MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Yurts and how to say “Hi” to Milo

The two women were striding through the campground, their walking sticks swinging. When Milo caught their eye they wheeled around to say hello. “Here we go,” I thought as I prepared myself to, as politely as I could, keep them at bay. So many, too many, people feel entitled to walk right up and pet Milo, and he is not cool with that sort of direct approach. But to my pleasant surprise, these women knew exactly how to charm my boy: ignore him entirely and chat with me.

The short one said, “I’m Teresa. You can remember that because everyone knows Mother Teresa. Although,” she chuckled, “I am no mother.”

And the tall one swept a hand out to the side, “I’m Helen,” and sweeping it back to her chest continued, “Helen of Troy.”

I guess they’d been tent camping together every summer for forever but being in their 70’s tents were not as comfortable as they once were. So, Teresa and Helen were spending the week in one of MacGregor Point Provincial Park’s yurts.

They invited Milo and me to check out the wonders of yurt living. Their yurt was clean and spacious with comfortable beds, electricity, and a heater. It also had a covered deck and a propane barbeque, a good one. The place was nice enough to keep even a picky neatnik happy.

good lightI had Milo in a sit-stay while we chatted and they told me they would be happy to meet him if they could. So, I invited Milo to say hello. By this time he was feeling left out, and he immediately walked up and sniffed their pant legs while they continued to ignore him. When he started poking at their hands with his gigantic nose they gave him a nice chin rub and thanked him for being such a good dog. Well, that got him prancing around with smiles and doggy wiggles, and after that, they were all good friends. For the rest of the week, whenever Milo caught sight or scent of Teresa or Helen, his ears perked up, and he insisted that we go over and say hello.

Milo gets to choose who he greets. If you want him to choose you, you have to play it cool and let him make the first move. If you play your cards right, you just might end up with a first-rate doggy friend!

 

It takes me longer to hitch up my RV when someone is watching: On the psychology of being a solo woman traveller

An audience can make anyone nervous. When I was in school, I had no trouble solving math problems with a pencil and paper, but when the teacher asked me to work one on the blackboard, my brain turned into pudding. I suffered from stage fright, and the fear of looking stupid in front of other people made it nearly impossible to think.

girls can't what?But, in addition to this everyday kind of stage fright, people can face extra challenges doing their best work. Psychologists have identified  Stereotype Threat as one of those challenges.  Stereotype Threat can occur when a person is performing a task that has the potential to reinforce negative stereotypes about their group.

When triggered, Stereotype Threat makes people perform less well than they would have otherwise. And sadly, it is very easy to trigger. Being the only member of your group in a room or filling out a survey that asks about your gender before taking a test can do it.

I hypothesize that when people watch me hitch up my trailer, I screw up more than usual because, in addition to stage fright, I experience stereotype threat.

Hooking up a trailer is a gendered activity (it is associated with men), and people seem to expect women to be bad at it.

In my three months of camping

  • I never saw another woman do this task.
  • Women and men often expressed surprise when they saw me doing this task. I got questions like “Did you level it yourself?”
  • Men walking by regularly offered to help me.
  • Women walking by never offered to help me.
  • Some women walking by offered to go get their husbands so their husbands could help me.
  • Sometimes people just stared at me while I hitched my trailer up.

Granted, some of them could have been wondering about a person doing this on their own; another set of eyes would have made it easier. But, I strongly suspect that people would have been less fascinated by a guy doing this on his own than by a woman doing it on her own.

When people watched me hitch up my trailer I felt very aware of being a woman. In fact, the only time on this trip when I felt so conscious of identifying as a woman was when an obnoxious drunk guy stumbled onto my campsite and started giving me grief. I need to thank my German Shepherd, Milo, for his support in that situation.

Hitching up my trailer in front of an audience seems like a ‘perfect’ situation for stereotype threat to do its thing.

It’s weird that it took me months to figure this out because I study women and minorities in science and engineering, and in that context stereotype threat is A. Big. Deal.

