Archive for the ‘trips’ Category

Nerves of Steel, Stomach of Jelly

I still can’t wrap my head around it, but the nervous butterflies in my stomach, my quickened heartbeat and the lump in my throat that’s making it hard eat tells me that my body knows… I’m going on an adventure and a bigger one than I have ever attempted before. This time next week I’ll be halfway to Whitehorse with 80lbs of gear in the belly of the plane just waiting to be punished in the wilds of the Yukon.

photo: Jo Ohara Wikimedia

photo: Jo Ohara Wikimedia

I’m not even sure where I’m going exactly. Our destination as NOLS participants will be revealed to us on the day that we get there. I only know that it will be within a 14 hour drive of Whitehorse and that it will be somewhere that few people have ever seen or experienced. I’ll be hiking off trail and at elevation, in unpredictable weather for two weeks and then trading in my backpack for a dry bag as we continue our journey by canoe, running the rapids of a wild northern river for another two weeks.
The hardest part of this trip will be leaving my family behind. I’ve never been away from them for more than a few days and I get choked up just thinking of not seeing their faces for so long. I’ve been squeezing in double hugs and kisses to sustain me through all the days that I will be without them. I will have no phone, no Internet, in fact no electronics of any kind. Completely incommunicado for 30 days.

But enough about my apprehensions, let me tell you about the excitations!  Snow capped peaks, building lifelong friendships, acquiring mad outdoor and leadership skills, all in one of the most beautiful, pristine and isolated places on earth.  You can’t put a value on this experience…it’s priceless.  I’ll be boohoo-ing all the way there, but only because I’m so lucky to have the blessings at home that I do.  And we’re all going to benefit from this, cause mama’s gonna school the kiddos in white water paddling when I get back and it’s only a matter of time before we can all go north and run those rivers together.

So this will be my last post for a good long while.  Keep calm and camp on.  I’m off to do some learnin’.

My kitchen floor today...

My kitchen floor today…

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1000 Islands National Park…The Fairy Tale Trip

This is not one of my usual post-trip posts.  If you follow along on our family adventures, you’re used to hearing epic stories of family vs. nature…big bad storms and clouds of biting bugs, wading through ice-cold swollen rivers and marathon portages.  This is NOT one of those stories.  I’m not one to gush, and I always give the straight story, so believe me when I say that our trip to 1000 Islands National Park last week was perhaps the best family trip that we have ever taken.

The fairy tale trip goes something like this…Once upon a time (namely last Saturday morning) in the most charming town of Gananoque  (side note: I loved this town so much, I want to move here.  Anyway, back to the story) began the vacation of all vacations.  We checked into the gorgeous stone home of 1000 Islands Kayaking, the company that was going to be taking us on a tour of this BEAUTIFUL area of Ontario.  All the staff that we had contact with were funny and personable and helpful.  We bought a parking pass at the local marina for a whopping $6 a day, got set up with drybags for the gear we’d be bringing and headed out for a lesson on kayaking 101.  The weather was perfect…sunny and not too hot, not too cold.  It was hard to believe that we were on a trip and it wasn’t raining!  I’d also like to note that all of our trusty steeds (the boats, pfd’s and drybags) looked brand new and were in mint condition.DSC_0134

After shoving off from the dock,  Scott (owner and our guide for the day) had us play a game of ball tag in order to get the hang of controlling our boats.  It was ingenious and hilarious and it broke the ice with all of the participants.  I could go on and on, but let me just hit the highlights instead…we paddled over a sunken ship, into an outdoor chapel in Half Moon Bay that still holds services on Sunday afternoons and heard stories about whatever cottage, island, channel and bird that struck our interest.  Scott and all of the guides have an arsenal of history on the area not to be rivaled.  It was so much fun and so interesting, the time just flew by.  We parked our rides on an island and hiked around exploring while Scott put together a dreamy lunch feast of assorted meats, cheeses, fruit, veggies and juices.  A quick online form submitted before the trip allows the guide to tailor the menu to accommodate any dietary restrictions.  Total class act.  After lunch we hit some bigger water and it was like a roller coaster ride complete with squealing and face-cramping grins.  It was all over far too soon.  We were escorted over to McDonald Island where we were staying for the next couple of nights and waved goodbye to the rest of the crew.  The boats however, stayed with us.  1000 Island Kayaking not only offers tours, courses, certifications and camps, but also just plain up rentals for those lone wolves that like to explore solo.  I’ve got to say though, the tour should not be missed.  To top it all off, when we got home, we got an email with a link to pictures that Scott took throughout the day, which meant that I was actually in one of our trip pictures!

photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Kayaking!

photo courtesy of 1000 Islands Kayaking!

