Category Archives: Ontario

A crazy month on the Ottawa River…


We were up at the Ottawa River for the month of August this year and it was fabulous… It all started with a trip that Hunter and I took last year when we paddled the Ottawa River for a week and he participated in the inaugural “Little Rippers” program at Ottawa Kayak School (a primer for those too young to attend Keeners). We had so much fun that Hunter declared he wanted to attend the Keeners sport development camp this summer… so off we all went!

We kicked things off with an impromptu birthday party for Hunter, pulled together by our amazing group of River Moms (thanks Kristine, Kathy & Carol!!!). There was a water balloon attack, competitive ping pong and pool, an amazing potluck smorgasbord and of course, cake, candles and singing. Hunter was thrilled to get to celebrate his 14th birthday with his river friends.

It was quite the community of families, which made things super fun. I call this the grown up version of living in a van down by the river. Definitely not a failure in life in any way – more like a huge success; all these amazing families that spend their time living outdoors with their kids while still making a living.

We managed to get one day on the river paddling together before we had to get Hunter all packed up to go to OKS Keeners Camp. We got all of his boat outfitting figured out, pulled together his new gear from our partners at Jackson Kayak, Salus Marine and Level Six, and managed to shove it all into one small duffel bag to cover him for three weeks.

Normal late summer flows on the Ottawa River are between 1 and -2, with the sweet spot being between 0 and -1 for features like babyface and garburator to be in. Over the course of the month that we were around the Ottawa, it only hit those lower levels for a few days. Almost the whole summer has been unseasonably high, with levels in the teens in late June and people surfing Buseater into late June / early July.

Shaggy Designs has an online gauge  which became super handy as we woke up each morning and checked the gauge before making any plans. Once on the river we would also paddle by the physical gauge after McCoys to see if anything had changed. We would often see 1-2 foot swings while on the river with one day having a 4 foot drop within an hour. The blue line above is 2017, the red is 2016 and the orange is 2015. This really shows how wacky the water was from “normal” flows. Lots of speculation on why but no definitive answers…

With higher water levels we spent most of our time on the middle channel exploring new (to us) rapids and playing with the Walker family. It was fun to be a part of helping another family stretch their paddling muscles and really exciting to see the progress being made over our two weeks together. Tim’s new rack system for the truck worked out super well and left us feeling pretty pleased about having a shuttle vehicle.

Keener Camp is a kayak leadership camp, with equal emphasis on whitewater kayak skills and personal leadership skills. The kids live in houses together and are responsible for cooking their own breakfasts, dishes, and cleaning. They are also monitored to ensure they have a shower at least once a week as they are teenagers… The kayaking focus is all about progression. They figure out where you are and then gently support you through learning new skills and challenging yourself every day. Hunter loved it and is already talking about going back again next year. His description was that he learned to be a better kayaker and a better person…

Left to our own devices we managed to get out and kayak almost every day as well as go on some adventures. Our first woods walk was really buggy and we regretted forgetting the bugspray. For our second walk we thought about the bugs and put on long sleeves and long pants but yet again forgot the bugspray, which turned a 2 hour wander through the woods into a true effort of perseverance. At about 45 minutes in we decided to continue to push forward, having no idea where we were, purely because we didn’t want to turn around and walk back through the ravenous bugs we had just made it through! There are lots of walking, hiking and biking trails in the area to help fill your time off the water.

One Friday evening we all headed out to the Corner Wave Classic event (like a hometown throw down competition). Transportation is always a fun challenge. With the main event being spectating and the secondary event being fishing, we managed to get 8 boats, 8 people, coolers and fishing gear on and in the suburban. It was a super fun night out with friends, treats and a campfire. Pretty impressive when the local friday night competition has Dane Jackson, Nick Troutman, Clay Wright, Bren Orton, Emily Jackson and Claire O’hara in it!

