Backpacking in Canada – A Never Quit Story

I’ve had a few “never quit” moments in my life. Not a lot, but a few. This is a story about my first experience with pushing past limitations and the power of the mind.

It happened on a backpacking trip in my early to mid-twenties. It was me, my younger sister, and her (now ex) husband and we had a 5 day trek planned for the wilds of Canada. This was back in the 90s before all this fancy ultra-lightweight gear really came into existence and my pack weighed 70 pounds. I was also fairly new to backpacking, so I’m sure I was just making it harder on myself.

Anyway, we get to the trail head, load up and head out to our first campsite 10 to 15 miles away thru the wilderness. Piece of cake, an easy first day.

Well, the Canadian wilderness had other plans. It was brutal. We slogged and slogged thru what felt like endless uphill miles and it kept getting later and later into the evening. At some point my sister’s pack was getting to be too much for her to handle, so my brother-in-law and I divided up her gear and stuffed it into our packs. I have no idea what my pack weighed, but it was oppressive. Eventually it started to get so dark we needed to use flashlights to guide our way.

For whatever reason I was ‘point man’ and I scanned the trees with my flashlight looking for the small trail markers so we knew we were heading in the right direction. This went on for hours and we were getting broken down.

Then the flashlight batteries started to die out. We had backups, but when they started to die we stole batteries from our cameras.

I remember at some point we stopped to rest and, to conserve batteries, we turned off the flashlights. And there we sat, in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, exhausted, in the dark, and we started to hear what sounded like wolves howling in the distance. It was ominous. Needless to say we flicked the lights back on and kept going.

By this time, now 10 hours into the hike, my left knee was really starting to hurt. Every step was painful and I was limping. But I continued on, as ‘point man’, trying to find our initial campsite.

Sometime within the next 2 hours my sister broke down. She’d had enough and was crying, wondering if we’d ever get to the site. We were too head-strong to just pitch a damn tent and camp out anywhere, we were, you know, trying to follow the rules. Ha, silly kids.

I had to help talk her through it and get her to the campsite, which we eventually found after 12 hours of hiking with those hellish packs on our backs through some of the toughest terrain I’d experienced.

Needless to say we were elated to find our site but decided that after that horrible start we were going to turn back and head to the trailhead in the morning. Which we did, and it took us two 8 hour days of walking to get back out. On the final day it thunder stormed for the whole hike.

12 hours of hiking with nearly 100 pounds on your back, in the dark, in pain, with flickering flashlights, while trying to keep your sister together can show you what you’re made of.

I’ve had other ‘never quit’ moments since, but that was my first real taste of it.

Airport Zombie

![Airport Zombie](/content/images/2017/02/IMG_0330-150×150.jpg)

Friday, January 20th, 2012 at 9AM started the worst traveling experience I’ve ever had.

Have you ever had to sleep in an airport? I’d never had the pleasure until just recently…

You see, [my employer]( is based in Memphis Tennessee, and with me living in the Great White North of Michigan I travel down south at least a couple times a year. I’ve been traveling down there for the last, almost, 3 years without too many problems. Maybe a delay here or there, but nothing significant.

Until the aforementioned January 20th of 2012 when I was heading back home.

Earlier that day my boss asked me if I had seen the weather in Chicago, where I’d be making my connection flight to Grand Rapids from O’Hare International. He mentioned that they’d be having a few inches of snow and wondered if I wanted to try to get an earlier flight out to beat the storm. Me, being a Michigander, laughed at the “few inches of snow” and figured Chicago would be more than capable of handling it and my flight would not be a problem.

I left for the airport at 9AM to drop off my rental, get my tickets, get through security, and find my gate. All happened without incident and by 10:40AM the pilot had the bird in the air and I was happily heading home, byway of Chicago, and these “few inches of snow”.