Next?  How about we didn’t have to set up camp!  Our castle awaited us in the form of an oTENTik tent/cabin.  It was getting muggy outside but there are tons of windows that can be used with just screens and the breeze off the water kept us perfectly comfortable.  This is no B&B and is quite a rustic structure, but beds with mattresses and a table and chairs inside are camp luxuries.  A small solar panel also powers up a battery inside that runs a light when necessary.  This park without doubt and without exception, has the cleanest bathrooms of any park we have ever visited.  Not fancy…no running water, no showers, no flush toilets, but clean composting toilets and a hand sanitizer dispensor in each and every one.   There is a lovely covered outdoor eating area, adirondak chairs, fire pit and wood fuel bbq for cooking up tasty meals.  The most impressive feature though, is the setting amongst the trees, no neighbours in sight and the water laid out in front just tempting one more dip and one more paddle.1000 Islands National Park

We didn’t complete the quest to find the castle, but rest assured there is one on one of the thousand islands.  It’s just an excuse to go back and go back we will.  We have found a place that we not only want to visit again, but maybe one that we’d like to make a more permanent situation.  Dreamy? yes.  A fairy tale?  Happily ever after remains to be seen, but it’s looking pretty good to this princess.1000 Islands oTENTik

National Parks In Ontario: Thousand Islands (formerly St. Lawrence Islands)

oTENTik  photo: pc.gc.ca

oTENTik
photo: pc.gc.ca

At least once a year we plan a “vacation” trip rather than an epic adventure.  What is the difference you ask?  Comfort and fun.  This year’s trip is to the Thousand Islands National Park.  This will be our first visit and we are doing it up in style.  We’re going to be staying in the parks newly offered oTENTik accommodations on McDonald Island.  If you’ve never seen an oTENTik, it is half tent, half rustic cabin and all comfort.  No sleeping on the ground, we’ll be in comfy bunk beds and eating at a table!  It’s the perfect base for day paddles amongst the islands.

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

1000 Islands Kayaking at MEC Paddlefest

Because this is our first family kayak trip and we have very little experience kayaking, we are looking to the expertise of the crew at 1000 Islands Kayaking to show us the ropes.  We first met the gang from 1000 Islands Kayaking at the Toronto MEC Paddlefest and they are super skilled (and certified) and equally friendly and fun.  They run a number of courses, classes and tours and we’ll be visiting them at their headquarters in Gananoque.  The plan is to get schooled on the ins and outs of kayaking and then hit the beautiful waters of Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve.  We don’t even have to tote our gear around with us as they are going to shuttle it over to our campsite for us.  This allows us to bring any luxury items that we would usually leave at home.  It’s a perfect service for a comfy get-away and especially helpful for family camping.  After a morning of exploring, get this, we land on one of the parks islands to enjoy time on our own while our guide prepares a gourmet lunch with ingredients sourced from within 100 miles of our location!  Paddling really doesn’t get more indulgent than that!

1000 Islands Bridge photo: visit1000islands.com

1000 Islands Bridge
photo: visit1000islands.com

The rest of our trip to the park will be spent further touring the Thousand Islands by kayak.  There is no end to the wonders to be found…sunken ships, castles and wildlife galore.  When we tire of paddling (is that even possible?), there are tons of hiking trails for a different perspective.  Fishing, geocaching, bird watching, scuba diving, swimming, interpretive programs and the Xplorers program for the kiddies, it’s like a natural and cultural wonderland.

Boldt Castle photo: visit1000islands.com

Boldt Castle
photo: visit1000islands.com

We can’t wait to visit this gorgeous part of Ontario and have a relaxing vacation in what is sure to be one of our new favourite parks.  Cross your fingers for us that we get good weather and you know that I’m going to have my camera ready, so stay tuned for post-trip pictures.

 

La Cloche: Denied.

It happened again. I don’t know why, but I can only imagine that we are going to have awesome tripping weather in our next lives. Unfortunately in this life, we got shut out again. We hit the La Cloche Silhouette Trail with overcast skies. The air was cool, which is great for hiking, and the bugs were thick like a perpetual fog…which is not so good for hiking. We knew going in that this would be the case though. We will choose black flies and mosquitos over crowds and heat every time.

There were a ton of little river crossing that involved balance walking across logs, rock hopping and using beaver dams as makeshift bridges to make it from one side of hazards to the other. These were fun and felt like mini adventures breaking up the entirely inland hiking at this point. We made great time that first day and set up camp without any troubles. A good day.

A big first step

A big first step

During the night it poured rain. The boys and I love sleeping in a tent to the sound of rain pelting the fly. It’s a bit of a pain when your gear gets wet, but it’s manageable if you get a break every few days to dry it out again. We didn’t get that break. The rain that first night in addition to the spring run-off, was the beginning of our troubles.