The Ottawa Valley runs right along the Ottawa River and has strong french influences from Quebec, which is just on the other side of the river. One of the must-haves when in the valley is Poutine, and you need to get it from Tammy’s Taters chip truck in Renfrew (in the Walmart/Canadian Tire parking lot). YUMMY…

While the Ottawa River has some amazing rapids, it also has big chunks of flat water. The warm water makes this a great time to practice all of your flat water skills and generally goof around with friends!

Tim had a small mis-hap on the river (accidental paddle to the head from a kid) so we went to check out the Renfrew ER and then wallow in ice-cream cake from Dairy Queen, because it makes everything better!

Being a teenager, we really didn’t hear much from Hunter unless he needed something (laptop, go pro, blanket, money etc.). It was nice being just down the road and able to drop things off as well as get glimpses of him on the river.

Our time on the river ended with one last family day after Hunter finished camp. It was pretty great to see all the new skills he learned and how his confidence has increased. One Lower No Name, one of the last rapids on the middle channel, he snagged a 5 minute surf while everyone else was coming down the river around him. Tim sat at the bottom of the river and said “that’s my boy” full of fatherly pride, which is priceless.

We definitely recommend the Ottawa River as a kayaking destination for families. We stayed at River Run Resort in their new RV sites and it was super handy being at the take out, just a short distance from the river. Lots of places to play for kids as well as washrooms, showers and internet.

 

Kingston2Ottawa – a weekend in the wacky world of Marathon Canoe…

The Kingston2Ottawa  race is a 200 km marathon race for canoes/kayaks/SUP’s. It runs up the Rideau Canal system (a UNESCO World Heritage site and the oldest lock system in the world) from Kingston to Ottawa and has 22 portages spread over 200 km of river. It has to be completed in 36 hours and the winners this year did it in 23 hours. It is CRAZY!

We found ourselves in the midst of this world in late July because we volunteered to be pit crew for Grandpa Bob. Well, really Grandpa offered to pay Hunter to be his pit crew and Hunter needed someone to drive him, hence along came the rest of the family.

Shocker #1 was that the race started at 6am on Saturday morning… nothing like starting the day with the sun. As pit crew that meant some of us (Lee, the morning person) got up at 4:30 to get things organized and get the racers to the start line on time.This was actually a bit of a family affair with one team being Grandpa Bob (75) and his paddling partner Gwen, and another team being Uncle Mike and Aunt Fiona from Saskatchewan. Mike and Fiona were entered in the expert class while Bob and Gwen opted for the Adventurer class, which meant that their support team could run the portages for them. Turns out this was a great deal for Bob and Gwen!

It took us a lock or two to really get things figured out. The times out of the first section were so fast that they had already started the portage just as we got to the lock – not really earning our money there…By the third lock we had figured things out in terms of both the portages and the food, which had things flowing like a formula one pit crew!

We all wore London Canoe Club shirts to make it easy to find us and see us from the water. This isn’t like a running race where there is a super clear trail that you are following – often you are heading in a general direction along a lake trying to figure out where the lock actually is. The jumping up and down blue spots helped fine tune the direction.

There was a pretty broad variety of locks amongst the 22 and it was interesting to check out the different styles and stages. Some have been updated since they were originally installed and others are exactly the same – being opened and closed with chains, gears and levers.

Everyone we talked to said the hardest part of the race was crossing Big Rideau Lake due to the boat traffic. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the cruising traffic was high – lots of criss cross waves and boats that really didn’t give way to the racing canoes and kayaks. Challenge #2 was finding the channel markers in the dark – turns out they don’t reflect much and are only really present in the tighter channels vs larger open water.

It was an impressive feat – watching people paddle non-stop for 27 hours…although staying awake and being pit crew for the same amount of time did feel equally exhausting!

Mike and Fiona handily won the Expert class in 23 hours (2 hours ahead of the 2nd place boat) and Bob and Gwen won the Adventure class in 27 hours (over an hour ahead of the 2nd place boat).

