The Trek That Wouldn’t Be

The kids are bundled up. The sky is sunny. The thermometer on the car reads -21 degrees celcius…but it is still early. The pulk, is not what we had envisioned… but it will work and we have ingeniously fit it , beautifully, behind our seats in the Yaris. My four year old sits in the shape of a V… but it isn’t much farther to the trail-head. 26001349_10102138088995526_8986180566141997682_n

I sit in the passenger seat using a pocket knife to spread peanut butter and jelly on tortilla wraps for lunch. There is no music. Cell service has died out and the kids are moody, but sandwiches will fix that.

That wind though…

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We get to the parking lot and my husband starts to unload the gear. Getting himself dressed and strapped in to the large pack, struggling with the skis on the sled and the harness, grunting and cursing at the wind. But the parking lot is exposed and we will be fine once we are in the tree-line and the kids will be out of the wind in the sled and we will warm up once we were moving. Start cold right? It is only 8km after-all…

Ariadne, 15 months old, starts screaming. She is not happy, not comfortable, too tired, the wind is biting her tiny cheeks and the mittens are making her mad.

Roman, 4 years old, starts to cry. He wants to snow shoe. He doesn’t see why he can’t walk. His sister’s screams are hurting his ears.

Daniel, 30 years old, starts to grumble. We need to get moving, out of the wind. His toes are already frozen. This is crazy. LET’S GO!

I tell him to start walking. I will catch up.

Off they go into the trees, where the wind will, surely, be less and the kids…they’re protected in the sled and she is just crying because she’s tired and fussy and keeps spitting out her soother. I checked her, she felt warm…

I struggle into my snow-shoes and strap on my pack. I jog into the trees to catch up. The climb will be at the beginning of our hike, 2km uphill to start. This will warm us up and the wind is much better here.

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Off we go. They are still crying. Roman says it is warm in there though. Roman will be our temperature gauge. They have blankets and each other.

20 minutes in.

Nearing the top of the rise.

They are still crying. Ariadne keeps dozing off but her cheeks feels cold to me and she has kicked off her boots and mitts more than once and her little toes…

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There is a heavy feeling in my heart, stirred well with that healthy fear and respect that the elements should always inspire. The look on Daniel’s face tells me all I need to know. He feels it too. Worry, tumbled together with disappointment.

One last shot. If we get to the top of the rise and it’s protected, like we are now, and flat, I can send Dan ahead to the hut. Roman and I can walk, which will make him warm and the baby can get out of the cold more quickly.

Our heads break the ridge and a blast of air that feels as if it must have recently embraced a glacier hits us hard.

What are we doing? I think. I look at Dan. The kids start to scream as the wind makes its way easily into the Chariot.

“What are you thinking?” I finally ask, raising my voice above the roar of the wind.

“I’m thinking this is crazy.” His short, matter-of-fact reply.

“If we need to  go back it should be now. We don’t want to get any further in and have to turn around. What do you think?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

Without hesitation, “We should go back. I’m not comfortable with this right now. We have no way of knowing what she’s feeling, the kids are miserable, and what if the car won’t start when we hike back out? There’s no cell reception so, what? We use the spot beacon?  It’s just too big of a risk…” He trails off.

“I think so too.” I state. Heaving a heavy sigh. “This sucks.”

“Yup. Let’s go.”

We turn back down the mountain, stopping just out of the wind. If Roman is still eager to snow shoe it will help him warm up.

I am determined for this to end on a positive. We ask him if he wants to walk now. He responds with a cheerful, “YES!” and I pull him from the sled.

With him out, I can see that Ariadne has again removed her mitten and her hand is bright red. I push her mitten back on getting the sleeve as far over her coat as possible. She is whimpering now, such a sad little beast and guilt hits my heart hard. I wrap her in the blankets and seal the sled as tightly as I can.

Dan will go ahead, reaching the car quickly on this short down hill stretch and get her warm and happy.  Roman and I will follow, hopefully enjoying a nice little hike out. It is warm enough in the trees if you are moving. He his covered from head to toe in mountain gear and snow-shoeing like a champ.

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Dan and the sled quickly disappear ahead of us as we walk like bears, like monsters, like dinosaurs and our snow-shoes make that crunchy-squeak against the snow. Our breath leaves clouds in the air and frosts the strands of hair that escape my tuque and hood, but we are moving now. We are warm and we are happy.

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We work up a sweat and sing snowy songs and run and tumble and smile. I ignore the crazy voice in my head, berating me for even trying this and focus on the one that says “You kept them safe. You turned back when you needed to. You’re a good mom. Adventures come with set-backs. This one wasn’t meant to be.” I give in a bit to the angry one that says,”FUCK YOU COLD SNAP! YOU COULDN’T HAVE WAITED TWO MORE DAYS YOU SHITTY PIECE OF A WEATHER SYSTEM!”  I focus on Roman’s mittened hand in mine as we walk the last couple hundred meters. I laugh as he steps on my snowshoe and we tumble in a heap. I embrace the unpredictable nature of this crazy, beautiful, powerful thing called the back-country and I hope that the lesson learned is one of safety first and look on the bright side.26055641_10102138089245026_6508227737245815957_n

Back at the car and everyone is fine. Ariadne seems grouchy and confused about why she had to be dragged up and down a mountain in the cold but a snack and a snuggle and she cheers right up. The question is…what do we do now? This was our winter adventure, our break, I was supposed to be refreshing my soul with mountain air and unplugged, outdoor, family time!26114010_10102138089379756_7019298539816769036_n

We settle for some tubing at Nakiska, hot chocolate, of course, and some toddling about for the baby. A night in Clagary and an easy-going morning at Gasoline Alley’s family, culture-fest, a short family visit on the way home with some cousins I’d never met, some shopping and an amazing meal, at what may very well be a mafia front but their pizza and pasta? OMG!

