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!
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
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Boston, like many big US cities, takes its July 4th fireworks seriously. As a prelude to the spectacular show over the Charles River, there is a concert of the Boston Pops and selected pop and country stars of the moment, broadcast over loudspeakers and radio. Hundreds of thousands of people attend the fireworks every year, so it’s pretty crowded.
Even on the water, dozens of boats large and small gather between the Longfellow and Harvard bridges to hang out, eat and drink, and view the fireworks from near the barge in charge of the show.
This year, some friends and I decided to join them. But we didn’t have big boats– we paddled out in kayaks. We, along with dozens of others, rented kayaks (which we booked months in advance) to paddle out into the river, in search of the perfect spot.
There were also people with their own boats there. Some of them were experienced kayakers.
Some of them were trying to figure out how to assemble inflatable boats they had just bought.
Most of our party of 7 had paddled on the Charles and elsewhere before, so we boldly set off to join the big boats in the central viewing area.
Boats of all kinds were out there.
One of the rules stated that any boat in the area between the bridges after 8:15pm had to be anchored. We didn’t bring anchors with us, but the kayak rental place sold us this for $10– a cinder block tied to 75 feet of rope. My friend Janet was the elected representative to tote the anchor out to our spot.
We tied it to my boat, heaved it overboard, and miraculously it worked; we drifted a bit, but maintained our spot (holding onto each others’ boats). Then we proceeded to sit back, relax, and wait for darkness and the show.
We had to wait a bit more than 2 hours, but it was worth it. We had ring-side seats– the fireworks were in front of us and above in perfect view. Oddly, they weren’t incredibly loud. We think this was because we were far away from the buildings and their loud claps of echoes. Here’s a bit of the show:
For me, one of the best parts was riding my bike to and from the river. The traffic leaving the fireworks show was, in its own way, as astounding as the show itself. But I was able to sail past the cars in the bike lane, getting home in record time.
What a celebration of freedom– under my own power to, from, and during the show!
“Are you feeling tired, irritable, or stressed out? Well you might consider… Nature. A non-harmful medication that’s shown to relieve the crippling symptoms of modern life.”
I love, love, love the outdoors, and not just any outdoors. Though I do appreciate urban wildness, it’s serious wilderness that I like best. My short holidays into Algonquin park with a canoe have been among the best vacations I’ve had in terms of quickly getting a sense of peace and restfulness that lasts long after I get back.
Maybe it’s the beauty of the place, maybe it’s the wild animals such as actual loons and possible bears, or maybe it’s that cellular signal cuts off on your way driving into the park and I don’t wear a watch or look in a mirror the entire time I’m there. Life quickly takes on an easy rhythm of swimming, napping, food preparation and clean up, eating, paddling, swimming, more napping, sleeping…
I also love the lack of people. Normally I love people but a break from crowds is lovely and I appreciate the focused time with the people I’m with. There’s very little small talk with strangers, okay there’s almost none, and that’s my most stressful kind of social interaction.
My plan for the fall and winter this year includes more wilderness time.
I want to:
Ride my cyclocross bike on trails and gravel roads!