The history of my relationship with my tent, in five parts:
Act I: My Tent and I Meet
Location: Ottawa Valley
Synopsis: Just like new relationships in an age before Instagram, there are no photos of me meeting my tent for the first time nor of our first outing.
At the eleventh hour I decided I didn’t want to borrow a tent from Wilderness Tours and potentially have to share a very small space with a classmate half my age.
I made the hour and a half drive into the Ottawa MEC on the Sunday of the Labor Day long weekend. Based on my brief research, the TGV-2 had the smallest footprint of the tents available at the store. No sense in purchasing a tent if I ended up having to share it anyway.
It came with a bright pumpkin orange fly that looked cheerful and welcoming. The tag said it was a four-season tent. That seemed like a good idea to me if we were camping in the Ottawa Valley in the winter.
Without further thought I plunked down my Visa.
That Tuesday as I set up my tent after swimming in the river, I listened to my new classmate complain about having to share one. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. I had my own space. Now I had to get to know it.
Act II: We Have Drama About a Roommate
Location: Georgian Bay
Synopsis: Sometimes the love affair with my tent was rocky. To be fair it wasn’t my tent’s fault. I had invited in the enemy.
Her feet reeked of sweat, mold, and a vague whiff of plastic. After eight days of living in neoprene booties the stench could peel paint off of a wall.
Why oh why had I invited her to stay in my tiny orange home?
Here we were on the last night of our sea kayak trip, trying to get a few hours of shut-eye before out 2:30am alarm. She had decided not to unpack her sleeping bag for the occasion. Her feet were free to slowly smother us in my tent.
I offered up a silent mea culpa and promised a long airing on the clothesline when we returned to Pembroke.
Act III: We Have Drama About Wildlife
Location: Woodland Caribou Provincial Park
Synopsis: The warm orange glow welcomed me at the end of the day as I paddled through a wilderness over 2,000 kilometers from home.
I watched a black bear the size of a VW Beetle amble off into the woods away from our campsite along the portage trail. It had raised its head, sniffed the air as the scent of Tuna Helper wafted over to him 50 meters away, and decided our dinner did not entice him.
I stared at the spot where he’d been standing.
“Don’t worry,” Martin said, gauging my thoughts. “He won’t be back.”
We cleaned up our dishes, packed away our food, and headed for our tents.
I zipped myself into my sleeping bag and whispered thanks in advance to my tent for keeping me safe. As if a layer of nylon and a layer of polyester would hold up against the swat of a bear paw.
Act IV: We Have Drama Over the Weather
Location: Algonquin Provincial Park
Synopsis: This beauty was meant for winter weather. I, maybe, was not.
“Are you alive, Kate?” Bill sounded worried.
I wrested my hand from my sleeping bag to look at my watch. 5:30am. I’d seen every hour pass since I’d gone to bed.
“Yeah, I’m here. Thanks for checking on me. I’m going to try to doze a little longer.”
No one had slept last night. Even with my four-season mountaineering tent and a sleep system rated to -30 degrees Celsius, I shivered and chattered throughout the night. Sleep came in fits and starts. My little tent had protected me from the wind but not much could be done for the -35 degrees Celsius overnight temperatures. (I hear all of you yelling, you hot tenters!)
I finally gave up at 8am, wiggled out of my mummy bag, and layered up in 30 seconds flat. My feet thawed out on the walk over to the Mew Lake comfort station.
Act V: My Tent and I Paddle Off into the Sunset
Location: French River Provincial Park or Killarney Provincial Park or Temagami (etc.)
Synopsis: Dragonflies patrolled overhead as I packed up my tent – my allies in the battle against the deer flies and mosquitoes.
I found a secluded tent pad at our first French River campsite and set up my tent to face east. I knew we would be in bed early which meant I would be awake with first light. In the morning I crept out of my tent, grabbed my Pelican case, and headed for Little Pine to shoot the morning light over the rapids. After a half an hour of sunrise photos I crept back to my tent to start packing up my belongings quietly while the dragonflies ran interference for me.
Through two seasons of guiding canoe trips my tent has been my refuge from bugs and bad weather and my introvert’s retreat where I can journal, read, or close my eyes and listen to nature’s soundtrack after a day of being “on” for fabulous clients. My tent and I have our system figured out, what I bring into its interior and what I leave in its vestibule. It has become a symbol of the quiet I crave when I’ve spent too much time in Toronto’s cacophony. I look forward to many more years of adventure with my home away from home.