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a let down.

As we’d turned our backs on the mountains I wanted to cry. My heart screamed, “NO! I haven’t had enough time, don’t make me go back to the prairies yet! Don’t say that this one, short day is all the wild I will have for months, if not longer!”

But my head said sternly, “Suck it up princess, this is the way it goes sometimes.”

And my husband said softly, over and over, every time I sighed or frowned or my shoulders dropped and my head lowered, “We made the right choice.”

And of course, he was right.

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*Author’s Note

In the short course of this blog I have mentioned many times that taking kids, especially very young kids into the back-country is not something to take lightly. Taking yourself into the back country is a risky enough endeavor, but you are an adult. You know what your body is feeling and what that might mean. You know when you need to rest, drink more water, eat more calories, get warm. With very small children, they can’t always tell you what they are feeling, and even if they are a bit older and have mastered the art of speech they often don’t know what their body is telling them or when it has gone from discomfort to danger.

In short, you have to be their danger barometer. You have to be VERY aware of the risks and err heavily on the side of caution. Days like the one described above, SUCK HARD! At first, I felt like we had failed. But in the words of Rick Wormelli, a fail is only a, “First Attempt In Learning.”

This was our first try at anything winter, back-country as a family and we learned a lot. We will try again in February. A different hut (due to availability, not determination) and a different set of gear and this time I am confident we will not only make it to our destination, but we will have an incredible and enjoyable experience.

5 Reasons Why I’m a Better Parent in the Back-Country

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When we had our first child and my husband started talking about back-country camping and canoeing I have to admit I needed some convincing. While he saw no problem in heading out into the wilderness with our infant son, I was thinking more like when he turned five or so.

Gradually he broke me down, reassured me, found websites so that other people could reassure me and encouraged me to buy books with titles like “Babe’s in the Back-Country.” Roman was in a canoe at 5 weeks and in the back country just after his first birthday. So I guess he won.

With my husband’s experience and my nervousness we were always well prepared and enjoyed every minute of our time in the wilderness.10470940_10100857545539876_9026973763670102310_n

Roman and me on the last leg of our first family canoe camp.

After we had our second child I realized how long we would have had to wait if I had wanted both children to be at least five years old. We would have put off any wilderness travel for 8 YEARS!

This, I have since discovered, is what most people do. They worry about dangers and what-ifs and the judgement of mothers and mothers-in-law. Those who used to love the adventure of the outdoors close the door on that part of their heart and wait to open it until later, when the kids are big enough, sometimes for a decade or more!

This is, of course, a valid choice and for some their passion for outdoor pursuits is not a key ingredient of their soul. But for those of you who are part bear part spruce tree, for those of you who feel true bliss when you stand at the top of a mountain or the moment your cell phone drops to zero bars and you know that you are truly unreachable, for those of you who love to stand with the hot sun burning your bare shoulders, hair crispy from three days with no showers and feet tingling with needle like pain as you stand ankle deep in a glacial river and breath deeply of the air, just far enough from civilization to feel clean, don’t be afraid to go there now.

Now.

With your kids.

You will not be putting them trough torture. They will not hate you for dragging them along. It will bring you closer and, if you’re anything like me, make you a better parent.

Here are 5 reasons why.

  1. No Distraction

The first one may seem obvious but it took me four years to realize how distracted from my children I am in my daily life. How often do we tell our children, “Not right now, Daddy has to do up the dishes,” or “In a minute, Mommy just has to finish up some work?” How often do we sit, in the same room where our children are playing, watching T.V. or folding laundry? How many times do we look at our phones while we are at the local playground?

I don’t actually know the answer to any of those questions but I know, for me, it’s a lot.

This doesn’t make me a bad parent. It makes me a working parent in a modern world who has a lot of things to do and also needs to have some downtime.

But in the back country for 3 or 5 or 10 days the only thing I have to do is keep my family safe, help my children with chores around camp and explore and experience whatever new place we have come to with them. For a short, precious time my phone cannot send me alerts, there is no house to be cleaned and my world revolves around us.

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moments like these

  1. I Appreciate the Little Things

When your life is temporarily free from distractions it allows you to refocus and enjoy the little things that we, all to often, miss. I have literally sat for 15 minutes straight and watched my 4 year old dip his toes in the lake. I have found enjoyment in the simple act of gathering kindling for the fire, baby strapped to my back, four year old running ahead. I have found gratitude for the simple fact that my 8 month old didn’t poop her diaper after we climbed into the tent for the night.

I get to see the world through their eyes and marvel at the cracks on an old tree trunk, the moss on a stone or the lines on a butterfly’s wing.

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magic!

I get to notice the exact way my baby girl grins and the lines on her toes when they are covered in soil. I get to sit with aching muscles and be aware of the enjoyment I had in earning every little twinge of pain. I get to sing my babies to sleep and I don’t mind one bit when he asks for one more song.

