Those crazy Canadians!
I mean, who would go camping in the middle of winter? Especially when
Well, 29 of us did (me
included). This was the last weekend of February, and we left for
The Pinery Camping Grounds just after Kit finished work on Friday.
We weren’t the only crazies there for the weekend. There were
about 50 others booked in as well. But we were definitely the largest
After a 2 and a half hour
drive, we got to the nearest town to The Pinery, which was having
a snow sculpture competition. And as we drove through it that night,
we came across a massive snow sculpture. It looked like an eagle,
a bit taller than me, but made out of brightly coloured snow. And
a couple of days later we would see a few more sculptures, including
a life-size bus stop bench seat made of snow.
Our group had
rented 6 yurts. A yurt is a small cabin, but very much like a tent.
It has 4 canvas walls and a pointed canvas roof. But it’s fixed
to a wooden floor, and has a built-in heater working 24 hours a day.
This weekend we were expecting very cold temperatures (high of only
–5 degrees Celsius), and so the heater was going to be worked
very hard and much appreciated.
There were 4 of us who
would be sharing our yurt, so we weren’t going to be as cramped
as some of the others which had up to 6 people in them. But when we
got to the camping grounds (around 9pm), the yurt was empty. We could
see a campfire about 50 metres away, with music and singing in the
background, but we were hungry, so we decided to cook something first.
Cooking is forbidden in the yurts (they even have a smoke alarm fitted
inside) so we fried a couple of steaks, with mushrooms and onions,
on a butane stove out in the cold and dark. We may have been camping,
but that didn’t mean we were going to starve!
After dinner we walked
very gingerly along the ice and snow (nearly slipping twice!) until
we got to the campfire. Rick and Toshi were playing guitar, and Dan
was playing his mandolin, occasionally taking a break and swapping
it for a penny whistle. About 20 of us were already there, and the
others were either coming later on that night or the following morning.
But all the while
I was standing as close as I could to the flames of the campfire.
I must’ve looked like a vertical rotisserie, warming up my hands
and the front of my legs for about a minute before turning around
and warming up the backs of my legs and my quickly freezing butt.
Then spinning around again. I’d foolishly thought it would be
warm by the campfire, so although I was well rugged up above the waist,
my legs were only protected by a pair of jeans, when I should’ve
worn some padded ski pants with my long johns underneath. So at midnight,
after an hour and a half of warming up one side of me while the other
froze again, we headed back to the yurt.
I was up bright and early
the next morning. It was before 7am and the camping grounds looked
deserted. Some of the others had stayed up until 3am, so they wouldn’t
be getting up for a while. As I got out of the yurt, quickly shutting
the door behind me and trying not to let the heat out, I saw my first
chipmunk. It was scurrying under the wooden deck, stopping occasionally
to take a look at his Aussie audience. But he wasn’t the only
chipmunk around. Soon he was joined by another one, and during the
course of the weekend I would see dozens of them.
The ice crushed cleanly
under my feet as I made my way to the large log-structured washroom
nearby. And by 7.30am I began to see other campers emerging. By the
time I got back, Kit was cooking breakfast out in the snow. A hot
mug of tea, with bacon and eggs. ‘Rise Up Singing’ is
a songbook which Kit always keeps in the car, and soon we were going
through it and singing a swag of songs including one of my favourites,
King Of The Road.
Some of the campers wanted
to go tobogganing, so we grabbed our toboggan mats and headed off
to the toboggan slopes. Unfortunately, once we got there we saw that
the snow had mostly melted. So it wouldn’t be possible to go
tobogganing. This was only a minor disappointment, because later that
afternoon we met one of our group who had gone tobogganing and injured
his arm and back. From then on I crossed tobogganing off my list of
things to do. I couldn’t afford to risk being a burden to my
hosts on my travels.
As a alternative, about
a dozen of us walked to the banks of Lake Huron. It was frozen for
as far as the eye could see, and walking on its icy edges made me
wonder whether this is how the term ‘walking on water’
had come about.
Dan, our mandolin
and penny whistler, said, “Let’s make a pyramid”.
row, 2nd from left) still smiling under all that weight.
And he wasn’t talking
about a snow structure either. He meant a human pyramid. Those crazy
Canadians were getting crazier by the minute! Gee, was I glad I was
on the snow bank and could watch their crazy stunt in comfort and
safety. Their plan was simple. They’d get 4 big guys on the
bottom level, 3 on the next, then 2, then one on the very top. But
they only had 3 big guys for the bottom row. That’s when I realized
how contagious insanity was, and I soon found myself volunteering
to be one of the guys on the bottom row. Now, if I’d given it
just a few seconds more thought, I would’ve realized that the
guys at each end of that row only have 3 people on their backs while
the ones in the middle end up with 5 people on their backs. And guess
where they put me. Fortunately we never made it to the top row, but
we did get 3 rows high. And even though building the pyramid was a
lot of fun, having it collapse was hysterical, with bodies piled like
carcasses on top of each other.
