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!

canoe · cycling · fitness · hiking · illness

Riding my bike and moving beyond bargaining

Last week, like many of us, I was bargaining.

Sure, #StayAtHome and #WorkFromHome but I can still ride my bike. I can still take walks with friends. I love the outside. It won’t be that bad. I was imagining canoe camping holidays even. Repeat: It won’t be that bad. I was still thinking about me and my life, not exclusively but my plans revolved around making work at home work for me, the daily work of my leadership role in the university, family responsibilities, and seeing how much of my exercise routine I could keep.

I blogged about that here and here and here.

And then I read this, To tackle coronavirus, walk – and act– this way by André Picard in the Globe and Mail. Who is André Picard? His official bio says, André Picard is the health columnist at The Globe and Mail and one of Canada’s top public policy writers. His latest book is MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH: Public Health Issues in Canada.”

To me, he’s the person whose voice I respect the most on matters of Canadian health policy. We were young journalists working together for Canadian University Press and though our careers have taken us in different directions, I’ve always found his voice to be wise and compassionate. You know you have those people in your life, who if they speak, you listen? André Picard is one of those people for me. His column was my wake up call.

André writes,

“People who are not sick and not recent travellers, can circulate freely. They can go for a walk. But should they? Ethically, is it right to go for a walk when we are being asked to keep our interactions to a bare minimum?

“We also have to start thinking seriously, and preparing ourselves mentally, for how long this could go on, and how long we can tolerate a new normal. Right now, we’re still in the bargaining phase: It’s okay to go for a walk, right? It’s okay to take the kids to the park, isn’t it? Are these attempts to eke out a little bit more normal in these extraordinarily abnormal times just a bargain with the devil?”

“In Canada, we’re on the brink of being too late to prevent those dire outcomes. It’s time to bring the hammer down, to move from polite entreaties to practice social distancing to firm orders to do so. This must be done with absolute clarity and a singular message. It doesn’t feel like time for a casual walk, or casual talk, anymore.”

In the past week, I went from thinking riding solo was okay to watching France, Italy and Spain ban recreational cycling. Why? Because if you get a mechanical failure, who is going to pick you up? Is that trip essential? Because you might have an accident and land in the hospital and you absolutely do not want to be taking medical attention away from a COVID-19 patient.

This week I’ve watched Nova Scotia moved to close all parks and ban recreational hiking. You can hike from your home only now. I just read that the UK is allowing people one bout of outdoor exercise a day. You can’t run in the morning and ride in the afternoon.

We’ve all watched people home from work taking over beautiful remote locations. Wales and Banff were both swamped with tourists. Go home, say the people who make these remote places home. We only have enough food supplies for locals and there isn’t room in the hospitals if you get sick. In my part of Ontario cottage country residents who aren’t year round residents have been asked to leave. The emergency rooms only have a few beds.

The world is getting smaller, fast. It’s time to stop bargaining and face the task at hand head on.

But it has its good moments, my smaller world. We took part in a neighbourhood art scavenger hunt today and drew a turtle to place in our window for local children to find.

I really appreciated these words from friend and award winning author Emma Donoghue about making a life in small places.

So there’s one focus right now and that focus is getting through this pandemic without overly taxing our health care system so it doesn’t collapse. We’re doing this so we won’t have sick people unable to get a respirator because they are all being used. I watched a thing last night about a 72 year old Italian priest who gave up his respirator to save a younger person. I don’t want doctors and patients to face those choices here.

Flattening the curve is a group project that requires our full on effort and attention. Today the Premier of Ontario announced (finally!) that all non-essential businesses are closed for two weeks. I hope that got everyone’s attention though I wish he’d done it two weeks earlier.

We are in this one together. We need to stay home, yes, but we also need to support vulnerable people and our essential workers. That’s nurses and doctors but also transit and grocery store workers.

But what about our mental health? Surely there is some need for exercise.

I think that’s right but what’s the smallest-cost-to-others way you can accomplish that? In places like France, Italy, and Spain you can still ride your bike to the grocery store. It’s recreational cycling that’s banned. You can still walk your dog. You can run within 2 km of your house.

