Winter Weekend in the Woods

(Amazingly awesome alliteration)

Once you experience the hot tent there’s no going back.dscf1075


#notourtent #brrrr


Ice cream for dessert. Mmmm hmmmmm.dscf1086

While humans set up camp, hounds kill sticks.

Snow, snow, mega snow.dscf3036

We were base camping rather than traveling from place to place, which left us free to tour unencumbered during the day.dscf3024



Starting the climb…to the wrong peak. Oopsies.

But then we got to the right one. The view was ok.

And then I stopped taking pictures. The end!



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Thoughts on Making a Life


About 8 years ago I started my first “real” job. Up to that point I’d been fortunate to have job titles like “sea kayak guide” or “Rideau Canal skate patrol.” But in 2008 I stepped though the office doors into a job that included a desk, a computer, a Monday to Friday schedule, etc.

I lasted a solid 2 months at that job… the short story is that I found myself in a situation where the only work being done was pointless busywork, and yet there was an expectation that all employees should be working late into the evenings and on weekends. It felt like being in an elaborate childhood make-believe game with a bunch of kids pretending to be harried corporate types.

It was weird.

But carrying on, the point is what happened on my final day working for this outfit, before moving on to a government job. My supervisor took me out for lunch on my last day. While we weren’t particularly compatible coworkers, he was a good guy who genuinely wanted the best for me, and as we ate he very seriously gave me the following advice:

Figure out what you want before you start getting job offers. Otherwise it becomes too hard to say no.”

This sentence stuck with me, and has served as a guiding principle as I work towards my “perfect day.” However, a little while ago I posted this quote on social media, which led to a good discussion with a wise friend about how this could be misinterpreted, and what it really means.

First of all, I don’t know exactly what I want, nor do I pretend to, nor do I think I should. And I’m certainly not suggesting that you should either. Some of the best opportunities are completely unexpected and oftentimes scary, and we have to be willing to grab hold of these wild unknowns; to take the risk and run with then, rather than rigidly adhering to a narrowly defined path.

Rather, what that advice does mean to me is the importance of defining the important parameters of your life. What do you value? What do you want your days to look like? What characteristics of a job are non-negotiable must-haves? What are non-negotiable deal-breakers? Once you have an overall vision you can assess opportunities that come your way by holding the up against this framework and seeing how well they fit.

The point here is to inspire you to think about your own vision, not to provide a detailed analysis of mine, but to get you started here are some of the key pieces of my personal vision, or framework:

  • A life in which I have the time and flexibility to pursue wilderness adventures with my husband.
  • A life in which I have the time to cultivate meaningful relationships with friends and family.
  • Work that provides both challenge and variety.
  • Work that includes an element of creativity.
  • Work that feels like it’s genuinely having an impact.
  • Days that have a mix of slow times and fast times, not a frantic treadmill from morning to night. Margins.

I don’t know what I want. I don’t know where I’m going. But by broadly defining what I want my life to look like and being open to new ventures as they arise, I think I’m well on my way.

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Quebec 2016: Scenic Shots

This will be the last photo post from this summer’s trip. If you live near me and want to see the complete slideshow, Conor’s pics included, let me know!


















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Quebec 2016: Richmond Gulf

Like last year, the last leg of our trip was on Hudson Bay. However, whereas last year we paddled on the open coast, this year we had about 70km to cover on Richmond Gulf. Somewhat surprisingly, we found the open coast a lot more hospitable. The Gulf is plenty big enough to be easily windbound, but lacked the canoe friendly landings of the open coast. Whereas the coast had big beaches separated by some rock points the Gulf required some decent crossings of a couple of kilometres and was characterized by high cliffs with few landings #foreshadowing.

Rather than follow the Rellot all the way to the Gulf, we did a short portage over from Rellot Lake. We camped at the portage, arriving mid-afternoon, and were stuck there one extra day due to heinous weather.


First view of Richmond Gulf



Big cliff, little tent. Freshwater side of the portage to the Gulf.


View of “The Castle” at the Gullet, where the Gulf meets the open coast



After one day on shore the winds calmed, and we decided to try the early morning strategy – up at 5am, on the move before 6:30.First stop was on Ile Cairn to fill a waterproof duffel with water from a river source. Unfortunately it was a really low river, and although we thought we went up far enough at the time, our barely palatable cups of tea later in the day let us know that we hadn’t quite attained pure fresh water. Blech.

