Off He Goes Into The Wild Green Yonder

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So tomorrow morning before any sane person (aka moi) will be even thinking of getting out of bed, Hubby will be throwing his canoe onto the truck and heading off into the wild. Not the wild blue yonder, but the wild green yonder. I’m telling you, he is one happy boy. And a grateful one. Grateful that wilderness parks in Ontario have recently reopened. Grateful that despite heart surgery, and shoulder surgery, and two hernia operations, and lately a struggle with arthritis in his back, he is still able to head off into the wilderness. Because time spent in the bush is important to him. As necessary for his emotional well-being as, say, reading or a nice cup of tea are for mine. And 2020 will mark the beginning of his sixth decade of wilderness canoeing.

Paddling the Dumoine River in Quebec in the 1970s.
Paddling the Dumoine River in the seventies.

That’s pretty impressive, I’d say. Of course, wilderness camping is not everyone’s idea of a vacation. Paddling for hours, hoisting a canoe on your head, carrying said canoe and several packs through a portage or three or five, paddling some more, before rewarding yourself with a dehydrated meal followed by sleeping on the ground in a tent is not everyone’s cup of tea. But it is definitely Hubby’s cup of tea.

Hubby has always loved fishing and the wilderness, learning from his grandfather when he was tiny. And furthering that love when his parents were stationed for four years in New Brunswick in the fifties. His dad was in the Canadian Air Force, and the base where they lived was in a part of the province where fishing was king. And there were a myriad of bush roads, and forest streams, and creeks, and beaver ponds to be explored. I think that my being from New Brunswick was partly what drew us together. When we met in the Glebe Collegiate staff room all those years ago, one of the first things we talked about was home, my home.

Portaging the canoe in Algonquin Wilderness Park, Ontario.
Our “light” Kevlar canoe. Note he is also carrying a pack.

In fact, Hubby and I courted over a fire in Algonquin Park… sort of. And even spent part of our honeymoon there. Oh yes we di-id. But if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know all that. My longtime friends did not stop laughing for years over my conversion to canoeist and camper.

In fact, I remember back in the day when my friend Debbie, who I’ve written about before here on the blog, first saw a picture of Hubby and his two canoeing buddies on one of their more Herculean canoe trips. Seven days in the bush, miles and miles of portaging, miles and miles of paddling, bad weather more often than not, bugs, and even on one trip a charging bear. The picture showed them unshaven, in rumpled clothes and squashed hats, looking rather sullenly into the camera; they had, after all, awoken to snow that morning. And they did look a tad, uh, uncouth, maybe even a bit scary. And, referencing the Bob Newhart Show characters, Debbie quipped, “Hmmm. Well, there’s Larry and his brother Darryl and his other brother Darryl.” Oh my god, we laughed so hard. Those names stuck for years.

Leaving on our honeymoon, 1989.
Summer 1989 Honeymoon Part 1. What was I getting myself into?

So yeah. Hubby is off heading into the wilderness tomorrow. He’s going alone. A fact that does cause me some anxiety. But let’s not go there.

He’s doing what he calls “the easy trip.” Which is the one he and I normally take. Once the canoe is in the water at the access point, and loaded with the packs, it usually takes about three hours to get to our preferred campsite at the top of Booth Lake. An hour or so of paddling, then one short set of rapids through which he will line and track the canoe upstream to save unloading and portaging. Lining involves pulling the canoe upstream with a rope and guiding it through the rapids and around the rocks. If the water is low he’ll wade beside the canoe, but if it’s high and fast, he’ll hold the rope from shore. It’s much easier on the way back when he’ll be heading downstream.

Sometimes when Hubby and I go together, if there’s enough water in the river on the way back, we’ll stay in the canoe and shoot the rapids. I love doing that. I am always in the bow of the canoe on the lookout for rocks. I’ve become a much stronger paddler over the years. And eventually I even became better at spotting the “downstream V” in the water that marks the best spot to aim between rocks. Plus… I take orders really well. A fact I may have mentioned before on the blog. But I must admit that we didn’t run the rapids until I grew out of my problem with telling my right from my left. For years, Hubby would say, “Paddle on the right, Suz. No, your other right.”

