The Meanest Link

The Meanest Link: Around Algonquin Park In 10 Days

Introduction

Each year we like to plan a big trip that either brings us to a new exciting area, or challenges us in a new way. This year we struggled with limited vacation time. Only having a total of 9 days to spend on the water, travelling far for a trip was only going to shorten that available time. Kaydi, a colleague of mine, suggested that we try to complete The Meanest Link in Algonquin Park. 380km (the distance we thought the trip was) in 9 days meant we would be paddling a minimum of 43km per day. More than double what we usually plan for in daily distance. Noah first asked me, “Is this even possible?” To which I referred to the current record holders time of 7.5 days to complete the loop saying “Maybe?”

The Meanest Link route in Algonquin Park - Full Map

This idea was equal parts scary and exciting which made it feel like the right choice for this years trip. Since we were going to be pushing our limits to a new extreme, we thought we could also use this as an opportunity to raise money for Project Canoe, an organization taking at-risk youth on backcountry canoe trips. Once solidifying this with Tim Richardson, executive director of Project Canoe, we turned to some of our favourite brands to help with the fundraiser. With the support of Salus Marine Wear, Grey Owl Paddles, Agawa Canyon Inc, and Project Canoe, we were able to raise a total of $3295. We also had great support from Randy Mitson and Gord Baker with Algonquin Outfitters in organizing 2 food drops and providing real time trip updates in the Meanest Link facebook group.

The final weeks before our trip were really starting to weigh in on us. Talk amongst people online were really starting to make us question our ability to do this loop. We had other trippers warning of the Big East, Nipissing River, and other sections that were going to add major struggles. Some people wished us luck while others were convinced we didn’t have a shot at completing this loop. All very encouraging for a couple dudes that were already questioning if they had bitten off more than they could chew.

Preparation

Food organized into 3 portions. 2 would be food drops.

Noah has moved to Halifax and so this meant that we would have to be very coordinated in what we were going to bring. Noah created a spreadsheet to highlight who was responsible for bringing what. We split the gear and food list in half having weekly calls to make sure we were both on track.

Noah was going to be catching a flight from Halifax to Toronto on Thursday night, arriving at 10:30pm. The plan was to meet at the Oxtongue Lake Algonquin Outfitters for 7am Friday morning.

SNAPSHOT

  • Trip Distance: 424km

  • Total Portages: 107 (based on Jeff’s Maps & not including the endless wading up the Big East)

  • Total Portage Distance: 64km based on Jeff’s Maps & not incl. Big East Wading

  • Longest Portage: 5,400m

  • Most Difficult Portage: Wading up the Big East River

  • Resources: Jeff’s Map (Maps) | Algonquin Outfitters (Food Drops)

Friday August 3rd 2018 - Algonquin Outfitters (Oxtongue Lake) - Big East River

Distance: 46km | Portages: 3 | Portage Distance: 5.5km (*Portage numbers based on Jeff’s Map)

My alarm went off at 4am and the excitement and nerves hit me right away. My car was packed with the canoe already on the roof, I grabbed my coffee and hit the road. I arrived at Algonquin Outfitters at 7am and Noah who was driving from Toronto arrived shortly after me. Noah’s mom Anna, was nice enough to drive Noah up to Algonquin that morning seeing as his car was in Halifax. Despite having all our food split into bags for our 2 food drops, we still pulled all the food out to have another look at it all. This also included a final run through of all our gear. Packing your bags at the beginning of a trip is always more difficult until you find the best way to fit everything and it becomes a choreographed dance.

Algonquin Outfitters - Oxtongue Lake

We had all our bags packed and we were on the dock at the Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake for 10am. It was much later than we had hoped to be on the water but we didn’t foresee the later start to be an issue at this point. Anna took our final send-off photo and we were off.

We made our way down Oxtongue Lake dodging the cottagers in their larger boats as we made our way to the Oxtongue River. It was a nice treat travelling with the current on the Oxtongue knowing that it would be a different story once we reached the Big East River. Jeff’s Maps had a 3.8km portage marked on this river that we seemed to have been able to skip a good portion of. The water was high enough for us to paddle down some of the rapids and swifts as we made our way to Lake of Bays. The few portages that we did have to do were really making us question our decision to bring the pelican case with our Canon 80D camera in it. It must have weighed 10lbs with the 6 Canon batteries and extra zoom lens we brought for the chance of seeing wildlife.

Portage Road

Lake of Bays had a lot of natural waves from the wind and the number of large boats present on this lake did not make it any easier for us. We kept our heads down and bopped along making our way from Dwight Bay to Portage Bay where we would make our way into Peninsula Lake. This portage literally went along a road called “Portage Road” which was obviously very fitting. We had a car pull over while we hiked our way down this road saying that they had never actually seen anyone portaging on this road and they were happy that we were justifying its name. After turning down their kind offer to take some of our gear to the end of the portage they were on their way.

