Category Archives: Ontario

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.

 

Ottawa – a homeschool playground

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Hunter and I extended our usual Ontario trip by 5 days and headed eastwards to Ottawa to kick off the school year and immerse ourselves in all things Canadian History and Government related.

IMG_2627We talked Grandma Lynne into joining us for the week and kicked things off by venturing four hours east down the rails with ViaRail in business class. At Grandma’s suggestion, we also based ourselves out of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, which is right in the heart of Ottawa and was a thrill for Hunter on so many fronts.

We spent our first afternoon and evening at Parliament Hill. We caught the last tour at Parliament Hill and learned all about the House and the Senate as well as some of the history behind the building itself. We were also lucky to experience one of the last nights of the Canadian History lights show called Mosaika. It was 20 minutes long and walked you through the history of Canada using stories, lights and visual displays using the Parliament Buildings as the back screen. You parked yourself on the front lawn and it felt like a big summer party with a thousand of your friends…

Day two was spent split between the Supreme Court of Canada and the National History Museum. Our tour of the Supreme Court was really well done. We had to book ahead of time and it was a small group of 8 people which made it easy to engage and inquire about both the physical location and the processes. I think that Grandma Lynne and I got more out of this tour than Hunter as we learned many new things about the mechanics of what brings a case to the Supreme Court.

We took advantage of the nice summer weather and walked from the Supreme Court to the Museum over the Portage Bridge. Half way along the bridge is this really high-tech bike counter that counts the traffic in the bike lane. Hunter tried a number of times to get counted as a pedestrian but it was too smart! When we hit Gatineau (other side of the bridge), Hunter was thrilled that he was now in Quebec. Lots of discussion then quickly followed with respect to first language laws and all of the french signage.

Our primary reason for hitting the Museum of History was to attend the Imax movie about D-Day Normandy 1944, which was a big hit. One of the best educational war movies I have seen over the past few years and a great foundation for our year of studying World War I & World War II. We had some time prior to the movie so chose to explore the Children’s Museum. What an amazing resource for elementary school age kids. Through various interactive exhibits the kids travel around the world. One of our favourite stops was learning to spell our names in hieroglyphics. Travel hint – if you land at the museum around lunch time, check out the cafeteria on the ground floor which is very kid friendly compared to the fancier, more expensive restaurant on the main floor.

 

The Ottawa River runs between Gatineau/Hull and Ottawa and acts as a border between Ontario and Quebec, and it’s an interesting example of cross border collaboration and the area being called the “National Capital Region”. After a long day of walking we enjoyed the fun of taking the water taxi from the Museum across the River to the bottom of the Rideau River at the base of the Chateau Laurier Hotel and Parliament Buildings.

Day three was all about WAR… We spent a good chunk of the day at the Canadian War Museum and it was definitely a highlight for the trip for Hunter. The War Museum was only established 5 years ago so is a very new face in Ottawa. They have done a very good job building historical content in a number of different mediums to appeal to varying ages. I think we all learned a lot of interesting things here. The museum also has a lot of very helpful educational resources on-line on their website.

Tucked in between the Chateau Laurier Hotel and the Parliament Buildings is the Rideau Canal System, which stretches 202km between Ottawa and Kingston. We walked by the locks almost every day and were really curious about the actual mechanics of the lock system as they looked really old and very manual compared to our experience at the Bobcaygeon locks the week before. Hunter and I got lucky on our walk back from the War Museum as there was a boat going through the lock system. It truly is all hand operated and seems to take 3 staff to make it work. The signs say that it takes up to 1.5 hours to go through the last 8 locks in Ottawa as you are moving up or down 80 feet.

Byward Market was right around the corner from the hotel and I LOVE local farmers markets. I love the ambience and the air of possibilities – being surrounded by so much fresh food and so many yummy smells! We grabbed burrito’s for lunch one day from a local mexican food vendor and Hunter also had his very first Beaver Tail experience, which he deemed a full success!

Day Four was a slower day – it was our last full day in Ottawa and people were running out of steam. Our morning stop was the National Art Gallery. It was another sunny day so we enjoyed the walk over and how bright the sun made everything inside the gallery itself. Hunter is not quite at the full art appreciation level so there was some speed walking through parts of the gallery. We checked out the Group of Seven collection and did some basic compare and contrast discussions with respect to the various European styles vs the Group of Seven. We also went through the Gustave Dore special exhibit and spent some time learning to draw caricatures, which was one of Dore’s many talents. The other special exhibit was a photography exhibit on World War I – it was all in black and white and extended our ongoing discussion about War and it’s various facets and impacts. The National Art Gallery also has a small but well run and highly engaging kids area. They have many resources to help make an art gallery tour fun, as well as many ever changing hands on art activities.

Our afternoon was spent at a tour of the National Mint. Super Duper security and you must book ahead for these tours. We had a lot of fun playing with the displays outside the main building. Even more impressed with the large brick of gold that we got to pick up (it was heavy!! and heavily guarded). The actual tour itself was somewhat of a disappointment. As it was on a Sunday, the Mint was not running so there wasn’t a lot of action. Hunter’s opinion was that it “sucked sucked sucked” as at the general currency coins are made at the mint facility in Winnipeg and that was what he was hoping to see. He wasn’t impressed with the investment and collector coins that they make in Ottawa.

One of the most memorable parts of our visit to Ottawa was our Fairmont Experience. We shared a room with Grandma, which made it more affordable and chose to stay on the Fairmont Gold floor as it included breakfasts and evening cocktail hour, which well exceeded the incremental room cost. Our very first cocktail hour Hunter got a magical hot chocolate from one of the staff – it was perfectly made and in a big cafe au lait bowl cup. The next morning the same staff member was working breakfast and he recognized Hunter from the night before and proactively brought him a hot chocolate… Talk about smiles from ear to ear. Hunter was on cloud nine and the service our entire stay was memorable and the cherry on the top was the postcard that arrived for Hunter a week after we got home from this staff member wishing him safe travels. This will be hard to beat!

Our five days in Ottawa was really just a scratching of the surface. There are so many amazing learning resources and experiences that I think you could easily spend 10-14 days in the region to cover everything off. We had a great time and, as always, in person learning is so much richer than book learning. It was a great way to launch ourselves into Grade Six Social Studies. Thanks to Grandma Lynne for hanging out with us and making the adventure that much richer.