A weekend of camping by Kusawa Lake and paddling the Takhini River

There was a lot of reading aloud by the fire. This was a great book called  Zlata's Diary: A child's life in wartime Sarajevo .

There was a lot of reading aloud by the fire. This was a great book called Zlata's Diary: A child's life in wartime Sarajevo.

Cooking grilled cheese for 25 on the stove.

Cooking grilled cheese for 25 on the stove.

2 am on Kusawa Lake

2 am on Kusawa Lake

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love.” 
― Leo Tolstoy

We had been stationary for more than a month and I was itching for an adventure. When our friend Edith invited us to join them for a weekend of rafting on the Takhini River, I was over the moon. JF was going to Alaska that weekend to hike/run the Chilkoot Trail in a day (yes, that's the hike we did in 5 days last year, 54 km/33 miles). He did it in 12 hours by the way!! Woot-woot!

The girls and I left in the rain on Friday morning and had a wonderful time just being together in the Westfalia, reading by the fire, cooking and enjoying this magical place that we mostly had to ourselves at that point. By 8 pm, people started arriving and the plans were set for the next day. We woke up to a mere 3 degrees Celcius/37 F) and found out through a friend that had just arrived that there was 4 cm of snow on the ground in Haines Junction, about 40 miles from us and that the famous Haines Junction to Haines Alaska Bike Relay had been canceled because of that... So... we decided to wait for the rain/hail to stop and see if the afternoon would bring us better weather. Bringing a bunch of kids on a freezing river with the risk of falling in in that weather was not very appealing.

We were all crammed in the shelter around the cook stove in search of warmth, but the sky finally opened up and by 2 pm, the sun was back!  We blew up the rafts and went on the river. What a wonderful ride it was! We did part of that same run the next day. By 3 pm on Sunday, everybody had left and only our friends Edith and Trevor who had organized the weekend were still there. We had to boost the Westy since it had died and as I got it to run and prepared to back it up when the shift stick stayed in my hand. Literally. And I knew right there that I was in big trouble. We were out in the boonies with no cell reception for 30 miles, at the end of a 25 km dirt road... And JF was on the Chilkoot. I was out of food, almost out of water and out of dog food. Edith gave me some pasta sauce, milk, orange and yogourt and since Mathilde had to be in town the next morning for her canoe camp, she brought her back to town. 

A mechanically inclined friend assessed the damage, tried the screwdriver trick (to stick it in the hole and use it as a shift stick, but we decided that it was not safe to drive anyways and put wood blocks around all the wheels so the Westy wouldn't move). The campground was quiet again and the twins and I had another slow night by the fire together, making banana boat with the last few squares of chocolate and mushy bananas. Our campsite neighbor spent the evening burning what seemed like a lifetime of important documents: letters, race numbers, old certificates... He had a few boxes of those with him and looked at each document before putting it in the fire. It felt very ceremonial and we spent a fair bit of time making stories about him.

The night felt long and I was a bit worried about JF. I had no idea how his very long day on the Chilkoot went, if everything was OK, if he was back, if Mathilde had someone with her to help her get ready for camp the next morning, if she was worried too... It's a strange feeling to be far out in the woods with no way of reaching anybody and not way to get out. You have to experience the North to completely understand it. There is just nobody around, no houses, no nothing for miles and miles... As I laid there in the semi-darkness of 2 am, I remembered the first time we left on a road trip to Alaska with the twins when they were only 14 months old (and I was pregnant with Mathilde). Mara had had a croup attack in the middle of the night the day before our departure and the idea of driving for 8 or 9 hours and to be in the complete middle of nowhere with babies felt scary all of a sudden. Nature had always been a safe place for me, but confronted with so much vastness, I felt panicked. What if something happened? What if we needed urgent care? It's just not something you have to think about in the South. 

So when we woke up the next day, we had no idea when JF would come... we played board games and read some more, but the rain was back and the day dragged on... We had run out of propane by then, so there was no way of cooking or warming up water for tea. We were cold and decided to nap like a pile of kittens on the bottom bunk of the Westy... and got woken up at around 3:30 pm by JF knocking on the window. Rescue had come! He had borrowed a friend pickup and towed us back to town. I felt very tired all of a sudden. The kind of fatigue that comes with relief. I sure had had my adventure!

Camp is over. What I've learned...

As Passenger sings I've been living in this month of Sundays, and I forget what Monday morning feels like. Actually, I feel like I've been living a life of Sundays for over 12 years now. Not that I don't work and that I live a lazy life, but I've simply not been on a regular Monday to Friday work schedule for almost 13 years... and I hadn't challenged myself professionnally for over 15!

Being a camp leader/instructor for Equinox Adventure has been challenging and exhausting at times, but also incredibly empowering. I learned that being given a lot of latitude can feel scary and disconcerting at first, but that it can create incredible results. You end up owning the challenge presented to you in a very different way. It became my camp and I could give it my color. And because of that, I felt more involved and wanted to give more.

I learned that I can do some hard and challenging physical work, even if it pushes me outside of my comfort zone, even if it triggers frustration sometimes at being a short woman working in a world of tall strong men. I kept at it and became competent at the things I thought I could not physically do.  And I was that role model for my girls.

