Home.

Coming home felt weirdly normal. I’d been expecting some kind of surreal nostalgia or something on the flight back, but after a few minutes at home it felt like I’d never left. Aside from my room being a bit more cluttered, nothing had really changed in the house while I’d been gone. My parents had insured me on my mum’s car, and after a day to get over my jet lag, I went out and had no trouble getting used to driving again.

Looking out from the top of the hill...

Looking out from the top of the hill…

I was only home for 10 days, and it would be a hectic trip. Keen to catch up with as many friends and family as possible I’d crammed a lot of visits and activities into the first week. After a couple of days at home, I spent a day and half with my best friends Craig and Soph. We’ve been friends since we were in the Air Cadets, well over 10 years ago so it was really nice to see them and have a proper catch up. We had lunch and hung out during the day and then met a load of my friends at a nearby pub in the evening. It was really great to see everyone, and what was really nice about it was that I didn’t feel estranged to anyone whilst I’d been gone, everyone was chatting and laughing, as if I’d only really been gone a week! The next day, after staying at Craig’s, I headed down to London. I hadn’t really been expecting to do this, I thought that I wouldn’t have enough time, but amazingly I found a cheap train ticket, and was able to grab a lift with my Dad the next day, so was able to get a cheeky evening down there. It was really great getting back into London, even just for a night. London has some kind of buzz that I can’t quite put my finger as the train rolled in I got increasingly more excited. I has arranged to stay over at my mate Tom’s, and he got a load of messages out to everyone I knew in the city, and nearly all of them turn up for drinks that night!

Another home away from home...

Another home away from home…

The next day I left London thinking about my old life. I’d had a really good time in London before I’d left for Canada, and this little trip down had made me realized that it would definitely be the place I would move back to after my adventures. There wasn’t much time to rest however, the next day was my sister’s wedding!

The wedding was a bit of a surreal day to be honest. I’ve been to weddings before but this one was my immediate family, my dad was giving the bride away, my mum was the bride’s mother, the bride was my sister! This didn’t really hit me until I was in the ceremony venue, about 10 minutes before my sister was due to arrive. Suddenly my stomach was filled with butterflies, and I had the feeling that I might burst into tears as soon as she walked into the room. Luckily I was able to hold it together and the day was really great, going off pretty much without a hitch. It was wonderful to see my sister so happy with her husband Oscar, and the rest of my family all really happy.

Me and Sis

Me and Sis

It was also a really great chance to catch up will my entire extended family in a single meeting! I spent a lot of the day talking to my aunties and uncles about my adventures and about my future plans.

After the wedding I spent the next couple of days recovering (3 nights of drinking in a row) and did a saw a couple more of my friends, including my old school mate Ralph, before packing my things to head back to Canada. It had been quite a short trip, but a really productive and worthwhile one, my favourite part was just feeling like I’d never actually left. I think that’s because I’m lucky to have such great friends and family back home. As I write this I’m on the final leg of my flight back to Toronto. Out to my left is Montreal and the St Lawrence river, I really should go there! Soon we’ll be touching down and I’ll have to surrender myself to the border force once more. Hopefully they’ll let me back in ……

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Joe and Soph come to stay…..

September is proved to be a month of Stroudies!! This started promptly at the end of August with the arrival of Joe and Soph! Two of my best friends from home. I rushed to the airport, on the ever-tardy TTC (Toronto Transit system) and once we’d got back from the airport and dumped their bags I gave them a tour around my neighbourhood, and Kensington Market, my old one.

Looking around my old neighbourhood...

Looking around my old neighbourhood…

Over the next few days we went around all the popular areas of the city. Joe and Soph did a lot of their own exploring in the mornings, as I was still working at Edgewalk. My shifts were all 830-3 however, so I was able to go off and do stuff in the afternoon with them. They got to meet all my Edgewalk palls at a work get together too, and it was really great to see my two friendship circles mixing. We had plenty of walks around the city and enjoyed a fair bit of time on my roof, gazing at the city skyline and enjoying some fine whisky that Joe had brought over! We also went over to the islands, we had the intention to get dinner, but this didn’t happen, so we enjoyed a night walk watching the city skyline instead.

The city at night....

The city at night….