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3. I am More Playful

There isn’t a lot to do in the back country if you don’t use your imagination. We don’t pack a lot of toys because they are extra weight so we rely on our creativity. If you’re thinking, “I’m not that imaginative,” don’t worry your kids have got it covered. All you have to do is go with it.

As we float along in our canoe we sing songs and tell stories about dragons that live in the lake. When we reach camp, we have been known to play eye spy, or draw in the sand with sticks or create games that involve throwing rocks into circles. The few toys we do bring find very interesting race tracks among the rocks and roots and Roman is always up for building fairy houses.

In the back-country I don’t send him off to play by himself or halfheartedly push around a toy truck. In the back-country I am all in and I appreciate the ease with which he fills our time with play.

11850688_10101243555792236_7588398743258177367_o4. I Demand More

With back-country camping there will always be some discomfort. There have been times when nap-times were thrown out the window and even bed-time came late. There have been times when the food was not to their liking, but it was all we had. And then there was that time when the portage route had not been maintained and I had to demand that my four year old walk through thigh-deep water and sludge and push through branches to find the other side of the trail.

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But, it turns out, struggle is good for kids.

In our daily lives there aren’t a ton of opportunities to push our children out of their comfort zones and when we do it is often in a situation that they are very aware they can back out of with no serious consequences.  We are also aware that we can back out if it seems like our kids are in over their heads or just aren’t in the mood that day. In the back-country there are times when you have to keep walking or it will get dark and you will still be on the trail, or you can’t sit down and rest because the mosquitoes will actually carry you away and, no, mommy can’t carry you because she is already carrying the baby and a 50lb backpack. There is no backing out. There is only following through and finishing the task.

Kids get it. And, yes, there are tears sometimes, but you hold their hand and talk them through it and praise the shit out of them when they get through something tough. And then something amazing happens.

They grow!

When Roman completed the aforementioned portage I expected him to be mad at me, at the end, or to decide he was done with canoe camping but instead he said, “I was just like a super hero. I was scared but I did it and I made it Mamma!” It is one of my proudest parenting moments so far.

  1. I Don’t Worry about Time

There is no schedule we have to adhere to. There is no appointment I might miss. There is only here and now. There is only the people I am with and the things we are doing, the words we are saying, the sky and the trees and the water and us. There is no alarm clock but the dawn chorus and the sunrise. There is no bedtime but the stars coming out and the fire turning to embers and the yawns of sleepy little campers. There are no meal times, only hunger and satisfying that hunger.

We go along our planned route, making it to our charted destination or stopping for the night if we feel the need and we escape the hustle and bustle. And we breathe a little easier, hold each other a little tighter, sleep a little more deeply. My time, for a short while, in the back-country, belongs only to my family.

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And for 3 or 5 or 10 days, I don’t doubt my parenting for a second.

The Epic Alaskan Road-Trip: Part Two

We had covered a lot of ground in five days but we were not even half-way into our trip.  The scenery grew wilder, the traffic sparser and our hearts lighter.   For the next ten days we would continue to explore locations that none of us had seen before and our plan was working out perfectly.

Day 6 Watson Lake to Whitehorse

The drive from Watson Lake to Whitehorse does not offer much in the way of roadside attractions but it makes up for it in scenery.  The well-maintained road twists and winds along, pulling you towards the north.

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About halfway between the two is the town of Teslin.  This is a great place to gas-up and have a picnic.  The gift shop also contains a small wild-life museum with some excellent taxidermy and interesting artifacts. Nearby you will find the Tlingit Heritage Centre. Down by the water, this is the perfect place for kids and adults to stretch their legs and learn a thing or two.  For a small fee you can experience local artisans and traditional knowledge experts, see the incredible Tlingit canoes and historical buildings and even dip your toes in the icy waters of Tlingit Lake.  The fee is used to support the heritage centre and if you are lucky you can sample some free coffee and some of the best bannock I have ever tasted.  We were there just one day too early to take part in their annual pow-wow but if you can work your trip around this it would be worth it.

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From Teslin to Whitehorse we felt very small and insignificant in the face of the vast wilderness before us. The drive can be a lonely one and it seems as if the north is still largely uninhabited.

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Once you reach Whitehorse it is a whole different story.

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We are insanely in love with this beautiful, character filled city.  Snug-up against a back-drop of mountain, speckled with colorful buildings, murals, sculptures, parks and museums lies Whitehorse. Along-side the heritage sites, incredible outdoor adventures and stunningly delicious food lies a piece of my heart that Whitehorse will hold forever.

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We spent two days exploring Whitehorse and it was simply not enough.

Stay with Jeff and Layla at their charming,  AirBnB cabin in the woods, complete with fire-pit and an open air pit-toilet with a view. Climb aboard the S.S. Klondike and feel the history.  Go for a hike, check out the Takhini hot-springs and definitely eat at the Klondike Rib and Salmon (An article dedicated solely to this amazing restaurant is in the works)!  There are experiences for all activity levels and tastes. Whitehorse is a small city with a big heart. Because of this it is diverse in population and experiences.

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Day 7 Visit Carcross

Having a home base in Whitehorse allowed us to explore nearby Carcross. A tiny town with huge historic significance as a common stop on the route north during the Klondike Goldrush.  This area was originally known as Caribou Crossing and now boasts a tourist attraction of the same name.  I was determined to experience some sort of dog sledding so we made our way down to Caribou Crossing.

