Saugeen River Canoe Trip

This was a short paddle on a section of the Saugeen River in July 2012. It’s a perfect first trip for all budding backcountry campers in Southern Ontario. You park your car downstream at the outfitters in town. They drop you, your gear and a canoe upstream to a launch point and you essentially float back to your car over two days. The outfitter is run by great people and the camp site at the conservation area is FREE!


  • Location: Saugeen River, Ontario
  • Length: 2 days
  • Launch: 44.205006,-81.194336
  • Terminus: 44.306235,-81.272121
  • Campsite: McBeath Conservation Area (44.271451,-81.233146)

Get Organized

The river is going to be busy all summer and there are no wardens so expect the camp site to be a little loud. I recommend renting a canoe for this trip even if you already own one. The river level is low enough in July that I had to get out and drag the canoe over shallower areas. Be prepared for bangs and scrapes if you decide to bring your own.

I’ve rented from Cowan Canoe  twice and they have been very helpful with changing my reservation or whenever there have been issues with the boats. On this specific trip one of the braces on my canoe popped off when I leaned back on it and when I told them about the damage I was expecting a few harsh words about my gut. Instead they apologised for interrupting my trip! A canoe was roughly $100 for two days for this trip but call for latest pricing.

Cowan are located in Paisley, Ontario and offer drop off at many points along the Saugeen. The launch point for an easy-going weekend trip is located where the river passes Concession Road 8 (map). It’s much easier if you can leave your supplies at the launch site BEFORE driving to the outfitters. So get to the launch point one hour before you are to pick up your boats, unload your gear and send only the drivers to Paisley to get the canoes. Aim to be on the water for 11am. You’ll get to the camp site in about 5 hours at a slow pace.

What to Bring

There are 0 portages and only one night on this trip so you can bring anything you want! There’s no need to limit yourself by weight. Bring fresh food and beer. Bring a cooler and a camp chair for yourself.  Bring 5-10 litres of water for drinking and cooking. The river water is pretty gross even if when filtered and chlorinated. This is a river surrounded by agricultural land.

There’s no problem if someone new makes a mistake with packing and you can use all your  heavy car camping equipment so no one needs new gear. Print out a map of the river so you can tell how far you’ve travelled as you pass under the bridges on the river.


McBeath Conservation Area  is a large grassy field that can accommodate up to 75 people. There are no reservations and no cost. The camp site has garbage bins and decent toilets. You’re very close to other campers compared to other back country sites There’s a few spots for hammocks here too. For the cost this is an amazing space, much better than anyone expected.


  • If you see a decent stack of decent looking firewood on the riverbank 3-4 hours in to the trip, pick it up! There is nothing left at the site or close by.
  • There are many geocaches along the route, load up some coords and get hunting!
  • People have been fined for drinking on the water, be sensible and/or discrete.
  • There’s a bridge close to the camp site that could possibly be jumped from if you’re in to that kinda thing! (at your own risk)
**Photo’s stolen from other members of the group, hope they don’t see this! ;)

The Tour d’Afrique – My Second Job!

The last few months have been absolutely crazy busy getting ready for the ride next year and there is still lots to do! The excitement is totally worth it but you’ll lose more evenings than you expect to training, packing and researching if you’re attending the Tour d’Afrique. I’ve spent the last month at work transferring my role to a colleague and I just handed my notice in this week so thankfully I can relax a bit at my main job now until I leave Canada.

I think my preparation would have been easier if I was planning to come back to live in this area. Instead I’m shutting down my life here completely. I have to stop all bills and mail, sell everything that wont fit in two bags and transfer all my important documents and stuff back to Ireland for storage. So exciting!

I’m also pretty new to cycling any further than to the shops and back – I didn’t know what clip-less pedals were until two months ago! There was lots of learning here for me. Thankfully it’s all coming together now – My Tour d’Afrique Crap pile is pretty much ready to be organized and most of my spreadsheet is showing green.

