Video: Backcountry Paddling in Woodland Caribou Provincial Park

We stop paddling for a moment so that my canoe companion can verify that we are indeed heading in the right direction. I watch his back as he pores over the map and his GPS unit. He confirms our general direction with me and the Bruunton compass I have attached to my PFD. When I volunteered for this gig two months ago I could not possibly have pictured this scene.  Yet here I am, canoeing through a remote provincial park with a retired American YouTube sensation I met on Wednesday night. He tucks the map and GPS unit away in his daypack and we take a few strong strokes to launch our loaded canoe back on course for the next portage.

He canoes with a double-bladed paddle more commonly used in kayaking. It protects an old shoulder injury he sustained in his days at the Chrysler plant near Rockford. I work the rust out of my strokes. Neither of us have paddled a canoe in months. I experiment with how to time my strokes to his to steer the canoe more efficiently. As we paddle he points out where the park was spared a terrible fire, where it succumbed and hasn’t grown back in three years, and where forest succession marches on. We identify birds by ear, sometimes by sight if we are lucky enough to pull out the binoculars before they fly off. He is an encyclopedia of knowledge of this environment, having spent about a year of his life in this park usually in three-week stints.

His custom-made, broad-brimmed hat has kept the sun off his head for many years’ worth of adventures. The faded yellow PFD that keeps him safe on the water doubles as bed filler when inevitably we set up camp on uneven terrain. His grey rubber boots with orange trim come in handy for some of the muckier portages while I struggle to keep my feet dry in hiking boots, vapor barrier socks, and gaiters. He swears by his blue plastic bucket which not only carries his entire camp kitchen but also acts as his stool with a thick layer of foam added to the lid for comfort.

During long conversations over blueberry pancakes and coffee at breakfast when we’re both at our perkiest, we realize how much we have in common. We subscribe to some of the same philosophies: early to bed and early to rise as well as slow and steady wins the race, to name only two. We run, drink our coffee black, learn a lot from our travels, and share a love of coconut pudding.

One learns a lot about a person when canoe tripping in the backcountry without ever seeing another soul. I will paddle with him again.

To watch the video, click the black “Open Project” button.

backcountry paddling during the golden hour