Backpacking in Pukaskwa: Superior Adventure or Why Leave the Comforts of Indoors

“Humans have spent centuries perfecting the indoors,” notes my older son as he moves closer to the campfire. “Only for you to drag us all the way here to battle the elements.”

I know he’s only half-joking. This is the first night of our backpacking trip at Pukaskwa. We’ve just spent half a day hiking in the pouring rain, at times through ankle deep water and a good portion of the trail over slippery rocks. So I can see why our kids are not particularly excited about the whole endeavour. And while our younger son simmers quietly by the fire waiting for food, the older one launches into one of his philosophical arguments.

Once we get some chili into them and dry clothes on them, the mood improves considerably. But I can still feel spoken and unspoken doubts floating around under our green tarp, getting trapped in the criss-cross of clothing lines that spot everything from t-shirts to socks to underwear, wrapped in a dense coat of smoke courtesy of wet firewood. Eventually, we pack our edible stuff into the food locker and retreat into our tents. Maybe not the type of indoors our older son had in mind, but the best shelter for this particular moment. As I fall asleep to the fading beat of raindrops against the nylon, I start wondering what we are searching for on the wildest of Lake Superior’s shores.

sunrise on Lake Superior in Pukaskwa National Park
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The power of Gi chi Gamiing – Lake Superior in every way

We drive around another bend on Highway 17 and my heart cracks open: framed by the green hills, a canvas of the brightest blue stretches all the way to the horizon until it merges with the sky. This is not our first trip to Lake Superior, yet every time we come here, its power strikes me in new, unexpected ways. Every time I feel my brain, my eyes, my heart are too ill-equipped to embrace the immense beauty of Gi chi Gamiing. Everything is exaggerated here: dramatic views, overwhelming rage, fiery sunsets, deep calm painted in cotton candy colours, sudden mood swings. More than anything, Lake Superior is a study in extremes.

dramatic sunset on Agawa Bay on stormy Lake Superior

Lake Superior is a study in extremes: the rage, the calm, the immense beauty – everything is exaggerated here. Continue reading

The trip that almost didn’t happen: Canoeing in north-west Algonquin

Some trips are meticulously planned several months in advance; others are quickly thrown together at the last minute. And while the final enjoyment of the trip usually doesn’t depend on the length of the planning period, the lead-up to it is a different story.

early morning on Manitou lake in Algonquin

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Killarney, canoe and me: Another birthday, another incredible solo trip

I lower my canoe into the water at the end of a short portage from Ruth-Roy Lake into Johnnie, and it takes me a few minutes to register how smooth the water is. Every time I paddled Johnnie Lake in the last couple of days, it was choppy with a generous helping of a strong side wind. This unexpected calmness looks like a minor miracle; I do a quick happy dance. The night before I passed beautiful cliffs but couldn’t pause for photos for fear of being turned back or, worse, flipped over. With waters finally calm, I decide to take a quick detour from my trip back to the parking lot and make a stop by those cliffs for a few shots. The sky doesn’t look particularly supportive of this endeavour. Dark and heavy with copious amount of tears, it is threatening to unleash its pent-up sadness at any moment. I know rain is inevitable; I just hope it will hold off for another 30 minutes or so.

paddling solo canoe with dark clouds in the background

My attempt to ‘outpaddle’ rain to get a few photos of the cliffs on Johnnie Lake fails spectacularly.

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Searching for stillness in a shifting world: Our first backcountry trip on the year

Time stands still during the last few moments before sunrise; the world holds its breath awaiting the sun’s big entrance. It is my favourite time of the day. I steer my canoe into the middle of the lake and just sit there watching dark silhouettes of the hills framed by the soft glow of the sky above and the lake below. Over the past few months of being homebound and unable to leave the city, I’ve been craving this silence – the absence of that permanent urban hum that even COVID hasn’t been able to extinguish. Here, in the middle of Nellie Lake, everything is quiet, so quiet that I can hear blood rushing through my head. Or is it the heartbeat of the Universe? I listen to its rhythmic beat punctuated by a bird song bouncing between the hills.

sunrise on Nellie Lake

Waiting for a sunrise on Nellie Lake Continue reading

The Best of 2019

Here we are again: another year, another “best of” post. 2019 didn’t feature any big road trips but it doesn’t mean there were no memorable adventures – they were just shorter and close to home. The only exception was our trip to Ukraine with my younger son. The trip didn’t involve any camping so didn’t make it into this blog but it did bring some interesting insights. It was a disconcerting experience at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country. Everything looked familiar, yet unrecognizable, as if I lost the key and could no longer decipher the code.