Some of the stuff I had to do this week

  • Ordered a new credit card so that my credit card won’t expire halfway through the trip.
  • Told my bank what I was up to so they wouldn’t think I was being scammed next year.
  • Got a storage locker and parked my motorcycle. This is ready for me to pick up when I finish the tour. I haven’t winterized it properly yet though.
  • Sold some of my crap. This is REALLY hard. Trying to sell your stuff makes you think twice about buying anything in the future.
  • Handed in my official notice to work WOOHOO! (My bosses have known for months though).
  • Rescheduled flights to get back to Ireland where it’s above freezing and I should be able to train outdoors.
  • Rescheduled last immunizations because of flight change.
  • Ordered some last minute electronics for cheap as part of Cyber Monday. Do I really need 16 rechargeable AA batteries? Probably not.
  • Bought the last of my cycling clothes and camping stuff for the trip. I have now banned myself from entering a MEC store for at least 1 year.
  • Cleaned the 300 empty coffee cups out my car so it can be sold.
  • Got the go-ahead from the Embassy of Sudan to apply for a visa.

Stuff I still have to do in the next two weeks

  • Buy the last of the medical stuff. I’m seriously considering skipping this. I have so many medicines now it’s a bit obscene.
  • Pick up the last of the bike parts and a box from my LBS. They’re having trouble finding me a rim and chain rings.
  • Sell more crap or give it away if I can’t sell. This is so damn hard!
  • Pack, weigh my bags, throw half it out and pack again.
  • Box the bike.
  • Get drunk for a week straight saying goodbye to everyone. I actually have a good few bottles of liquor to get through :)
  • Rent a car to get to the airport.





Training for the Tour d’Afrique: Week 4

I rode farthest on the bike I have ever ridden this weekend. I did a 100km on Saturday followed by a long, slow 135km on Sunday. I was beat but it felt great. If I could do a 130km and a 160km I’d be confident for the first two days of the tour.

Unfortunately it really is getting piercing cold out there. All the leaves have drifted off the trees, my nose runs like Niagara Falls meaning I wash my gloves after every ride these days and there’s that menacing sheen on the trails in the morning. It’s barely getting above freezing even during the day this weekend so I’m not sure if I’ll make it out. I’ll use the time to do some final shopping and get some overdue beers in.

I’ve decided to travel back to Ireland a little early so I can do some training there. It will be gloomy and wet compared to Canada but it should be above freezing at least. I live right by the mountains in the south west so it will be a big change from the scenery of Ontario. I’ll also get to spend more time with my family who I haven’t seen much of since moving to Canada. It’s going to be a great Christmas!


In case you’re wondering, my beautiful moustache is for Movember. If you’ve never heard of this event, men worldwide grow moustaches to raise money for and awareness of men’s health issues.  Men are notorious for not talking about their health or getting regular check-ups for both physical and mental issues resulting in some terrible statistics such as…

  •  1 in 7 men you know will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.
  • Men are four times as likely to commit suicide as women
  • Men die on average 4-5 years younger than women.
My team at work has raised over $800 ( so we’re pretty happy and it was definitely worth it! The moustache comes of in December though! :D
What my bike really looks like

Aero/Tri bars!

On the faster downhill sections last weekend I was getting left behind by the guys on road bikes. Fitness has definitely got something to do with this but I found that the wind was just smacking me full on while the guys were tucked down with their drop bars, chins scraping off the asphalt. I also noticed that after 60-70km my hands, wrists and shoulders get really tired of the upright mountain bike position.

So after fighting with myself over changing to drop bars or adding aero bars I found a set of Profile Design T2+ aero bars on kijiji today. I picked them up for $40. They’re installed and taped and I’ll be working on getting the fit right over the weekend. I can’t wait to try them out!

Source for the pink bike pic

Training for the Tour d’Afrique: Week 3

This week was great! I can feel myself improving little by little. Egypt would still knock me on my ass If I started today but hopefully another month will get me closer to a 170km day on the bike!

This week I did 40km on the trainer (boring!) doing intervals. On Saturday I did a 70km loop and followed that up on Sunday with a 95km loop. I was tired the next day but nowhere near as tired during the ride as I was last week. Great stuff!

The weather is getting much colder here now and it’s just holding above freezing during the day. This might be the last ice-free weekend that’s safe to cycle so I’m going to do 100km on Saturday and 130km on Sunday.

Some pics from the weekend!

