy to set up a clothes line or whatever else you need with no knots.

Adding knives to side pocket of pack
On the opposite side pocket I pack up my fillet knife and utility knife.

Strapping sleeping roll onto front of pack
 Using snaps already on my bag I then attach my sleeping roll to the bottom of my pack. The material of my sleeping roll repels water and would dry the quickest if I were to get caught in rain, hence leaving it on the outside.

Securing tent poles and fishing rod to my pack
 I use the slot for a drink in my bag to be the base to hold up my tent poles and fishing rod. Using some straps already on my bag I just tighten them up to keep the rod and poles secure. 

Attaching my water shoes with a carabiner
Using a carabiner I then attach my water shoes to my pack on a strap that doesn't move too much on the opposite side of my rod and tent poles.

Attaching a PFD via a carabiner
Last but not least I attach my PFD to my bag via a carabiner to a strap near the top. This way the PFD doesn't hang too low when walking.

All packed up and ready to go
My bag is all packed up and I am ready to go canoeing and fishing for a few days. *Note, I forgot to zip up my PFD for this photo, that's why it is hanging awkwardly. 

There we go, I have a full pack that is not too heavy and two free hands to carry my folding chair and most importantly a case of beer! I know the guys that I go on this trip with and can pack according to them and what they bring. That is why I have opted out of most "essential" items. Between you and your group, make a list of who has what and spread the load carried. 

I hope this helps you get an idea of what you would need for a quick excursion into the woods with some buds. If you think I missed anything important or have anything you'd like to say please reach out to me via the comment section below, Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Adventure in Ontario's Highlands: Wilderness Tours - Protecting the Wild Ottawa River

A post by Scott F.

After a wild drive across the Trans-Canada Highway, we were primed for some adventure in Ontario’s Highlands. Our much anticipated Saturday stop on our three day trip to the region was Wilderness Tours, who have been offering whitewater rafting and a variety of other activities on the Ottawa River since 1975. While we were primed for adventure, that which Wilderness Tours provided in spades, we didn’t expect to learn that there’s a lot more to the company than thrills and a cool party atmosphere.

Our day was not quite this sunny, but was every bit as extreme. Photo courtesy of Wilderness Tours.
After checking in to our clean and comfortable deluxe cedar cabin, we received a knock at the door from a man who introduced himself as Joe. What we’d later learn, and wouldn’t have expected at first glance, was that Joe was one of the most extreme men we had ever met. He founded the resort 39 year ago and had actually been one of the first to run many of rapids we’d be hitting that day. In fact, he’d named most of the rapids too.

That's Joe, President of Wilderness Tours. Photo courtesy of Wilderness Tours.
Joe was instantly friendly, describing the Real Man Travels lads as the “last of a dying breed” of adventurous Canadians and promising to show us around.

After getting settled in we made our way to “Rafters,” the figurative heart of the Wilderness Tours resort situated right on the Ottawa River. With 30 minutes before our rafting instruction, we were eager to get our gear readied up; that was before we were intercepted by Joe who insisted that then was a perfect time for our tour. So we hopped in his GMC Envoy and sped into the resort.

Joe’s formality, if it ever existed, instantly broke down into a sincerity one rarely gets from the owner of a major company. He expanded on his “last of a dying breed” statement, explaining how the changing face of Canada and its inhabitants meant a declining interest in adventure and exploration outside city limits. We later heard from our guide that Joe had started an outdoor adventure club when he was in college and at the first meeting something like 200 people showed up; you can only imagine how many less students would show up today. He took us through the history of the river, including how it was the same route Samuel de Champlain navigated three centuries earlier, and how years of use for logging had left sediment at the bottom, tinging the water tea black.

Joe also discussed how the focus of his company was different than many might expect. The Ottawa River, he described, had been developed so rapidly that the land that Wilderness Tours had worked hard to acquire over the years represented the last wild section still in existence. You quickly learn what he means by “wild” as you make your way down the river. The cottages that one would expect to dot the banks of such picturesque surroundings are simply not there to break up the wilderness. Any buildings that exist are set far back from river’s edge, by Joe’s design.

Joe’s dedication to maintaining the “last wild section of the Ottawa River” can only be truly appreciated from the water. After he dropped us off we grabbed our wet suits (highly recommended to fully enjoy the rafting experience in comfort) and went to our briefing. A quick bus ride and additional safety instruction later, and we were ready to set out.

Being in a boat going through class four whitewater rapids simply can’t be described in words. The power of the water as it crashes into and over the raft is both thrilling and humbling at the same time. Our guide, Joel, a champion whitewater kayaker, did a killer job keeping us safe and motivating us to push the raft into the most extreme circumstances. Joking around and levying some hilarious criticism at our lazier paddlers kept things light throughout what ended up being a very rainy day on the water. Some surprises awaited as well, as a member of our group who we had been berating the entire row for being the only American amoung us, hopped out of the raft just before a rapid and proceeded to “steal” a whitewater kayak from the shore. Feigning understanding of how to work the kayak, he eventually got settled and dove into the rapids. The rouse was quickly revealed as “America,” who ended up being another champion kayaker, expertly navigated the rapids, throwing in a few barrel roles for good measure, and our amusement.

