Barely Camping September 05 2014, 2 Comments
As an Australian, and more specifically as an Australian who loves camping, most people I talked to were taken aback at the level of anxiety I expressed about back country camping in Canada. While it is true that there are a large variety of creatures in Australia that are able to kill you, most of these creatures are no match for a solid, well aimed whack of some form of footwear. Canada, on the other hand, has a a slightly larger form of death inducing creature. Deciding that my usual tactics were ill advised against a frisky moose or hungry bear, unless I could find a really really big shoe, I decided to enquire at the visitor's centre.
'Oh yah!' The little old lady behind the desk exclaimed. 'There was a bear sightin' today ov'r at camp twenty!'
Feeling slightly more confident that there were indeed bear sighting procedures in place, and then much less so that one had been spotted so recently, I decided as long as we were nowhere near the obviously cordoned off site number 20, and armed myself with the BEAR COUNTRY pamphlet, I'd remain one of the many happy un-mauled campers of the Kejimkujik National Park.
However, as we got in the canoe, packed with our camping gear, headed for campsite number 20, I couldn't help but feel that the A4 sized pamphlet (which basically stated 'don't leave food in your tent' twenty times) was a pretty abysmal defence against a large hungry bear.
Brendan didn't seem to be suffering from an increasing paranoia about bears, or if he did he wasn't saying anything except “Wow, this is amazing!” or “Can you believe how wondrous this is?”
I couldn't believe how wondrous it was. Nor could I shake the feeling that behind the magnificent landscape, bears lurked, waiting for their chance.
Brendan hadn't been present for the old woman's discourse on bears. He didn't hear how fast they could swim. Nor their uncanny climbing ability. Nor did he bare witness to a barrage of condescending jokes about my manhood when she saw through my poorly disguised fear. Not wanting to damage my ego any further, I decided to remain silent, to greet my certain death with the little of my dignity that remained, and shout I told you so as loudly as possible across the lake at the abusive old woman.
Bears however were not the problem.
We glided into the bay of site 20, the pink and purple sunset reflected in the glassy still water of the lake, and begun to unpack our gear. We set the tents up, raised the food bags into the trees, blew up our mattresses, unpacked the beer... And realised simultaneously that our sleeping bags remained on the other side of the lake, snugly nestled in the boot of the car ten kilometres away.
We considered attempting to accuse the friendly, helpful staff of Keji Outfitters of distracting us. We even thought about pointing the finger at the curious people that asked us what the Great Canadian Journey was. However, deep down we knew that we only had our ineptitude to blame.
We donned our beer blankets and marched stoically to our tents.
It was a cold night. I woke up repeatedly to tingling sensations in different parts of my body, at which point I would diligently move my wind breaker to that part of my body and return to sleep. On perhaps the ninth time I did this, I froze at what sounded like a galloping mountain. I froze mid way through moving my thin jacket to my knees, as it snuffled and snorted around my left ear. Wondering what a moose would do to a sleep deprived Australian with cold knees, I decided my best course of action would be to remain completely still.
I stayed in that position for what felt like half an hour, my elbow embedded in a rock, reaching with one hand to my feet toward my jacket, heart racing, cold knees, feeling increasingly foolish. When it finally decided to bugger off, it's monstrous weight crashing through the trees away from me, I heard Brendan mutter something that sounded like “Woah” from his tent. This was immediately followed by his snores.
Lying back into a slightly more comfortable position, still attempting to remain silent in case it came back, I realised the rock that had been embedded in my elbow, had managed to puncture my sleeping mat.
I woke the next day with a number of new holes in my back, a sensation in my feet I had never before experienced, and the desire to discuss what had nearly killed us with Brendan.
He didn't remember the whole encounter at all. He even suggested I'd dreamed the whole thing, as if encountering a creature in the wilderness was the strangest thing he'd ever heard. He then proceeded to tell me that, at two in the morning, he had remembered the first aid kit we'd brought had two space blankets in it, and had a remarkably warm and restive night sleep.
It was at that moment that I resolved to line his tent with bacon, and smear his hiking bag with jam.