Posts Tagged ‘camping’

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.

 

Advertisements

The Smaller the Better – When to Introduce Kids to the Backcountry

I was just having a conversation with a friend about when the best time to start backcountry camping with the kids is.  I’ve sort of touched on this before, but the conversation has inspired me to address it again.  In my opinion, the younger the better.  I haven’t read any studies on this topic, but based on my experience with my boys, this is why I think they have taken to it so readily.  Keep in mind that getting your kids out whatever their age is important and beneficial, so don’t be discouraged if you’ve waited to do it!  Also…safety first.  Don’t get yourself and the kids in over your heads.  Start slowly and build to epic…don’t just jump right in 😉

Camping in the snow with uncle Scott…age 6.

1) They don’t know any different (suckers).

When my guys think of fun and recreational activities, their minds don’t (often) wander to movies or theme parks.  They don’t lust after luxury rooms in fancy hotels or exotic foods from exotic places (except sushi of course, but who doesn’t?).  They dream of the backcountry because that is what they equate with fun and family.  Before they could even talk, they could trip.

2) They measure themselves with a tripping yardstick.

When they were little, they were told that they were too small to do some things like paddle the canoe or carry the portage pack.  As

Setting up the tent…ages 2 and 5

they have grown, they have taken on greater responsibilities and challenges and it makes them feel grown up.  They keep wanting to go back to prove to themselves and to us just how far they’ve come.

3) They still think you’re the coolest (because I am).

You think the backcountry is awesome and they think you are awesome.  When they are little, the sun rises and sets with you so they love what you love.  It’s a great big love fest.

4) Exercise.

This one is self-explanatory.  Active youngin’s turn into active teens who become active adults. No arm twisting necessary.

5) It impresses their friends.

When the boys are well versed in first aid, how to do boat rescues, get to start fires, when they’ve learned how to fight off bears and they get knives for their birthdays, they are the talk of the schoolyard…in a good way.

6) It’s hard to get them down.

Little ones put far less pressure on themselves to get things right the first time (relative to angsty teens who take a “who cares” stance when they don’t master something on the first try).  Sure they can get discouraged.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly seen backcountry tantrums and tears.  The older the kid though, the quicker they are to give up on a task that makes them feel weak or slow or is difficult and seen as not being fun.

7) Everything is fun.

Teenagers think everything is boring and beneath them.  Little ones think everything is fun.  Plain and simple.  A two-year old will collect rocks and dig in the dirt with a stick for hours.  They will happily gather firewood, or peg tents or fetch water because everything is a game.  Teenagers will sit on a log staring off into space and occasionally grunt that “this sucks”.

8) Dirt.

Little guys naturally want to play in the dirt.  Give them a chance and they won’t get all squeamish about getting their hands or clothes

Swimming in Algonquin ages 2 and 5

dirty.  Sitting on the ground, wiping their hands on their pants and picking bugs out of their food before chowing down are all things best taught early. Exposure to dirty stuff helps build a strong immunity and keeps your kids healthier in the long run.

9) Community.

The outdoor community is an awesome one.  Friendly like-minded folks hanging out and going on trips together or simply sharing tips and ideas.  But nobody likes being the new kid in class, I mean where are am I going to sit?  I won’t know anybody!  Start them young and they will make life-long friends and tripping buddies.  It’s harder to break into a group that’s already got history and a couple of trips under their belts.

10) Never too much of a good thing.

Getting your kids outside for exercise and fresh air is good for them.  Nurturing a connection to the environment and a sense of empathy for nature and its creatures is good for them.  Spending time as a family without the distractions and trappings of the city is good for them.  Nurturing a family bond that will hold up under the pressure of daily quibbles and bigger squabbles is good for them (and you).  If all of this is good for them, then the longer they get to do it, the better!

There you have it.  When should you introduce your kids to the backcountry?  RIGHT NOW!  Don’t wait, no excuses, take them out and take them often.  By the time they’re “big” they’ll be superstars of the outdoors and happy, healthy, well-rounded nature-lovers.  Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?

Backcountry Quesadillas – A New Recipe

So you’re looking for another recipe that you can eat on a backcountry trip?  Here is one that we tried out on our Algonquin canoe trip this summer and it was a big hit!

BACKCOUNTRY QUESADILLAS

Ingredients:

tortillas

dehydrated black beans

dehydrated chicken or turkey (optional)

cheddar cheese

oil or powdered shortening

salsa

avocado or dehydrated guacamole

Instructions:

Rehydrate the dehydrated ingredients.  Assemble by layering black beans, cheese and meat between two tortillas. Heat up pan over fire or stove. Put oil or shortening in pan and fry both sides of your quesadilla until crunchy and cheese is melted. Serve with salsa and guacamole.