As we crossed Peninsula Lake we started to get concerned about our timing. We knew we wanted to make it a decent distance up the Big East River that day and we were slowly losing daylight. We paddled through “The Canal” listed on Jeff’s maps which was a pretty cool river system that larger boats were still able to utilize to get between these two lakes. By the time we made it to Fairy Lake, very dark clouds had formed in the sky and started to roll over the lake. Noah and I discussed the option of paddling along one of the shorelines to be safe but seeing as we were already in the middle of the lake trying to draw the straightest line to Huntsville, we opted to paddle as hard as we could to beat the oncoming storm.

About halfway across this lake we had a larger boat approach us and ask if everything was alright and if we wanted a hand to get to shore quicker. We graciously turned down the offer and continued paddling as hard as we could. The storm seemed to be passing us and never actually hung over us for too long.

We made it into the river system that flows through Huntsville around 6pm and we were starting to get very hungry. As we were tight on time, we considered the option of buying hot food in town, instead of pulling over to boil water and hydrating one of our meals. There was one problem with this idea, neither of us had our wallets on us. Who needs a wallet on a camping trip right? Noah joking asked me “any chance you have your credit card number memorized?” To which I answered “I actually think I might.”

Boston Pizza in Huntsville. Not your typical canoe trip dinner but welcomed with open arms.

We made a phone call to Boston Pizza which we knew was right along the river in hopes to grab a slice and continue on our way. We placed the order for pizza as we figured we were about 15 minutes from reaching the store, they tried charging the credit card number I had provided and it went through! When we arrived at Boston Pizza we had completely forgotten that they actually had docks for boats to land and go for dinner. We pulled up with our fully loaded canoe, tied up and walked onto the patio with our life jackets and bare feet. The Pizza wasn’t quite ready so we grabbed two beers to enjoy before heading out. At this point we were less concerned about making quick time because it was pretty funny being on a canoe trip and having a “fancy” meal.

Huntsville Sunset

We left Boston Pizza at 7pm and continued our paddle towards Lake Vernon. As we paddled under Highway 11 there was an amazing pink sky for the sunset which can be seen perfectly in the first video. Paddling through The Narrows on Lake Vernon there were a number of cottagers who were on their docks watching the sunset since campfires were not an option with the current fire ban. There must have been about 6-8 cottages in a row where people were out on their docks waving as we went by.

As we crossed Lake Vernon it was getting very dark and it was clear there was a big lightning storm in the distance. It was actually really cool to watch as we paddled. The wind was low and we were experiencing the calm before the storm.

The mouth of the Big East River was difficult to spot in the dark and it was a big help having our GPS to keep us on track. Once we were about 25 metres from the entrance we hit the sandy bottom and we both looked at each other with fear. We knew the Big East was going to be a big variable at this time of year due to low water levels and this was not a great sign. We pushed through the sand walking beside the canoe and within a few minutes the water had gotten deeper again and we were back to paddling. A sigh of relief.

It was dark, and it was very difficult to see anything on shore in this river. The storm was making its way closer to us by the minute and although we wanted to make more distance, it was going to be a lot better to set up the tent dry than setting it up getting soaked. We made the decision to pull over and find a place to camp at 9:30pm.

The banks of the river were very high and it was going to be very difficult to get all our gear up including the canoe. Noah scaled his way up and I started passing him gear. We had found a small 8x8 pad just the right size for our tent. We made some dinner, each had a beer to lighten our load for the next day, and watched as the lightning rolled in over our head. Just after we finished our drinks, the rain started to come and we crawled into the tent for the night.

Saturday August 4, 2018 - Big East River - Distress Lake

Distance: 46km | Portages: 3 | Portage Distance: 1km (*not including endless wading up the Big East)

The alarm went off at 5:30am and it was time to start our next day. It is always fun to actually see where you set up camp when you selected your spot in the dark. The river was perfectly still with mist on the water. We tossed back some “protmeal” - Noah’s mix of quaker oats, protein powder, peanut butter powder, and dehydrated bananas, and took our coffee to go. We were on the water by 7:05am and we knew we had a big day fighting the Big East river.

Sandy shore along the Big East River

The first 20km or so of our day consisted of paddling a windy river with sand dunes at each corner. There were a number of trailer parks including Silver Sands and Lagoon Tent and Trailer Park, with people making breakfast and staring as we paddled past.

We eventually got to Arrowhead Provincial Park and got to paddle through the popular Big Bend Lookout and get a bit of a different perspective of it. Someone from up top shouted down asking how we had gotten there. We responded “we paddled from Huntsville!” which was obviously pretty shocking to them.

