MacGregor Point Provincial Park: Beautiful sunsets​ over Lake Huron

Milo and I spent a week at MacGregor Point Provincial Park. It was the last stop of our trip.

setting sun over lake huron

Some quick facts:

  • The campgrounds are about as close to perfect as I’ve seen on this trip with sites carved into shady little nooks and crannies in the forest.
  • The park store is well stocked and sells ice cream—I can report that mint chocolate chip, black cherry, and vanilla praline are all tasty.
  • MacGregor has excellent hiking paths through the forest and along the shore of Lake Huron.
  • The evening views at Sunset Point are spectacular. Milo and I walked there every night.

sunset silouette

 

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…

 

colour 1

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.

 

“Camping etiquette,” by The Fun Police

I want to find the person who made this sign and bake them a pie.

etiquette

It’s posted in the laundry room at MacGregor Point Provincial Park, it’s unsigned, and best of all, it’s laminated.

I love that in addition to instructing you to keep your music down and your dog quiet, it reminds you that the sound of laughing really carries. No laughing. No laughing I said!

Here are some of my other favourite bits:

  • “Keep your children under control” and don’t let them “run wild.” Noisy games are for the “appropriate” playground, not the campground. What is it with kids these days playing soccer on the baseball diamond?
  • “Nobody wants to hear your music, radio, or Kumbaya campfire songs.” Enough said.
  • Keep your lights low. “Lighting up your campsite to rival Las Vegas will certainly annoy your neighbours.” Note that it doesn’t say anything about gambling or sex workers, just keep the lights low, like the inside of a casino.

Remember, life is suffering.

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.