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.
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.
My attempt to ‘outpaddle’ rain to get a few photos of the cliffs on Johnnie Lake fails spectacularly.
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.
Waiting for a sunrise on Nellie Lake Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All set for our longest portage yet
And away we go – only 2,895 metres till Lake Louisa Continue reading
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.
Canoe trips feature fine dining by the lake
There are also beautiful evenings by the campfire
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.
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
“…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.
Waking up early has its perks: getting to see a crowd of loons is one of them
The May long weekend made us sweat. Not literally – the weather was a bit on a cool side, actually, with generous helpings of rain. But the run-up to the weekend was marked with uncertainty and seemingly endless waiting as spring refused to show up and the late ice out kept pushing back the park opening date. Till about a couple of weeks before the trip it wasn’t clear whether we’d need to turn our canoe into an icebreaker. In the end, spring decided to grace us with her presence, albeit reluctantly, melting the remainder of ice, along with our worries, and the trip was a go.
Our first canoe trip of the year was marked with uncertainty, rain and moments of pure magic
2018 had a lot going for it. It started with a magnificent sunrise from a hill-top cabin in Quebec. We travelled to California to spend time with my brother and his family. We visited many new parks, finally making it to Yosemite and Sequoia, and new cities, like San Francisco. We got to explore familiar places and see different sides of them. My essay about gardening appeared in The Globe and Mail connecting me with fellow gardeners and yielding a free bag of compost.
The weather forecast for Thanksgiving weekend didn’t look good. No matter how many times I refreshed the page, there was nothing but clouds and rain over the three days we planned to spend canoeing in Algonquin. The sun peeked in for a bit but then quickly disappeared behind clouds. Rain and clouds it was. Oh, and single digit temperatures. Nonetheless,we kept packing because barring some natural disaster, like a hurricane, we weren’t going to bail out.
Our plans caused all sorts of reactions: from raised eyebrows to horrified high-pitched “you will freeze” warnings. There were also expressions of admiration accompanied by badly concealed “you are nuts” looks. You’d think we were heading on a month-long mission to North Pole in nothing but shorts and t-shirts with a newborn in tow.
But seriously, why subject ourselves to what many may consider misery? Except to prove that we are not fair weather campers, of course. I had a lot of time to think about it as we paddled back through persistent rain, feeling drops forming rivulets down my face and water inevitably soaking through my underwear. Would I prefer a warmer weather? Sure, a bit of sun would be nice. Maybe a glimpse of sky, just a sliver, a bit of a silver lining so to say. Was it an enjoyable trip anyway? Absolutely.