I thought it was too late to canoe into the back country. In the past 16 years or so, I have never had a summer where I didn’t get in at least once. But this year, because of . . . you know what. . .I did not get my act together to book anything before millions of people descended on the park system and grabbed all the spots when they opened up. That was a big sad I’ll tell you. My Horsie trip to Iceland also got cancelled. I mean, of course it did, but I was anxiously clinging to a miracle. Can you blame me? A summer of bummer to put it mildly.
But wait! What appeareth in my inbox? A hastily arranged organized trip to Killarney!? I pounced on it like a hawk on a mouse, like a cat on a cockroach. I yell-texted Cheryl (who was going to be all horsie with me) “THE SPOTS ARE ALL SNAPPING UP THERE ARE ONLY 7 GO REGISTER OMG!” She made it, phew.
I have never been to Killarney (Ontario btw) before, I’m an Algonquin girl. Our entrance into the park was the back end off Highway 6. As you can imagine this trip was more about chasing the permit spots than it was an idealized journey of exploration. But for me, getting into a canoe, out on the water, over a hill, away from the things and into a tent was the point, not whether the route made any sense. It was also an interesting challenge for me because I was not organizing it. Organizing a back-country trip is exactly the kind of exercise in ingenuity, cleverness and delightful surprises to my companions that I most enjoy. Now someone else was going to do that for me. Could I trust her? At this point, I did not care. Worst case, I’d just lay on a rock and cry about everything and honestly, that felt like the most beautiful possibility. Spoiler, I would not be crying about the canoe trip.
Cheryl and I have tripped before. Last year we spent a weekend together with my daughter and her best friend, to test out if we would be GOOD TRAVELLING COMPANIONS IN ICELAND. (ahhhhhhhhhhhhhsobbb). Anyway, we are and so, we were excited to go get our brains swabbed for COVID and then spend some time hugging each other. Oh yes, in case you are wondering, this trip required a timely COVID test to attend. It was still a risk. There were protocols on the trip for distance but they were, well, hard to maintain, as they are everywhere and for everything. We washed our hands a lot, had too many tents and Cheryl was the only person I hugged. There are many people I know who would find that risk too great but with the level of COVID in the community right this moment (it turned out to be the lowest time so far) I felt the benefit to me outweighed the risk.
The fact I was not organizing it left me brain space to notice some different things about tripping than I often do. It also allowed me to have some experiences I would not otherwise have had. This sort of adventure uses the whole body and mind. In order to propel yourself around water and land, carry all your stuff, make shelter and food, you need the body. When I’m organizing a trip, I also need my thinky mind. I’m navigating and planning and cooking and organizing. Those aspects were limited by the presence of someone else to do that work and I noticed other things emerging.
First of all, thank all the powers that be for Alex the trainer. I started with her in the depths of the pandemic because, in my imagination, I needed to be able to ride horses in August. Of course, I really started with her because I was withering away in my house. It turns out that improving one’s balance and power with one hundred evil ways to squat or hollow hold is very helpful on a canoe trip. Especially a canoe trip where the organizer is attached to her CAST IRON FRYING PAN. Ya, the packs were HEAVY. There were oranges, nectarines, apples, potatoes and a CABBAGE. The food was really great but that first day. . .OMG.
What I noticed most profoundly, was that I was thinking less of “can I finish this portage?” and more of “what is the nature of the experience of this portage?”. That was a space of awareness that, given how intense the work was, I would not have had before. The canoes were pretty light for what they were but not as light as my Catnoe, which is somewhere just under 35lbs. I think these were 45lbs. I carried one on my head for just over a kilometer with about 200m of elevation. I had to sing out loud the whole time. The canoe sat directly on the trigger points in my traps but. . .I could do it. Not only could I do it, I didn’t have to rest and I could step over large logs on the trail. I was balanced and sturdy and even. . .graceful? I had this moment where I saw my arms out of my peripheral vision, balancing the boat and I just said inside, “this is my body and it’s such a good body”. That moment was at the centre of the experience.
There were lots of other things that I was so happy about. I splurged and bought a new hammock just before we left and I spent hours and hours in it doing NOTHING. In those moments I allowed myself to rest because I deserved rest. I was silent a lot of the time and that was just fine with Cheryl. I don’t know if it was fine with all the other folks but I actually didn’t care. I was doing what I wanted, I even cried a little on a rock because the world is on fire and there is so much work to be done.
Yet, for these 5 days, the only work was the immediate. Get the packs in the boat, get the people in the boat, get the boat on the water. Get the packs on my back, move the packs to the other side, repeat. Put up the tent and nest. Put up the hammock and rest. Take it all down. Repeat. There is nothing I love more, except maybe a warm horse nose, but that will be for next year.