Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Great Canadian Adventure!

Okay, so I have to admit, it started with a Facebook conversation. While chatting across time-zones to a facebook friend in Canada I found myself invited to OGC – Ontario Greenland Camp.  Thoughts of a Canadian trip had already been briefly discussed; Joe O’Blenis who makes the beautiful paddles we sell, was organising his own paddling event in Thunder Bay. With a list of features such as solo canoeing, yoga, strokes clinic, rescues and of course the main attraction – rolling lessons with Helen Wilson (who’s DVD got me started in Greenland rolling), not to mention the chance to meet Joe and Diane in person, it was very tempting, but reality kept intruding and reminding us that Canada is a very long way from Australia.
From Left - Cheri Perry, Maligiaq Padilla, Mel Hanley (me) Turner Wilson
The opportunities these events provided were too good to be missed.
OGC was only a week after Joe’s event and had just confirmed its instructors – Cheri Perry, Turner Wilson and Maligiaq Padilla, more of the top names in the Greenland kayaking world. The opportunities these two events presented were just too good to miss, so we threw caution to the wind and booked into both, we could figure out the finances later J
No sooner had we announced our attendance to the two Canadian events, then we were reminded by Eiichi Ito that the Qajaq Japan event – GUTS was only a week after OGC. Eiichi has been very encouraging since I started in Greenland rolling. Wayne likes to post video clips on Facebook each time I learn a new roll, and Eiichi has always been quick with a congratulatory comment and usually a challenge to try something harder. Looking at the photos and videos of last year’s event, it seemed like too much fun to pass up.  We have been to Japan a number of times before and absolutely love the country and its people. This would be an experience in a very different area of Japan than any of our previous visits, and with a very different group of people. Our impressions so far had been of a group of dedicated paddlers who, true to the Greenland style are very open and sharing and very much fun loving people.
It didn’t take much time for us to make up our minds. J
The downside to living in Paddler’s Paradise is travel. The most popular destinations for Aussie tourists will always be South-East Asia or New Zealand. This is because they are the only places we can get to without trapping ourselves in the cramped confines of a plane for inordinate lengths of time. The flight to Canada was going to be Long! A 4.30 am pick up, three hour drive to the airport, three flights, with one missed connection and a short drive later, we had made it. After about thirty hours of travelling, we had arrived in Thunder Bay – on the same day we departed – time zones can really add some confusion to a trip. After being up so long, we had gotten beyond feeling tired, so we found ourselves up till 2am chatting with Joe (our host) and Kim – another early arrival for the SKCC Paddlefest.
Wayne on the famous Lake Superior
We had planned our arrival to give us a day to rest and recover from the travel before throwing ourselves into the action, so our first day in Canada was a relaxed one. We were picked up by our friend Chris for some quick sight-seeing of the area, complete with a token paddle on the famous Lake Superior. We have heard many stories about this amazing lake, particularly stories about how dangerously cold the water can be. Fortunately Chris found a warm spot for us and had all the gear ready for us for a quick paddle around Mutton Island and back and a few photo ops for our encounter with a Canadian Great Lake.