Some inspiration if you’re on a trainer this week…

One Reason to Bring Spare Fixtures on the Tour d’Afrique

I wasn’t going to bother bringing spare screws on the tour until 1 hour in to a cycle this weekend when I shook off one of the bolts holding my rear rack to the seat stay! Finding an M5 Allen head stainless machine screw may have been a bit of a bother in Africa. No problems here though, it’s good as new with a new screw. I hadn’t checked these in a while so it was my fault. If I had kept up my maintenance I would have been OK.

After giving the bike a once over I’ve identified a few other screws and bolts that I’m afraid of losing. I’ll be adding Loctite to these at the weekend and bringing along a couple of spares. Do all metric bikes use M5′s for water bottle holders, pump holders, racks etc? Maybe bring 2-3 if you can!

Power Generation and Charging Units for Backcountry Camping

From the rocky, isolated shore of Crooked Lake in Ontario to the arid sands of Amara in Sudan, to capture those panoramas that make your friends jealous you’re probably going to need more power than you can hike in to the back country with. Long term trips with electronics in the outdoors require a rugged, reliable and weather resistant solution for re-charging those indispensable devices. Here are some portable power generators that caught my eye when I was looking for a solution to this problem for my GPS and GoPro on the Tour d’Afrique. Some are not practical just yet but may become great options in a few years.


Biolite Stove
Biolite Stove

The Biolite is an extremely promising, available to purchase, thermoelectric stove. The generator is used to charge a battery housed in the stove casing. This battery powers a fan, which pushes more air in to the stove increasing the fire’s heat. The battery then supplies any excess energy to a regulated USB port for charging devices. The Biolite costs $129 for the camp stove (Bio lite stove). Cool idea!

The Power Pot
The Power Pot

Another example of thermoelectric generation is a modified pot where the pot can be placed on any heated surface to generate power. The Power Pot  - provides 3W output. This generator isn’t very powerful – It would take more than 4 hours and lots of fuel to fully charge a modern Smartphone (correct me if I’m wrong?). But the fact that it works on any fire or heat source is a huge benefit.

Here is another example in the tea-candle generator, not very practical but another good example of the possibilities of thermoelectric power in the outdoors.

Iron in forge
mmm hot Source

It will be awesome when a company creates a simple folding device with no secondary function that can simply be chucked in to a roaring campfire to produce 10-15W.

These thermal generators would be great on my Canadian wilderness trips, but are useless for the Tour d’Afrique because I wont be cooking for myself. And I imagine in many places I’ll pass through, the locals will have first dibs on most of the wood.


Kinetic power generation is pretty awesome, this type of power generation includes wind, waves and flowing water (dams). In the case of camping adventures the kinetic energy would typically be produced by the campers themselves – converting food energy in to electrical energy by moving something. Another possibility would be to connect a wind turbine to your person or vehicle for example – not sure how practical this is though!

The Scorpion
The Scorpion

One adventure style kinetic power unit is the Eton Scorpion. This unit has a hand crank to generate power and includes a solar panel. Unfortunately the unit doesn’t provide much power other than to get your device started for a quick phone call in an emergency. It does work any time you need it though! No waiting around for sun or weather to cooperate.

Because I’m looking for power production specifically for a cycling trip I thought I would mention Dynamos.  These convert some of the kinetic energy from a spinning bicycle wheel in to electrical energy. They’re usually used to power bicycle lighting systems but output enough power to charge USB devices.

Shimano Dynamo
Shimano Dynamo

Shimano, Jenson and Schmidt are just some of the companies offering dynamo hubs for bicycles. Peter white discusses them here.

Like any kinetic system, the dynamo requires wattage from the source, that’s the rider in this case. I’ve never used one but most reviewers say that with a modern dynamo it’s hard to notice the drag even with the unit engaged. They typically output 3W and it should be fairly consistent. Definitely worth looking in to for a bicycle tour!

Just bring a sufficiently large battery

If your dark periods are only a few days then a good option for power in wild places is to just bring it with you. This is by far the most trouble free option. A decent portable battery pack is 7-8,000mAh. That will charge your phone about 5 times. This is often adequate with most camping trips lasting for a weekend. A portable battery pack of this size will be about the size of a small (2.5 in) portable hard drive.