At the top of the rapids, I always kneel on the floor of the canoe, my back stiffly upright, with my paddle poised, awaiting my instructions. “Okay… nice and easy. Draw on the right, Suz. Draw hard. Okay, that’s good. Now just a gentle sweep. Yep. Good. Now back paddle hard… back paddle NOW.” I remember the first time we ran those rapids, I was already hyperventilating before we even began. And then afterwards we both laughed when I said, “Wow. That was the most exciting sixty seconds of MY life.” Ha. I told you it was a short set of rapids.

Tracking the canoe up part of the Opeongo River in Algonquin Wilderness Park.
Lining the canoe downstream through a small set of rapids to save portaging.

After the rapids Hubby will paddle some more, portage for about forty minutes, carrying the canoe and a pack through on the first run, then going back for his fishing bag and the second pack. Then it’s at least another hour of paddling. If there’s no wind, it’s not a difficult trip. But of course setting up camp, finding windfalls for wood, and making supper all take time and energy. By tomorrow evening, he will be well tired. And after a glass of wine by the fireside he will sleep soundly. I know I always do. Then he’ll fish for two days, sit by the fire in the evenings looking at the stars, if the bugs aren’t too bad. And just be. Where he loves to be. Then on the fourth day, he’ll pack up and head for home.

These trips get harder to do every year. For a long time now, Hubby has expected every year might be the last one. After his heart surgery he was thrilled to be back in the park. After shoulder surgery he didn’t care that he had to give up hockey, or that his golf swing would never be the same. He just wanted to know that he could still swing the canoe up onto his shoulders. Still paddle. Still cast his fishing line. The rest of the things were important to him, especially hockey. But they were not as integral to who he is as being in the bush. Like he says, “It’s just in me, Suz.”

A loon on Booth Lake, in Algonquin Wilderness Park, Ontario
Some people say Hubby’s loony to be still wilderness canoeing. Not me. I get it.

So yeah. I’m going to be worried. I’ve been nagging him about his first aid kit. Reminding him to wear his life jacket. To be careful. “I’m always careful, Suz,” he replies. And I know he is. But I still have to say it. Because if I don’t say it, I just know that will be the time something bad will happen. Silly, eh?

I guess I could argue that he shouldn’t go. He is getting older. But he knows his own strengths. And weaknesses. He’s not stupid. He will be careful. Besides, what right do I have to tell him not to go? None, in my view. It’s who he is. I knew that when I married him. When he can no longer do these trips, he’ll know. And he won’t go. And he’ll have lost something really important to him. I’m not going to ask him to give that up for me.

Besides. We could use a little time apart after three months of lock down. While he’s away, I’m going to read and read, binge on Downton Abbey, and eat chocolate cupcakes and steak. I won’t be suffering. And on Wednesday night, I will run a bath for him when I hear the sound of the truck in the driveway. God knows, he’ll need a bath!

Now. Here’s a little sample of Larry and Darryl and Darryl in case you don’t remember the Newhart show. I still remember the show finale. When Darryl and Darryl spoke for the first time ever. Ha.

I think there is something in all our lives that is simply a part of who we are. Although I like to fish and camp, and I love to be in the wilderness, it doesn’t define me, like it does Hubby. For me that’s books. Certain parts of the Canadian landscape. And maybe my love of clothes. 🙂 What about you?

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44 thoughts on “Off He Goes Into The Wild Green Yonder”

  1. This is a true love story indeed- between man and a woman and a man and the nature
    Beautiful post Sue!
    Dottoressa

    1. Hi Sue,
      I agree with Dottoressa, a lovely love letter to your husband.
      But I was worried about you…what will you eat without Stu’s cooking? (I jest of course)
      😉
      But you’ve got that covered with my favourite food groups! Chocolate cupcakes and steak. Enjoy!!

      Ps…it’s only natural to worry

  2. Wendy in York

    I’m not defined by a love of water that’s for sure , more a fear of it but I did almost drown in our local river as a child – I remember it well . However I can fully understand a love of countryside , nature & wildness . A crowded beach is our idea of hell . I couldn’t put the effort in that Stu does to reach these places but I admire him & it must be a wonderful feeling to finally reach that quiet spot . I bet he misses your blithering though 😁

    1. I was very nervous the first few times I was in canoe because it is so tippy. I’m not at all now. Crowded beach = hell for us as well.
      P.S. Ha ha that last bit made me laugh out loud.