Big Bend Lookout - Arrowhead Provincial Park

Eventually the current had picked up and it was getting more challenging to paddle. Arriving at our first set of rapids we had to hop out and walk the canoe against the current. These sets of rapids became more and more frequent only offering short sections of flat water to paddle between. We developed a system where one of us would walk with the canoe, holding the bow to guide the canoe between rocks in the rapids. We were walking along rocks that were constantly moving and shifting our feet into positions we were not always ready for. The bow of the canoe also acted as a bit of a crutch so that you could put all your body weight on the canoe and allow your feet to fall into whatever position the river desired. The second person would have a bit of a mental break and would walk along the dry shore, still jumping from rock to rock but at least you had a visual of what you were stepping on. This strategy was also useful for filming this section of the trip, while still making forward progress.

Wading up the Big East River

After hours of pushing through this current our legs were tired from the extra weight of the water in this up-river battle. We pulled over for some hummus and pita to give us the energy we needed to continue on. There were a few situations where we opted to try and portage along the side of the river. Sometimes the guy who was walking the shoreline would pop into the bush to see if there was a trail. This ended up requiring a lot of bushwhacking and sometimes along angled hills that added the risk of slipping and having all the gear fall down with you. Many times we reverted back to the river.

Beautiful cliff along the Big East

It was getting later in the day and we were concerned with the slow progress up this river. We arrived at a waterfall and I went to explore portage options on the right while Noah checked the left. There was a clear trail along the right hand side but it veered so far away from the river it didn’t make sense that this would be the right way to go. By the time I had returned to where Noah had dropped me off, he had already completed the portage simply by walking along the left side of the waterfall. He picked me up in the canoe and brought me to the other side where all I had left to carry was the canoe. We made some peanut butter wraps and both of us were feeling very defeated at this point. It was going to be a struggle to push on. It was hard not to think about the fact that this was only day 2 and we were still not hitting the daily distance that we needed to.

Waterfall before long cascading waterfalls to Distress L.

More lining of rapids and the sun was really starting to set. We arrived at another waterfall and I jumped out to take a quick peak for a portage trail. When I climbed up the first rock I could see that it was actually a long set of cascading waterfalls that seemed to go on for about 800m which is what we had estimated our distance to be from Distress Lake. We grabbed our gear and set out to complete this portage. We bounced back and forth from walking up the rocks as well as going on the trail in the forest. It is good to note that there was actually a decent trail along the left shore here but we were maybe not thinking straight after a long day on the water and tried to take the rocks which in many ways proved to be more difficult.

At the very end of the portage we found a man-made dam that marked the start of Distress Lake. We put the canoe in the water and paddled off into the dark. There were no campsites marked on this lake and it was a really swampy looking lake. We passed a couple camps set up on the right shore about halfway down the lake but they were all occupied by people already. One site actually had about 10-12 tiki torches lit around the site with a roaring bonfire. This would have been pretty cool aside from the fact that there was a major fire ban on in Ontario at this time and these people obviously could care less.

Finally made it to Distress Lake, time to find a site

We paddled on searching for somewhere to sleep. Toward the end of the lake we found a clearing in the trees on the left shore and it looked like a site to camp. We jumped out and it looked like the perfect spot for us. As we were setting up our tent, we heard someone through the forest fire up their ATV about 600m away from us. We saw the lights driving through the trees and all of a sudden they took a turn and were headed directly towards us. Who was this going to be? Are we in trouble for being here? Noah and I stood speechless and awaited our fate. The ATV pulled right up on our site and we could barely make out who was on it until they turned the lights off. It was an older couple that ended up asking how we had found out about this site. Their line was “did you find about about this place on the Google?” To which we explained we had just spotted the clearing and were desperate for a campsite. They agreed to let us stay so long as we did not post about the campsite on the Google. So for all you future linkers out there, this is not a campsite and will likely have a cottage on it by the time you make your attempt.

We finished our Red Curry dinner that Noah had made us and hit the tent by 11pm.

Sunday August 5, 2018 - Distress Lake - Daisy Lake (Officially In Algonquin Park)

Distance: 35km | Portages: 6 | Portage Distance: 8.1km (not including endless wading up the Big East)

We were up at 5:30am doing our usual oatmeal and coffee regimen. We had our camp pack-up and set-up process down to a perfect 1.5 hour routine. Noah would usually get breakfast started as he would be out of the tent first, and I would tear down the tent and pack the inside up. We hit the water by 7am and we were back to the Big East struggle. There was a bridge we paddled under at the end of Distress lake that we should have taken out at and walked along the road that lined the left side of the river. Unfortunately we did not know this and we tried to take the river up a little further. Then the rapids started once again. While Noah was walking the canoe up river, I had gone for a walk through the woods which is where I came across the road. A short bushwhack about 50m from the river's edge had us on the road for about 1km.

