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Wisla River, Krakow, Poland

Published on May 27, 2012 by in Day Trips, Trips

Interactive map | How to do it | Photo gallery

Kayaking down the Wisla River immediately to the south of the old town isn’t the most popular activity in Krakow, Poland in the middle of May – but it is possible. After asking a few locals that spoke English about where I could rent a kayak and eliciting some strange looks, I was eventually helpfully directed to a nondescript building with a yellow sign reading “K.S. Nadwislan” printed on it.

The building is a 10 minute walk from the old Market Square at the heart of Krakow’s old town, and very close to Wawel (pronounced “Vavelle” in English), Poland’s medieval royal castle that is a tourist destination. Simply walk south from Wawel to find the river and then follow the north river bank west until you get to a large Novotel. Then you just turn right and follow a path down to the waterfront, and a long ramp leading up to “K.S. Nadwislan” and an opportunity to rent a kayak. Along the way, be sure to stop and watch a statue of a dragon that actually breathes fire every couple of minutes or so.

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Paddle the Don

Published on May 7, 2012 by in Events

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In the five years that I’ve participated in Paddle the Don event, I often get a reaction of mock-horror whenever I explain it to someone. “What if you tip into the water?” they exclaim, as if this would be tantamount to plunging headfirst into a nuclear waste pool without a HazMat suit. Well two years ago, I did happen to swamp my canoe in a shallow part of the river and it wasn’t horrible at all. Plus, it’s really handy now that much of my skin glows in the dark, so there.

Now sponsored by Manulife, Paddle the Don is an event that allows Toronto’s urban paddlers a unique opportunity to paddle down the Don River. It’s flooded for the event so that the waters are high enough to make it navigable (and some sections still seem quite shallow towards the end of the day). Since 2002, it’s also been a fundraiser for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), with paddlers collecting pledges or donating out of their own pockets. There are rewards for fundraising – my $50 donation got me a BBQ lunch at the end of my paddle, and this year’s event T-shirt which is a bright blue and says “Eat, Sleep, Paddle” under iconographic images.

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Minesing Wetlands, Barrie, Ontario

Published on April 30, 2012 by in Day Trips, Trips

Interactive map | How to do it | Photo gallery

I was intrigued by the Minesing Wetlands Conservation Area at first because of its proximity to Toronto. Just to the west of Barrie, it can easily be driven to within an hour, yet it offers much of the appeal of more northerly destinations – a winding river to paddle on, a lively eco-system full of wildlife, and just a bit of a cushion between you and the rest of civilization. But what really sold me was the chance to check out a veritable ghost town, complete with dilapidated bridge.

The Nottawasaga River looks saleable from Highway 89 and empties out from there into Wasaga Beach to the north. Any portion of the river could be worth paddling, and you could even do the whole route in three days and camp at designated sites along the way if you’re so inclined. I accessed the river at route 90 – just exit Highway 400 on Dunlop St. and take it West – and parked in a lot designated as a fishing area at Don Ross Drive. There’s also a campground right across the road, on the other side of the bridge.



View Ghost town in Minesing Wetlands in a larger map

You’ll quickly learn that this section of the river is a muddy experience. Be careful not to sink in too far as you’re getting in and out of the canoe, or you could find yourself plunging into the river. The river is a pleasant paddle downstream, and fairly high banks serve as a buffer against any wind. The river is lined with Red Maple trees and Fiddlehead ferns (my friend tells me these are edible plants and in fact, quite tasty when fried in butter).

Wildlife spotted along the river includes a good selection of birds. There are cormorants, mallards, and kingfishers. At one point, I spotted a large furry bundle sitting high in a tree and enthusiastically eating the leaves. At first I thought it was a raccoon because of the size, but closer inspection revealed it was a porcupine. He paid me little attention as I shored up to the river bank and sat underneath him, taking photos and trying to get a clear shot from all the branches in the way. He never stopped snacking the entire time I was there.

Minesing ecosystem

Fiddlehead ferns on the left, maple keys, and a potato bug.

The river does pose some challenges for paddlers with log jams. The steep, muddy bank can be tough to climb out on, so choose your spots carefully. I marked the best places I found on the interactive map here. The log jams can be curious to examine as they’ve also accrued strange pieces of man-made litter over the years. I saw a white door, a car tire, an exercise ball, and other assorted junk caught in the dams.

The first foundation of the ghost town is near a large log jam, and easily spotted from the river. Large concrete walls with frames for windows and doors stand in a field, about 50 meters from the west river bank. The roof of this building is entirely gone, and its inside contains some discarded items. A rusted-out oil drum has legible text indented on it: “Canadian Oil and Gas Company.”

How to do it

  • Link: Friends of Minesing Wetlands for access points and maps
  • Cost: $2 per person per day
  • Skill level: beginner
  • When: Local canoe clubs run guided trips into the wetlands in the Spring and Fall. You can independently access the river at any time.

Another short paddle upstream brings you to MacKinnon Bridge. This impressive structure was built in 1927, according to an inscription on the steel, and has long been out of use. Various steel beams on the bridge are warped, moss grows over the concrete base and vines wind their way through the support shafts. Despite erosion of dirt at either end of the bridge, it seems quite sturdy and safe enough to walk across for some time yet.

