During the Hokkaido leg of my epic life-changing trip to Japan last year, I decided to see more of my home country. The landscape made me homesick for Ontario. Camping is way cheaper than airfare and so, my inexperience sleeping in a tent notwithstanding, I hatched a plan.
Before you get any ideas that I’m some city princess (snort) who’s never been north of the 401, I’ll provide a little background.
When I was a kid, my mum and dad joined the National Campers and Hikers Association (NCHA), a club that organized family camping throughout the summer. We would drag our trailer around every campsite in the province, including St. Catharines for the annual grape festival. There was mud and bon fires and mud and toasted marshmallows and mud and third-degree burns. Good times!
So until recently my idea of pitching a tent involved hovering around my parents while they yelled directions at each other, shooing me away like an over-eager, unhelpful muddy puppy. It also involved dad cranking up the tent, rather than actually pitching one. Oh, and it involved claustrophobia. Because children always get the bunk, which is really just oversized overhead storage.
Fast forward through the seventies to the present day. Wait for your head to stop spinning. Right, so here we are in 2016. After a few scheduling hiccups, my boyfriend Jerome and I booked a last-minute weekend in June at Lake St. Peter Provincial Park, which is just past Bancroft. Actually, we drove a lot past Bancroft then backed up a bit because one, Google navigation is crap; and two, it’s not a road trip unless you get lost. And the government should do something those stupid signs, make the stick bigger or something.
We arrived at the park. It wasn’t as rustic as I
feared anticipated. The site was sweet, with trees and privacy without having to bushwhack your way to the privy down the road. We pitched the tent and erected the new kitchen tent, all within an hour. Time to walk around and get our bearings.
Yes, well, that was short, but we found the privy, the comfort station (with laundry, no less) and two beaches. I had begun to relax. No one cared how they were dressed, we were all just enjoying the sweet fresh air and slow pace of nature.
When we initially arrived, we bought firewood and kindling at the tuck shop near the gate. So now it was time to start a fire. There’s something primal about fire, especially cooking on one. Everything seems better and safer, but you can’t take it for granted. It must be fed and tended and controlled. And burgers must be flipped carefully. Oh my god, I’ve never had tastier burgers than the ones we cooked that night. With a wine with a blazing fire. . .
As the sun set, it was time to face my marshmallow demon. Stick procured, marshmallow impaled, I thrust the lump of sugar into the flames. Whoosh! In mere seconds the crusty brown bubbled black. Carefully, I brought the flaming thing to my face—and blew. All that was left was a hot, smoky, sugary, sticky treat at the end of a stick. I pulled it off, remnants of goo left behind, and devoured the charred marshmallow. I won. I vindicated the burned and blistered nose of childhood.
Then it started to rain. We stowed our food and bundled the garbage (one word: bears), grabbed our rain gear from the car, and huddled in the kitchen tent…with mesh walls. Plans to observe the stars (and stay dry) thwarted, we cleaned up, put things away, then bedded down for the night.
Bagged salad and boxed wine are the Devil. And I have the best, kindest, most patient boyfriend in the world. That is all.
The next morning I awoke to a blazing fire, hot coffee, and a freshly cooked breakfast sandwich. Oh, and a hot shower so I’d feel human again.
Humanized, we planned our day. Hiking, wading in the lake, lounging on the beach, cooking steak and potatoes on an open fire . . . then stargazing.
Oh my god the stars! We were in a dark-sky area, which means we were away from the light dome of the city. One by one they peeped out, as if they were shy. As it got darker and my eyes adjusted, I could see smears of galaxies. We mounted our cameras on tripods then changed the settings for astrophotography: open up the camera, slow down the shutter, and prepare to be gobsmacked.
Three days and two nights of firsts: first time sleeping in a tent, first time swimming/wading in a lake, first time cooking over an open fire, and first time photographing the stars. I was hooked! When could we do this again?