As we got close to getting off the road and back on the river, we came across what looked like someones cabin. Just as we got to the property edge, two dogs spotted us and started charging at us, barking aggressively and the owner was not in sight. Noah had the canoe over his head and I envied him as he could potentially turtle up and hide if he wanted to. I on the other hand was carrying the pack mule load that left me like a sitting duck. Noah shouted not to look them in the eye and to just let them walk around us. They circled us barking for about 2 minutes and we wondered what we were going to do. Finally the owner crawled out of a tent and called the dogs back to his side and we got the heck out of there. This road was likely private property so while it is definitely the easier route to take, we want to warn you of this fact.

Approaching Finlayson Lake

We continued our paddle and passed a number of hunting blinds in the trees. The river was still throwing lots of rapids at us and as the river started to get narrow, they started to get deeper and more difficult to walk in. We found a few portages along the side of the river but many of these had not been used in years and it was easy to lose the trail. There were also a lot of blow-downs that required us to navigate our 18 foot canoe up and over trees  causing blockages up to 10 feet tall.

Finally a portage sign….happy to be off the Big East River

As we approached Finlayson Lake, we started to prepare ourselves for the two portages going into McCraney Lake. We know in the past this has been a bushwhack for many linkers but there are two new portages and we were unsure of what shape they would be in. We were tired and there was even more lining to get from Finlayson to the first portage. I specifically recall the feeling when we turned the final corner on the river and we could see a yellow portage sign. Such a “sign of relief” seeing as we knew this was going to take us into Algonquin. While this was just the beginning of many more portages, we were happy to have signs and trails as opposed the the ankle breaking river wading, and sketchy bushwhacking brought to you by the Big East. At this point we said peace to the Big East and put our head down as we entered the park.

One of the two portages going into McCraney Lake had an aggresive incline on it. We must have stopped about 4 or 5 times to take breaks and each time I would say something to the effect of, “there is no way this can go any further up hill.” To which moments later I would put my foot in my mouth as it kept climbing.

Launching into McCraney Lake we stopped at the very first point to take a swim and cool off. I got a leech stuck to me here and after ripping it off, the boat looked like a murder scene with how much blood came out. That “sucker” must have had me pretty good.

On the portage from Little McCraney Lake into Rain Lake, we knew Randy from Algonquin Outfitters had hooked us up with our first food drop. We got to the end of this flat 1.7 km portage and found our food hanging in a tree like a piñata. We were actually a little concerned with fitting all of that food into our bear barrel and took the opportunity to boil some water and make a pasta that was fairly bulky to free up some space in the barrel.

After eating we were both very tired but we knew we had to continue on. We were passing a bunch of families on Rain Lake who were enjoying the nice weather and swimming while we had to stay focused on the task at hand. We made our way from Rain Lake up to Daisy Lake, and by the time we arrived at Daisy, it was completely dark. We could see lightning in the distance so we found a free campsite and set up camp for the night. We arrived at our site sometime around 10pm and were in bed by 11pm.

Monday August 6, 2018 - Daisy Lake - Nipissing River

Distance: 38km | Portages: 23 | Portage Distance: 9.8km

Just a dude who loves to portage

We knew this was going to be a big day of portaging for us. I had previously done the section from Tim Lake to Ralph Bice Lake and knew how tired I was after those 10 portages totaling 6.1km of total distance. This time it was going to be less than half of what we actually needed to accomplish that day. Not to mention that there were 3 portages to get us from Daisy to Ralph Bice before starting the rest.

We put our heads down and we crushed the 13 portages arriving at Tim Lake just after 1pm. We decided to stop here and have some lunch. This is when we first realized that the wraps we had brought were starting to get mouldy. We put summer sausage, cheese, and mustard on these wraps and dusted off what we could of the mould.

On route to Big Bob Lake, tackling portage number 16 on the day

We were both tired and we had a lot left to accomplish this day. My legs were really starting to chafe and I hiked up my bathing suit to try to make my legs rub a little less. You can find this ridiculous look of mine in the video. By the time we made it to Big Bob Lake we had completed 17 portages totaling 9.1km in portage distance. We had one final portage from Big Bob Lake before we would find out what our fate was on the Nipissing River, another big variable at this time of year.

The start of the Nipissing River. Where is the water at?

Arriving at the put-in of the Nipissing River, it was not looking promising. Water levels were low as anticipated and it wasn’t clear how we were getting out of the immediate area were were in. Sure enough the river wound around the corner and while it was shallow, there was enough clearance to float our boat and make progress with our paddles.

