Going Gets Tough

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On the morning of 28 June 2015, Sunday, after a sumptuous breakfast, everyone got into action, packing up the camp. The children got into dismantling and packing up of the three tents. It took them some time and effort to fold the first tent to fit into its bag. The parents were busy packing up the rations and the cooking equipment and also garbage disposal. We bid goodbye to the Fort William camp at about 10 AM and drove back to Wawa on the picturesque Trans Canadian Highway 17. A 83-kilometre section of the Trans-Canada Highway, between Thunder Bay and Nipigon, is renamed the Terry Fox Courage Highway to honour him for his courageous one-legged a cross-country run for cancer research – the Marathon of Hope. At the intersection of Highway 17 and Highway 11, about 10 kilometers from Thunder Bay, stands a nine foot high bronze statue of Terry, set on a 45-ton granite base, at the Terry Fox monument. The monument also offers a breath-taking view of Lake Superior.

We reached Wawa by 3:30 PM and halted for lunch. After lunch, we drove for an hour to reach the Visitor Centre of the Lake Superior Provincial Park located at Agawa Bay. Being a Sunday, the centre was closed, but there was a self-serve kiosk for the campers. We filled the form to camp at the Crescent Lake Camp Ground, giving details of the vehicle, number of persons and the number of tents to be pitched. The form along with the money towards the camping charges were deposited in the box placed there.

The kiosk also had literature giving out details of the camping grounds, the actions needed from the campers to protect the ecological integrity of the park. The mantra appeared to be “Leave your pristine surroundings just as you found them; take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints“.

We drove another hour South along Highway 17 and took a diversion on a gravel track and drove for about 5 kilometers to reach the Crescent Lake Camping area. The camping ground was empty as the camping season had just commenced with the closing of schools. The camp sites are picked based on first-come-first-serve basis and there are no reservations.

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Crescent Lake is an undeveloped lake surrounded entirely by the remote Superior National Forest. It is characterised by clean, blue, unpolluted, undisturbed, quite waters. This quiet campground has waterfront campsites with easy access to fishing, exploring the nearby wilderness and simply enjoying the beauty of the natural area. Superior National Forest, located in northeastern Minnesota’s arrowhead region, comprises of 3 million acres. The forest spans 150 miles along the United States-Canada border. Superior National Forest is known for its coniferous forest ecosystem, numerous clean lakes and diversity of plants and animals. The entire campground is heavily wooded with white pines, red pines, spruce, balsam, birch and aspen. Birds and wildlife are abundant, from moose and bear to bald eagles and Canadian Goose.

The campground has 32 sites situated on a peninsula that juts out into the lake, providing many sites with nice views of the water and some sites with access to the water. Picnic tables and campfire grates are provided on each site. We drove through the camping area and chose a site closest to the water front and parked our van. The children got into the act of pitching the tents. Alas! they did it in 10 minutes flat – with all the experience they had from the previous location. The parents were into setting up the barbeque to cook the dinner.

After pitching the tents and unloading the necessary bedding, rations and cooking utensils, I led the children into the woods to collect firewood for the campfire. Walking on the forest ground, I felt a spongy feeling, as if walking on a rubber mattress, which I had never experienced in the coniferous woods of Kashmir or Sikkim. That was when I remembered the lesson on coniferous family of trees by our botany teacher at Sainik School, Mr AD George. He had taught us that the coniferous forests are found mainly in the Northern hemisphere, called Taiga or Boreal forests and they cover vast areas of North America from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Coniferous trees thrive where summers are short and cool and winters long and harsh, with heavy snowfall. The needle-like leaves have a waxy outer coat which prevents water loss in freezing weather and the branches are soft and flexible and usually point downwards, so that snow slides off them. The coniferous trees shed their leaves and grow new ones. The needles fall to the forest floor and form a thick springy mat. Thread-like fungi help to break down or decompose the fallen needles. These fungi provide nutrients from the decomposed needles back to the roots of the trees.

