Posts Tagged ‘Ontario Outdoors’

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.

Our Pukaskwa Family Adventure

We are an adventure loving family. We’ve tripped here, we’ve tripped there, we’ve tripped just about everywhere. But never have we been to a place quite like Pukaskwa National Park. While we’ve always been outdoorsy, the kids are old enough now at 8 and 10 to allow the family to challenge ourselves with some more advanced fare. On May 26th we launch our year of great Ontario Outdoor adventures by making the long drive north from our home in Toronto to Ontario’s most remote national park to take on the Coastal Hiking Trail.

Hiking with the kids is nothing new to my husband and myself, but this particular trail is gonna be a doozy. Its sixty rugged kilometers stretch along the north-eastern coast of Ontario’s inland sea, Lake Superior. The terrain is rough and remains relatively untouched and the weather can be strong-willed. Those who choose to make the journey here do so for the beauty, the experience and let’s face it, the bragging rights. Trekking this trail is certainly more difficult than a simple walk in the park.

By all accounts our boys will be the youngest hikers to ever complete the trail end-to-end. We did not plan it this way. That revelation was an eyebrow raising hint at the complexity of the feat before us; a not so subtle cue to come well prepared. And we will not be taking any aspect of readiness for granted. With the trip just a few days away I’m confident that we are well practiced and that we are equipped for almost every potential predicament. As parents we are role models and what better lessons are there to impart to our children than to dream big, train hard, come prepared and follow through.

Sure we do trips like this for the fun and adventure, but there is another side to getting into the backcountry with your kids. Not every classroom has walls. Spending time in a wilderness classroom teaches more than survival skills, it teaches life skills. Spending time in the outdoors with your family is valuable for fostering a meaningful connection to each other. Each member is able to rely on the others and kids feel empowered when they know that we trust and believe in them. Tripping allows kids to push their limits and discover physical and mental strength. They learn to problem solve and to trust their instincts. And they find that there is an abundance of ways to occupy their time without all of the gadgets they’ve left at home. They use their imaginations.

Taking your kids on a big adventure takes a ton of planning, preparation and sacrifice. It’s all worth it though to demonstrate that the most rewarding experiences are earned through hard work and perseverance, the best memories are the ones created with family and friends and the best rewards are the ones that reveal a deeper understanding of ourselves, the world and our place in it. Pukaskwa is going to be our greatest challenge to date, but with all of us doing our part it is sure to be our greatest success.

Life Lessons – Teachable Moments Courtesy of Pukaskwa National Park

I love teachers and my boys have been fortunate enough to have been taught by some of the best. I respect and appreciate their dedication and hard work and I feel that real world experiences can really serve to support and enhance a teacher’s efforts in the classroom.

This is how I justify sometimes taking my boys out of their classrooms and into the wilderness. Tripping reinforces our family commitment to a healthy outdoor lifestyle and demonstrates firsthand the importance of environmental protection and stewardship. Not to mention the kids get a little bit of science, geography, math, history, geology…you name it, snuck in there too. Not that they’d ever realise they were actually learning anything, they are having too much fun to notice!

I wrote notes to my boys’ teachers explaining that they would be absent from school for a week while tackling the Coastal Hiking Trail in Pukaskwa National Park and suggested that they do projects chronicling their journeys to make up for missed classes. Both teachers were incredibly supportive and I received an unexpected invitation to speak to my older son’s class before we leave. I am no public speaker and the thought of getting up there with all eyes on me brings on a wave of nausea, but of course I agreed. All children benefit from exposure to the outdoors and maybe my presentation will spark an interest in some of those kids that will get them exploring the possibility of visiting one of Ontario’s parks themselves. Whether it is tomorrow with their parents or years from now when they are grown, I hope that the pictures I paint of wild adventures and far flung vistas stay with them and spur them on to journeys of their own.

I won’t yet have pictures of the trail to show, but I will bring along my computer so that I can share the park’s Coastal Hiking Trail Trip Planner. It will allow me to show the class maps of the trail and to point out the lack of any roads. Many of the children in class have never been outside of large urban areas. Can a child who has never ventured beyond the city limits imagine such an expanse without any roads or cars? The planner mentions the Pukaskwa Pits,the unexplained rock-lined pits clustered along the coast. I bet the kids will have some good guesses what they were used for! We will talk about packing for the trip, what we’ll be bringing and what we’ll be eating. We will discuss the wildlife that lives there and how to be bear aware. I’m going to run out of presentation time long before I ever run out of wonderful things about Ontario to explore.

While we are gone, the class will spend a part of each day speculating on what we are up to. My son Luke will be journaling about his experiences on the trail and when they are reunited the following week they will compare notes. What a great idea Ms. Taris! The class will also be able to follow our progress real-time with transmissions from ourSpot GPS Satellite Messenger. And I think it would be fun to send a picture of the family holding a sign sending a personal message back to the class and email it to them from the guest center at Hattie Cove.

And so our trip to Pukaskwa will not just be a family adventure, it will be a community adventure. Our parks and our province have lessons to impart and we can all be teachers in our own way if we are willing to put in the time and effort. I am thankful for the opportunity to share my passion for the outdoors with the class. But I am especially thankful for the enthusiasm of teachers who inspire kids everyday in their urban classrooms.

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