Archive for June, 2012

The Biggest Adventure – Kids

So you’re on the fence about having kids.  You’re not sure if you’re ready to give up the lifestyle to which you are accustomed.  You haven’t ticked off all of the trips that you wanted to take down before you settled down. You trip endlessly and you’re good.  Some would call you hardcore.  You shrug it off as no big thing but you secretly tuck those accolades away, pulling them out and rolling them around in your head when you need a boost.  I’m here to tell you that bringing little ones into the fold will only increase your enjoyment and your achievements, not to mention your street cred.  I know this from personal experience.  My favourite tripping partners are my husband Fraser and our kids, Luke 11, and Zach 8.  They make everything more fun and I honestly can’t remember how I entertained myself before they came along.  The soundtrack to my life is one filled with laughter, commentary and endless inquiries.

What is better than coming to the end of a 3k portage without losing my lunch?  Watching my kids complete the same trek with fully loaded packs all the while chatting non-stop about every leaf, snail and rock that they pass.  I marvel at their strength, passion and attitudes.  Relative to their size, they are hauling as much as I am.  Their faces are flush and little beads of sweat form on their upper lips.  The breathing comes hard…for all of us.  It’s difficult, but there is no complaining, just pride in accomplishing what others believed was too difficult, beyond their capabilities.  And I don’t often have to wonder what they are thinking because they share their thoughts freely and without filters.  They are not like other tripping partners…they trust me completely and care about me as much, if not more, than themselves and I reciprocate the sentiment. There are no egos and no competition, just encouragement and a hand up when necessary.

The gift of seeing the world through their eyes is one that I wouldn’t trade for all the first ascents and records in the world.  The truth is we get out far more often now that we have kids than we ever did before.  Their enthusiasm to climb higher, hike farther and paddle longer drives us to attempt ever more ambitious adventures.  This summer saw us hike Pukaskwa’s Coastal Hiking Trail, a grueling seven day slog through some dauntingly rough terrain that had us crossing suspension bridges, wading through ice-cold rivers and sharing beaches with the local black bear population.  And if that weren’t enough, we will follow up this trip with a three-week canoe expedition dissecting the entire maintained length of Algonquin Provincial Park from north to south.

The accolades will still come.  People are even more impressed with what you’ve accomplished when they find out that your progeny were by your side from launch to take-out.  The thing is you won’t need their praise anymore.  You have the best motivation there is…your kids.

The Best Backcountry Dad

I get all the glory being the writer in the family, but it is in reality my amazing husband Fraser who deserves all of the credit, I’m just along for the wonderful ride.

Fraser quietly dreams up and plans all of our trips down to the smallest detail. From the next park and the best route to the prettiest site at sunset with most awesome jumping rock…Fraser thinks of everything. He hauls the lions share of the gear without any complaint. In fact he constantly offers to take some of our load to help make our time more enjoyable. He has been known to carry the biggest pack plus a canoe on portage only to RUN back to beginning to shoulder another load. And he always offers to make that bonus run to grab our second boat. My ego won’t let me allow this, but I know that he genuinely means it when he offers.

Daddy-o also plans, packs, preps and prepares EVERY meal on trip taking the time to include the kids so that they feel like they are contributing. Even though it takes longer with their “assistance”, he loves showing them the ropes and they love learning. Afterwards he cleans all of the dishes and packs up and sets the bear hang. Did I mention that he can also get a fire going in any weather? He’s a fire guru. After all that, he finds time to play with the kids when the work is done. And when the boys are asleep, he chronicles all of the days happenings in a journal so that they will be able to read about and remember every trip forever.

Fraser always knows the right way to go and shows us all on the map how to tell where we are and where we are going. He is calm, assured and supportive and regularly tells us what great campers we are, especially when he can see frustration and exhaustion beginning to show on our faces. He never expects the same in return, but then again he never seems to need it. What has happened though is that our boys have picked up this kind trait and show support for each other (and me) the way that their dad has always done for them. Encouraging words, helpful hands and a shared load. These are the lessons that Fraser teaches by example.

It is probably because he makes camping so easy and so much fun that we are all in love with it. His genuine love of the outdoors is what has sparked the same in our sons. I can see in their eyes the awe for their dad. You can tell that they want to be just like him when they grow up. They want to build the fire with him and put up the tent with him and gather water with him…anything and everything they can do to mimic their hero.

I take credit for marrying the best man in the world, but his dad George deserves the credit for showing him how to be that man. Thanks to all dads that are willing to put in the effort to raise their boys up into kind, strong, loving men. Happy Father’s day.

Pukaskwa Wild, Winsome and Wonderful

Our boys are always up for a challenge, especially if it involves the outdoors. But we tripled checked that they really wanted to go and hike the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park. We tried our best to paint a realistic picture of just how difficult it would be.  Little did I know that even I had underestimated the challenges that lay ahead.

After a 14 hour drive north we pitched a tent in Hattie Cove for the night and woke at a painfully early hour to catch our boat shuttle with Keith and Melissa from McCuaig Marine Services. We were dropped at North Swallow River in a steady rain to start our hike back. Note to self, the end of May is black fly season.

