The final campsite looked over the water of the lake to the west. When we found it initially I was just glad we had found something. A place to set up our tent. I had no idea of the beauty we were going to eventually see. I’m sure Angie did. Not me though – my focus was on the upper back pain that nine hours’ worth of paddling brought to the experience.
Instead of the horrendous climb we had to take at the initial – and non-legal – campsite, this one involved a gentle grade. It was in a word, easy. Easy to get to, easy to secure our canoe, easy to go back and forth to the water.
Angie had thoughtfully decided we needed to bring one of those folding beer chairs on the trip – she wanted to make sure I was comfortable. Being the ultimate city-boy, I had no problem with that idea whatsoever. A chair in the wilderness. How cool was that? Now if only we could have a microwave. And maybe some electricity to go with it (*that would be nice!*) it might approach something more close to “normal”.
I had thought ahead too, and having investigated exactly what camping entailed at this wilderness park, knew that, although there would be plenty of trees upon which the men-folk (i.e. me) could do our business, there was also a kind of toilet-type contraption set up at each site, far away from the camping area for the girls, and for “other business”. It wasn’t an outhouse, exactly. It was a wooden stool, out in the open. You had to lift up the lid to use it, and your “business” dropped into a large hole. The perfect composting spot. Knowing this, I decided that the only thing missing was some wet handy-wipes, which we could use to wash our hands afterward.
This was my first canoeing camping trip. That’s my excuse. It was not Angie’s. She was the ultimate safety guide. Her preparation for the trip included things like little bells we each would wear, in order to let animals (i.e. BEARS) know that we were around. Think of the term “belling the cat” – the wearing of which allows mice to get away. My thought was: “well, if we wear these bells, the bears will know where lunch is”. Angie knew better though, and assured me. “Dad” she said. ”They don’t want to be around us if they can help it. Trust me.”
Oh, and she also brought along some pepper spray, in case….well you know – in case they were outlaw bars and decided that yes, we actually did look quite delicious to them. And she brought some “bear bangers” as well. Contrary to the name, these weren’t sticks which one would use to bang on the snout of any miscreant bears. The “bang” instead referred to a loud noise they could make, should we be so unfortunate enough to come face to face with a bear.
Angie was prepared.
I mean *fully* prepared, right down to her idea of making sure we packed fleece jackets to wear at night (I wore mine both nights, because man was it ever cold!). And she knew about food too, and had purchased some rope so that we could hang the smelly food high up in the air, away from hungry raccoons and even hungrier bears. She knew enough to hang this stuff well away from where we were sleeping too.
So when I proudly produced the handy-wipes for our toilet business, she looked at me sort of sideways. She may have even laughed, I’m not sure.
“Dad” she said. ”We have to put that up with the food.”
“But why?” I asked. “We need this. It’s for germs and—”
“Dad. It smells. It’s perfumed. Animals will try to get to this. You can’t have it lying around.”
I looked at the place where we were going to hang everything. And then I looked further on down the path, where the wooden stool-toilet thing sat, complacently, as it gazed off into the trees, unconcerned about my toilet-focused dignity. I honestly couldn’t figure out why bears would want these handy-wipes. I thought they had sheep for that. But I caved, helpless in the face of her expertise.
“Ok” I grumbled. ”Here you go.” And with that, I handed it to her, resigned to a germ-enhanced camping experience.
In fact, I unconsciously shook hands with wilderness dirt and grime and decided they would become my new bosom buddies for the remainder of this exercise.
After we gathered some wood, Angie started up a fire at the stone fire pit while I went off to gather even more wood. Because you can never have enough, really. When it gets dark, it’s damned hard to go hunting for firewood. You would end up just tripping over everything. Maybe even a slumbering bear. Slumbering bears don’t like to be disturbed. Not that I asked any of them. I just thought it seemed good sense to try and anticipate their annoyance.
As the sun creeped toward the horizon, we heard loons calling to one another. Probably the loneliest sound in the world, I think. Plaintive and resonant, that sound pierces your concentration.
I came back to the campsite with the last load of wood, and saw that Angie no where near the fire was beginning to die down. I noticed that she had put a big pot of water on it, to boil so I put some wood on it, and looked around and found my book.
Finally, after all of the hustling and setting up, there was peace. Angie was practising yoga I think, while I sat on the wooden bench reading the book and occasionally feeding wood into the crackling flames. The hornet that had bothered us earlier was nowhere to be found.
Eventually, the light got too dim, and I had to put the book away. Angie smiled at me. ”Should I fix us some supper dad?” I nodded, smiling. ”Sounds good sweetheart. What are we having?”
She said “let’s try the potatoes and beans”. The potatoes were the instant kind, that come in a pouch. Anyway it sounded good, and I said so. I said “that sounds good sweetie”.
