Trip Duration: 3 Days
Trip Season: Fall
Trip type: Solo backpacking & backcountry camping.
Trip Location: Western Uplands Backpacking Trail, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario.
Solo Camping for Piece of Mind
By Nick Vardon.
I camp often, I’d say I have spent more nights in a tent or under the stars then I have in a hotel. Solo camping however is something I haven’t taken on in almost 20 years.
‘“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”. – John Muir
I had this trip planned for just over a month, I knew I needed to get into the wilderness to re connect and re charge. This is my form of cleansing or therapy if you will.
It was coming up on the one year date of my mum’s passing, she left suddenly with a very aggressive cancer in October of 2018. It took me a long time to come to terms, and the impact is becoming ever more present in my everyday life.
I have been lucky enough to have support along the way with family and friends, but I felt I needed to be alone, a chance to see how far have come in the past year. What have I learned about myself, how have I grown, and can I find some peace with in my grief?
Taking the Park Bus
I had to do some digging to find a way up to Algonquin Park, normally I get a ride with my hiking buddy. Park Bus to the rescue. They were great, an easy ride up with one stop midway for a stretch or food if needed. 3.5 hours from downtown Toronto to the West gate. I would recommend using them, to anyone looking for a day trip, or extended stay, just check the schedule before booking your park permits.
With my Pack loaded, and permits and bus tickets in hand I headed off on my own for the peace and serenity of the Algonquin backcountry.
When I arrived at the West Gate, I was baffled by the amount of vehicles that were there, over 100 in the lot, and I was told that over 3,000 car passed through a day that weekend to see the changing of the leaves. Yikes, good thing I was headed into the backcountry where the crowds are limited to the two or three hikers you see, enjoying the wilderness in the same manner. A short trek down Hy 60 (3km) brought me to the trail head. The Western uplands backpacking trail, a trail I had traveled many times before, hiking a familiar trail is a good idea on a solo hike.
As soon as I shouldered my pack… the sky opened up and light rain began to dance off of my bright orange shell. Water bedded and ran off, it’s official ‘I’m camping’ I declared, rain is often part of the game, in fact there have only a hand full of trips that I have been on without rain. So if you want to camp with me… be prepared.
It was a short hike only 4km over logs, through bogs and a few passing dogs, Guskewau Lake would be my home for the next 3 days.
Talking to myself for the 4km was a breath of fresh air. Lol it was interesting in the way that I would turn to see a reaction or as if to say, what do you think? Only to realize I know what I think and there is no one else around. It took a bit to get use to answering my own question with that said the conversation was good, never an argument. I ended up having to cut all the wood, start and keep the fire, collect water and tend camp. Yep it was evident I was all alone.
Tarp, tent, fire, water
Setting up camp was simple: Tarp, tent, fire, water. First I tended to my tarp, as it was still raining and I wanted to set up my tent dry. With the tarp and tent set up it was time to collect wood. I have been to enough camp sites to know you have to travel a bit to find decent fire wood. Actual camp sites are often picked clean. Gathering wood alone gives you a true feeling of independence. I must have spent 2 hours collecting what I needed for the night. This activity warms you 3 times, collecting, cutting /chopping and of course burning. Heat is your friend when braving the elements, the chill of an autumn evening and the now light mist that doesn’t seem to want to end. Everything is wet, but the fire is rocking and it’s time to sit down and relax.
Day one flew by, almost without the chance to reflect, the soggy day gave way to a clearing in the evening and a star lit night. As I watched them come out one by one, I went into my world of un- answerable questions, where am I? How did we become to be? What is life? You know the typical thoughts when you can see more stars then dark, when you have the realization or speculation that we are not alone even when we are. Have you had these what I call campfire thoughts? It often ends with this feeling of we are here for a reason.
Hiking or being in nature in general is a big boost for the human spirit, it can do wonders to clear your mind, to enhance positive thinking and to sort out personal problems. Many people in our society today hide their troubles, and disguise their emotions, whether it be sadness, grief, or depression. For me nature gives me a kick in the pants and lets me realize that when you strip away social media, when you toss aside others opinions, and you can think clearly, you come to be more at one with yourself. You start to know who you are to you, not what others see. You can be honest and free, you can make deals with yourself to be better, and it is liberating to say the least.
I contemplated going to bed, or saying up to watch the stars. There are trips where you don’t see stars at all, so every time you get a chance to say 5 more minutes, I take it. Well 5 minutes turned into an hour and a half, tried form the long day I turned in with my hot Nalgene bottle between me and my wonderful down sleeping bag. Zzz
First light, no rain a calm morning, I stoked up a morning fire and brewed up some coffee. I found myself a beautiful rock to perch myself on as I watched the sun come over the trees, feeling the warmth on my face these are the mornings I live for. The only thing better than a sun rise is a sun set, and the only thing better than a sun set is a sun rise.
Day 2 was more of a realization day. I was self-sufficient, comfortable in my environment and had lots of spare time. My reflections on the past year were inspiring, I have to say I am very proud of myself. I realized how strong mentally I had become and how I was now more accepting of help form others. Personal and positive changes that are uplifting and keep you in check, we can always improve and work to better ourselves.
I had spent nearly 2 weeks by my mom’s side. 24/7 as she prepared for her next adventure. I had dropped everything else; I put my full life on hold. Told work I would not be in, I didn’t even go home I just needed to be with her.
After she passed I was lost, the one person that would love me no matter what, the one person that was there from the true beginning and had encouraged me every step of the way. The person who gave me the gift of camping, and taught me to love nature, and respect all things living. This person was living no more.
With that it allowed me to see that there are others equally as loving, as giving, and as trusting and understanding that are still here with me. My wife, my daughter and my support system of close family and friends.
Although I felt alone, and felt I needed to be alone, in hind sight what I truly needed was to know that I was not alone; it took being alone to note that.
So the trip into the forest to lose my mind and find my sole became literal, I felt happier, lighter in some way. It takes time to let things go, I’ll never forget, and I will always miss her, coming to terms with big life changes can be a challenge. This trip was necessary and a success, in the sense that I made it out, and back home without incident. Witch was my only real concern going into this. What if, what if I get hurt? Not some much if I get lost, that I can handle as I have been lost before. (A story for another time)
I spent the last night under the stars again, I was lucky enough to have 2 night so galactic ahhness. The day was used up by making very silly videos to keep me sane and a day hike / photo shoot because who can resist the perfect Algonquin shot. Which is every shot. I challenge you to take a bad photo in Algonquin.
Hiking out back to Hwy 60 had me passing many trail travellers, some tourists in loafers and umbrellas and some set up with a nice pack and a face that read I was in the backcountry, my kind of people.
As it turns out Guskewau means ‘darkness’, ironic don’t you think, as this trip was not dark at all, it was enlightening on many levels. I recommend a solo trip now and again if you’re up for it, if you are ready to find your true self.
Once again to quote John Muir “in every walk with nature one finds far more then he seeks.” Fact.
Back on the bus, and back to Toronto to dry out my gear and hug all those in my life that have helped me along the way. It’s with support that you can get through anything.
Thank you for coming on this adventure with Nick.
Next trip – QEW II Wildlands – winter backcountry 4 days in January 2020.