This is the earliest I have camped outdoors. June 1st can be on the chilly side but lately with the surge in unexpected heat, I took a chance. The life renewing rains drenched the thirsty earth as I drove up Highway 35 towards the Haliburton Forest. The weather forecast was gloomy – rain for 4 to 5 days and cool sometimes below seasonal temperature. Yet the sadness in my heart and day-to-day burden of farm life prompted me to make this journey home to the forest for some healing of spirit and renewal of energy.'
This would be my first drive and adventure behind the wheel of “Toot” our new medium duty big truck. Its spacious interior would prove to be a godsend. However with size there are drawbacks. Maneuvering an oversized truck amongst dense trees and brush is not an easy task. The new backup camera Bob installed the night before was useful, but I didn’t trust it. Mirrors were more accurate. Slow and easy was the method of proficiency, laced with a healthy amount of caution. Once in and unloaded of immediate supplies, I had to back out and around the tight sharp turn access road to the camp. Then the more tricky part came. Backing into the exact spot I had just unloaded essentials from, tested my abilities to judge for enough clearance. The west coast mirrors hanging way out on the sides of the doors made the truck extra wide. I made it in unscathed and now with a plan of when to turn hard the wheel hard and when to correct.
I had dinner at the base camp prior to finding my designated site. It was good to get out of the pouring rain and sit for a bit with a hot cup of tea, glass of wine and a mound full of hot sweet ribs to settle the hunger.
The rain started to lift and became more of a miserable drizzle. I decided that I wasn’t going to set up the tent in the rain so I opted for the creature comforts of the truck and its roomy interior. Upon checking the side boxes on the truck, one storage area was stuck making it impossible to open. Turns out that compartment housed my propane supplies and an extra generator I needed for my computer. No amount of pushing and turning would open the door. (It is a poor design because if something in the cubby hole rolls against the latch it won’t open.) I think I have a simple solution to the locking doors. Make a template of cardboard or wood to place in front of items stored. That way the items can’t possibly roll against the lock mechanism when in motion.
I took the dogs for a short 20 minute walk before darkness descended in earnest. We stayed on the road as it was too dim lit to try the “Porcher’s Trail.” I didn’t want to meet any strangers at that time of evening, especially when the locals tell you that the bears are very active this year. Funny though, I’m not that fearful of bears, especially after Africa.
I watched a movie in the truck and then I laid the back seat down into my bed for the night. It was a little short on the length but very good width wise and comfortable. The two dogs, Zoey and Coconut had the seats to sleep in, although Coco preferred the floor. (This is the first time I have left Taboo behind. With the weather forecast, I decided that it was too cold to take him this time.)
I woke up a little cramped from not being able to fully stretch my long legs. But I did have a restful night. The morning brought more grey skies but for the first part no rain. I hauled out some of my dry kindling and logs and commenced to build a fire and then prepare breakfast. After a good few swallows of Muskoka maple coffee and ate bacon and eggs, I finally started to enjoy the view. I stabbed myself with a knife trying to open something. Just a tiny cut but do you think the bleeding would stop? (Those Asprin pills do work as blood thinners.) I knew I had a first aid kit somewhere in my supplies. I eventually found it and got the bleeding under control and then had to clean up the mess I made all over everything. HOW I HATE KNIVES! No sooner had I finished eating, than a light sprinkle of rain began. ‘Ah ha, I’ll whip out the rain gear I bought in Canadian Tire’s camping supplies’ I brilliantly thought to myself. I pulled on the pants, zipped up the roomy jacket and sat down. The paper thin plastic ripped away from the zipper and the pants tore wide open as I brushed by the picnic table. You just looked at the outfit and it fell apart before your eyes. I won’t say it, but you can guess where it was made! Next time I’ll buy proper rain gear made in Canada if I can find it.
I prepared to wash up the morning utensils. (My dish soap had leaked out and impregnated all my dish cloths and tea towels making them a gooey mess but hey, I’m good to go for each washing.) Coco sniffed the air with intensity. His back arched; his tail stiff and erect and ferocity in his growl and bark made it perfectly clear, a bear was nearby. For several minutes he circled the camp as he had done years before when he treed a bear that was behind me. He had that same look and stance so for all intense and purpose I encouraged him to keep guard.
What I think I most enjoy about these wilderness vacations is that you are pitted against nature and have to dig into your creative juices and compromise when necessary in order to meet the challenges. I think that is what I admired about Vincent and his quest to ride across the country. He’ll be tested a lot and yes be faced with some life altering decisions. His horse will become everything to him as he clip clops his way from town to town, prairie land to mountain range. Lion Heart will become his confidant, companion, mode of travel, protector, friend and ambassador for his trail of valor.