We’re not there yet and if we all work together now maybe we won’t get there. I’m past bargaining but I’m still hoping. And me, I’m riding inside on my trainer in the virtual world of Zwift. When it’s nicer I will ride outside but short distances near my house, I think. Long rides are for later.

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.

boats · canoe · Dancing · nature

Mallory Goes Thanksgiving Canoeing (Guest Post)

Several weeks ago for (Canadian) Thanksgiving I spent the weekend in Algonquin with the Western Outdoors Club. This is an annual trip which I have gone on several times. This year was the largest group I’ve been part of: 62 university students in 21 canoes!

Approximately 12 green canoes sitting on a hill on a island in Algonquin

A bunch (too many to count) of tents and people with a campfire nearby

There are several things I love about this trip (and about Western Outdoors Club in general):

  • the variety in skill level and equipment
  • the number of international students
  • how accessible the club makes trips like this
  • the cost
  • beautiful scenery

Scenic shot of a lake with fall coloured trees on islands on either side. It is raining quite heavily.

However, this year there was one thing I DIDN’T ENJOY and that was the weather: cold and wet. Weather forecast was for highs of 8 and lows of 2 with rain on and off most of the weekend. I’ve camped in much colder weather (-27 winter camping!) but I find fall weather much colder. I’m not sure why, possibly the damp but also possibly because I’m not mentally prepared for it and/or never seem to pack enough warm gear. That being said, I was not cold at night even though I was sleeping in my hammock tent.

Despite the cold it was a fun trip! If you don’t believe me, watch a video here

canoe · fitness · nature

Getting dirty and doing hard things

For the 4th year in a row I did a backcountry canoe camping trip in Algonquin in August. The first year was just me and Susan. That’s how our friendship really began. Hi Susan! Thanks so much for inviting me that first year. I missed you this time!

Then for the next two years we went with an extended group of family and friends including our teenagers and Susan’s mom. This year it was back to another two person trip, me and Sarah.

We’d planned a more adventurous trip with more paddling given that it was just the two of us this time but life, including a late start on day 1, got in the way. I also began the trip pretty tired after a big week at work (more on that later) and I was more ready for rest and beautiful scenery than an active adventure. But we had a bit of both.

See my before and after boot photo below? That’s after a really muddy portage. And guess what? For the first time ever I carried my own canoe. I was pretty happy to learn how to do that. I didn’t quite manage to get it up on my shoulders solo but I didn’t have to. I am going to practise in the backyard though.

I also did a small stint of the trip in the stern of the canoe and got a lesson in steering.

So even though this trip was big on hammock naps and low on endurance exercise, I got to paddle each day and wake up in one of the most beautiful places in the world. There was also delicious coffee. I saw a beaver very close up! One jumped on the rocks while we were star gazing at night. I saw carnivorous plants. And I learned some new hard things.

As Sarah reminded me, “This isn’t easy. If it were there’d be more people here.” True. Especially the hilly, muddy, buggy portages!

canoe · charity · cycling · fitness

Joh goes again!

Joh writes, “Après avoir parcouru 110 km pour Friends for Life le 30 juillet, je vais maintenant pagayer 10 km et pédaler 125 km pour Nikibasika. La mission de Nikibasika est de former un groupe de jeunes gens instruits, sensibles aux enjeux mondiaux, orientés vers les communautés et dotés de ressources pour leur permettre de générer des occasions de développement dans leurs communautés en Ouganda.
L’objectif de financement pour 2017 est de 150 000 $. Mon objectif personnel est de 1 500 $. C’est par ici pour contribuer : https://goo.gl/tHA6mn
Merci!”

In English: “After biking 110 km for Friends for Life on July 30th, I will now paddle 10 km and bike 125 km for Nikibasika. The mission of Nikibasika is to create a group of well-educated, globally aware, community oriented and well- resourced young people in Uganda, who will in turn co-create development opportunities for their communities. Our fundraising goal this year is $150,000, and my personal objective is $1,500. I would appreciate if you could contribute here: https://goo.gl/tHA6mn Thanks!”