Photo courtesy of Wilderness Tours.
Mid-way through the day we pulled up in a small bay for lunch. A roaring fire, hot soup and coffee were provided the moment we were out of our boat to warm our soaked bodies. The snack was followed by burgers, sausages, salads, chips, apples, cookies and more. A perfect chance to recharge.

The remainder of the day saw us hit a variety of different rapids, swimming and jumping off the raft, and stopping in for a 25’ cliff dive into raging waters.

It was easy to appreciate Joe’s focus on retaining the wild. The unbroken wilderness at the riverbank was complimentary to the raging whitewater. Cottages, marinas and other buildings would have destroyed the marvel and the sense of true adventure the river provided. We were starting to understand why Joe had poured “every spare dollar” into protecting this shoreline. The log buildings that make up the resort were built by a local craftsmen to maintain a rustic, natural feel.

Back at the resort following a shower and change the rain lifted just in time for our most extreme challenge, bungee jumping! Wilderness Tours has a crane set up for a jump 150’ over the Ottawa River. Yep, this happened:

GoPro Selfie Extreme
Sammy doing the big dive
Exhausted, we tucked in to an incredible dinner at Rafters and a pitcher or two of Whitewater Brewery Farmer’s Daughter Blond Ale (quickly became our trip staple). There is no shortage of activities to fill your evening at Wilderness Tours: live music, hot tubs, a pool, basketball and ball hockey courts, a full serve bar, board games, pool tables, horseshoe pits, arcade games, special events… the list goes on.

The next morning we checked out the resort’s beach area and took a few plunges into the river from a rope swing suspended on an elevated dock.

We again met Joe, who offered to take us over to Whitewater Brewing Co., conveniently located just outside the resort on a plot of land owned by Joe and leased to the brewers. The three brewers include “the twins,” as Joe calls them, two unrelated lads with the same name, one of whom is an international finance major, turned raft instructor, turned certified professional brewer. The beer was phenomenal with their Midnight Oatmeal Stout (surprisingly approachable with great malt flavour) and Whistling Paddler English Style Ale (under-bittered for the style making it very sessionable) joining their Farmer’s Daughter Blonde Ale on our list of favourites. The guys use locally sourced hops for their beer, one of many attributes that add to the brewery’s local feel. Joe mentioned plans to turn the brewery, an old farm, into a destination with retail opportunities, which we would love to see. It already features a restaurant and tasting room.

Beer, taps
Everything is better on a stick, part deux.
With all the work Joe has done to conserve the wild of the Ottawa River, we were surprised to hear him call himself an "unreserved capitalist." He oozes business savvy and is easy to like. It’s good to know that Joe is “on our side” when it comes to retaining the beauty and awe-inspiring majesty of Ontario and Ontario’s Highlands. Against the pressures that must surely exist to use the land and river for other purposes, it takes a specific type of person to dig in their heels for what they believe, and actually be successful at it.

Cheers to Joe and all the good folks at Wilderness Tours. Special thanks to Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization for having us in to explore their region. Ontario’s Highlands is, truly, Ontario’s wild child!

Friday, 22 August 2014

7000 Lakes and Rivers, One Starbucks: Exploring Ontario’s Highlands

A post by Scott F

Seven thousand lakes and major river systems, one Starbucks. Twenty four thousand square kilometres, ONE Starbucks. Eight hundred thousand inhabitants, ONE Starbucks! Six hundred and eighteen heritage sites and buildings, ONE STARBUCKS!

Okay, I think I’ve mentioned Starbucks enough. It was just one of those stats that, as stats sometimes do, jumped off the page when I first read it. Having no major feelings about the coffee retailer, pro or con, why this Ontario’s Highlands stat stood out so strongly for me was a mystery; a scattered bunch of puzzle pieces nagging to be put together. It took a "mancation" to the region last weekend, kindly organized by the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, to put those pieces together…

river, rocky
The wild Ontario's Highlands!
Ontario’s Highlands stretches from Smith’s Falls in the southeast all the way to where it wraps around Algonquin park in the northwest and includes the Halliburton Highlands, Hastings County, Ottawa Valley, Land O’Lakes and Lanark County. As Sam, Chris and I made our way to our first destination we couldn’t help but note how wild the region seemed. Rocky outcrops hung over the roadsides that gave way repeatedly to lakes and rivers that were at times pristine and picturesque and at others rough and raging. Our drive, which lasted over five hours, was made up of vast expanses of this glorious wilderness, spliced with pretty small towns forged out of the rocky environments or hugged by the lakes and rivers. We didn’t enter one city, and for good reason: the region doesn’t have any! The puzzle pieces began to click together…