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While pricey, (each experience has its own extra cost after admission), it was actually a great stop.  Learning about the Alaskan huskies and snuggling the puppies was pretty wonderful and the short dog-sled experience was actually really fun and astounding. The speed that those small creatures can pull us and the very heavy summer sled was shocking.  The museum was interesting but I would avoid paying for the gold panning. It takes no time and is really just a money grab.  The mini-donuts however were worth every penny.

Just past Caribou Crossing on the last stretch to Carcross is the Carcross desert. The smallest desert in the world.  This was another favourite stop of ours. This mini-desert was created by the retreat of ancient glaciers. The sand is powder-soft and the walk from one side to the other doesn’t take long. We climbed the dunes and raced down them marveling at the odd sensation of walking across a desert while surrounded by mountains.

Finally arriving in Carcross for lunch we discovered that it is a great place to shop…but we aren’t shoppers. So we enjoyed our picnic and the kids really enjoyed the natural themed play structure.  There are a couple of historical points here and some Tlingit art on the buildings and totem poles but mostly it is an artisan market for the cruise ship tours that pass through.  If you are a souvenir shopper this place is for you.

After a long day of driving and attractions we returned to our cabin in the woods to enjoy a campfire. But not before stopping off for some of Yukon’s finest.

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Day 8 Yellowknife to Kluane to Skagway

We were now nearly half-way finished our trip. We drove the two hours to Kluane National Park and Wildlife Preserve. This park boarders on two other wildlife areas in B.C. and Alaska making it the largest wildlife preservation area in the world.  I was determined to see it. It turns out that we should have scheduled in a longer visit as it is just stunning. 20424106_10101987699088106_6990052058951003729_o.jpg

We attempted a summit of the King’s Throne hike, knowing that Roman’s little legs would likely not make it to the top. A beautiful but very steep hike led us to a grand view at about a third of the way up. We decided to stop here for a snack and take in the view and then make our way back down.  At about 4 km return this was Roman’s longest and most difficult hike to date.  Questionable, desperation parenting led us to state “Whiners get nothing but winners get ice-cream. Are you a winner or a whiner?” Luckily the motivation of ice-cream and the desire to be winner kept those little legs moving all the way to the car. That and some creative storytelling games.

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We had been advised by a friend that the visitor center in Kluane was top-notch so, after grabbing some burgers and the hard-earned ice cream we went to check it out.

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It was a beautiful space with many wonderful hands-on learning activities for the kids. We let the baby crawl about and touch everything she wanted and the four year old explore the exhibits while we enjoyed a bit of a mental break before the upcoming 5 hour drive to Skagway.

You can’t reach Skagway from Kluane without taking a ferry. Since ferries up north are pricey we were obliged to drive back to Whitehorse before heading south to Skagway. The drive from Whitehorse to Skagway was an interesting one. The difference in road quality changes sharply at the boarder and the road climbs into the clouds. Driving through the White Pass was like being on another planet. The alien landscape was impossible to capture through the car windows. Some of the stretches wound around blind corners, along heart-stopping precipices. My husband was having a blast. I was in awe…heart-pounding, seat gripping awe… but awe just the same.

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We arrived in Skagway much later than anticipated due to a long wait at a blasting site (evidently a bridge was being built) and got checked into our room at the Westmark.  We went in search of food, wanting something fast but delicious. We fought the crazy winds as we wandered the streets and then I spotted it. Something fast and hot and yummy, something everyone would willingly eat…

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Northern Lights Pizza filled our bellies and warmed our hearts at a price that didn’t hurt the wallet. We headed off to bed exhausted but exhilarated that we had finally reached Alaska!

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The Epic Alaskan Road-trip: Part One

Our summer of 2017 was one of the busiest summers of travel we have had in a long time (and for us, that’s saying something!). The center-piece to our many adventures was a 17 day road trip.

Yes we took the kids (ages 11 months and 4 years).

Yes we took our Yaris.

Yes we camped and cooked our own meals (some of the time).

And YES it was fun and relaxing and awe inspiring!

When we talk about our trip people often say “Good for you!” As if we accomplished something out of the ordinary and strangely painful to overcome. But the truth is it was…good for us. We were stuck together, often with no cell signal, in a magnificent place. The places we visited and the time we had together filled my heart with gratitude and love and it is a trip that anyone, on any budget can pull off.

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Old Alaska highway trail. Northern Rockies, Provincial Park, B.C.

It wasn’t magic. We didn’t get lucky (in fact sometimes we got very unlucky). And it didn’t work because our kids are just mellow, easy going kids, or were plugged into electronics the whole time (in fact we didn’t let Roman have movies or video games in the car, shocking I know!). It was great because we planned carefully, and were willing to be flexible.

You may or may not know, but driving the Alaska highway, which starts at Dawson’s Creek in British Columbia and ends at Delta Junction in Alaska, is kind of a big deal. It is one of the last great road trips that you can still complete and comes chock full of wild life, shockingly grand views and interesting people.  We had no idea this was a thing until we were about a quarter of the way into our journey. And it seemed that a lot of people in our generation have never heard of this! We met some families on the road but really there were very few people travelling with kids and we think this is an absolute shame!