Near Kyiv sign in Ukraine

My trip to Ukraine was a little disorienting at first – I felt like a tourist in my home country

One afternoon we took a break from sightseeing and decided to hike down to the River Prut that runs through my home town of Chernivtsi. I’d walked that path so many times before with my older son, back then still a baby, but it was as if I landed in a new place. What used to be open fields was now a tightly woven jungle of trees and grasses. Yet, in this disorienting landscape, I felt less lost and confused than when I was twenty or so years ago when the surroundings were open and clear. That twenty-year-old person didn’t feel like me; she was more of a faint memory, someone I once knew. We all change as we grow up but usually that transformation is slow and gradual and not immediately apparent. It is only when we return to the places that knew us when we were younger, that we are confronted with those distant versions of ourselves.

walking through the grass

The trail I often walked with my older son when he was still a baby looked completely different this time around

It wasn’t until we reached the river that I started to feel at home again. And I thought that home for me doesn’t have exact geographical coordinates. It’s wherever there is water and hills and trees – be it the river of my childhood, the lakes of Algonquin, the forest behind my grandparents’ house, Killarney’s white cliffs or the Carpathian Mountains where I hiked with my classmates. Every camping trip for me is not just an adventure or escape from the city. It is about coming home.

River Prut in Chernivtsi in Ukraine

Once I got to the river of my childhood, I finally started to feel at home

And with that preamble, here is a list of the best “coming home” experiences of 2019.

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And it’s a wrap: Celebrating the end of canoe season in Algonquin

Very few things can ground you like a long portage. Nothing exists in this moment but the trail under your feet and the pressure of the pack straps against your shoulders. An inch-long line on the map stretches on forever, turning into rocks and streams and upward climbs, pools of mud in the low areas, rickety boards thrown across. You count every step as the portage unspools in front of you – Ariadne’s thread leading to the shiny waters.

prepared for portage from Rock Lake to Louisa Lake

All set for our longest portage yet

startign portage from Rock Lake to Lake Louisa

And away we go – only 2,895 metres till Lake Louisa Continue reading

Lakeshore Trail at last: hiking at Silent Lake Provincial Park

Some trails sneak into your life effortlessly, quietly, without much fanfare. One day you turn around and there it is, lying on the ground behind you like an unspooled thread. Other trails take years to complete. Not because they are so long but because every time you attempt to hike them, something comes up between you and the trail: lack of time, bad weather, non-hiking mood, other laziness-inspired excuses. Lakeshore Trail in Silent Lake Provincial Park is one of the latter.

sign for Lakeshore trail at Silent Lake Provincial Park Continue reading

Our romantic getaway in Killarney: 8 days, 90+ kilometres, countless memories

A canoe trip can make or break a relationship, or at least seriously test it. It also makes for an excellent romantic getaway. Sure, all that paddling is tiring, portages are exhausting, and you are drenched in sweat by the end of the day. But then there are awe-inspiring views, sunrise paddles and cuddles by the moon, fine dining by the lake (Backpacker’s Pantry and AlpineAire offer some deliciously fancy meals like Pad Thai and Triple Berry Crumble) and leisurely coffee by the campfire, relaxing swims in the clearest water, loon serenades, and, with no people for miles, as much privacy as you could ever wish for, making you truly feel like you are the only people in the world. I watch romantic comedies. I know what it takes.

eating by the lake at campsite 143 at Nellie lake in Killarney

Canoe trips feature fine dining by the lake

sitting by the campfire at campsite 52 on Three Narrows Lake in Killarney

There are also beautiful evenings by the campfire

selfie from the cliff with Three Narrows Lake in the background

And don’t forget breathtaking views enjoyed together

On top of all this romance 101, canoe trips lend themselves to moments, which, while not often featured in love stories, are arguably even more romantic. For instance, when my husband volunteers to get into knee-deep mud to push the canoe or does all the camp set-up so that I can take advantage of the evening light to take photos. My favourite part, however, is an opportunity to share an experience that is uniquely our own and create an endless supply of “remember when” stories and references that no one but us will understand.

kissing under a canoe

My favourite part is creating special memories and “remember when” stories to bring back

This August, my husband and I set out on our second backcountry trip as a couple and our longest canoe trip yet. After visiting Grace and Nellie Lakes in western Killarney last year, we decided to continue exploring this less travelled and considerably less crowded part of the park. Our route started at Widgawa Lodge on Highway 6, traversed Murray, Howry, Fish, Great and Little Mountain Lakes, Three Narrows, McGregor Bay, Low and Helen, Nellie, and finally Grace Lake, plus endless creeks and swamps, and finished back at Widgawa. Eight days and more than 90 kilometers later, we emerged with 1,645 photos and even more special memories.

Here are some of the highlights. Continue reading

My canoe trip to Killarney: The magic of being alone (in two parts)

“…when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.”

Mary Oliver “How I go to the woods”

I spot two loons gliding across the lake as I push my canoe off the shore. The sun made a grand entrance about half an hour ago but then slipped behind the clouds. The lake is so smooth I am almost hesitant to break its surface with my paddle. I follow the trail left by the birds, and as I turn around the bend I drift into what looks like a loon party.

“One, two, three…,” I start counting under my breath. “Eleven?!” A camping trip is never complete without seeing loons, and their calls are a perfect accompaniment for a backcountry experience. They, however, usually show up in pairs, occasionally there are three. Last year, we ran into a family with two chicks. Eleven seems like a minor miracle. I am bursting to shout, “Do you see this?” But I am by myself and no one around can share my excitement.

eleven loons on Killarney Lake

Waking up early has its perks: getting to see a crowd of loons is one of them

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