![Out the airplane window in Chicago](/content/images/2017/02/IMG_0324-225×300.jpg)

At around 12:30PM the pilot notifies us of our arrival and that weather in Chicago was a bit rough but we’d be landing shortly. Since my connection flight to Grand Rapids wasn’t boarding until 2:00PM it was going to be a lazy, comfortable stroll to my gate, stopping for some lunch along the way. The flight from Chicago to Grand Rapids takes about 45 minutes so within a few hours I was going to be home, where I could rest up from traveling, catch up with my wife since I’d been gone for a week, and prep for my Land Navigation and Orienteering course that was happening on the 21st.

We landed, I grabbed a bite, and found my new gate and located a seat. While I sat there watching the news I also watched as passengers were being boarded on planes only to be de-boarded 30 minutes later. The weather was getting worse and they were delaying more and more flights due to visibility. This was a bit disconcerting. I did not like the pattern I was seeing.

After a, surprise, gate change, 2:00 was getting close. I kept watching the monitors at the new gate for any signs of delay. And, delay it did, first to 2:30 then to 3:00, then 3:20, and 3:50, and 4:00, and then 4:30… things were getting worrisome. During that time a man sat down across from me that looked very familiar. And after a little bit I had remembered where I met him, he was my instructor in a pistol class I took about a year ago. After introducing myself and confirming that it was indeed him, I found out he was on his way back from the Las Vegas SHOT Show event and on stand-by from another flight that had been cancelled. Pleasant. Well, 5:00PM came and went with no boarding and soon after the monitor at the gate said my flight was cancelled. Oh joy.

I got up and headed to the customer service counter where they gave me a wait list ticket for a 9:00PM flight. Yes! Another 4 hours I get to say at the airport! Since I had a lot of time on my hands I kind of wandered over to my new gate so I could scope out the area and find a place to kick back.

It was then that I started to wonder “What happens if I’m not given a seat on this flight? How will I get home?” Time to take action and be prepared. So, I headed up to the service counter at the gate to figure this out. See, Grand Rapids is only 3.5 hours of driving time away from Chicago, I could just rent a car one-way and drive myself home, so I wanted to know what my chances of making the flight were. Apparently not good. There were 50+ people on stand-by waiting for a flight on a plane that only seated roughly 50 people! The nice lady at the counter told me of a 1PM flight to Lansing THE NEXT DAY where I could put a hold on a seat, just in case. Lansing gets me closer to home, but it’s still a 1.5 hour drive home (making it a 3 hour trip for my wife). I told her I was going to find out about renting a car first, but that I may be back to do just that.

Cell reception wasn’t very good at that gate so I walked out into the concourse to get a better signal and call some car rental places. Since this was after 5PM on a Friday, not many were open, and those that were, were either sold out or were not doing one-way rentals for that weekend. Great. It’s either win the lottery and make the 9PM flight or sleep at the airport and catch the 1PM tomorrow. Sigh.

Missing the 9PM flight also meant I would miss the training event I had been looking forward to (and had already paid for) on the 21st. Double sigh.

I quickly got back to the gate, asked about the 1PM ticket and they hooked me up. At least I had a way home. Now, it was just wait to see if I was one of the lucky ones that got a seat on the 9PM flight.

A couple hours pass. And then another gate change. I can’t stand gate changes since it always feels like there is a chance for miscommunication and a missed flight as a result. So, I head to the new gate where I inquire about the flight change (since they had no confirmation of my flight number up anywhere). The guy at the gate looks at my wait list ticket and says “That’s not a boarding pass, you need a boarding pass.” Me, “I know, can you get me one?” Him, “Sure, one second”… Seriously?? Yes! Things are looking up! He goes over to the desk punches a few keys, walks back over and hands me a genuine boarding pass for the 9PM flight! BAM! Elated I walk over to grab a seat and text my wife of what I had in my hot-little-hands… we were overjoyed.

