Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 1 of my Yukon adventure!

I'm sitting in the gold rush saloon reflecting back on my first day and enjoying my last glass of wine for the next month.

25 years ago, my mom's boyfriend at the time, sent me to camp. His motives were to mainly be rid of me and my 13 year old attitude and angst. I had no idea what I was getting into or what it all involved. Imagine my surprise that among other things, it involved a 10 day canoe trip. Being the guy he was, he set me up with all my gear. I was the only person on that camp bus with their own paddle. A birds eye birch panel at that. I had never stepped foot in a canoe. Here I was with my own paddle!

When I got off the camp bus, the counsellors didn't know what to make of me. I showed up in a matching outfit, earrings, hair done with my own paddle.

The experience was one of the best in my life and it was the catalyst for me to enjoy a lifetime of outdoor pursuits. (and no, I haven't given up earrings!)

Today, was my Yukon trip orientation. Picking up clues from 25 years ago, I left the earrings and makeup at home. When I got here earlier this afternoon, I had an intense moment of "oh my god, I can't do this" thankfully, I breathed through it and it passed.

I met my 14 other classmates and 3 instructors. Oddly enough, one of the girls (19 if she's lucky) showed up with earrings. Well, if you can call a giant paperclip, zipper pull and bulldog clip earrings- they were in her ears)

I feel a smidge less intimidated. No one else seems to have done a trip as big as this before. As a matter if fact, most of the other students seemed shocked and so intimidated to even ask questions.

One of my first questions was the lack of toilet paper. It turns out we'll be practicing a modified bidet method: a squirt bottle. After the orientation, me and a girl a thousand times more brash than me went to the store for the perfect water bottle. Small, light, with a squeeze lid. After all, you don't want to use your regular water bottle for fear of cross contamination!

Tomorrow is gear check an rationing. Then we drive to our trail head and camp. The "real work begins Wednesday. We'll be backpacking through the Wheaton river valley until august 10th. Then we come back into town, switch for our canoe gear and paddle the highland river. I can finally say that after 3 months of getting myself worked up, I'm excited!!!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Fashion Anti-Christ

In 4 short days, I'll be in the Yukon for a month.  For the past 3 months, I've been getting into shape, learning about myself, and experiencing every emotion from excitement to fear to anxiety.  As of tonight, all my gear is packed and ready to go.  The packing list that the school sent me is easily 12 pages long. I'm still not sure how one goes about wearing 3 pair of underwear, one pair of pants, 2 t-shrits and a pair of shorts for 30 days.  It's also hard to imagine wearing a puff jacket and long johns and sleeping in a -15C sleeping bag when all of the weather reports I find suggest that the temperature will only go as low as 7C. But the kicker, the biggest kicker of them all? crocs.. 

Since their introduction into this world, I've cringed at crocs.  Their oversized bulkiness, their primary colors, their overall FUGNESS.  I'm all about things with function and I "get" that crocs float, are lightweight and are great for boating/padding.  Fine.  Then that's where they shall be worn.  Is it acceptable for them to be worn as casualwear walking down the street?  Hell to the no. When I got a facebook invite to join the group "I don't care how comfortable you are, you look like a dumbass in those crocs" I eagerly signed up.

So imagine my panic and anxiety, when crocs were listed on my packing list "must bring" as a lightweight shoe option.  It was almost as bad as discovering that, for the next month, I won't be using toilet paper, but instead will be using "nature's toilet paper" (which happens to be smooth stones, sticks, spruce cones, leaves, moss and snow- incidentally I'm allergic to trees... but let's not go there)  I wasn't sure how I was going to tackle this bit of information (the crocs, the toilet paper, I'll deal with later-  I'm thinking that smuggling contraband toilet paper might just be necessary)

And then, like a beacon of hope, an email from one of my best girlfriends showed up in my inbox.  Until then, I suffered silently.  I let no one know my dilemma.  So when I got her email, I almost cried.  Native Shoes are made from the same lightweight floatable (incidentally, environmentally unfriendly pvc) material but have some style infused into them.  I was excited.  I could pull this off!  Look, floating, light shoes that won't make me look like a German tourist!  There was hope.

A few weeks ago, I set out on a mission to get myself a pair.  I thought of how I'd be the envy of the group.  Well, it turns out all of the main street hipsters threw a wrench into my vision.  There's not a pair to be found in the city. Or online.  Or thru bribery.  I went into the Main Street Shop (Anti-Social) and innocently enquired about my saviours.  The cantankerous owner of the shop (maybe that's why it's called Anti-Social?) barked at me without even looking up at me.  No hope of getting any until August.  At the earliest.  All hope was lost.

