The Portage from Hell!

Long runs, short runs, tempo runs, interval training. Bah! These have nothing on portaging! Recently on my most recent trip into the interior of Algonquin provincial park a long 3km portage became ~21km of being lost, back tracking twice, and rolling hills, all being done carrying either an 80L or 200L pack or a canoe. If you want to talk a sheer test of endurance and maybe in this case a little bit of plain old survival instinct (we had to find a site, ideally ours, but towards the end any would do).

The day started of super relaxed, we woke up at our site that we had arrived at the day before. We planned our route for the day, a big deviation from our original plan, trying to avoid 2 big 2.5km portages, by breaking them up into many small ones totaling less, but more paddling. We pack our gear, put it all into the canoe and paddle out to our portage point. 675m, is this it? Yep, but we’re not taking the 675, we’re going to follow the pseudo marked trail that follows a planned railway track that’s nice and flat for about 3km, ok that’s not bad. We get all our gear on and head on our way.

“How much do you think one of our steps covers?” Asks one of my fellow campers, well about a half meter? So we set out on our way, the other two decide that they’re going to switch on the canoe about every 600m or 1200 steps, if all works out accordingly we should arrive at our destination after switching 5 times. I go with the 200L pack so that the other two can switch back and forth easier, and into a “break” (the 80L was lighter, as easier to carry than the 200L), also I was weary of carrying the canoe as the yoke digs into your shoulders and I had a pre-existing shoulder injury.

After about the 3rd switch we figure that we’re about halfway, so we take a break and have our lunch. After that its right back to work, I strap myself back into the 200L and we’re on our way. Right off the bat there’s an uphill and the wear from the trek before has become very obvious now as each step is starting to hurt to take and I find myself out of breath as I trek up the hill. As it crests I can’t take it anymore, I lean on the paddle I’m carrying and stop to catch my breath.

We continue on our way, at one point we reach a fork in the road… Which way do we go? Right? Ok! We continue. A few switches of the canoe later, my steps really start becoming labored, have I finally hit the wall? I tell myself, “come on! Push though! You can do this! You can run a marathon! You want to qualify for Boston and you’re going to let this short, untimed portage, with many breaks in between beat you? No way!” It feels like we’re going in circles at this point, way longer than 3km and it feels like its uphill the whole way. Did we take the wrong path? Another fork!? This decision is a little easier as one path is obviously less used. We keep trekking, then we see an opening. Could it be? Are we there? Nope! The path opens up into a deserted quarry, there’s an opening but it doesn’t look like it been used. Guess we should of taken the other path back there. Here I hit my lowest point. At this point we’re starting to run low on water, and we don’t know where we are, we have no choice but to start to head back.

As we continue on our way back, finally I can’t take it anymore. The lack of water and the defeat of the deadend have really gotten to me and I swear it feels like we’re mostly going uphill AGAIN! “Can someone switch up with me?” I ask. Luckily the other two still have fresh legs from carrying the canoe and 80L bag, both which are significantly lighter than the 200L that I had been carrying all this time. I slip off the 200L. I’m free! It feels like I’m flying! Almost as if I’m being pushed forwards. Weighted training to the max! I put on the 80L bag and we’re on our way. Wow! I exclaim, “This bag is sooo much lighter! No wonder you guys were walking like it was no problem”.

We continue like this for a while longer and get back to the second fork. One buddy suggests that we wait here as he goes off the see where this path leads. We agree. At first I sit with a place to rest the bag, but as he takes longer and longer to come back, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to sit and wear the bag, so we both take ours off and collapse onto the ground. My friend comes back from exploring with bad news. Its not the right direction, we have to go back to the first fork 😦

We head back to the fork, now resting everytime we switch the canoe. Head down the other path, and come across some fallen trees along the path, nooo… It can’t be! Are both ways wrong? At this point we are extremely low on water (a gulp or so each) so we decide that 2 of us will run ahead to check whether the path goes to where we want, and one will stick around to pump (filter) water from a babbling brook we passed not too far back, its not ideal, but at least its running water and we desperately need the water at this point. I’m one of the 2 to check the path. We set out at a brisk walk, more fallen trees, and the path is starting to look less and less maintained, this is not looking good. Finally we get to a point where there’s a large pile of dirt and a river, not good. My friend wants to continue trekking, but I think its over and we have to head back. We decide that I’ll go back, while he continues to trek. A few seconds later he calls my name. Apparently the river runs through the path, as opposed to the path running over the river, its over 😦 we head back and report the news. Our friend has filled up 2 bottles, we drink them thirstily, it tastes murky, but hey at this point whatever water works.

After filling up the bottles again, we decide that its now too late to head to the site we had originally, and pick another site (potentially dangerous, since we didn’t book it).  At this point even the 80L bag is getting heavy, and the other two can’t switch from the canoe to the 200L pack, so I decide that I’ll brave the shoulder and try and carry the canoe, any little bit helps, says one of my friends. We start heading back to where we originally started this portage, I’m only able to help carry the canoe 800 steps at a time, but whatever I can do at this point… We get back to where we had lunch, we’re getting close!

After a bit more work, finally water and the canoe point. We load our stuff up and get back in the canoe. Yes, some sort of rest. 2 short portages, and a long canoe later we arrive at our site. But no rest for the wicked, we still have to set up camp, get a fire going, cook dinner, and put up the bear bag. After everything is done we collapse in our tent. That night as I try and get out of the way of a friend my leg cramps hard, the result of the crazy portaging that day, I can’t even bend my leg a little bit or it’ll cramp again, so I lay there with my leg fully extended, luckily I was completely exhausted from the day and passed out pretty quickly.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by flimbs on July 13, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Good stuff man. It sounded like a great addition to the training.

    Reply

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