camping · canoe · fitness · holiday fitness · holidays

How long is the ideal vacation? Or, Sam heads into the woods again

I shared this to my Facebook page the other day, mostly because I noticed that my upcoming canoe camping trip is the exact length of the ideal vacation!

I was amused at the heated debate that ensued among friends. You never know what’s going to bring out competing views and strong opinions!

There were the stereotypical American friends who claimed never to have taken a vacation that long. There were the Europeans who spoke up in favour of their two months off.

To be clear, I do take a month’s vacation each year. Eight days isn’t my only vacation. But I like to take time off throughout the year rather than in one big chunk.

For me, the ideal length of any one chunk of vacation really varies. If I am flying somewhere, especially somewhere with a time difference, I like to allow some time as part of the trip to recover when I get there and when I get home so it’s usually two weeks all told but not all of that is the vacation itself. I schedule time to decompress, do laundry, and get caught up on sleep when I get back. Getting sensible in my middle age!

My biking trips south are usually a week off work but bookended by weekends for travel.

My best bang for buck vacation time wise are my canoe camping trips. Even my four day back country canoe camping trips feel like real vacation. There are no phones, no email , lots of natural beauty, and lots of movement. I sleep very well! I come back rested and sometimes feel like I’ve been off for weeks.

This is my longest back country canoe camping trip yet. Sarah is carefully planning all the things so that we have food but not too much food and we’re being very weight conscious because of portages. A couple of years ago we invested in ultralight weight camping gear so we could keep doing this even with my knees in the state they’re in.

I’ll report back on how eight days feels.

Here’s our report on the 2020 six day trip.

Sam paddling on a blue lake with clouds reflecting on the water

What your ideal length vacation? Also have you ever done a long back country trip? What did you eat? What are your favourite dehydrated meals?

camping · cycling · fitness

Planning our bike packing trip with the bob trailer

Bob trailer

Bike packing is all the rage these days. In part, because in pandemic times, it’s a completely independent outdoors thing we can do. It also follows on the heels of the gravel bike trend since those bikes are perfect for mixed surface roads, camping, and carrying stuff.

I’ve done it in the past on rail trails, camping along the way, but it’s been a few years.

This summer we’re trying it again. To help with back country camping trips with our canoe and my bad knees we bought some lightweight camping gear that will also work well for bike packing.

Come June Sarah and I are heading out on the Simcoe Loop Trail: “The Simcoe County Loop Trail is a 160-kilometer loop that travels through nine municipalities, reaches three major bodies of water, including Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe, and Lake Couchiching. And, it is primarily on off-road, multi-use rail-trails! The route is flat, scenic and available as a multi-day tour.”

The plan is to park in Barrie and bike 40 km to Mara Park where we have a camping reservation

On Day 2 we’ll ride from Mara Park to Midland, 60 km ish where we’ve booked a bunkie.

And then on Day 3 it’s back to Barrie, 60 km.

On our gravel bikes with stuff we’re not that speedy–covering about 15-20 km/hr.

Long time readers will remember an earlier appearance of the bob trailer. Jeff and I used it with our road bikes on our biking holiday on Manitoulin Island. That time we didn’t camp and it was just used for clothes etc. This time we’ll be taking tent and sleeping bags etc. I’ll carry clothes etc in my bike panniers.

Do you do any bike packing? Any hints for us? Tell us your bike packing stories in the comments below.

Simcoe Trail booklet
camping · canoe · charity · covid19 · cycling · fitness · fun

Plans? Do we even get to have plans? Sam nervously makes some anyway

A friend posted asking about 2021 plans and then said, “Joking. It’s 2021. Do we even get to make plans?”

To do list: Nothing

And I agree plans feel a lot more tentative this year. In the third week of January last year and the year before that, I was riding my bike in the Clermont area of Florida. This January there’ll be no travel.

It’s been a long blurry year of cancelled travel plans starting with, for me, the cancelled Pacific APA in San Francisco and attached vacation. Followed by a big trip to Melbourne cancelled. All of my summer bike holidays and charity rides were likewise cancelled. I did four charity rides, all either solo, with Sarah, or on Zwift. Two weddings, cancelled. You get the idea.

And in light of all the illness, unemployment, loneliness, overwhelmed hospitals, and death it feels a bit off to complain about not being able to make 2021 cycling plans.

I’m grateful for Zwift, don’t get me wrong. But still, I’m making some plans. They’re just more local and much more tentative. What makes them plans and not mere hopes? They involve things like registration forms and reservations, time booked off work.

We know there are vaccines, and that’s good, even if the timeline for things like races, group bike rides, and travel are still uncertain.