While sitting in my moment of sunshine I started to look in awe at my awesome little ticket home. That’s when I saw it, the ticket had someone else’s name on it. Oh no. Now, I’ve never been on stand-by before so I didn’t know if that’s just how they do it, maybe they give you a ticket from an earlier cancelation. You know, kind of shuffling the open seats. Back up to the service desk I go. This time I got someone else and I laid it all out to them, showed them everything I had. Yup, wrong ticket. Seems the person who originally gave me the wait list ticket, 3 hours ago, had screwed up and issued it for a confirmed passenger and not me. UGH!

Another gate change. This is starting to become frustrating, to say the least, and I’m starting to get a bit raw. Off I go to that gate.

Nothing like sitting around at a gate with a hundred people waiting to get on a flight that only seats 50. It’s tense, you can feel it. 9PM rolls by and no boarding call, they haven’t even started calling names off the stand-by list. 9:30PM, nothing. When is this going to end? At this point I just want them to get on with it so I can hear, once and for all, that I’ll be curling up on a bench (if I’m lucky) to wait out the night. 10PM comes and they finally start calling names. They pick, 10, maybe 12, lucky souls that get to leave this wretched place. Boarding starts at around 10:30PM and the gate people are telling the unchosen ones to wait it out because they always have a few empty seats that haven’t been accounted for. Which they did, and about 5 more people win the lottery, unfortunately none were me.

I sit there, in utter disappointment, as I watch them close the gate and all chance of me getting home that night. [I felt like Chewy in “The Empire Strikes Back” when the doors close leaving Han and Luke out in the cold of Hoth](

What do I do? Being one who doesn’t give up so easily I headed back to the customer service counter to see if they could find an earlier flight to Grand Rapids. Oh man, that was a long line, filled with very irritated, tired and weary people. I fit in perfectly. After waiting what felt like forever I finally get to the front of the line. I wasn’t there for more that 5 minutes and a guy taps my shoulder and asks me to follow him to another service counter. Nice. Getting somewhere. He brings me to another nice lady where I spill out my wonderful travel day’s events, she seemed genuinely sad for me. Aww. A few clicks on her keys and sure enough, a direct flight to Grand Rapids at 10:30AM the next morning! After a few more clicks I had, in my hands, a real boarding pass to the flight that was going to take me home. I even confirmed it with her, two times. While she was clicking away on her computer I had asked her about if the airport offered cots to the stranded passengers, her response was “That’s a good question” and never said any more. I thought that was an odd response but was too tired and excited about my ticket to push it any further.

![Dinner was served](/content/images/2017/02/IMG_0325-150×150.jpg)

Happy that I had found an earlier flight I resigned myself to my fate and went looking for someplace to get some dinner and have a beer. It was now past 11PM and, everything was closed! Are you kidding me?! One Starbucks, out of the many at the airport, was open. I think it stayed open mostly to serve the overnight airport staff. For $15 I had a sandwich, a banana, and a coffee. Dinner was served.

With my belly full, sans a tasty brew, and figuring sleep wasn’t really going to be an option, I went off exploring the airport. Being very tired from traveling all day I noticed I had developed a stumbling, lumbering gate. It reminded me of how a zombie walks. Looking at the other stranded people I noticed they were all doing the same thing, lumbering around aimlessly. I coined us all the “Airport Zombies”.

![While exploring…](/content/images/2017/02/IMG_0332-150×150.jpg)

While exploring I found a “charging chair” where you could plug in your phone and/or laptop to top off the battery. Since this had been a problem all day I decided to stop to charge my phone, and rest my legs. I sat there for a while, waiting for my phone to charge and watching the zombies stumble by. It was getting close to midnight and they started playing some recording over the intercom about only ticketed passengers were allowed in the concourse after midnight and anyone found without a ticket would be escorted out. I’m thinking “Seriously, you’re going to send security out to shake down everyone here that’s trying to sleep?” I would have been just a tad upset if some security guard came by and woke me up out of my, lucky, slumber, only to “check my papers”. That would have resulted in some yelling and “evil eye” glares. Thankfully, that never happened.