Hyper Juice Battery Pack
Hyper Juice Battery Pack

It’s possible to get larger packs that can even charge your laptop! They are pretty bulky and require a wall socket to charge. I prefer to have something that can itself be charged by USB, this way it can be charged by a typical Solar Panel. A larger battery pack will be about the size of a large (3.5in) portable hard drive, maybe even larger depending on your requirements.

HyperJuice  sell all sizes of battery packs. They are i-device themed but the packs should work for any USB device.

Most battery packs are self-enclosed Lithium-Ion type products but there are packs (like the guide 10 from Goal Zero) that simply take NimH rechargeable AA or AAA. I prefer these for travel because if you’re stuck for a USB charge you can buy some alkaline AA batteries (sold everywhere) and transfer the power to your device via the USB output on the charging unit. Also, once the batteries start to lose the ability to hold a charge, you can just replace the batteries rather than the entire unit.


Solar power needs no introduction, in any camping or adventure store there are multiple examples of photo-voltaic panels. Some are rigid, some are flexible and can be rolled up in your pack. You can get many different sizes depending on your power requirements. The big problem with solar power, from the largest installations in the Mojave Desert to your personal solar panel for camping, is that power generation can only occur when the sun is shining.  To counteract this you really need to carry batteries or battery packs along with the panel for practicality. See the battery section for more on packs.

Goal 10 Solar Kit
Goal 10 Solar Kit

I spent a week researching solar power during the summer and the one product that came out on top of all reviews I went through was the Goal Zero range. For my needs I purchased the Guide 10 Adventure Kit for $150. This 7W panel charges 4 2200mAh batteries in 2-4 hours. I’ve tested this in Canada in august and it took under three hours in direct sunlight. In cloudy conditions it would be longer of course. I expected it to be gimmicky but it’s actually quite good. Of course it’s important to remember that solar panels are bulky and do seem fragile – I’m very careful with my goal 10. If it survives my trip I’ll be impressed!


Pee Power Generator
Pee Power Generator

That’s right, four 14 year-old girls from Africa have designed a system to generate power from your pee. How friggin’ awesome would it be to charge your iPod from the six-pack you just drank? The system extracts the hydrogen from your pee and uses it to power a gas generator. The maker fair team admit it could be potentially explosive so there are some kinks to work out before you’re packing you iPeePower unit in to your rucksack but kudos to the young scientist/engineers who created this!

Training for the Tour d’Afrique: Week 2

I found myself wondering if I’ll be able to manage the first few days of riding on the Tour d’Afrique this week!

Paris to Brantford GPS Track
Paris to Brantford GPS Track

For training week 1 I was happy doing 30 minute rides on the trainer at fairly high resistances to get tough but short workouts going. It added up to around 40km per week overall. This week I joined two guys who are much fitter cyclists than I on a 100km (99.5km really) ride from Brantford to Port Dover. I wanted to see if I could manage over 50km and to kind of scare myself in to training more for next year.  I’ve been spending too much time in the pub lately which kills my enthusiasm for training on a Sunday morning and there are more shenanigans planned for this weekend.

Well I was able to manage the 100km but my muscles cramped up so bad at km 75-80 that I had to stop and kneel to relax my quads (I might even have snuck in a prayer)! I don’t know if I could have gone the next 30km that’s required on the first day of the Tour d’Afrique! And the terrain I was on was virtually flat where I’m guessing there is more elevation gain in Egypt. It also took me 6 hours total, that includes a lunch stop but it can’t have been more than 30-40 minutes. You can see the GPS data on mapmyride:

So I obviously need to work a bit harder. I’m on the way to getting 60-70km done on the trainer this week and I have rsvp’d a negative on the pub crawl this weekend! I set up two courses for myself of roughly 70km each this Saturday and Sunday. The weather looks great at 9 degrees and sunny. I will be joining up with some crazy people on Sunday who are doing an 185km ride to prepare for a 1200km weekend race, The Granite Anvil. It’s inspiring for me to ride with them and I hope to get some tips and suggestions for my bike for the Tour d’Afrique.

I hope you havent procrastinated on training for the Tour d’Afrique like I have?:)

Here is the first hour of the Port Dover to Brantford return in four minutes!