Tricks:

OLD LIGHT cheddar keeps for a super long time and doesn’t ooze oiliness the way regular full fat cheddar does.

Buy a commercial soft taco KIT. The tortillas have unnaturally long expiry dates and are still soft after months of storage and the kit includes a packet of salsa so you don’t have to worry about glass jars or refrigeration.

A half-ripened avocado will ripen in your barrel and can be eaten days into your trip or buy a commercially prepared dehydrated guacamole instead. That will mean you can eat this meal on any day of your trip.

Short on time we had to settle for black bean humus instead of just plain black beans, and it tasted great!

Kids LOVE this meal 🙂

National Parks In Ontario: Pukaskwa…Our Kids Try to Set a Record!

This is our inaugural BIG trip year. We feel that the kids are ready to take on some serious expeditions and we’re milking this coming of age for all it’s worth. 2012 is chocked full of back to back awesome trips. Come the end of January though, it felt like we were just killing time until the fun would begin. The spring looked lean and long. I opened our complimentary 2012 Ontario Outdoor Adventures calendar and started flipping through the pages, counting the weeks until our first trip of the year was planned. It hit me like a slap in the face. Right there on the square reserved for May 23rdwas the answer to our spring tripping drought. Hike Pukaskwa’s Coastal Trail, it read. Yeah baby, let’s do it! With only four months until our departure, the race was on to prepare ourselves for what some people spend years planning for.

Pukaskwa National Park © Klaus Rossler Photography 2011

The Coastal Trail in Pukaskwa Provincial Parkis Ontario’s answer to B.C.’s West Coast Trail. Rated as an advanced hike, my husband Fraser and I had put thoughts of it on the back burner after our boys were born in favour of short hikes, canoe trips and winter camping. Well, we dusted off the dream this spring and put it back on our plates. With Zach and Luke a strong and well experienced 8 and 10 respectively, we felt confident that we could tackle the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather that Pukaskwa is notorious for. Perched on the edge of Lake Superior’s wild north shore, it is Ontario’s only wilderness national park and the trail includes suspension bridges, river crossings and boulder fields.

courtesy of Parks Canada

I began researching our chances of a successful expedition. I lucked out and made quick friends with Lyn Elliot, a super friendly kindred spirit from the Parks office in Pukaskwa. What a wealth of information! We talked weather, trail conditions, bugs, packing considerations…and then the clincher. She mentioned in an early email that if we completed the entire trail, we were most likely the “youngest” family to have done so. By all accounts, our boys will be the youngest hikers to complete the trail end-to-end. That was it, we were thoroughly hooked. It was like a first accent and a World Record rolled into one ambitious but doable hiking first. We were going to be the first to realise this achievement, the perfect motivation for a firm commitment. We are going to Pukaskwa, we are going to hike the whole 60km Coastal Trail and because of other commitments, we only have seven days to accomplish it in. Hikers, start your engines!

There are only two options for approaching a hike on this single access point trail, the “double-back” method (hike in and then turn around and hike back) and the boat shuttle. We waffled on which to choose. The double back meant that the pressure was off. If we didn’t make the progress that we hoped for, we could just turn around when half of our time had been eaten up and safely assume that it would take an equal amount of time to get back. Other points in the “pro” double back column… the first half of the trail is well travelled, better maintained and technically less advanced, plus we could avoid the added expense of the boat shuttle. However, and most anyone who knows me can attest to this, I have an aversion to the easy way. To me, only hiking half of the trail would mean that someday I would need to return and complete the entire thing in order to check it off my list. If I’m going to drive 14 hours to get to the park, there is simply no way that I’m not doing the whole trail and so we are going with longtime water taxi operator Keith at McCuaig Marine Services. Luckily for me, Fraser is always willing and more than able to entertain my tripping whims. The question then remained, what about the kids? Will they want to go? Are they capable? Will the frustration of a trip too far above their abilities sour them for all future crazy proposals? Well they certainly want to go, they couldn’t be more excited and it’s not just because they will be missing a week of school! As for the other concerns, I suppose the answers to those questions await us at the end of this journey.

courtesy of Parks Canada

If you want to start planning your own visit to Pukaskwa, check out the AMAZING trip planners that the park has just come out with. They really are the most comprehensive, helpful and easily navigable trip planners that I have ever had the pleasure of using. There is the Coastal Paddling Route Trip Planner and the Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. Every single question that we had was answered in this document. Everything from driving distances between major cities and the park to hiking distances in kilometers and hours between camp sites, weather conditions and sunrise and sunset times. And you don’t have to be crazy like us as there is car camping in Hattie’s Cove (with free WIFI at the visitor’s centre) and you can do day trips on the hiking trail or any number of shorter overnighters. They offer tons of interpretive programs, a junior naturalist program for the young and young at heart as well as an Art in the Park series. Really fabulous. No, really. Check it out. Really

Stay tuned because our trip is in two short weeks! You can watch our progress real-time on a Google map by way of our SPOT Connect (satellite GPS messenger) and I will be tweeting and updating Facebook from the trail…you gotta love technology! Here is a link to the SPOT map page. Of course there is nothing much to look at right now, but starting on May 26th I’ll be doing regular location check-ins. Also look for a complete trip report and some spectacular pictures when we get back. Wish us luck!