After my charging needs were taken care of I went in search of a comfy chair or bench to try to rest my weary zombie bones. I found myself in concourse B, which had some decent chairs, and started noticing everyone else trying to lay down and rest. The people varied from little kids to little old ladies and I thought to myself, can’t they find somewhere for these kids and little old ladies to sleep? What about those cots I asked about? Oh well, maybe this is just how it goes.

I picked a far off grouping of chairs that had a couple put together without an arm rest between them, this was so I could try to lay down. But, two chairs weren’t enough to fully stretch out so I had to kind of straddle an arm rest with my knees. It was not very comfortable but I forced myself to stay there and just rest and listen to the news channel they had playing on the TVs. It was maybe an hour before the discomfort forced me back up. Sitting there, uncomfortable, tired, and a bit cold (had they turned the heat down in this place?) I decided to get back up and walk over to the F concourse.


The F concourse seemed to have more resting zombies and therefore was tougher to find some decent seating. Well, seating with missing arm rests, apparently the other zombies were drawn to them as well. I picked a random chair to rest a bit and while I was zoning out I noticed a woman getting up from her spot and leaving. Looking over there I noticed she had left 4 chairs in a row without arm rests! So, I grabbed my stuff and headed over there, it was so nice to stretch my legs out completely. It still wasn’t what I’d call comfortable, but it was better than sitting in a chair or straddling an arm rest.

For whatever reason I woke up, yes WOKE UP, and checked my watch. It was now 4:30AM and I determined that I had been sleeping for almost 2 hours! Figuring that was going to be good enough I got up and checked the flight arrival/departure monitors for my 10:30AM flight. It was there, with a gate assignment, so that gave me some relief. Needing some coffee I found myself back at the only Starbucks that was open and got me an eye-opener. With coffee in hand I found a chair to sit in and started checking email and surfing the Interwebs.

I had emailed the director of the group that was holding the land navigation course, that I was now going to miss, and he was very nice and accommodating. They ended up shifting my registration to a later event in March, so at least that was taken care of. Later I found out that they had a “memorial service”, for me, their missing comrade, that’s too funny.

As the hours pass by I spent it reading, emailing, texting, and checking my various social networks. It definitely helped knowing that my flight was coming up. When 10AM closes in I make for my gate to wait for my flight home.

![Waiting at the gate](/content/images/2017/02/IMG_0335-150×150.jpg)

While sitting at the gate, people watching, some lady walks up and sits next to me. She’s obviously unhappy and from her grumblings I found out she was a fellow airport zombie. We trade stories of our travel experiences, etc etc. and somehow the topic of cots came up. I mentioned that I had asked about them and didn’t get anywhere and then she hits me with it… apparently they HAD COTS! They just neglected to tell anyone! She told me about how some gate attendant came up to her while she was resting and asked why she hadn’t just grabbed a cot. She mentioned that no one had told her, he mentioned that, yes indeed, they had cots down by baggage claim. Are you kidding me?? I could’ve had a decent, not great, but decent night’s sleep on a cot rather than find some chairs to “sleep” on.

After a bit she was getting annoying with all the complaining, even cursing loudly with kids nearby. So, I asked if she’d watch my bag while I checked to see if my gate had changed. Luckily it had, so I went back for my bag, wished her a good flight and scooted out of there.

If you’ve made it this far without gouging your eyes out from boredom, I commend and thank you. Therefore, I won’t bore you with the rest of the story since everything went smoothly and by 1PM my wife had picked me up and I was riding home where I spent the rest of the day napping.

Moral of the story? Don’t fly in the winter, and if you need to, be prepared for a night at the airport.

Oh, and look out for Airport Zombies! They’re a rough bunch and not to be taken lightly!

The Canadian canoe trip of 2000

“You better dry off or you’re gonna go into shock!” yelled my (now former) brother-in-law.