Anyhow, we covered about 20km by lunch, set up camp early and chilled out for the afternoon.


The next day we started with the same alpine start strategy, covering about 20km and then pulling off in our anticipated camp site on the western shore. It was a pretty nice paddle, with a northwest headwind that came and went. A highlight was finding a small waterfall, 100% untouched by salt water, tumbling down a cliff into the ocean. We took advantage to dump out our brackish water and refill the duffel with gloriously fresh water.




The weather was starting to take a turn for the worse as we pulled into shore, with the fog rolling in fast, the rain starting, the wind increasing, and the temperature dropping. Lovely. Set up the tarp for a bit of shelter while we dined. Although we had every intention of staying put, we decided it would be prudent to check the forecast (thanks for satellite texting us the weather Dad!) and consider moving if South or East winds were forecast, which could easily pin us down.

Forecast was for strong SE winds by midnight… damn. Pretty much guaranteed to be stuck if we stayed put, so made a thermos of tea, packed up the tarp, and hit the water again. Immediately wondered if we were making a mistake given the overall miserable conditions, but once you’re on the water it’s hard to turn around… It was an interesting paddle because it was kind of the opposite of what we expected, in terms of easy/hard parts. We’re used to big headlands being the biggest obstacles on windy days, whereas here the points were ok, but the wind came whipping down the steep valleys katabatic style straight onto the water, so those areas gave us a run for our money.

All told the conditions weren’t huge, but the combination of fog, rain, cold, and wind turned it into a real death march. The wind direction was hugely variable as it wrapped around different landforms, but was predominantly a headwind, and the last few km felt like a particularly torturous treadmill.



We ended up pushing straight through the 25km to the take-out. We were hoping to camp close to, but not quite at, the take out to avoid camping at the end of the road. But as previously mentioned, decent landings are few and far between, and we also didn’t want to pick a spot where we wouldn’t be able to launch in a SE wind, which further narrowed the already limited options.

So yeah, we pulled up at the access road in the early evening, fortunately at high tide so we didn’t have to hump the gear across a mudflat. Conor was on the edge of hypothermia before we landed, and I started to disintegrate as soon as we stopped and weren’t paddling hard anymore. We set up the tent as quickly as possible, running (literally) around to find big rocks to peg it down in the wind, and then dug into the food duffel to pull out granola bars for supper. Satisfying. We were thankful we’d make the thermos after lunch!


Dear Diary, next year we’re going to Mexico.




The positive impression we got of Umiujaq was further solidified this year, with lots of people checking on us to make sure we were ok (trucks cruise the 10k from town frequently, so presence was known quickly). Our visitors included a couple of elders that we met last year, and the mayor. We could have easily had a place to stay for the night, but as we were all set up and had warmed up we were happy to stay put for the night and get a ride into town in the morning.

And to end the post, one of a mini series of Conor giving the space cadet tourist wave. It makes me laugh a lot given the backstory, but it would lose something in an internet retell… so you can just chuckle at the picture, and ask me in person for the story if you’re curious. Although it’s probably not that funny if you weren’t there. But it’s my blog, so my picture choice. Peace out.


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Quebec 2016: Camp Life

Didn’t swim quite every day, but close.



Primo shower at the base of a 44m falls on the Rellot River


A few of our campsites.





One of our favourite sites on the Little Whale.


Beauty evening, beauty swimming spot




Lots of reading. My e-reader was a lifesaver!


And we both kept a journal daily.


Food glorious food!



Enjoying an evening tea on the rock to try to escape from the bugs.


Hot beverages are key to happy campers.


Pizza night is a good night.






Something delicious baking… bannock? Pizza? Quiche? Muffins?


Conor remained dedicated to his daily harmonica practice.





Map work every evening, writing notes from the day and looking ahead to what’s coming up.




Feather stick for fire starter.


Lots of caribou sign, only 1 caribou. During the summer they mostly hang out farther north.


An old Hydro Quebec marker from when the James Bay project was just beginning – they didn’t get this river!!


Waiting out some morning rain.


Reinforcing a tump line.