It is the perfect family adventure. You can take it as cushy and comfortable or as back-woods wild as you like. You can make it super inexpensive or go all out and have stunning, gourmet meals every night, take helicopter tours and live like a baller.

We took a middle road, balancing excitement and adventure with our kids need for routine, sleep and regular meals.  Regrettably we did not drive the full highway, but rather did kind of a combination between the Alaskan highway and the Golden Circle route in BC. We fully plan on completing the Alaska highway in the future, but for now here is the route we took, some of the stops we made and some important tips if you want to try this trip with your crew.

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Epic Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1- Edmonton to Slave Lake Ab.

While our actual trip started in a small town in Saskatchewan, for the purposes of this blog Edmonton seems the place to start. If you are from far away you can fly in here and rent a vehicle. If you are from Alberta, B.C. or Saskatchewan or even Manitoba you will mostly be driving until you hit the route and then enjoying it’s incredible loop.

Enjoy some sights in Edmonton and grab some lunch. There are a lot of options in this city. We love the Telus World of Science and on this trip we started off with their special Pixar exhibit. This tired the kids out sufficiently enough for us to drive to Slave lake with kids dozing in the back seat. At Slave Lake we found a comfortable and clean campground. We were still pretty fresh so we enjoyed our night in the tent together and really enjoyed the $25 per night fee. Daniel and Roman discovered the beach here, which was beautiful and full of drift wood and stones for imaginative play. We will be returning to this camprground for an extended stay for sure.

Pro Tip – A back country tent packs down super small. You will only have enough room to sleep but that’s all you need it for anyways. Keep your luggage in the car and enjoy super cheap accommodation every night if you dare.

 

 

Day 2  Slave Lake to Fort St. John

Depending on the age and experience of your travelers this 5 hour drive could be challenging. But we had a plan. From past trips we had realized that our youngest traveller would play or sleep happily in her car seat for a maximum of three hours (and that would be pushing it). So every day around the hour and a half mark we would start looking for a good stop. Sometimes we got lucky and ran into wonderful places like the Kimwhan Bird Walk in Maclennan, Alberta and sometimes it would be a school playground or a grassy patch off the road. But we would stop for at least 45 minutes to 2 hours and let the kids eat, stretch and get some energy out.

On this stretch we really enjoyed the bird walk and also Mile 0 Park  in Dawson’s Creek. If you have time there is a great pioneer village there as well. Unfortunately the year we went the man made lake in mile 0 park had been drained and was roped off but there was a splash pad, and a play ground and sunshine, which is usually all we needed.

Fort St. John was where we stopped for the night and again we camped. Charlie Lake Provincial Campground was another nice campground for very little money. We loved the playground here and went for a short hike down to the lake. We never found a beach but there are several look-outs and the hike itself was lovely, wandering through the close knit poplars and mossy forest floor.

Pro Tip – Make frequent stops with small children. 

Pro Tip –  If you are travelling with a small vehicle, invest in a good roof-top soft carrier. You can fit most of your camping gear and luggage up there and leave space in the car for the things you need regularly, like food, toys and rain gear.

Day 3 Fort St. John to Toad River

This leg was a long one but we knew we wanted to make it to the Northern Rockies, find a classic, Alaska Highway lodge and spend some time exploring.  We drove until the kids were done, stopping at a playground for lunch. It was raining but there was a covered picnic shelter and we had our gear handy so the kids enjoyed a soggy bit of fun and then we hit the road again. This leg of the drive was when we started realizing what a treat we were in for. The views became drastically more dramatic and the wildlife started appearing everywhere.

We stopped for the night at Toad River Lodge.  This lodge, in the tiny town of Toad River has been around since the 40’s and is home to the famous cap collection. According to “Beyond Mile Zero: the Vanishing Alaska Highway Lodge Community,” written by Lily Contard, the hat collection numbers over ten thousand, all collected from or forgotten by travellers to the lodge since 1979. This lodge like many others has fought hard to keep a foothold in a quickly changing travel scene.  With more and more people choosing to drive the highway in RVs or make use of the campgrounds, not to mention the high cost to get electricity, the lack of cellular phone service and many other struggles of living in such an isolated place these businesses really show the grit that people have and the refusal to give up on a dream.

We stayed at Toad River for two nights. We ate well at the restaurant, enjoyed soft ice cream, hot showers and big comfy beds.  At $104 a night it was reasonable for us and a nice break from squishing into the tent.  If you do drive the Alaska highway try to stay in a lodge at least once.  Keeping these businesses alive is keeping history alive. Talk to the people who work there, (they tend to be the owners) and they will gladly share their amazing stories about life on the Alaska highway.

pro tip : Try a lodge. There are lodges to fit every budget and don’t forget to stop for cinnamon buns. On the Alaska highway these area treat that can’t be beat.

Day 4 Exploring Northern Rockies

When road tripping with young kids we have found that adding in a few non-travel days helps them to stay on an even keel.  We knew we wanted to spend some time hiking and exploring in the Northern Rockies area so this day we woke up had a simple breakfast and headed out to explore. We spent most of our time in Muncho Provincial Park. We stopped to view the folded mountains, some waterfalls and a young caribou and then went looking for some trails.