In January in addition to TFC team time trials and our Monday and Friday races I’ve agreed to take part in series hosted, on Zwift, by Team Vegan. You don’t need to be a vegan to take part. They’re hosting the series in the same way that TFC hosts a series. They’re the organizers.

Team Vegan racing

I’m also committed to Yoga With Adriene’s 30 day yoga journey Breath.

In February, Sarah and I have booked yurts in a provincial park to go cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and fat biking. Some adult kids might come along and winter camp. We’ll see. I’ve committed to taking vacation even if I can’t travel very far away.

In March and April, in early spring, before it gets busy, I’d like to finish the Guelph to Goderich rail trail.

In later spring, we’ll be back out Snipe racing on Guelph Lake. Whee!

Come summer we’ve also committed to spending more time at Sarah’s farm in Prince Edward County. What’s perfect is that there are two houses on the property, loads of lovely biking nearby, and a swimming pool. Even if close up visits with friends are still restricted we can host people in the other house and socialize outside. BBQ time!

We’ll also book some Algonquin canoe camping trips. Again, they’ll likely go ahead even if travel in general isn’t recommended. We do back country camping and there aren’t too many other people around.

I’m really hoping that the Friends for Life bike rally goes ahead in person this year. You can sponsor me here.

Jeff is also heading east on his new boat Escapade to Nova Scotia and there’s some talk of visiting there once he’s settled with the boat. That crosses the line from “plan” to “hope” for me since it relies on not having to self isolate after traveling east, assuming we’re even allowed into Atlantic Canada’s bubble. You can follow his boating adventures here.

Oh and for added uncertainty that’s not pandemic related, all of this is dependent on the date for my knee surgery. I’ll need recovery time after. I was hoping for December 2020 but that didn’t happen. With the hospital it was to take place in cutting back on non-essential surgeries due to covid, it might be awhile.

I’m trying to be flexible and not too nervous.

Wish me luck!

He he he he he

How about you? Are you making any fitness related plans for 2021? Plans in general still on hold?

camping · Guest Post

Escaping the Pandemic by Camping! (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

Over the past few months, I have spent a significant amount of time online. This summer I was involved in the creation and implementation of a virtual summer camp for 2SLGBTQ+ teens (for more information visit www.rainbowcamp.ca!) and this fall I started a new program at university which is being held entirely online. In between that, I’ve had virtual choir practices, book clubs, birthday parties, workshops, etc. So lots of time spent online and when I realized that my university had a fall reading week, I jumped on the opportunity to escape the virtual world for a few days!

I spent three days backpacking along the Bruce Trail near Tobermory the week after (Canadian) Thanksgiving. I’ve done this trail several times in different seasons and there’s something special about being there in the fall. The leaves are changing colours and the scenery is stunning. There are significantly less people, especially once you leave the areas near the car parks. It is cold at night but during the day it warms up enough that I was hiking in shorts each day.

There’s also something special about camping solo. I’ve done quite a few trips by myself including several of New Zealand’s Great Walks. It can be refreshing to spend time by yourself, especially when you disconnect totally from all technology. On this trip, the only piece of technology I brought was my e-reader which had both school reading and fiction on it!

I recognize that being able to escape for three days comes from a place of tremendous privilege. I can disconnect and not answer my phone/email for a few days. I own all the right lightweight camping gear. I have the experience to be comfortable camping by myself. I can financially afford to book campsites and pay for parking in a National Park (which is very affordable but still). I have a car so I can drive myself to the trail.

So this year for Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all of this privilege and for the chance to escape and spend three days disconnecting and resetting from technology. It was just what I needed before returning the digital world.

Mallory is human, currently doing graduate study in Community Music. She loves traveling and spending time outdoors and prefers not to wear shoes when possible

camping · covid19 · cycling · fitness · snow · winter

Is this the year to try snow biking?

Sam riding her fat bike on a trail on a sunny winter day

I saw a tweet the other day that made me smile.

I loved all the snow and the sun and the smiling faces.

We’re going into this winter knowing it’s going to be hard. And I find regular falls challenging. See here and here and here. Oh, and here! It’s a bit of a theme on the blog and in my life. Lol

The reporting about winter in the time of COVID-19 is gloomy and hard to read.

See A Canadian coronavirus winter is looming — and it could ‘amplify loneliness’: “But winter is coming and, according to experts, so too is the accompanying seasonal woes. And this time, it will be “amplified” by the confines of the coronavirus, according to Roger McIntyre, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto. An epidemic of loneliness long preceded this pandemic. And just by the nature of winter, people are less likely to come in contact with others. It’s a realistic concern.”

