J’habite dans le Lac Philippe

Aquacae’s guiding principle should be “if you visit, swimit”; so in the middle of my business trip to Toronto and our global HQ in California (exact location concealed to preserve anonymity!), I decided to spend a weekend in Ottawa (surprisingly Canada’s capital… I think there is the Canberra phenomenon whereby no one outside of the country knows that it is the capital).  Primarily this was to catch up with my wonderful friends Dylan and Chil (and their beautiful twin daughters Namwezi and Wamaka and baby Mwamba), but as I was there and Canada is famous for its wilderness and lakes I thought a Saturday morning dip might be in order.

My original plan had been to swim in Lake Ontario while in Toronto; thwarted by 2 factors: firstly no proximate swimming spots (which could have been overcome with public transport), but also the fact that recent flooding storms in the area had turned sections of the lake into coliform laden, brownish soup.  The Swimguide app, which provides reports on all of Toronto’s swimming spots was showing red, so I canned the plan!

So, at 10am on Saturday, Dylan and I were en route to Lac Philippe in Gatineau National Park, Quebec.  Dylan chose this lake for the fact that one can hire kayaks; I had done my homework and read that swimming was only allowed in lifeguard patrolled areas, but rules are there for the breaking.  On arriving into the park, we were warned of “Swimmer’s Itch” (see attached picture), which manifests in multiple itchy red papules and is caused by a water borne larva.  Advice to avoid the itch was to limit swims to 10 minutes and to towel dry thoroughly after swimming… one of the two was certainly achievable; the other? Nah!.

Not to upset the kayak hire guy, Dylan kayaked to a swimming beach while I walked around and we set off from there.  Air temperature a warm low to mid 20’s, water temperature at least 18-20 degrees, we set off on a most beautiful swim… for about a minute. By the time we got to the outer zone of the patrolled area a pretty teenaged lifesaver paddles out and in an interesting French/Canadian accent and with a plait to rival Rapunzel’s to tell us I was not permitted to swim outside of the netted area and Dylan was not permitted to kayak within it… hmmm. We tried negotiation “so what would happen if we set off? So how much of a fine would be levied? We can afford a small fine”; I also tried “but I’m a marathon swimmer, I’ll be safe”. To no avail. Sullenly and shamefacedly I swam back to shore, walked 500m down the lake and jumped into the water again, swimming to the opposite side of the lake hiding from Rapunzel’s view behind the kayak.

Sweet… while thoughts of a Ranger motorboating it out to us, dragging me onto his boat and arresting me (although I don’t think I was committing a federal or provincial criminal offence I do tend toward catastrophic thinking) played in my mind, and imaginings of being chowed upon by larvae who would leave me looking like a chickenpox sufferer for my important meetings in head office, plagued me it was a damned fine swim. It was by no means fast, but I didn’t feed, therefore over about 2 and a half hours I only stopped a few times for brief periods to chat to Dylan or to take pictures.

The water was crystal clear, as clean as a smurf’s conscience, as flat as … umm… a lake and the freshwater certainly felt a welcomed change. During the swim the air got warmer, the water got warmer (particularly toward the shore, where shallower… in fact unpleasantly so) and despite being harassed by a dragonfly (maybe it wasn’t the same one throughout) I had a hoot.  All sides of the lake were surrounded by thick coniferous pines on hillsides. Crystal clear skies. This is la vie jolie.

A long swim (against a small current) up to the South East end of the lake, followed by a quicker swim back; feeling looser and easier (as you do), opening up, ducking and swimming through underwater worlds of long wavy plants occasionally… loving it! Lots of people to say hi to on the way back; a bunch of young guys, who had canoed to the far side and were dragging a slab of beer up the hill to jump off a small cliff face, numerous picnicking families on the shore line; a little wave as I rolled into backstroke then back into freestyle! Why would they worry about one aquacae when there were Canadian youths with the potential to highlight the lack of nearby neurosurgical departments!

Figuring the kayak guy actually couldn’t care what I did we swam back to where rentals were kept; a HUGE queue of Quebecians (Quebecites?) wanting to hire kayaks, canoes, pedalloes, tonnes of people playing in the water and picnicking… I think we went at the right time!

I had intended to swim in Santa Monica where I was staying in California… but… yuck! Certainly not as pristine as Sydney ocean water; 20 minutes made me satisfied with my lake swim and yearning for home again!