Cycle-Backpacking: A Solo Adventure to Wolf Island
It's hard to believe that after 21 years of adventure, this would be my first solo overnight trip. I had always believed that it would be a canoe trip, after all, my preferred and most experienced method of backcountry travel is by canoe. Yet when a free weekend appeared on my calendar that unfortunately didn't include access to a vehicle, or others with time off who did, I scrambled to think of an alternative to still ensure a backcountry getaway. After a few seconds of thinking I realized I had a vehicle capable of traveling 30-35km/h with a loaded backpacking pack. My bike.
And what a vehicle!
In the past I had always toyed with the idea of using my bike to gain access to a backcountry destination but the opportunity never materialized. This weekend seemed perfect and so I started pouring over the topos and Google Earth before I settled on Wolf Island Provincial Park. A tiny 222ha natural environment class park, straddling the southern edge of the Canadian shield in the heart of the Kawartha's. Bordered by Buckhorn Lake and the Trent Severn Waterway, this was not a wilderness destination, but it was close enough to make for an enjoyable weekend backcountry escape.
Friday after work I headed off on my 35km ride under blue skies and a sweltering July heat wave with the humidex creeping towards 40C. The heat was taking its toll on me and I made the decision to stop in Lakefield to refill on some much needed water and top up my tires with some air. It was here that I decided to prolong my ride by taking country roads but avoid an 8km stretch of highway 28, which was full of cars all heading up to enjoy a weekend in cottage country. This proved to be a great decision as the 1km stretch of highway 28 I had to ride was choke full of crazy cottage traffic. After some more country traveling, I had arrived at my chosen spot to leave the bike and set out on foot. I stashed the bike a few meters back in the woods and locked it to a small cedar. From here I followed dirt roads and small trails to a series of dams that separated Buckhorn and Lovesick Lakes. An easy crossing over the dams brought me to a utility line which I followed to the "boat access only" Lovesick Lock where I received a few raised eyebrows from the Parks Canada staff on duty. After crossing the locks and two more dams I had arrived on Wolf Island!
Lovesick Lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway The trail I had been following quickly disappeared into the bush and I resorted to bushwhacking and route finding via my topo maps and GPS. Unfortunately this proved to be a slow grind as I found myself skirting numerous wetlands and beaver ponds without finding a suitable place to camp. By now the combination of sun, heat and the weight of my pack were wearing me down, I had finished the last of my water and there was no fresh source to purify nearby. I was in desperate need of a good swim and refill of water to cool me down. After another half hour of slogging I arrived at a campsite I had marked on my map (Sourced from Kevin Callans book: A Paddler's Guide To Weekend Wilderness Adventures in Southern Ontario). Relived that I had found a spot, I wasted no time in trying too cool off, but was extremely disappointed with the massive weedbed just meters away from my site. I simply flopped into the non-weedy area and floated in a foot of water until I gained some relief from the stifling heat. As it was getting late I quickly grilled up a steak and prepared some roasted garlic mashed potatoes just as the sunlight began to fade.
Yep, the trails just don't exist out here, bushwhacking is more anyways! Right?
I've heard stories of how your first night on a solo trip can be unnerving, even to veteran trippers. There's just something different about only having a thin tent wall between you and the night critters with no human backup. Too exhausted to worry about such night critters, I slowly drifted off to sleep with a warm summer breeze gently flowing through the open mesh of the tent.
Enjoying the fire as twilight set in
Later In the night I was awoken to the sounds of a raccoon snuffling around just outside my tent. I had strung my pack in the tree before retiring to the tent, but I wondered what tasty aromas it still gave off. As I was backpacking, I didn't have the air tight food barrel to keep food extra secure like on a canoe trip. In a half awaken slumber I mumbled many incoherent grumbles until I found my vocal cords and finally scared off the striped devil. I fell back into a deep sleep, no doubt dreaming about cashing off raccoons, until I felt a tiny droplet of water hit me straight in the face. It was as if someone had turned on a switch, before I even realized what I was doing, I was outside, fly in hand and scrambling to cover the exposed tent mesh. I somehow succeeded in a blistering few seconds and dashed back into the tent before the impeding deluge could soak me to the bone. Only it didn't come, a few droplets later and the familiar pitter-patter of rain on the fly ceased. Peeved that I had only woken up to provide a quick midnight snack to hordes of hungry mosquitoes, I rolled over and decided just to forget about it.
Fly off is a much better way to enjoy the stars and a warm summers night breeze, unless of course it rains!
It turns out setting up the fly proved useful after all, as storms rolled in a few hours later and kept me inside the tent to just before noon. I figured this was a good time to catch up on some much needed sleep and didn't feel like subjecting myself to the rain for a cup of camping coffee and toast. When the skies finally parted I fixed up a quick lunch and began to tear down camp in hopes of finding a better site for swimming as the storms did nothing to break the intense July heat.
As I started repacking my bag for the days hike, I noticed I couldn't find my bike lock keys. So I began to search, and search, and search some more. A half hour later and I still could not locate those keys. These keys were essentially my car keys, without them I was sure I couldn't get back. Now, picture yourself, in the woods with no keys to unlock your vehicle upon your return. What would you do? Certainly not panic as this succeeds in solving nothing. Thankfully I was in the Kawartha's, prime cottage country with ample cell coverage. I quickly dialled some relatives who only lived 30 minutes away, explained my situation and tasked them with finding a device to break through my lock. We agreed upon a time to meet the next day and I could continue to enjoy my trip without having to worry about a ride out.
The rest of the day unfolded perfectly. I found a gorgeous spot on a point with deep water for swimming and a flat tent spot under towering pines and stately oak trees. I even had excellent luck at fishing from the shore and as a result dinner consisted of Sunfish Pad Thai. In my opinion sunfish, bluegill and pumpkinseed are some of the most tasty fish you can catch, just be sure to keep the larger fish or you will have more bones than meat to contend with.
A stringer of sunfish for my Pad Thai
The following day I packed up and headed out. I stopped at the Lovesick Lock to fill up my water bottles with some cold some tap water and ate lunch as boats passed in and out of the locks. I returned to my bike and awaited my relatives who brought a pair of wire cutters which quickly did the trick. Two snips and a few seconds later my ride was free! Disaster averted! I saddled up and headed back home, enjoying the country air and changing scenery as I reflected upon a highly successful first solo trip. I now plan to store my lock keys in someplace of great importance like my map bag or inside my wallet and have a backup stored in another location... just in case my next cycle-backpacking trip takes me further afield, which it undoubtedly will.
Scenic view from a perfect campsite on Wolf Island Provincial Park
And be sure to check out my Youtube video of the trip!