  3. Not canoes, not for me. Something happens to my balance the moment I step into any kind of small craft. I thrill to cities. Nothing like stepping out into a new city on a bright morning, all to be discovered. As for saying take care: some years ago I set off on a solo trip to China to do an ultramarathon and Mr Green took me to the airport early on a Saturday morning. “Don’t kill yourself,” were his parting words. Perfect, actually, as I was feeling a bit hysterical at the thought of what I had signed up to and half of me wanted to run as fast as possible back home.

  4. Love this and love that he can still keeping canoeing and fishing. My DH never leaves the house without me asking “do you have your nitro”, but he has to keep living his life. So far, so good. And enjoy your alone time after this lockdown. 🙂

  5. Grace Veenema

    My youngest brother would go with him in a heartbeat! He does that kind of wilderness camping.
    My oldest brother solo sails Lake Superior for long stretches every summer.
    I know all about the worry. Lack of cellular reception makes it even harder. Where to send the Coast Guard or Police if they don’t show up? Awk. I hate it.
    However, they love it and as you said, you can’t stand in the way of a passion.
    I really enjoyed reading today’s post….maybe because I can relate 100%.

    1. The brother of a family friend does those extreme canoe treks, in the far north. He is weeks and weeks in the arctic some summers. So glad you enjoyed the post, Grace.

  6. Sue,
    Your post reflects the deep love you share with your husband. Your respect for what it is that makes him, him – is evident. As someone about to celebrate 43 years of marriage, I appreciate your ability to transcend your worry in ways that honor your commitment to one another. I will be sending good thoughts for him and you this week. All shall be well.

  7. Sometimes, though we love them, we need that time apart. After the hermit inducing lockdown, that time apart is needed for both parties. I cannot lift the canoe anymore, and even the paddle is too hard to maneuver now, so the camping and portaging are distant memories now. Good for him for continuing as long as he is able. We still worry. You have taken me back to a show I watched with glee. I went down the rabbit hole of Newhart shows this morning and loved it. I was wondering what you would write next, and this was perfect. Once again the perfect telling of your thoughts and experiences to lift us up. Thank you.
    P.S. The clothes will always be a love of mine, despite the dirt from gardening non stop lately.

  8. Bravo to your husband. Sounds pretty exhausting and scary to me. Don’t get me wrong I used to adore hiking up to hidden lakes above waterfalls. Trying to find an alternative trail up in the wilds. I loved all that. But eventually I had to give it up because I also needed to breath and the altitudes were just to high. Do I miss it yes. So I understand your husband but I’d be anxious also. I hope he has a phone or someway of communicating with the outside world. I’mm glad you figured out which was left and which was right. You’re a good wife!

  9. I can so relate; my husband is hiking Pike’s Peak in July. He’s 62 and was diagnosed with MS years ago. He lives and breathes challenges. After much prayer, I put it in God’s hands and do my best to be his biggest cheerleader.

  10. Oh Sue I get you. My husband is not as quite an avid outdoorsman as yours and he does like company. He usually takes a month long fishing trip to Baja California with a friend or two where they fish and camp to their hearts’ content in the remotest areas. He also likes to take a two week camping trip in the eastern Sierras for trout fishing, one week alone and the next joined by family and friends. For the last couple of years he’s been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with a buddy a week at a time (I blame Cheryl Strayed author of Wild). Of course he wants me to go camping with him but my camping days are over so he offered to get me a room at the lodge which is where I stay with my girlfriends. It is still too rustic for me but I do it for 5-6 days and it’s beautiful. The mountain lakes are beautiful and we can see stars, constellations and the Milky Way in the night sky. And he’s happy I’m there. Oh, and we camped during our honeymoon too 45 years ago, in Mexico. We made it as far as Mazatlan.

    1. Wow… that trout fishing trip would be popular with Hubby. I’m not sure I’d be up for hiking and camping along the trail. At least with the canoe we don’t have to carry everything all the time, except on portages.

  11. The off season beach is my wilderness trip. Alone on the beach, wrapped up in a blanket, in front of the ocean, a cup of coffee, a good book – it doesn’t get any better. I totally understand why he needs to go.