The trail was a very rugged constant gain and loss of elevation. It was rocky and dense and we relied heavily on our hiking poles for balance and grip. There was a substantial amount of rock-hopping to avoid any number of hazards, and felled trees to climb under and over and around. There was never a moment of tedium as a constant stream of obstacles kept us on our toes at all times. We were rewarded for our efforts with some of the most beautiful and breathtaking backcountry that I’ve ever seen. Lake Superior stretches on forever and truly resembles the sea. The sandy beaches sweep out like private playgrounds to explore and enjoy at the end of a long day. Almost all of our campsites landed us smack dab in the middle of a gorgeous beach with sunset views to die for. Even after hiking an eight-hour day, the boys ran out into the sand to dig and build and explore.

I admit that at times the terrain was so demanding and exhausting that witty banter fell by the wayside and was replaced with rhythmic pants of exertion and the sounds of heavily weighted boots drumming against the rock. There were a couple of tears of frustration and “somebody” collapsed at camp one night leaving the burden of set-up and cooking to the others (yes that was me). But with the effort, we could see the confidence growing in the boys. Their steps became less timid and their placement more precise. They called out warnings of upcoming hazards to the group and held back branches and offered a steady hand to each other. They leaned into headwinds and wiped the rain and bugs from their faces. Despite the formidable demands there wasn’t one whine or complaint or outright tantrum. Still they ended every day with hugs and kisses and smiles and thanks.  For possibly the first time in their lives our guys faced real adversity. They learned that by not giving up even when things got exceedingly difficult, they could achieve their goals. They proved to themselves just how strong and capable they really are. It also made it impossible for me to complain. If they could do it with such grace, then so could I.

Our original plan was to hike the trail in seven days. In the beginning we found that our family took about one hour longer to hike each section than was suggested in the Coastal Hiking Trail Planner. The further that we went on the trail though, the better time we made. On the sixth day we completed our section one hour ahead of schedule and the kids asked if we could push on and finish our journey that day instead of making camp. We decided that it was doable and agreed.

After more than 16km on that sixth day, we made our way back into the Hattie Cove campground giddy with the exhilaration of our accomplishment as well as the prospect of a fast-food dinner with all of the fixings. After gorging ourselves on poutine and root beer floats, we rolled back into camp and were treated to a night in gorgeous teepee courtesy of Bonnie Couchie from the Pic River Guest Suite. Even though we arrived earlier than planned, Bonnie had our night’s accommodations waiting for us and we had the warmest and most comfortable night’s sleep in a week.

Before we left on our adventure the possibility existed that we might not be able to finish and that someday we would need to return and give it another go. I know now that regardless of having realized the goal of hiking the entire trail, we will definitely be returning to Pukaskwa.  Not out of an obligation to complete unfinished business, but rather for the love of a newfound gem.  One visit to this magical park simply isn’t enough. Our Ontario Outdoor calendar didn’t steer us wrong when it suggested that we visit. That leaves 11 more months of inspiration hanging on my wall.

To see more of our trip pictures, check out the Pukaskwa National Park set on Flickr!

A special thank you to Mountain Equipment Co-op, Pukaskwa National Park and Ontario Outdoors.  Your support allowed for a successful and memorable trip.

Today is Camp Day at Tim Horton’s. You’ve still got time to run out and grab a coffee to help send kids to camp. Here is a post I wrote last year about Camp Day. Enjoy!

backcountry with the kids

No one can accuse us of being high brow. Classy we ain’t. Sure we buy our share of $5 coffees, but we’re simple girls. Our preferences lean towards donuts and away from tiramisu. We love a good cup of Tim Horton’s (double double, no fooling around here) and a chocolate dip. On Wednesday June 1st, there’s an even better reason to haunt your local Timmy’s than the Ice Cap’s.

I was waiting for the subway today and I took my usual place on the platform. Instead of the boring old ads that I usually ignore, one bright one caught my attention. Six happy kids in pfds enjoying themselves at camp. It was an ad for camp day at Tim Horton’s. Here is an excerpt from their website:

Camp Day is the one day a year when Tim Hortons Restaurant Owners across Canada and the United States donate every penny from…

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Here is a little something that I wrote on my way back from Pukaskwa National Park a couple of days ago.

Please sir, I want some more…


It’s amazing how accustomed we become to what we consider basics. Food on demand, a roof over our heads, a safe warm place to sleep. We forget to be thankful for these things until for a time, however short, we are without them.
Making our way home from Pukaskwa in the driving rain makes me thankful that we came off trail last night instead of later this afternoon as planned. Had we stuck to the original plan, we’d have slept in the rain and awoken to a downpour. We’d be huddled under a tarp in temperatures not too far above freezing and eating oatmeal…again. We’d put on slightly damp gear and head out with heavy packs for a long days hike.
Instead we are warm and dry inside our Jeep in search of bacon and eggs and an inviting diner. We are not swatting away black flies or concerned about bears. We are anticipating heavily sweetened coffee and cell phone service.
I hope that this feeling of utter unabashed gratitude doesn’t fade too quickly. It’s good to recognize our blessings while we’ve got them and not have to wait until they’re gone to lament what we’ve lost.

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