Butt End: First Blind Date | Canoeroots Magazine | Rapid Media
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Butt End: First Blind Date Photo: Kyle McDougall

Kevin Callan's first date, and he doesn't have a clue where he’s taking him

On the fourth day of 20 spent paddling and portaging around Algonquin Park, my buddy Andy insisted I sign an agreement that let him plan our next trip together. He had good cause to take control of our future misadventure. This trip consisted of 93 portages and 68 kilometers of portaging. It was one of the most difficult trips we had shared together—and according to Andy, certainly the most absurd. We sweated and suffered, and Andy swore, “Never again.”

Andy’s plan for this new trip was simple. He dubbed it Kevin and Andy’s Magical Mystery Tour. He gave me dates to set aside—eight days in early August— and told me nothing else. I was to pack my gear, although I didn’t know what specifically, and he would pick me up. I knew nothing about where we were going, or the purpose of our trip.

I had misgivings about Andy’s plan. As the author of 15 books, most of them paddling guides, I’ve planned canoe trips for most of my adult life. Then I write up my recommendations on the routes for thousands of others to follow. Being a paddling guidebook author has become part of my identity; handing over control is easier said than done.

And sure, I’ll admit that spending so many nights outside a year in some of the most beautiful places in the country has made me a bit picky about the destinations for my personal trips. I like routes with good fish- ing, little motorboat traffic and scenic campsites. Not only was it unsettling to be picked up and taken to an unknown location for eight days, another concern loomed: What if we were stuck on a route that wasn’t so great?

Andy picked me up one early August morning. We drove west. Then east. Then north. I think he did this just to confuse me. He was having fun with the role-reversal. 

Then Andy blindfolded me. Was this a case of the blind leading the blind? Andy just giggled. After what felt like hours, Andy stopped the car and pulled off my blindfold to reveal a vast blue expanse surrounded by granite outcroppings and gnarled pines.

We’d arrived at Georgian Bay. We were to paddle from the Key River south to Honey Harbour, a distance of some 160 kilometers. And there wasn’t a single portage en route, Andy told me gleefully.

I should have pieced things together before we reached our put-in. I packed as if we had to portage. We always portage. I dehydrated meals, brought lightweight gear, minimized the whiskey supply and even second- guessed bringing a small camp chair.

Andy picked me up toting an 18-foot Nova Craft ABS Prospector. That’s a heavy canoe for portaging, I’d thought with a sinking feeling. Now I understood. Andy also had a massive, extra-comfy Therm-a-Rest sleeping mat and an over-sized lawn chair strapped to his pack. I couldn’t help but laugh—he’d got me good.

My route anxiety evaporated at the put-in, but it took a few days pad- dling the big waters of the Bay, basking under a hot sun and laughing around the campfire to hear what this trip was teaching me. In all the years being a professional route planner, I feel like this lesson was one I’d forgotten: It matters little where you go, as long as you go. Forget about getting from A to B, the trip is what happens between the two.

Andy certainly thought so. He’s planning our next adventure—and I can’t wait for our next blind date.

The last trip Kevin Callan let someone else plan was in 2003. 

 

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