I've referred to parks (particularly the kind under the umbrella of Ontario Parks) as “backcountry for dummies”. You know how it goes, when you're in a managed park they do lots of things for you, like label portages, put thunderboxes at campsites (which are also labeled), and limit things like the number of tents and people per site. Oh, and charge fees, let's not forget the charging fees thing. I've had mixed feelings about the “parkification” (as Chris calls it) of some parts of Ontario recently. A few years ago, Jim defiantly pissed on a park parking meter as an expression of his feelings surrounding that sort of management of the wilderness experience – and if it wasn't a bit more challenging for women to do so, I'd be tempted to do the same.

So. This summer, both Jim and I (along with Sam, Bill, Frank, Marti, Ron and Lee) decided to visit a park again. This one, the Mingan Archipelago, is a national park (actually, a “national park reserve”, whatever that means). It not only has designated campsites (not allowed to camp in other spots) and fees, but the campsites mostly have designated tent pads and it's not just thunderboxes, it's entire outhouses. With toilet paper provided. Firewood is also provided, along with interpretive programs in the backcountry (I know, strange), picnic tables and these cool outdoor cooking fireplaces. Oh, and every outhouse has a plaque-o'-park rules in it. I'm not kidding, there is an entire page of rules and regulations and warnings of potential prosecution nailed up in each outhouse! Just in case it occurred to you to try and deviate from the managed wilderness experience that Parks Canada would like you to have.

Now, why would we seek out a wilderness experience as tightly regulated as this one? Well, because it's a whole new world: we were kayaking on salt water. Very cold salt water (4 degrees) with tides and currents and heavy fog and potential for strong winds. All of this is stuff that I at least have zero experience with, and none of us had been to the region (the Côte Nord in Quebec, aka the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence) before. Parks literature was pretty much all we had to go on, and the park promised to be spectacular (Monoliths! Puffins! Whales!), so the Mingans it was. The trip was planned and organized by Sam Wyss (that's him, doing his best impression of a garden gnome, on the left), and I happily signed up as soon as he posted it.

The Mingan Archipelago is almost at the end of the road on the north shore. To get there, you drive to Quebec City. And then you keep driving, for about 850 km more, on Highway 138. You drive through charming cottage country like the Charlevoix region, you take a ferry over the Saguenay, you drive through less cottagey areas past Tadoussac, and you keep driving into the taiga and along with logging trucks to Sept Iles. In Sept Iles, you can stop to look at the highway going all the way to Labrador and tell Lee no, we really don't have time to just pop up to Labrador, and you can try to find a hotel room in a town fully booked for an Innu festival and thus keep driving and driving some more all the way to Longue Pointe de Mingan, where you can set up a tent at a campground that is so shrouded in fog that you should probably tie a string to the car before you set out to find a tent pad. Or rather, that was how my trip started. Except that I didn't actually do much of the driving, I demanded the passengering role from the moment I got to Lee's house in Toronto.

So, we got to Longue Pointe, and a day earlier than we'd anticipated due to the Sept Iles hotel room issue. This meant that we had a whole day to fart around or, in our case, fend off constant sales pitches to take a cruise to see the islands and the puffins. After you set up your tent, you go see the puffins? We do good puffin cruises! I was tempted to ask if they do good puffin, since I was feeling peckish, but my lack of French and the general lack of English in the town would have turned that into a pretty interesting sign language conversation (as it was, when we went to the one restaurant, they sent out the cook to wait on us because he spoke English). Declining all offers to go see the puffins, we parked ourselves at OPS. OPS (Organisme de Prévention et de Sécurité du kayak de mer ) is the coolest service ever: they have a place in Longue Point where Martin and Mathieu dispense free advice to would-be sea kayakers. They'll sell you the charts and all sorts of safety equipment, they'll explain tidal navigation to you, and they'll show you the good put-ins and places to camp beyond the park. The idea, as the organization's title suggests, is to prevent sea kayak stupidity. To this end, Martin explained that we'd likely be navigating in fog, and at what times we should go in what direction (he consulted the Atlas of Tidal Currents for the Mingans). Lee and I took what Martin had to say sufficiently seriously that Lee bought a VHF radio (and Martin gave him a crash course in its operation) and I picked up a foghorn (Martin wouldn't let me test it inside the building, though!)

I know, I know, enough of the lead-in already. But before you get to go to the trip report, I want to get a plug in for OPS. These guys love kayaking, know their stuff, and provide an extremely friendly and much-needed service to would-be adventurers. Since OPS opened, the number of search and rescue incidents in the Mingans has dropped dramatically. Their funding isn't as secure or as generous as it should be, I don't think, given their not inconsiderable contributions to both the Coast Guard and Parks Canada's operations. Parks Canada, actually, gets a big fat thumbs down from me, for not requiring people to check their itinerary with OPS and generally having people who know less than the parking meters Jim likes to piss on about kayaking in the Mingans. They'll happily register you for a 60 km day while gazing out at your 10 foot recreational kayak, I'm sure. But I digress: Martin met with all of us, and, given that it was all of our first ocean expedition experience, we adjusted our trip plan to include two car shuttles and thus be on the safe side no matter what the weather systems kicked up. There, end of "why you must go see OPS before you go register with Parks Canada" note.