And I wish I’d noticed this sooner because there are things a person can do to protect themselves (and the people around them) from experiencing stereotype threat.

I could have:

  • spent some time on a women RVers facebook group to remind myself that even though I didn’t see them, there are lots of women who can do this chore
  • reminded myself of women who had exemplary mechanical abilities
  • reminded myself that I was actually really good at this task
  • reminded myself that everyone has trouble attaching the weight distribution bars sometimes.

Research shows that all of these things could have helped me reduce my experience of Stereotype Threat, and that would have made being a solo woman RVer more fun!

Michele Mouton

What would champion French Rally Driver Michele Mouton do?

Here’s a link explaining how you can reduce the effects Stereotype Threat. Some of the advice is about how to help ourselves, and some of it is about how to protect the people around us–great information for parents, teachers, managers, and anyone who loves someone who might be hurt by Stereotype Threat.

And, here’s a link to an article about the 10 most successful women race car drivers ever. 

From now on when I hitch up my trailer, and someone is watching I’ll ask myself WWMMD? What would Michele Mouton do?

Balsam Lake Provincial Park: A good place for human contact (no ghosts)

The TripAdvisor reviews of RV’ing at Balsam Lake Provincial Park were right on target. But before we get into that, does it seem weird to anyone else that there even are online reviews for parks and campgrounds? In my mind, online reviews are for hotels and car dealerships and restaurants. You get reviews of campgrounds from your aunties, not the internet.

I should note that it hasn’t seemed weird to be camping with a computer, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, and camera with a Bluetooth connection to those other devices and posting to this blog every second day. It just feels odd to me when other people do this kind of thing. Afterall it is human nature to make and use technology, and so it shouldn’t feel that weird for humans to use technology in nature, but sometimes it does.

Back to the park. Its RV campsites were parking places in a big field. Big parking spaces, but I sipped my morning coffee while looking at my neighbour’s Winnebago, not at a lake or a forest or a bird. Although I did have a neighbor with a bird flag on their Winnebago…

Oddly enough, I didn’t hate this. I spent most of the last three months enjoying, loving, a relatively solitary existence but I was feeling ready to start including humans in my day to day life. And just as this urge for companionship bubbled up in my psyche I landed at Balsam Lake’s campground full of friendly people. By the time I started my second cup of morning coffee someone walking by usually stopped to chat: the weather was good, the lake was pretty, the hiking trails were interesting, their grandkids were starting school this year…

 

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Lookout Trail offers lovely views of early fall colour at Balsam Lake Provincial Park.

 

These other campers were right, the hiking trails were interesting. My favourite was Lookout Trail with its early fall colour and its excellent interpretative signs. I love science content. I learned that an esker is a gravel ridge deposited by a river running through a glacier and that the esker underlying Lookout Trail was the work of the Wisconsin Glacier, which retreated 10 000 years ago. I learned that cedar leaves are a great source of vitamin C. And I learned that even though some forests look haunted, most of them probably aren’t. OK, that last one isn’t science content and wasn’t on an interpretative sign. However, it has a solid basis in logic and observation:

  1. If there were ghosts in forests, then surely I would have seen ghosts in this incredibly dark and spooky cedar grove.
  2. I did not see ghosts in the cedar grove.
  3. Therefore, there are not ghosts in forests.
no evidence of haunting

I saw zero ghosts in this cedar grove. BTW, these trees aren’t actually dead, if you look up you will see a bit of green.

 

I had a great time at Balsam Lake, but a good portion of that happiness was due to my luck at having kind and interesting neighbours in the campground.

White Lake Provincial Park, Ontario: Home away from home

White Lake Provincial Park felt so much like home, or at least how I’d like my home to be, that I extended my stay.

