To say I’ve never been the outdoorsy, wilderness type is a gross understatment. Growing up, I spent time outside, but the wild outdoors for me was fire pits and weekend drinking parties in my high school years. Actual hiking, cooking on a little gassy stove, and sleeping on the ground under a flimsy house made of plastic sheets? Nope.
Scott has spent much more time outdoors, in actual nature. His family didn’t pitch tents and cook dinner on a fire. They had a sailboat, and he spent whole summers with his family sailing the BC coast. He spent a lot of time waking up damp and a bit cold (or “fresh” as he calls it). He went to sleep listening to actual, natural quiet and the unfamiliar sounds of nature – animals and other creatures that did their business in the dark. He went to the bathroom in outhouses or chemical toilets. As an adult, he did wilderness hiking and camping in BC – cooking his dried up food in one pot on a tiny, gas stove. His bathroom was the hole he dug with a special little shovel. He really appreciates nature.
I know nature is great, but I’ve always found it a bit difficult up close. Sleeping on the ground. Wind, rain, cold, humidity (weather?). Bugs, both the flying and creeping kind. Dirt. I’ve just never really taken to any of it.
I haven’t tried to dig my own septic tank, yet. I actually think it might be better than a stinky hole filled with thousands of other people’s… waste. God only knows what lurks down inside an outhouse while I’m sitting there vulnerable.
The thing is, I don’t like my fussy, precious side, the one that’s averse to the slightest discomfort. Modern life has become so cushy. We’ve become allergic to any kind of inconvenience. The internet and other conveniences has made us lazy and intolerant; we expect instant gratification of our whims. We demand immediate relief from anything we dislike. We’ve all become a bit too precious.
I want to work out my relationship with nature and learn to love the outhouse; and the bugs. I want to get more comfortable with discomfort, more accepting of things I dislike. This may sound like self-torture, but it’s not. We often put ourselves in the middle of a tough challenge because it’s good for us. We train to run marathons or do weight training; we go on juice cleanses and take vitamins. For me, learning to live outside is training, not just for my body, but also for my attitude.
Life is often tough. It requires patience, tolerance and acceptance of things uncomfortable and out of our control. There’s happiness is not wishing for things to be exactly to our liking; understanding things as they really are, not the way we’d like them to be. It’s not that you don’t work hard to make things better, or hope for things to work out. But doing this with a calm and accepting mind helps when things don’t work out to your liking. When trouble shows up, you don’t add an extra layer of mental pain and frustration on top of everything else. You don’t suffer quite as much. And you might make better decisions in the moment because you’re not so busy rolling about how unhappy you are.
If camping were actually a misery, then no one would do it. So the misery must come from inside, not outside. In all the places we’ve been so far, we watch very happy kids run and play with abandon. They’re not worried about mosquitoes or crawly bugs or wind or dirt between their toes. They just play. They love it outside.
In Rainbow Falls provincial park, we saw two little girls, sisters maybe six or seven years old. They ran around in flipflops and shorts, skipping toward the outhouse toilet, holding hands, screaming and laughing. They were happy. They didn’t approach the outhouse with wrinkled foreheads, wondering about the germs or the creatures that might be hiding out. For them, it was just a routine visit to the bathroom. No big deal. If I can learn something from bees, surely I can take a lesson from the guileless wisdom of little girls.
In fact, I’ve learned a lot from kids lately. At a campsite near Sault Ste. Marie, we met Dave and Miguel. Scott noticed they had hung a fancy Nova Scotia flag outside their tent. It had all the provincial emblems on it and Scott wondered if they were doing a cross-country road trip. So he went over and introduced himself. Scott is my socially braver half. Indeed, they were driving all the way to Yukon and back to Nova Scotia. Quite a trip. It was a celebration of sorts for them. Dave had signed the adoption papers for Miguel just a week earlier. We had noticed them right away when we arrived at the camp. We had wondered if they were a father and son, great friends, on an epic road trip. Theirs is an inspiring story and you should check out their blog to follow their adventures together. You can read their blog here: Dave and Miguel’s blog.
Scott had gone over with another purpose in mind. S’mores. My wonderful co-workers had sent me off with a happy-camper care package as a going away present. It included all the necessary parts to make s’mores. I haven’t had a campfire or s’mores in 25 or 30 years. Maybe I’ve never actually had a s’more. I can’t remember, but I just knew I would love them.
Scott told Dave we were making s’mores that night and invited him and Miguel to join us. Scott made it sound like we knew what were doing, you know, build a roaring campfire from kindling and logs, then assemble and make expert s’mores. I could hardly wait.
