Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eight Against the North (Part II): How Kool Aid Saved My Life

It's kind of a rite of passage here in Ontario - gather up a few friends, some beer, some canoes and head into the untamed wilderness that is Algonquin Park.

When my turn came for the merry adventure with long-time friends and semi-experienced campers, I thought I was prepared:

Beer cans shoved into socks and jammed into pack...check!
Kool-aid packet.....uh, no. Nope, did not think to pack cherry-flavoured sugar crystals.

Good thing my friend Clarence did:

On Day Three of our trip into 'Nam the beautiful and wild heart of the Canadian Shield, I discovered the horror that are leeches. Leeches, in case you've never seen the movie "Stand By Me" are filthy black, blood-sucking slugs, known to frequent swampy bogs and marshes and attach themselves to passersby, at whim. Park authorities had issued a fire-ban mere days before our arrival, due to unseasonably hot temperatures and not enough rain, which put the park at risk for fire and meant more swamp, less water.

It also meant more leeches.

I thought I'd outsmarted the li'l buggers by jamming socks onto my feet as we slogged through swampland, canoes held high above our heads, jaws set in grim determination. Our quest: make it to our next campsite before dark, or die trying.

Even as my friends stopped  regularly to peel feasting bloodsuckers from between their toes or off their calves, I was left blessedly alone. I'm not certain, but I think that my shrieking every time I spied a leech (or a water snake...after awhile, they all looked the same to me) may have deterred them. Regardless, it was a happy relief to set up camp without having experienced  something drinking three times its body-weight of MY blood.

Day Four: Perfection. The day dawned sunny, but not humid and we decided to stay put for one more day, stretching our long weekend into an extra-long one and pushing off for a quick paddle to a sandy beach across the way. Spent the morning frolicking, sunbathing, laughing, all thoughts of trudging through swamp and leeches forgotten.

Bellymonster at the Beach

After lunch, the good mood continued as we dove from the rocks near our site into the cool, dark lake. Splashed and traded "shampoo" back and forth, delighting in the feeling of clean and of contentment. Later, I chatted happily to Clarence as I bent over an overturned canoe, attempting to put in my contact lenses. The first twinge in my nether regions should have got my attention, but didn't really.

The second pinch did and I frowned - surely that pinching sensation in the crease between thigh and my lady bits was from a twisted tankini bottom and not a....


Stumbling, stuttering with terror, I made my awkward, legs-akimbo way over to Clarence and clutched his arm. Willing myself not to cry, I spoke with icy calm: "Clarence, this may sound weird and sort of rude, but I need you to look at my crotch."

Clarence blinked.

I inclined my head downward, looked back up at him and gave a slight nod. As understanding dawned in his eyes, I allowed myself a brief moment's respite from the hysteria building in my body: someone else now shared my horror.

As Clarence hunkered down, I angled my leg slightly, closed my eyes and held my breath, waiting.

A moment passed - a second, a lifetime and then Clarence said the word that pitched me headlong into a living nightmare:


And just like that our peaceful morning was shattered as my shrieks of panic filled the air:


ohmyGODwhatifitgotinsiiidddeeeeeeee me.....AGGGGGHHHHH!!"

The others came running and gathered around as Clarence tried his best to calm me down, mumbling half-hearted assurances that leeches can NOT crawl into one's body through one's vagina (a bold lie, actually, but he was desperate) and would I just calm the f*ck down already?

Slight-Goddess* rifled through the first aid kit and then the meal kits, frantically looking for some salt when Clarence spied the Kool-Aid packs he'd tossed in at the last minute. In that moment, my hero was born. He snatched up a packet and ripped it open, while grabbing me by the arm and forcing my gaze onto his:

"Liz! Hold still now...I'm gonna put some of this Kool-Aid on your...uh...leg, but you have to hold still, ok?"

I whimpered, sniffed, drew in a long, shaky breath and nodded. Okay.

With a steady and deliberate hand, Clarence gently poured the Kool-Aid crystals onto my crotch and to my shock and amazement, within seconds, the long, slimy slug HURLED itself - shrieking, I'm sure I heard shrieking - from my body and lay twitching and twisting in agony in a red, cherry-flavoured puddle on the ground.

Planning a trip? Bring Kool-Aid.

For a moment, there was absolute silence as we watched and then, as blood and Kool-Aid flowed freely from my nether region and snot and tears flowed from my face, I turned to my friends:

"I don't care what you people do, but I am taking THAT canoe and I am getting the hell outta here. Today. I'll sleep in the car if I have to, but I am NOT spending another day out here, getting eaten by leeches!"

As I stomped off toward my tent, the others took a quick vote. All in favour of heading home today?

7 out of 8.

And so, off we went, pushing hard against the wind that suddenly swirled up out of nowhere. With each stroke, Mark encouraged me from his spot in the back of the canoe: "Stroke left....coca-cola! Stroke right....with ice...stroke a fountain glass....stroke left...with a straw...."

When the rain began to pelt us from all sides and caps formed on the water underneath us, he simply got louder: Stroke, stroke, stroke! What I heard was "Coke, coke, coke!" but it was more than enough to have me paddling as hard as I could, determined to propel us off the water before we got struck by lightning. With our only and last stroke - ha! - of luck, we managed to scramble ashore and into our cars just as the lightning lit up the sky. Phew!

Finally, the trip was over.

With a tired sigh, I settled back into the suddenly-luxurious comfort of the fabric seat, switched the air-conditioning to full-blast and smiled sweetly at Mark.