Let Them Roam Free

My sincere hope is that camping is not seen as “old-fashioned” and therefore passe. Camping doesn’t have to be about the stereotypical plaid shirts and bushmen (although I’ve always fancied both of these things). Getting outdoors is a form of escapism just as movies and the internet can be, only it offers a whole host of additional benefits.

With the proliferation of technology, traditional skills that were once passed on from our parents are being lost. Once upon a time parents took their kids camping and fishing and on endless road trips for entertainment. It seems that more and more now, kids are plunking themselves in front of the flat screen and passively staring at reruns rather than being engaged with others and their environment. Gone are the days of riding bikes, climbing trees and road hockey games stretching far into the night. Gone too are those camping trips with the folks.

If media reports are true, kids are increasingly sedentary, overweight and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. I’m not knocking the advances that have been made in technology. The internet and educational programming on television can be great resources. Why not use them to ensure that our kids reverse those scary statistics? Research how to take the family into the great outdoors if you don’t already possess the necessary skills like signing up to participate in a “Learn To Camp” seminar at a Provincial or National Park. Connect with others that are participating in the activities that interest you. Or forget technology and simply get back to basics with a stroll around the block.

I’ve found the outdoor community to be a very friendly one. Join a club that organizes outings to get you started. Try car camping for a night and work your way up to longer and more involved trips. If you’ve ever thought, “someday I’ll take the kids camping. Maybe when they’re older”. Make today the day that you start planning that trip for real.

There are so many benefits both physical and psychological, to getting away from the noise of the city and the walls that cut us off from world around us. Exercise, fresh air, room to roam…peace, time to reflect, time to think without distraction, space to dream.

Living in Canada, we have been blessed with the ultimate outdoor playground. So take advantage of our good fortune and give your kids the greatest gifts you can…healthy habits for life and time spent together. Take your kids outside.

Past Tents…An Adventure in Classic Camping

Last night I hatched a completely ridiculous plan. Fraser was telling me about how horribly out of date one of our Algonquin tripping books was with its references to travelling shoes and canvas tents. We giggled about its advice to bring moccasins for in-camp comfort and other old-fashioned notions. I admit that in the best of conditions, I wouldn’t mind bringing mine along, but…not super practical otherwise. And it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve hauled a wanigan on trip. It was nearly in the same breath that I expressed how much easier modern camping is, that I pronounced it might be educational if not downright kooky fun to plan and execute an authentic old-school camping trip.

It will mean collecting all sorts of impractical gear and researching retired camping methods. I’m pricing out canvas tents and wool bed rolls, tin plates and canteens. The pictures are going to be priceless! Fraser insists that this must be a fair weather trip and we are both worried about a cold and rainy night turning my experiment into a soupy disaster. I can’t wait! I’m talking vintage Pendleton shirts and red laced 15lb boots. I’m picturing sitting around with a coffee pot in the fire and a lantern to find our way at night. It’s going to be epic!

And so I’m sending out the call…does anyone have some treasures hidden in their basement or attic? Do the folks still have their old gear packed away in the garage just waiting to see the light of day again? If you can help me out, I’d love to borrow or adopt your fabulous vintage gear and give it new life. Spread the word… we’re going olde timey camping!

 

The boys are at the Rogers Centre this Saturday May 21st

you can't beat the view from these sleeping bags!

Just another example of how my boys are a couple of the luckiest little guys in Toronto!

Fraser is giving a talk on “camping with kids” at the Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play) this Saturday May 21st. Needless to say, I’m super glad that it isn’t me talking to potentially thousands of people! I would probably throw up!

Zach and Luke are of course tagging along to give their two cents on the subject. Goodness knows that they’ll probably steal the show. The best part though? All three of them, and me if I’m not too tired after a full day of retail, are invited to sleep overnight on the field! They are going to show a movie on the jumbo tron and everything. How cool is that?!

It just goes to show you that there are fun things happening every day in Toronto. There are plenty of opportunities to participate in “outdoorsy” activities within the city limits. I’ll try to give a heads up on some of them so you can join in next time! I’ll be sure to post a synopsis of the day and some pics. Stay tuned!

%d bloggers like this: