Women In Wilderness: Take Three

When was the last time that you truly disconnected from all of the distractions around you? Do you remember what real silence sounds like? Can you recall a time when you didn’t respond to a single text message, email or social media notification as they poured into your consciousness, eroding your mental clarity?

In our current culture, our attention is continually being splintered into fractions. It is now the norm to be hunched over our screens, while perfunctorily conversing with our spouse, superficially attending to our kids and generally flowing through our day without being fully aware of the present at any given time.

At work, at home and in my personal life, there are very few moments of pure peace. Aside from my mornings at the gym, I am inundated with constant demands for my attention from the moment I open my eyes, to my last deep breath as I slide into slumber.

I strongly suspect that I am not alone.

In the ER, a nurse stands close by, waiting to request an order for pain meds, while I hastily jot down my assessment of a patient that I just finished seeing. The clerk catches my eye silently motioning me to the phone: “The radiologist wants to speak to you.” From my scrub top pocket, my phone piercingly announces an incoming text message from a colleague about a patient I had just admitted.

At home, the moment I gingerly step into the front entrance, Henry and Alice’s demands stream into my ears in a deluge while Ada pants and charges her way through the fray. Through the commotion, I push to decipher Blake’s commentary on current events of the world and his work woes. “Are you even listening?” he wonders. My to-do list scrolls through my mind and I mull over what I could possibly get onto the dinnertable in less than 30 minutes.

Some days it is all too much.

Three summers ago, however, three of my best friends and I headed out into the bush on an inaugural backcountry paddling adventure, propelled by my desperation to get away from it all: sleepless nights with a one and two year-old, a full-time workload and the constant struggle of finding myself in the chaos of doctoring and mommying. Little did I know how paramount those four days each summer would mean for my mental survival.

For three summers now, we have committed this time for ourselves and for each other, defending it against the creep of work demands (“Could you just please fill this uncovered ER shift Friday night?” asks the scheduler) and other commitments threatening to erode our once-a-year pilgrimage to the bush for a slice of silence.

This year was no exception. For four blissful days, I existed in a selfish bubble. No cell phones. No kids. No partner. Just delicious meals, hours of losing myself in the pages of a novel, moments of meditation beneath the windswept white pines, conversations that brought us to tears, conversations that split our sides with laughter, and conversations that slid us into mellow quietness.

I am beyond blessed to have friends who are willing to venture into the wilderness with me and for a husband who is willing to keep the fort.

Day 1:

Don’t worry, in the end, we took two cars for the canoe and the kayak.
On the water!
After a windy slog across a huge, open lake, we gorged on a canoe trip, lunchtime favourite: summer sausage!
Once arriving to our campsite, we got our priorities straight: wine & reading material.
Megan getting some well-deserved R&R.
Why does food always taste so amazing while in the bush?
Megan and Cat cooking up a storm and very kindly letting me free of my usual dinnertime duties!
Sunset dinner.
I promise we act more responsibly in our doctor lives šŸ™‚
Post-bathtime selfie.

Day 2:

Not a bad breakfast to start the day!
We headed out in the canoe for what we thought would be a leisurely day-paddle up Clearwater Lake…
…but halfway there, we were hit by huge winds. Despite the whitecaps, we pressed on, eventually taking a rest in this little bay to wait out the weather.
Of course, photoshoots, self-choreographed synchronized swimming routines, naps and snacks ensued.
But, unfortunately, the winds persisted
The smart decision would have been to turn around and head back to our site, but we would not be deterred! Megan and I were adamant on continuing on our adventure up the lake to see the White Otter Castle, a true Northern Ontario oddity. So, despite Cat’s cautionary pleas: “Guys, it’s not that great. It’s not the highlight of the trip!”, we giddily ignored her and pressed on. With terrific headwinds against us, we sweated it out for FIVE HOURS, hauling-ass up the lake.
And, we made it!!!
The White Otter Castle! Nestled deep in Northwestern Ontario’s isolated wilderness, this three-storey log building was built single-handedly at the turn of the century by a man named Jimmy McQuot. A legend in this area, he constructed the castle over many years without the help of machinery or horses. An incredible feat for a lonely man living solo in the wilds.
https://www.northernontario.travel/sunset-country/white-otter-castle-the-story-of-hope-and-unrealized-dreams
Now a historic site, the Castle has been preserved over the years.
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/thunder-bay/ignace-atikokan-white-otter-castle-1.4174416
Eery and ghost-like: the gargantuan rooms were completely empty, save for the sunbeams from the open windows.
The view from the turret, three stories high!
We stopped to have a picnic on the site to fuel-up after our arduous paddle!
After exploring and filling our bellies, we laid a bouquet of daisies at Jimmy’s grave and headed home.
Our paddle home was much easier than our journey there!
Sailing – Cat’s favourite canoeing venture.
Back at the ranch, we ravenously gobbled up the amazing dinner that Megan & Cat cooked up.
Pizza and wine! Yes, please!
The first of the season’s blueberries, found at our campsite.
With muscles aching and that good feeling of exhaustion in our bones, we watched the sun go down over the horizon of conifers.
A perfect end to a pretty amazing day!

Day 3:

The next morning, we ironically awoke to glassy-still waters without a wave in sight or a puff of wind to be found.
Breakfast: oatmeal with alllll of the fixin’s!
We spent the entire day resting, reading, listening to music, sitting in silence, swimming and goofing around.
These two jokers – off on a fishing adventure!
Between hours of relaxing, we also made time for dry-land training of our synchronized swimming routine hahah
Exploring nearby sand beaches.
After lazily spending the entire day relaxing, we went out for a late afternoon paddle where Cat, an amazing outdoors-woman caught this sweet bass!
When we returned to our site, we were joined by two friends from Sioux who had paddled in to hang with us for the night and thankfully, they had brought us more wine!
Breathe in, breathe out.
Megan was making fun of my wood-gathering outfit šŸ™‚
Perhaps not the most practical!
Dinner: coconut fish curry made with fresh bass caught that afternoon. Delish!
Campfire chill.
Good night sun!
I was laughing so hard that I couldn’t keep the camera steady. What goofballs we are. Singing into the moonlight, providing the musical score for the finale performance of Cat and Megan’s synchro routine! haha

Day 4:

Paddling home to our put-in with this badass canoe buddy.
Stopping before the portage to check out a bass hole. The water was incredibly clear, allowing us to see right to the bottom where scores of bass were milling about!
After another windy slog across big, open water, we landed on the beach where we had started our adventure days earlier.
Goofs!

All joking aside, I cannot thank these two women enough for tolerating my bossiness, my idiosyncrasies and anxieties. Thank you for keeping our Women In Wilderness adventures alive! I appreciate your friendship more than you’ll ever know.

“The fact that people can gain perspective and a sense of oneness with mountains, forests and waters, enriches their lives and makes them better able to withstand the forces to which they must return.”

Can’t wait for next year!

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