The story of Derek and how bringing along the boyfriend kept our teenage daughter camping with us.
We have tried our best to raise outdoor kids, we have camped on a regular basis with them from the time our first was born. About 4 years ago that almost changed, our then 15 year old daughter got her first boyfriend. It made going away regularly stressful, she didn’t like being away from him, wanted to take and use her phone more and generally put a damper on our family time away. Last year Hailey suggested that she was going to start planning for a back country canoe trip with her boyfriend Derek. Up until that point we had never really considered bringing him along, the girls had always brought other girlfriends. Then after our new year’s winter camping trip where Hailey decided to stay home and work and celebrate with Derek, we decided to let him come along on an upcoming family day winter camping trip if it meant that Hailey was going to join us.
That was the winter of 2016, family day was -42 Celsius, despite the cold and sleeping in a cold tent (yes we had him sleep in the cold tent as our hot tent was full). Derek didn’t freeze, we made sure he brought proper clothing, boots and provided him with a good warm sleep system, he actually woke up sweating. We got a lot of advice from other campers telling us that its normal for teens to drift away from camping and return after the business of post-secondary was finished but we didn’t want that, we wanted Hailey to keep coming with us even if that meant Derek tagged along. After that cold and fateful family day initiation because, Derek had bragging rights of cold tenting at -42 Derek joined us for a week at March break (this time we had 2 hot tents to share between us) and then he came with us for another trip and another trip. All told since Derek joined us winter camping last family day he has been on every single family trip we have taken, 10 in all in fact. Previously Derek didn’t have much camping experience, his family had camped KOA a few times and his canoeing experience was limited to a few fishing trips but not portaging. I distinctly remember a several things from a trip last March break, it was warm and the melt had started. The snow was soft, great for fort building and snow ball fights, there were deep pools of water through the campground one of which I found Derek standing in the middle of. As he stood there with water up to almost the top of his knee high boots, he told me he had never stood in a puddle so deep. It was clear he was having the best time even at 17 yrs. old just standing in a deep puddle. It made me think of the fun things our kids have grown up doing that come second nature now. Derek had never built a huge snow fort, taken part in a snowball fight where there was so many kids they had to divide up into teams, played night man hunt with flashlights or manhunt running freely through a snow covered airfield. That March break he was able to skate under the stars a few times on an outdoor rink (the same rink all of our kids learned how to skate). All of these things he had never done, it seemed like every trip we took to places he had never been he enjoyed camping just a little more each time. He almost never complained, he got along great with the other campground kids and eagerly participated in kid shenanigans and games. Last year, Derek got to hike in a cold rainstorm along flooded trails and see Tom Thomson’s grave, he hiked along the Bruce trail and explored caves(the kids even tempted him to jump in the grotto May 24 when the water was far from warm). He paddle boarded for the first time at the Pinery and body surfed huge waves.
Then came the big trip, when Hailey had suggested that her and Derek were going to go on a week long back country trip to Killarney by themselves we had to intervene. Derek had zero back country experience or paddling experience, both teens had only recently gotten their drivers licences would have to make the 5 hour drive north and then navigate the back country. While we didn’t doubt Hailey’s experience in the canoe or back country camping we had serious concerns about how they would fair on just her knowledge alone. Hailey had been slowly accumulating her own gear, she had asked for several important items for Christmas and had pretty much everything she needed to outfit the two of them on a trip. Instead we suggested they shadow us. What that meant was that they would do their own thing, paddle their own borrowed canoe but follow the same route as us and make camp on the same sites. By doing that we would be the fall back system in case something happened or if they needed help, it would also provide the learning experience Derek needed. It worked great but one thing that perhaps was not communicated clearly to Derek whom had never back country camped let alone ever portaged a canoe was the length of the trip, it was 12 days and almost 90km of paddling and portaging with his girlfriends family of 6. With only 2 rest days built into the 12 day trip it meant getting up at 6am and being on the water by 7:30am to beat the winds and summer heat, not how Derek envisioned his vacation. It was a great trip, a fantastic learning experience for both Hailey and Derek. One that sparked what I think can only be called a passion for the outdoors. Portaging is a lot of work but with it comes the pleasure of knowing you got yourself to that spot by your own power. Derek fished and frog/cray hunted with our other kids while Hailey relaxed and read or took pictures. There was a great camaraderie among all the kids. I can’t say that Derek loves to carry a canoe 3km or enjoys the biting mosquitoes along a portage or even likes lift overs but I think he really enjoyed himself. He must have as he came along the following month on a shorter loop with more rest days than travelling days in Algonquin, he was getting the hang of it, he even bought his own paddle( a Badger no less). In the meantime Hailey was enjoying herself and showing someone new the ropes (literally, if she didn’t like his bear hang she would make him do it again until she did). While it’s probably not ideal having another kid tag along every time, it is making our daughter happy. They are both pulling their own weight, doing their own activities but participate in all the group activities also.
Hailey purchased her own used hot tent last fall and at New Years in Algonquin, Derek was taught how to safely run the wood stove (he’s even turned down trips to Cuba and Ireland with his family to come camping with us). Their canvas wall tent looked like a teenage hangout with wool blankets hung from the wall frame to help battle the cold, a huge can of hot chocolate sits on the table, chips and cinnamon buns for breakfast. Derek got to enjoy a warmer Family day weekend this year sleeping in a hot tent and warmer weather, the more seasoned winter camping friends were pleased to see him around still. For us that’s the best of both worlds and we will take that. Derek can no longer be called the ‘newbie’, he has earned his seasoned camper badge in our opinion by paddling, portaging, doing lift overs and under’s, swimming in lakes and spent some time waiting out some rainstorms under a tarp. As for Derek and Hailey, well they have several trips planned on their own this coming season. They will try backpacking by themselves at Bruce Peninsula National Park and will join the rest of the family on two of our bigger canoe trips in Killarney and Temagami. Hailey is saving for a new to her used ultra-light canoe to call her own. Most of all we are thrilled at 18 years old, they are planning their own trips! You can follow along with their adventures at Hailey’s facebook page https://www.facebook.com/WildCanoes