Since March, Canadians have been told to stay apart to stop the spread of the virus. The ability to be outdoors has provided safer alternatives to exercise, recreation, commuting and dining, among other things. In the winter, those options will dwindle. Experts have warned the risk of transmission also increases indoors.”

So what’s my plan? Because it’s clear that I am going to need a plan. I’m trying to remind myself of all the things I like about winter. I’m fending off anticipatory sadness with thoughts of snow biking and winter camping.

So far my plan has four parts but the fourth is still a bit sketchy and needs the details filling in. There’s time.

First, more time outside, including winter riding.

Second, I’m bringing home my SAD lamp from my university office and I’m going to use it in my home office.

Third, I’m following Catherine’s advice and getting a small warming fireplace for my deck so I can visit with friends outside even during Canadian winter.

Fourth, I used to joke about Canadians who went south in the winter. The truth is though between riding in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina for the past number of years (I’m not even going to check to see how many!) I’ve become one of those people. It’s only ever been for a week at a time but this year that won’t happen at all. I’ve already booked some time in a yurt for winter outdoor sports. And I’m still scheming about what else I might do.

Suggestions welcome!

How about you? Are you in a northern climate heading into what looks like a long, lonely winter? How do you plan to keep body and spirit moving?

camping · canoe · fall · family · fitness · paddling

Making room for relaxing and basking on rocks

Canoe filled with stuff in the foreground. Sam and Mallory swimming in the background.

My last time out in my canoe, Sarah and I had a big adventure. YMMV, of course, but it was plenty adventurous for me. Each day we packed up camp and paddled to a new location. We paddled down rivers, over beaver dams, and did some long (muddy, hilly) portages. It was extra challenging because Sarah carried most of the stuff and the canoe and I did it with my knee that’s now just waiting to be replaced. I carried the food for six days and five nights. We slept in a teeny tiny ultralight tent. It was fun but it wasn’t exactly restful.

Next year, now we know we can carry all that food, I’m lobbying for a rest day in the middle!

Luckily our next canoe trip, just two weeks later, was of the more low key variety.

Sarah, Sam, and Mallory

This past weekend Sarah, my daughter Mallory, and I paddled to just one place after a couple of short, reasonable portages. We made camp on Ralph Bice Lake where we paddled some more just because, played cards, read books, ate yummy food including the traditional s’mores for dessert, and because Mallory was along, swam lots. We took the big tent and actual camping dishes. No more using the pot lid as a plate and sharing a titanium spork! We even packed some books and our Kindles.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

It was the kind of trip that had room for basking on rocks and reading whole novels, I really enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Thanks Meg for recommending!

Here’s some more photos of our canoe and our tents.

Here’s the card playing. Mallory won, of course. She almost always does but we enjoy playing anyway.

And there was a lot of swimming!

We’re talking lots these days about various ways of getting ready for the long hard winter we expect is ahead.

Cate wrote recently, “August is made for this kind of elastic time, this kind of intuitive listening, this moving for play and exploration, not repetition and discipline. Looking into the fall and winter we’re expecting, I ponder how to keep this elasticity alive. How to keep nurturing this kind of active emptiness. What about you? What are you finding restorative right now? How are you planning for fall?”

Time outdoors, with loved ones, swimming and reading and playing, is part of my answer. For me this year is a bad combo of empty nest and Covid-19. I had imagined more family dinners and visits but it isn’t always possible.

This weekend felt important. Martha wrote about finding her happy place. Salt Spring Island seems like it’s definitely Cate’s happy place. This is mine. I’m back at my desk today with a bit of sun on my face, some bug bites on my calves, new muscles from paddling, and feeling just a little bit better about what’s ahead this year.

accessibility · boats · camping · canoe · fitness

Sam and Sarah’s Big Canoe Trip Adventure

In most ways, this year, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been for me a year of doing less. I’m riding my bike outside now but no big distances. There’s (obviously) no big summer travel. Normally my summers involve academic conference travel, usually in Europe, with vacation tacked on to the beginning or end. Not this year. In 2020 my holidays have been low-key, close to home.

The year of doing less has had one notable exception: Our big Algonquin canoe tripping adventure. I love Algonquin Park. It’s so beautiful and so close to home for me. Yet, in busier years I’ve only had time to go for long weekends. This year is the opportunity to do more.

Since my canoe came into my life in 2015 (thanks Jeff!) what I’ve done are back country canoe trips where you paddle to a place, make camp, stay there for a few days, and paddle around some minus all the gear. Lots of us here at the blog do this kind of adventuring. You can read all the canoe stories here.

