Weekend in Awenda...

Awenda Provincial Park weekend…

I am admittedly an addict when it comes to camping. I just love being outside as much as possible. Somedays I lay in the tent, and say why do I do this to myself, but that’s usually when I am tired and my bad hip is screeching. But I wake up refreshed and hear the birds, and remember why I do it! It feels good to get some sleep in the fresh air, even if I awake a few times at night to tell my bladder to go back to sleep til morning or to tell my hip to stop screaming at me.

I am not even sure where to start this blog except that a couple days before the weekend I always find myself on the Ontario Provincial Parks reservation site scoping possible empty sites. Who am I kidding I am always thinking about where to next! In this part of Ontario and even the near north coming across a site is difficult! But a couple days before the weekend you sometimes catch a couple stragglers where people have canceled and you have your opportunity to get out for a trip. On Wednesday night after trying to book sites, and having them booked before I could hit the reserve button, I came across one at Awenda Provincial Park. I had never been to this park before. It is near Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay in a little peninsula as the crow flies sort of across from Honey Harbour peninsula. I was quite excited to get another new sticker for my Provincial Parks passport! I have a few , more than a few! :)

Rewind months ago, say February when my contract with Virgin Mobile expired. I swore back then I wouldn’t waste anymore money on data on a phone, I would go back to an old granny flip phone where I could make calls and basic texts only but there would be no more data when I left the house. If I wanted wifi, I would have to be at home or somewhere that has Wifi (i.e. A&W). I carry my Samsung around for such an occasion where I have Wifi and need to check the bank or something but other than that when I leave the house, I am on the granny phone if you need me. I really just wanted to get away from that data stuff. I swear it is making us all stupid, and far too reliant on technology and not enough on ourselves and our brains! This is about to bite me in the @ss!

So Friday night comes and I am ready to go. I check the google map at home before I leave and screen shot at high level for guidance. I just take Hwy 26 at Barrie straight across to Midland / Penetanguishene area and there will be the park. You would think the park is well signed, right? WRONG!!!

The part getting to Barrie, no problem. The part following 26, no problem, just go straight. So I just go straight. I come across some intersections and think, no problem - just go straight! Then after some lovely cruising and certainty I must be getting close, I find myself back at the 400. I am in Coldwater, what has happened here? I literally just did a semi circle right back to Hwy 400. No problem, I am just a little lost, and lost a bit of time. No big deal. I will just stop at the gas station and buy a map, of course all my maps are at home. At this gas station in particular the only map book they have is the big map book for Canada/USA/Mexico. No problem - should be good enough, right? I check the map. It seems now I can just follow Hwy 12 right into Midland/Penetang area, but then there should be signs for the park, right???

Enroute to Midland, I am getting hungry so I stop for a hotdog at a chip stand and ask the guy if he knows where this Awenda Provincial Park is, he has no idea! That’s fine, as long as I am going towards the lake I should be just fine, right?

I get into Midland there is no signage for the park. But I do see Hwy 6 which I remember from the map, it does go to Awenda, I am pretty sure! So I follow it towards the lake, no problem!   Still nothing. Just a whole lot of driving this way, and nothing, then that way and nothing. So I stop and ask this guy for directions, do you know where Awenda park is? He says you are a bit far away! But if you just go back that way, then turn on RR 13 or 14 you should see signs for the park eventually. Well ok then. I hit the road again and hit RR13. I run up it - no sign of the park. I run down it - no sign of the park. So let’s try this again on RR 14. I run up it, no sign of the park. I run down it - no sign of the park! Ugh. So here I am just swirling around in zig zags following all these beach roads to dead ends but no sign of the park. It’s getting dark. I am upset and can’t find anything. At this point now, I have no choice, I have to call the park. Calling the park at this time of night is ridiculous. I keep getting voice mail. After a few tries I finally get a person and tell them I need help, I am lost, I can’t find the park!

She says, just plug it in to your google maps. She kinda chuckles when I say I don’t have google! Ha ha, funny young lady. So she says she will go get a map and help me out best she can. Based on where I am she tells me to just go straight up Concession Road 17 until I hit Awenda Beach Road. Easy enough. I follow Concession Road 17 to a dead end again! No Awenda Beach Road, it’s getting progressively darker. And I am upset! Really upset and frustrated and feeling defeated, and tired and just about ready to either call a friend or go back to Toronto. I drive back again the other way on Concession Road 17. And just follow another random beach road. I come across a little gem of a public beach and a family loading up their van, this is my last hope.

Hey sir, do you happen to know where Awenda Provincial Park is.

