Algonquin in Winter

This past long weekend, I finally made it out skiing.  Not just any old skiing, but a trip to Algonquin.  I love Algonquin – not even just the park… the whole area.  Anywhere from Algonquin to Northern Ontario (anyone who’s been to Sioux Lookout knows Algonquin Park isn’t in ‘Northern Ontario’… not really), give me wilderness.  The woods, the trails, the lakes the rivers, the rustling of the leaves.  If I could live in the woods and commute a reasonable distance to my work (or just not work at all), I wouldn’t even hesitate.  If I could live up there, but couldn’t take technology with me, you all might just be lucky enough to get a brief final note from me.  “Gone forever to woods, bye”, maybe.  

My hermit-type habits are a discussion for another day, though, because I wasn’t solo on this trip.  I didn’t even sleep in a tent!

My friend S (my friend who does cross-country skiing too), Gwynn, and I stayed at the Motel 6 in Huntsville.  If you’re looking for a dog-friendly place to stay in that area, I cannot recommend them enough.  They don’t charge extra for (or make a fuss about) dogs, they actually welcome them!  They might have really weird motel-6 sheets, but just look at what they gave Gwynn when we got there!

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poop bags (gentle reminder, I’ll take it), a ball, and an assortment of cookies. The last place I’d stayed at with Gwynn before this tried to claim that they had no ‘pet friendly’ rooms available, and that their records didn’t show that we’d called and booked and said we were bringing the dog. it’s a nice change

We drove up Saturday morning at some unholy hour, stopping on our way up at Henrietta’s – this amazing bakery between Huntsville and Algonquin.  Try their Muskoka Clouds, or their bread… or anything, really.

We spent our morning attempting to ski one of the ungroomed trails.  It was a learning experience, and what I learned was simple:  A trail I remember as being flat-ish in summer is not necessarily a good trail for skiing!  It was lovely, though.

When we stopped by the front gate to get a day-permit to the park, we were told of three spots where the trails were groomed.  And no-dogs-allowed.  Well that’s just no fun, though I could understand it.  It put a bit of a cramp in our plan until I remembered the Rail Trail.  For those of you not often in Algonquin, it’s a bicycle trail (in summer) that runs along where there used to be a lumber train through the park.  Even ungroomed, that trail would be guaranteed to be flat!

My suspicion about why this trail isn’t advertised as groomed is that, having an access right in Mew Lake Campground (one of the few that remains open in the winter), they expected the trail to get at least partly ruined by all the people walking on it.  I feel no guilt about bringing the dog out on that trail, especially not after witnessing the number of walking groups that came out and almost on purpose walked directly on the ski lines.  For those of you who don’t cross-country ski – if you see those perfectly spaced ski-trail lines?  Don’t walk on them!

I also had a chance to take out a coworker’s snowshoes.  Gwynn was unimpressed at my ability to completely block the trail when he was trying to get through, but I definitely appreciated them on the steep parts of the trail – they had a lot more grip than my boots would have, and I didn’t need to slide down on my bum or clamber up hoisting myself from tree to tree.

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We also had pie and deep fried foods and were asleep before 10pm, so you just know it was a good time.

A Trip through my own (Enormous) Backyard

I live in Canada, and have for most of my life.  I couldn’t possibly write all there is to write about its diversity – in people, culture, geography and weather conditions – because, frankly, I haven’t experienced very much of it.  I haven’t even made it to all of our provinces.  Some of those that I have been to, frankly, don’t count – I only have hazy memories of a childhood visit to the family farm on the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

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on top of the broken bones my family thought I’d get from downhill skiing… i could have been suffocated by trees.

I made my first foray into British Columbia this winter.  I didn’t see much of it, I was skiing in the Okanagan region, and then driving to Calgary.  So really, most of what I saw was mountains.  But wow the mountains.  It amazes me that there are places as breathtaking as that in the world.  In my own country, for that matter.  Much as I love the forests in Ontario, nothing here compares to the enormity of the Rocky Mountains.

