Those Magical Places

When John and I need to sit in the woods alone, to flee from the crowds, to contemplate our life, to make a big decision, this is where we come.

The small lake is a joy to paddle early in the morning and evening, when the beavers are busy working on their lodge, repairing a dam, chopping down trees.

The mountains in the distance are a long hike but are home to caribou and grizzly.

Our campsite is tucked beneath pine trees with a family of grey jays and kingfishers to keep us company.

This place has such a feeling of calm and peace. Even when it’s storming or snowing this place makes us happy.

The Grizzly On The Big Salmon River

The experts say never to run from a bear, running provokes a chase instinct in bears.

This is true, which we discovered along the Big Salmon River, a small winding tributary of the Yukon River. It is a fun, swift and narrow river with a few sweepers but little else to really worry about.

This hard fast rule for bear encounters, don’t run, is fine when on foot but what are paddlers to do on a swift river? We paddled around a corner to meet a young grizzly just hauling himself out of the river. The river pushed us past him, nearly under his now and instantly the bear took off along the bank, running after us.

We feel confident in traveling bear country. We’ve read the literature on bear safety. In twenty years we have met many grizzlies. In some summers we have met more than a dozen girzzlies in the backcountry. Usually they run from us, some watch us, others ignore us. A few have bluffed charged. This was the first to chase us. And it was at this moment we discovered we didn’t know what the protocol was to stop a charge. Is it the same as a bluff charge, hold your ground? John and I were both hesitant to stop paddling, a grizzly at our heels.

So we kept on paddling.

And the grizzly kept on following.

Three times the grizzly entered the water, began swimming towards us. We yelled at him, slapped paddles on the water. Each time the grizzly returned to shore and continued his pursuit on land. We paddled on until losing sight of the grizzly.

And we kept on paddling.

At the time of our meeting, we had been scanning the shore for a place to camp. Now we had no intention of camping any time soon. When we finally did camp, three hours later, we were hesitant, jumpy. A three-hour paddle for us is no distance for a grizzly to travel.

We did not sleep well that evening.

Aside from this one exciting moment, the Big Salmon River was a beautiful and peaceful trip, with quiet lakes, sandy beaches and forests filled with cloudberries.

Choices

So many people say things like, “I wish I was rich like you so I could take a summer off from work.” Or, “You’re so lucky to be able to go traveling.”
Neither of these statements are true.
Too many people fail to realize that John and I are not rich, we’re not lucky. We just make different choices than most. We do not own anything more than a few bins of gear and boxes of books. We live in a cabin without running water. I am nearly forty and have not yet bought a piece of furniture. I paid less for my station wagon than friends have paid for their mountain bikes. I do not need to attach my identity to a career or possessions.
For John and I, we deem time more precious than material things.
We choose to spend time outside instead of working towards owning things. This is how we afford to play outside. It’s about choices. It’s as simple as that so please stop assuming we’re privileged because neither of us have had the pleasure of knowing what that would be like. We work for our time, by working jobs and in the choices we make. I choose time to hike in the mountains than going to work so I can afford a luxury vehicle or buy a house that looks just like every one else’s beige home.

Into The Mountains

I need wild places to wander into, wilderness where I can meet a porcupine, snow buntings, moose, coyote. I live a simple life so I can have these moments in the wild.

Spring has sprung early in southern Yukon. We scrambled up and across a ridge today which normally is still snow covered at Easter, three weeks later. And not only did we have few snowy patches to contend with, we found prairie crocuses just about ready to bloom. We definitely enjoyed the unseasonably warm +10C weather with an all day mountain adventure.

Our hike began and ended bushwhacking through spruce and poplar forest. I love wandering through a naked poplar forest, though I’m not entirely sure why. Their arms stretching up to the blue sky is just pretty. We spooked a snowshoe hare from its nest tucked beneath brush and found a porcupine den. There is no trail where we were hiking which usually means we will see plenty of wildlife and/or signs of them. This hike was no different.

The scramble into the alpine was tough, steep but worth the effort. We saw a few spruce grouse, half a dozen willow ptarmigan and lots of Dall sheep poop. And, near the summit we detoured to a ridge following lynx tracks. Near the end of our day we also spotted a moose and a coyote. It was a great ending to a sublime day in the mountains.

“Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home – not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colours. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and the places that warn you away. How you can fall in love with the light.” Ellen Meloy

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Napping

Long distance, remote adventures are tough. They are made immensely more challenging when living with an autoimmune illness.

People express their bafflement that I can tackle a multi-month paddling trip and still claim to struggle with lupus but there are many ways I have learned over the years to cope with my illness.

One of the most effective strategies is my ability to nap wherever I happen to be if I feel inclined. And outdoor adventures allow me to partake in one whenever I want and for as long as I want (something that work places tend to frown upon).

Since lupus sauntered into my life napping has become one of my favourite pastimes.

Time Unused

Sailing the Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound six years ago was the first time I experienced lupus symptoms. Since then I have learned how to adjust my life to accommodate her.

“When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound along well-worn trails of neutrons, tracking the echoing questions: the confused family of whys, whats, and whens and their impossibly distant kin how…It was all I could do to get through each moment, and each moment felt like an endless hour, yet days slipped silently past. Time unused and only endured still vanishes as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.”

This is from the beautiful book, The Sound Of A Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey. It has me remembering those days on the sailboat when I too observed a snail go about its day in the woods.

adventuring and playing is so vital to my life. living with lupus makes me appreciate the health I still hold, health I took for granted before. Never should we take for granted health and youth. They are so fleeting.

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Books! Books! And More Books!

For our next road trip – winter 2019-2020 – we have been debating whether we should travel with our 4-Runner or to change things and get a motorcycle (or two). I prefer the 4-Runner though I do have my motorcycle license. For me, it is more than the comfort and warmth of a 4-runner. It is the space, mainly the space available for all the books I inevitably hoard. A motorcycle does not accommodate book hoarding.

Sure I could just get an e-Reader but I am quite the Luddite and do not enjoy staring at screens. I enjoy feel and scent of a book. Stories and words feel more tangible and alive in paper form.

Though we have been back home for two weeks from our four-month road trip I am just getting around to emptying the last of the stuff from our 4-Runner. It’s been -30C and colder since we got home and the books stashed in the nooks and hollows of the 4-Runner are not at risk of freezing (can’t say the same for an e-Reader) so they’ve sat there until this afternoon.

It is amazing how many books I can tuck away in the 4-Runner. It helps that my partner, also an avid book reader, was willing to rip out the heater that is for the back seats. The heater, which sits under the passenger seat, is bulky and heavy and completely unnecessary since there are no back seats and therefore no passengers. Instead of driving an unused heater around, more than a dozen books are now stashed here.

The photo above is one of three piles that I hauled out of the 4-Runner today, books that we didn’t get around to reading, books we would like to re-read or books we couldn’t bear to give away just yet.

Back In The Cold Embrace Of The Yukon Winter

It is a difficult transition, to reach the end of an adventure and return to work. After eight months of sauntering and wandering, it is time to work and save our pennies for the next adventure, just four months away. Click here if you’re curious about that adventure.

It is cold and dark this time of year. The nights seem to stretch on, unending. A typical 9 to 5 job means arriving to work in the dark, missing the stunning 10:30am sunrises over the surrounding hills. The sun sets long before the workday ends. The sun holds little warmth. But the woods are charming to stroll in. The chickadees sing, the red squirrels sit in the sun atop their midden. While we fight to keep our hands warm on late night walks the northern lights dance – flickers of green and crimson and violet above us. A coyote might pass by while the rest of the forest remains silent.

We sport frosted eyelashes, rosy cheeks and runny noses. -35C nips at exposed skin. The dry snow crunches and squeaks under each footfall. The forests are silent, no fresh tracks but our own in the snow. Ursus major, the Big Dipper, the North Star, they all shimmer on clear night. The northern lights dance.

We may no longer be in the warm embrace of the Utah or California desert but we have frosty forests and northern lights to embrace.

 

In Praise Of The Thrift Store Fleece

Two summers ago I paddled across the Barrens of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for two months. My favourite piece of gear ended up being a tattered old ugly green fleece I bought in a thrift store years before. It kept me warm and endured so many abuses.

I wrote a piece, I want to say ode, for She Explores about that fleece. My fleece recently died as Tenacious Tape and Jiffy Sew patches could no longer keep up with the material wearing away to nothing anymore. But she had a long, adventurous life. I’ve missed her warmth this winter.

Check out the story here.

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