Get a bunch of kayakers to try out a surf ski
and you have a recipe for fun!
SKCC Paddlefest
Promoted as a relaxed, laid back event, we still managed to pack in plenty of excitement with Yoga by the lake side, Helen Wilson’s famous “Stupid Paddle Tricks”, rolling lessons, rescues and strokes clinics. We got to try out Solo Canoeing (we couldn’t go all the way to Canada and not get in a canoe), Stand Up Paddle boarding, and there was even a contest to see who could stay upright on the Surf-ski the longest. Helen demonstrated some of the Greenland Ropes Gymnastics manoeuvres and those of us game enough gave it a try – It seemed the men were a bit shy for this event and we saw more of the women and even some kids try out some of the fun tricks while only a couple of the guys were brave enough to take up the challenge. J
A private lesson with Helen Wilson -
Definitely well worth it with a number of new rolls
learned under her expert guidance
Evenings saw us all sitting back and relaxing around the firepit enjoying the warm social atmosphere that seems to travel with all paddlers. Our final treat for the event was the opportunity for private lessons with Helen Wilson which was certainly well worth it. Both Wayne and I were able to trouble shoot some of our existing rolls as well as adding considerably to our repertoire.
Our last day in Thunder Bay came about all too quickly and Chris again made sure we would have a memorable time. We met in the morning and spent the whole day touring the region. Starting with a visit to 'Old Fort William' a historical recreation of an early fur trading settlement as it was in 1815. It was fascinating to learn more about the history of Canada, and this particular region, and amazing to learn that the whole basis to early Canadian exploration, settlement and trade was fur – predominantly Beaver furs to supply the European market with their Beaver fur hats – the height of fashion in Europe at the time.
Next came a tour of some of the beautiful sights around this tiny corner of Lake Superior. To us Aussies, the great Lakes are an unbelievable sight. To stand on the shore and look out over such an expanse of water is only possible for us if you are looking at the ocean. To look out and see nothing but fresh water stretching toward the horizon is unbelievable. Our country has just come out of yet another extended period of drought. Even in the best of times, many of our rivers and lakes are seasonal features. With the severity and duration of our most recent drought, many regions had to adopt severe measures to preserve what little water we had left in our dams, people were even given special shower timers in  encouragement to only take 4 minute showers. On the map, Australia is a huge land mass, in reality most of it is uninhabitable, the majority of our population mostly clings to the coastal fringe where water resources are most reliable.
A view of the famous Sleeping Giant
Our tour took us to so many beautiful sites – Squaw Bay, Chippewa Park, Silver Harbour, Mackenzie Point, and as we travelled, we were treated to different views of the famous ‘Sleeping Giant’, a rock formation on the Sibley Peninsular that stretches out into the water and really does look like a giant figure has laid down to take a nap. Canadian wildlife seemed a little shy unfortunately, so no bears or beavers – but we did get to see some adorable chipmunks, squirrels and lots and lots of Canada Geese, and for another essential Canadian experience  - we found some last remaining wild blueberries which were delicious. Our eventful day concluded with one of Chris’s favourite spots – Mission Island Marsh and feeding the deer that gather there – a beautiful and memorable experience.
Ontario Greenland Camp
On to our next adventure – another flight and we were in Toronto and were met by Alan, who we held responsible for this whole trip, (it was Alan who initially suggested we attend OGC). We stopped by a couple of outdoor stores, they certainly put our shops to shame for size and variety, and we happily filled in the time before dinner browsing through the huge array of gear available. Then it was off to dinner to meet Dympna and James of Learn to Kayak, the people behind Ontario Greenland Camp, and our hosts for our stay in Toronto. The next day we were packed and on our way to OGC and all the fun it had to offer.  Located at a camp facility with a huge tract of land surrounding its own lake, and all the facilities of a classic ‘Summer camp’ it is a perfect location. With about 65 people in attendance, it was going to be a very different atmosphere to Joe’s event, although we did get to see some familiar faces as a few members of the Thunder Bay crowd had travelled all the way to attend as well.
Land drills - 'Cow and Cat'
There were many rolling sessions over the course of the weekend and I was determined to make the most of them. Before getting on the water Cheri and Turner had us all going through some great land drills, based on the yoga postures of ‘Cow’ and ‘Cat’, these were extremely helpful in programming the muscle memory for the movement required for the forward finishing rolls. As promised, there was the opportunity to spend time under the tuition of Cheri, Turner and Maligiaq. New rolls were added, techniques were improved and lots of fun was had rolling over and over again as we practiced under the expert eyes of our mentors.
Different Strokes
Also featured was a Greenland Paddle strokes clinic, with the crowd splitting into three teams following Cheri, Turner or Maligiaq. We worked on a variety of turning strokes and manoeuvres, I was also able to pick up some tips from Cheri on good forward stroke – I have a little event coming up called the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic – a 111km overnight paddle on a tidal river. I completed my first ‘Classic’ last year in just over 16 hours in horrendous weather conditions, I had so much fun, I’m tackling it again this year. The strokes clinic with Joe had been useful as he is a high angle paddler (and holds the speed record for kayaking around Vancouver Island, so he knows a thing or two about efficient paddling), working with Cheri gave me a better appreciation for the low angle that is more customary for the Greenland paddle. After getting a good feel for both, I can now paddle comfortably with either high or low angle which will be useful to be able to switch from time to time during the long hours of paddling coming up. There is a great debate always going on over high vs low angle – personally I think both have their places and am happy to work on making both reliable tools in my toolbox.
Maligiaq on the ropes - fortunately
 he also showed us some of the easier techniques
Greenland Ropes Gymnastics  or  Allunaariaqattaarneq (games performed using a harpoon line) is a system of exercises performed on a double length of rope suspended horizontally. Rope gymnastics were developed over time as a way to keep fit during the long winters when hunters couldn’t go out in their kayaks. It also provided people with entertainment during those long dark winters as people competed with each other in feats of strength and agility. Some of the manoeuvres relate to rolling a kayak and are used to teach someone kayak rolling without the need for repeated immersion in the icy arctic waters. The little bit I got to try certainly got me eager to learn more, so I have no doubt we will be setting up our own set of ropes soon and we will have another activity to explore when we are not kayaking.
The grand finale for OGC is a group demonstration. A wonderful idea is to involve participants from the weekend as well as the experts. This really adds to the atmosphere as people are cheered on by their friends and everyone feels involved rather than just watching the experts. I was quite surprised, and honoured when I was asked to be a part of the demo, and nervously took my place at the back of the group. Turner called out each roll, with Maligiaq translating them into their Greenlandic names and each participant would demonstrate the rolls together, just sitting back if there was one they couldn’t do. Of course it did get down to just Maligiaq and Cheri in the end for the more complicated rolls, but it was a lot of fun for the rest of us. The true star of the show was Calista – a young girl who had impressed everyone over the weekend with an amazing natural talent for rolling. With Turner spurring her on, she was attempting new rolls for the first time during the demonstration – and succeeding!
With all the excitement over, we had a little time to unwind before the next stage of our adventure.  With two weeks of excitement already behind us we were starting to feel a little worn. Added to that for me, was the feeling of being a little ‘overexposed’ – I must confess I am a fairly introverted person, and although I had a great time and met so many wonderful people, it was good to have some quiet time without a crowd around all the time. We have most fun when enjoying the simple pleasures so on our first free day we followed Dympna’s suggestion and borrowed a couple of bicycles to explore the local area. This is our kind of sight-seeing! We had a great time riding along the lake front, stopping at parks along the way to enjoy the amazing views across Lake Ontario, and acting like tourists taking photos of the numerous squirrels in trees, on fences and on lawns.
 The next day was our big sightseeing day – our last day in Canada before flying out. We caught the ‘Go Train’ into Toronto, armed with a list of sights our friends had all recommended as ‘Must Sees’ while in Toronto. We stepped off the train, found our way out of the station and were instantly assaulted with a deafening cacophony of construction noises, city traffic, and all the chaos that goes with a big city. We took one look at our map, looked at each other and headed for the harbour front J We enjoyed a beautiful day, taking a harbour cruise and spending a couple of hours on the islands. We may have missed all the recommended sights, but we enjoyed Toronto in our own way. The ‘sights’ will be waiting for us on another trip. For us, it was farewell to Canada and on to Japan!

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