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  A Day in the Life of a Wilderness Canoe Tripper

            Yawn.......scratch...sniff,sniff...aaaah.......rub,rub.... Yes, it's morning, and you're in the middle of the wilderness, kilometres from another soul, and this is your first canoe trip. So what do you do now? You somehow figured out how to plan, shop, pack and travel to your destination, but now that you're here, what do you do?

            Well, for starters, get dressed! Alright, you think, if this is canoe tripping, I can handle this! But wait! There's more thought to this than just that. Pull off your set of "sleeping clothes" (keep a set of long underwear specifically for this if it's cold). Then, make sure there's some warm clothing nearby (you did put your clothes in the foot of your sleeping bag before you went to sleep to keep them warm right?) and pull that on while you're inside your bag, so you don't get cold before you're even started! There! That's better. Now that you're dressed, you can pack up your stuff. Oh yeah, I forgot the most important thing! Wake up that smelly, snoring, foul mouthed guy sleeping next to you, so that you can get on the water before noon!

            Next, take a look outside the tent to check the weather. If it looks like she's gonna be a chilly one, grab some more warm clothing before you pack it all away. Next, open the valve on your air mattress, and find your sleeping bag stuff sack (maybe it's under your head stuffed full of clothing to serve as a pillow?) Then, stuff, don't roll (it's called a stuff sack for a reason) your sleeping bag into the sack. Now, your stuff sack is waterproof isn't it? If not, line the sack with a tough garbage bag before you put your sleeping bag in. Next, put all of the clothing you don't plan on using during the day into your waterproof drybag, along with your sleeping bag. Then, fold your air mattress into quarters, and sit on it to get most of the air out. Close the valve, unfold, then roll tightly, opening the valve again as the air gets pressed towards the valve. When it's rolled as tightly as possible, close the valve and slide the mattress carefully into it's stuff sack, and open the valve one final time (leaving it open during the day prolongs the life of your mattress). Now, take your drybag and put it into the bottom of your big canoe pack, along with your partners drybag, and throw this out the tent door into the vestibule. Then, pack all of your other items into your day pack (if you're using one) or the top of your big canoe pack so that they are accessible during the day. This way you will be able to get at things you need during the day without opening the drybags and getting all of your precious dry clothing wet!

            Once your tent is totally empty (including the smelly ape that slept beside you, and all of his junk) it's time to get it packed up. If the tent is wet, and it's a nice sunny morning, it's best to eat breakfast before you take it down. If it's not going to dry much though (maybe it's still raining? If it's not, it most certainly will sometime on this trip, so get used to it), you had might as well take it down now. Find the tent stuff sack (right where you left it, in the inner tent pocket isn't it?) and put it in a safe place so that it doesn't blow away. Then, take down the tent. Stuff (yes again) the tent fly into the stuff sack first, followed by the tent body, then the groundsheet on top. Put the poles in their bag and the pegs in their bag. Put the peg bag in the pole bag, and put the pole bag down the side of the tent stuff sack (got all that?). Now, put your tent in the top of your big canoe pack and close 'er up tight.

            There! Now if all that work didn't make you hungry, well....eat anyway, 'cause you're gonna need the energy later, trust me. So now, time to cook breakfast right? Wrong! Jeez, you really must be a beginning canoe tripper.... :-) First and foremost, wash your hands. Yes, even when you're "roughing it". No need getting terribly sick and ruining the trip of a lifetime is there? Wash using biodegradable soap, and do so well back from the water, since the soap is not actually biodegradable when it's in water, only on land.

            There! Now that you're all washed up and ready to cook, what do you do now? Well, if you're like me, you'll want to get on the water quick, so don't want to bother with a messy, complicated breakfast. So, fill up a pot with water (no need to be purified, since it's going to be boiled), set it on the stove and boil away. Once it's boiled, make up some instant hot oatmeal and coffee or tea if you need it. Maybe a bagel with peanut butter would be good too right? Put your pot of water back on the stove to heat while you eat so that you have hot water ready for dishes as soon as you are done eating. Put in a small amount of biodegradable soap and wash away. Wash the cleanest stuff first (cups, cutlery) then go on to the bowls and plates. Let the dishes air dry after you shake the water off of them. Now grab the pot of dirty, soapy water and carry it back into the woods. Find a bunch of pine needles or similar material, and pile a bunch of them up in one spot. Slowly pour the water into the needles to filter out some of the large floaties. Then, if you have a fire going, burn the pine needles. If you don't have a fire, put them in the garbage (at least the top layer) Alternatively, pour the water slowly through your J-cloth and shake into the garbage. There! Now the dishes are done and you are full of oatmeal right? Well, unfortunately it's not time to sit and relax now, you have to pack up and get on the water! Pack all of your kitchen gear and food away into your pack and load all the packs into the canoes. Try to place the packs so that the weight is evenly distributed in the canoe. You want the canoe to ride almost level, with the bow slightly higher than the stern. So, everything is in the canoes and you're ready to go right? HA, not yet! Before you get on the water do a sweep of the site. Have the whole group walk the entire site and look for anything you may have left behind. Look up, down and everywhere in between. Did you remember your hat you had left hanging on the tree? Make sure to pick up every piece of man made material you find and put it in your garbage. There! Now that you are ready to leave your site, get in the canoes and push off from shore. Make sure you have an experienced paddler in the stern of each boat. Raft up just off shore and do a group map check so that everyone in the group knows the plans for the day and where the campsite is supposed to be.

