Fall is definitely upon us. I can feel its cool breath in the morning. I can see its brisk reflection in puddles and pools. It’s busy repainting the world around as if trying to make up for shorter days and gloomier skies.
Remember those childhood riddles about an animal that carries its home on its back? About a week ago the answer was me making my way along the Highlands Trail in Algonquin. Not only because I was lugging my home, a.k.a. tent, on my back, but also because I was so slow.
We huff and puff as we make our way down a muddy, rocky path to Mahzenazing Lake at Point Grondine Park. Mosquitoes and all sorts of flies take advantage of our constraints: it’s hard to swat bugs when your arms are full of paddles and dry sacks or if you are carrying a canoe on your back. These feel like the longest 1,200 metres in our lives. The blue of the lake peeking through the trees is the most welcome sight.
But let me backtrack a little.
May long weekend is an important milestone here in Canada. Many consider it the unofficial start of summer and/or the opening of the camping season. It certainly was for us until we started camping year round and May 2-4 lost its special status. So we had to rethink its purpose and for the past two years May long weekend has become the opening of the backcountry season.
It’s hard to believe 2016 is drawing to a close. And it was quite a year when it comes to outdoor adventures, both close and far. With a three-week road trip all the way to Los Angeles, lots of camping with family and friends, my first solo trip and endless microadventures, it is next to impossible to narrow down ten best. But I’ll still try.
“Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!”
The Song My Paddle Sings by E. Pauline Johnson
If you read my previous post, you know that for my 40th birthday I decided to go on my first solo canoe trip in Killarney. Or should I say ended up going, because originally I planned backpacking in Algonquin. I even had sites booked on the Highland Trail. Backpacking seemed easier to execute and required less gear – just two feet and whatever fits into a backpack. Then, after our Killarney trip at the beginning of July, it became clear: I love canoeing way more than backpacking, I love Killarney, and hence I should go canoeing in Killarney. So two weeks before the trip I changed my reservation, got in touch with Killarney Kanoes to book my mode of transportation and started watching Bill Mason’s videos on how to paddle a solo canoe. After some deliberation I decided to go with a solo canoe instead of a kayak for a number of reasons: I prefer canoeing to kayaking, a canoe is easier to portage and easier to pack, i.e. you can just throw stuff in. As a bonus, ‘paddling my own canoe’ works as a figure of speech.
“You don’t have to go, you know,” said my husband as I was preparing for my first solo canoe trip in Killarney.
“I know,” I replied, “but I really want to.”
Good thing he didn’t ask why because I am not sure I would be able to explain.
In books and movies, protagonists usually set out on a solo trip because they find themselves at metaphorical crossroads and feel stuck/confused/lost hoping a solution will reveal itself during those solo nature pursuits.
That wasn’t my story. Apart from occasional detours, the road ahead looked clear if not always level or straight. Sure I was turning 40 but I wasn’t losing sleep over it. I made peace with getting older long time ago. Occasionally I would turn around and think, “Where did the time go?” But then I would look at my children, my husband, my friends, think of all the wonderful things I’ve seen and learned, great trips I’ve taken, and beautiful moments I’ve shared with the people I love and knew: that’s where.
Although, I should say, my 40th birthday did have a role to play in my decision. I felt this important milestone required something bigger and more special than the usual sunrise ritual. So a solo canoe trip it was.