 

aging · canoe · fitness · nature

Into the Woods Part Deux (Guest Post)

canoe head me
Canoe Head Me

 

There have been a bunch of posts on this blog lately that have to do with canoe camping. We are mostly Canadian around here and it’s our precious summer so that’s not really a surprise. My post last month was about canoe camping and making it hard on purpose. I wouldn’t normally post yet again about paddling but the experience of this trip compels me so here it is.

Once again, I went into the lakes and rivers and woods with three dear friends, my 72 year old mother, my 15 year old daughter and my perfect canoe camping dog. I have had a long think about what perspective I want to bring to this experience. I need it to be more than a narrative of what happened because going into the back country in the way that we do is beyond mere narrative, beyond mere activity or fun times. It’s elemental and transformative. It doesn’t matter which trip or who I go with or what happens. I come out of the park different than when I went in and everyone else does too.

But this trip, what about this trip? What is the reason my chest clenches in joy when I think about it and everything we endured, experienced and created? I know I love the self containment. Bring everything in, eat some of it, bring everything out. I know I love the physical challenge of lifting heavy packs and canoes. I love the logistics. I love the care taking that I engage in by planning and executing whether that is setting up a tent, a hammock or a meal. I love helping other people to do the same. Even when they make me nuts, I love to make it work.

That’s not it though. Something else was going on. It was the waning days of summer and the evenings were cool, the angle of the sun generating that familiar melancholy, the leaves whispering their coming end in the night wind.There were conversations around the fire that were silly and irreverent. There were others that were deep and somewhat sad. There were moments when a therapist, a professor, a PhD consultant and and engineer discussed philosophy and queer theory while my mom and daughter listened in. That was a moment of intensity for me and I know in retrospect that was because it was both revealing to my mother what I had become and to my daughter what she could be. My mother got lost in memory on one portage and spoke so beautifully to all of us about the time my late father had me on his shoulders while my brother was on my mom’s, walking by a rapids in the BC interior. “It seems like yesterday” she said. I cried because it did and it was, just yesterday I was small and full of potential. Today I am grown and growing stronger, more solid in me with every step and paddle stroke.

Three generations
Three Generations

 

I see we are at this perfect juncture and I am the fulcrum between my mother and my daughter. My friends stand by me in this middle place, this middle age, where we can still learn from the elder how to be our better selves and show the younger the many many ways she can be herself in this complicated world. She didn’t know we were teaching her. My mother’s feminism evident in her refusal to stop moving or be cowed or become small in her waning years. She still pushes. Me and my friends manifesting our articulate and enacted feminism, the way we speak our minds, live our lives, love how and who we want, give back, keep pushing. It’s not utopia or some Algonquin version of Paradise Island, but hell it was close.

Next year we may do it again, different people, different constellations perhaps, but we will likely emerge from the liminal space in the forest changed, stronger, more expansive and powerful. That is why I go into the lakes and rivers and woods and why I will write about what they teach me over and over again.

Happy paddling.

Best camping dog ever
Best Camping Dog Ever

 

 

canoe · fitness

Camping with “extremely active bears”

Last weekend Sarah and I headed out canoe camping. We’d first considered Algonquin but the bits of it that weren’t on fire were booked. Instead we decided to camp at Massasauga Provincial Park.

It’s known for:

  • Backcountry camping on Georgian Bay stretching from Parry Sound to the Moon River
  • Park takes in hundreds of windswept islands, inland forests and lakes
  • Camp by the bay or paddle to inland lake sites
  • Protected sanctuary for the Massasauga Rattlesnake

Though it’s known for the Massasauga rattlesnake, it was clear from the very abundant and insistent signage that the creatures we needed to watch out for weren’t snakes, they were bears.

The “extremely active” bear signs amused me to no end. I don’t know if this blog is to blame but I kept imagining bear bootcamp. Bear burpees! Bears running laps on the track!

Like these bears…

Or these ones…

 

In the end we didn’t meet any bears. We did hang our food pretty high out of the way. There were frogs and chipmunks and loons and ducks.

