Story by Rebekah Skochinski, Photo by Tiffany Jarva
Last summer, a dear friend and I made plans to go on a backcountry canoe trip to Quetico. Even though I grew up in Thunder Bay, I had never been to this beautiful provincial park, nor had I ever done any backcountry camping. Two firsts in one fell swoop! After a leisurely and uneventful drive down Highway 11, with freshly made sandwiches from Maltese on board, we successfully removed the canoe from the top of the car, only to make a horrifying discovery: we forgot the paddles. Fortunately, a lovely man at an outfitter place further up the way loaned us a pair for free. So while it worked out in the end, it served as a good reminder of what’s really important when you’re trying to get away from it all.
All that we needed for a few days were the basics: shelter, food, and water. In addition to a sleeping bag and a fleece, coffee, bug dope, and sunscreen—to make things more pleasant, and let’s face it, bearable. What we didn’t need: lawn chairs, magazines, shampoo, the internet. When you’re packing for a trip and space isn’t an issue, it’s easy to get carried away. You have to think twice when your suitcase is a canoe. And sometimes, the trade-off is comfort.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable. I was uncomfortable about many things: getting lost, seeing a cranky bear, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, shitting in the woods, not shitting in the woods. Sleeping on the hard ground was actually physically uncomfortable and my body hurt when I woke up. But do you know what made up for it? Late night dips in the lake, roasting smokies over a fire we made after foraging for kindling, paddling for hours with nothing but blue above and blue below. Wood smoke in our hair. Sand between our toes. Watching the sun come up, watching the sun go down. We had an entire beach to ourselves, our tent pitched through an opening in the trees. No one around to hear our secrets except for the stars.
I realize that backcountry camping isn’t for everyone, but maybe there are ways you can enjoy your next outdoor adventure that doesn’t involve bringing a boom box to the campground. Try it, you might like it! Besides, the real luxury of camping around here is that we get to do it at all. Next to pristine lakes and rivers and towering pines. No long, harrying commutes. No human-made sounds for miles. And even if you forget something, like your paddles, at least you’ll have a great story to tell.