So I bust out of the Halifax airport into the sweet Atlantic air. I find Dan standing on the sidewalk beside his work van, playing songs on his guitar. I almost mistake him for a busker, except that you never see buskers at airports. I wonder why not. I think we need more buskers around airports.
We drive towards the city, passing an enormous, cube-shaped rock outcropping along the highway, brightly painted to form a giant Rubik's cube. For many years this Rubik's rock stood beside the highway in the same fashion it likely exists in your home: bright, neglected, and most importantly, unsolved. This year the highway Rubik's was repainted. Solved. I am happy for the rock.
Soon we arrive at Dan's house, his first time back in weeks. The location of Dan's house keys in the mess of the van has escaped him. So we enter via the bedroom window. Security isn't a real concern in Nova Scotia — not only does Dan leave his car unlocked, he never even removes the keys from the ignition.
A busy day at the beach outside Halifax
We fill up the van at the closest petrol station to our destination, and I wander inside to soak up the rural Nova Scotian culture. I see an advert on the wall for a local fundraiser, that day, to benefit Mr Garth Fader. An unfortunate name. May the force be with him.
We arrive at Dan's bicycle tour-guiding workplace, after barely ascending the steep, rutted, gravel driveway to the house ("the best theft deterrent"). The homebase is a beautifully built pair of large wooden buildings: one the workshop for bikes and wood, the other the owner's family home. The home looks out through conifers upon the Atlantic, and is abutted by forest and a huge garden. A group of us watch the owner's son walk carefully into the garden. Suddenly, psssh clack! And a yelp. Another psssshh clack, and a second yelp. Everyone is laughing: the owner has set up a motion-activated sprinkler system to annoy invading deer. But it doesn't discriminate. A brilliant system. Watching the son comedically get sprayed, I am reminded of Bart trying to eat the electrified cupcake.
Dan and I depart for our canoe trip within hours of my arrival in Nova Scotia. We are headed for Kejimkujik National Park, which we selected because it has such a great name, and I wanted to say the word a lot. It's probably my second favourite indigenous place name; I can't wait to visit Tuktoyaktuk. An hour from the park (you can call it Keji for short), we remember the last things from our list: matches, tent pegs, and stove fuel. You see, after many trips together over the past 12 years, we are certainly experts. It's 5pm before we reach the park — because we stopped for pie — and the ranger is a bit nervous about how far we need to paddle that evening. So we let her know that we are experts. She seems relieved. We hope she doesn't ask about our life jackets, because we've forgotten them. No worries, they'd only slow us down anyways. Plus, experts don't capsize. Except those two times we did — but we weren't experts then.
Hours later, the sun is setting, and we are still paddling. We had arrived at our assigned campsite, but it was rubbish, so we decided to find a better one, with waterfront views. Location, location, location. We find our home for the night after sunset, and Dan gets to setting up dinner while I put up the tent — one that requires pegs to stay up. I think the ground is a bit hard, and confirm my suspicions by shattering the first peg. Dan informs me that one was our only spare. I hit more gently. Done with the tent, Dan is still fiddling with the stove. But I sit patiently, because Dan is an expert. "Shit," he says, "I just broke the pump. Rrrrrraaagh!", he exclaims, as he drop-kicks the broken pump deep into the darkness. At that point we decide to cook all our meals over the fire, because they taste better that way. And with an abundance of now superfluous stove fuel, Dan expertly lit each fire with only one-match.
A spooky mist hovered over the still water that night
The next afternoon while relaxing on a sunny rock island we decide to bathe away some of the stink of paddling and portaging. After a couple minutes of swimming, something begins tickling me. Down there. A leech is exploring a critical area of my anatomy — bath time is definitely over. I scramble up onto our tiny rock, and when I turn around, I see that the leech has actually followed me to the rock, and is climbing up towards me. I am both horrified and slightly fascinated. That's one persistent parasite.
Back at camp, Dan chops veggies for our dinner, while I'm in charge of opening the can. That may sound easy, but a can opener wasn't on our list. I'm looking around for inspiration, when Dan jumps up, wailing. He grabs the water bottle and drops onto his back, squirting water into his eyes. Dan likes spicy peppers, but his eyeballs evidently do not. He will lay there for the next 10 minutes, giving me time to bash open the can on the corner of the grill. I expertly pry open a hole, nearly breaking the spondonicles in the process. Damn, we're a good team.
The next morning we pass the first humans of our trip. They ask us where we are headed, and Dan replies, "Around in circles", to their confusion. The previous day we had paddled 16km, and portaged eight times for a total of 5km, to finish basically where we started. This was so we could complete the full circuit, passing through all the beautiful lakes of southern Kejimkujik National Park (say that 3 times fast). but it was a great metaphor for the amazing and silly time we had, honing our canoeing expertise.