Walking across the bridge and following the east river bank downstream, you’ll come to twin pillars crowned with rectangular pyramids. These concrete columns look like they may have held a gate in place across this old road, as one metal hinge is still in place. The pillars are pock-marked and one even has a root growing out of it. If you can climb on top of one, it offers a good perspective on the land around you.

Following the old road (you’ll see the wheel troughs) towards the forest won’t lead you far until you get into the brackish area. These are called Wetlands for a reason, and shallow flooding extends into the forest in all directions. So wear your rubber galoshes if you want to explore the wooded area!

Paddling back to the access point is a bit tougher because of the fight against the current, but this route is still suitable even for beginner paddlers. The Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority does ask for a $2 fee for each visitor that enters the park, but I didn’t come across any opportunity to pay this fee. Perhaps it can be done at the camp site on the other side of the bridge. Also, an annual pass can be bought for an individual for $20, to access all NVCA areas.

Those who prefer a guided trip into the Minesing Wetlands can contact the Friends of the Minesing Wetlands or Barrie Canoe Club to inquire.


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Billy Bishop Airport, Toronto, ON

Published on April 23, 2012 by in Day Trips, Trips

Usually paddlers are looking for a little bit of peace and quiet when they set out in a canoe or kayak. But when you live in the heart of a high density urban area, that’s not always an option. Sometimes, rather than trying to squeeze the best nature experience you can get out of a city, you just have to fully embrace it for what it is and paddle directly into the heart of the mayhem.

Planes cross Toronto's skyline every few minutes on a typical day.

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Paddle to the Amazon – book review

Published on April 8, 2012 by in Paddlers, Reviews

In the summer of 1980, Don Starkell set out from Winnipeg, Manitoba with his two sons – Jeff, 19, and Dana, 18 – with the goal of canoeing to the mouth of the Amazon River. It seemed impossible and many told Don he would never make it and was foolish for trying, but he spent months preparing for the trip with his sons. They painstakingly mapped the 12,000+ mile route out in detail, had a local canoe maker craft a sturdy vessel (named after Spanish explorer Orellana), and packed enough gear and food so they could survive out of their canoe for weeks at a time. They departed as planned and two years later, Don completed his trip by paddling into Belize, Brazil. This book is an edited collection of the daily journal entries Don makes on his world-record making canoe trip.

The Starkells set out from Winnipeg on a journey that would take two years.

Paddle to the Amazon is as fantastical and adventurous as any work of fiction. The experiences that Don describes in his daily entries are written in an immediate way that brings the reader into the story, so that you feel like you’re in the canoe along with the Starkells. There are close-up encounters with wildlife; such as the pink-spotted freshwater dolphins that befriend the voyageur’s canoe and jump out of the water in playful displays, or the hordes of red ants that invade their campsites and relentlessly assault them with painful bites, or the myriad bird species encountered on the water that Don can’t help but imagine sticking into a boiling pot.

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Solo canoeist traverses Atlantic Ocean unaided

Published on April 7, 2012 by in News, Paddlers

If you think you’ve been on some marathon canoe trips that require gruelling days of paddling, here’s something to give you some perspective.

A Hungarian man, Gabor Rakonczay, has become the first person to solo canoe across the Atlantic Ocean. He completed the 5,000 km trip from Lagos, Portugal to Antigua in 76 days, arriving at his destination March 25. What’s amazing is that the 30-year old had no on-water assistance for the duration of the trip and was in fact incommunicado for 50 days after capsizing.

Rakonczay's canoe had a below-deck area that provided shelter.

Most canoes aren’t ocean-faring vessels. But this one was 7 meters long and fitted with a keel counter-weight to prevent tipping.

Rakonczay, an architect, spent 14 to 16 hours a day paddling and subsisted on canned food. He commented to the media that he spent a lot of time worrying about his loved ones back home, as he had no way to let them know he was OK.

The ocean-faring canoe was nicknamed "Vitality" in Hungarian.

Like any canoe trip, Murphy’s law was in effect on this globe-spanning journey. After ruining his communications equipment, Rakonczay tried to signal nearby vessels on four occasions using smoke flares. He wanted to send a message home, but was never successful in flagging down a ship. One Spanish report also makes it seem like it’d be almost impossible for his boat to tip because of the counter-weight. But of course, it tipped.


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Black Canyon, Colorado River, Nevada, U.S.A.

Published on April 6, 2012 by in Day Trips, Trips

Interactive map | How to do it | Photo gallery

It was 6:00 A.M. when the Desert Adventures company came to pick me up from my hotel. Thank God I’m still on eastern time, I thought to myself, otherwise this would seem almost unreasonably early. I was staying just off the main strip at the Clarion Hotel & Casino just off the main strip in Las Vegas, on Conference Centre Drive. A Groupon deal meant my stay cost me just $40 for the night, and the hotel was quite adequate (especially considering I was only there long enough to sleep for 6 hours). There was even  an attached restaurant that served me its daily steak special for $7.77. A small casino near the hotel lobby had a video blackjack table, and after turning $5 into $40 I cashed out while ahead, and knowing I’d need the sleep before the big paddle.

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