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The Excellent Adventure v.12 Assault on the Fortress of Moderate Solitude

12 Years and Counting

My annual “guy’s trip”, also known as The Excellent Adventure (coined by my good friend and founder of the trip, Tom Green) hit its 12-year mark this summer. And rather than camping at Lake Superior, or going to California, or the East Coast, I opened up the Fortress of Moderate Solitude (AKA the cottage) in the Kawarthas to the gang.

Sit back and relax
#fortressofmoderatesolitude interior
#fortressofmoderatesolitude exterior

After - of course - approval from upper management (AKA my wife, Karen).

The usual gang would be in attendance: me, my son Joe, Tom and my other good friend Doug Winnie. Doug was flying in from his home in California, and would spend the first night at Tom’s. Joe was making his way in by bus from Ottawa to Peterborough.

This annual trip is something we all look forward too. A chance to unwind, relax, disconnect from work and other related stresses, and an opportunity to just laugh - at situations, at each other, at the absurdity of life. All week long.

In the months leading up to EAV12 (or #eav12 on Instagram and Twitter), I was already getting excited about sharing my little piece of paradise with my friends.

Before buying the cottage, I did not have any real clue how much the Peterborough, Otonobee South Monaghan and Rice Lake areas had to offer. But over the past four summers, Karen and I have done a fair bit of exploring and daytripping, using the cottage more as a “home-base” than a place to just plunk ourselves down every weekend.

I had SO many ideas! I started loosely planning activities, letting them stew on the back-burner of my brain, until I finally settled on a rough, action-packed week. I shared that - shall we say - somewhat ambitious itinerary with the guys about a month before the trip.

Itinerary Convo

Doug, upon reading the agenda, managed to very diplomatically tell me that he didn’t want to be that busy all week. And while we still did a lot, we didn’t cover my entire list. The desire to relax - and the unrelenting heat and humidity - brought me back to more realistic expectations.

As the Adventure neared, I took to social media, counting down the time just like I’ve done for the opening of the cottage, using Adobe Spark Post and my photos from previous adventures, and the cottage.

A sampling of my social media posts.

I arrived at the cottage late Friday afternoon; I wanted to pick up some supplies before the guys arrived the following day. This gave me some very special "me" time. I'm not often at the cottage by myself. It almost felt weird, with Karen not being there. Dinner for one on Friday evening was very enjoyable, if solitary. Because I was so excited about the upcoming week, I awoke fairly early on Saturday morning. Early enough to catch Rice Lake shrouded in mist just after sunrise.

Temporary Solitude

I arranged for an extra cottage rental for the week, so we all had proper beds to sleep in and had some of our own space. But if we weren't out for a drive, we spent almost every waking hour at the Fortress, chilling, eating, playing board games and making fun of Tom. Basically, the usual stuff.

Our first full evening (Sunday) with the whole group was spent playing board games. We had a blast playing Keys to the Castle.

Mark S. Burnham Forest

Other than Sunday Brunch at Elmhirst's Resort, the weekend was pretty quiet. Monday morning, however, after a rousing evening of boardgames, Tom, Joe and I headed over to the Mark S. Burnham forest for an easy hike. It was still hot and humid at the cottage, but the forest provided a shady canopy under which to stretch our legs. Doug took the morning to "chillax"...

Located in the middle of the Peterborough Drumlin field (a drumlin is a hill created by glacial retreat) and formerly a woodlot on the Burnham estate, this park near Peterborough was returned to the province as a quiet spot for a walk in the woods. The drumlin field contains more than 3,000 of these glacial remnants. The trail winds through a mature hardwood forest and we were often dwarfed by elegant stands of maple, beech, elm and hemlock - among the oldest in Ontario.

A walk in the woods

We returned from our hike in the nick of time; storm clouds and rain were brewing. But, as you can see, threat of violent storms will not stop those who need to be connected. And the promise of rain was kept; so much so, that the power went out in the late afternoon, and stayed out until after midnight.

You don't need electricity to have fun at the cottage.
Farkle by lantern light. Dice games are always fun.