Ummm. you are way on the other side of the Peninsula from it, but the good news is, it’s only about 15 minutes from here. I explained that the park lady on the phone had told me to take Concession 17. He’s like no, it’s Concession 16. Just take that all the way up you will start to see signs for the park! At this point I am only mildly optimistic. I got a photo of his google map to take with me for guidance. Eating crow at its finest, right?

So up 16 I go, and eventually make the sign that says to Awenda Provincial Park. It is dark now. I get to camp after 10 p.m. The sun is long gone, so I have to use the car headlights to shine a light on my site so I can put the tent up. It’s still quite dark but I manage. At this point there is no point in starting a fire, I won’t even be able to see what I am doing or to get the stuff out I need and I don’t want to disturb the other tenters with my lights for longer than necessary. So I get the tent up and get ready for bed! A better day lies ahead. Good night from Awenda, finally!

I am up early and at ‘em. Presley and I decide to head into town for some supplies and gas (I burned so much yesterday) and have a mini road trip to charge up the phone. I got me some coffee and we cruised the beautiful roads a bit, not exploring too far, didn’t want to get lost with no wifi again. But I truly enjoy these solo trips. I put on some Pure country, nobody to tell me they don’t like my music or when to turn it up or down. I just listen and think. In the solitude you can’t help but process life, the good parts and the bad parts. You have no distractions or escape from the things your heart wants to feel. So sometimes old feelings, or heart breaks bubble to the surface and you feel them. Sometimes you have a moment where you think about a life goal you had and got away from you , and you consider how to get back on track. Maybe you think about the direction your life is going and if it is what you want it to be. But in that solitude you really do refresh, feel and reset!

On the way back to camp Presley and I stop at a beautiful dog beach on Lake Huron for some quiet coffee time, quiet except for the barks of Presley demanding I throw the stick again!

We headed back to camp and I read some of my book The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs. I am enjoying this reading but I wanted to go pick up my Awenda park sticker for my book and check out the Park Store. So we headed to the Park store, where I catch a glimpse of one of Kevin Callan’s collections of trip stories called Up the Creek. I am excited now to get back to camp to read some more. I find I learn so much from reading other people’s trip stories. I take away information that I may later use. Such as how they manage situations, or gear they take or things they would’ve , should’ve done different. I watch all sorts of Youtube videos, and read all sorts of books on the backcountry subject! I just love this stuff. I haven’t figured out why yet? Maybe it’s just the familiarity of the wilderness from my childhood, or the adventure of feeling of accomplishment. I mean it’s a sport. Some people play hockey, some people play music, I find ways to get outside and sleep under the stars. When I was growing up our family had a cottage in Muskoka and though there was a cottage, a bunkie, and a hard sided trailer, it was always the tent that was my first choice! Who knows why that is? I have no explanation, it just is what it is!

Back to the book.. by the name of this book I am suspecting it’s going to be all creek stuff. Like little weekend wanders but to my delight, I open the book and the first story that catches my eye - QUETICO!!! And it just so happens to be the route I plan on doing in two weeks - so this was a must read. So I read it. It’s more validation about the bear country and wilderness that Quetico really is. Nothing about it really surprises me. Then onto the next story - this one about MIssinaibi. I have paddled Lake Missinaibi.  This is also the wilderness my dad railroaded in, and I tagged along as a baby/toddler. It’s wild to be sure. My dad, jokingly of course, tells me of two places where I should take one of his guns for safety, Cadomin in the Rocky mountains, and here, Missinaibi-Chapleau area. Of course, he is joking!  My dad doesn't even use his beautiful Weatherbees to hunt. He loves animals too much.  He simply has a beautiful, unused and  polished collection!

 But his joking comments about take one of them, is a testament to the true force of the wilderness here and its true dangers. I knew about the lady doctor that was killed by a bear in Missinaibi in 2005 in the backcountry, right where I camped last year. My dad has told me of numerous encounters, but Kevin Callan’s story really had to feed my bearanoia! In his story, I will only tell you the one part as you will have to buy the book to get the rest, he talks about a ranger or something that is looking after a camp kitchen and spends his time warding off bears trying to break in. In one night the Ranger has to shoot TWELVE bears! He talks more about his trip on Missinaibi the lake and the river, but you will have to learn the rest when you buy your own copy of the book.

All I can say is that it validated my very real fears about the kind of wilderness this is. Mother nature is beautiful, but up there she’s quite unforgiving. Lake Superior never gives up her dead. In Missinaibi, the Lake is over 300’ deep and it’s nothing for a wave to pick up your canoe and slam you in to a sheer rock face without warning. In Quetico, the lakes are big and the storms unpredictable and mean!  It’s different up there!