After a brief pit stop in the quaint town of Tweed, we were summoned by manly hunger to seek sustenance. We pulled in at The Spud Box, a strange looking orange and black building/food truck in the town of Kaladar. The second we left the car we heard the sharp voice of the owner, Jerry, berating customers from the truck, 100 feet or so away. As we got closer and could make out what was being said, we knew we were going to like Jerry. Jerry’s the kind of guy who knows he’s got a good product, and won’t hesitate to let you know with a level of sharp intensity that could easily rub people the wrong way (as he clearly has, according to online reviews, HA!). When asked to give one line to sum up his operation, he replied (censored for our more sensitive readers) “the best (fudge)ing burgers in Ontario.” And the burgers didn’t disappoint.

food truck, food, burgers
You won't miss this from the road

Back in our swanky Acura MDX (kindly provided by Acura Canada for our trip), we bombed across the Trans-Canada Highway toward Renfrew. Renfrew, as we would learn, prides itself on being the birthplace of the National Hockey League. We were lucky enough to be greeted by Ray and Brittany at the NHL Birthplace Museum, somewhat inconspicuously placed on the second floor of Renfrew’s former post office. Ray, a hockey historian of some renown, recounted how a wealthy local businessman funded four of the first five teams of the original National Hockey Association (NHA), including Renfrew’s own Creamery Kings (nicknamed “The Millionaires,” the best team name ever, due to their owner. The NHA would eventually be renamed the NHL several years later due to legal issues. The museum, small and scattered with seemly random photographs, posters and hockey artifacts, came alive with Ray’s anecdotes and explanations. He spoke with an air of pride about the players in the photographs, many of whose family still resided in the area. His enthusiasm for hockey and the role Renfrew played in its early beginnings was infectious. The pieces were coming together.

The Flying Fathers were a hockey team of priests who traveled playing exhibition games to raise funds for good works
Hockey, NHL
Chris, Brittany, Sam and Ray at the NHL Birthplace Museum in Renfrew
Our night was spent listening to the iconic sounds of Canadian legend David Wilcox at the Class Axe Guitars Calabogie Blues and Ribfest. We chowed down on copious amounts of meat from the ribbers and enjoyed a few cold Steam Whistles while discussing the amazing drive and the people we’d met. The festival was held at the beautiful Calabogie Peaks Resort, and after the concert had ended and a misguided hike up the mountain complete, we found our way to our ultra-comfortable mountain condo to recharge for the next day.

hotel, resort, conference centre
Calabogie Peaks Resort
hotel, room
Our mountain condominium
The ribbers at the Class Axe Guitars Calabogie Blues and Ribfest

To David Wilcox: "Play Layin' Pipe!"

We spent a rainy Saturday in the care of Wilderness Tours (more on our rafting adventures in a future post) and by the time Sunday rolled around we were fully enthralled by the wild beauty of Ontario’s Highlands, not to mention a little tired and sore.

We sped the MDX along the Ottawa River and banked through the farm fields and small towns that dot the Ottawa Valley. Passing military vehicles on training (out of Petawawa, we assume), we made our way to Eganville to explore the Bonnechere Caves. Our guide, Liam, a plucky young man with an unexpectedly dry sense of humour, took us through the caves and the heroing tale of Tom Woodward, who discovered and explored the then water-filled caves in the 1950’s. Liam also took us through a fine selection of fossils from the Ordovician time period. The kids in the group loved answering Liam’s trivia questions and getting hands-on with the fossils. Us grown up kids had fun too.

Our guide Liam wears his fossil love on his sleeve
Everything is better on a stick
From there we followed the Bonnechere River into Eganville where we enjoyed a less-than-manly but absolutely delicious lunch and a Whitewater Brewery Farmer’s Daughter Blonde Ale at Frisco’s, overlooking the water. Eganville is known as the Ordovician Fossil Capital of Canada and the local Bonnechere Museum features Geoheritage walks. After checking out the museum, full of local stories and artifacts, we set out for our walk. Our guides Megan and Miranda, university students who returned to their hometown of Eganville for the summer, spoke fondly of their small town and explored its history and the many eccentricities so common to small town life. The hour-long walk took us through town and to an abandoned quarry and trench where the remnants of limestone mining spoke to the town’s past. We were able to explore fossil pits where the ground was literally littered with little fossils (how’s that for alliteration!).