"Next year?

"Yeah?" He sighed it, knowing.

We're renting a cottage."

At the start of our epic journey.

Wanna read how this oh-so-merry adventure began? Click here.

To share your own vacations-gone-awry stories, click in the Comments section and share away!

* By Slight-Goddess, I mean,Sheri who is a "tiny-figured" goddess, not "only-this-much" of a goddess.

* By Clarence, I mean Barry (aka Lumpy, aka Telly, aka My Hero, aka Dude)

* By Wog, I mean Paul, whom I call Pauly-Wog. He does not appreciate it as much as he should, but since he is my oldest and dearest friend, I use it sparingly. Sort of.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Eight Against the North: Adventure in Algonquin Park

The plan - such as it was - seemed fairly straightforward: drive to Algonquin Park, paddle for a few hours, pitch tents, sing Kumbaya, play some cards, have a few drinks, repeat for four days.

 It was with high hopes and light spirits, then, that the 8 of us, friends since high school, unloaded our packs by the water and waited for Wog to retrieve our permits from the check-in point. While we waited, we divvied ourselves into three canoes: Mark had a broken arm, but could still steer, so Slight-Goddess and I opted to switch off, while her husband, Clarence, went with another couple, to help even out the disproportionate weight in their canoe. G and A would paddle alone.

Piece of cake, we thought. Even when Wog returned with a warning from the Algonquin staff (No fires, it's been too hot and dry and the portage points may be a bit longer, due to low water levels) it didn't occur to me that anything could go wrong.


Day One: When the Algonquin staff said, "Portage distances may increase due to low water levels" what they meant was:

"You will spend four hours portaging through swampland, scale three beaver dams and stumble into your first campsite 10 - 10! - hours from the time you left, which is, incidentally, six hours longer than you'd planned, sorry about that."

That first night, I was so worn out I didn't even care that we'd pitched our tent on an incline and I kept rolling over onto a tree root. None of us felt like eating, which was a blessing really, as the fire-ban would have made cooking impossible and no one was up for a game of cards. Instead, we threw ourselves into tents and sleeping bags and fell asleep praying for an easier tomorrow.

Day Two: Pack-out went smoothly and we were a chipper bunch, paddling happily into the wilderness. We laughed and called out to one another, saw two moose and a loon family. Indeed, as I trailed my paddle in the water, felt the rising sun on my back and listened to my friends' happy voices, I forgot all about our dismal beginning and was content.

Photo by:

Cue "something's-gonna-happen-to-ruin-this-idyllic-scene" music now...

Just as we'd found a decent pace and had settled into an easy morning of paddling, we struck land.


Where they ought to have been a narrow, yet deep channel to paddle through, there was instead, swampland. We'd have to walk it. And so, grumbling and groaning, we hoisted canoes and paddles and backpacks and soldiered onward, determined to make camp by lunch.

By 2 pm, we'd scrambled over two more beaver dams, traipsed through wilderness so wet and humid I kept asking if we weren't in Vietnam and if so, would someone please shoot me and Sonja lost her shoe in the mud. For good.

About 3 kilometres from our campsite (according to our map), we decided to leave one canoe anchored to a beaver dam, haul everything else to the site and send Mark back for the canoe. Though I went to keep Mark company, it soon became apparent that I was only holding him back, so I sat down on yet another beaver dam, promising to sing loudly until he got back. There's nothing like raising one's voice in praise, surrounded by the beauty of an (almost) unspoiled and rugged land...

I feel certain that the only reason that moose slurping water at the edge of an inlet about 800 metres away only left - crashing through the brush at an alarming speed, given his awkward-looking body - to gather more wildlife friends for the impromptu concert, not because he didn't appreciate my voice.
But I digress...

Day Three: Holy hell. It was hot - a steaming, humid blanket of hot that pitched everyone into a foul mood before we'd even broken camp. Like petulant children, we bickered as we shoved our canoes into the water, dreading the unknown challenges ahead, hoping it wouldn't be worse than the day before, which of course, it was:

During Portage #377,  the strap on my backpack broke just as Clarence began to complain of chest pains. G. and his girlfriend got into an argument when she swung the canoe she carried too quickly and almost knocked him off his feet. Sonja had long ago fallen into a broody silence, no doubt  missing her lost shoe and her air-conditioned apartment while the rest of us wondered - sometimes aloud - if we'd be fined for lighting a fire during a fire-ban, in case we needed to get Clarence helicoptered out of the park.

And then, dear readers, there were the leeches.

(I Googled images of leeches to share with you here, but was so overcome, I couldn't pick. You'll just have to go ahead and google 'em yourself. Don't say I didn't warn you...)

Did you know that when water levels are low, marshy, swampland left behind is hard to slog through? It is. Did you also know that when water levels are low and one is forced to slog through marshy swampland on a sweltering hot day, one must also watch for leeches?

I did not. Not until several of our motley crew stopped and began peeling the black, still-moving slugs from between their sandaled toes. Oh. my. GOD.

Moving swiftly, so as not to draw the leeches' attention my way, I dug into my pack for a pair of socks and jammed them onto my feet. I spent the next three hours shrieking with horror at the leeches that had suddenly found their way into my field of vision and dreaming of a tall glass filled with ice and Coca-Cola and a straw...

The cure for all that ails...Coca-Cola!

Wanna know what happened next?
Come on back tomorrow and read along as our Trip from Hell Eight Against the North: Adventure in Algonquin Park (also known as "How Kool-Aid Saved My Life") went from bad to worse...