Tiptoeing through the house, I quietly gather our small duffle bag and head to the front door of our friend’s Edmonton home. It’s 7am and I am anxious to get on the road. I’m due to drive up to Nelson later that evening to start a week-long solo retreat – one that I have been excitedly anticipating for months. It’s a tight turnaround between our extended weekend camping adventure with the kids, but Blake had assured me we could make it. Just a few hours between me, a solo glass of wine and Netflix. I couldn’t wait.
My arms full, I shuffle out to the driveway. The November air is cool and the sun has not yet begun to make its appearance. In the darkness, I stop short. The driveway, where our 2005 Honda Pilot SUV and our utility trailer, now camping adventure mobile should be, is inexplicably and eerily empty. I blink, trying to compute what I am seeing. I sigh. Blake is well known for his epic pranks, this must be one of them, I reason.
“Blake, where did you move the car?” I ask, shaking his rumpled form awake. “Where is the car and the trailer?” His sleepy face pops up from the covers, slowly. “What do you mean, where is the car?” he responds, confusion clouding his slumberous face. “What do YOU mean, what do I mean?” I hiss back with annoyance, our sleep-laden, caffeine-deprived brains short-circuiting into circuitous dialogue. “Where. Is. The. Car?”
My heart drops when, in one bound, Blake is out of bed, dressed and running for the front door. Blake never moves at this pace in the morning. I know now, he’s definitely not joking.
Together, we stand dumbfounded in the empty driveway to confirm again, that indeed, there is an empty space where all of our adventuring belongings should be.
Blake turns to me, his face ashen. “Our car’s been stolen.”
“I promise to always put our friendship first as we lead a life full of adventures. I vow to respect, laugh and grow with you while we face life’s challenges together. I will to take my turn leading and following while always walking with you. I promise to live life with you with an open mind and an open heart. I love you.”– Blake & Celia
On a fall day in 2012, a drenching rainstorm swept down Lake Joseph, timing its arrival to the shores of Sherwood Inn just as Blake and I began our wedding vows. The guests, ill-prepared for the unexpected downpour were caught in surprise, hastily attempting to keep themselves dry. Through the noise of the downpour and the flurry of activity that ensued, Blake and I carried on in our own private world, our vows falling only on each other’s ears.
A life full of adventures, we promised.
And so adventure we did.
Together, we explored the bewildering beauty of Gwai Haanas by kayak, climbed the highest peak in North Africa in Morocco, skied through champagne powder in the Rockies, paddled the backcountry in Wabakimi and Quetico. We adventured every minute that we could.
When Henry came along with Alice in quick succession, I acutely remember despairing after a failed camping trip with two babies under two that our adventuring days would be over. The effort was just too colossal, the struggles too great and it just wasn’t worth it. I felt crushed by a new level of anxiety that had been born alongside my entrance into motherhood.
But, we had promised.
So, we persisted.
Kitesurfing trips to Costa Rica and Dominican, annual treks West to ski, yearly summer attempts at camping, day paddles eventually stretching to multi-day backcountry canoe trips. Every step of the way was full of small joys but also laden with challenges.
Sweaty backs dragging two snowsuit-clad toddlers, all their ski gear, all of our ski gear, the diaper bag, snacks and lunch, a portable emergency nap station among other things to the chalet, only to do two runs on the bunny hill before melt-downs ensued.
Then there was our recent multi-day canoe trip in which we were pelted by freezing rain one day and baked in the blazing 30-plus degree sun the next. A two-man tent accidentally making it into the pack instead of a four-man. A fatal navigational error leading to a five-hour slog through 15km/hr headwinds with a boat full of hot, hungry and tired kids with tense words flung from bow to stern as Blake and I argued over the route.
What was the hell was the point? Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if we had just stayed home? What kind of suckers for punishment were we?
Yet when you reflect back on your own childhood, what stands out in the highlight reel?
For me, of course, I have lots of everyday memories of our summers in Muskoka, hours spent at the local skating rink, my grade 1 teacher Mrs. Almond, the taste of Mom’s freshly made spaghetti noodles created patiently from scratch for dinner. But, the images I remember most vividly were connected to times spent together on family adventures.
Growing up, my most treasured memories were of our many family backcountry paddling trips; solo portaging a canoe for the first time, fighting playfully with my siblings over the singular cherry in the canned fruit salad, being stuck, waist-deep in mud, covered in mosquitos, lost on a portage trail, listening to three-year-old Johnny’s side-splitting ‘jokes’ while tangling marshmallow goo in my hair around the campfire.
