Canoe Tripping During COVID-19 (Guest post)

Earlier today Susan blogged about her experience on our canoe trip this summer, and although we had originally planned a co-authored blog post it seems that we both have enough to say to warrant separate posts.

I have had three different international trips cancelled this year due to COVID-19, the most recent being the horseback riding trip in Iceland that Susan and I had been looking forward to for close to two years. We held out hope for a very long time, but finally called it about a month and a half before we were supposed to depart. SAD FACE. I had been taking Icelandic riding lessons and getting all into my groove for a new type of adventure, but it was not to be, at least this year. I decided to keep the time booked off, which ended up working out very well indeed.

Susan and I both got the email about the Killarney canoe trip, and she texted me before I had a chance to reach out to her – we were of the same mind that this would be good to do together. A vacation! Time outdoors! We even planned to sleep in the same tent and hug each other, like in the before times.  When it came time to actually sign up, the spaces were getting snapped up like hand sanitizer in March (too soon?), and I had unknowingly gone for a lunch break right when registration opened. I returned from lunch to Susan’s frantic texts and signed up right away. Phew indeed!

When I told my partner about the trip, he asked how far a drive it was to Killarney, and I realized that I had absolutely no idea where Killarney even was. I hadn’t thought to check because it didn’t actually matter to me, I just wanted to get away and spend some time having outdoor adventures with my dear friend Susan.

As Susan mentioned in her post, we took a short camping trip together last summer to see how we travelled together, and found that we were highly compatible. (Hooray!) So after getting our negative COVID test results, I had no qualms about leaving my Toronto bubble of two to spend a week with her, starting out at her cottage before heading off to Killarney. I was excited to hug someone other than my partner for the first time since mid-March. Sharing hugs and physical closeness with friends is something I had definitely been missing. When I arrived at her cottage, the embrace we shared was a truly wonderful thing. Over the week together we hugged and snuggled and shared casual touch in ways that would have been perfectly normal before, but now held an intimacy that felt heightened and incredibly special. It reminded me of how much my body enjoys and appreciates affectionate touch, which is one of the many things that the pandemic has wrenched away from me.

I am not nearly as experienced in canoe camping as Susan, and our trip last year was the first time in over a decade that I’d done this sort of camping. Susan did all the organizing, preparing, shopping, navigating etc. when we went together, so it was easy for me to leave all that with our guide. At the start of the trip, when asked what she wanted from the experience, one of the other women said that she wanted to make no decisions and have no responsibilities for five days. This very much reflected my desires as well. I wanted to be a body engaging with the immediate physical environment, under the care of an experienced guide, and to give my mind the space to slow down, wander, and rest.

My body was definitely at the forefront of this trip for me, in ways both expected and unexpected. Day 1 and 5 were the most physically demanding, with 3 portages, one of which was over a kilometre long. That first day, on my second trip carrying an extremely heavy pack across the long portage in an oppressive heat, I felt perilously close to my physical limits. I literally dripped with sweat and could only get through by focusing on the present moment and then slowing taking the next step. I was as in my body and in the moment as I think it’s possible to be. I found it almost trance-like, in that it was a very different way of experiencing life than my normal day to day. Finishing that portage was an accomplishment for the ages. The other portaging and canoeing we did were demanding at times, but nothing approached the intensity of that day 1 portage. I’m guessing I might have the CAST IRON FRYING PAN to blame/thank for that!

The unexpected things that came up for my body included getting a urinary tract infection at the end of Day 1, which was extremely disconcerting. I hadn’t had one in years and I feared that I might not be able to manage the rest of the trip if it went untreated. Miraculously one of the other campers had a spare 3 day course of appropriate antibiotics (!!!!)  which saved the day/trip for me. But wait, there’s more! The next night I got my period 4 days early. Sigh. I had come prepared for it to be 1-2 days early, but didn’t have nearly enough menstrual supplies for 4 days given my heavy peri-menopausal flow. Again I was rescued by other campers, who provided me with enough tampons to last until the end of the trip. These experiences brought to the forefront the importance and centrality of my body as a foundation for my daily experiences. They also highlighted the ways that community care can help mitigate and manage the challenges of life, such as unpredictable bodies.

When I wasn’t canoeing, portaging, setting up or taking down, I spent a lot of time in rest. I enjoyed Susan’s hammock when it was available, I snoozed in our tent, and I cooled off in the water. I was silent even more than Susan was, and that was just fine with her too. I needed some time on my own, to disconnect from the world and from work and from the many other responsibilities of life. Sometimes I actually found that I didn’t know what to do with myself, which created some anxiety as I am usually a Busy Person but I kept on with the resting and it did me good. I was able to hit my reset button at long last, and I came home feeling calmer and more grounded than I had in months.

(photo of Killarney Provincial Park, taken from our campsite on Leech Lake – rocky foreground with a few flowers and grasses growing from crevices, calm lake in the middle ground, and coniferous trees in the background

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