First of all, it smelled good. You have no idea how important this is when you’ve spent three months sharing 144 square feet of living space with a 90-pound dog. The campground, like the rest of the park, was full of pine trees, and smelled nice and piney—not Pine-Sol piney, it just had the sort of fresh crispness that invites a person to take a big stretch and a deep breath.

view from the beach

Here is the view from the beach.

Second, although the campsites were all very private, the campground felt like a little community. There’s a big gold mine near the park and a lot of people who work in the mine set up a seasonal campsite at White Lake—it gives them a shorter commute and they can go fishing every night if they like.

I enjoyed the fact that folks knew each other and chatted on the paths and in the laundry room. And because they had to get up in the morning to go to work, the place was quiet and calm at night. These are my kind of neighbours. I got a lot of writing done at White Lake.

white lake beach

That is some good sand!

Third, the lake is sandy, clean and clear, and is an outstanding place to take your dog swimming. Dogs are allowed off-leash at the boat launch. When I let Milo the AwesomeDog out of the truck, and he saw that in addition to the lake, there was a dock, he spun in circles and jumped for joy. Let’s just say that he is fond of dock diving.

And finally, Milo wasn’t the only mischievous critter in the park. There were signs on all the bulletin boards warning of a meddlesome fox, who was sneaking around stealing shoes. I was a bit was sorry not to get a chance to see Ms Fox and wish I had some old shoes along that I could’ve given her for keeps.

meddlesome fox sign

I am NOT the rogue copy editor.

I was sad to leave this park. It felt like home.

 

RV life with a 90-pound dog: The bathroom

Loyalty can have its drawbacks. Milo, being a typical German Shepherd, doesn’t want many friends, but the few he has he loves deeply and keeps close. Really close. All the time.

If I discover that someone is a German Shepherd guardian I can count on three topics of conversation because these dogs shed clouds of fur, were adorable as they grew into their ears, and don’t understand why people close the bathroom door.

dog in bathroom

Milo is no exception. Sometimes I’ll be in the shower, and he’ll just poke his big head in to say:

Just checkin’ that you’re OK. Everything alright? You sure? I’m gonna sit down right here and keep you safe. By the way, you know you’re not gonna smell like nothin’ when you get outta there right? I mean it’s your choice, but it takes a while to get a good smell cookin’ and you’re gonna have to start all over again now.

To avoid this constant bathroom company, you can, of course, close the door.  But you are going to trip over him as you’re leaving. Is he guarding? Is he lonely? After all, you were in there for minutes and lonely dogminutes. Is he just blocking cold drafts? Who knows. But, he will be right there.

My travel trailer has nine square feet of bathroom space. There’s not enough room for Milo to lay down. So, for someone camping alone you’d think that the primary purpose of the bathroom door would be to hide the loo from view when it’s not in use.  Not if you have a German Shepherd.

“Watch ya doin’ in here?”

“None of your business.”

“Want some company?”

“No.”

“I bet you actually do.”

“No, Milo, you won’t fit.”

“Sure I will. Watch. I’ll just back in over here, like this, humph.”

“Seriously Milo, get out.”

“Just a sec, I think I got it. Now I’m gonna skootch sideways like this, and wiggle my back end this way, and my front end that way.

“Milo, you’re testing my last nerve.”

“Wait, I almost got it. One little hop. There! Done! You see, no problem. We’re both in here. And we even get some lap time.”

Of course, training is an option, but it would require that I not laugh. I’m just glad he can’t open doors.

Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park: Great for people, stinky for dogs

In Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park the Boardwalk and Portage Trails offer spectacular views of the falls, and even when you can’t see them, their gentle murmur follows you as you hike.kakabeka 1 These trails are cleverly integrated into the landscape in a way that invites you to notice the waterfall, not the path or the people. The people we did meet were vocal about Milo’s handsomeness and good manners, which is enough to make me love walking barefoot on hot city pavement. Add lovely scenery to this sort of Milo admiration and you, or at least I, are in store for a pleasant afternoon.

kakabeka 2

The park has a dog beach/ off-leash area on the river above the falls. There is a people beach as well. The people beach is unremarkable, and the dog beach is icky. Milo left tracks three inches deep in smelly mud, slimy algae (I hope it was algae) clung to the entire shoreline, and the water was not deep enough to wash any of that green muck off. Milo and I walked there, took one look, and left. This did not please Milo in the slightest. He wanted to swim. Mud, slimy scum, stinky water–for him they are features, not bugs. I tried to convince him that he should blame the beach rather than me for his unfulfilled desire to swim, but he was too irritated to listen to reason.

danger at kakabeka

“Danger!” It means nothing to Milo the AwesomeDog, literally.

It is easy to get to Kakabeka Falls, the park is just outside of Thunder Bay, and the Trans Canada Highway runs right through it. If I were visiting again, I wouldn’t camp. I’d buy a pass and spend an afternoon checking out the falls and the trails. This park made me feel a little bit like Chevy Chase at the Grand Canyon because really, there is only so much time you can spend looking at a waterfall.

Caliper Lake Provincial Park: Quick notes on the campground​

The campground at Caliper Lake Provincial Park was small and intimate, but better suited for tents than for RVs.

The electrical, pull through sites are smaller than most I’ve seen and don’t give a camper any sense of seclusion. For example, my breakfast view was dominated by my neighbour’s red Dodge Ram pickup. They’re good looking trucks.

If I come back, I’ll aim for sites 9, 17, 19, or 21. They have lots of shade, and given that my camper door opens on the passenger side of the vehicle, they offer pretty good privacy. The pads are a bit rough and not particularly level, but they’re manageable.

If you need a pull through site and can forego electricity, then try to get site 68 or 69. Those sites seem a bit bigger and are surrounded by trees.

And if you’re tenting, then you’re in car camping heaven. Seriously, there are some sites tucked right in beside the lake and you’ll be sleeping closer to your canoe than your car.

 

caliper lake tent campsite

It was hard to get a good picture in this odd light, but these tent sites are beautiful. Milo and I had a nice swim right here.

 

I enjoyed my time at Caliper Lake, but mostly because I liked the lake and the trails, and the other campers were quiet.

 

Caliper Lake Provincial Park: Needs hobbits

I lived in North Carolina for six years, and while I was there, I dated a forester. He was cute, and a kind man, but (not and) was a bottomless well of tree trivia. I guess that my back porch offered a view of about five kinds of oak trees, as well as cedars, spruce, and pines and he was keen on teaching me all about these trees:

“Carla, what kind of tree is this one here? And this one? And that one?”

The trouble was that although my interest in the forester was high, my interest in the forest was low. To amuse myself, I developed my own tree taxonomy:

What kind of tree is this one?

Christmas tree.

What kind of tree is that one?

Not-Christmas tree.

Things didn’t work out with the forester.

 

As I was hiking along Caliper Lake Provincial Park‘s Nature Trail, I realised that I’d developed another binary taxonomic system, one didn’t involve passive aggressively needling a boyfriend. You see, I saw a spot and thought, “that spot there, would be a perfect place to have a second breakfast.” At that moment I realised that there were Elf forests and there were Hobbit forests and that I was in a Hobbit forest. What made it a Hobbit forest was the abundance of nooks and crannies ready-made for naps and picnics.

 

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Milo’s good at finding comfy spots.

 

This second breakfast spot was a cosy cubby, nestled beside a boulder and blanketed with thick, soft, dark green moss. The sun shone through the leaves of a Not-Christmas tree, creating a dappled shade that promised good napping after breakfast.

This forest has trails winding through a thick understory. If you explore the Nature Trail, you’ll clamber over slippery rocks and scramble up a couple of steep hills, so wear good shoes. And bring a breakfast or two.

 

2

Although not a hobbit, Milo does enjoy a second breakfast.

 

 

Fall RV camping: Staying warm and happy

I’ve been living in my RV for 10 weeks now. I liked every day of it and I’m still happy to be on the road.