The major concern for everyone was to ward off the mosquitoes and the bugs. The best methodology was to wear a track pant and a jacket with a hood. One has to apply the bug repellent lavishly to all the exposed parts. The repellants now available in Canada are surely not as messy and does not have the pungent smell as the ones I was used to while in the Indian Army. Everyone was extra conscious not to let any insect into the tents. The scariest of all was to go into the woods to relieve and one had to carry a can of repellent to keep the insects at bay.

We set the campfire going and I got into cooking the dinner – mainly barbequing the meats and the veggies. The children entertained us all with their singing, mimicry, storytelling and et all. After dinner, everyone set out to take precautions to ensure that no wild animals came calling on to our site. It was mainly garbage collection and storage in the van for the night. Based on the instruction pamphlet we got from the kiosk, all the trash, leftover food, and litter were packed into a bag. All the spilled food was collected and the dishes and plates were washed and stored in the van. All the leftover rations were also placed in the van. Everyone retired to sleep after a tiring day.

At night, as there was no ambient light from any human settlements and as the sky was clear, we did a bit of star gazing. The Astronomy knowledge I had gained during the Regimental Survey Officers’ Course I did in 1984 came in handy. We could locate the Pole Star, Jupiter, Constellations like the Ursa Major (Big Bear), Ursa Minor (Small Bear), Cassopia, Orion etc. We could also see two meteors shooting across the sky.

Next morning, after breakfast, everyone had a swim in the lake and went on a trek along the trail in the campground. The children improvised a fishing rod, line and hook as we had not carried any angling equipment (an inadvertent omission on my part), and tried their hand at fishing, but was not a successful one. The least, they learnt to improvise. By about noon, the ladies prepared the lunch and all other got into the packing up drill. after the pack-up, it was garbage disposal at the designated site in the campground. The site again had huge animal proof bins. After lunch, we drove to Sault Ste Marie (Soo), about an hour away, to check into a hotel that we had booked.

Some of the lessons learnt:-

  • Plan your route and learn the park regulations.
  • Carry proper clothing and equipment – including angling equipment. Be prepared for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies. (Luckily we had none.)
  • Pack food in reusable, leak-proof containers to minimise waste.
  • Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Do not bury garbage as animals will just dig it up.
  • Respect what you encounter. Leave any natural object where you found it. It is illegal to cut any live vegetation, harass wildlife or disturb or remove cultural artifacts in a park.
  • Clean your boots, vehicles and gear so you do not transport invasive species.
  • Pack food securely and hang your pack between trees, at least 6 metres above the ground or store them in the vehicle. Do not bring food of any kind into your tent.
  • Remember that sound travels across water. Noise pollution disturbs wildlife and will diminish everyone’s wilderness experience. Chances of seeing wildlife are better if you travel quietly and camp in smaller groups.
  • Before you leave, complete a final scan of your campsite. Ensure the fire is out, all garbage is collected and all your equipment is packed away. Leave the area in better shape than when you arrived.

Home Coming in the next Blog

Camping at Thunder Bay

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When we decided to go camping, many of my army friends had only one question – “Aren’t you fed up of camping? Haven’t you had enough of it?”

Every parent today is busy with their lives, profession, social activities, etc and the children are equally busy with their studies, sports and extra-curricular activities. Living in a campsite and sleeping in a tent is a sure way to get everyone together in close proximity. It facilitates the family to explore new activities which would not be possible at home. Every event and chore becomes a family affair and everyone chips in with their bit. Camping ensures that the family works together to setup the tents, cook and serve the meals, clean up after every event, fetching water, collecting firewood, starting up a campfire, etc.

The activities like hiking, fishing, roasting marshmallows, star gazing, exploring, storytelling and singing around the campfire, and that too with the children away from their computers and without a cell phone in their hands is indeed a great achievement.