Back to camping…. We did our usual hike on the convenient Poacher’s Trail a little distance from our camp. It’s been cold so I didn’t take anything to ward off the bugs. For the most part it was good but as the temperature began to warm, the mosquitoes came out to feed. Chain saws buzzed away in the distance; an annoying disturbance of nature.
I read a book sitting in my torn rain gear. Only a fine mist made outdoor activity a little uncomfortable. As we are not too distant from the Wolf Center, we could hear activity. It must have been feed time at the compound because the wolves were howling in unison and then a frenzy of calls followed. I guess the dinner bell had rung. By early evening I made a camp fire and read my book until the goddess of sun finally turned in for the night. Book tucked away, I retired to “Toot” to watch a movie.
I made time during the day to erect my tent and outdoor kitchen organizer. The rain came and went but that queen size bed looked so inviting. Finally, I stole into the tent about 10 pm after my heater had warmed the interior somewhat. I took Coco as my guardian angel and left wimpy shivering Zoey dressed in her artic coat in the truck. It wasn’t long before I lost consciousness of my surroundings and fell fast asleep.
I arose to the unpleasant feeling of vinyl against skin. My sheet and mattress cover peeled off during the night. It was COLD. The heater still radiated heat but with plastic walls, it soon escaped to the open air. Even Coco was shaking a bit. Standing by the stove to prepare some coffee and toast, you could catch my breath on the cool morning breeze. Everything was wet. My propane tank had a layer of ice on it so it must have been quite nippy. Breakfast was good and warm.
With all the sprinkling of rain, this was a good day to take a trip into town. I went to Minden in search of batteries and other things. On the way out I stopped at the dumpsite and found a strapping man to give my locked compartment in the back of the truck a go. It took a bit of shoving and twisting, but he did manage to free the door and I retrieved the propane tanks that were lodged against the locking mechanism.
It was pouring the whole time I travelled. I did manage to buy a decent pair of rain pants. I’m down to just one pair of dry jeans now so I need to keep these from becoming soaked.
Dinner was yummy as I warmed up a pre-cooked chicken parmesan portion with pasta. I real treat in the bush when you get so famished. As I ate in the relative peace of the woods, I heard a distinctive and methodical sound coming from the roadway. ‘They followed me again!’ I proclaimed to myself. Horses and their riders passed by my site on a leisurely stroll sticking to the relative safety of the open road.
Afterwards I finished reading a book and settled in for a movie. The wind picked up as I stole away into The Bear Den (my tent) for the night. This time I clamped the sheets down to the frame of the bed with the fasteners I purchased earlier in the day. No more cold plastic to sleep on! I figured I had enough propane left in the heater to last until morning. It barely made it to dawn.
I rose to the crackles of the Ravens as they squawked their morning calls. It had rained again and the air was fresh on the skin. It isn’t officially the season of summer yet. The weather feels more like fall with its sharpness of air and breeze
After breakfast we headed off to explore the “Dog” and “Nordic” trails. Zoey bounced ahead while Coco kept a more sedate pace. Not far on the Dog trail I found the first telltale signs of carnivore. A large deposit of bear scat marked the spot the black bear had recently crossed the path. ‘Better keep my eyes peeled.’ I said to myself. I thought I should have taken my walking stick and whistle. It was too late now. We ambled along the trail for two hours before returning to our campsite. I guess the dogs kept any wildlife at bay as we pushed forward on the rocky path. With the recent rains, tree roots proved to be natural hazards. You had to be nibble to avoid slipping or tripping.
I tried out my little battery operated bug repellant. I attached it to my person for the trek into the bush. ‘This should be a good test to see if it actually works’ I thought to myself. I’m not sure how effective it was as the cooler temperatures might have keep mosquitoes from attacking freezing them out of a feeding frenzy. Still the moisture in the air made it ripe to hold scent and attract bugs. I brief ly turned the device off when I sat for a spell on a large granite rock. Within seconds, I had a small swarm of bugs around me. I activated the device and they disappeared.
I peered down at my bruised and ghoulish looking hand. It still looked very swollen and now black. It looked like it should belong to a corpse and not a living person. Hopefully in a day or two the swelling will subside and the horrid colour will dissipate. There is a large bump where my hand made contact with the door of the storage unit on the truck as I banged and fought with it. Hopefully that will go away in time as well.
Rain fell off and on for the remainder of the day, sometimes with the ferocity of a hail storm. I decided to retreat to the truck with tent heater in hand. Settling into to another book, I soon felt the need to rest my head. A nap was in order. The warmth of Toot’s interior was soothing to a cold aching body. I drifted off for a couple of hours.
After waking from a lovely interlude from life, the rain continued to pour down. A movie was in order since it would be a couple of hours before dinner. Too wet to hit the trails, too cold to sit in a rain suit and soak up more moisture.
