Adventures in Camping....Or How to Find the Ends of the Earth

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“There is pleasure in the pathless wood,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is society, where none intrudes,

By the sea, and music in its roar,

I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

                                                         Lord Byron


These words, by Lord Byron, were sent to me by my friend Nicola Gillam as a way to explain why she is so passionate about her adventure travels to some of the most natural and most unexplored areas in the world.  I’m fascinated by what motivates people do such trips.  Especially when the choices they make result in some difficulties or sacrifices.  Take for example, the type of vacations Nicky likes to take. They put her in nature and amongst some of the most beautiful natural landscapes you can hope to see but, they also have her battling the elements and testing her body, her spirit, and her endurance.  Not necessarily my idea of a vacation.  Where I might choose a 5 star hotel and fine restaurants, Nicky loves to explore the great outdoors; unspoiled locations where roughing it doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.

Take for example, her recent foray into Gros Morne national park in Newfoundland, Canada.  Gros Morne is certainly a stunning display of nature at its best.  With its soaring fjords and towering mountains, Gros Morne features incredible panoramas of beaches, bogs, forests and barren cliffs.  Gros Morne’s ancient landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which provides the adventure seeker a dramatic experience—hiking to alpine highlands, exploring the dramatic landscape of fjords, boreal forest, fertile volcanic seacoast and an array of sea stacks, coves, and beaches.

For this trip, Nicky set out with her daughter Maslin, another couple—strangers when they started the journey—and their guide.   Though I certainly understand the desire to see and experience such an incredible site, the journey is what confounds me.  So I had to find out what drives Nicky to this type of adventure travel.

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So what is the biggest motivation behind Nicky’s passion? She grew up in England.  And though there are beautiful, natural spaces in England, they are not as vast as what we see here in North America and especially Canada.  Growing up, her only exposure to our vast landscape came from television and books—nature shows and National Geographic.  As a kid, she had a yearning to see these places live.  And as an adult, that desire did not wane.  What some of us might consider romanticism, Nicky has turned into reality. 

So what about the challenges of heading out to these isolated places?  “The challenge is in getting ready.  But that’s fun.  I like the gear.  I like the prep.  I like the challenge.”   The weather during this trip to Gros Morne was less than ideal.  It was extremely cold; they had torrential downpours and a very real threat of hypothermia.  But to hear Nicky talk about it, it sounds like just another day.  “When you’re in the middle of it, like this trip, we just did it.  It’s raining and it’s cold, and you’re slightly fearful.  At that moment you may not realize why you’re doing it.  You even question why you’re doing it.  But the sense of accomplishment afterwards, that sense of Oh My God.”  She goes on to say, “I know there are not many people who have stood where I have stood.  Certainly hundreds before me, but not thousands and thousands.  That in itself motivates me.”  And what do you dream about?  “I can go into the wilderness and walk with an Inuit guide, and see a polar bear.  And I can walk across land that, maybe, other people have never walked across.  I think it’s just who I am.  And if it’s a bit hard, even better.”

This all sounds amazing, but I have to wonder if it is ever disappointing.  Personally, I have often felt great anticipation for something.  Looked forward to an experience for weeks, only to be disappointed once I got there.  The reality not living up to my imagination.  Has this ever happened to Nicky?  “I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve been somewhere that is unspoiled.  Because it doesn’t matter how high the falls are.  It doesn’t matter if the river is muddy.  It doesn’t matter if it’s too cold to swim or too fast to swim, or if the mountain is shrouded in cloud and fog.  It’s unspoiled natural beauty, so never have I ever felt, well this is a bit of a downer.” 

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The grandeur of nature can be overwhelming even if you are not alone.  “Even when we went to the Grand Canyon for the first time, I was physically moved to tears.  And I’m not a person who cries.  I actually welled up because of the natural beauty of it.  And there were other people around, but it didn’t matter, because it was just so enormous it just absorbed everybody up.  So it doesn’t matter.  It’s just the beauty of nature.  And the shitty weather is part of it.  So no, never does it disappoint.”

Getting to some of these places is hard work.  I wondered if the challenge of “roughing it” adds to the experience.  “Yes it does.  Because what putting the backpack on your back does, is it gets you away from all the other things that everyone else can do.  When you put your backpack on and start walking you are leaving behind the X number of people.  You pitch your tent, and you wake up to sunshine and you make your coffee, and everything is beautiful about it.  They are some of my happiest moments ever.”  I knew as Nicky was saying these words, she was right back there remembering this moment.

What advice does Nicky have for glampers like me?  “If it doesn’t call you, if it doesn’t set a fire in you, why should you put yourself out?  Adventure for one person isn’t necessarily adventure for someone else.”   Point taken!

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And what advice does Nicky have for people just starting out adventure camping?  Start slow.  Go hiking every weekend at local trails.  Start with an overnight hiking and camping trip.  Do it when you know the weather is going to be good.  Give yourself the chance to have a successful, easy time the first time.  Don’t go too far out.  Make sure that you will be able to go back easily should something go wrong.  And make sure someone knows where you will be and when you are expected back.

As you get more adventurous, always know your ability and don’t bite off more than you are capable of doing.  “Before doing the big trip in Newfoundland we went to Killarney (a relatively local park) to do a practice run with all our gear.  We had to make sure we knew how everything worked.”  Camp gear can be a lot of fun.  And new innovations are coming out all the time.  Take for example the camping hammock below from the pouchcouch.  If you, like me, are not fond of sleeping on the ground, here’s another option.  Search online for all the latest gadgets to get you through your next trip—whether it be in the wilderness or in your back yard.

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But make sure you heed Nicky’s advice.  “When you do go a little further from civilization make sure you have a form of communication.  Don’t count on your cell phone.  Have a satellite phone complete with a list of who you will need to contact based on the situation you are in.  Expect the un-expected.  Know basic first aid and have a first aid kit.”

So what’s next for Nicky?  “Well I have a couple of things I’d like to do.  I’d very much like to go to a place called Cairngorms National Park, in Scotland and Torngat National Mountains in Labrador, both of which are not the easiest to get to.  I’d like to do another paddling trip and go to the North West Territories.”

So I may not be jumping at the chance to beat Nicky to any of these destinations, but a Yurt in a beautiful natural setting, in the summer, may be in my future.