I often think about my girls. Even though they are now adults, busy with their own families and lives, I am so happy to have had the privilege of being a dad to them. I have so many good memories of the wilderness adventures we went on as a family. Sometimes, due to the difficulty of the wilderness challenge, I had to make the hard decision of taking only my eldest daughter along. My eldest girl was (and is) an excellent nordic skier, even when she was 12 years-of-age. She had the strength and endurance to stay with me over terrain and distances that most adults would complain about. She would later go on to become a provincial team cross-country running champion in her final year of high school.
As you can readily see from these candid pictures (taken with an old film camera), she always seemed to be upbeat and happy – the joy of my life! Her smile tells all.
We planned our overnight nordic ski trip together in an area of the province that is as beautiful as it is remote from any civilization, especially in the winter. I knew from previous years of cross-country skiing, hiking, and running on the trails in the Meadow Lake Provincial Park, that there was a rustic cabin situated farther east along a ski trail in the forest. The cabin was used as a warm-up shelter for cross-country skiers in the winter. Within the forested area, near the cabin, were at least two smaller lakes that, at the time, were utilized as fish rearing ponds for the bigger lakes, like Greig Lake within the park, and elsewhere in the province.
The plan was to start early, to ski and explore the area, before settling down for the night near the aforementioned cabin. We were self-sufficient and had packed everything we needed, including a tent, sleeping bags, cook stove, food, extra clothing, and emergency supplies. This was not our first winter camping trip together, but it was the first time we ventured out into the rather remote backcountry.
It was a gorgeous day when we began our ski tour. Due to the constant freeze/thaw cycles of early spring, the trails were well-packed and fast enough to skate on with relative ease. We traversed about 15km in what seemed like only a moment, quite aware of small fur-bearing animals scurrying about and birds chattering in the trees. I was also cognizant of the potential of crossing the path of wolves or a hungry black bear that had ventured out of it’s den a bit too early. Nevertheless, the click-clack of our ski poles and the whoosh of our skis, along with clanging cooking pots on the back of my pack, provided sufficient warning to predators that may have been hidden from our sight.
After a rather exhilarating day of cross-country skiing and exploring, we decided to camp at a scenic and sheltered spot near the cabin. Previously, I had asked for permission from the park warden to overnight in the cabin – just in case the weather took a turn for the worse. Anyone who has lived in the northwestern part of the province knows that a late winter storm can occur without notice. Better safe than sorry – I had learned that hard lesson from a previous winter where I almost succumbed to hypothermia and probable death because of a late blizzard. My story of that misadventure is long, convoluted, and riddled with compounding human error. It is sufficient to say that I was caught in a nasty snow storm, some 15km from the trail head, in only my one-piece spandex cross-country racing suit along with a little fanny pack with some water, a granola bar, and extra wax. I was nearly depleted of muscle glycogen (the dreaded bonk) and freezing in a blizzard. The obscured sun was getting low on the near invisible horizon and darkness was setting in quickly. The drifting snow was completely obliterating any sign of a ski trail. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a rather grim and dire situation, is not my idea of a good time. Alas, that story is for another time.
My daughter decided that I should fire up the wood stove in the cabin. We needed to warm up and dry out our perspiration-soaked clothing. Thankfully, there was enough chopped, split, and stacked firewood there to keep us warm until the following winter. A simple supper of roasted hot-dogs, brown beans, and granola bars was the pièces de résistance. It was so cozy in the cabin that we decided we would sleep there, instead of the rather cold tent pitched outside in the now drifting snow. I am thankful that we chose luxury over roughing it, as the outside temperature really dropped that night. Unfortunately, one of the windows in the cabin had been broken and the cold northwesterly wind was proving to be more than just an annoyance. I managed to block most of the window off with my outer winter jacket, and kept the wood stove going all night. My daughter and I snuggled in our sleeping bags, stretched out on the wooden benches near the wood stove. My daughter read a novel in the flicker of candlelight, as I struggled to fix the stuck zipper on my sleeping bag. We shared stories of adventure and mishap late into the night.
The next morning, we were awakened by the sunlight beaming through the frosted windows. I whipped up an uncomplicated breakfast of scrambled eggs, burnt toast, and bad coffee. After breakfast, we quickly packed up our gear, put on our skis, and ventured back at a good clip to the trailhead. A warm bath and hot chocolate was waiting for us at home.
Another exquisite adventure, another tale to tell…