The alders had closed in and after a few km’s of pushing through them, we began to wonder if we were in the right place

Eventually the river got wider and we had a really nice paddle down what seemed to be a very remote section of the park. We finished another 5 portages and then started to hit the beaver dams. At this point the river was starting to narrow and the alder bushes that lined the shores were closing in. Eventually the alders were so thick we didn’t have a path to paddle through. We were forcing our way under them and very slowly moving the canoe forwards. At one point we stopped to look at the GPS and it was very difficult to figure out if we were even in the right place. We weren’t sure if in the midst of all of these alders, maybe there was a chance we missed a fork in the river and maybe we were lost. The shore was so covered in alders we couldn’t even get out of the canoe or stand high enough to see anything. It was a very claustrophobic feeling.

We were soaked from the alders, the temp had dropped, there was no more daylight, and we had no idea where we were. Forced to camp on a grass patch along the river.

Seeing as we did not have any other option we pushed onwards. It was getting late and the temperature was dropping. We had gotten completely soaked by going through the thick of the alders and we were getting cold. There was not much daylight left and we were searching for the campsite near the 165m portage before Grass Lake. I was looking at the GPS and thought that we were closer than we really were. I made the decision that we should continue pushing to find this site as the alternatives did not look great.

Eventually we got to a point where we had to call it. We pulled to the side of the river and hoped out onto the grassy marsh that lies on along most of the Nipissing River. Noah used the bear barrel to roll us a place to pitch our tent. We changed into some dry clothes and made dinner. The warm food helped to pick up our low spirits and cold bodies. This was definitely the most rugged we had felt on the trip thus far.

Tuesday August 7, 2018 - Nipissing River to Nipissing River

Distance: 48km | Portages: 14 | Portage Distance: 7.3km

Another view of our sketchy camp setup for night one along the Nipissing River.

We were up at 6am and on the water before 7am. No breakfast for us this morning as we opted to wait until we got to a bit of a nicer spot. Our tent was completely soaked when we packed it up from the grass we had set up on.

The combination of wading up the Big East with the high number of portages meant that we both had a healthy bunch of blisters on our feet. I would cover mine up with band aids in the morning and put socks over to hold them in place. Then I would slide my foot into my soaking wet keen sandals. A great way to start the day.

We set off continuing our paddle down river. After the 365m portage we opted to make breakfast and get some coffee into us. The sun was starting to come out and it allowed us to to dry some clothes on top of the canoe. A few massive trees had fallen into the river requiring us to lift over.

Highview Ranger Cabin along the Nipissing River in Algonquin Park. Wish we could have stayed here…

As we made our way along the 875m portage after Dogay’s Dam, we came across the Highview Ranger Cabin. This cabin used to be utilized by park rangers but was now open for rent through the Ontario Parks website. It was a really cool spot with bunk beds and a wood stove. If the timing worked out better we would have loved to stay here for a night. A good thing to note for others passing this area.

Inside the Highview Ranger Cabin in Algonquin Park

We continued along the Nipissing River trying to cover as much distance as possible. We stopped for lunch along a portage and were disappointed to find out that our mouldy bread had gotten worse. It was getting harder and harder to piece together that million dollar piece of bread. We did do some casts along this stretch of the river and hooked into a few Fall fish which were fun to catch.

It was getting late and we were going to want to start searching for a place to sleep for the night. We pushed through the 1300m portage that has a beautiful lookout over High Falls. We decided we wanted to try to make it to the end of the 850m portage to camp there because we didn’t want to have to do that portage right after breakfast the next morning.

We finished the 850m portage in the dark. We set up the tent and it was absolutely soaked. The fly that was over the tent had a steady drip down onto the floor of the tent. I got my towel out and started to wipe the tent hoping that we could dry it enough that it wasn’t going to cause us any trouble. After completely soaking my towel, I took Noah’s towel and finished the job with his. We let it sit a little longer, had some dinner and then crashed hard for the night.

Last campsite on the Nipissing River. Trying to dry our soaked tent after packing up in the rain on the grass patch from the night before.

Wednesday August 8, 2018 - Nipissing River to Radiant Lake

Distance: 54km | Portages: 8 | Portage Distance: 4.4km

Our first of 5 moose sightings along the Nipissing River. Noah mentioned “There is a real moosy vibe this morning”

We started our paddle down the very calm waters on the Nipissing River. It couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes and we came paddling around a corner only to see a moose standing at the side of the river. Luckily we didn’t spook it right away and were were able to get a little closer to take a photo. Shortly after the moose took off and we continued down the river. After only a couple other bends in the river, we came across yet another moose.

