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 be 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.

 

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.

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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.

Fitness and flourishing: The benefits of attending to your dog’s mental health

They say that a tired dog is a good dog and, generally, they’re right. This is a little bit concerning because although this summer with its camping and hiking and swimming has been good for both of us, Milo is getting physically fitter than I am. Each day the gap between what I can do to tire him out and what it takes to tire him out gets a little bit wider.

tired dog

Milo and I have been camping for 11 weeks now. He started out strong and is getting stronger–swimming more days than not, playing a vigorous game of fetch on most days, and hiking almost every day. He’s a great big muscle with outstanding endurance.

I’m sure I’m much fitter now than I was at the beginning of this trip too. First of all, Milo never hikes alone. Many hikes have the word “lookout” in their name. I guess people like a view, and you need high ground for that sort of thing. So, lots of this summer’s hikes involved an uphill trek. I grew up in a part of Canada that’s so flat that people say you can watch your dog run away for three days. As a result, whenever I put on any vertical metres it feels like a serious (and somewhat exotic) workout. It seems like I’ve been walking uphill all summer, and I’ve noticed that it takes more to get me huffing and puffing than it used to.

German shepherd sitting on a rock looking out over a deep blue bay

Milo at Lookout Point.

There are other ways my daily activity has increased. For one thing, Milo and I travelled across the country which means I’ve hitched and unhitched my trailer many many times. Setting up the trailer involves deploying five, yes five, jacks, and none of them is electric. I’m getting some serious pipes.

Playing with Milo provides a good workout as well. When we play tug, there are times when I am yanking on my end of the toy as hard as I can. He is strong enough to pull me over, and I have to pull back. It is fun and exhausting and we’ve been doing lots of it this summer.

Except for my Fitbit saying that my resting heart rate is nine beats a minute lower than it was at the beginning of the trip, I don’t have a way to measure my increased fitness. But I know I feel good, and that is better than numbers.

However, even though I feel great, I get tired before Milo does, every single time we play or hike or swim. We are often a tired person and a slightly winded dog duo. This has not turned out to be a problem though because although it is true that a tired dog is a good dog, a mentally fit dog is a good dog too.

I’ve been thinking about physical fitness in terms of how much exercise it takes to make me and Milo tired, but fitness also includes mental fitness, or psychological well-being, or mental health, or whatever you want to call it. This summer our mental fitness has been improving in step with our physical fitness, and that helps him be a good dog and helps me be a good person.

 

German Shepherd laying on a grey rock.

Milo’s the good dog.

 

In addition to getting more exercise, we’ve been eating good food, spending time in nature, enjoying long hours of restful sleep, and experiencing very little stress. Milo has a guardian who is more centred, and I have a dog who is calmer. It seems like neither of us is sweating the small stuff as much as we used to.

For example, the last people who used the campsite we’re in right now left a week’s worth of stinky trash and recycling in the fire pit. That is the sort of thing that used to make me fume. But this time I just thought “some people make it easier to leave the place better than I found it than others.” It only took about 90 seconds to clean it up, and now I’m enjoying a campfire. Milo is laying on the ground beside the picnic table I’m using as a desk.  He’s keeping tabs on the neighbours, and paying attention to dogs walking by in a way that’s alert but relaxed. In other words, he’s being a German Shepherd Dog.

It’s not that he’s too tired to get in trouble, it’s that he is physically and mentally fit. His needs are being met and his life is full enough for him to enjoy being good–good in the sense of being well behaved, and good in the sense of flourishing.

This trip with Milo has helped make my life full enough to enjoy being good too!

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 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.

 

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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.

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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!