In June, when I packed for this trip, I had two comfort concerns: staying cool and keeping the bugs off.

It dropped down to four degrees Celsius last night. It being September, this is hardly unexpected. I saw my first yellow leaf of the season last week and today the trees around my campsite have yellow polka dots. It is beautiful, and sort of sad too since it signals the end of the season.

6

These four-degree nights mean that keeping cool and keeping the bugs off are no longer issues. Staying warm, however, is. I love comfort. I don’t need luxury, but a soft bed, good food, and a good book, all in a safe and simple space are important.

Here are three things keeping me happy during the September chapter of this trip:

  • A little electric heater. I have a ceramic one with a thermostat and it turns off if it gets too hot or tips. You have to use your common sense here and stay safe. Running it, even on a low setting, keeps things toasty when the temperature drops at 2AM. My RV has a furnace that heats the place up quickly. But it burns through a tank propane in a flash. For temperatures like these, that are chilly but not freezing, a little electric heater does a nice job.
  • Fleece. Right now, I’m wearing a fleece tuque, fleece socks, and a fleece sweater. Fleece is lightweight, soft, and dries fast. I also have fleece pjs. Yes, they make them and they are very cozy.
  • A large snuggly dog. If you have such a dog, and you let it sleep on your bed, you’ve got a personal, heartwarming furnace.

September is the month when you can see purple flowers and yellow leaves on the same hike.


Fall camping is great. No bugs, pretty leaves, fewer people, earlier nights for enjoying the stars and northern lights and camp fires, and cocoa tastes better when you wrap chilly hands around a warm mug.

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All you need to keep warm and happy: a fleece tuque, a fleece sweater, and a big dog!


Keep warm and keep camping!

Riding Mountain National Park: It’s big

After being on the road with Milo for nearly eight weeks, I’ve turned us around and we’re meandering back to Ontario. This means we have to traverse Manitoba. I don’t have anything against Manitoba, but if I’m going to be on the prairies I feel like I ought to be at my Mom and Dad’s place in Saskatchewan. So Manitoba ends up being the province I sprint across. On Milo and my trip west, we spent a night at a truck stop outside of Winnipeg. On our way back east I thought it might be nice, instead of trying to sleep to the low rumble of a Peterbilt, to listen to some laughing loons. We traded a sleepless night at the Husky for a few days at Riding Mountain National Park.

black and tan German shepherd dog standing in profile against a green forestThe first thing to know is that Riding Mountain National Park is big. It covers almost 3000 square km, and has 400 km of hiking trails, a bunch of lakes, and a whole town where you can buy gas, groceries, and ice cream. There are also 14 million cabins. I didn’t actually count them, but if I had to guess I’d say 14 million. The developed part of the park feels like a resort. There is smooth pavement and clear signage, and flower arrangements mark the campground entrance.

Although the park is big, most of the people are in a tiny part of it. Happily, you don’t have to go that far to get away from them. As a result, the dog situation here is really different from other places I’ve visited. I asked at the guy at the campground kiosk about a dog exercise area. He looked at me like I was from Mars.

No there aren’t ‘off leash areas.’ Just go where there’s no people. Of course, you might wanna think twice because of the bears.

Well, OK then. It seemed like I’d have to use my own darn common sense.

The size of the park is overwhelming, almost paralyzing. It’s hard to know where to start, and so it’s hard to start at all. Milo is a big help here. He has to move, has to walk. So we just picked a direction, and went.

I was hoping for solitude and we found it right away. We discovered a warm, clear little lake and spent the whole afternoon playing in the water. By the way, then name of the place is actually Clear Lake.

Milo must have been a retriever in a past life, or maybe a seal. The dog just wants, even needs, to swim.

a

“What on earth is this toy doing just sitting here in the shallow water?”

Finding this spot made the first day of our stay at Riding Mountain a success.