Susan has done some longer trips. Sarah too. They’ve done the kind of trips where you start out a place and keep moving to a new campsite each day, eventually ending back up where you started. That’s a new adventure for me.

But I wasn’t sure I could, physically speaking. I was worried about my knee. I was worried about carrying stuff through long portages.

Two things made it possible. First, Sarah’s careful planning (see below). Second, her acquisition last year, when we were talking about hiking and camping, of ultralight weight camping gear. Thanks Sarah!

Here’s what we did:

Day 1

In our usual fashion where work never seems to end or stop, we worked until the last possible second on Monday, piled everything into the car, zoomed north, and arrived at the park office in a bit of a rush. Friends who know us will laugh at this bit of the story. We even stopped several times on the access road to Lake Magnetawan for the final few bars of cell phone signal.

And then we parked, unloaded the car, and loaded up the canoe.

We paddled through Magnetawan then Hambone, and then made camp on Ralph Bice.

Day 2

We paddled and portaged our way from Ralph Bice to Little Trout and Queer Lake where we stayed for the night.

Day 3

This was the first big day, with long portages. 1330 m isn’t that long but it is when you are carrying a lot of stuff! Also, it feels long when there are big hills, ankle deep mud, and narrow paths. But paddling on the Tim River was fun. I got to learn about steering in a downstream current. Less fun was arriving on Shah, our stopping point just as a storm was brewing. We had a bumpy trip across the lake and rejected the first campsite as too grown over. Luckily we got the tarp up fast and stayed dry through dinner.

Day 4

We paddled from Shah to Misty to Little Misty, where we were the only campsite on the lake.

Day 5

We paddled from Little Misty to Daisy via the Petawawa River with portages to bypass rapids. There was also some scrambling over beaver dams with the canoe.

Day 6

No photos because my phone ran out of charge but we paddled from Daisy to Hambone to Magnetawan. We were very happy to have left clean clothes in the car for the trip home.

What did I learn on this trip? Here’s six things.

  1. That even with my miserable, painful, stiff knee I can do trips like this and enjoy myself. I babied my knee. I took ibuprofen. I stretched. I walked carefully and slowly on the portages. Some mornings I’d wake up and think, “wow, this is it, they’re going to have to air ambulance me out of here” and then I’d stretch and walk around a bit. And then I was fine. Deep breaths, Samantha, you’ve got this. And I did.

2. Paddling on the river–which requires active involvement of the person in the bow–takes skill but it’s fun. I like learning new things. Even when things go wrong–like when we landed in the shrubbery on the side of the river–the worse thing that happened is we got covered in yellow furry caterpillars. Navigating the beaver dams also took skill and effort but in the end it was all pretty low stakes. When I messed up one beaver dam the current just took us back and we tried again.

3. Lightweight camping gear–if you can afford it–is an amazing thing. I was shocked at how little the tent and the sleeping bag etc weighed. We had very lightweight gear even down to the titanium spork!

4. The weather spanned from too hot to brrrr! (at night) and I should have brought a warmer layer and possibly even (no joke) gloves. I always forget that about camping in Algonquin.

5. I was concerned about food and about carrying six days of food but we did well. I learned that a warm meal at night goes a long way and that even mac and cheese over the camp stove tasted pretty good.

6. If I were doing it again, I’d book a day off in the middle, a rest day, where we’d stay on one campsite two nights and maybe even bring a book!

Next up? I’m looking at route maps and planning for next year. Now I know we can do this I’m going to do it again. In light of the great squirrel attack on our food bag on the last night, I’m considering more secure food storage and a good pack for me to carry it all in.

Sarah on planning

This year’s planning was made more challenging by the fact that Algonquin was as busy as I’ve ever seen it. Lots of folks spending summer vacations in a tent instead of a cottage. When selecting a route between the few available sites, I used a few rules of thumb. Wanting to have lots of time to rest and explore, I limited the distance traveled to about 5 km on the map each day, and a maximum of 2,000m of portaging. Of course the actual distance paddled would be more than that – we move through the water at about 4 km/h – but there’s a fair bit of time spent wandering toward pretty rocks or out of the wind, stopping mid-lake to pump water, paddling from site to site looking for one that’s free to camp on, etc. It also takes time to get in and out of the canoe at each portage.

