I come from a long line of indoorsmen. That’s not to say my Scottish ancestors never relished time in the woods. In fact, once those trees had been chopped, planed, polished and placed horizontally at the business end of Glasgow’s finest drinking establishments, well, they rarely left on their own volition.
They were great with their hands. But only in the context of settling arguments.
Luckily, my aversion to the outdoors hasn’t impeded me in the modern world. The last thing I had to spear for dinner was an unco-operative tuna roll.
Still, as a man, I feel genetically compelled to pass on some semblance of survival skills to my three-year-old boy, London. Which is why, when he was born, I decided it was time to buck the familial trend and become a bona fide outdoorsman.
There’s more to it than simply being outdoors. I’m already the master when it comes to navigating sidewalks, patios and even daunting, European-sized plazas.
This is about roughing it in a tent – in the middle of a provincial campground.
Training for this nearly two-day foray into the wild began when London was only 14 months old. I packed him on my back and set off on a rigorous hike up North Vancouver’s Dog Mountain, a trail rated “easy” by someone clearly in better shape than me. Supplies included two bottles of milk to keep the little dude hydrated, a small package of crackers for energy and a large bottle of water, which, due to a stocking error, didn’t make the trip.
We probably shouldn’t have either, given the unpredictable October weather. After an uneventful ascent, I became disoriented on the way down when heavy rain obscured the trail.
I had to stay strong for my son, who’d long since lost consciousness out of utter boredom. And that meant sacrifice. So I stuffed my face with his crackers (affix your own oxygen mask first) and set off in an unknown direction, bushwhacking for nearly five full minutes.
That’s when I heard voices. Barrelling through the brush, I stumbled onto the trail and into the path of two surprised hikers. “You don’t know how happy I am to see you,” I said, gasping for air. “Do you know the way to the parking lot?”
“Yeah,” said one, pointing casually behind them. “It’s like 50 feet that way. You can see it through the trees.”
Not my Les Stroud-est moment.
London currently weighs 37 pounds. I know this because I recently strapped him on my back and summited the first peak of Squamish’s Stawamus Chief, one of the largest granite monoliths in the world. It’s a steep trail hike with ladders and chains bolted to the rock to help folks scale the steeper sections near the top.
“Impressive,” said one passerby. “Insane,” said another. “Excuse me,” said most.
What goes up, however, must come down – starving, on quivering legs, nearly four hours after setting out from the hellish hill’s base.
“Next time we should bring food,” my girlfriend said as I struggled to lift my lifeless legs into the car.
“Next time?” I balked. “That was my Everest.”
Emboldened by the historic climb, I finally felt ready for our expedition into uncharted territory. So, after booking a partially shaded campsite with my credit card online, I rented a Volvo C70 convertible for the trip, because demonstrably I’m having a midlife crisis: Symptoms include renting a convertible to go camping.
There is very little storage space in a convertible. Also, the C70’s top won’t go down when anything larger than a deck of cards is placed in the trunk. I discovered a workaround for this, however, by packing the cooler, tent and other necessities – like my portable 10,000-BTU barbecue – next to my son in the back seat.
Turns out he doesn’t appreciate hurricane-like winds whipping over a windshield into his face. So we popped the top back up, which admirably kept us dry in the ensuing biblical downpour.
It’s hard to recommend erecting a tent using a feeble, head-mounted reading light. Had it been brighter, however, I might have noticed the rented convertible – and its powerful halogen headlights – parked in darkness just a collapsible tent pole away.
Pumping up the queen-sized air mattress was a backbreaking exercise that left both arms limp from exhaustion. Particularly frustrating was having the pump set to “suck” for the first 50 repetitions – apologies to our woodsy neighbours for the subsequent slew of late-night obscenities.
Finally, though … look at the size of that mosquito! A bloodsucker so bloated it eventually had to stagger down my lifeless arm just to get liftoff.
Luckily for the mosquito, it gets breezy in the mountains at night. Cold, too, as a matter of fact. Even with nearly half your body tucked under a blanket.
Plenty of time, then, to think about those who’d blazed trails before me: Ernest Shackleton, Simon Fraser, that British guy with bad teeth from Pilot Guides.
How did they do it, I wondered, as my air mattress slowly listed left. What was the secret?
Clarity came in the morning, after several solid minutes of sleep, a pound of bacon and one subtle suggestion from London: “No tent! Home!”
Adapt or die, as they say. Which is why, for our next jaunt, I’ve booked a cottage.
Original essay appeared in the Globe and Mail.