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Quebec 2016: Portaging

An integral part of canoe tripping, and something that really differentiates it from sea kayaking, is the portage element. Portages typically fit into one of two categories. First, you can be traveling from one body of water to another (for example, lake to lake). Second, they can be used to get around an unnavigable stretch of a water body, such as portaging around a big rapid, or a section that’s too shallow and rocky to paddle.

On this trip we portaged 73.5 times. No, the half is not a typo. For my record keeping a full portage is one where we carry all the gear and the canoe. A half portage is where we carry all (or most) of the gear, but then float or paddle the canoe through. This could be a section that’s too shallow to float the canoe until it’s unloaded, or a rapid that’s significant enough that we’d rather run it empty. The portages ranged from 5h mountain epics to easy rock lift overs, and everything in between. I wasn’t quite obsessive enough to track lengths, difficulty, etc.

Only other thing worth noting is that this route is not a formal route, and therefore there aren’t any actual trails. Occasionally we enjoy smooth rock carries, other times we follow caribou trails, and other times we have to do so much trail clearing and alder crashing that it feels like we’re in the jungle. We don’t really like those ones.

Ok, that intro is longer than any intro should be. So here are some pics!

A couple of the many boulder gardens we had to cross.DSCF0166


This particular portage was one of the worst alder crashes, cutting across a point to get around a shallow, rocky narrows. We had to carry the gear out to a point where it was deep enough to load the boat.



The portages on the Little Whale River were generally easy walkers – rock lift overs and open terrain criss crossed with caribou trails.





Then we got to the Guerin River. These portages were NOT easy walkers. They were steep carries through dense forest. Here’s a representative downhill (we spent about 1.5h clearing this trail the previous evening. So this is the improved version).




The start of the Guerin was km upon km of continuous rapids…rapids that were juuuuust too shallow too run. Thus, we spent our time portaging and wading. I believe we made it a grand total of 5km on this particular day.


The Guerin was also home to the 5 hour epic Doozer’s Doom portage. Very few pictures because we were mostly focused on our misery, but mid portage we did pop out on a bedrock outcrop with fantastic views.


After the Guerin we were onto Hudson Bay, so no more portaging, and consequently no more portaging pics.

Quick note about photos  – all of the pictures I share are mine, except for the ones of me, those are Conor’s. Otherwise I wouldn’t be in any of them!

Still to come: camp life, on the trail, and Hudson Bay.

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Quebec 2016 – Flora and Fauna

This summer was our third summer canoe tripping in northern Quebec. This year we were on the trail for 32 days, traveling on 5 river systems. Rather than spew out a bunch of pictures at once, this year I’m divvying them up into themes. I still have a lot of sorting to do, but as a start here are some northern plants and animals, as captured by my cameras.

This caribou came crashing out on the opposite shore while we were having lunch and plunged straight into the water, no hesitation. It generally veered towards to opposite shore, but overall seemed a bit frantic. Mystery was solved a few minutes later when a wolf popped out in the same spot on the far shore. It sniffed a bit, stared us down, lay down in the water, and eventually retreated back inland. Score 1 for the caribou!DSCF0112 - Copy

But let’s be real, black flies were the most prolific wildlife. Here’s a healthy population in our vestibule.DSCF0137


Mid-portage fireweed.DSCF0178


Water lilies.DSCF0252

Labrador tea after some rain.

Some sort of lichen. To be honest when I took this I was just experimenting with the macro setting to try to kill off a nearly dead camera battery before switching it out for a new one.

DSCF0385 - Copy

Seal! We saw this character on the Guerin River, and he would have had to navigate coming up 25m of drop to get to this spot. Impressive! He swam with us for awhile, until we stopped for a floating lunch and he headed back upstream. I guess he wasn’t too into bannock and peanut butter.
DSCF0766 - Copy

Porcupine at our campsite at the jumping off point for the final ocean section of the trip. He sat here for awhile, then munched a chunk of bark and lumbered off. We were huddled under the tarp hiding from wind, rain, and cold so could keep a good eye on his activities (although there wasn’t much to watch, porcupines are not exactly fast movers).

The islands in Richmond Gulf harbour a lot of black bears. Here’s one of the three we saw (all while paddling, thankfully).
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Daisies in Richmond Gulf.DSCF0815

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