We had a speedy paddle to our site on Friday night, trying to make it across the big bay by dark, and plans for a more leisurely paddle on the way back. On the way back though we met up with wind and waves on the open water. I got to learn how to paddle the canoe through wake. Thanks motor boats! Grrrr.

But no bears, extremely active or not.

Okay, one more video. It’s a personal favourite. Rick Mercer tagging bears in Algonquin Park.

Talk of camping and bears always reminds me of my Australian friends who seem horrified that we camp where there are creatures that are large enough to attack us. I think of spiders and snakes and box jellyfish and salt water crocodiles but apparently bears are the things that are truly scary. For the record, black bears eat primarily grasses, roots, berries, and insects, though they easily develop a taste for human foods and garbage.

 

 

canoe · family · gender policing · Guest Post

Where the Wild Girls Are (Canoeing in Killarney!)–Guest Post

IMG_4756
Bell Lake, Killarney Provincial Park

Over the last few summers I have taken my daughter on a number of canoe trips, and we’ve always had a great time. She loves stopping at little islands to explore and eat snacks, and when she was really young she would nap in the canoe. This year, I signed us up for a three day “Women and Girls” canoe trip in Killarney Park guided by Wild Women Expeditions. While I love planning routes and organizing trip menus, my work schedule has been heavy enough that a bit of luxury seemed in order. With the fab WWE guides in charge, I just had to pack some gear and get us to the trip access point. Better yet, on this trip my daughter would have other girls to play with. I want to nurture my daughter’s sense of adventure and offer her challenging opportunities, but I also want it to be fun. Kids are the experts there.

And they had fun. They swam, jumped out of canoes, and took over a tiny island which they quickly determined was for “kids only.” (No Lord of the Flies, so far as I could tell…) They ran wild for hours and encountered many fascinating creatures: a water snake, a beaver, a barred owl, and the usual frogs, minnows, loons and hawks. The trip was also just the right length for 7 year olds. We spent enough time in the canoes for the girls to get the feel of travelling by canoe, but not so long that they were bored. And there was only one short 30m portage, so the girls got to experience portaging without its unique hardships. They can find out about those later.

The trip was great for the grown-ups too. Laughs over gritty ‘cowgirl coffee,’ lots of swimming, and a break from the usual demands and judgments of everyday life. It’s also really good to connect with others who want to nurture wilderness skills for girls and foster their sense of adventure. And I found the trip freeing in the way that backcountry trips usually are. In wilder places, I feel light and peaceful.

IMG_4777.JPG
Cowgirl Coffee Time

Nothing brought home the full meaning of our trip more, though, than two comments directed to my daughter and I at its end. As we unloaded packs onto the dock, one of the outfitter guys challenged “Isn’t this women-only trip sexist?” Later that night, we were eating dinner at a resort and a man stopped at our table and “joked” to my daughter “You know what I like most about you? You look like your mother.” This man – whom I suspect has been entertaining women with his comedy for decades – was probably unaware that his jokey compliment contained an insult. Among other things, he conveyed to my daughter that what might be best about her is her looks and moreover, that what is good about her looks is that they involve looking like someone else.

The comparison over appearance that women and girls engage in, and are subjected to, is a source of much unhappiness. So is the entitlement that some men assume in their interactions with women and girls by virtue of the fact that they are male. These ways of relating with women and girls steal joy and dampen feelings of adventure, wildness, strength, and capability.

On the bright side, these two fellows offered up some fine teachable moments. I explained to my daughter why I didn’t like these comments in an age-appropriate way. More important, though, is that we had just been on a fun adventure. She saw women charting routes, hauling packs, building campsites, paddling lakes, all the while not giving two hoots about appearances. She experienced first-hand the energy of strong, capable, respectful, fun-loving, and risk-taking women. And she got to feel wild and free. Such experiences fortify girls and women against poisonous compliments and willful ignorance about social power, and do so in ways that may run deeper than conceptual points or clever come-backs (however fun). Where the wild girls are, and how they spend their time, may be more important than we realize.