There are a lot of trails in the area but many are only roughly maintained. Make sure you know your route, look for markers like stone cairns in rocky places and be bear safe. We highly recommend the Old Alaska Highway trail, a shocking experience when you realize what the highway started as and how difficult passage would have been.  There was no way we could see to access the trail without crossing the river but it is shallow and with the right boots you can definitely stay dry.

We also attempted the Red Rock Canyon trail which promised some very interesting rock formations and waterfalls but the water level was high and we decided to turn back instead of making the crossing with the kids.

We treated ourselves to a delicious, if a bit pricey, gourmet dinner at the Northern Rockies Lodge, a large and very well established lodge that caters to tourists looking for more luxury and adventure experiences. We even convinced them to sell us an over-priced bottle of wine to take away with us (alcohol is hard to come by past Fort Nelson).  After the kids fell asleep we sat on our little deck sipping wine from plastic cups and talking about the days to come and adventures so far.  It was a lovely day and we went to bed full of mountain air and memories.

Pro tip : schedule in some stay and explore days. Not having to pack up even for a night really revitalizes you. This is also a good time to find a coin laundry and refresh your wardrobe.

Day 5 Toad River to Watson Lake

This is possibly my favorite leg of the journey.  Not only will you reach the Yukon today, you will have the opportunity to visit some places that fill your heart with joy and give the kids lots of chances to run off some steam.

First stop was the Liard Hot Springs. The wildlife in this area is abundant. During our short drive to the springs we saw a family of stone sheep and a caribou, herds of wild bison, a black bear and a grizzly! We began keeping a wild-life count in my journal which encouraged Roman to keep a sharp eye out for creatures as we drove. The Liard Provincial Campground is where you will find the hot-springs, be prepared with cash as they often lose all connectivity and cannot use their debit machines. For $10 the whole family can spend the day in the campground including the use of the beautiful hot-springs.

The hot springs can be found down an interpretive boardwalk. They are very well set up with beautiful wooden structures for changing rooms and entry ways. The pools themselves have a natural, river-bed bottom and the far side is forest bank. There are logs floating in the water that the kids enjoyed trying to ride and, across a narrow part of the stream, one log that is perfect for jumping off of. If you are brave, you can make the hot walk up to the bubbling, mouth of the spring and place your rock, gaining favor from the hot-springs gods. Head to springs early as it quickly gets over-crowded with travelers, and the cool morning air makes it delicious to soak in.

As you near the Yukon the wildness of the territory makes you feel very small. We stopped to take a picture at the official sign and then continued on to Watson lake to find our campground for the night ($12 per night!).  It was very hot and sunny so we headed back to Lucky Lake  where we had seen a beach with a water slide! The slide was regrettably closed when we were there, being mid-week, but the beach was sandy and the water clear and cold and we enjoyed a refreshing dip.

Next up was the, not to be missed, Sign-Post Forest. Bring a sign from home and add your name to the thousands that are there. The forest was much bigger than I thought it would be and it evoked a strange sense of awe and wonder. How many of the people who have left their signs are no longer living? How many will follow after us?

We headed to Kathy’s Kitchen for a home cooked meal, visited the Northern Lights Centre to attempt to watch a sci-dome presentation about space and the northern lights. It was a bit overwhelming for our 11 month old and a bit long for our 4 year old but it was a cool place and very inexpensive. Then we trundled back to Kathy’s for some amazing home-made pie!

We ended our night with a campfire. 6 marshmallows and one filthy baby later it was time for bed. It was a full and exhausting day but a night’s sleep in the Yukon air was all we needed to continue our adventures the next day.

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How Are They Handling It?

We are a family of adventurers. We are a family of travelers. My husband and I choose to spend our breaks in ways that are often less about rest and relaxation and more about living all the life, seeing all the sights and experiencing everything the world has to offer that is accessible on a two-teacher income. Our kids of course are just along for the ride and while we will sometimes give them options, more often than not, they don’t have a choice about where we vacation, how far we hike or drive in a day or where we stop for lunch.

So inevitably people we meet, friends and family, and random strangers want to know, “How are they handling it?”

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This question is asked by three distinct types of people:

1. The Curious and Hopeful

This group of questioners may have small children of their own or be looking to start a family in the future. They ask out of genuine interest and their tone is always one that suggests they are sure that I am going to give them a positive answer after which I may impart my (very limited and biased) knowledge on how they too can go on adventures and travel wherever they dream with their kids.

When this group asks the question I love answering it! They listen intently, ask questions to deepen their understanding and are never judgmental.

2. The “I’m asking because I think I should.” group

This group tends to throw the question out, wait for you to answer, nod and move on. They are usually non-travelers or have grown children and are not really interested in the conversation since they can in no way relate.

When this group asks I give the shortest possible answer, “Great actually!” and allow them to steer the conversation in whatever direction they see fit. Anything more would be talking to myself and that’s what crazy people do.

3. The Inappropriately Sympathetic

This group asks with a tone of, “I’m completely ready to hear your story of woe and weariness.” Sometimes they will even place their hand on your arm and tilt their head as if they are asking about how you’re holding up after your recent divorce, or the death of a beloved family pet.  They look into your eyes and assume that you are about to embark on a tale of hardship and misery, as travelling with children is mostly hard-work and tuning out the screaming in the back seat.

When this group asks the question I give them the longest possible answer and make sure I dwell on all the sunshiny happy moments, just to spite their negative assumptions.

But…How are they handling it?

