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Keeping one another’s spirits up on a long trek

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By on February 1, 2022
Photography: 
J Hornsby
A snack along the way. Algonquin Park, 1982
A snack along the way. Algonquin Park, 1982

I have written before about my snowshoe travels in the snow-laden forests of Algonquin Park—trips that lasted several days between destinations, by way of frozen creeks, rivers and lakes—and careful orienteering through the deep woods. 

As we journey through a second winter of the pandemic, my mind often goes back to those trips. Perhaps this is born from a desire to move freely again, away from masks, distancing, and the ubiquitous scent of hand sanitizer. Or maybe it is normal February wanderlust: it has been so long since we have had anything like normal it’s hard to tell.

My first few winter expeditions taught me a lot. Like double-checking compass readings against what you can see before you and on contour maps. Once, when it was snowing heavily and hard to see the lay of the land, we thought we had taken a wrong turn, and were convinced we had to immediately travel north to get back on track. This appeared to mean walking across a river near open rapids, so we cut long poles to carry in case we went through the ice. We made our way down the slope to the edge of the ice, and from that vantage point we saw in the distance a set of islands on a lake—which assured us that we hadn’t miscalculated after all and needed to keep heading due west!

On my first trip I didn’t own a pair of sunglasses, and, after several hours in sunlight reflecting off the snow, my eyes didn’t feel quite right. Fortunately, the balance of that trip was grey and snowy, but I always brought sunglasses on subsequent expeditions. And, in the days before “wicking base-layers” you learned that it was way better to get out of sweat-soaked clothes into dry ones before getting into your sleeping bag—no matter how you felt about a wardrobe change outside, in the dark, in the biting cold.  

As each day of travel drew to a close, and while there were still a few hours of light left, we looked for a good place to camp. We tried to find a spot that would catch the morning sun (if it appeared) and was a bit sheltered. We tamped down the snow in a wide circle using our snowshoes and within a few minutes it would be hard enough to walk on. 

Instead of a tent, we made a lean-to by cutting and lashing poles to trees, and covering it with a tarp. Balsam boughs were laid on the floor inside (you need as much insulation under you as over you), and we built up snow against the outside of the tarp. 

The best place to set up a lean-to is near a rock face of some kind, and to build a fire between the two. No matter how cold it was, we managed to keep warm, tucking into our sleeping bags soon after nightfall, and waking as daylight appeared. Mostly, we kept one another’s spirits up with good humour, outrageous witticisms, and solid camaraderie.

It is so important for us to keep one another’s spirits up as these pandemic days drag on. There is no way around this season in the life of the world, so we must walk through it together. Please look out for one another—don’t be shy about checking in with anyone you feel concerned about. Remember the toll this is taking on frontline workers, and on those who live precariously, and be generous in prayer and in giving to organizations that seek to relieve the hardships of the pandemic. 

And don’t be afraid to dream about what you will do once the pandemic has passed. God places both love and hope in our hearts, and they are good things to snack on when the journey seems long.

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