2020 has been an unforgettable year. Maybe not for the best reasons, but I know that I will always remember it clearly. The year with no festivals, no gatherings, the year I learned to do everything on Zoom. I’m so hopeful that we will have our amazing Winnipeg festivals back in 2021, but it’s not looking good right now.

We weren’t able to do as many canoe trips, because my partner was laid off from his stable job in March (like so many others….) This meant a bit of a disruption to how we’d previously spend summers, paddling on the weekends. I’ll be updating the Adventures section shortly with one new trip that we did this summer and maybe adding some information to previous adventures that we recycled again this year. Thankfully, I was still able to spend plenty of time outdoors and I think that saved me.

I helped organize 30th anniversary events for the organization Save Our Seine, most of which were outdoors. We did several bike tours which were tons of fun! I helped with Save Our Seine’s Landcare project, cleaning up and planting native species along the Gabrielle Roy Trail. I volunteered with Bike Winnipeg as a bike marshal and got to go on many of their bike tours. Most of that is over now, but I continue to ride my bike around the city, exploring parks and greenways and enjoying our urban greenspaces.

Now that it’s winter, I renew my commitment to being outside as much as I can. Every year I do this and every year I spend more and more time outside throughout the winter. As a result, every winter is better than the last, and I hope to keep the trend going through this COVID-19 winter season. At the very least, making sure there are more bright days than there are dark days. I hope you can make the best of it too.

The things we carry

The things we carry are determined largely by balancing the things we want and the things we need. Careful consideration is given to each item since when we’re alone in the woods, the things we carry keep us happy, comfortable and alive. But each item we carry also weighs us down.

What we carry depends on our mode of transportation. Travel by foot means a lighter load and fewer comfort items for the camp. A light load translates into more enjoyable travel time. Travel by canoe allows a bit more flexibility. The bears and the birds may witness us cracking a can of beer at the end of a long paddle day. At 370 grams per can, these are a luxury we never carry on a hiking trip.

Tim almost always carries the Grumann aluminum canoe and the weight of knowing that if he is injured, those 34kg will need to be carried by me. To lower the weight of the latter, sometimes I’ll carry the canoe. It slows us down but it gives me confidence. I carry three oars, mine, his and a spare. I carry flotation devices strapped to my pack.

On a canoe trip, the loads are divided into our two packs inequitably.  I carry the heavy items and Tim carries the lighter ones. It’s only fair, given that Tim carries the weight of the canoe. For hiking trips, I divide the weight evenly amongst two packs, down to the gram.

A compass, topographical map(s), a mini survival kit. I carry these things in a floating pouch around my neck. A full first aid kit with alcohol swabs, moleskin, tweezers and band-aids. Binoculars, an ax, a camping knife, two ropes, a multi-purpose tool, four bungee cords, a small roll of duct tape and two tarps that keep our things dry in the canoe and at camp in case of rain. Two cans of bear spray, each easily accessible on our person when on land. Although they weigh 300 grams each, the bear spray makes my fear of bears sit lighter upon my shoulders.

A single pot, to boil water. Two cans of butane. A lighter. A stove-top attachment. Two forks. A drip coffee maker. Two mugs. A bear bin to store our food. A water-filtration system. The combined weight of our camp kitchen is 2722 grams. We carry freeze-dried food packets, picked almost entirely based on their calorie per gram ratios. We carry dried cranberries, blueberries, cherries and apricots.  We carry almonds, cashews and protein bars. Sometimes we carry a piece of hard fudge, or another sweet that will hold up to the heat. Camp food is just a necessity, a means to an end. When you’re truly hungry, anything will taste like the most delicious meal you’ve ever had. Even a just-add-boiling-water packet of freeze-dried food. We came to this conclusion a long time ago and since then we’ve never bothered to carry much else.

Bug spray, sunscreen. Only the kind without propellants. The scent of propelled products carries and can attract bears. I don’t want to carry the weight of that risk.

There are things we carry that allow us to get a good night’s rest inside our tent. Two sleeping bags, 545 grams each. I chose the longer ones, despite the added weight. It’s worth the extra 50 grams to be able to completely cover myself from head-to-toe on an unkind chilly night. Two self-inflating sleeping pads, two camp pillows, two eye-covers and two sets of ear plugs. The ear plugs are near weightless but their importance is so significant. The slightest sound of wind rustling its way through the trees could otherwise keep me awake for hours and fatigue in the wilderness is one of the heaviest loads to carry.

If we canoe, we carry two compact camp stools to sit on near the fire in the evening. If we hike, we make do with the available rocks and logs.  The stools’ 1360 grams take too much of a toll on our bodies throughout the day.

The combined weight of these supplies hovers around 10 kg, a heavy load to carry for some. Yet carrying it into the back country provides a perspective change that helps to alleviate the weight of the world that we carry on our shoulders every day.

Each item’s weight balanced against its purpose. Each item chosen and treasured. These are the things we carry.

*I was inspired to write this post after reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it as your next camping trip read. It’s truly beautiful.


The beauty of the journey

Adventuring in the back country is an activity I’ve always been drawn to. What brought me out there was a desire to explore the path less traveled and to experience the great outdoors. However, what keeps me going out there is much more than that – it is the splendid state of mind that I sometime experience while out on a journey.

Mindfulness. “A mental state achieved by concentrating on the present moment, while calmly accepting the feelings and thoughts that come to you, used as a technique to help you relax.”  (Oxford Dictionary) This came as a unexpected revelation. I had never really considered mindfulness or its benefits, nor was I seeking to experience it in any way.

What does mindfulness look like?  For me, it occurs occasionally during a back country excursion.  It’s when my mind is cleared of all thought except that precise moment: I focus solely on the movement of my body to create the next stroke. I hear the sounds of the water rippling as the paddle enters the water and I feel the energy it creates to propel the vessel forward.  The cooling sensation of the slight breeze on my face.  The short reprieve from the midday heat as the sun slides behind a cloud. One by one, I see the passing of each tree, each rock, each bay on the shoreline.  The knowledge that each stroke is bringing me further away, yet closer. Away from the day-to-day yet closer to my destination, wherever that may be.  This collection of feelings and the ability to experience them completely brings about an internal peacefulness that I have never felt anywhere else.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen on every adventure. The right travel companion(s) and co-operative weather conditions are just some of the variable factors that must align immaculately in order to create an atmosphere where mindfulness can happen. I never set out expecting to achieve a state of mindfulness because there are too many factors that are out of my control. But every now and then, it just… happens. It’s an exquisite feeling, both serene and therapeutic. Returning to the hustle and bustle of every day life seems less daunting when you’ve made peace with the universe.

That is mindfulness.  It is what keeps me going out.