Research all over the world has proved that children who experience nature are happier, healthier and also helps with cognitive development. It is amazing to note that only 20% of the children of today can climb trees. They surely know more about their cartoon characters, movie superstars and their favourite sport hero than they know about wildlife, plants and nature.

We reached the camp site at Fort William Historical Park, Thunder Bay at 2 PM on 27 June 2015. Located on Lake Superior, Fort William became the key midway transshipment point and a trading post for the French located at Montreal. The aboriginals paddling from the West carrying precious furs bartered with the French coming from the East bearing valuable trade goods and supplies. The treaties that followed the American Revolution (1776 – 1783) banned the Montreal traders from entering the area South of the Great Lakes. From 1804 then until its own absorption by the Hudson’s Bay Company (British) in 1821, the North West Company (French) exercised a virtual monopoly of all trade into the North-West directed from Montreal. As the company’s inland headquarters, Fort William became the pivotal point in a vast fur trading empire. In 1821, the Hudson Bay Company closed down the Fort William trading post as they were focused on the fur trade from the North-West of the Great Lakes, to the Arctic.

Being the first camp, we booked a site with amenities like electric power, water and washrooms. The camp ground caters for about 250 sites and there were many spots already occupied by tents, RVs, campervans and caravans. Each site had a picnic table, a fire ring for campfire, a water tap, an electric outlet and adequate space to pitch about three tents. The first task was to unload the van and pitch the fly-proof tent around the picnic table. The fly-proof tent is of 10’x10′ size with a canopy and a zipped up net cover all around, thus making it fly proof. This tent effectively covers a picnic table. These tables are placed in all the camping grounds and parks of Canada and are of standard size of 8’x6′. The outdoors in Canada in the wilderness is famous for the bugs and mosquitoes. They would any day beat the ones of Meerut and Kochi.

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With some assistance, the children managed to set up the tent in about 20 minutes. By then Marina had started cooking Mutton Biryani. She had marinated the meat and had frozen it the day before and carried it in the ice-box. The children then proceeded to set up the living tents. The tents are made of water-resistant fabric and has a cabin-like design that includes a hinged door and angled windows that keep rain out even when they are open. The tents are much lighter, easy to carry, more comfortable, water and wind proof and easy to pitch when compared to the ones we had in the Indian Army. The first tent was pitched in 25 minutes and the second in 20 minutes. Everyone felt that they achieved something and were tired and hungry. That was when Marina served her Biryani and not a morsel was left. It is sure that the children will eat more while outdoors and working hard.

After a hard days labour, sumptuous lunch and tired from travelling for about 15 hours, everyone retired into their tents for a well deserved siesta. By 6 PM the girls had prepared the evening tea and after tea everyone had a refreshing bath. At that time there was a big group which arrived to camp. It was a marriage party. The bride, the groom, the best man, the maids, guests – all had arrived with their tents and were busy pitching it. After an hour, they all got dressed and moved to the banquet hall of the centre for the wedding. It seems the bride and the groom met first at a camp and wanted to celebrate their wedding at a camp.

The evening begun with setting up of campfire. There was the usual barbeque of chicken and pork by me and the ladies laid out the salads. The camp area came alive with the music from the banquet hall and accompanied by the swarming bugs and mosquitoes. Everyone sat around the campfire and the children got busy with the roasting of marshmallows, storytelling and singing.

In the evening Joseph and I decided that we must move to a tougher camp site as the children have got adjusted to the camp life. In hindsight, it appeared a wise decision to select the first site with basic amenities to put the children through the drill of setting up a camp. After passing instructions to all that after breakfast, we would up stick from the present location and move into a new campsite, deep in the woods in the Lake Superior Conservation area near Wawa, the parents retired to bed and the teenagers as usual continued into the early hours of morning with their usual activities.