Indian River Reptile Zoo

Believe it or not, a trip to the Indian River Reptile Zoo was on my cottage bucket-list since the first day I saw it, four years ago. It was not, however, a visit in which Karen was interested. But on the Excellent Adventure, checking out at least one quirky roadside attraction is a mandate. We saw many live reptiles (some of which are rescue animals, BTW) and walked back in time to the early animatronic age to behold a somewhat creaky display of dinosaurs. Cheesy, but lots of fun, nonetheless. And all the kids that swirled around us didn't care; they just thought it was cool to hear dinosaurs and see some of them move.

Zoo Facts

This zoo is not just some oddball roadside attraction as I originally thought. Here are some facts, gleaned from the zoo's website:

  • The Indian River Reptile Zoo is Canada's only registered non-profit reptile zoo, and was established in 1998.
  • In 2001, the zoo became a training facility for all Canadian Federal Wildlife Officers as well as several other government agencies.
  • In 2009, the zoo became a not for profit organization and Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) registered charity* in order to gain public support.
  • Visitors have the opportunity to view over 200 reptiles in climate controlled conditions. Each enclosure presents reptiles in their natural setting and features specific information about each species.

Some of the zoo's reptiles are rescued animals from the pet trade and many others are endangered species that have been seized by Federal Wildlife Officers. These are animals which can't be returned to the wild for various reasons. The zoo enlists their endangered animals in regulated breeding programs to help save species from extinction.

Along with viewing both live and prehistoric reptiles, we also discovered a great little hiking trail on the zoo property, behind Jurassic Park. Despite the heat and humidity, it was still good to stretch our legs.

Wine Tasting at Elmhirst's Resort

After our brush with cold-blooded fauna, we polished off the day with - what turned into - a private Wine Tasting experience at Elmhirst, in their very own wine cellar! Hosted by General Manager Greg Elmhirst, our foursome spent two hours discussing and tasting wines from various Ontario wineries. Everyone had a great time and we all left a little more wine-smart than when we arrived.

Lah-tee-dah - wine tasting on the Excellent Adventure. #EAV12 develops some culture!

Canadian Canoe Museum

I've been to the Canadian Canoe Museum before and was blown away by the exhibits and the volume of Canadian history collected under one roof. I knew this was one side trip I would bring everyone on and that they would love it, especially Tom, who is an avid hiker, camper, paddler and former cub scout leader.

To learn more about the Canoe Museum, check out my other story, which has to date, received nearly 2,000 views.

Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge

A 45-minute drive from the cottage, and only minutes from downtown Campbellford, Ontario, the Ranney Gorge Suspension Bridge spans 91 metres across the fast-moving Trent River. Not only is this a spectacular view (especially in the autumn), it's right on the Trans Canada Trail, the longest recreational trail in the world.

Photo courtesy of Doug Winnie.
The three long exposure shots (with blurred water), were all captured using Lightroom Mobile on iOS and a new beta tech preview of a feature called, appropriately enough "Long Exposure" mode.

Another Night, Another Game (or Two)

Whether by campfire light, lantern light or ceiling light, evening games are a staple on the Excellent Adventure. Dice games, card games, tile games, mind games and board games, we play them all. And consume the odd adult beverage or two, as well.

KingDomino and a real-world version of Tetris were the games of choice this night.

Burleigh Falls

I have visited Burleigh Falls numerous times since getting the cottage. It's a gorgeous location with all those details you expect in the Canadian wilderness: fast moving water, windswept pines, and rock. LOTS of rock. This was the first time Joe, Tom and Doug had ever been to falls, and we had some great light to capture photos and simply enjoy the roar of the rapids.

I created images using a few different techniques and tools: Long exposure shots with my iPhone and the Lightroom Mobile Long Exposure mode, long exposures with my Nikon D750 and a Variable Neutral Density Filter, and in some cases (the soft, dreamy shots) using my Pinhole Pro lens for my Nikon. I think my absolute favorite shot from this side trip was of the woman relaxing in her fold-up chair, reading the paper. I saw this just as we were getting ready to leave the falls. I'm hoping others agree on Adobe Stock, as I posted it there for sale earlier this week.