Beautiful morning paddle along the Nipissing River

At this point we decided that we would leave the camera outside of the pelican case since there was a rather “moosy” vibe to the river that morning. As we continued our paddle I took the camera out to get a shot of just the river, while I was looking into the screen on the camera, I could see two objects moving. I look up only to see a cow and calf moose standing at the side of the river together. It didn’t take long for the two of them to run off into the grass. We ended up seeing a total of 5 moose (or meece as we liked to call them) all within an hours time paddling along this beautiful river.

Another moose, or meece as we like to call them

Finally after a few hours of paddling the Nip, we arrived at the 945m portage that goes from the river into Cedar Lake (or the river leading into Cedar Lake). This was the first time in a few days that we had seen a portage sign that said something other than Nipissing River to Nipissing River which meant we were officially moving on to new territories. This was good news for making time but this portion of the trip held a lot of beautiful areas we will have to plan to revisit one day.

Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store - The most northern part of our trip.

We got into Cedar Lake and started heading towards the Algonquin Outfitters Brent Store. We had a few items that we were hoping to buy while here. I obviously did not have my credit card on me but we were hoping we could give them the number. This store itself is really cool and holds a true northern feeling to it. Many antiques line the walls as decoration, signature boards hang from the ceiling showing other paddlers that had paid a visit. Gord Baker had arranged for us to receive ice cream cone upon our arrival which was a welcome treat from Jake at the store. We grabbed our chocolate bars, batteries for the GPS, and band-aids that would hopefully get us through the balance of the trip.

Old train bridge along the Petawawa River

Catfish at the end of the 860m portage going into Radiant Lake

We made our way down Cedar Lake making our way towards the Petawawa River. We were tired from the long day we had already endured but overall our spirits were high. This stretch of the Petawawa was absolutely stunning. Completely calm water with very rocky shores. Once we completed the 860m portage over the old CNR track, Noah did a few casts and managed to catch a decent size catfish. The final stretch of river that follows the 860m portage into Radiant Lake is beautiful and we had an amazing sunset to go with it. We slowly made our way into Radiant, paddling into the dark.

Once we were on the lake we paddled along the left shore looking for an open site. Many of them were taken. Since it was completely dark out we actually had someone yell at us to see if we were alright. I guess they don’t usually get to camp that late. The depths in this lake were interesting and despite being far away from shore, we actually hit ground at one point completely unexpectedly.

Finally we came across a rocky beach that we were able to pull up on, that had a nice open campsite. We made some dinner, set up camp and went to bed for around 11pm.

Thursday August 9, 2018 - Radiant Lake to Bonfield Lake

Distance: 49km | Portages: 21 | Portage Distance: 13.3km

We were up at our usual time but something felt different. I had fallen asleep with my contacts in and it appeared one of my eyes was infected. I could barely open it and the brightness of the sun made it challenging for me to keep my eye open. I had removed my contacts already and was preparing to spend the day wearing my glasses.

Kildeer Lake to Petawawa River. One of many portages, a short one at least!

We set off on Radiant Lake and we knew today was going to be a long one. Lots of distance to cover and definitely over 20 portages. Looking at the map with all the red lines between Radiant and Lake Lavieille, we couldn’t help but laugh.

We made our way down the Petawawa River one portage at a time. There were a lot of floating logs showing obvious signs of the old logging route that went through this area. We happened to run into another group of kids who were all doing a trip down the Petawawa and we paddled alongside until branching off to the Crow River. This section of the river we were back to paddling against the current. We arrived at the 2.4km portage and didn’t waste any time to start making distance. When we arrived at the end of the portage, it wasn’t the greatest feeling seeing the start of the next portage only a few feet away. We crossed the river that was no more than two canoe lengths wide, had a couple beef jerky strips to fuel up, and we were onto the next one. This portage was a straight hike uphill. A tough portage but we were determined because it was the longest portage we were going to have to do for a while.

After a short paddle down Lavaque Lake, it was time to put our heads down. The next section had 8 portages but the largest of them was 610m. When we arrived at the final portage going into Lake Lavieille, there was a sign posted that said Hardy Bay and Dickson Lake had recently been found to have Blue-Green Algae, and that we should not be using this as a source for water. This was going to be a slight problem seeing as neither of us had more than 1 Nalgene of water to last us the next 15 or so kilometers to the bottom of Dickson Lake. Not to mention the 5.5km portage that was going to come after that.

We paddled north on Lake Lavieille to make a visit at the Mean Dude’s favourite campsite. It is the single campsite on a lone island in the north end of the lake. This was a few kilometers out of our way but is a staple for completing the Meanest Link route. The idea is to go here and drink his favourite beer which was a brand known as Genesee. As we were unable to find this beer we went with a Muskoka Cream Ale that was luke warm after travelling in our bear barrel since the Rain Lake food drop.

