Professional football players are used to being graded for their on-field performances. Two members of the Toronto Argonauts are happy their recent off-field exploits weren't under the same scrutiny.
Kicker Swayze Waters and rookie long snapper Jake Reinhart took advantage of the recent bye week to explore the great outdoors. The trip was a resounding success, but at the same time it was almost worthy of the film 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.'
On the surface it may seem like a curious pairing. Waters, a 27-year old from Jackson, Mississippi, is in his third season in the league, with a trio of NFL camps under his belt. He's a household name among CFL fans.
Reinhart, 24, was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, about 100 KM west of downtown Toronto. He finished his CIS career with his hometown Gryphons last year. Toiling in the relative obscurity of being a long snapper, he's a virtual unknown to even the most die-hard fans.
The two first met a year ago when Reinhart, an undrafted free agent, attended Argo training camp before heading back for his final season with the Gryphons. The friendship blossomed this year when Reinhart made the double blue, replacing long-time long snapper Chad Rempel, who left the team to try out for the Chicago Bears of the NFL.
The two became roommates on the road and coupled with the inordinate amount of time the duo spends together at practice, their friendship developed.
The pair took advantage of the team's recent bye week by traveling to scenic Algonquin Park for a camping trip, borrowing a canoe from Reinhart's brother.
Algonquin Park is a paradise for those who love the outdoors. Established in 1893, Ontario's first provincial park covers 7,630 square KM, the southern border of which is about three hours north of Toronto. People travel from around the world to experience the park's lakes, rivers and wildlife.
The Mississippi native, an outdoorsman at heart, had recently read a book entitled 'Wild At Heart' by John Eldredge, which the deeply religious Waters said was inspirational on more than one level.
"It's a biblical perspective on how God made men," confided Waters. "And how we all have this thing inside of us that loves the unknown and adventure. After I read it I was just really fired up."
"I'm an outdoors guy anyways," continued the kicker, "And I knew we had this off week coming up. I had heard some people talk about Algonquin and how beautiful it was up there."
With Algonquin Park's thousands of interconnected lakes and streams, weeks or even months of preparation can be used to best plot out which waterways, campsites and portage routes should be taken to maximize the experience.
How much time did the special teams twosome take to intricately plan this exploration of the wilds?
"After the Hamilton game I told Jake 'Hey, let's go to Algonquin tomorrow,'" said Waters. "It was just one of those deals."
"That was all Swayze's idea," laughed Reinhart, "But as soon as he said it I was right on board."
The pair decided shortly after the conclusion of the game in Hamilton that the time was right to load up the Reinhart's mother's minivan and head north. After the decision was confirmed at 10pm Monday night, they were on the road at 9am the next morning.
The intentions were good. The execution left a lot to be desired. Certain questions were yet to be answered, including "Exactly where was Algonquin Park?"
"We knew it was north," chuckled Waters.
"We knew we had to take (highway) 400 to get there and that's about it," confessed Reinhart.
So without maps, a plan, or anything other than a vague idea of how to get there, the dynamic duo headed toward their ultimate destination. They ended up in the town of Huntsville, where they received advice from some of the locals, then proceeded to hit the local department store to stock up for the excursion.
It was there that they bought a camping grill, or so they believed.
"We thought we had purchased the grill set," admitted Reinhart, "but it was really just pots and pans because we just looked on the package and there was a picture of a grill."
So then it was off the check in at the park and get a permit. They finally caught a bit of a break.
"We showed up at the gate at about 4:50 and they closed at 5:00," admitted Waters. "So I think they knew we didn't have a plan. They were laughing at us."
Undaunted, the Argos version of Lewis and Clark proceeded.
While portaging over steep, sometimes rocky, sometimes muddy terrain wasn't particularly enjoyable, the canoeing through the pristine waters and undisturbed wilderness more than made up for it. That said, the two didn't quite have the chemistry in the canoe that they enjoy on the field.
"We definitely didn't go in a straight line," deadpanned Waters, "It took us a while to figure out our rhythm, but for the first half we were zigzagging our way through the lakes and the rivers."
As the crow flies they canoed 52 KM and portaged another six, but the directionally challenged adventurers ended up paddling much, much further than that.
Despite taking the scenic route - both literally and figuratively - the pair didn't spot any moose or bears. The did however come in contact with one form of wildlife that was very happy to see them.
Mice, and lots of them.
"The first night we showed up real late, it was really dark," said Waters. "We didn't really get to our camp until it was completely dark. We unloaded all of our stuff out of the canoe, I got the GoPro out and we were videotaping our site."
"I'm looking at the food bag and there's a mouse running up the side of it," continued Waters. "I kicked it and then another one jumped out of the inside of the bag. We had literally been there for two minutes."
If Waters connected with the rodent the way he did with the football the day before, the mouse may not have come down yet. It didn't deter the pests though, as they tormented them throughout the night.
The trip continued with hellacious portages, unplanned trips through swamps and of course the lack of a grill. At one time they thought their journey was going to be a disaster, but they persevered and would jump at the chance to do it all over again.
"I'd do it again for sure,' said a smiling Reinhart. "Next time we'd be more prepared. We'd go in with a better plan."
The pair has an off-day in Calgary on Sunday following Saturday's game with the Stampeders. They're toying with the idea of canoeing down the Bow River.
Let's hope they bring a map.