Fun for the Whole Family!

Another night means more games! It was my turn to bring out some cottage favorites. We started with Arch Rival. I've had this game for years and it is fun - and nerve-wrecking - at the same time. In the spirit of Jenga and Tip-it, this balancing game makes you put assorted plastic pieces into various open buckets of a rocky and unstable (and barely supported) arch. After shattering Doug's final nerve, we switched to Last Chance, a card, dice and gambling game.

The Adventure Finale

When everyone arrived on the Saturday, it felt like we had forever to hang together. Kind of like a kid feels when summer break begins. But just like summer, it would end more quickly than we wanted.

And while Friday - our last full day - did indeed come far too fast, we had some great things lined up to wrap up the trip. Friday was shaping up to be the best day of the week, weather-wise, and we had saved the best for last, the Warsaw Caves in the morning, and a pontoon boat ride on Rice Lake in the afternoon.

Wasaw Caves and Scenic Lookout

Another item to check off my cottage my bucket-list, was a visit to the Warsaw Caves. This was a great walk, and came with a surprise for all of us at the end.

According to the web site, the Warsaw Caves Conservation Area and Campground takes its name from a series of seven caves found in the park. Just like the Peterborough Drumlin field, the caves were formed thousands of years ago at the end of the last ice age by glacial retreat, but in the case of the caves, rushing glacial melt waters did the excavation work.

We also learned there was a hiking trial to a scenic lookout of the Indian River. A gentle uphill slope eventually brought us to a spectacular view of the Indian River, from high above the water. And as luck would have it, as we rested and appreciated the vista, a lone canoe came paddling down the river, making for (what I hope is) another popular stock image sale.

Technical note: The caves are scattered through the forest and with pockets of bright sunshine filtering through, it was often difficult to find a balanced exposure. I regret not taking more time to set up a tripod and bracketing my shots, to get more pleasant HDR images from this hike.

Pontoon Ride

Late afternoon, I hired the resort to take us around Rice Lake. Approximately 30 kilometres long and with a maximum depth of 10 metres, Rice Lake is actually a man-made lake. Originally it was a rice paddy, growing wild rice, (hence the name) with a narrow river running through the middle. When a dam was installed in Hastings in the 19th century, the area that is now Rice Lake was intentionally flooded as part the creation of the Trent-Severn canal system.

Dinner and a Campfire - FINALLY!

It had been so hot and humid all week, that none of us wanted to sit outside around a campfire. But Friday was a beautiful day with almost no humidity, so we all agreed that a campfire was finally in order.

So Many Stars

One of Tom's goals for the week was to learn more about photographing the night sky. The fact that the cottage backs onto a golf course makes night photography much simpler, so around 11pm, cameras, tripods and flashlights in hand, we headed up to one of the greens and set up our cameras. I only cranked off a few frames, and the image below is the one I liked the best. There is a fair amount of image processing in night photography (well, there is for ME, anyway). You can see and learn more about this type of work by checking out my story, Starry, Starry Nights.

Looking off to the northeast, shooting with my Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens. 25 seconds, ISO 2500

Rogues Gallery

Something I have not done in the past is share photos from the rest of the group. Everyone has a different perspective, and each of the guys has a good eye for composition (no matter how much we tease Tom). And, honestly, they all get shots I either don't see or simply can't get, because I'm in them, or I'm somewhere else shooting my own stuff. So here are collections from each of the group.

Doug Winnie

Tom Green

Joseph Hutt

Assault, Breach and Evacuation

And that was our week. We had a final breakfast together Saturday morning, and after Tom and Doug headed for home, Joe and I cleaned and tidied the cottage and then I dropped him off in Peterborough so he could catch his bus home.

It was a fantastic week. And, as with all our past adventures, new laughs were had, bonds were strengthened and new experiences were - well - experienced. I know I speak for all of use when I say, "I can't wait for EAV13!"

Created By
Jim Babbage
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Unless otherwise noted, all photos made and copyrighted by Jim Babbage.

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