While having absolutely nothing in common with the popular HBO fantasy/drama television series that goes by a similar name, this year the WWFFCC, or We Work For Food Construction Company, nevertheless turned what was at one point, nothing more than a fantasy, into reality.
Are We There Yet?
The timing of our trip north underwent something of a change this year.
Rather than drive through the night, thereby arriving at camp early in the morning, we decided to significantly reduce the possibility of a chance encounter with Alces americanus -or Mr. Moose to his friends - which have been known to take place throughout the early evening and night time hours.
Instead, we left just after 4am, which would put us into camp around 6pm that same day.
If you happen to have read any of the past accounts involving the WWFFCC, you will know that no trip would be complete without at least one stop at a building centre en route, and this year was no exception.
The fates smiled upon us yet again, because we just happened to arrive in North Bay at the precise moment the Home Depot was opening, which afforded us the opportunity to load up with various items we had failed to acquire the previous evening.
The rest of the trip went without incident. Roman slept, Lou pretended not to, and the remainder of our stops were limited to breakfast, fuel and ice cream.
Tote that Barge and Lift that…
Notwithstanding that the water levels had reached Biblical proportions in the spring, by late August it had receded significantly, and there was some question if we would be able to boat directly into camp, or have to get out of the boat and do a little toting and/or lifting along the way.
Fortunately, the only "toting" required was through a short section of the channel connecting the lake to the river, and because as always, Lou was wearing just the right attire for the occasion, he dutifully hopped into the water and pulled our boat and small barge into the lake.
Chief Pilot Greg, and the crew from Nakina Air Services had flown in earlier that week, and all of our building materials and other miscellaneous items were neatly piled next to the cabin.
With all 3 of us toting and lifting, camp was set up in no time, and that evening we enjoyed grilled, dry aged Chateaubriand, together with a blue cheese and field tomato salad, all of which was complimented by a thick and chewy 1998, Zenato Amarone.
Lou and Roman then sparked up our traditional evening campfire, where espresso, Cognac and #4 Montecristo's were enjoyed while discussing plans for the following day.
Will You Kindly Stop Bugging Me!
One of the more pleasant aspects of camp life in early September is that normally, you don't have to put up with any bugs.
As we all know, the weather this year was anything BUT normal, which unfortunately had a direct impact on the comings and goings of the insect population.
The little beasties lulled us into a false sense of security, because there was not a bug to be seen at the boat launch, nor were they're any to speak of around camp, neither upon our arrival or at campfire that evening.
While cutting us some slack that first day, they certainly made their presence known throughout the remainder of our stay.
Needless to say it really bites to have bugs that late in the season - lame pun intended.
Movin on Up - to the East Side…
(Feel free to sing along if you know the tune)
Although I'm relatively certain the picture used to introduce this story probably tipped you off in regards to what this years project was, it only tells part of the story.
I think it's fair to say that this time around, we transitioned from the practical to the impractical, or for that matter the down right decadent, particularly when viewed within the context of a "wilderness camp" setting.
Not only was the WWFFCC going to install a flush toilet - yes, that would be a flush toilet - together with a custom designed septic system - directly adjacent to this wilderness wonder, was to be our new cedar sauna.
Needless to say, "roughing it" was about to take on an entirely new meaning.
As the camp has taken shape over the past 5 years, the boys have always taken great pleasure in constantly reminding me that the original plan was to build a simple "lean to" of sorts, to create a little additional space outside of the original cabin for storage and such.
In fairness, the shape of the new structure could be broadly described as a "lean to," but from a functional standpoint, it was on an entirely different level.
After breakfasting on freshly perked Ethiopian Harrar coffee, Cumbrae Farms breakfast sausage, eggs to order and fresh fruit, we embarked on the days work.
We estimated the water was up between 7 and 8 feet over normal levels that spring, so the WWFFCC decided to put the new building well above ground, thereby reducing the possibility of flooding, should we continue to experience abnormally high water levels in the years to come.
Once the footings were in place, a cedar floor was laid, and the walls, which incorporated various openings for the windows and doors, were fabricated and hammered into position together with the plywood sheathing.
Following a full 9 hour day, with only one short break for a sandwich and cold drink, cocktail hour had finally arrived, and after downing tools, vodka martinis overflowing with olives, and Jack Daniels Manhattans were served together with some light snacks.
Dinner featured grilled tiger shrimp, tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon, an assortment of charcuterie, Parmesan Reggiano, Ontario field cantaloupe, and warm Ace, olive and sun dried tomato ciabatta's.
The evening's cellar section was a surprisingly robust Rose from the Megalomaniac Winery, which is located in Lincoln, Ontario.
Campfire was rather short lived, because unlike us, the damn bugs appeared to be working a double shift, so we scurried back into the cabin in order to finish off our espresso and Cognac in peace.
Absolutely no smoking is allowed in either of the cabins, but fortunately, a potential crisis was averted, because bugs notwithstanding, Lou managed to finish his cigar while outside by the fire.