In order to reduce the strain on Sam’s knee, we decided that she would carry only her clothes and the food pack (which is not too heavy and gets lighter as we go) for the portages, along with our water bottles, paddles, and PFDs. This meant being minimalist in our packing to bring down the weight of the “house” pack (including my clothes) to a manageable 32 lbs (14.5 kg). When combined with 48 lbs of canoe, this comes in right at the 80 lbs (36 kg) maximum weight this “weekend warrior” can safely carry in the backcountry. We made choices like : a tiny, lightweight backpacking tent; a down quilt instead of sleeping bags; one set of clothes (plus warm and waterproof layers), using pot lids as plates. We also needed to be minimalist in our food, bringing only enough dry, lightweight calories to keep us going, and enough sweet snacks that it still felt like vacation. And two full Ziploc sandwich bags of coffee, because there are some things that one cannot do without!

What did Sarah learn on this trip?

I’ve done nearly all parts of this year’s trip in previous years, so the things I learned this time were largely around food:

  • Naptha fuel to cook breakfast and supper for 2 people = 200 mL per day
  • One serving of oatmeal or pancake mix = 125 mL (1/2 cup)
  • One serving of maple syrup for oatmeal or pancakes = 50 mL (even if we have more, we don’t actually use it!)
  • Unless it’s a rest day or half day, budget for both lunch (sandwich) and a protein bar.
  • We don’t actually eat salty protein snacks like nuts or trail mix except buried in other meals. Better to bring more protein bars and peanut M&Ms.
  • Double check not only the count of meals but also the meal type. We were somehow short one breakfast but had an extra dinner(?!)

Oh, one more thing we learned, the sleeping quilt is toasty down to 6 C. But it works best if no one steals the covers!

boats · camping · canoe · paddling

Sam and Sarah went canoe tripping and weren’t eaten by bears

My Facebook status from Sunday night reads, “Driving home, with a heart full of memories of a special place, canoe strapped to roof of the car, listening to Tragically Hip. #PeakCanadian #Killarney

There’s something special about back country camping in the autumn. Yes, it can be cold. And it’s dark early and that restricts how much you can paddle. But the colours are spectacular. The parks are less crowded. I also find there’s something extra special (and maybe I confess, just a little bit sad) about that last gasp of outdoors holidays. Though I am trying to tell new stories these days, I’m a person who finds the fall just a little bit sad. Paddling helps, so too does sleeping in a tent under the stars.

I went canoe camping thirteen years ago in the fall with my friend Laura: Camp Dragon with Laura 2006 . That was even later in the season, mid October, definitely cold and dark but bright with the orange, yellow, and red leaves.

I got my own canoe for back country exploring and camping four years ago. But lately other boats have been taking up my time. I know “too many boats” isn’t really a thing to complain about but I have been missing my canoe. Last year I didn’t get out canoe camping at all. We had booked a Killarney trip but that fell through for complicated reasons. See Jeff’s series of posts on running aground. We got a day trip in but that was it. I was worried this year was going to be the same. This year we’ve been racing the Snipe on Guelph lake. And I’ve also been visiting the big sailboat some weekends too. But no canoe trips in June, July or August.

All summer I’ve been looking forward to getting out in the canoe and it finally happened this past weekend. It was a quick trip but that’s okay. It was beautiful and restful and I’d go back in a heart beat. I mentioned the fall colours, right? So beautiful. Bright red leaves against the white rocks look extra special.

What else to tell you? I got to try my very first lift-over. That’s when you run into a beaver dam with your canoe, get out, lift the canoe over the dam, and get back in again. I was nervous about it because of my bad knee and was worried about getting out the canoe in those circumstances. This was an ideal time to try since there was an alternative on the map, an extra long portage. But we did it. My knee behaved just fine. Thanks knee!

We also tried out some new lightweight gear which made it possible for us to do the portages in one trip. Sarah took one pack and the canoe. I carried the other, heavier pack that contained our food, as well as the PFDs and the paddles. We declared the new tent and sleeping pad a success and it gave us hope for longer trips even with more food. By the end we were feeling ready for bigger adventures even with my misbehaving left knee.

I was amused at all the bear signage in the park. I’m always surprised that people need reminding that there are bears in Canada. There were even signs warning us that the bears were back for the fall. I didn’t even know they went anywhere for the summer. In the end, we didn’t see any bears–phew!–but we did have a trio of trash pandas (aka, raccoons) hop up on the bench besides us and grab our food bag. They made off with all the food (except snacks) for the weekend. I screamed but Sarah, more sensibly, took off after them and got our food back. My hero!

Our trip involved three lakes–George, Killarney, and OSA–one pond, three portages, and one liftover, lots and lots of paddling. We were lucky with warm days and nights, highs in the low 20s and overnight lows still well in the double digits. The day we paddled out was very rainy and windy but we were just very happy that there was no thunder and lightening and we didn’t have to hunker down and stay put.

Here’s a lot of photos from our trip. Sarah brought a real camera so we took lots of pictures.