Looking back now, for my parents, dragging us all out canoeing must have been a massive headache, but for me, those trips were central to my childhood and have greatly informed who I have become. They led to a deep love for the outdoors, a connection to the natural world and a strong sense of environmental stewardship. They led to my years spent guiding canoe trips as a young person, honing organizational and leadership skills, mediating challenging group dynamics, troubleshooting through adversity and turning to creativity and resourcefulness in the face of difficulty – experiences which have, no doubt, led to my ability to succeed in my career as a rural physician.
Would I have become the same person if our family had just stayed home – comfortable, predictable, easy?
When we decided to pick up, move across the country for a year in the mountains, Blake, of course, had all sorts of adventure plans.
At the top of his list, he planned to convert the enclosed utility trailer used to haul our possessions in the move into a mobile, family winter camping ‘chalet’. He envisioned a family ski tour of local hills across the Kootenays, skiing and camping on the cheap, adventures abound.
I have to admit, imagining all four of us and the dog, including all of our skiing/biking/camping gear co-existing in a 72 square foot space seemed… uncomfortable, unnecessary and daunting to say the least.
But we had promised adventures and I really couldn’t say no in the face of Blake’s enthusiasm.
Over a number of weeks, Blake carefully planned and designed our camping abode, building each element by hand with a budget of $500. When finished, the camper had running water, a small heater, a convertible couch, table and benches that shape-shifted into beds for us all, a small kitchen area and even a ‘garage’ to store bikes and ski equipment. All of the elements were also easily removed to transform the camper back into a utility trailer if needed.
Although Blake wouldn’t openly admit it, I knew he was incredibly proud of what he had innovated (as was I!) and had endless hopes our creating memories for our family that winter.
On the trailer’s official inaugural trip, we pulled the kids from school and drove up highway 93, through Kootenay National Park, Banff, Lake Louise, Yoho National Park and eventually to Jasper. The drive was stunning. Flanked by jaw-dropping mountain ranges, the parks were free from their usual crowds. We explored waterfalls, taught the kids about receding glaciers, a tangible way of explaining the effects of climate change, hiked and camped, all snug in our little trailer home.
We eventually drove all the way to Edmonton, AB where we visited one of Blake’s dear friends from his engineering days. A successful family trip… until it all went to hell.
With the theft of the car and trailer, Blake and I had quickly done the mental math of what had been lost. Although nothing was valuable in monetary terms, essentially our hopes of future family adventures had been thieved. Our bikes, helmets, camping equipment, sleeping bags, winter snowsuits, art supplies, books, board games and all of the little incidental items that make up a family road trip were gone.
Thankfully for us, Blake, pragmatic and calculated, shines in these situations and within hours, he had filed a police report, spoke to our insurance agency and had acquired a rental car with brand new car seats. We were on the road home, only delayed by a few hours.
Solo wine and Netflix for me again within reach!
Unfortunately for us, things got comically worse. As we attempted the journey back to Kimbereley, floods in the southern part of the province washed out highways, stranded passengers and halted any road travel. In the mountains, heavy snows and icy conditions led to jackknifed semis, indefinitely blocking traffic and closing down highways. We were stuck in Banff and as luck would have it, Alice incidentally came down with a stomach bug to boot. The definition of an epic fail of a family trip.
In the end, our car, completely empty of our belongings, smelling like an ashtray and strewn with red velvet cake crumbs (what the hell?!) was located in Edmonton where a meth dealer had sold it to a crony who had been stopped by the police on the way to a prearranged sale to another buddy in crime. Thankfully for us, the culprit surrendered his drug paraphernalia and also confessed the whereabouts of the trailer. As a result, the trailer was located and was only partially damaged. Alice, who was such a trooper in all of this, recovered and I miraculously made it to my Mom retreat in the mountains, only two days behind schedule.
Adventures we had promised each other, adventures we had had.
Already Blake has begun to fix up the trailer and no doubtedly has already planned our next camping route (this time with new padlocks and wheel-locking devices for the trailer’s wheels) which will certainly never include Edmonton again (sorry Gorin and Irena!).
And despite the effort and the bumps along the way, I know that we will continue to push ourselves to explore new places beyond the ‘easy’ of home because, at the end of the day, I know that those simple memories of playing Go Fish in the tent in Quetico or snuggling in the trailer after a day of skiing will be the most treasured by us all.