The main part of our trip was yet to come however, for the weekend in the middle of the visit we had decided to go on an adventure up in the lakes of Algonquin National Park, we would explore the lakes by canoe, doing a loop for 4 days.

The loop....

The loop….

We left early on the Friday and took the Park Bus service up to our outfitters at Lake Opeongo. From there, after packing all our food and equipment (as lightly as possible!), we took the outfitter’s water taxi service up to the north arm of Lake Opeongo, and made the first portage into Happy Isle Lake. Here we would spend the night, and after circling the island in the centre of the lake in our canoes we found a campsite on the northern shore to rest and prepare for a long next day. That evening we had our first challenge of the trip, our tent had been given to us without a ridge pole!!! Much searching and whittling occurred, and we were able to fashion one from a study stick we found nearby.

Air Cadet ingenuity at it's best.

Air Cadet ingenuity at it’s best.

The next morning we awoke early, and left the campsite after a hearty breakfast, heading for the southern shore of the lake. We were making for the Otterslides, a river system that ran into Big Trout Lake, where we would spend the second night. The morning progressed well and we made 3 long portages to the lake. The going was hard work, we had a heavy pack each, and me and Joe also carried a canoe each, but at the end of each portage we were rewarded with picturesque ponds and streams, and the occasional swig of whisky!

Across the pond...

Across the pond…

We took lunch on the northern shore of Otterslide Lake, and with 3 portages and a couple of long paddles under our belts, we were ravenous! As the afternoon wore on we made another series of short portages under the hot Algonquin sun. Between each portage we paddled the Otterslide creek, which meandered through marshland and swamps, ending in a waterfall. At this point we were looking for a place to set up camp. Believing our odds to be good for finding an empty one in a cluster of 4 we pressed on a good way up Big Trout Lake, with the shadows lengthening, but unfortunately with the weekend being busy all 4 were occupied. With the sun setting, and all of us tired, we were fortunate to be pointed to a small spot to the side of an occupied campsite, and hastily set up camp to rest and recharge. It had been a long day and we’d all made a mammoth effort at the end, but in paddling so far we’d given ourselves a very easy next day.

Up before the sun..

Up before the sun..

The next day we awoke before sun came up, and after another good breakfast we set out towards Merchants Lake. This involved crossing a large marsh at the north east end of Big Trout Lake, and then portaging into Merchants itself. The marsh was expansive with a number of smaller rivers leading into it so I had to be careful when navigating to avoid us canoeing the wrong way!

Moving through the marsh...

Moving through the marsh…

We achieved this with ease by 11 and by 1130 we were enjoying a lazy lunch at an empty campsite near our short portage back into Happy Isle Lake.

Looking out from lunch....

Looking out from lunch….

After the portage we made straight for the island that gives the lake its name. By this point the winds had picked up, and we were paddling through choppy waters, I was having fun trying to surf my canoe on the waves!

We reached an empty campsite by 2, and then enjoyed a laszy afternoon of swimming, chopping up way more wood for the fire than we needed, food, and whisky of course. As the sun set we let the fire burn down and had a go at making that campfire favourite, smores!

Getting ready for smores...

Getting ready for smores…

On the last day of our trip we once again woke before the sun, we had to reach our water taxi pickup on the other side of our first portage by 1130. Our last paddle was relaxed, and we took the time to enjoy the sensation of paddling in open water on last time before we completed our loop at the landing for the portage. We paused to look back at the lake before we donned our gear and made our way to the water taxi, bus, and eventually back to Toronto.

Waiting for the water taxi...

Waiting for the water taxi…

After our trip we took a day to relax, and Joe and Soph did some more exploring of their own around Toronto (I had a few shifts at Edgewalk). We visited Ripleys Aquarium, the islands again, and Joe and Soph made the obligatory trip to Niagara Falls. They decided to treat themselves, and got an amazing hotel room overlooking the falls, and they also did the Hornblower, and the behind the falls experience, like I had over a year ago, when I first arrived in Canada.

Waaaay better view than from my hostel!!!

Waaaay better view than from my hostel!!!

Soon it was Saturday and we began to pack for the return journey to the UK. We had a nice afternoon to relax before the flight, and enjoy some more whisky on the roof, and plenty of time to negotiate the TTC on the way to the airport. At the time of writing I’m somewhere over the Atlantic with just 2 hours to go before I touch down in the UK for the first time in 15 months!!!