From virtual to reality – How a community came together at Wolf Lake

As far as trips go, our weekend at Wolf Lake was one of those trips that I will never forget and will never be replicated. It was a weekend of many firsts for the Sometimes Eventful family. And it was a weekend where I saw first-hand how an online group translates into a wonderful real-life community.

When casual comments about a group trip first started back in the summer, I tossed our names into the conversation and said my family would be “in”. To be honest, I didn’t think at that time that it would really happen. But when I received a message making the trip invitation official, I jumped into the canoe, so-to-speak, with both feet.  Where would we go? What kind of trip is this going to be? Who else is coming for the ride?
We quickly determined that this would be a family-focused trip, involving a diverse range of skill level and children ranging from Kindergarten to High School-age.  And the really interesting part? Some of us had never, ever met in person. Sure, we are all outdoor enthusiasts who share a common interest and philosophy towards getting outside. But our familiar meeting point was in the virtual world of blogs, social media  and the #WeGetOutside Twitter chat I host each week.  The Sometimes Eventful family had never gone on a trip with any of these people.
What were we getting ourselves into?

It didn’t take long to settle on a destination, based on pretty simple criteria: it had to suite a range of skill levels, it had to fit a big group, and a thunderbox would be nice.

That’s when a member of this motley crew of paddlers stepped-up with a suggestion we all loved. He had spent quite a bit of time in the Temagami region this past summer, and wanted to share the incredible Wolf Lake with the rest of us. We all jumped on the opportunity, as the rest of us had never been there. On a strictly personal level I was crazy-excited to camp at Wolf Lake as it was a place I had wanted to visit for over 20 years.


Our good friend Matt from Paddle In became our guide, sharing information about the location and answering questions about the area. Sort of. When grilled about the paddle time and portages, the phrase “Easy Peasy” was thrown about with a virtual shrug, more than once.  More about that later.
After checking schedules we settled on a mid-October date. The destination was Wolf Lake. The final group included:
  • 8 canoes
  • 14 adults
  • 8 kids
  • 3 dogs
Photo courtesy of Paddle In
As we got closer to the trip, the reality of how crazy this trip might be started to settle-in for a few of us. But we were all excited and game to trip together to an incredible destination.
When we met at the portage, we all got down to business getting loaded-up and into our canoes. After brief introductions, our group seemed to connect instantly, lending helping hands and exchanging jokes. The kids checked each other out, the dogs checked each other out and the adults checked each other’s gear out.

The feeling of  camaraderie lasted the entire weekend and has continued long after we loaded our gear to head home from the trip.

Conversations were had as we made the paddle across Matagamasi Lake.  Alex and I are slow paddlers and trailed behind most of the armada, but The Canoe Collector and his daughter kept us company. We talked about canoes and school and canoes and camping and life and canoes. It was easy to bond with them as we settled into a rhythm.


We soon caught up to the others at the first portage.  This one really was an “easy peasy” portage that ran approximately 300 meters over a flat, but rocky path.  Many hands made light work as we carried our gear to the next put-in. This was where I first really noticed how quickly our group came together. No egos around who goes first or who does what. Nobody questioned whether help was needed…. It was just given. Help carrying stuff, help getting canoes in the water, help getting people in the canoes.  I felt as though I had been tripping with these people for a long time and we were all comfortable in our roles as a team. Even the kids knew what to do, helping out other families and taking directions with ease. It was clear this group of kids had all been on a portage before and were being raised as children of the wilderness.

Within a few short paddle strokes, we were at the second portage. Really! We could actually see the second portage from our put-in at the first portage.  Matt had mentioned this one was also around 300 meters, but was uphill. What he didn’t tell us, is that it was also a narrow path up a steep incline that had a rock face on one side and a gully with a raging waterfall on the other.  An unfortunate misstep on this portage could mean a BIG problem.  Remember my little issue of falling off of things? Things like narrow paths on steep inclines where there is a waterfall? This portage was a physical challenge for me, but it provided me with a psychological challenge, too. I wasn’t the only one who struggled with the physical climb, but despite the challenge the community rallied around each other and helped get everything and everyone to the top.

Some of us humans may have struggled with this upward climb to Silvester Lake. But Buddy loved it. Of course, he wasn’t carrying anything, either!

I would not classify that particular part of the trip as “easy peasy”. But, I think it was that tricky portage that really sealed the bond between all of us. I like to tease Matt about it. I may even have told him that I hated him for it… But that’s not really true. Because it was worth the challenge to get to the put-in that would see us paddle across Silvester Lake to our final, small challenge of the journey: the narrows between Silvester and Wolf Lake.