We drank our beers and shared some pasta that was left over from dinner the night before. We had actually carried this cold pasta in a ziplock bag all day and were snacking on it periodically between portages. This carb-combo we had just indulged in had us feeling lethargic and absolutely not ready to tackle the long distance we still had left. One stroke at a time we made our way down Lake Lavieille and into Hardy Bay, then into Dickson Lake. When we arrived at the 90m portage into Dickson we enjoyed a wonderbar that was specifically planned to be eaten at this spot to give us the boost we needed for the big portage ahead.

Trying to look happy about starting a 5km portage after doing 44km in total distance and already having done 20 other portages…You can also tell something is going on with my right eye (on the left).

We arrived at the start of Algonquin Park’s longest portage at 7:40pm. We had already travelled 44km that day and our portage count was at 20. Nothing like pinching off another 5.5km of portage after a very long day. We tried not to waste any time thinking about it and picked up our packs and started the hike. We took many breaks along the way and the forest was getting darker each break we took. We finished the second half of this portage in complete darkness and arrived at Bonfield Lake at 9:40, exactly two hours to complete this beast.

The stars were shining bright that night and there was a nice fog blanketing the lake. We made some dinner, set up our tent and passed the hell out.

Friday August 10, 2018 - Bonfield Lake to Madawaska River

Distance: 43km | Portages: 11 | Portage Distance: 8km

Camping at the end of the 5km portage going into Bonfield Lake

When we got up Friday morning, the lake was entirely covered in a fog. We could barely see more than 200m in front of us. The sun was shining bright and made for a beautiful morning.

On the water by 7am we started our journey towards the Opeongo Algonquin Outfitters. The short 285m portage going into Lake Opeongo had a really cool open forest leading into the beach along the shores of Opeongo.

Arriving at the north end of Lake Opeongo

Lake Opeongo is Algonquin Park’s largest lake and we knew we had a lot of paddling ahead of us. We had our thermoses of coffee ready to go and the lake was like glass. We made our way out of the East Arm and down into the South Arm. We had been passed by a number of water taxis that were shuttling people from Algonquin Outfitters to the northern parts of the lake we had just come from. It looked like a much easier method of travel across this lake but we were enjoying our paddle, luckily with no headwinds to battle.

After a while the portages will start to get to you.

We arrived at Algonquin Outfitters sometime around lunch and we went inside to grab our second and final food drop and also grab some ice cream. The ice cream snack ended up becoming a real commitment with the large cups they provided it in. It had both Noah and I not feeling great before the upcoming 3km portage we had ahead of us. Still worth it.

The 3km portage going from Opeongo Lake into Sproule Lake was over before we knew it and there were only 5 more between us and Whitefish Lake. There are some beautiful lakes along this stretch and we enjoyed passing through. It had been a long day so far and energy was dwindling. We arrived at the Pond to Kearney Lake portage and expected the usual Algonquin style portage however, we hit a very boggy section that completely divided the portage by what seemed like a micro lake. Using random stumps and rocks that stuck out of the water we managed to navigate our way across without getting soaked in the mud. The end of this portage had also been heavily grown over and became a bit more tricky to get the 18-foot canoe through.

We arrived at the beach on Kearney Lake that would take us across Highway 60 and down into Whitefish Lake. It was funny once again to look at all the people who had driven to this beach all splashing around and relaxing while we were on a whole other mission.

Crossing Highway 60 on a portage is something I have always wanted to do. I grew up car camping in Algonquin Park and always thought it would be fun to portage a canoe across this highway. Really not sure exactly why. Dodging the oncoming traffic we made it across and into Whitefish Lake.

The start of the Madawaska River portion of our trip

It was getting later in the afternoon and we still had a lot of distance to cover. The typical story on this trip. We had some lunch and set off on Whitefish. By the time we hit Lake of Two Rivers my back was killing me and it was getting difficult to push on. At the other end of Lake of Two Rivers we struggled to find the opening to the river system. Once we figured it out we started paddling down the river and found a campsite on the far side of the 195m portage. We opted to get to bed a little earlier in order to wake up a little earlier the next morning.

Saturday August 11, 2018 - Madawaska River To Oxtongue River Provincial Park

Distance: 58km | Portages: 17 | Portage Distance: 6.1km

Early morning paddle on the Madawaska River

We woke up at 4:30am and we were on the water by 5:30am. We knew we had a long day ahead of us. We had a perfect morning to paddle with calm water covered in fog. Once again feeling very “moosy” so we paddled quietly in hopes of seeing more wildlife. We pushed along the winding river making our way towards Cache Lake.