Not too far into day two, it was time to pull out the pack rain covers. The trail quickly began to wash out. The low-lying areas became flooded and the ground turned from rocks and roots to a downright swamp. We tried our best to keep our feet dry by finding the highest ground and weaving our way around, but this made for very slow progress. We were on trail for a very long time and didn’t make our next destination before deciding that nine hours on our feet with fully loaded packs was enough. We grabbed a very unpleasant emergency site to hunker down in for the night. We were wet. We were cold. We were hungry. And for the first time in twenty years, Fraser had developed a blister. It was an ugly one. It turned my stomach just to look at it. He never complained and after taping it up, we barely mentioned it again. That’s one tough trooper.

Yup. The majority of the trail became this wet.

Yup. The majority of the trail became this wet.

After packing up our wet gear and pulling on our wet boots…I HATE wet boots, we carried on. It was half-way through day three that we hit our downfall. As we approached what should have been a routine river crossing, we could hear even before we saw, that there was trouble. The roaring sounds coming up from behind a crest sounded like a waterfall. When we came around the bend, my stomach dropped. Surely this wasn’t the place that we were supposed to cross. There must be a bridge or a crossing further up? But no, the raging river we were looking at was indeed where we were supposed to be (check out a video of the craziness). Fraser and I looked at each other wide-eyed. The kids just looked sick. After studying the problem and Fraser managing to cross the torrent back-and-forth a couple of times trying to rig up a rope system for safety, we asked the kids what they thought. “Do you want to give it a try?” They said they would, but the terror in their eyes said otherwise. Don’t let your ego rule, be a good parent, turn around.

THIS is where we're supposed to cross?

THIS is where we’re supposed to cross?

Sometimes the hardest decision to make is the one to turn around and go back. Going backwards is always a difficult thing. Making progress means moving forward, one foot in front of the other and all that. Going back to the beginning is something that has to be done from time to time and when that choice has been made with thoughtfulness and consideration and for the right reasons, then it is right decision. With a deep sigh, we turned on heel and headed back with a new goal. We didn’t have campsite reservations so we’d have to move quickly to limit our chances of arriving at a site that was already occupied. If we could manage to get out in two days we’d only need to stay one unauthorized night and also avoid the coming weekend. Off we went, hiking double-time.

Here is where the story gets crazy. Do you remember all of those straight-forward river crossings that we did on the way in? Well, by the time we reached them again on the way out, they were all two feet under water. Raging, swirling, angry water. The air temperature was only 4C at this point and it was obvious that we were going to have to get wet to get home. That first step in, up to your knee in water doing its best to pull you down, so cold that it takes your breath away…it was the first step of hundreds more like it still to come.

This wasn't here before...

This wasn’t here before…

We got to experience the “hump” aka the “grind” aka the “pig”, in all of its watery glory on the hike out (see Don’t Worry Honey…It’s Still Gonna Suck). Needless to say, that section alone deserves its own post, for now I’ll simply say that it did indeed suck. In the end, we got out in two days, staying one night at a thankfully unoccupied site. Hundreds of bug bites, a couple of blisters, wrinkly feet, runny noses (did I mention that three of us got colds on the trip?), frozen fingers and legs so stiff that we drew attention from strangers at the fast food joint we hit for dinner. It was CRAZY. And yeah, we’ll probably do it again. Soon.

We can have fun anywhere in any weather

We can have fun anywhere in any weather

Living the Northern Dream

There are only two places on earth that I’ve always dreamed of visiting, but never thought I would.  One is Norway.  I had a childhood friend whose family was from Norway and she’d tell me amazing stories of home that planted the seeds that dreams are made of.  The other place is Canada’s North.  I want to see the taiga and the tundra.  I want to see caribou run.  I want to fish the icy rivers and climb the white-capped mountains.  I want to fall asleep in the midnight sun.  Last week I found out that I am going to get the chance to do just that.  I’m going to the Yukon.

Canoeing on Kluane Lake - photo courtesy of travelyukon.com

Canoeing on Kluane Lake – photo courtesy of travelyukon.com

This is the first trip since my older son was born almost 12 years ago, that I’m not doing with my family.  I am both exhilarated and terrified.  It is going to be like nothing I’ve seen before with people whom I’ve never met.  I’m going on a 30 day NOLS Outdoor Educator course.  Half of our time will be spent on a looong hike (12 days?) and the rest of the time will be running whitewater in canoes.  Luckily these aren’t new concepts to me, but we will be learning a whole bag of new skills and how to break them down and teach them to others.  What I most hope to gain from this experience is the ability to help others safely navigate the outdoors with confidence.

My ultimate dream is to run the Nahanni river with Fraser and the kids.  This is one big step in that direction.

I want to thank my wonderful employers (Mountain Equipment Co-op) who fund this amazing experience for two staff every year.  This was my lucky year and I’m going to take full advantage of this unbelievable opportunity.

