Thursday, 18 July 2013

Our Algonquin Adventure

Algonquin Provincial Park East Gates
    Every summer near the end of the school year we sit down with the kids and ask what they think that would like to do this summer.  Sometimes they come up with some pretty crazy answers, to those we nod and smile at the little goofs.  Most times the kids really are pretty easy to please.  "Can we go to Vanderwater Park?  "Can we have a picnic?  Can we go to the splash pad?  Can we go camping?"  None of those things were really lofty ideas.  Christopher and I looked at each other amazed at the simplicity of their requests.  We had both expected grandiose suggestions such as Canada's Wonderland, but really all that they wanted was to be together (maybe we are doing something right after all).

Barely room in there for the kids.
        For me summer is about getting back to the basics.  All year I run with and for the kids.  Our lives are hectic and over scheduled, and it's basically the chaos theory.  The summer is about being with the kids, not just existing with them, but actually being present.  It's about sucking up enough energy to last me a year.  It's about living in the moment... which really is what I wish every single day of the year could be.  Camping fits in with that theory.  Camping is about no distractions, no chaos, just the great outdoors and our family.  

    Back in March Christopher and I reserved a yurt at Alonquin Provincial Park.  We were shocked to discover that is was slim pickings and that there were really only two available days that we could rent the yurt... mental note to self... next year book earlier.  Three years ago Christopher and I wisely decided that the only way our marriage could survive was to rent a yurt.  We came upon this decision after a disastrous camping adventure in Martin River Provincial Park near North Bay, Ontario.  We had decided to meet up with my sister and her family (my sister lives in Sault Ste Marie, which is about a 10 hour drive north of here), and my parents.  We all had sites in a triangular formation.  The afternoon  that we arrived it was raining.  To say raining makes it sound like a gentle easy type of weather, no it was a torrential downpour.  I was waiting to see Noah float by with all the animals two by two.  My sister and parents had gotten there the day before us, and were all set up, or sitting pretty as I hostilely thought.  We started out visiting in Mandy and Spooner's kitchen tent, so it was raining, no big deal, we had all afternoon to make camp.  The kids were loving spending time with their cousins, and it was nice sharing a laugh with my sister and parents.  After a few hours, and the rain was still crashing down (there were numerous times that my brother-in law would take a big stick and poke the roof of the kitchen tent where the water was pooling.  The water would sound like a hurricane as it made the plunge off of the roof).  Finally Christopher and I realized that the rain was not going to stop, nor was it in anyway going to lighten.  If we did not want to sleep in the van, we would have to put up the tent in the torrential rain!  We took everything out of the bag, everything that is except for the instructions for the NEW tent.  Christopher and I don't work well together in construction (there have been a few Ikea projects that I considered consulting a divorce lawyer).  Each of us seems to think that we know best, and the fact is that we are both village idiots.  After daydreaming about the surprised look on Christopher's face as I skewered him with a tent pole, and thinking about how good that would feel, I decided to ask my brother-in-law for help.  It's thanks to Spooner that I am not in jail and my children still have their father!  It was that camping trip that sold us on yurts~!
        Our yurt was booked, our lists made.  All we had to do was pack the van.  I packed the van with the tough of upon the doors opening it would be like one of those practical joke cans of chips, the ones where the pretend snake springs out at the unsuspecting chip eater.  Over the years I have earned the title "Master Packer".  It is amazing what I can pack into a small space.  This year I had my work cut out for me.  I'm not sure what we would have done if we had a tent and chairs.  As it was I had poor little Elly with a cooler at her feet, with a pillow on the top.  All of the kids were sitting on sleeping bags and pillows.  Riley and Rowan could barely see each other over the stack of pillows between them.  My greeting to the children as we pulled away from the house was "Don't complain about the lack of space...NO ONE HAS ANY SPACE!"  With that we were off, looking not unlike a large clown car.

You may wonder why it looks like Grace's arm is greased...
That's because she decided to apply her own bug repellant,
    There is something about Algonquin.  This was the first time that we had ever camped in the main Algonquin Park, but we have driven though it many times.  There is a feeling of tranquility for me as I drive through those gates.  My breathing becomes deeper, my patience longer.  It is a beautiful place.  As you travel through you think of the possibilities, picture yourself canoeing along one of the many beautiful bodies of water.  You dream of seeing a moose.  It is a place of possibilities, where you can hear the echos of the original native inhabitants.

    As we pulled into our yurt the kids all cheered.  They could not wait to rush out of the clown car and explore.  It worked out well for us because my parents were camped 8 sites down, and the kids after exploring our little space raced down to Nana and Popa's to tell them that we were here.  That allowed Christopher and I to get everything unpacked without having to play 20 questions with the kids.  I was pretty clever and purchased a large set of rubbermaid drawers.  It stands just about up to your knees and has three large drawers.  I divided each of the drawers in half, and each family member had half of a drawer.  It is just so much easer than a suitcase, or anything else that I have ever used for camping.  I just stacked it on the cooler for the ride, then it came out of the car and directly into the yurt, clothes already organized and ready to go.

      The afternoon and evening were spent at the lake.  Mom and Dad brought their inflatable raft, and the kids loved floating around.  Elly was amazed to see tiny fish swimming around her feet and legs.  We were camping during the heat wave, and the water made life instantly so much more bearable.   That first night we filled ourselves to a gluttonous level with food.  The food always tastes so extra good camping. 
    One of the kid's favourite things to take camping are peanuts.  I bought a giant bag of peanuts to take with us.  We were not there very long when the kids were begging to open the bag.  Excitedly they laid out paths of peanuts trying to entice chipmunks to eat out of their hands.  They waited patiently, all of them.  I don't think that I have ever seen them so still or so patient.  I loved the look on their little faces as they were rewarded for their extreme patience.  Riley was trying desperately to get our attention as the tiny animal took the peanut from her outstretched hands.  They were all four so excited and proud that they had enchanted wild animals.  

    Not only does Algonquin offer a plethora of beautiful landscapes and animals that you may only ever see there, but they also offer daily activities for young and old alike.  Our first night Rowan and Grace and I made our way over to the amphitheater.  We sat fighting off the mosquitos who seemed immune to our replant.  On the stage was this really young man who knew more about moose than I could ever dream of knowing.  He showed us pictures and video snippets of moose.  We learned a lot about moose that night.  As we made our way back to the parking lot along the lit path, I was surprised when Rowan told me how much he had enjoyed it.  We went back to my Mom and Dad's sight for our first campfire.  Rowan and Grace were so excited to share all of the interesting information that they had gained.
    The next morning we made our way over to the visitors centre for the children's program, "How animals survive the winter in Algonquin".  We sat in the comfy seats in the glorious air conditioned theatre, as the young women taught the children about the animals of Algonquin.  Afterwards we went though the interactive displays.  There are just so many things that are offered at Algonquin for the price of your stay.

     We had bacon and eggs cooked on the barbecue.  Campfires that brought us closer.  The kids had no electronics to distract them, and so they explored the forrest and played with each other.  At night the stars shone brightly, and the wolves howled to a chorus of frogs.  We all scratched our bug bites complained about the stinky port-a-potties, became waterlogged in the lake, and had an thoroughly amazing vacation.  Tuesday afternoon all too quickly.  The kids all were sad to say goodbye to Algonquin, and so were we.

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