The skies held their rain drops for a few hours. I took advantage to cook my rib eye on the grill. Man, there is something about cooking outdoors on an open flame that beats all. Maybe the senses are more in tune and the taste buds just more flavourable. With a glass a red Merlot, it was perfect!
I managed to build a small campfire to warm myself against the dampness of fading light. My book seemed all the more eerie as light faded behind the veil of forest trees. Ann Rule’s thrillers of real murder cases can be creepy in detail. The morbid curiosity of humans for some reason seems to be attracted to such description. For me I’m always trying to figure out the “whys” and “whos.” It is not about the crime scene so much, it’s about trying to make sense of human nature. Well in the end, the psychotic people of the world are not like everyone else. And that is very scary. To think they very well could be your neighbor (in our case a tenant). On to other things….
It said on the radio that the temperature would dip to 10 degrees overnight in Toronto. Being this far north, I figured it would most likely be in the 4-6 degree range. ‘Too cold for the tent tonight with this rain,’ I thought. So I hunkered down in Toot for the night.
I awoke at 8:30 am. There was tightness in my back from holding the fetal position all night trying to stay warm. I ached as I uncoiled from a very uncomfortable position. At least the rain had stopped and the sun was peeking out from a clear blue sky. ‘Yes… maybe no rain today and a little warmth wouldn’t hurt,’ I thought to myself. When I opened the door to another day, a cold blast of air made me shiver even more. Quickly I set to making breakfast and the first order would be that Muskoka maple coffee. I washed away the evening sleep from my face and gave the good molars a scrub. I felt semi human again.
As I sat sipping my coffee, a group of kids and camp counselors gathered at the boat launch next to my camp. The exuberance of youth could be heard clear across the lake and more directly, facing my camp. ‘So much for solitude in the woods’, I thought. They were off for a canoe experience that only lasted about 40 minutes. Just enough time to catch up on my travel journal.
I departed for the Wolf Center to get my yearly fix of these lobos up close. This year there was a litter of pups born to one of the females. It was midday when I arrived. This is siesta time for the wolves so activity level was extremely low. No little wolves came out from the dense brush to mix with the adults. These six week olds had better things to do.
Upon return to the camp, all seemed quiet. ‘They’re back’ I said to myself when loud voices made their way to the shoreline where the canoes lay a couple of hundred feet from my site. I sat and read my book for as long as I could before I retired to Toot for an afternoon nap.
The dogs and I revisited the Poacher’s Trail early evening for a short ½ hour hike. Then it was back to the camp for dinner. As my meal cooked on the Coleman stove, the wolves from the center howled in unison from across the lake. Maybe they wanted my dinner for themselves. They don’t get fed that often as the keepers maintain the lifestyle as wild as possible. (Wolves eat when they can – maybe once every other week or so.) Lots of bones litter the wolves feeding area, mostly from deer and moose carcasses.
The campfire roared to life at dusk. The winds picked up with a strong breeze that fanned the flames even more. I huddled in my new hooded sweatshirt I purchased that day as my fingers tapped away on the keyboard. The plan was that I would sleep in my tent tonight and pray for no rain. Gloomy forbidding clouds still hover above my little secluded shelter in the woods.
The temperature outside was not balmy but at least there was no frost on the propane cylinder. It had rained briefly during the night. I had a semi-restful night with Coco hogging most of the queen size bed. He’s just like having another person: snores, twitches, farts, yawns and steals the blankets. Still I was grateful to have him in my tent in case some intruder happened by in the night.
I refreshed my skin from the cobwebs of sleep and prepared a lighter breakfast this time. I had pretty much exhausted my food supplies at this point which is what I had intended to do. I only had to get ice once since the fall like temperatures prevented the ice cubes from melting quickly.
A light drizzle fell as I struck a match and lit the stove putting on a fresh pot of wake up coffee. A few minutes later THEY were back. My group of eager grade school kids returned for another canoeing adventure. They were much less vocal this day as they paddled their way out onto the open lake. To their credit, there was no profanities spoken and they seemed like very nice kids having a good time. There is one thing that galls me and that is the youth of today lowering themselves to be disrespectful and engaging in gutter talk which they may perceive as cool. There are so many negative images for our youth of today and little positive guidance or mentors to steer them in fulfilling and productive lives. I wish I could take some of these smart mouthed obnoxious kids and stick them in the bush in Africa or on the streets of JoBurg. Then we would see what they are made of. The tough exterior would soon fade away in a shrinking violet of monstrous proportions. So paddle on my young voyageurs as you portage from lake to lake. Respect your fellow canoeist, working together and having the best time. It’s a natural high which is healthy for you and has no residual effects that will harm you.
