Dear Brenda, Art, Joe and Mike:
We just finished the long drive home to Western Massachusetts and, thanks to you, our canoe camping trip to the French River ended on a positive note. I wish there was a better way to convey our gratitude for your kindness, concern and in the end, rescue! Most importantly, we are all fine, including Rob, whose finger was stitched up in the Parry Sound Hospital last night. Starting from the beginning, here is our story:
We arrived at the Bear’s Den on Wednesday evening via Joe’s boat shuttle and after meeting Brenda, Art and Mike, spent a quiet evening sorting our gear. We knew that heavy rain was predicted on Thursday and happily opted to spend two nights at the Den rather than getting drenched camping on the river. A morning paddle amid the islands and rocky coves around Wanapitei Bay increased our anticipation for exploring more of the French River system. I caught and released my first-ever pike off the Den’s dock that evening. Friday greeted us with wind and driving rain. Brenda came to our cabin door, concerned that the predicted 90 kph winds would make canoeing extremely unsafe and offered us a generous discount on another night’s stay- which we wisely accepted. The day was spent watching impressive clouds skitter overhead as the winds whipped the tops off the white caps in the bay. During our stay, the Bear’s Den folks went out of their way to make us feel at home as well as sharing their extensive knowledge of the French River. Saturday, our canoe adventure began as we loaded up and waved goodbye. With eagles soaring overhead we headed around Boom Island, and, as Brenda predicted, spotted several Blanding Turtles sunning themselves on logs. At the Forks, we headed south, skirting Pig Island and following our map towards campsites on Dispute Island (I would love to know what prompted the name). The channel narrowed between the islands and low water left us a 400 meter portage to reach the bay (we will have to alert the map maker of this possibility)! After reloading the canoes, we paddled across the bay to a fantastic campsite (#702), which featured spectacular views and plenty of level ground for our tents. As the evening cooled we sat by a crackling fire, eating dinner and watching the moon rise over glassy calm waters. Sunday our plan was to leave our camp set up and venture south along the river. Dawn however greeted us with showers and gusty winds from the north. Not knowing if the weather would improve, we entertained ourselves with hikes atop lichen covered cliffs. The wind continued to blow from the northeast and we abandoned our paddling plans for the day. As I was returning to camp around 2:30, with a small pike for dinner, I found that Rob had accidentally cut his index finger. Anne, a nurse, had cleaned the wound and after close examination determined that stitches were needed to close it properly. We quickly took down the tents, loaded the canoes and headed up the river against a stiff wind. Our progress was slow with Rob doing the best he could paddling with a bandaged hand. It seemed likely that night would descend before we could reach Hartley Bay. I waved down a passing boat and the woman graciously agreed to contact a friend who was “headed out”. A few minutes later her friend motored up, but it was obvious that her boat was too small to carry two canoes full of gear and the four of us. That is when she called the Bear’s Den for us. Joe must have headed out immediately, because it wasn’t long before he arrived. We loaded everything onto his launch and made for the marina. As we entered Wanapitei Bay, waves exploded over the bow. Joe turned eastward to Ox Bay and north through the twisting narrows, thereby avoiding open water and delivering us safely to Hartley Marina. Brenda must have called ahead, because our truck was already at the landing. With help from Joe and the Hartley crew, we loaded up the boats and gear and were on our way in short order. On our way out, Joe handed me directions to the Parry Sound Hospital. The end of the story is anti-climatic. After a few hours in the ER, Rob got stitched up and we drove on to Barrie, arriving sometime after mid-night, tired but all in one piece. Honestly, it didn’t surprise me one bit that the folks a the Bear’s Den came to our rescue. Brenda, Art, Joe and Mike are completely dedicated to their customers, to the health of the French River and to all who venture there. While our adventure was not the one we envisioned, it has only whet our appetite for the area and we will return!
Phil, Hilary, Rob and Anne