Lunch at Frisco's in Eganville
View from Frisco's

It was time to start home but not before a stop at Charlie D’s in Barry’s Bay - yet another cool food truck (note, food is always manlier when it’s served from a truck. Fact). Bev took good care of us, helping us select one of over ten poutine varieties from their menu. Sam, the adventurous one he is, choose the classic while I dug into a Mexican variety. Chris opted for ice cream.

poutine, chip truck, food truck

Mexican poutine
Driving home my mind went back to the Starbucks puzzle that had been assembling itself in the back of my mind for the whole of our trip to Ontario’s Highlands. As I stared out the window at the still waters on Golden Lake and belted out a few verses of Tim McGraw’s “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s” with the boys, it all came into perspective.

I grew up in a small town in a rural community and barely knew what Starbucks was until I was in my teens. I went on to live in the city for almost five years before I was drawn back to a smaller town to settle down. Small towns, usually, don’t have a Starbucks. And that was it! Those same things that draw us out of the city – room to breathe; beautiful countryside; friendly, genuine people; fresh air; adventure; disconnection; tradition – are all the things we experienced throughout Ontario’s Highlands. Jerry, Ray, Liam, Megan, Miranda and Bev along with the folks at Wilderness Tours, treated us kindly; we were enthralled by the small town stories, traditions and heritage of Renfrew and Eganville; the terrain that we drove past and hiked upon and the rivers we swam in were picturesque and wild.

Twenty three thousand square kilometres of all of the above, but only one Starbucks… go figure!

Special thanks goes to the Ontario's Highlands Tourism Organization for inviting us to experience their region. Their website and mobile app are exceptional ways to plan your next trip to the region. Also check them out on FacebookTwitter and Instagram as they frequently run contests for trips and GoPro cameras. Follow their hashtag and use it during your adventures: #OHletsgo.

Thanks to Acura Canada as well for loaning us a Acura MDX for the weekend. It was the classiest whip I've ever taken on a road trip and the air conditioned seats, three-zone climate control and exceptional ride kept us comfortable the whole time.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Top 5 Family Attractions in Niagara Falls

At the very edge of the falls your knees feel a little weak.
There is nothing like hearing the giggles of your children as a beautiful butterfly lands on their shirt. There is also nothing like being on a boat at the bottom of Horseshoe Falls on a hot summers day. The power of the falls is intimidating but you feel perfectly safe. The cool mist covers your family from head to toe and everyone is smiling. That sounds like a perfect family trip to me.

A few weeks ago I was invited by Niagara Parks to try out their adventure pass at Niagara Falls with my family. On top of it saving you money, it includes four adventurous activities, a bus pass for two days to get you to wherever you needed to go, and some coupons to save you even more money.

Whichever activity you choose, make sure you bring good company to share in these memories, you wouldn't want to do it alone (or maybe you would... I am not judging).

So without any more hesitation here is my list of the Top Five Family Things to Do in Niagara Falls.

5. White Water Walk 

Take a walk  along a boardwalk at the edge of one of the world's wildest stretches of whitewater.  Trillions of gallons of water are forced into this accelerating trough with three to five-metre (10 to 16 ft.) standing waves. 

 Tip: Just a heads up, this one is a few kilometres away from the falls.

White Water Walk 
4. Butterfly Conservatory

The Butterfly Conservatory is located on the grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens, 10 minutes north of the falls. Over 2,000 butterflies, made up of 45 different species, call this beautiful space home. Explore and be amazed at all of the different colors and if you are lucky one might even land on you! 

Tip: This is not part of the Adventure Pass but is a great way to spend a couple of hours with your loved ones. Wear anything green and the butterflies are more likely to land on you! This is also near the White Water Walk.

This attraction brought out a lot of smiles from my family.

3. Niagara's Fury

Discover the ancient story of Niagara Falls in a fun animated tale that the whole family will love.  Follow it up with a thrilling 4D experience that takes you back 10,000 years to when Niagara Falls was formed.

Tip: You will get wet and it is dark and very loud. 

This was fun and very refreshing. Photo Courtesy of Niagara Parks

2. Journey Behind the Falls

You'll travel down into the tunnels behind the thundering Horseshoe Falls, where lookout holes give you a backstage pass to this incredible wonder. Then, step out onto the observation deck and experience the falls crashing down from 13 stories above.  As you marvel at the huge waterfalls the mist covers your face and makes you feel alive (and cool on a hot day).

Tip: Journey Behind the Falls is in the same building as Niagara's Fury, be sure to book the times close together. 

My daughters get up close to the falls, they loved this attraction!

1. Hornblower Niagara Cruises 

This is my favourite adventure of all.  What a thrilling way to experience Niagara Falls. This up close and personal tour of the falls get you as close as possible to the breathtaking power and mist that is the magnificent Niagara Falls. Hornblower Niagara Cruises gives you the thrill of a lifetime!

Tip: Lines are smaller at the start and end of the day.

Have you checked any of these out? Let me know what you thought?

Thank you to Niagara Parks. My family had an awesome time.

When you travel with four beautiful girls... life is good!