I tried to find SOME way of justifying wearing crocs.  What if I don't get red ones (red crocs seems to be the international symbol of "I'm a German tourist")  What if I disguise them? What if there's no photographic evidence, maybe it wouldn't have happened?  I just couldn't do it.  What's worse, is that my instructions are that said shoes must fit with a pair of socks.  Because I insisted on geting the cushiest, comfiest socks, my socks add about 2 shoe sizes to my feet.  Wow.  This was going to be a sexy look.

I went into the crocs store on Robson (trying not to pass out from the off-gasing of the pvc fumes) and tried not to panic.  It was hard.  The first rack I almost walked into was high heeled crocs.  I can't even justify that with a sarcastic comment, so I won't.  I settled on a cute(ish) pair of crocs that can pass as boat shoes.  If you squint and ignore the matte plastic sheen of the pvc and whiteout the "crocs" logo, they don't look so bad.  But with hiking socks?  Well, maybe if I don't mention to anyone on my trip that I went to fashion school, I won't get arrested by the fashion police...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fear of the unknown

Two weeks tomorrow marks the official start of my  Yukon Grand Adventure .  In the past 3 months that I found out I was chosen for this course (from a work sponsored program) I've gone through a lot of emotions: excitement, nervousness, anxiety and fear.  I'm not even sure how I've managed to find time for these emotions since pretty much all I've been doing is training for this trip.  I know that this trip will be a one of a lifetime adventure for me, and even though I haven't even left yet, I've learned a lot about myself.

I realize that one of my greatest fears in life is a fear of the unknown.  My ex used to call me a control freak and after some soul searching while getting ready for this adventure,  I'm happy to learn, that's not accurate at all.  I don't need to be in control of a situation nor do I need things to go "my way".  I admit though, that I do like to be prepared and have an idea of what to expect when doing something.  Ironic, really, considering that a lot of the things I do are pretty spontaneous.   However, I`ve figured out that even in spontaneous situations, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

What I do know about this adventure, is that it`s 30 days long, involves backpacking, whitewater canoeing and carrying a backpack so heavy that anyone I`ve talked to that`s backpacked laughed at (an 85L pack with an average weight of 60lbs) and that, is pretty much all I know about what I`ll be doing for a month.  Needless to say, with my new admission of fear of the unknown, I`m scared shitless.

I have no doubt that all will end well and I`ll come back with some amazing stories (I`ve even started a pool at work where collegues can try to guess the cockamammy adventures I might find myself in) but until I get on that trail, my mind is going to run wild with possibilities.  Possibilities like:

  • What will my fellow students be like? It seems like I might be by far the oldest student as the average age of the students is 18-25.
  • Have I prepared enough? Or am I going to realize partway thru I'm ridiculously out of shape and can't handle it (so far, my practice hikes are with a 40lb pack)
  • Am I completely off my rocker for even signing up for doing this.  All signs point to yes:  I've never even backpack camped, what made me think it'd be a good idea to do it for a month???
  • Will I have the right equipment?  Everything they've suggested seems to assume it will be freezing in the Yukon.  All information I've found suggests the temperature should be between 5 and 20C.  However, they're insistent I bring a sleeping bag rated to -15C.  Considering I bake when I sleep and weight is of the utmost importance (a bag this warm is MASSIVE) I question this.
  • Am I going to be able to stand not washing my hair for 30 days.  I know there will be lakes to swim in and surely they'll be freezing, but how often will we find them?
  • Will I be able to survive without toilet paper for a month.  I can't believe this is even a possibility.  After I was accepted and read through the boatload of information (that still didn't tell me much) I read the part about the "no toilet paper" rule.  I almost died.  I never even considered this an option.  Of course, I knew to be ready for the woods etc... but no toilet paper?  Instead, we're to use "nature's toilet paper" which includes smooth stones, spruce cones, moss, leaves and snow.  First off, I'm allergic to trees so I'm pretty sure that cancels out that option.  I can't say I've ever looked at a rock and thought "now that is the PERFECT shape for ass wiping".  Honestly, the toilet practices are the single thing that gives me the most anxiety.  I'm really not sure how this is going to shake out (for lack of a better word)
I have no doubt that this will build character and I'll probably come out of it with a lot of blood, sweat and tears (and hopefully no meltdowns- I get emotional if I'm over tired)  Never in my life have I faced such a physically daunting task, nor have I ever faced something this big where I really don't have much clue what to expect.  Wish me luck.