            Now you paddle....That's what you came here for right? Paddle and paddle until you can't paddle any more. Now, by the time you get to the "can't paddle any more" stage, I'm sure you will have met one of the most lovable aspects of wilderness canoe tripping, the portage. If you do happen to come across one of these not-so-rare species at the end of a lake, don't be alarmed. The best way to go about surviving a portage is really a personal thing. Everyone has their own ideas about how a portage should be done, but here's my method. Take all loose items and put them in packs. Throw the packs on shore, but not on the trail. Next, using elastic straps, secure your paddles to the thwarts and/or seats so that they can't move. I find it useful to secure one paddle between the yoke and the bow seat so that I can use it to hold on to while portaging. The other paddles I secure out of the way. Solo portaging a boat is really the only way to do it, so lift that sucker up onto your shoulders. If you can't, have someone do a teepee by flipping the boat upside down and lifting the bow above their head (leaving the stern on the ground) while you position yourself under the yoke. If the yoke is uncomfortable or non-existent, a lifejacket or sweater may help pad your shoulders. Now for the complicated part. Put one foot ahead of the other and repeat endlessly (well almost). When you're tired, find a tree with a V shaped notch or a nice horizontal branch so you can rest the canoe for a while and not have to lift it up onto your shoulders again. Eventually, the end of the portage will appear before you, and you will once again be able to paddle instead of walk (which is a good thing, because by this point you can't walk another step anyway right?).

            Now, once again it's time to paddle.. After you load the canoes up again, check the trim to ensure you are floating as level as possible, with the bow slightly higher than the stern. Double check that you have everything with you before you paddle away...did all the packs, paddles, etc. get loaded back into the canoe afer the portage? Before you get paddling again, take another look at the map to make sure you know exactly where you are, where you've been, and where you're going. Now, simply paddle on! Soon you will find that it's time to find a campsite. You'll want to start looking well before dark so that you have time to pitch the tents, eat, clean up and whatever before it gets dark. If you are in a park or are really organized, you'll have a site picked out ahead of time. If you're just winging it, you'll want to find the nicest site possible. Look for one with plenty of room for tents, a nice fire pit, a breeze to keep the bugs away, and a nice spot to swim. You'll learn to spot the nice ones without trouble after a little practise, however, sometimes you just have to take what you can get.

            Once you get to your site... make yourself at home. You'll want to unload all of the packs and loose gear from the canoes. Then, if you don't plan on paddling again before bed, put the canoes well up on shore. Make sure to flip them over and tie them up to ensure they won't blow away (yes, it happens). Place your paddles up against a tree or something where they won't be stepped on. Next, move all the packs up away from the water. Unload the tents, and set them up. You will want to have a ground cloth underneath, but make sure it doesn't stick out past the tent floor, otherwise it will funnel water right in between the ground sheet and the tent. Put your drybag of clothing and sleeping bag in the tent. Unroll your sleeping pad and open the valve. Let it inflate naturally instead of inflating it with your mouth, as your breath contains moisture that would get trapped in the foam. If it's dry outside, string up a clothesline to air your sleeping bag and any clothes that may be damp. Make sure to take everything off the line well before nightfall, as it will get damp if you don't. Also, don't forget it's there if it looks like rain. Next, you'll want to probably rest awhile before you start to cook, so now's the time for fishing if you desire, or sitting and resting, writing in a journal, exploring the woods behind the campsite, etc.

        By now you're probably feeling hungry, so it's time to get supper ready. First things first...wash your hands! Next, set out your food for the meal, and everything you'll need to prepare it. You did package all of the food for this meal in a separate bag didn't you? If so, simply pull out the bag labelled "Supper Day 1" or whatever day it happens to be. Inside is everything needed to prepare your meal! So light up the stove (or fire it you're so inclined and it's allowed) and get cooking! Remember that water used for cooking doesn't have to be filtered if it's boiled.. but if it's not boiled, make sure to filter it before you use it for cooking!

        There! All fed and feeling tired by now I assume? Well too bad, cause there's a lot of work to be done before you go to bed! First of all, it's time to wash the dishes. Use the water that you put on the stove to boil while you ate (You did put some water on to boil while you ate didn't you?) Good! Dishes are all done, your site is cleaned up and it's getting dark. Before you retire for the night make sure to take some precautions against marauding bears and other animals. You'll likely have more problems with racoons or mice than you would with bears! To prevent unwanted critters, make sure that all food is cleaned up, and that all food and garbage are either sealed in air-tight barrels or hung in a "bear bag". As long as your camp is clean you should have no problems!

        Now's the time to sit by the fire and relax, or maybe you don't have a fire because you prefer to watch the stars, and the fire ruins your night vision. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to have some quiet time to reflect on the day and to experience the wonder of the wilderness. After all, that is what you're here for right?

  This page was last updated on June 17, 2003 at 02:15 AM