For those that are intrigued but not committed, there is a 100km race that starts in Smiths Falls. I also understand that there will be a 50km version next year so maybe check that out… We will be sticking with our whitewater playing until they throw some waves in to make the course more interesting.

 

 

 

Grand River / Elora Gorge answers the search for whitewater in SW Ontario

We are down in southwestern Ontario hanging out with family right now. We had heard rumours of some whitewater around here so drove 2 hours up to the Kitchener/Waterloo area and thought a run down the Elora Gorge run on the Grand River would be perfect to test out our new Salus Marine lifejackets. It was down from flood levels a few weeks ago and running around 10 [m^3/s], which seems to be just higher than normal summer flows.

The put in is just below the dam in the town of Elora (park at the baseball diamond and walk across the bridge and then down the path on the opposite side of the road). The old mill is in the background and the new micro dam is just out of the photo on the right. Check out the blue heron photo bombing the picture!

The Elora Gorge is primarily limestone, with cliffs up to 72 feet on either side. At high water it can be quite crazy with a river wide hole that forms in the middle of the gorge and no sneak lines… At lower waters it’s a tubers paradise and a scenic class 2+ float with lots of eddy hopping and mini waves to surf.

The run took us about 90 minutes and we definitely milked it for all we could since we had been off the water for 10 days.

Lots of scenery to check out and enjoy along the way, and warm water to go with it!

It made for a fun family day on the water… If you are interested in going, you can find flow levels here: https://apps.grandriver.ca/waterdata/kiwischarts/rf_uppergrand.aspx (look at Shand Dam).

 

Dirt Biking 101

IMG_4866Hunter has been wanting to buy a dirt bike for a while. We decided that it might be a good idea to try one out before continuing to work so hard to save up. After lots of research done by Hunter he discovered Trail Tours, that were located just an hour away from Grandma’s house in Ontario. His 13th birthday present was now covered… a Mom and Hunter beginner dirt biking day!

 

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Trail Tours is located near Pontypool in Ontario and are right next to the Ganaraska Forest, which is over 11,000 acres in size and has over 100 km of multi-use trails that allow motorized vehicles (there is an additional section in the centre of the forest set aside for passive use) Note to selves: they have a 60km IMBA Epic Mtn Bike trail that we should come back and check out. They have a huge inventory of Honda bikes, with something to fit everyone, and also provided all of the gear for the day.

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After getting ourselves suited up we headed off to the riders meeting to learn about general safety and program expectations. It rained ALOT the day before we went, which turned out to be fabulous for the sandy trails, and it also lead to a number of cancellations so Hunter and I were in a class of our own. We spent the first hour on a small loop right at the Trail Tours site learning the basics of dirt biking. I was amazed at how quickly we progressed through the skills and it was not nearly as difficult as I thought. Lots of mountain biking logic was transferrable and the whole gear shifting thing with your foot went super smoothly.

IMG_4856We still had an hour to spare before lunch so we headed off into the forest to learn more skills (going over logs, tight turns and emergency braking) and had our first taste of actual trail riding… which left us really excited for the afternoon!

IMG_4868You can bring your lunch or buy it onsite for $9.00. Lunch break is between 45 minutes to an hour depending on how busy things are for the staff as the half day transition also happens then and they have to manage gear returns and gearing up. Hunter was bouncing around and couldn’t wait to get going again… Our first stop in the forest was a fun pump track where we got to practice rollers and burms, going progressively faster as we got more comfortable.

IMG_4870The rest of the afternoon flew by. We rode wide track, narrow track, single track, up hills, down hills, sandy terrain and rocky terrain. Our highest point was this really neat look out where you could see the edge of Lake Ontario (beyond the windmills) and supposedly on clear days you can see New York state.

IMG_4875We finished up our ride by stopping at a spring that is in a protected area of the forest. The water was crystal clear and so refreshing, covered by huge canopy of trees and lots of mossy areas. A perfect way to end the day.