If all went according to plan, the throne would be installed, and in all likelihood "ascended" later in the day.
We broke our fast with freshly perked coffee - lightly sweetened with a wee drop of Bailey's - fresh cantaloupe, warm cinnamon scones, and thick sliced, grilled Peameal and field tomato sandwiches.
It would prove to be a very long and intense day, with the manufacturing of the roof being first on the agenda.
This is a complex task that involves a great deal of lifting, measuring, precise cutting, climbing, nailing, screwing, squaring and notching, together with fabricating the frame where the sauna stovepipe would eventually be installed.
The rule of thumb appears to be, that when it comes time for Roman, our high steel guy, to install the roof, it rains - and today was no exception - but fortunately the pitch was not overly steep, and the rain was both light and intermittent.
It's worth mentioning, that although we had the majority of our building materials flown in, the ultimate success of this entire project was based in large part on what was left over from previous jobs, and in particular, my calculations regarding the amount of steel roofing currently in stock.
If either the inventory and/or my calculations were incorrect, it was going to be a very long, and time-consuming trip to the nearest building centre, which would have involved a return trip of over 100 km's.
While it appeared as though we had enough wood, the steel roofing was another matter entirely. The WWFFCC went back and forth between elation and despair as the panels were installed, and our stock dwindled accordingly.
Fortunately, I didn't screw up the calculation, and despite some tense moments, once the installation was complete, we actually had several small pieces remaining.
Once the roof was in place, next up was the preparation and installation of the septic system.
First, the tank had to be properly configured before being buried in a hole, located over 30 feet away from the new building.
Ah yes, the dreaded hole.
Much had been said and fussed over during the course of the year about the potential difficulties in digging the hole, and in particular, who would do the actual digging
Fortunately, in a stunning show of solidarity and selfless cooperation, the WWFFCC got the job done in no time at all.
In case you were wondering what I was doing while all of the digging was going on, I can assure the readers that I was otherwise engaged in performing a number of critical tasks, the nature and scope of which currently escape me.
The tank was then wrapped in a cloth designed to keep the surrounding soil from plugging the drainage outlets, and lowered into the hole. Rocks of a particular size and shape - I was advised in no uncertain terms that any old rocks would not do - were also needed to line the hole, and secure the tank in place.
Roman and I took our little barge, and began scouring the shoreline for the right type of rocks. Fortunately we found enough to complete the job, although loading them into the barge, and then carrying them to where the tank was located was a colossal pain.
The connecting and ventilation pipes were then cemented into place, the water supply hooked up, and the "throne" assembled and installed.
Next, multiple tests were conducted in order to ensure that all systems were fully operational, in anticipation of the "live" test to come.
There had been a great deal of discussion up to that point about who would be first to ascend the throne, and thereby be accorded the honour of performing the ultimate test.
Would it be me, by right of ownership? Should we have a draw? Rock - paper - scissors, or…
As is most often the case, necessity trumps process, and by virtue of having a critical need (or so he said), Roman conducted the initial test - and fortunately it was a huge success for both the system and Roman!
Following high fives all around, the windows, and door to the "throne room" were installed, just as the whistle blew, signalling the end of the workday, and the start of cocktail hour.
It was hot showers and cocktails all around, followed by this years new addition to the menu, smoked back ribs slathered in a habanero infused BBQ sauce, served with a warm potato salad, mixed with roasted red peppers, sweet onion, and an olive oil/balsamic vinegar/Dijon mustard dressing.
A 2012, Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel complimented our table fare nicely.
The temperature had dropped during the day, causing the bugs to retreat into their little bug caves - or wherever it is they go - thereby allowing us to enjoy our cigars, biscotti, and evening libations beside the campfire under a bright celestial canopy.
Before turning in, we sparked up the wood stove in order to take the chill off the cabin, and it didn't take long for our "lights out" banter to fade into a complete, and contented silence.
Mention My Name and You'll Get a Good Seat!
Because the previous day had been a very long one, rather than serving breakfast at the usual time, I let the boys have an extra half hour in the rack.
Once they were up and about, Cumbrae Farms, Chicken/Mushroom sausage, eggs to order and fresh fruit, complimented by freshly perked coffee, with a drop of Baily's added solely for the purposes of colour, was served.
As the major construction projects had now been completed, today was designated as clean up, and "odd job" day.
The list of "odd jobs" turned out to be rather formidable, and included such items as:
- Calculating the number of square feet of cedar needed to complete the sauna.
- Installing a second solar panel and junction box.
- Building a large storage box.
- Installing the second door.
- Fabricating and installing a kitchen counter extension.
- Fabricating and installing the steps to the bathroom and sauna building.
- Installing a system that would keep the solar panel and pump wiring above the high water mark.
- Conducting further tests of the new bathroom facility and septic system.
- Gathering a few more rocks, and putting them in place around the septic tank, and
- A whole mess of other stuff that I can't remember.