Back at the yurt I decided
to rehearse my play, The Glory Of Athens, after a 4 week break, and
I went through the entire 80 minute performance without a mistake!
Wow! It looked like my play was now permanently etched into my memory
banks. Now, more than ever, I knew that I wouldn’t have to worry
about my upcoming performances in Montreal and Ottawa, or any other
place in the future.
Dinner was a little
different. We’d brought some corn with us and we barbequed them,
leaves and all, in the closed oven outside. We had them with a side
dish of potatoes, onions and mushrooms wrapped in aluminium foil,
and skinless chicken thighs made up the balance of the meal. After
dinner we made our way to join the campfire party once again. They
had a leg of venison cooking in a triangular sling above the fire,
so they weren’t doing too badly either. Toshi toasted marshmallows
between songs, and I even got to taste some of the venison too (yum!).
In fact, I thought it was very tender and reminded me very much of
the emu meat I’d had last month! We also had some white wine
during the night, and finished up with a hot chocolate and Bailey’s.
I couldn’t remember the last time I went camping, but I was
sure enjoying this camping trip.
the campfire with Rick holding guitar.
A curious raccoon
came wandering up out of the darkness. He was much larger than I thought
raccoons would be. Larger than a cat, and with a very high arched
back. But he wasn’t interested in sticking around, and soon
vanished in the snowy woods again.
I can’t help it.
I’m an early riser and that’s it. So it didn’t surprise
me that I was up early again the following morning, at 6.40am, on
a Sunday, and walking carefully across the ice and snow to the washrooms.
The showers were empty (of course) and I enjoyed a beautiful hot shower
which was operated by a sensor which turned on the wonderfully warm
water for 60 seconds at a time.
When I emerged, I heard
a woodpecker tapping away in a nearby tree. There are many types of
woodpeckers in Canada, both big and small, but I’d never seen
one before. Luckily this one was very noisy and persistent, so it
wasn’t long before I tracked him down. He was just a tiny fella,
about the size of a sparrow, with white feathers and black and brown
bars across its wing tips. Rick described him as a Downy Woodpecker.
Woodpeckers tap at dead tree branches so they can persuade the insects
within to come out and be eaten. Either these insects knew about the
plan and weren’t co-operating, or there just weren’t any
there. So after a few minutes of frantic rat-a-tat-tatting (10 taps
per second, about 6-10 taps at a time) my little friend flew off seeking
more co-operative prey.
The yurt was empty
when I got back, so I went to the campfire to see if they’d
already congregated there. Toshi had just lit a fire and was walking
around in her boots and pajamas cleaning up a horrible mess. That
raccoon was probably casing the joint last night, because he must’ve
returned after we’d all gone to sleep and ransacked the campfire
site. Raccoons are nocturnal and are known to steal whatever they
can, whenever they can. That’s why they’re affectionately
known as ‘little bandits’. Some rubbish bags had been
ripped apart to get to the food scraps inside, and one of them had
found the hot chocolate tin, leaving only the lid and a trail of chocolate
powder on the picnic table and the snow beneath.
Having breakfast outside
the yurt, in the snow.
also bought some plantain bananas (a popular West Indies fruit) which
looked just like large green bananas, but tasted more like sweet potatoes.
These were sliced and deep fried, and very tasty! We took some down
to the campfire site and shared them with the others. By lunchtime
some of our group were ready to leave, so we rounded everyone up to
take a group photo. My wedding and portrait photography experience
came in handy, and soon we had a mountain of people smiling for the
camera. Luckily a neighbouring camper saw our plight as several people
got out of the group to take photos with their own cameras, and he
volunteered to take a photo with all of us in it. So, 14 shots later
(using different cameras), we all disbanded, promising to share our
photos with each other via email.
“Now, can one of
you take a photo of my family”, our friendly neighbour asked.
I said, and took a couple of nice family portraits using his instamatic
A few of us wanted to stick
around a little longer, but the yurts had to be vacated by 11am. So
we packed our gear into our cars and drove to the hiking grounds.
After a short walk through the park, stopping at featured attractions
and feeding the chipmunks along the way, we headed off to the local
Tim Horton’s restaurant to meet up with Dan and Rod.
Rod was our wheelchair
camper. He’d driven to The Pinery in his immaculate baby-blue
classic mustang, but wasn’t able to join us for the hike. As
we queued to order our coffees and donuts, we noticed Rod speeding
out of the washroom and returning from his car soon afterwards holding
a screw driver. Minutes later he joined us at our table.
screw driver all about?” I asked Rod, as he joined us with a
huge smile on his face and waving the tool around so everyone could
“Those bloody arseholes”,
he said. “They make toilets to accommodate handicapped people
and then they have the door opening inwards, which means that we can’t
get in. So I just unscrewed the door catch and turned it around so
it now opens outwards.”
Good on you, I
thought. What a smart guy, and gutsy too.
his nifty screwdriver outside Tim Horton's.
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey
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