The rest of the morning was splendid as I typed away in my travel journal, read and then took Coco and Zoey swimming. It was glorious with a warm sun shining down on us. We travelled over to the now deserted dock. Just one lonely turned over canoe lay by the shore. Zoey has become very proficient at diving and swimming now. She jumped off the dock in pursuit of the dummy I had thrown in. Coco waded in from the shore in an attempt to reach the dummy before Zoey. The old boy just couldn’t catch a break with Zoey Pearl. This was a great new game for her! Not to be outdone, Coco made several valiant efforts to dive off the dock too. He sunk heavy when he landed. At times he almost hit bottom before floating to the surface and swimming hard to his target. After a few attempts at this, his old bones told him no more. I kept the distance short for his last go. He dropped off the dock and inhaled a lot of water. He knew he was in trouble so he abandoned the dummy and looked to me for salvation. He would slip a little beneath the water and then tread water on the surface, fighting against a stubborn stick that blocked his path to the dock. I managed to signal to him to change direction and he finally freed himself. I grabbed his collar and lifted him high enough so I could grab the scruff of his neck as well then hoisted him up onto the dock. He looked relieved. ‘No more for you today old fellow’ I said. Meanwhile Zoey wanted to retrieve some more. I told her we were done and had to let Coco rest.
I had chili for lunch and just as I finished, the sky turned a dark indigo blue. Rumbling could be heard in the distance so I knew something bad was coming our way. I went around and put things away. Zoey sensed the storm coming and began her panic attacks. As I leaned against a bent tree that reached over the water, I watched the ominous clouds roll closer. White caps formed on the once still waters of the lake. Lightening shot off in the distance. The wind flagged the trees and three ravens dared the wind to knock them out of the sky. They delighted in challenging the air currents and squawked with enthusiasm like children at play. It was show time for them and time for the dogs and I to find shelter under Toot’s steel roof. Deep growls of anger from the sky could be heard as we sat in silence watching the storm wash away a beautiful sunny day. The clouds opened up as water cascaded down from the heavens. It was no sprinkle this time. The Bear’s Den was partially protected by the huge spruce trees that surrounded it. Their heavy limbs might have lessened the impact of such a ferocious dumping we got. Still I imagined that things would be very damp inside.
I read some more and then it was time to head to Haliburton for dinner. I rolled into the tiny village and parked Toot in the grocery store parking lot.
I entered a little bistro on the main drag looking forward to a nice sit down dinner. I guess the chef de cuisine was trying to impress with his odd assortment of dishes. I’m no food critic but this wasn’t good. First I was treated to the house corn bread with dipping sauce of sweet beer syrup. Next they brought out my bruschetta with condiments on the side. Finally the main dish came: a ‘medium’ rib eye sitting atop a stock from broccoli and a few heads, mushy mashed potatoes and fried tomatoes beneath it. Not exactly what I would call a good presentation. I only ate half of the steak as it was so rare that I was expecting the cow to moo back. The broccoli was sautéed in I think a sticky molasses drizzle – yuk… I didn’t even attempt the sorry looking tomato. ‘Shall I try dessert?’ I puzzled. ‘What the heck’ I said to myself. It was my last day of vacation so I decided to give it a whirl. I ordered a rhubarb torte. The cookie pastry almost flew across the room when I tried to cut it with my fork. It was hard as a rock. Next the bill came. That will be $59 please. I can tell you the dogs didn’t mind the undercooked steak or beer corn bread and dried out bruschetta. They did however object to the hunk of broccoli stock.
When I arrived back at camp I started to pack things up so I wouldn’t have that much to do in the morning. I set my last campfire with the remaining kindling and wood I had left. It was more like a bonfire as I had so much wood to use up. I’m sleeping in the truck tonight as things are still rather damp in The Bear Den. The lake was calm and serene tonight. The forest silhouette on the water was breathtaking as the sun crept away into the night. A tiny chipmunk came over to my chair and sat for a while watching me intently as I looked up from my book. I left the beggar a few cheese sticks to chew on when I left for dinner. They were gone when I returned.
There is such beauty in this world we so often take for granted. I’m glad I took my journey home to the woods. It is so peaceful here and so uncomplicated. It’s not with danger or hardship, it is just the way it should be.
Postscript: The morning shone brightly and the songbirds sweetly sang with purpose. I finished breaking camp and took one last look before turning the key in the ignition. It was time that Toot became the beast of burden to take us home safely.
One more stop at the base camp for breakfast. How appropriate. I glanced out the window at my table to observe two draft mix horses and a quarter horse grazing. Off to the side was their guardian, a large donkey. Well I guess I’m really heading home now to my horses and menagerie of sorts.