The moment my paddle hits the surface, everything changes. My muscles stretch and contract, lengthening and pulling against the glassy, indigo water. With every stroke, I feel the suffocation of my endless worries mercifully subside. Each apprehension is packaged neatly into its own droplet of water falling off my paddle’s tip, outlining a perfect arc as I reach towards my next stroke. Stresses gripping my wakeful nights, now smoothed out into nothing but horizonless lakes, trees and granite. My breath aligns with my paddle’s cadence and calm takes the reins. Timidly at first, but bolder with each stroke, I lean into that small flame of joy that always awaits my soul in the backcountry. As my edginess mellows, the imagined catastrophe that never befalls brings new confidence. This warming always takes time, searching for someone or something to give me permission to truly let it all go. As the bow slices the velvety surface, the rhythm of my paddle brings peace and the lean of great white pines abound soothe my anxious mind. This is where I know I need to be.
Driven by my need to escape the busyness of life that can be all-consuming, I have heavily guarded a precious four days each July for our annual women’s canoe trip. Initially motivated by a yearning to restore a sense self during a time when I was held captive by cloth diapers and incapacitated by the constant demands of full-time work and the ceaseless needs of one-year-old Alice and two-year-old Henry, a group of my core girlfriends and I escaped into the wilderness for reprieve – Women in Wilderness was born. Since then, each summer, despite busy careers, commitments to partners and families and other competing interests, we have rallied in our canoes to paddle away from responsibility and back toward our selves. Our group has fluxed over the years, but our core group of women has remained constant, driving our escape to the backcountry
This year, after an extensive virtual group discussion, we settled upon a route which took us to Canada’s canoeing capital. An iconic and wilderness-class park, Quetico Provincial Park is recognized globally as the place for backcountry canoeing. Boasting over 2,000 pristine lakes and over 460,000 ha of (now) industry-free wilderness set aside strictly for canoeists, Quetico has a long-standing reputation for low-impact camping with bylaws that have stayed true to its original wild intention; no marked trails or campsites, no man-made structures, only the wilderness in its truest form with lakes so clean that a dip of the hand beside the gunnel to fill your Nalgene brings potable water. As each access point allows limited entry into the gargantuan space of undeveloped land, the magic of Quetico is allowing oneself to be intentionally and fully alone. Blake and I have been fortunate to have paddled in Quetico together over the years and have never been disappointed. This year, despite choosing an easygoing, popular route, our women’s trip was no exception; we had the park to ourselves.
For four blissful days, we paddled. Gone were our constant COVID worries – distancing outdoors in the expansive space was easily done. We laughed, we cried, we drank, we ate, we played and our cups were filled to the brim. Six fierce women with talents and strengths abound, all shamelessly putting themselves first and teaching me to lean fearlessly into that flame of joy. Thank you, my dear friends. I can’t wait to see what next summer’s paddling adventure brings!
Hitting the water on Day 1 on Pickerel Lake
Don’t let this picture fool you, just around the next point, we paddled into a super strong headwind for the rest of the day!
“The path of the paddle can be a means of getting things back to their original perspective.” – Bill Mason
On Day 2, we paddled through Pickerel Narrows through a few small portages to get to Buckingham Lake where we were the only souls around!
“Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice, because the flow that has passed will never pass again. Enjoy every moment of your life.” – Author unknown
Starting Day 3 with cappuccinos made by our belle of a barista, Lucy. Ahhhh!
Portaging our way back into Pickerel Lake.
“There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude and peace.” -Sigurd F. Olson
Rounding out our last day of paddling with this powerhouse!
Women In Wilderness: 2020, that’s a wrap!
“What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal 500 on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.” – Pierre Trudeau