 I love Killarney, don’t get me wrong. I love Frontenanc don’t get me wrong, but I sleep better at night in those parks. But in places up north like Missinaibi or Quetico, I hear every tick and study every noise, and watch every tree move. My boyfriend says I can hear a mosquito land on a tree! When paddling , I am constantly watching the skies and ready to get off the water. I check my topo maps carefully and make sure the sky and the next spot to get off the water appear on the same schedule. Cuz if the sky looks bad, and the next kilometer is sheer rock cliff, I am staying put. It’s just a bit more effort and thought and planning to be in the wilderness up north - it’s truly next level. I grew up with it, so I know it’s relentless and crazy and unforgiving and it’s to be respected! When people think I have bearnoia to the extreme - believe me I know far too many bear stories to take the very real danger for granted. I like to be on alert and overly cautious. That said, as scared as I am - I can’t seem to get enough and I go anyway. If anything is going to stop me, I imagine it will be that achy hip!

I was enjoying the stories in this book so much that by the time dusk came, I had read the entire book but for three chapters about Lake Superior which I will finish up today. There are so many wonderful places to get outside and do a trip, but again thanks Kevin Callan for validating my own feelings about the ruggedness that is the backyard I grew up in. Killarney is the gentleman’s wilderness! The wilderness I grew up in is beautiful beyond words, but you have to stay on your toes and respect it. It’s a different challenge than the parks in Southern and Central Ontario. Once you hit Lake Superior and Northwest and Northeastern Ontario, it’s next level! Again thanks Kevin, thanks for making sure my bearnoia and storm radar are heightened, especially after reading about Missinaibi and Quetico.   This is just in time for my Quetico trip.

I made a can of Ravioli for supper, and checked out the contents of my Bear vault. The next time I fill it up will be for Quetico. I will actually need a Bear Vault. Although somehow I have made it this far without one! Reading those stories had me nostalgically thinking about camping with my parents when we were young. We had this big lug of an old canvas with a room on each side and a sitting area or whatever in the middle. How many nights we slept with us three kids on one side, the parents on the other, and all our food and coolers in the middle! How we have made it this far, I will never know but here we are! Then again, my dad’s snoring is likely enough to keep the bears away!

This was overall a fine weekend in Awenda. To be able to read in the fresh air, shaded by trees and surrounded by birds and chipmunks. Most of the park was at the beach for the day so while I read at my campsite in my chair, it was truly quiet except for the wind and animals!

Yesterday was my Uncle Ron’s birthday - he isn’t with us anymore, he passed in December 2010. But it just so happened I was wearing my Schreiber shirt that has the date July 16, 2010 on it. That date is the last day my Uncle had a birthday. The Schreiber shirt has a railroad logo, which is crazier yet - as my Uncle was a railroader! It was a weird coincidence, but no doubt I was celebrating him yesterday in spirit. He also loved the wilderness. It was him that taught me how to fish. He was a wonderful uncle. Between him and my dad, it’s no wonder that I have this insatiable desire to find wilderness moments. My dad is from Shetland, not sure if you know this but MOST of the HBC guys, the voyageurs, I believe the stat is like 85 or 90% came from Orkney and Shetland. They say those gentlemen were the only people crazy enough to actually get joy out of the wilderness and Canadian winters! But from what my Shetland family tells me of the Shetland climate, maybe the wilderness of northern Ontario is pleasant by comparison!

I had a beautiful fire and a mug of chocolate chai tea before retiring to my tent with my sidekick Presley. A truly restful day it was doing nothing except reading a book. Hadn’t planned on reading a book but I enjoyed it. Sunday morning I was up at 7:30 a.m. before anyone else in the campground it seemed, and by 8 a.m. I was packed up and home in Toronto by 10 a.m. I was in a bit of a hurry to get home. I have so much to do - as two weeks from now I am back on the road to my Princess Cabin in Atikokan before heading into Quetico for a couple nights!

Whether it’s backcountry, a paddle trip or a quick weekend in the tent in Awenda, it’s really about getting outside and unplugging from the everyday grind. I find I am the happiest when I have the least! When I am living out of my backpack with all but the minimal supplies. I can really just go… It’s true freedom to unplug - 

That said, maybe I should consider a Garmin before I head in to Quetico!  I dare not cave to data, I am too stubborn… but a satellite map??? Maybe! We shall see… :)

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