We lost Java on the first day of camp. That night, I wanted to quit. I thought I could not do it. It was too much at the same time. I gave myself till the end of that first week. And to my surprise, I wanted to keep doing it. It felt good. It felt right.

Don't get me wrong, being a translator and a homeschooler is rewarding work, but facilitating learning in such a tangible way as on a rock climbing cliff for instance, seeing children challenge themselves, push hard, accompanying them as they face their fears and reach the top, gave me great joy. I felt like a made a small difference. I felt needed. It gave me a new and different purpose and it filled me in a way I hadn't experienced before.

This experience gives me a completely different appreciation of my "life of Sundays". It's all about balance, they say. And I might have to agree.

A canoe run down the Takhini River

Lots and lots of giggles! That time, they had tricked me by jumping down the cliff to a ledge, while they threw a big rock in the water to recreate the impression that they had fallen into the river. They thought it was hilarious to see my reaction. There will be revenge.

I love camping in the Westy with these 3. They truly are a joy to be around these days!

Leaving from Kusawa Lake.

Learning to read the moving water.

Stopping on a sand bank for a snack.

And some exploration (and erosion...).

Liam almost got a fish!

Skittles Smores (aka Liamores).

Morning light at camp.

The smell of wild sage on the cliff by the river just across from our campsite. I couldn't resist lying down in it while soaking up the morning sun. 

By the time we got everybody fed and organized, it was 7:30. We debated not going, but it was so nice out and we knew we would not run out of light. We drove from the campsite to Kusawa Lake, brought the canoes down and started building the raft. We pushed it in the water a little after 8:30 pm. Chris gave us a little crash course/refresher on moving water, a bald eagle was spotted on a nearby tree, the sun peaked from behind the clouds and streched its amazing late summer night light on the mountains. I couldn't stop smiling. Laughter erupted as we hit the waves and water kept splashing us. There were some sea salt chocolate and chips. Some hummus and carrots too. Another bald eagle. Lots or fishing, wet girls lighting a fire, too many smores and a very late night in bed.

The next morning brought pancakes and coffee by the fire and a fishing and blueberry expedition. Hats that became pails, a lesson in fly fishing, a river crossing up to the waist, a scratchy alder bushwack on river cold legs; some cranberries were found (almost ready!). And more laughter too. It was just the adventure we needed.

So much fun at Equinox Adventure Camp!

Collecting wood to cook bannock over the fire.

Shelter building.

Practicing t-rescue. First: tip the boat!

Then, proceed with rescue mission by sliding the tipped canoe over the rescuers canoe.

Pond exploration. 

Learning the parts of the paddle

We built rafts with the canoes and went on an adventure on Chadburn Lake. We found a cabin where we had lunch, made a fire and cooked banana boats, and then went on an island where we found a geocache.

The girls are setting up the routes with me before the camp children arrive at the site. Ava taking the "hanging upside down" challenge.

Doing one of the GPTeaming activity

Another challenging GPTeaming activity

Hiking along the Yukon River and learning about plants and trees as we go.

My colleague Megan and our 3rd week of camp kids!

Preparing bannock

Cooking bannock over the fire

Making chocolate-orange bombs to cook in the fire

What are these kids doing with balloons on their heads? Sticking them on top of the route they climb. On their next climb, they can pop one if they make it to the top again!

The full-time summer camp is on now and it is such an incredible learning opportunity for both the girls and I. We rock climb, canoe and kayak, do GPTeaming (teams use a GPS and to locate activity based initiative caches) and learn lots of outdoor living skills.

When I take the children on plants and trees identification hikes, I tell them to stop us anytime they have something to share about a plant or a tree they know. One First Nation girl told us about how her grandma used to say that when soapberries turn red, the salmons are running. Another First Nation kid showed us how to gut and eat minnows.

In the last few weeks, I've learned to use an Atlatl (a spear-thrower), improved my paddling strokes and have become better at teaching all sorts of skills. I have rubbed sunscreen on many many kids and held hands with little five year olds who were scared of falling in the outhouse when peeing. I've wiped tears and noses.

The girls are now all proficient belayers and help me set up the routes on the rock climbing days before the camp children arrive (they bring the ropes up, install the ground anchors, carabiners and grigris, and tie different knots), they've made new friends and are learning a lot about group dynamics, teambuilding, communication skills and so much more!

I've had moments when I wondered what I was doing there, but many more where I was in complete awe that I was actually paid to spend a day paddling on turquoise lakes and rock climbing with my girls. 

My hands are full of scratches and cuts, my body is sore from carrying big bins of ropes and bringing canoes up and down a trailer. I'm getting stronger and more confident by the day. 

I've learned that this is right along my alley and that it combines my love for the outdoor with my love of people, my natural leadership and organization skills and my sense of compassion. 

It's truly an incredible experience for all of us.

We come back home tired and dirty, smelling of smoke and bug spray. I love that we spend 8 to 10 hours a day outside in nature, learning and playing and being active. 

And by the way, if you think the girl in Eat, Pray, Love has it hard to meditate with mosquitoes swarming around her in India, imagine what it feels like to belay someone with mosquitoes biting you everywhere. That, my friend, is a lesson in mindfulness.