When I think of camping I get flooded with happy memories and stories of adventures, or just flashes of associations like the smell of campfire and the taste of a gooey marshmallow. My parents are from New Zealand, and my Dad had idealized Canada and the great outdoors as a boy. He ended up becoming an avid canoeist, even building a few cedar strip canoes, so my childhood summers always included time on rivers and lakes in northern Ontario, camping out for a few weeks. On one canoe trip my family got caught in the tail-end of a hurricane, and we were trapped on a small island for 3 days. And yet, it was still wonderful because the island was covered in blueberries! They tasted so much better than any packaged blueberries, and the blueberry pancakes we made were epic. We eventually got off the island and across a choppy lake by making sails with our paddles. I’m sure the parents were freaked out, but I thought it was good times.
These days it feels like I can never get enough camping, and there’s always a bit of a panic in the summer trying to make sure I get out there. One weekend ten years ago, my friend Leslie and I were so desperate that we set up a tent at Trout Lake in Vancouver and skinny-dipped in the bird poop-filled pond. I then decided to get some wheels, to have more access to proper camp spots. In 2007 I got my first motorcycle, a 1979 Honda CB400 along with several of my friends. We all skateboarded, so it was the best way to get out of town, skate some fun spots and camp out. One of our first trips was to Orcas Island where there’s a crazy fun DIY bowl to skate, and some nice camping. Even though it rained and all we had was a tarp to wrap up in, we had a blast making a huge bonfire and swimming in the phosphoresence. I had never seen it before, and the electrical blue sparks and bubbles it creates in contrast to the inky darkness in the water, was super cool.
The four friends I skate and motorbike with decided to organize a cheesy gang called The Majestic Unicorn Motorcycle Club (MUMC), complete with purple unicorn patches. On one trip we went over to Vancouver Island to check out the parks at Tofino and Ucluelet. It turned into a gnarly adventure because the one girl broke her leg on the second day skating! While she went to hospital, we had to rip back to Nanaimo, rent a truck, drive back to Tofino, pick her up, load her motorcycle and drive back to Nanaimo to retrieve our motorbikes and figure out a plan. Meanwhile, our friend got some awful allergic reaction to her medication and puked out the window the entire trip! And yet, it was strangely still very much a bonding experience and memorable.
Our best trip was when we rode across Washington and Montana to Glacier National Park, and back through Canada to Vancouver. It was a great ride, but I felt like an idiot because to keep my load light I didn’t even bring a sleeping mat, and there were some very uncomfortable and cold nights without that comfy barrier. One evening we couldn’t find a camp site but I spotted a sandy bank by a river under a bridge, and the water was warm! Some nude dude swimming tried to convince us to camp-out on his farm nearby, but we were quite content. We soon discovered that trains rumbled through on the hour, but it was kind of romantic. While I love ripping on the motorbike with friends, there were moments when I wished I could’ve explored the National Park more slowly on foot. Hiking and snow-shoeing are really the best mode of exploring the wilderness.
My childhood home was on the Niagara Escarpment, so I could step outside and head out on a trail alone or with my dog at any time. There’s just this incredible silence and beauty in a forest that mellows me out. I remember going on two adventures with the Skyline Hikers as a pre-teen, which were these organized week-long trips in the Rockies. We might start in Banff, drive for a few hours, then hike up for the day to a base camp. Cowboys and their pack-horses carried our gear and canvas tents, so it was a pretty sweet deal. From base camp you could choose a different level of hike each day, and a naturalist might come along to identify the hundreds of wild flowers and medicinal plants. The best feeling was when we returned to Banff, looking filthy and rugged, having actually explored the mountain passes rather than simply pointing a camera in their general direction like a tourist. I suspect these experiences were why I moved to the west coast.
I’ve since added bicycle camping as an option, and my collection of proper camping gear is improving. The goal is to continue to explore B.C. and the west coast, and hopefully get back to New Zealand to take on some of the hiking options there and find my inner Hobbit. I had done a solo hike along the Abel Tasman trail on the north tip of the south island in the my early twenties, and it was like a dream! Hiking huts were staggered along the trail, I encountered approximately 3 people on the trail over three days, and the coastal scenery was idyllic. The challenge is in finding a balance with work, time off, and having some money to pay the bills. I recognize the perks of city life, with great food and friends, but I also value the restorative aspects of adventure and nature. My strategy is to always have a trip lingering in the horizon, to anticipate and enjoy. Happy camping!