4 months earlier…

Planning began for our (my sister, brother-in-law, and myself) second trip to Canada. We had decided that we were going to do a canoe trip this time since the first backpacking trip was an utter failure. I’ll save that one for another post, but suffice it to say, we got our butts kicked by underestimating the wilds of the Canadian wilderness. This time we were looking for something a tad easier on our bodies, and minds.

Canoeing sounded nice, just float along the river and rather than lugging everything on our shoulders we could load the canoes with our gear and comfortably let the miles flow by. A little research on gear loading methods for weight distribution and we were on our way to making a nice 4-5 day trip of it. My brother-in-law seemed to have a good sense of trail planning, and the drive to do it, so he set out to plan our route thru the Algonquin Provincial Park river ways.

Around the time we started planning I met my future wife and over the weeks things started to go really well. She’s the type of gal who likes camping and doesn’t mind getting dirty, so I invited her to join us on the upcoming trip. She was game. Cool.

Planning continued and we were all getting excited for our super fun trip!

Now to launch day…

It was a miserable, windy, rainy, cold day in Canada. We were loaded up in our rain gear and were determined to get moving, it was going to be clearing up later that day anyway. But at that time, it wasn’t very pretty out. The packs were securely strapped to the bottom of our canoes, and covered with tarps. Then we loaded ourselves into the boats and shoved off. The water was… rough.

I’m reminded of the great quote from George on Seinfeld: “The sea was angry that day my friends, like an old man trying to return soup”.

We floated and directed ourselves into the middle of the slow moving, mouth of the river orientating ourselves for the start of our journey. We were, I’d say, about 100 yards from shore.

Once we rendezvoused with my sister and brother-in-law and were pointing in the right direction it was time to get paddling. In the water the oars went and with a “1-2-3” we rowed.

I, apparently, put a bit more power into my thrust and the canoe immediately… capsized. Yes, we and all our gear, were now upside down under the canoe in the cold Canadian water. I surfaced, angry beyond belief, to find my girlfriend laughing while treading water. She was not a swimmer and treading is about all she could do. So I swam over to her, had her grab me and I the boat, which was luckily within reach, and began trying to swim both into shore.

Halfway in, handling both her and the boat was getting a bit too much for me to manage. So I ditched the boat and brought her into shore. Once I knew she was safe on ground I jumped back into the freezing water to retrieve the canoe and whatever remained of our gear. As I was pulling the boat in I was trying to reconcile what had just happened and couldn’t shake the thought that all of our stuff was now sinking to the bottom of the lake.

With the canoe now within 10 feet of the shore and me standing in knee deep water I grabbed one side and flipped it over. To my amazement everything was still there! All strapped in just as we left it! Wow. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Maybe everything would be fine after all.

By the time I got the canoe on shore my sister and brother-in-law had made it in and were frantically trying to get us dry and warm. They were very concerned about us going into shock from the cold. It wasn’t that bad.

After I dried off a bit I figured I’d survey the damages and opened my pack. Sitting right on the top was my $800 SLR camera roughly wrapped in a plastic grocery bag. Surely that thing was ruined. I pulled it out of the bag and found it completely dry! Not a bit of moisture at all. Digging thru the rest of the pack I wasn’t as lucky, everything else was soaked. Even all my valuables that were “safely” stored in a “water proof” bag, UGH!

We returned the canoes, regrouped, and rented a cabin for a day while our stuff dried out. With dry gear, and a few more days of vacation left, we ventured out looking for somewhere to camp. Found a site, pitched the tent and spend the next couple days exploring the nearby hiking trails.

But, after a couple days we couldn’t break the chill and our gear was still a bit damp, so the decision was made to take off and head back home, stopping at Toronto on the way. My sister and brother-in-law continued camping for a few days after we left.

So, that was the second time the wilds of Canada bit me and I haven’t been back to challenge it since. Some day, some day I’ll get it back! And, the moral of the story? Pack your valuables in loose plastic grocery bags, it works better (not really!).