While she prepared that, I looked out over the now calm lake and saw the sun waving its last good-bye for the night, near the tree tops of the abutment of shorelines opposite our campsite. I slumped down, with my back to a large tree and marvelled at it.
“Sweetie, come here for a minute will you?” I said.
“What is it dad? Are you ok?” (always the little mother, that one)
“I’m ok sweetheart. Just come sit here and look at this”
She plunked down beside me and for a while, we just sat and watched. Another loon called, over to the right of us, querying the coming night sky.
She smiled and rested her head against my shoulder.
That night, after eating and cleaning up and putting our stuff away, we headed to the tent. It had gotten relatively cold, and I found myself shivering. So I bundled up in my fleece jacket and many layers and clothing, and even left my shoes on before crawling into the sleeping bag. Even at that, I found myself shivering at times. It took a while to fall into slumber……
Only to awaken at 3:00 in the morning because of a couple of things.
For one, the dinner beans had worked their amazing and somewhat startling magic.
For another, I felt like I was going to die from back pain.
I tried to get up without disturbing her, but it was not to be.
After taking a flashlight and doing my business, I decided to stand for a while to see if the pain would go away. It was persistent and excruciating. There was no place to get comfortable, sitting or standing. And there was no way I could lay back down.
I saw the look of sympathy on her face. “We can’t do another night like this” she said. ”Do you want to go back, dad?”
I nodded painfully, still shivering.
“OK, then that’s what we’ll do.”
I knew it was disappointing for her – she had hoped to stay at least another night. And, much as I love my little girl to death – this was one time I absolutely had to disappoint her. I accepted it but didn’t like it, and didn’t see an alternative. The pain was really that bad. Hard even to put into words here – and I’m usually quite good at that.
Decision made, Angie at least wanted to see the sunrise. So she took the canoe out into the lake and paddled away for a bit, until she could situate herself around the bend beyond the campsite, where she knew the sun would come up. And she took the camera with her to capture some shots (including the one at the top of this blog).
After using the bulk of the morning having breakfast, and then packing up and putting the campsite back into the pristine shape that it was when we arrived (complete with the almost-forgotten hornet, who did a repeat command performance, once more taking over the wooden bench), we shoved off in our canoe, back to our point of origin.
Oddly, about seven hours after paddling and portaging back, we had another occasion similar to when we first set out.
“Do you see that point of land over there Dad?”
“Yup. That’s where we turn left to paddle down the huge lake you showed me on the map, right?” I figured we had at least another two hours of paddling left to go. And of course once again my back was one big gigantic knot. Back pain: the gift that keeps on kicking you in the teeth.
“No, that’s the take-off point.”
“That’s where we’re landing, dad”
I didn’t believe her. ”You mean, that’s our final destination?”
“Oh. MY. GOD. REALLY? THAT’S WHERE WE’RE GOING?”
She started giggling, and then laughing out loud. “Yeah dad. That’s it.”
“I thought we had a whole lake to go yet. ” I said. ”Oh man this is AWESOME.”
I didn’t think she’d ever stop laughing. It was great. Even now, writing this, it’s all coming back. The utter utter joy.
We got around the point and suddenly there it was. The beach. It was so close to us. I put on a burst of speed and tried to paddle like crazy.
But then we heard the motor of a boat coming in. So we had to stop paddling long enough to get turned into the boat’s wake. We were close, but it wouldn’t do to let the canoe tip over. There was too much to lose.
After the waves died down, we once again turned back to paddle to shore, but then yet another boat came in. And so we had to stop and turn into its wake too.
This went on a few times. It kind of made sense really, because it was getting toward dusk, and probably most if not all of the boats were coming in to land.
We were so close. And yet we kept getting interrupted.
Finally, we turned and put in a big burst of speed and paddled right up onto the beach.
We were back.
And there was a restaurant nearby, and showers. But we were too sore and tired to bother trying to hunt through our belongs to get towels and soap out, so we walked into the restaurant as dirty and scrubby as could be. And we sat down to the best meal of hamburger and fries ever.
And oh man – sitting there at twilight, utterly exhausted, and drinking bottled water and biting into hot food, we laughed ourselves silly. We talked about so much of what we’d done. Especially the part about the handy-wipes.
“I’m all done with my business. Where are the handy-wipes?”
“Oh, about fifteen feet in the air. How high can you jump?”
It was good to be back.
But, even with the pain, and the bugs, and the hours and hours and hours of paddling…..it was good to have gone, too.
I surprised myself too, by talking about what I would do, and what I would take – the next time I go canoeing.
(Gotta do something about the back pain though. I wonder how much Demerol would do the trick?)