There is often a moment at the end of a trip when the packing is done, I get whatever firewood we have left and start the fire. That’s my small attempt to soak up the last of the camping magic along with some smoke and to postpone the moment of returning to the world of glass and concrete. Don’t get me wrong: city life has its charms. Occasionally, though, the traffic, the noise, and, most importantly, constant presence of people becomes too much. That’s why moments like these are a necessity. An escape into solitude. An opportunity to recharge.
Our latest escape took us to Windy Lake Provincial Park. We first visited the park last year and were excited to go back. With Algonquin and Arrowhead taking most of the spotlight in the winter, Windy Lake isn’t very well known, at least in southern Ontario. I am sure those living in Sudbury know the park well considering it’s located just north of the city.
In the winter, the park offers four yurts and a newly built cabin. Its namesake – Windy Lake – is a beautiful frozen expanse popular with ice fishers. There is some excellent snowshoeing. But we were most excited about cross-country skiing.
With the Onaping Falls Nordic Ski Club Trails across the road from the park, we didn’t have to go far to partake in one of our favourite winter activities. The club offers gear rentals in the ski chalet, which they run together with the Windy Lake Park. The chalet, conveniently located less than ten minutes away from the yurts, also provides a cozy place to catch a break, have a snack by the wood stove and chat with friendly club volunteers.
The last time we visited, only one trail was open so we did four loops around it. This time, all the trails were in excellent condition. After a quick turn on the green trail, we decided to try the intermediate blue one. It’s named after Devon Kershaw, a cross-country skier from Sudbury who was competing at the PyeongChang Olympics at the time. It was cool knowing we were following in the footsteps of an Olympian but boy, was it challenging. As I mentioned before, the classification of trails is slightly different up there than in southern Ontario. Located at the foothills of La Cloche Mountains, the park boasts a much hillier terrain. So the Devon Kershaw trail was an endless series of ups and downs.
Once we were done, I was exhausted but quite proud of myself. Only last year, I had to take off my skis to go up much smaller hills. This time I managed to ski up all of them, even if a little slowly. And I only fell once after a particularly tricky downhill turn. I was even more proud of our older son. He is not a big fan of skiing. Still, he joined in the family fun and did very well considering he couldn’t even remember the last time he went skiing.
Our other winter activity – snowshoeing – was much easier and didn’t require any particular skills or training. The Transition Trail we followed had a few ups and downs, though not too steep, and the snow was pretty packed so it was a pleasant walk down to the lake.
The lake this time lived up to its name. The temperature felt ten degrees lower down in the open. Last time we spent a good hour wandering around the lake and watching ice-fishing huts in the distance. This time, we couldn’t wait to get back into the shelter of the forest. Well, everyone except for our younger son who ignored our pleas and continued to build ice/snow sculptures.
Good thing we had a cozy yurt waiting for us, a place to warm up, have some delicious meals and play games every night. There were so many things I enjoyed about our trip to Windy Lake: skiing, snowshoeing, a joyous chorus of chickadees every morning, board games and cards, starting each day with a book and a cup of coffee.
My favourite part, however, was the pauses in between, breaks on the trail and the sound of silence. One evening we started a campfire and sat around it silently watching the day slowly melt into darkness. No distractions. No traffic. No noise. Just the permanence of the present moment. The best camping gift any time of the year.