Doing Very Hard Things On Purpose (Guest Post)

Lots (most?) of the people who write for this blog do hard things on purpose. Half Marathons and Marathons, 630kms on a bike in 6 days, lifting heavy things, clawing back from injury etc. It isn’t sport if you aren’t pushing a little and it’s likely that most of us who write here actually enjoy either the idea or the idea and experience of a trial that leads to a goal.

However, in July I went on a canoe trip with my partner that took this idea of “hard things on purpose” to a new level in my world. I love tripping and so does my partner. It’s the perfect vacation for us. We are forced to disconnect from everything and everybody else and we have to work hard together. It’s physical and we are never bored. Most importantly, we can take the child. . .er. . .I mean dog.

Last year, we did our first longer trip and launched out of Rain Lake in Algonquin, an area I am very familiar with. It went really well but we found the trip was a little gentle. We were only in the water for about 3 hours per day travelling and that left a lot of time sitting around. Don’t get me wrong, sitting around was fun. He would smack the deer flies landing on his head and then we would watch the ants drag the dead bodies to their lair. Seriously, better than Facebook scrolling. After that trip, we decided to plan for the next trip in an area that he remembers as a child, camping with his dad. It is the “main drag” of Algonquin, Canoe lake. We also decided that we could notch up the difficulty level significantly because a) we didn’t kill each other on this trip and b) 1 hour a day of sedentary fly killing was probably enough to satisfy us (2-3 was a bit much).

I planned a trip for 5 days and 4 nights. It started in Canoe Lake, went up to Tom Thompson, Burnt Island, Polly Lake, Tanamakoon and out. This trip was not the Algonquin wilderness I was used to. Canoe Lake and Smoke Lake are full of cottages. Tanamakoon has the worlds most adorable all girls camp. We camped across from them on our last night and we were quite worried we would be irritated by them. It was exactly the opposite, we were listening to their waterfront activity, full of fun yelling and laughing. Then, at random intervals, the entire waterfront would break into the camp song. . .so much happiness, who could be irritated?

Back to the trip itself. If anyone has bothered to look at their Algonquin map, you may see two options out of Tom Thompson Lake into Burnt Island Lake. One has 2 portages. The other has 8 or 9. We took the latter. It led us through lake, pond and swamp. One of the ponds was a huge mud puddle by the time we got to it. We didn’t know how we were going to get across. Fortunately, my brain knew that there was no way the park would have people dying in a mud puddle stuck up to their waist in such a high traffic area (further in. . .different set of rules). I found the extra portage around the lake. We were besieged by deer flies. It was hot. It was absolutely horrible. Then when it was over, it was fantastic. Total portage distance that day, 3km. One time through. That’s the way we do things.

The next day featured another 3.5km of portaging but this time, only four of them. The longest portage had not been cleared by staff since some wicked storms and we had to climb over dead-fall with canoe and pack. Even the dog had a hard time with one log and I had to take her pack off to jump it. She then took off and I was stuck holding her pack until I could convince her to get her butt back over here because everyone works on this trip!

We met the rangers on the other side with their chainsaws in hand. Excellent timing boys. We let them know that they could expect to walk the whole trail to clear it, one of them said, “That’s the way we like it!”. The other said, “Speak for yourself” and moaned.

At then end of each day, we were exhausted. All the dog wanted to do was get in the tent, away from the deer flies and sleep. I’ve never seen her so spent. However, we didn’t break anybody or anydog or anything (except both our watches). In fact, when we got out at Smoke Lake and did our last portage across Hwy 60, I recognized I felt fantastic. The things that ail me, like my shoulders and neck, were lose and mobile. I guess nearly 30kg of pack is good for me.

When we walked over to the permit office to report a few things (a broken privy) we looked out on Canoe Lake once again and were overwhelmed with the sight of at least 50 canoes full of mostly campers going out on trips from their various overnight camps. It was a fantastic sight (and boy were we glad we didn’t put in that day). I remember being one of those kids, ill prepared for what I was about to experience. Those trips were really hard because I knew nothing about what to do, what to take, what to avoid, how to stay comfortable. Yet they must have planted a seed that stayed with me and now here I am, seeking ways to push the experience to the edge so I can have the thrill of completion and full body exhaustion.

I still cook gourmet on these trips (extra weight of cherry tomatoes for pasta on the first night? You bet.) I still take naps if there is time. These are the pleasures you enjoy after that kind of trial. In the first draft of this blog I didn’t use the word “enjoy” just now. I used the word “deserve”. I am struck by how easy it is to fall into the language of deserving-ness, that weird moralizing we do to ourselves, as if the trial itself was a penance and now I am cleared of sin. I don’t feel that way about it. The trial is one kind of experience that enhances others. And so, I fully enjoy my nap or my coffee with sweetened condensed milk, or my mini chocolate bars, in ways I may not notice after a day of sitting around. Deserving has nothing to do with it. I’m going to continue doing the hard things so I can enjoy all of it, fully. . .that’s why.


6 thoughts on “Doing Very Hard Things On Purpose (Guest Post)

  1. Love this. It’s hard to explain the joy that isn’t technically pleasant. Someone said to me this week that my vacations aren’t vacations because they’re too active. I just looked blankly at them lol.

  2. This is great. I want to know more about your camping cooking too. Do you have a favorite source for recipes?

    1. My source is my brain. I have a whisperlite burner so it’s limited to boil or really really hot fry. I usually take butter and maybe a little oil to cut it and help with the burning. But the difficulty of camp cooking also leads to pleasures. For instance, the pasta was butter, herbs, cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. I totally browned the butter while toasting the pine nuts but that made it even better. Look for things that give you lots of taste and enough nutrition to keep you going. Hard work make a person HUNGRY!

  3. Love your camp cooking. Part of what makes doing hard challenging things fun is doing them with the right people. Resourceful, energetic, non whiney people. 🙂

  4. Susan, you can draft me anytime, anywhere, any distance if you take me on a canoe trip sometime. I grew up in Alberta and I have never been in a canoe for more than about 20 minutes at a time. This experience sounds magical and I’m keen to give it a go!

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