The Canoe Trip: Lifestyle Versus Life

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The start of any adventure begins with a moment of nervous hesitation. If one does not ask himself “can I finish this?”, then perhaps the grasp reaches for the all too easy fruit. As I embarked on my maiden canoe voyage, I felt like it was as great a journey as the rain forests of Costa Rica or the deserts of Egypt. I had a few tools earned through my photography sessions with Base Camp X (a Pathfinder hatchet, two Water Blade paddles and a custom kuhkri knife), a Holy Cow 16’6 Kevlar canoe to work with, and the best partner one could hope for. The weather was fine, the food was gourmet and the trail was in Haliburton through the Frost Centre.

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Food and the act of eating is more than simply shoving nutrients and proteins into the body as quickly as possible. Meals should be times when we appreciate what we have collected through hard word and prepared with the hope of providing pleasure and health to those we love. Fresh food is not easy to move a few kilometres over lake and through forest, but with a willingness there are ways to make food count.

The first meal of the day, breakfast, is the one meal I seldom have time for. I work through the day and into the late night; sleep is often sacrificed for the meagre meal I could whip up in the 20 minutes I have to get ready each morning. On a camping trip or travel adventure, though, I make time to drink coffee, serve eggs and fry up bacon whenever possible. On our Haliburton island site,  we were able to build a solid fire, and share a morning meal that would get any lumberjack through a long, leisurely afternoon of paddling. Normally for fire wood I would have a pack saw to make the job easy and the weight light, but for this trip whereon the portages would only measure a kilometre in and out I decided to try out the Pathfinder hatchet from Base Camp X.

I will be honest and admit that I was never allowed to chop wood when I was a kid. We had a wood stove and lots to split, but my co-ordination at that age was not exactly praised by my father. Chopping wood was going to be a learning experience that I treasured or hated. Fortunately, the Pathfinder is forgiving by being neither too heavy nor too difficult to control. For the four fires we collected wood for I chopped up about thirty pieces of bicep-sized timber. The palm of my left hand may have been bruised from being too soft from the city, but I felt truly useful and competent in a way that firing up the old espresso machine never makes me in Toronto.

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Nature has a way of offering miracles to witness if you can let go of your ego – the never-ending voice that screams for us to see big things and check off experiences like they were on a grocery list. While other people rush through trails to get as far in in as short a time possible, I prefer to move less quickly and stay in one spot for a few days. I was guilty of the checklist mentality earlier in my life, but in the past year I have come to terms with the reality that my best life experiences have always been those where I was present in the moment. Being present in a moment often demands less movement and more observation or participation in what surrounds you.

As I prepared to enter the canoe for the first time, we came across a tiny toad. He brought me back to the farm where I grew up. This little peeper brought me back to the days when my brother and I would find toads in the window well to show our grandmother. On the second time entering the canoe I found a shell of an insect beetle, and then I found what was inside of that shell just minutes before: a newly hatched dragonfly. I carefully brought the struggling insect to the shore so that we could watch as it fought for its life, to pump blood to its extremities and to become the creature it was always meant to be. The scene that lay before me was a powerful metaphor for what humans often forget as we battle on: we, too,  experience a metamorphosis at stages in our lives. The dragonfly cannot be the beetle, the beetle cannot be the dragonfly; neither can be held responsible for the sins committed by the other to become that which it was all along.

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I only spent two nights out. I have no great claims to come back with of being a force to be reckoned with in the outdoors. What I can say is that I spent an hour watching a water snake sun itself on a log in an inlet. I saw a muskrat, a mink, frogs swimming, gulls nesting, loons relaxing, Merganser ducks floating, hawks soaring and heard wolves howl by the half moon light. I cooked four gourmet meals on the open fire. I paddled around four entire lakes, and carried the Holy Cow through three portages. I did not scale Everest, but if I had then the food would be awful, the company grumpy, the moments lost. Instead I enjoyed my surroundings and found comfort in the simplest of tasks and acts.

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I did manage to take a few photographs using my Hasselblad 501C/M camera with Kodak 160 film, but those will take a few days to get to and from the lab. When they come in I will write about my experiences paddling with the BCX paddles, and the challenges of dragging a professional camera through the woods. I also shot a bit of footage on the GoPro Hero 3…all I can say initially: great footage, terrible battery life. More to follow…there always is.

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