The first thing we did was conduct further tests on the new bathroom facility, and not one to wait around; Roman ran the first one for the second day in a row.
Lou was next, thereby putting me third in the line of ascension.
So much for the privileges of ownership.
While it performed yeoman's service over the years, I'm not going to miss the outhouse, although having said that, it's nice to have a back up - just in case technology fails to deliver.
I've heard it said that: "A man who won't listen can't hear," which probably summed up Roman's opinion of Lou by the time the steps were completed.
But having said that, Roman will be the first to admit, when it comes to construction, Lou is right, far more often than he is wrong - just as he was in terms of the design and installation of the steps.
Although it took up the entire day, all of the clean up and "odd jobs" on our list were completed.
After putting away the tools, Lou and I hopped into the boat, and found a spot on the river where there was cell phone coverage, so we could check on what, if anything of interest had been going on in the outside world.
We were also able to confirm the flight arrangements that would take us to our next job - yup; the WWFFCC was not finished just yet.
Once back in camp, cocktails were served, with dinner consisting of an old favourite, whole - wheat pasta with homemade pesto, and balsamic/Dijon marinated chicken breasts.
In order to go toe to toe with all of the garlic, basil and parmesan cheese in the pesto, I selected a 2009, Le Raggose Ripasso, Valpolicella Classico Superiore, which was more than up to the task.
Although they were particularly nasty throughout the day, the bugs thankfully took the night off, and we were able to fully enjoy our final campfire of 2014.
Flush Once for Yes, and Twice for…
Because we had another job lined up, and were not in a rush to hit the road, we had the luxury of closing the camp up at a leisurely pace.
Once we had polished off our double smoked bacon and eggs, the time had come to run one final series of tests on the new bathroom facility and septic system.
Roman, whose bowels must be on some kind of a timer was first up yet again, followed in quick succession by Lou.
My turn to ascend the throne had come, but as I was about to make my way over to the throne room, Lou appeared at the door with a rather concerned look on his face, and muttered the words:
"We seem to have a problem."
"What sort of problem?" Roman and I asked in unison.
"It's plugged," was his reply.
You have GOT to be kidding. Because I had only used it once, if the problem was not rectified, my one and only visit would go down as perhaps the most expensive of it's kind in history!
Needless to say, Roman and I really let Lou have it, and told him in no uncertain terms, that he would now be fed smaller portions, and definitely needed to incorporate more fruit and fibre into his diet.
So now what? We had no plunger, and despite repeated attempts to clear the blockage via constant flushing, the only viable alternative appeared to be to disassemble a section of the connecting pipe, and see what was what.
Those who know Lou, are likely aware that he loves television "reality" shows, and will take every opportunity to inject what he has seen or heard in the latest episode of "Swamp People," or whatever, into any conversation - and today was no exception.
Apparently there is some show about a women's prison where, because the prisoners are separated from one another in different buildings, they had come up with a rather ingenious way to communicate.
As Lou would have us believe, they talk to one another through the toilets - sort of a porcelain telephone system.
"And just how do they go about doing that?" I asked.
"Well, they create a vacuum by sealing off the bowl which, when you flush, causes the water to drain from the trap and not refill, then they talk to one another through the toilets," he replied.
Well ok then.
Because nature was tapping me on the shoulder, and not wanting to pay a return visit to the outhouse, I told him that if he could unplug things using that particular method, I would never make fun of his shows again.
A faint smile began to form at the corners of his mouth, and after grabbing a roll of duct tape, he was off and running.
To make a long story short, we would not be talking to anyone through our toilet system any time soon, although if you would like to more about this rather innovative telephone system, all will be revealed by pasting the following link in your browser: http://www.post-gazette.com/frontpage/2007/06/27/Inmates-giving-cell-phone-new-meaning-use-toilets-to-talk/stories/200706270307
Taking a slow and steady - not "reality" show based - approach, Roman was finally able to clear the blockage by continuing to flush what water he could through the system.
We realized later that the propane water heater had been inadvertently left on, so the water being used to flush out the system was warm, which may or may not have been a factor at the end of the day.
I'm relieved to report that this story had a happy ending, because when my turn finally came, everything - and I mean everything - performed flawlessly.
Now that the crisis had been averted, we completed the close up, and were on the water by noon, headed for the Nakina Air float base, where we would fly off to points even further North, to begin the next chapter in the continuing adventures of the WWFFCC.
A Final Word…
As always, the boys never cease to amaze, astound and amuse, and we can never thank them enough for their hard work, year after year.
And make no mistake; while it's without a doubt the best of times, it also involves no small amount of backbreaking work, creativity and innovation.
This years project took the camp to levels never previously imagined in terms of comfort and functionality, and as always, during the ride home, we had plenty of time to discuss just what fantasies will become reality next year.
Without revealing exactly what those plans are, lets just say that in addition to finishing off the sauna, the WWFFCC will be creating what can best be described as a "triple threat" facility.
So stay tuned - and don't forget to check out the image gallery below…