Five lessons from a long snowy walk in the woods

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
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Published on February 17, 2014

Where there’s a will (and a bit of recklessness), there’s a way.

Published on February 17, 2014

One of the little challenges I faced on my three-day snowshoe from Lake Joli to Keji.

Published on February 17, 2014

A good friend dropped me off before dawn in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a snowstorm.

Published on February 17, 2014

Half way across the first snowy tree bridge.

Published on February 17, 2014

Where’s the bridge? On the trail to Big Lake.

Published on February 17, 2014

Big and beautiful Big Lake. Morning of the second day.

Published on February 17, 2014

The woods.

Published on February 17, 2014

A beaver luge run on Mississippi Brook.

Published on February 17, 2014

Pretty terrain but challenging walking.

Published on February 17, 2014

Mississippi Brook near Mississippi Lake.

Published on February 17, 2014

Duct tape, lashing cord, zip ties, a metal tent peg, and snare wire. Now it is fixed.

Published on February 17, 2014

At the northern boundary of Kejimkujik National Park.

Published on February 17, 2014

Dennis Boot Lake in Kejimkujik National Park.

Published on February 17, 2014

Of all the times I’ve paddled Frozen Ocean, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it actually frozen.

As Simple as That - a column by Jonathan Riley

Thanks to everyone who asked about my toes this week. They’re fine.

After reading the little story about my three-day snowshoe from Lake Joli to Keji, people have had lots of questions.

Were you alone? Yes. Were you cold at night? No, I was warm and dry and cozy in my sleeping bag.

But the most common question was if I saw any wildlife. Just two partridges, and several squirrels and two big flocks of chickadees.

I didn’t even see any tracks the first day as I walked out into a snowstorm. About noon the second day, I started seeing small animal tracks. And I saw where a beaver had been busy dragging branches through the snow—it was like he had built himself a luge run.

Several times on the last day I came across deer tracks that turned around and headed away from me—as if they had heard me or smelled me or saw me and then ran away in the other direction.

People have been curious about my route. A friend, he calls himself my friend, dropped me off before dawn in a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere. Some friend.

From Lake Joli I followed logging roads and old trails pretty much straight east to Big Lake (that’s the short version); after camping the first night on Big Lake, I followed the shore and then Mississippi Brook south to Mississippi Lake. On the third day, I walked southeast, using just a good old-fashioned compass to Dennis Boot Lake and then on to the park trails, which I followed out to Highway 8. Again, that’s the short version.

The biggest reason I decided to take this long snowy walk, and this might not make any sense, is because until you’ve done something like this, you can’t know. And I just wanted to know.

After I got back from the trip I read a quote from some adventurers in the Antarctic who just finished the longest polar journey on foot ever. The quote was about improving your skiing, but they said it could also apply to anything in life:

“With every stride, try to stretch just a little farther forward than you think you can reach.”

I think that’s what I was doing; trying to practice skills and gather experience and push my limits a little.

I did learn a lot. Take last week’s story for example, about the frozen boots: if I ever do a long winter walk like that again, I’m bringing extra liners for my boots.

Here are five big lessons I learned on my long snowy walk to Keji:

#1: Once you're fed, watered and warm, anything else is wonderful gravy.

The first few days after I got home I was so grateful for all the little modern conveniences like a chair, central heating, running water—it is all sweet magic.

#2: Just because the map shows a trail crossing a stream, doesn't mean there is a bridge.

Between Lake Joli and Big Lake the trail crosses two streams, one flowing north out of East Spectacle Lake and one flowing out of Faith, Hope and Charity.

They were both 15’ wide and a foot or so deep the day I passed by. It was -12C and I didn’t feel like wading. I found fallen trees laying across the streams and climbed over them. That’s the short version—let me just add it wasn’t easy crawling on round, snow-covered tree trunks while dragging a 50-pound pack.

#3: Set a goal, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually you'll end up somewhere.

You don't always end up where you think you're headed and it's really not important where you end up. The important thing is to be out there and trying to get somewhere.

#4: Friends are a light in the darkness.

Bushwhacking takes longer than I knew. Because of that, this walk would have been more fun to do over four days and three nights. I reached Keji’s campsite 44 near Frozen Ocean about 4:30 p.m. on the third day.

Despite the park being closed, I probably would have and maybe should have camped there.

But a friend had agreed to meet me near Highway 8 on the east side of the park and so I kept walking. And walking and walking.

You’ll remember from last week’s story, I had gotten up at 5 a.m. that day. By the time I’d packed up, made a fire, cooked breakfast and fixed my snowshoe, for good this time, it was 9 a.m. And then I snowshoed for 12 hours. With a 50-pound pack on my back.

When I finally met my friend it was 6 p.m. and about to get dark. I was exhausted.

Thankfully we could follow his snowshoe tracks out. I kept my head down and trudged. But whenever I looked up, there he was walking ahead, his flashlight shining on the trail—literally a light in the darkness. Without him, I couldn’t have done it.

Again, gratitude, but this time for the people in my life. Even for the guy who dropped me off in a snowstorm.

#5 Like the song says, if you’re going to be dumb, you better be tough.


Geographic location: Lake Joli, Big Lake, Mississippi Brook Mississippi Lake Dennis Boot Lake East Spectacle Lake Frozen Ocean

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