Bridge along the Madawaska River

At one point along this river Noah stopped paddling just as he noticed a beaver was swimming directly in front of the canoe in the same direction as us. Before he had time to say anything our canoe had caught up and hit the back of the beaver which sent him on a scurry to get away. His tale smacked the bottom of our boat as he took off in the other direction. Pretty certain this could only happen once in a lifetime.

We arrived at Cache Lake and only had a short paddle to get to Tanamakoon Lake. From here we crossed over Highway 60 and into Source Lake where we planned to visit Camp Pathfinder. This camp has groups of young teens doing some intense tripping over the summer. The Meanest Link is one of these trips along with many others including destinations in the Hudson Bay region.

Portage coming out of Source Lake

When we pulled up to Pathfinder Island all the kids were out cleaning canoes and tents on the docks and packing up after getting back from a recent excursion. We met Jack, the owners son who is one of the staff members at this camp. He gave us the full tour showing us where trips were planned, where all the meals were made and also where they build and repair their canoes. Noah and I wished we had gone to this camp when we were kids. Jack offered us a place to stay on the Island and welcomed us to stay for dinner but we had to take off to cover some more distance.

Arriving at the Oxtongue River just after the Tea Lake Dam portage

Leaving Source Lake we crossed Highway 60 once again and went down into Smoke Lake. We were getting tired as it had already been quite a long day. We paddled through Smoke Creek and into Tea Lake where we portaged around the dam that would connect us to the Oxtongue River. The river had a decent current in certain sections and provided some swifts to help us pick up some speed and cover more distance. It was very cool paddling through sections like the Whisky Rapids and Western Uploads trail as these were places I had previously been to hike. Never thought I would ever be paddling the river that goes through them.

One of the reasons we opted to camp an extra night rather than push to the finish in the dark

The Oxtongue River is very windy in this section and was even worse after we passed upper and lower twin falls. We continued pushing along to make as much distance as possible. Darkness was approaching and we had hit a few sets of small rapids. We were getting concerned that if we pushed much further we would risk hitting rapids in the dark. There was a campsite part way along the 955m portage and we opted to stay here for the night.

Noah had turned on his phone to get a photo and happened to notice that there was actually cell signal here. At this point he had a text from his mom informing that the fire ban in Algonquin had been lifted and we were good to have a fire. So on our last night of this very difficult trip, we got to enjoy a nice campfire before hitting the sack. We knew were were very close to the end.

Sunday August 12, 2018 - Oxtongue River Provincial Park To Oxtongue Lake Algonquin Outfitters

Distance: 6.5km | Portages: 1 | Portage Distance: 450

Ragged Falls, Algonquin Park

We were up at 5:00am and on the water by 6. We had a few small sets of rapids to do right off the bat which led to Ragged Falls where there was a beautiful waterfall to portage around. We continued down the river and before long we were paddling under Highway 60 for the final time, and paddling into the docks at Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake. 7:40am was our arrival time meaning that we managed to complete the entire Meanest Link route in 216 hours. It was a very rewarding feeling taking a photo on the dock to celebrate the trips completion, and looking at the plaque in the rentals section of the store that holds the names of previous linkers.

Beautiful sunrise as we complete the final stretch of the Meanest Link

We look forward to our names being added alongside the other linkers who have completed the route in the past. The best feeling however was knowing that we had pushed our personal limits to a whole new level and that because of this, we were also going to be able to donate $3,250 to Project Canoe to hopefully inspire some other kids to do something similar one day.

Trip Complete, The Meanest Link - Algonquin Park

Notes For Future Linkers

  • Big East had enough water for our boat to float through most sections, but the strong current made travel upstream very slow. We would walk up rapid sections with one person wading and using the front of the canoe as support, the other person would get a break and walk along the edge of shore.

  • There is a solid 10km on the Nipissing River with thick Alder Bushes

  • The west side of Algonquin heading north, and from Radient Lake south to Opeongo Lake have a crazy number of portages. Would be ideal if you didn’t have to do them all in one day.

  • If you are using Jeff’s maps, make sure to download the “Wall Map” version to have the information you need outside of Algonquin Park (Oxtongue River and The Big East River).

Funny Trip Comments

  • “Hey man you want to have a couple calorie parcels?” - Noah in reference to snacking on a couple of mini bounty bars

  • “I’m just out here sacrificing my body to the elements” - Alex in reference to how sore and uncomfortable he was feeling

  • “When we start to feel rugged we can have a smoke” - Noah and Alex talking about not being that into cigars until you are feeling rugged. This eventually turned into, “Hey kid, you feeling rugged” when asking if the other wanted to share a cigar.