The lure of spending time in the mountains was enough to make me ignore my lack of coordination and agree to spend a week downhill skiing with friends.

We had a pretty fantastic view of the mountain from our rental unit.

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the hill in the distance is where we were downhill skiing… and about halfway between there and here is where we were staying – at the foot of the hill

Despite what my family was convinced would happen, I didn’t do any serious harm to myself while shooting down the hill.

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especially the tubing hill.. didn’t have any problem getting down that one 😉

I improved drastically while we were there.  I went from that “gah, the last time I went downhill skiing was nearly 10 years ago… and on an Ontario hill” stage to “Hey, if I go at my own (slow) pace and concentrate hard, I don’t fall down too much, and also don’t feel too too terrified.”

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going downhill at high speeds… and not being able to see very far ahead. great!

Thankfully my focus on getting down the mountain alive wasn’t enough to keep me from paying attention to the scenery.

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We also got in a day of snowshoeing…

... in which we couldn't manage one single shot of us all jumping at the same time.  jumping in snowshoes is hard!
… in which we couldn’t manage one single shot of us all jumping at the same time. jumping in snowshoes is hard!

And crosscountry skiing.  I’m quite sure that crosscountry is my favourite winter sport!

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Driving back through the rockies to Calgary was great – we saw so many mountains and had a chance to stop and take pictures all along the route.

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Now I just need to figure out where in Canada I want to explore next!

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Footloose

I got Gwynn in the fall, at 6 months.  My neighbour, longtime dog owner, asked me if I would be getting Gwynn some boots for the winter.

I scoffed.  I proudly informed her that I would never dress my dog up in silly and unnecessary people-clothes.  He’s a dog.  I’m letting his hair grow long to keep him warm in the winter, and mid-October he was already deep into his transformation to wooly mammoth.  Wooly mammoths don’t need boots or hats or coats or vests.

You know what else wooly mammoths are?  55 lbs of dog whose feet are being burnt and cut by the massive amount of road salt my neighbourhood is coated with in winter.  55lbs of dog is A LOT to carry home, having made it 4 blocks before he refused to budge.  And in winter, my hands were unimpressed at their new use as de-icer of dog-paws.

I also discovered that the fur between his toes, no matter how I trimmed it, still collected clumps of snow until his toes were splayed painfully and a wad of ice was applying pressure to his palm.  Yet another painfully-cold hand-melting of puppy paws on the side of the road.

I ate my words.

The boots I bought him that first year were useless.  Within days of first purchase, the straps were fraying.  If I’d left them as they were headed, the boots would have been strapless by the end of the month.  Velcro, by the way, does NOT hold up to being covered in snow.  Nor does it work to re-velcro once there’s snow in the tines.  The leather sole to the boot also started coming unwound within a few uses – yet another sewing project for me.  The damn things didn’t stay on at all well, either – they flew off no matter how well I’d snugged them on his feet.

Uninformed about other types of boots (unwilling to just refund/exchange the damaged boots every few weeks), I stuck with them, adding snaps, sewing repairs and turning them into frankenboots that still… really didn’t stay on adequately.  We ended up using hockey tape at the ankle every time we went out skiing.  We still played the 1-2-3-4 game, and I carried spare hockey tape in my pocket.

Last year, I contacted RuffWear and asked if they’d be interested in a review of their Polar Trex boot.  It looked like it already had a lot of the things I’d added to the frankenboots, without any handiwork on my part.  I’d read some good reviews of their other projects by You did What with your Weiner, so I had hopes that this product might also be good.  They were nice enough to send me a set.

It was fate – that (and my own purchase of new Sorels) would explain why Toronto’s winter last year consisted of a low of just about freezing, no snow, no de-icing salts and a whole heck of a lot of rain.

This year, however, do I got a tale to tell!  We had snow for a little while, we’ve had some bloody cold temperatures, and my neighbours are putting salt down like it holds the key to spring arriving on time.

Gwynn and I have finally had a chance to give these boots a thorough workout, and I’m ready to give you all my honest opinion of them.  I’ll be posting that this week, so stay tuned!