My four year old went back country hiking and summitted his first mountain at 2. He has been canoe camping 3 times and back country hiking in the high alpine. He has completed dozens of hikes, easy to moderate and been downhill skiing in the Rockies. He has been on around 20 flights, and many road trips, long and short. My one year old has been canoe camping and we have taken her hiking from Pukaskwa National Park to Skagway, Alaska. This summer we all completed a 17 day road trip on the Alaska highway and through the interior of British Columbia…in a Yaris.

And how did they handle all of this?

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Beautifully.

That’s not to say we don’t have tough moments. The moments when a 5 hour drive turns into a 12 hour one because the silly parents forgot to factor in the long weekend and all of the campsites are full. The moments when we run out of car snacks or water and Roman’s “MOUTH HURTS!” The moments when the baby is done with this 19km hike and there are still 3kms to go.  But that is just part of parenting. If I have to deal with the distasteful parts of child-rearing I would rather be dealing with an epic meltdown on the side of a mountain or under the canopy of the forest, or giving a timeout on the deck of a ferry, or turning up the radio way too loud to drown out the cacophony of sadness in the back seat as we push the last 15 minutes to our stop for the night.

But really, they handle it beautifully. They surprise us and fill us with wonder and pride. They lean on us for support and we greedily borrow their wonder, their amazement and their joy as they experience all the beauty this world has to offer for the first time.

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I Spy Something Pretty: Our First Back Country Trip as a Family of Four – Day 3

Today we would paddle out. We had made the decision to make it a three day trip and take a new route but the morning went so smoothly and we were enjoying our day so much it seemed a shame to end the trip today.


We were planning on trying to find our way through some smaller lakes that Daniel had never been to before. There would still be plenty of portages and we had no idea what kind of shape they would be in.

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It turned out the shape they were in was boggy. Boggy enough that I made Roman follow me closely, fearing that he might disappear in the bog if he made his own path. I was ever ready with the camera too in case mucky hilarity ensued. Roman was having trouble dealing with the feeling of bog mud in his sandal and keeping him moving took some prodding. I would remind him how brave he was the day before and how good he felt at the end of a tough portage. I would bribe with granola bars. I would threaten no ice cream. When all else failed I would turn and start walking. He would shriek and shout, “Nooooo,” but he would start moving.

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After a few shorter paddles and squishy portages we hit a larger lake and started playing games and telling stories. It was in the middle of a riveting game of I Spy on my husband’s turn.

“I Spy with my little eye something that is pretty,” he ventured, looking for brownie points.
My son looked around and responded, “the sunlight on the lake.”
I was floored.

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My heart swelled for this beautiful little human and his love for our world. It was the kind of moment that makes you stop and realize that all of these adventures are working. “For we will only save what we love.”

I paddled out that day feeling absolutely heart-full.
I had a little more patience as we lunched in an area recently affected by forest fire when Roman insisted on touching the charred trees and blacking his hands.


I was a little braver when we had to drag the canoe through a pond and over a beaver dam in thigh-deep water I was certain had monstrously large leeches in it.
I paddled a little more fiercely when the wind picked up as we crossed an open patch of lake and had a little more confidence that we would cross just fine.
I laughed a little harder when we swam off a beat up dock, Roman jumping in wearing nothing but his life-jacket, Dan pushing me over into the icy water.

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I sang a little louder as we made the last push to the boat launch, wishing all the while that we had stayed one more day in this beautiful, wonderfully wild place.

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Returning from our loop. Totally blissed out.

 

I Spy Something Pretty: Our first back country trip as a family of four – Day 2

Day two dawned bright and early as the sunlight filtered through the tent and the birdsong-alarm-clock rang out. Ariadne was awake and fussy and would need a bottle quickly. Roman was out cold.

We slithered out of our low profile tent with the baby and left Roman to sleep. I paced with the baby while Daniel started up the biolite (best back-country camp stove) and boiled some water.

It wasn’t long before a terrified cry came from the tent.

“MOMMY!”

“I’m here Roman!” I called back, “We are all right here.”

I went over and opened the zippers for him.

“Why did you just leave me in the tent?” His sad eyes and accusatory tone enough to crush any mother’s heart.

“Because you were asleep and we didn’t want to wake you up and make you grumpy.” I told him.

“Oh! Ok! I have to pee.” And just like that, sad eyes gone, blissful, wilderness energy back.

Over the course of the morning Dan fought his hangry nature while he waited for bacon to cook and suffered through having his tea spilled not once, not twice but four times. Roman was content to dip his toes and wander about the campsite. On this trip he ate everything we gave him with no complaints. It is amazing what happens when kids are too hungry to care and know that there is no other alternative waiting in the cupboard.

We had bacon wraps for breakfast which were amazing but because we were in the back-country we had to eat all the bacon. Packing up full of bacon while herding the two small children away from hazards was making everyone a bit testy. Then I remembered the carrier. Ariadne got strapped in and we were able to move much faster.

We were in the canoe and on the water by 8:00am. The lake was like glass, clouds reflecting in the deep blue water. It looked as if we were paddling through the sky. The kids were holding it together and we were headed just a short way to the first portage.

And then my husband dropped a bomb.

Apparently today’s portion of our journey would include no less than five portages….

FIVE PORTAGES! WITH CHILDREN! WITH REALLY YOUNG CHILDREN AND A CRAP LOAD OF STUFF!

