I have a new book coming out. It’s called Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer. It will be released in early February by Dundurn Press.
The book is a collection of my best adventures — and misadventures — in the wilderness. It’s a book I’ve wanted to write. Entertaining, yet enlightening, the stories are full of enthusiasm and are designed to get people to explore the wilderness on their own, and (I hope) be inspired to protect what’s still left.
Here’s a sample chapter. Enjoy.
I must admit I was a tad nervous heading out winter camping when the weather reports had temperatures set between minus 28 to minus 32 degrees Celsius. Problem was, Andy and I had confirmed a date to go and didn’t have another free weekend for quite some time — and we both really wanted to get out into the woods for a bit, cold temperatures or not. The good news was that I had purchased a new stove tent — a Snowtrekker Expedition Shortwall. That meant we had somewhere to keep warm. I’ve cold camped many times, and using a four-season tent is fine when temperatures stay higher than minus 12 or so, but after they reach minus 20 degrees I’d prefer to have a good solid heat source.
The funny part of the trip was that Andy slept in the first day — he never sleeps in — and my six-year-old daughter claimed it was a sign he really didn’t want to go. I gave him an extra hour to pack his gear, and I arrived at his door with my vehicle puttering away due to the extreme cold.
It wasn’t a long drive to our destination, just a piece of Crown land bush in the Kawarthas, north of Peterborough, Ontario. We didn’t even finish our Tim’s coffee before we got there. When I cracked open the truck door and felt the cold air hit my face, I slipped back into the driver’s seat to finish my coffee and soak in the remaining heat from the vehicle.
What kept our spirits up, and what eventually pushed us out on the trail, was the scenic splendor around us. Snow had fallen the night before and it was sunny. We were walking through a winter wonderland, something you envision while reading old books of winter trekking lore. After 20 minutes of hauling our homemade pulk sleds down the snow-covered trail, we began heating up and taking layers off to avoid sweating. (If you sweat out in extreme cold, you’ll definitely pay for it when you slow down and begin feeling chilled.)
The distance travelled wasn’t too far. It never is when I go winter camping. We just looked for a place where we wouldn’t see anyone and where lots of dry wood to cut could be found. And we found it less than an hour away from the vehicle, near a swamp circled by a stand of dead cedar and birch snags.
The Snowtrekker tent took only half an hour or so to set up, which wasn’t bad since the design was new to me. Andy and I first had to stomp the snow down with our snowshoes to make a solid base. He wore traditional shoes and I wore my new, lightweight MSR models. He stomped more snow, but I didn’t walk around camp later looking as if I had ridden a horse all day. We also made a tripod to hold up the stove pipe and then began the chore of cutting wood — lots of wood. Paranoia set in just before dark when the temperatures began to drop. By 6:00 p.m. it was minus 28. The fact is, though, we cut too much wood. To quote Thoreau, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” We heated up first by cutting it, then by burning it.
By 9:00 p.m. it was past the minus 30 mark, and sheer panic set in. I had rented a sleeping bag that was rated minus 25, and Andy, being too cheap to rent a winter bag, had packed three summer/fall bags to layer together. We were screwed if it got any colder and the fire went out. At first our plan was simple. Andy and I decided we’d stay awake all night and stoke the fire. Problem was, we ran out of rum by 11:00 p.m. and got tired of stories we’d already told time and time again on previous trips. So we went to bed and prayed our Christmas-turkey weight would keep us warm until morning. An hour into our bags the flames died and we quickly became frozen popsicles waiting for morning. I was better off than Andy since I had rented a proper winter bag, but I ran into some bad luck when the chili dinner I’d cooked for us had me crawling out of the tent before sunrise to go poop. Not a pleasant experience!
Andy had the fire going when I came back and all was good with the world again. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs — powdered eggs, because I learned from past experience that real eggs freeze on winter camping trips. We also drank four coffees before braving the morning temperatures to walk out of the tent, dust the night’s snow off the pulk sleds, and begin packing up.
Andy and I came back with stories of coyotes wandering into camp, owls hooting above the tent, snowshoe hares crossing our path on the trail — but most of all we had bragging rights that we slept in the woods the same night all our neighbours were complaining about the cold snap while they sat comfortably in their heated homes and watched television.
We were pure Canadians and proud of it.