We had an amazing day. The staff at Trails Tour were great – very supportive, very informative and super friendly. Big thanks to Chad and Danielle for a wonderful first experience. I don’t think it will be our last. We definitely recommend Trail Tours – whether it be for beginners looking to learn to ride or for experienced riders to get some guiding on a great set of trails.

We’re hooked after a week on the Ottawa River!

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The universe was on our side back in June when I got asked to come out to do some work just outside of Ottawa and it was the exact same week as the L’il Shredders trial program at Wilderness Tours that Hunter had been invited to. Obviously it was meant to be!

WT bunkhouse

We spent a week living together in a rustic bunkhouse on site at Wilderness Tours. It wasn’t fancy but it had power to charge devices and was clean. Outhouse just down the way and showers at the main lodge a few minutes walk down the road.

Our first day didn’t get off to an auspicious start… we awoke to light rains which quickly turned into monsoon like showers that lasted off and on all morning.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.10.29 PMWe spent the weekend together on an Eric Jackson class which was a lot of fun. He is really knowledgeable, and finds ways to play and teach at the same time. Here are he and Hunter paddling boats full of water in the whirlpools on Butcher’s knife.

hunter nose in at ottawa river beachHunter also learned a new technique for getting out of his boat!

take out drinksThe prize at the end of the day of paddling is a nice sheltered bar at the take out that has beer and juice on tap – a great way to end the day!

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.13.55 PMSunday brought EJ’s “Big Water” indoctrination – meant to teach you that things that look scary because they are big are not necessarily so. What it really meant is that everyone had to throw themselves into Phil’s hole, the first rapid on the river. You can see a very small part of my boat with most of me under the water – it wasn’t a great washing machine ride and ended in a swim when my skirt was blown.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 6.15.46 PMHunter had an equally unsuccessful Phil’s experience. If you look hard you can just see a corner of his boat in the centre of the photo (yellow and black) and you can see a small dark item just downstream a few inches. That dark item is his helmet, which should be attached to his head but got pulled off. It was lost to the river gods that day…

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Luckily EJ was able to grab a helmet for him at Keeners and we carried down the river with Hunter a little shaken from his first big beatdown.

hunter lee ottawa river takeout

We both survived the weekend only a little worse for wear and having learned a lot of new things! I then headed off to work for two days while Hunter joined Seth and Maddie in the L’il Rippers program.

new helmet

A new helmet was purchased after an unplanned detour to Ottawa on my way to work on Monday and Hunter managed to talk EJ into a sticker and Simon into cutting the sticker for him to get it looking cool.

The week went well for Hunter with lots of surfing and skill building delivered by Seth in sneaky ways. He managed to shake off his beatdown and was back to his usual self by Tuesday. When Big Water Thursday rolled around we both made it back into Phil’s fairly unscathed and EJ was right – it builds your confidence!

I went back into an EJ weeklong session on Weds and continued to have a lot of fun. I came down with a major sinus cold which definitely played havoc with my ability to clearly think, and that did correlate with a much lower confidence level most days. I now consider whitewater kayaking in the same category as “operating heavy machinery” in terms of the things you shouldn’t do while on cold medication…

lil shreddersOverall our week was fabulous. We met lots of new fun people, paddled in warm water and warm weather, learned new skills and Hunter came home with a new boat – a RockstarXS that was just released by Jackson in May. It was a great fit for him and really allowed him to have more boat control. Thanks to Jackson and the great folks at Wilderness Tours / Ottawa Kayak School for helping to make that happen.

hunter squirt boatingHe’s already been busy taking it out on flat water and doing mystery moves…

We definitely recommend Wilderness Tours for families and non-families equally. Lots of things to do on and off the water with a really friendly environment. For those that don’t kayak there are a wide assortment of rafting or inflatable kayaking options and a great school to take lessons from.