I haven’t even gone yet, but I’ve already learned this…dream big, do what you love and no matter where you are in life, never stop growing.

Georgian Bay Islands…Make a Quick Getaway!

Many things impressed us about Georgian Bay Islands National Park.  The two-hour drive from Toronto was perfect…long enough to feel like we were “getting away”, but close enough not to waste a whole day driving and we saved money not having to gas up repeatedly or to stop and stuff our faces with deep-fried greasy goodness.  Finding the boat launch was super easy and if you take the Daytripper park boat, there is dedicated parking right next to the water.  Sweet!

After a short ride over to Beausoleil Island, we were greeted by park staff person extraordinaire, Katie, right at the dock.  All of the staff couldn’t be nicer or more helpful.  Katie gave us our cabin key and answered all of our questions.  There are these cool carts that you can borrow to transport your gear from the boat to your cabin or site and according to Zach, they provide a smooth ride.

The cabin was spotless and gorgeous and had a playground just outside the door.  The cabins are cleaned top to bottom after each visitor and it shows.  They are built completely of wood with vaulted ceilings and ours had two bedrooms, one for the folks and bunks for the kiddies.  Fraser and I honestly didn’t know how to pack for this trip.  We’re so used to bringing everything that we need, it made us feel strange leaving the details and gear to someone else, but it worked out great!  Every time we needed something we worried over not having brought it but sure enough the cabin’s compact kitchen hid all of the necessities…dishes, cutlery, pots, glasses, kettle, large water carrier, big knives, tongs, oven mitt, dish drainer, mini fridge, tea towel, coffee maker and filters. I really could go on and on.  Perfect.  It’s nice not to have to worry about packing.  Just bring food and clothes and a sleeping bag and you’re all set!

We dumped our bags and set off to start exploring the trails that run all over the island.  The kids worked on their Xplorer booklets (I’ll write all about that in a later post) and we got caught in the rain for the first time that trip…lol!  We went back to the cabin and barbecued up some steaks and corn on the cob for dinner and lit a fire for the marshmallows.  Luke must have said “I love this place” a hundred times and tried to secure a promise that we’ll return every year from now on.  I’d say that’s a rave review.

Day two started off with a hot breakfast and a plan to hike to the north end of the island.  It was overcast so we grabbed our raincoats and packed a lunch and headed out.  As we hiked past the tent sites we made note of the ones that we’d like to stay on and there were plenty of them.  The park has a really nice layout and even had a food building where you can lock away your goodies safe from bears and other animals.  What a great idea!  The views are spectacular and the trails are well maintained with some ideal for travel by foot and some ideal for bicycles.  We would definitely bring bikes next time.

As was our luck this year, just as we were pulling out our lunch, the skies opened up.  It was a cold, hard fall rain and we were far from our camp.  It was fine though.  Knowing that we had a dry cabin waiting for us at the end made the hike back no big deal and the weather cleared long enough in the afternoon to squeeze in some fishing.  We later found out from park staff that over 60mm of rain fell that day…more than the last three months combined.  It was suggested that since we have such a great record of attracting rainy weather, we should hire our services out to other parks in need of the wet stuff…lol!

The verdict?  Positive all around.  Easy to get to, great staff, beautiful cabin, gorgeous island and a good time was had by all.  I definitely recommend a visit to this park.  It’s a must do and is accessible to all campers regardless of outdoor experience.  Put it on the list and make plans to visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

Check out some pictures on Flickr!

Georgian Bay Islands On My Mind

I’m feeling pretty smug.  Earlier this year when we were planning our adventures for the summer, we decided to schedule our trip to Georgian Bay Islands National Park for early September.  After a challenging tripping season we now have beautiful Georgian Bay in our sights.

Just a short drive from Toronto, we get to start enjoying our trip right out of the blocks and save a bit of coin on gas money to boot.  If it rains, or if it’s cold or if those pesky bugs outlast the hot nights and come looking for us, I won’t mind.  We are going to be staying in a rustic cabin sheltered from the elements.  We’re going on vacation!

September has always been my favourite month for tripping.  The nights are cool, the leaves are changing and the crowds have thinned out.  Algonquin is our usual fall destination, but not only are we changing up the venue, we are going to a park that none of us have visited before.  That makes it extra exciting.  Friends that have been to Georgian Bay Islands before tell us that we’re in for a treat.  It is simply a gorgeous park.

Our plan is to take it easy.  We are going to explore the hiking trails on Beausoleil Island to take advantage of the mixed topography, Canadian shield on the north end and forests in the south.  With the boys hooked on fishing, we will definitely be spending time on shore trying to hook a big one.  Picnicking, barbeque, campfires, hiking, fishing, cozy cabin, pictures…lot of pictures.  Yeah, I’m feeling pretty smug.

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