We did build a fire. It took us about an hour. Scott doesn’t use fire when camping, usually. And that was obvious. I pitched in to help, then there were two of us managing the pile of smoking paper and logs. It took us a while to figure out the logs we bought were wet. The steam pouring out both ends of the logs were our first clue. Eventually, we managed patiently to build the smoke pile into a dry roaring little fire. Perfect for cooking our s’mores. I carefully wrapped each graham cracker-chocolate-marshmallow sandwich in foil, making five perfect little bundles.
Okay, I know there are many ways to make a s’more. Some folks cook the marshmallow first then slap it between the two graham crackers with a bit of chocolate, cookie crumbling as you bite in to it. Others prefer the tinfoil method. Cook the marshmallow, slap it between the graham crackers and chocolate, wrap the whole thing and bake it together so everything melts. I took the lazy man’s method and put the little package together without cooking the marshmallow first – a classic rookie mistake.
Dave and Miguel wandered over. I was so excited to serve them our s’mores. I imagined eleven-year-old Miguel’s smile as he unwrapped his silvery present containing ooey-gooey marhmallowey goodness, dripping with chocolate. We opened the first ones. The graham cracker was black, the chocolate a little melted, and the marshmallow was raw. Oops.
Miguel was totally unfazed. We nervously put another tinfoil package on the fire. I admitted that some people pre-roast the marshmallow, and maybe that would yield a better s’more.
“Yes that’s how we do it,” said Miguel. “But this tinfoil way seems good too!” An amazingly generous, polite and kind young man. We ended up with one good s’more and handed it over a little embarrassed. Miguel said it was really good. I doubted that was entirely true. Then he went over and fetched their own s’more-making materials and showed us how to really do it. It was a lovely evening.
One of Miguel’s awesome S’mores!
Miguel shared his sparklers with us. Good campfire fun.
After Miguel went to bed, Dave and I chatted about life. We talked at length about the importance of prioritizing what matters in life. Dave has a senior government position that requires long hours and he’s dedicated to his career. Even on parental leave for this adventure, he was in frequent contact with work. It’s just the way of the work world these days. But as so often happens, in our 40s we start to look at our lives with some perspective. Family, and the desire to be a great father to someone had become a central priority for Dave. He and Miguel seem the perfect family to us. I’m so glad they found each other.
We parted ways, each headed West on a different schedule. But we sure appreciated the company and the s’more-cooking lesson.
I thought a lot about camping while we prepared for this trip. In my mind, I had seen myself laying peacefully protected in our tent reading quietly. Our campsite was on the shore of a beautiful lake. I could look out the open tent and watch Scott wander around on the rocks looking for slow-photo opportunities. We found the exact spot in Rainbow Falls provincial park, on the north shore of Lake Superior. Lots of photos for Scott to work away at while I lay in our tent and read.
We woke up to a beautiful morning, made coffee and oatmeal and sat on the rocks along the shore. We met just one other person in the park. Early at sunrise, a man had walked over to us purposefully while we were eating oatmeal and enjoying the view.
“Another beautiful day in paradise, eh?” he said. “You folks staying for a few days?”
Scott told him we were leaving for Dryden that morning. “Ah! Headed West like us, then!” he said. We chatted a bit about where we’d been and where we were going. He told us they’d decided to head to the West Coast through Prince George. They would go through Smithers and Terrace, then take the Prince Rupert ferry to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. He told us they were avoiding the southern Interior because of the fires. We had not paid attention to news for a week, so we hadn’t known the fires were so bad. Thousands of people had been moved out of towns, and roads east and west through the region were frequently being shut down.
“You should think about this route too,” he said. “Much safer. And you don’t want to get stuck in there.”
Good point. Also, I had gone to College in Terrace, BC in the mid-90s. The area is spectacular. I love Smithers and Prince Rupert, and I had always wanted to go there with Scott. Maybe this route made sense? We thanked him for the advice and information, and I told him about Smiles Restaurant in Rupert, a place that used to serve amazing seafood. He said he’d stop by and think of us. Then he walked away.
With that, we made the decision to change our plans slightly again. Thanks to a brief encounter with a kind man on the shore of Lake Superior, it looks like we’ll be heading north through BC on our way to Prince Rupert and Port Hardy on our way to Vancouver. Along the way, I will continue to work on my camping practice and snuggle a little closer to nature. Maybe it’s not as bad as my mind likes to tell me. There is a lot to love out here.