Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Path of Least Resistance

If you look to nature, you can find many lessons.  Nature has existed since the beginning of time, and many of its teachings are unchanged.  Without the benefit of intellect, nature just keeps going, by following instincts of survival.  It works together with its components; air, water, sun, wind, rocks, trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, everything benefits something else.

On a recent journey through Algonquin Provincial Park, I was emphatically taught one of nature's lessons.  Take the path of least resistance.

Algonquin Provincial Park, located in Ontario, Canada, is Canada's oldest park, and still one of its biggest.  The 60 corridor runs 57 km across the south end of the park; a well-maintained road that gives visitors access to trails, rivers, lakes, campgrounds, camp stores, and even lodging and restaurants.  Visitors can experience much of Algonquin right along this corridor.  But to really experience the park, you must venture into its interior, either on foot or by canoe.  Heading north will take you into a wilderness that is truly wild and remote.

I had neither the time nor the equipment to paddle to these wild places, but what I experienced on the many trails accessible by road was wild enough.

Snowmelt under the trail
Summer, Autumn, and Winter are busy times in the park, but Spring sees far fewer visitors. I was about to learn why.  Spring brings snowmelt and rapidly changing weather.  In the five days I was there, I hiked in a snowstorm, a thunderstorm, fog, sunshine, warm temperatures, cold temperatures, wind, and calm breezes. The changing weather all contributed to snowmelt, and all that melting snow had to go somewhere.  Like most things in nature, the water chose the path of least resistance and flowed freely down the mountains on the designated hiking trails.  At least, it flowed down the trail until it hit the icy ridges left behind by the snowshoers.  Then the water flowed under the trail, making it very unstable.

Snowmelt coming down the trail
Hiking was a challenge. Sections of the trail were a high narrow ridge of hard packed snow turned to ice.  Step off that ridge to the side and get a boot full of water.  Or place your foot in front of you thinking you are still on ice only to have your leg sink into a snowbank up to your thighs.  Exposed rocks appeared to provide a stronger surface, but the thin, invisible sheen of ice covering them had you sitting on your bum desperately trying to find your dignity while the rocks mocked your ineptness.  Some of those rocks were at the top of the mountain.  One slip, and you would become one with nature in a very bad way.
Two Rivers Trail, a narrow rocky ledge

Slippery ice covered rocks
 Fortunately, I had a hiking partner.  Fellow adventurer Mike knows Algonquin well, and my friend and guide was sure footed on the trail, helping me cross flooded sections and pulling me out of snow banks.

Pine Marten looking for people food
I began my journey by pulling into the Mew Lake campground in the evening, and the very first thing I saw was a Pine Marten.  This cute little creature was trying to teach me something about following the path of least resistance while he foraged for his food near the garbage cans.  As I searched for a site, I ignored the Pine Marten's advice and found that all the campsites were snowy and wet.  As the week wore on, my site opened up more and more as the snow melted away.  Then my site became an extension of the lake. When setting up camp, always look for a site with as few obstacles as possible.  Or at the very least, don't plan to go camping during the snowmelt in Canada.  When will I learn? I spent the first night drying my boots over the fire, looking at maps of the park, selecting trails, and planning my hikes to get the most kilometers under my feet in a short amount of time.  Mike would prove to be helpful in this area.  I had one goal, in addition to hiking and exploring and experiencing all that Algonquin is; I wanted to see a moose, a real, live moose.

As I hiked all week, either alone or with Mike, I encountered examples of nature's lesson to seek the path of least resistance.  The trees that grew at an angle, seeking a sliver of sunlight in a crowded forest.

The tree roots that grew on top of the rocks, rather than try to push through them.

The fog, which swirled and slinked over, under, and around everything.

But my favorite example of nature's path of least resistance was the moose markings.  I found tracks and scat and rubs and feeding signs all along the trail.  Apparently moose don't like to bushwhack any more than people do.  They followed the designated trails.  I am pretty sure moose are colorblind and weren't looking for the blue blazes marking the trail.  They simple followed the easiest path.  And when they had to relieve themselves, they did so right in the middle of the trail.
Moose scat on the trail
All week, I hiked, looking for a moose.  I hiked lowlands, marshes, river banks, forests, and mountaintops.  Treacherous trail conditions made it feel like I was not on the path of least resistance.  I slipped, slid, climbed, got wet, sunk, fell on my knees, my face, my shoulder.  I had to be carried across a river on Mike's back, since he chose the path of least resistance by wearing the proper boots and I did not.  I stopped, I waited, I listened.  I look at tracks and scat and followed.  I enjoyed myself immensely, but I did not see a moose.

The morning I was set to leave, I decided to hike one more trail alone, ever hopeful that I would see a moose in the early light, maybe going to the river for a drink.  As I approached the trail, a new sign had been tacked up at the trailhead.

This wasn't news to me.  I had been hiking under these conditions all week.  But what was new was the 10 trails that had actually been closed, due to flooding. I had already hiked through water, so I started hiking the Whiskey Rapids trail, even though it was posted as closed.  How bad could it be?

Most certainly, it was not the path of least resistance.  By the time I reached the lowlands, about 3 km in, the trail had disappeared under water.  I couldn't even find the trail.  I tried another trail.  The small bridge I hiked across earlier in the week on the Track and Tower trail was now half submerged.  

Much to my disappointment, I realized that my search for the moose was over.  The conditions had become too rough for me to hike safely alone.  It was time to head home.

There are about 3000 moose in Algonquin Provincial Park, and I hadn't seen one.  I put my bruised and battered body in my truck and took stock of my injuries.  I had multiple bruises, a twisted knee, a sore shoulder, and a thorn in the back of my head that is still there.  Putting the truck in gear, I left the trailhead for the long drive home.

But nature wasn't finished teaching me yet.

Driving down the smooth road of the park, with the seat heater on to ease my aches and pains, drinking a hot cup of coffee and listening to my favorite playlist, nature handed me a gift.  If you want to see a moose in Algonquin, take the path of least resistance.

My Beautiful Beast

Many thanks to my friend and fellow explorer Mike for encouraging me to explore your world, and for a great week of hiking and campfires and laughter.  Most of all, thanks for this beautiful beast!