Bearbells by Leslie Noonan
I lost my father-in-law this past week. While it was not unexpected, it was not expected either. While I did several hikes, these are private moments for me, so instead I will write about a weekend survival trip I did several years ago.
I had a nursing colleague who identified as Metis, and who loved his time in the outdoors, whether that was canoeing, camping or orienteering. Eric would regale us with his experiences in the backcountry, including his encounters with grizzlies. Eric was quick to remind us that the smallest scented items can have a huge impact. A friend of his was solo camping in British Columbia and had used scented cherry ChapStick before settling into her tent for the night, only to be woken by a grizzly casually slicing open her tent, straddling her and licking the ChapStick off her face before making another exit out the other side of the tent. Point taken. Avoid scented products. Eric had been doing weekend survival treks with men, but never with us girls. After much cajoling, Eric agreed to take a small group of us female nurses out for a survival weekend at the end of October.
That weekend could not have been more beautiful. The late October weather was exceptionally warm and the fall colors where resplendent with reds, oranges and yellows. We met at the parking lot for McCrae Lake and excitedly discussed our weekend trip. Eric had been very specific in what we could bring on this trip, which was very little. A tarp, a rope, water, a knife, and some tinned food and a compass. We started out in two canoes, across a calm lake with deep blue waters. The sunlight sparkled over the water drops caused by our paddles, and the wake of our boats left gentle ripples in the dark waters. We came to a large outcrop of granite rock we needed to portage, and I was amazed when Eric tossed one of the canoes over his shoulder and trotted down the trail to the next lake, and then came back and did the same with the second canoe.
After this portage, we canoed out to our destination. Once on land Eric began instructions on hanging a bear bag and making shelters. Surprisingly, our one nursing friend was great at making a lean to shelter. Surprising, as she was the most girly girl out there. Never underestimate a woman, because a determined woman can manage without high heels and makeup. As to my shelter, Eric taught me how to make a winter shelter. This begins with digging a shallow grave that fits your body. Seriously. Sounds like the beginnings to a horror movie. After digging out your own grave you fill it with large rocks and brush and set the whole thing on fire. I believe this is called a funeral pyre, just without you in it yet. Once the fires die down, you throw all the dirt you had dug out back over top of those rocks and erect a small wooden structure out of brush to which you attach your tarp. Basically, you have made a small shelter with a heated floor. I climbed in and settled in for what I was expecting to be a lovely sleep in the bush. Nope. The heat, good lord, I felt like I was in sauna. I shed layer, after layer, after layer, until I was laying in this shelter in my birthday suit and feeling like a pig over a roasting pit. The night animals where unusually active, which I attribute to them believing there was a barbeque on the go, with me being the main course. I tried to tolerate this through the night before giving up and flinging open the tarp and clambering out into the welcome coolness.
It wasn’t until we were back in civilization that I realized I really had been inside an oven. I developed a palm sized blister on my backside. Yep, I had roasted myself. Eric was so distraught over this, believing he had not prepared me properly. I reassured Eric my blistered backside was my own fault, as obviously I needed to throw more soil on my grave before settling in for the night. So now I can make a shelter to keep me warm in the cold of winter, or I will be better prepared if I become a creature of the night.