Trying to beat the weather
I woke up at 5:20am and within minutes was fully awake, already packing my sleeping bag. Joan was also awake and active too. We both knew… Fear drove us to get up early - It was going to be a really bad day for bugs. The earlier we got up and left, the less exposure we would have to the evil little bastards, at least that was the theory anyway.
Looking at the screen door on my side of the tent, I could see dozens of mosquitos laying in wait there, the same went for Joan's screen door as well. The other reason for our eager departure was the forecast, (Before we had left for Algonquin Park) it was for thunderstorms. The weather office had a habit of correctly predicting bad weather, so we knew we better get going early.
Well, guess what? I was up and out of the tent by 5:45am and I was instantly covered with black flies. It was almost like they had planned a big party in our honour. Joan & I, working together collapsed the tent and I began packing the canoe pack with our gear. Clouds of black flies and mosquitos attacked us, it was really becoming intolerable, so I put my hated bug jacket on…relief was instantaneous but I began to sweat just as quickly. It was humid, a sticky feeling and the air hung heavy. It certainly felt like it was going to thunder.
Breakfast consisted of some trail-mix bars: The intensity of the black flies and their biting made the decision for us, no coffee - just eat the bars and go. 7:02am and there was the crack of thunder nearby, 7:03am we were on the water, paddling our way towards the portage amid rising winds.
By 7:25am We were on the portage, single-carrying - no messing around today, we just wanted to get the hell out of there. By 8:15am we had just passed the North shore campsite on Little Cauchon Lake and it was occupied by two guys with mountain bikes. They had cycled in along the rail-bed and camped at the canoe camping site. We paddled onwards, the sun occasionally breaking through the clouds.
By 9am we arrived at and doubled the 130m portage into Laurel Lake with Black flies galore. We paddled across Laurel Lake amid calm waters, the black flies were becoming relentless. We passed the island site which was occupied (We figured it would be on our way out) and the two brave souls there were in full bug jacket garb.
Crossing the portage into Aura Lee Lake I got eaten alive, I refused to wear my bug jacket and sprayed myself silly with some Deep Woods Off. It kept most of the mosquitos at bay, but the black flies just laugh at that stuff, happily becoming entangled in the hairs of my bare arms and subsequently gouging away into my flesh. Joan said she had no problem at all on the trail, I had happily cleared it of bugs for her. Smart girl.
As we paddled Aura Lee Lake towards the rail bed underpass more thunder could be heard behind us. The rain had held off so far and I wondered just how much our luck would hold out. Then of course there was Cedar Lake, what would the lake be like?
Paddling Little Cedar was a breeze, the winds had picked up somewhat and the bugs disappeared, the darkening sky didn't give us hope, but we didn't care, the bugs were gone!
As we entered Cedar Lake at 10:35am a motorboat pulled right in front of the mouth and began fishing there, we went around the fishing boat and emerged onto the expanse of Cedar Lake. We were in luck, the waters were fairly calm. If we kept the pace going, we could chop almost an hour off of our initial travel time of five days earlier.
Twenty minutes later we passed the North shore of Gilmour Island and beyond our luck was running out. The wind and waves had picked up, the waters becoming very turbulent from many different directions. It figures, just about every time I've been on Cedar Lake, the wind comes howling down it, this time it was coming from the South, against us.
A few more strokes past the island and I turned the canoe and made for the mainland shore. Thunder could be heard behind us as dark skies approached from the opposite shoreline. By 11:05am we had beached our canoe on some rocks and took shelter under a small grove of cedar trees next to the shoreline. I covered ourselves with a tarp as rain made its way across the crazy looking lake. We had landed just in time.
For the next forty-five minutes we endured heavy torrential downpours, thunder & lightning, with two lightning strikes somewhat close to us. There was a rather large white pine approximately 20 meters down the shoreline and I kept thinking that tree would be our doom. As it was, nothing came of my fear and twice the rain stopped before we finally continued on our way. Twice Joan & I bailed our canoe of water, as there was quite the amount inside the canoe from the downpours. Of course as soon as we finally got back into the canoe and started paddling, the skies opened up upon us again.
Joan was wet and fed-up, her back was killing her, having pulled it on the Gouinlock portage. I was soaked through too, but resigned; I just couldn't get any wetter and once we landed at the take-out I'm sure it would be another 45 minutes or so till I was in dry cloths, we paddled on. More thunder and more lightning far above us and I paddled us to within mere meters of the shoreline. I do not like being on the water when there is lightning about, Joan just wanted to keep going. After ten more minutes the storm passed with the rainfall lessening in intensity.
Finally, when we came close to the take-out it stopped raining for a time. The brief reprieve was short-lived though for as soon as we landed, the skies opened up again with a non-stop heavy rain for well over 30 minutes. Another group was there preparing to depart, they looked all soaked to their boots as well.
I think this is one of the worst trips I've ever experienced in Algonquin Park. From having to deal with the Ontario Parks call centre's problems in trying to reserve Gouinlock Lake (They had never heard of it, "Are you sure there are campsites there? Have you camped in the interior before?") - To unexpected motorboat noise and then there is of course the generator noise for two nights straight, that was the last straw.
The bugs might have been bad at times and the weather unpredictable (Part of being outdoors), but the man-made noise is what made the weekend a write-off in my book. That is what drove me to contact Algonquin Park officials with my complaint. Only once before have I filed a complaint via the comment field on the back of the permit and nothing ever came of it. This time though I filled out the form at the access office and then emailed The Park directly. So far I've had two replies via email that an investigation is under way.
Gouinlock is a nice small lonely lake. I must warn you though, noise associated with cottagers and their motorboats (From nearby Little Cauchon Lake) can be heard on Gouinlock Lake. Gouinlock Lake is nice enough to visit I think for a day-trip, the fishing is good and the campsite we stayed on was very nice. If noise is not a problem for you, then I think you'll enjoy Gouinlock Lake else it could be an unhappy visit for a prolonged stay.