A Beginner's Guide to the Wilderness

Jun 10, 2016
Although I love travelling, there have been some uncomfortable moments. There was the time I got caught in a Bosnian soccer riot. And the time I had to eat deep-fried scorpion at the Beijing night market. But my biggest horror was one most Canadians embrace: being deep in the woods, miles from the nearest hotel.

Yes, I’m a city slicker. I don’t want to eat dehydrated food for a week. I can’t sleep when I’m surrounded by flesh-crazed black flies. When I camp, the best I can hope for is that it’ll all be over before somebody loses the toilet paper. And in a country where walking three miles with a canoe on your head is considered a fun summer day, that can be a problem.

But it turns out I’m not alone. Across the sleepy backcountry, more and more people are embracing “glamping” – think fancy camping -- so that wimps like me can be at one with nature without the mud, sweat and tears. According to the Canadian Camping and RV Council, 53 percent of campgrounds have reported increased demand for cozy accommodations in the past five years, while overnight stays in traditional tents are in decline. And CBC News reports that Ontario Parks are building more cabins and yurts to cope with demand.

Not one to pass up an experience that I can boast about to fellow urban apartment-dwellers, I booked a stay last summer at Northern Edge Algonquin, a resort praised by Travelzoo members, the New York Times and even the Canadian government. It’s three hours north of Toronto in a remote forest, which doesn’t prevent it from having an on-site yoga room, sauna and hand-built pizza oven. All the food – organic and locally sourced of course – is cooked for you, and the tents have hardwood floors and real beds with down-filled duvets. And if that sounds too uncivilized, it’s possible to upgrade to a cabin with an en-suite bathroom.

Purists might argue that such comforts get in the way of truly experiencing the great outdoors. But for some people, it’s exactly the opposite. The first night, while lying on the dock as the Perseid meteor shower cast darts of fire across the night sky, I spoke to a fellow guest named Bruce. Now close to retirement age, he and his wife Jackie have made the trek up to Algonquin every summer for the past two decades. Until recently, they would canoe and portage across the vast network of lakes and woodland, sometimes for weeks at a time. But when her health took a turn for the worse, it became clear that such ambitious adventures were no longer an option. “These days we do what Jackie wants to do,” explained Bruce. “She’s always loved this park. And thanks to this place, she still gets to be here.”

A canoe trip the following morning brought us out onto on Kawawaymog Lake, the location said to have inspired Tom Thomson’s final and arguably most famous painting, The West Wind. It’s easy to see why he and the school of artists that came to be known as the Group of Seven spent so much time here. Vast expanses of water and firs offer a vivid palette of primary colours, offset only by the muted tones of windswept granite banks.

The next couple of days – a medley of paddleboarding, mountain biking, kayaking and learning how to howl like a wolf – passed in a flash. Lazing by my tent to the soundtrack of a summer breeze and the cry of an unnamed bird, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t even care about my mosquito bites. My fear of being in the middle of nowhere had gone.

And therein lies the beauty of glamping. For some, it’s a necessity; for others it’s a beginner’s guide to the wilderness. Following my experience, I’d happily consider more adventurous camping. Just don’t ask me to carry the canoe.

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