Once again, we were last to arrive as our group waited to make it’s way through the shallow narrows that would take us to Wolf Lake. Here,we saw Matt jump out of his canoe and help each of us navigate through the rocks and shallow water.

That first day of paddling and portaging and chatting set the stage for the rest of the weekend. Like old friends we chatted and joked non-stop. Like new friends we shared stories about ourselves to get to know each other better, and as outdoor enthusiasts we talked about our gear and shared tips and tricks we’ve learned on our individual adventures. We also found common interests outside of the camping world, including a love for horses!

Camp life was easy, with each family group being responsible for their own  entertainment, food and gear. And even then, much sharing happened around the campfire as we shared snacks from our barrel stashes. The Camping Family, Duane and Marian even shared the balls stuck on the legs of their camping chairs with Buddy, although that was more Buddy’s idea than anyone else’s.

Camp life on Wolf Lake

The kids played flashlight tag and hide and seek in the forest and card games on the rocks, with the older kids taking the younger ones under their wings.

Even the dogs found their places, as inexperienced and young, little Buddy learned some manners from the wiser, older (and somewhat grumpier) Jake, while gentle Skye hustled cuddles and love from everyone while trying to avoid Buddy’s boisterous puppy love.

Jake on the portage

On the second day of our trip, most of us stayed close to the fire as high, cold wind kept us off the lake. Short hikes were made to explore our site on ancient Wolf Lake and wander among 300 year old trees.  All of us hoped for a clearer day on Sunday to paddle home and Pete made an offering to the spirits of the lake. As darkness set around the site, old traditions with new friends carried on as both silly and spooky stories were told around the fire.

Sunday morning brought us calm waters and the promise of an excellent paddling day. Pete’s offering worked. As we made the paddle back to our vehicles, we felt as though it was the perfect summer day as the sun shone done. Just as with the paddle to Wolf Lake, we worked together as a community to load canoes and work our way back. This time, it was Pete helping at the narrows, showing us where Matt learned to be a stellar paddling guide.

When we reached the portage at the end of Silvester Lake, we were all relieved that this time we’d be travelling down the slope. And it was here that Matt revealed the not-so-secret location of Paradise Lagoon. Our portage turned into an hour-long stop that included a scramble over an old deadfall at the top of a waterfall to get to the cliffs of the lagoon. I wasn’t going to make the deadfall crossing. Afterall, the words dead and fall are a little more real to me than some other people. But Matt made me do it, and even held my hand as I crossed the slippery logs.

I’m glad I did, because it took me to the beautiful place where campers braver than me leapt into the frigid water below. Even Emma jumped, fully clothed for an exhilarating wake-up call when she hit the turquoise pool. (As an aside, doing that portage and crossing those logs to get back to the trail were MUCH easier the second time around. Funny how that happens.)

Leaping into Paradise.

Relaxed, refreshed and a little sad that we could not have one more day in this amazing area, we took off for the final paddle home.  Once again, our canoe was the slowest. And once again, we were kept company for great conversation, but this time by three other canoes.

When we reached the take-out, we were all a little tired, a lot hungry and ready to make the long trek to our various home-bases. But this time, the parking lot was the place for hugs and handshakes. And instead of introductions, we asked when we could do it again.

There were so many firsts for Alex, Emma and I on this trip. It was the longest we had paddled to get to a campsite; the hardest portage we have done to this point; our first experience with a swift; the latest we’ve camped in the year; the longest amount of time Buddy has spent in a canoe; our first group trip.  And it was all awesome. Our weekend on Wolf Lake really raised the bar on our backcountry and paddling experience.

But more than giving us some backcountry credentials, this trip truly solidified that this group of outdoor bloggers and enthusiasts I had originally met on the Internet is truly a community of incredible and inspiring people in real life. And we can’t wait to go on another trip with them.


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  • Steve Miller

    Thanks Gayle, I did not realize (nor really look because I've been swamped with work) that you wrote a post about our weekend. It's great and just reading through it as it made me think back to the wonderful time we had. It was fabulous for all, the experience, the fun and the "first time's" for us as well. I think Bri said it best when were were travelling home… "Dad, I know it's crazy because we just met all those people for the first time, but I feel like we've known them for year". It was the weekend that cultivated new friendships and hopefully more planned group vacations for years to come. Wonderful to meet you guys… and the first thing I purchased for this weekend (thanks Arkadiusz) was the Platypus. I'll never pump again. Thanks for walking through that Alex. All the best and we look forward to meeting you again.

  • Arkadiusz Labuz

    Very nice written Gayle & you said it all how I felt.
    This was a "magical" weekend. The place and all of us made it happened. Thank you all for being part of it.
    Now, after I read your post, I want to go back there tomorrow.

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