My yearly camping trip came and went last week, and as always, it was full of laughter and good times. The “Excellent Adventure” (coined by my friend Tom Green) is now in its seventh year, and with this new year were some changes.
The Adventure Begins
The Ontario government, in its infinite lack of wisdom, shut down Obatanga and several other Northern parks last year as a cost-cutting measure. So we had to locate a new park. We opted for Rabbit Blanket Lake, which is part of Lake Superior Provincial Park. At the time of booking (in March) there were 9 people going, so I had the challenging task of choosing three campsites. Challenging in the sense that the photos of the campsites were absolutely horrible, giving no real sense of the camp area. Soooo, I found three adjacent sites (2 lake-side, 1 road side) and hoped for the best.
I mentioned that the camp group had grown to 9 (NINE geeks in a camp!), but as the trip date came closer, we lost 3 of our new camping buddies to other obligations (no sense of priorities, I tell ya). So we were back to 6 people, one of whom was new to the Excellent Adventure, Tom Green’s son-in-law, Phil Darling. Phil was a man of few words, but when he used them – BAZINGA!
Long story short, we really lucked out on the campsites. We all felt they were the best of the bunch, especially the lakeside sites; and the lake itself was very nice, as well; too small and shallow for motorboats, but great for canoes and kayaks. The group gelled quickly got along very well.
Beautiful campsites and coalesced camping team aside, the week was not without some challenges. For the first two nights, Doug Winnie was quite ill. So ill that we contemplated heading to Wawa and ordering “Save Winnie” T-shirts. But we decided the shirts might confuse locals and tourists alike, especially if we ended up in White River. Tom’s son Rob, was also laid out with Kidney stone problems for a day. Not to be left behind, while creating kindling for the fire, I tested the edge of our hatchet with my hand. Fortunately, I swing like a 5 year old (with about as much coordination) and the hatchet is sharp for chopping, but not dismemberment. I ended up with a small cut and a bruised hand. My son Joe was somewhat inconvenienced when he discovered that his shampoo bottle had exploded in his duffle bag, coating both his pillow (yes we bring pillows – deal with it) and his duffle. Phil set up his tent close to an overhanging pine tree that – he discovered later – was home to a family of 4 red squirrels. A Disney movie in the making…
And with 6 geeks in the woods (ok, really more like 3 geeks and 3 device reliant persons) there’s nothing more important than access to power – to charge camera batteries, laptops (for porting images ONLY – that’s the rule), tablets, and smartphones (I only used it for Instagram, I promise). Well, Doug found a very cool accessory on Amazon that no geek should be without; a power bar for your car. I kid you not.
It plugged into the cigarette light socket and sported a USB port and three grounded outlets. While a very cool, geek-oriented accessory, we learned one fateful morning that even if everything plugged in is fully charged, this little puppy keeps drawing power. And one night, someone forgot to unplug the power strip.
It drained the batteries of our Ford Explorer hybrid. Yes, we successfully sucked the life out of a battery-powered vehicle. Fortunately for us, Rabbit Blanket is staffed, and one of the maintenance guys came by an hour or so later with a battery jump starter. within minutes, we were mobile again. And we learned a valuable lesson, kiddies. No, not the lesson where we leave all our tech at home (yeah, like THAT’s gonna happen); the lesson where we make sure the power bar doesn’t stay plugged into the car all the time.
And Tom. Well, my dear friend Tom deserves his own sidebar.
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – or – Tom and a Canoe
The Excellent Adventure also doubles as a “Pick on Tom” festival, starting the Friday night before we head out (or earlier on Twitter – check out hashtag #EAV7) and ending when the car is shut down in the driveway the following Saturday. He handles all the ribbing quite well, and delivers his fair share of return shots, too. But this year was special, because, to me, it will always be the year Tom single-handedly capsized the canoe.
Yes, while Doug and I were putting on our PFD’s, Tom, in his usual energetic-5-year-old-going-to-the-carnival spirit, clambered aboard the canoe. Clambered so quickly, that he actually pushed off from the shore at the same time. While turning around to seat himself properly, the canoe’s balance shifted and into the drink went Tom.
And his camera bag.
Now, Tom will tell you that the first thing I said was, “Save the camera!” But then, he will also profess that I flipped the canoe over from the shore. You get the idea. In my own proactive self defence, I want to clearly state that the first thing I said was, “Oh my God, Tom. Are you all right?” and when he stood up, (yes, stood, we were at the shore, remember), laughing and sopping wet, I then said, “Where’s your camera?” He plunged his hand underwater and came up with an equally sopping wet camera knapsack. Nikon D200′s are heavy puppies. The bag got passed to me and I quickly extricated the camera. Thankfully, it was still dry. Another 5 minutes underwater and it likely wouldn’t have been. The Tamrac bag I gave Tom a couple years ago was apparently well sealed enough in the camera compartment area keep things dry for a few minutes. And yes, the camera was OK.
Needless to say, I packed all the camera gear in a drysack before we headed out on our excursion.
Medical issues and sundry misadventures aside, we also learned that camping a week later in August also meant that the nights were quite cool. Not a big deal, until you had to crawl out of a warm sleeping bag in the morning!
It’s Worth the Drive to the Near North
While this may read as All the Reasons not to go Camping or All the Reasons not to go Camping with Jim and Tom, I must say that this is a week that we all treasure. It is non stop laughter (and shenanigans, as my son Joe would quip), intermixed with great conversations, in the beautiful natural environment of Northern Ontario. A great time to reflect and recharge for the coming year.
Part of my recharging is photography. Each year, I try to do something different. In the past, I’ve focused (pardon the pun) on panoramics, long exposures for dawn, dusk and waterfalls, video and timelapse. This year, along with those efforts already listed, I added star field photography and more smartphone photography. Below is a sampling of my work and overall, I’m quite pleased with the results.
I hope you can see from this small sampling why we make the 12 hour drive every year to the Near North. This camping trip – and the region – will always hold a special place in my heart.