Humbling is the first word that comes to mind when I think of our canoe trip in Quetico. Our most challenging camping experience so far, it was also exhilarating, spectacular and awe-inspiring but, first and foremost, it was humbling. The couple that we met right after finishing the route echoed our sentiments. As the guy put it, any delusions he may have had about being a tough outdoorsman that never gives up and keeps battling the elements were put to rest. And I have to agree. If I were to pick the most important lesson learned, or rather reinforced, during our Quetico canoe trip, it would be respect for the power of nature.
Our Favourite Canoeing Moments
This week is National Paddling Week in Canada so I thought I’d dedicate to this post to canoeing. I have to admit that, while I enjoy all outdoor activities, canoeing is definitely my favourite. In many ways it reflects the life itself. It teaches you to keep your balance, to work together with your partner to move in the right direction. Sometimes you have to brave the waves making sure you don’t capsize. And at times it’s about staying still, going with the flow and enjoying the world around.
So here are some of our most memorable paddling moments.
Canoeing and the Question of Belonging
One of the things our family loves most about Canada is the great outdoors and all the opportunities it offers to get outside and connect with nature (as evidenced by this blog). We took our first camping trip nine years ago and immediately fell in love with Canada’s landscapes, tranquility and the call of the loon. Ever since that first trip we haven’t stopped exploring. We have traversed Ontario many times. We did a Lake Superior Circle Tour. We took a road trip across the Maritimes. If asked to pick our favourite outdoor activity, we wouldn’t be able to do it. We love them all: camping all year round, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, biking in warmer months, skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. We cherish every minute we spend in nature and look forward to the discoveries that lie ahead.
This post is not about our love for outdoors, though. It is about belonging.
Last summer, we went canoeing at Kawartha Highlands. On our way back, we came across a bit of a portage jam. There was a big group of young guys getting ready to carry their stuff to the other side of the portage trail. There was also a couple that had just arrived. My husband deftly maneuvered through the crowd with a canoe on his shoulders and lowered it into the water. As we started loading our things and children, we were chatting in Russian with our friends who were already in their canoe, all packed and ready to go. The other couple was still around unloading their gear. The guy listened to our conversation for a while and finally interjected.
“Where are you from?” he asked. He didn’t sound unfriendly but wasn’t very welcoming either.
“Oh, we are coming from the Cox Lake,” we replied.
“No, no, I mean where are you from?” he repeated more slowly. “I can hear you are not Canadian.”
We paused thinking of a reply. We could have asked what it means to be a Canadian. Is it the official Canadian Citizen status? Well, we all have it. Or maybe it’s about meaningful contributions to the Canadian society? Something we do every day both through our jobs and volunteer activities. We could have pointed out that apart from the members of Aboriginal groups, all of us in Canada are from somewhere else. We could have explained that we are very proud of our heritage (Ukrainian in our case, Russian in the case of our friends) but for a number of reasons we chose to call Canada our home. We could even have laughed at the irony of being called non-Canadian while participating in one of the most quintessential Canadian activities.
We still had a long way to go, though. So we simply said:
“We are from Toronto.”
“Oh, I thought that was Toronto accent I heard,” replied the man, probably realizing his poor choice of words.
“Is that the way we pronounce ‘Tronno’?” we smiled back as our paddles touched water.
Falling for Fall Camping
Summer is officially over but it doesn’t mean you have to put your camping gear away. Fall has so much to offer that it will make you fall in love with camping all over again. Here are some reasons why we love fall camping so much:
View from the Crack, Killarney Provincial Park
Well, it is an obvious one. Albert Camus once said that “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” I could use hundreds of words to describe the second spring and wouldn’t come even close to capturing the beauty that is a forest in the fall. It’s as if nature, in the face of impending monochromatic winter, splashes all its paints across the canvas.
Looking up, Canisbay Lake Campground, Algonquin Provincial Park
Feast for Senses
Fall is a feast not only for your eyes but all the other senses as well. Cool crispness of the morning, earthy smell of mushrooms, crunchy leaves under your feet, campfire smoke dancing in the sunlight, multicoloured foliage twirling in the wind. Fall air is filled with beauty and tranquility.
Rediscover Your Favourite Parks
It is a great opportunity to rediscover your favourite parks and see them in a new light, both literally and figuratively. With the beach weather gone, fall is a good time to try new activities that parks have to offer, explore new trails and locations.
Canoeists on Mazinaw Lake, Bon Echo Provincial Park
Speaking of the weather, cooler temperatures make most camping activities, like hiking and biking, more pleasant and less sweat-inducing. Yes, the evenings are usually chilly but they make campfires even more inviting and conversations more sizzling. Plus a hearty stew tastes so much better on a chilly fall night by the fire!
Getting Wood at Killarney Biking at Lake St. Peter Provincial Park
Absence of Bugs
No bugs! To all those people who can’t go camping because of pesky mosquitoes and flies – fall is the time to try it.
Finally, one of my personal favourites – fewer people. Parks tend to get overcrowded in the summer. As the number of park visitors subsides in the fall, I can finally find much needed solitude and refuge from the city buzz. As the nature starts slowing down preparing for the winter, I am inspired to do the same: breathe in deeply, exhale slowly, calm down my racing mind and listen to myself.
For a list of great Ontario Parks to visit in the fall, check out my article on Parks Blogger Ontario.
Canoeing in Kawartha Highlands
Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, one of the largest in Ontario, offers almost 400 square kilometers of wilderness and majestic beauty of Canadian Shield. Located in south-central Ontario, it is only 200 km away from Toronto, a perfect destination for a weekend canoe trip. In 2011, it became an operational park with over 100 backcountry campsites that can mainly be reached by a canoe (there is no car camping available in the park). Each site has a picnic table, a fire ring with a grate, and a privy toilet, a.k.a. thunder box.