  12. What a fun post to get us out of the house and into the woods, vicariously! while keeping you and your book and your cup of tea or glass of wine company. . . 😉
    I think I must have told you that we also canoed on our honeymoon — for me, the challenge wasn’t fast-running water (we paddled a triangle of lakes on the Westernmost coast of Canada (on Vancouver Island). . . but a portage over a mammoth tree that bridged two banks separated by about 100 feet — with a drop of at least 30 feet to the ground below. The tree trunk was massive, and I had ample space on either side of the space for my feet, but oh, that was tough for me. Luckily, he carried the canoe across and I only had to worry about paddles and my backpack. . . I suppose after that I felt I could rest on my laurels, had bragging points to satisfy me for life, because that’s as adventurous as I ever got, although we did a fair bit of canoeing and hiking and cross-country skiing, and then kayaking the last few decades. . . You very much impress me with your continued willingness to submit to mosquitos and black flies every summer. . . . Completely in agreement with you on leaving these guys to make their own choices, given that they’re not foolhardy. I do worry, but I try my best not to burden him too much as he heads out on bike or kayak or for a hike. (pretty sure he’ll say I don’t always succeed, but I try 😉

  13. How lucky you are to be married to each other, and to understand that you each have different needs. It sounds to me like you love each other very much.
    When I was about 13 we went on a lengthy wilderness canoe trip with several other families. The adults all knew what they were doing, and it was quite an adventure. I’m very glad I did it, and I’ve never felt the need to do it again.
    I almost didn’t watch the Larry, Darryl and Darryl clip because I figured I already knew what it was, but I’m very glad I did. I laughed out loud several times.

    1. A lengthy wilderness canoe trip, or any wilderness canoe trip, takes so much preparation and equipment and planning. I’d never have gone, I’m sure, if Hubby had not been an enthusiast. Glas you enjoyed the clips. I laughed out loud too.

  14. There is a fantastic book called “Beyond the Trees” by Canadian Adam Shoalts. It is a true story of his solo canoe trip crossing Canada’s mainland Arctic. I’m sure you and your husband would love it! I could not put it down.

  15. Hope your husband has a fun safe time in the wilderness. And, you have some good alone time. It is good to have separate time, especially now with sheltering in place. My husband is a musician and I always look forward when he is out on a gig – no gigs right now, hoping soon.
    In my younger days, with my daughter and first husband, I tent camped and canoed. Those are sweet memories. My “now” husband and I travel quite a bit, but no tent camping these days. Although, I think he might be willing, I am not so sure. 😉

  16. Love this, Sue! Makes me even more eager to take our tandem kayak down from the garage wall and get it out on the water again. I’m so glad your hubby is still able to do what he loves so much and that you understand his need to do it.

    Also, thanks for the blast from the past! Such fun watching Larry, his brother Darryl, and his other brother Darryl again!

  17. Following a link to your blog from Materfamilias Writes, I never expected to be greeted by a blast from the past when I arrived! My husband and I were engaged on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park and we also canoed the DuMoine in the 70’s and 80’s (and also the Madawaska, Pettawawa, Opeongo, etc., wherever there was white water!) We camped many times on Booth Lake. Your descriptions brought it all back in a flash: kneeling in the bow, waiting for orders from the stern, looking for rocks and vees, backpaddling like mad when required. I once steered us around a danger in the river, only to discover it was just a giant leaf floating on top of the water! Our whitewater days ended when our son was born but we continued to canoe on lakes and calmer rivers until we returned to my home in BC. BC has its attractions but we do miss those lakes and rivers of Ontario and Quebec. I would very much like to be heading up to Booth Lake myself right now, with my husband and our Kevlar canoe! Hope your husband enjoys his trip.

    1. Oh wow… what a coincidence. You are a much more experienced canoeist than I am. I’ve seen some of the rapids on the Madawaska River. Hubby’s talked many times about doing that trip. Thanks for stopping by.

  18. How wonderful that he can still do what he loves so much, despite all his physical challenges. This is inspiration for me, as I turn 60 in a couple of months and keeping thinking, “if I’m going to do ______, I’d better do it NOW”!

  19. We bought ourselves a canoe for a wedding gift. Oh yeah, There were many river and lake trips in Maine and New Hampshire. (Your description of life in the bow of a canoe is spot on! ) And don’t forget the rainy nights in a leaky tent.
    That canoe purchase was 47 years ago this summer and our love of solitude and nature has not waned. Of course, other issues prevent still embarking on such journeys nowadays but we’ve replaced it satisfactorily though.
    How wonderful for your hubby to still get out there. God bless him. Solitude is becoming undervalued in today’s society. Being alone with nature is a bonding everyone should experience in their lifetime.

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