I was rocking maybe 3 hours of sleep after a long day of driving and canoeing and an early morning with a baby who was screamier than usual and now I find out that we are portaging five times!

We got to the first portage which was really more of a small grassy area between two lakes. Ariadne had just fallen asleep of course so we had to wake her and set her on the soggy ground, confused and crying in order to move the canoe.

I was getting frustrated and feeling like I just wanted to head back now. It was feeling like this would be way more work than fun and I was furious that this was the first time I was hearing about all of the portages we were planning to undertake.

On the other side we paddled in relative silence other than the now inconsolably screaming baby. It was getting a bit brutal. Then she fell back asleep. You would think this would be a good thing but we were nearly at the next portage.

We needed to make the most of the early morning calm. So we made our way to the second portage of the day. The first real portage. I felt overwhelmed. The children were crying, I was hungry. We unloaded the canoe and there was definitely enough stuff to warrant two trips and…I had a princess moment. I huffed and complained and blamed Daniel for not thinking about the reality of doing this kind of trip with children.

I gave myself a moment and then I noticed Roman watching me. He was trying to decide if he was enjoying himself, he was trying to decide if canoe camping was fun, he was trying to decide if a bit of discomfort and struggle were worth the amazing places we get to see and the adventures we get to have, and I was ruining it for him.

I took a deep breath and asked Daniel what his plan was. He told me to carry Ariadne and a backpack along with some life jackets and take Roman with me and he would deal with the rest.

I got set up and we headed off down the trail. We were headed uphill through a small stretch of trees. There was a light breeze keeping the bugs at bay I was working on changing my attitude. We got to the other side and set up a picnic lunch and I started feeling better. The portage had not taken very long and it was all working fine. We all felt better after lunch and as we reloaded the canoe I apologized for being a whiny bitch and we were back on track.

It was a good thing that I got over my portage related anger then because what was to come would have been impossible if I had kept the defeatist mind set.  Ariadne continued to have a tough day. Every time she fell asleep we had to wake her up again so the sound track to my day was less easy listening and more scream-o.  But we sang songs and played Roman’s favourite story-telling game, “yes, and…,” and got through another portage fairly easily. Roman and Ariadne had fallen asleep before this one and we floated for a while enjoying the quiet and letting them recharge a bit. Eventually though we needed to move on. Ariadne woke up as we pulled up to the portage and seemed fairly content. Roman was distraught. I used my favourite distraction technique called,  “spotting a kestral.” I picked this up from a parenting article once and it generally works. Basically you just notice something that is interesting and you do it in such a way that they don’t realize you are trying to distract them.

At this portage someone had made a ladder between the two trees so I ignored Roman’s wails of grief and turned away from him towards the ladder, then I simply said, “huh? That’s strange. Someone has made a  ladder out of these trees. Roman did you see this?”

It worked. He came over to see, wanted to climb up, and by the time we were set to handle the third portage of the day he was chattering away and happily skipping down the trail.

Back in the canoe and on our way. We quickly came to the fourth portage of the day. Or what used to be the fourth portage. Because this is crown land the trails are not managed and this one was in need of some TLC. We poured on the bug spray and headed off down down stream, over logs and through bog. We were truly bushwhacking now. You could just make out where the path was supposed to run. My four year old made me so proud! He was a bit scared at times and got a bit scraped at others. He was wet and the bugs were biting. It was uncomfortable but he gritted his teeth and got it done. When we got to the end he felt so proud. He told me it was kind of scary and I told him about bravery and how doing something even though you are scared is how you know you are truly brave. Just like a super-hero.

I took a moment while we waited for Dan to bring up the rest of the gear to feel truly thankful for the chance to allow my kids to take risks and know that they can accomplish things that are difficult.

Heading towards the final portage of the day we both felt like it couldn’t be any worse than the last one.

We were wrong. This one too had been left to become overgrown and was complete with fallen trees and patches of boggy ground. It also included some lovely streams and pools of water whose bottoms were full of large slippery stones and debris. Roman was panicking about leaches and the water was up to his thighs. He froze and could not move forward. I looked him in the eyes and said, “If you don’t start moving right now there will be no marshmallows tonight. You can do this, just like you did the last one.”

You could see the resolve in his little body. His back straightened, his chin lifted and he reached for my outstretched hand. I grabbed his tiny fingers and he stepped down into the water. We moved forward quickly, not daring to stop now in case he froze up again and made it out of the worst of it and onto a muddy grassy path. I breathed a sigh of relief that this was the last portage of the day and hugged my big brave boy tight.

Cue the thunder.

Clouds had gathered and the wind was picking up. We paddled hard singing into the wind and hoping that the rain drops we were feeling would not turn into a deluge. We donned our rain gear just in case and made a final big effort to reach the island we would be spending the night one. We were now on Versaille Lake. A very large lake which is home to fishing camps and several private cabins but still largely isolated. We made it to our island campsite  and the rain stopped.

Roman was exited to explore the island, we were excited to eat. The evening was warm and calm. We got brave enough for a quick swim in the frigid water, roasted marshmallows and watched the wind move the giant wind sock on the island slowly shift from side to side. A little silly time in the tent and then our two very tired munchkins drifted off to sleep to recitations from memory of Robert Munsch and where the wild things are and softly sang lullabies.