The lessons learnt at the camp at Fort William:-

  • Do not over-pack, especially food items.       Carry the least and in case you need more, you can always buy them fresh from the local stores.
  • Be prepared to cope with inconvenience, especially washrooms, The parents must lead by example with a positive can-do attitude.
  • Organize the camp well. Fix locations for important items like forks, spoons, knives, tissue rolls, etc.
  • Brief every member – adults and children about the layout of the camp site. There is every possibility of someone losing their way at night, especially after a visit to the washroom.
  • Ensure that all children are involved in meaningful camp chores, such as gathering firewood, collecting water from the tap, etc.
  • Teach the campers about the knots, hitches and lashings as it would save a lot of time in tent pitching.
  • Pitch the tent in your backyard the previous weekend. This will teach the campers about tent pitching, managing space inside the tent, entry and exit without letting insects in.

The going gets tough – in the next blog

 

Camping in North-Western Ontario

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The schools closed for summer by end June 2015 and our son Nikhil graduated from Grade 12. We decided to celebrate it with a camping out in the wilderness of Canada. Our family friends the Stephens also agreed to join the party as their son Jeevan had also graduated from grade 12. Joseph Stephen and Annie Stephen were both my mother’s students while at school and their daughter Jeena and our daughter Nidhi, both are university students. Jeevan’s friend Alex also joined us. The party being complete, I booked the camping site at Thunder Bay, about 1,500 kilometers from our home.

Everyone was enthusiastic about the trip from the word go. The parents were really fired up and the children had to be. The preparations commenced with equipment procurement of two eight-person tents, one insect proof tent for serving of food, a portable charcoal barbecue etc. Administrative instructions regarding the clothing and bedding to be carried, meat to be marinated, veggies, bread etc.

As the party was large with a good amount of administrative loads, a 12-seater van was rented for the trip. The van was a real boon that it could carry all the persons and the administrative loads and it facilitated relief for the drivers on the long journey.

The aim of the exercise was to get the children out of their backyards, and into an environment that is going to allow them to see and experience nature unlike their home. Nature delivers a complete sensory experience; amazing scenery; glimpses of wildlife; vast starlit nights, and a great way to initiate the children to appreciate nature. Making the children live in harmony with the nature and without the luxuries they are used to at home, will surely make them better human beings and will kindle the survival instincts in them. The situations thrown up would make them come out with real time ingenious ideas to solve the problem at hand. The children will also get trained in setting up a camp, tent pitching, cooking, organising a camp fires, etc. The research shows that children who experience nature are happier, healthier and also helps with their cognitive development.

The children were tasked to research and plan the itinerary to include the activities they would like to do enroute. The first leg of the journey was the 1,500 kilometers drive to Thunder Bay and it commenced around 11 PM on 26 June after everyone returned home from work. Everyone took turns at the wheel and by the dawn of 27 June we reached Sault Ste Marie and stopped for morning tea.

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Map Courtesy Google

The Soo, as the city is nicknamed, was established by the French Jesuits in the mid-1600s French traders crossed Lake Superior in their quest for furs. Later, English explorers arrived, followed by lumbermen and exploiters of the mineral deposits. Sault Ste. Marie is a low-rise metropolis spread over undulating hills and flanked by the vastly wooded Algoma wilderness, with the St. Mary’s River at its door. The town is one of the gateways to the US and is located in the narrow neck between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Canals and Locks, operated jointly by the US and Canadian governments facilitates lifting of ships about 21 feet from Lake Huron and Lake Superior. It is fascinating to watch a big ocean liners, freighters, barges, tugboats being raised and launched on to the next water level the year around.

The drive from Soo to Thunder Bay was on Trans Canadian Highway (Highway 17). The highway passes along Lake Superior, the biggest fresh water lake in the world. The Trans-Canadian railway line also runs parallel to the Highway 17. The original Trans-Canada Route was Highway 11 (designated “The King’s Highway”) was started in 1923 and completed on a war footing to provide toad access to mining towns of Northern Ontario. In 1960, it was realigned and became the new and much shorter Trans-Canada Highway.

Camp Map1

Map Courtesy Google

Driving Westwards to the town of Wawa about 230 kilometers on the highway, the beautiful Lake Superior falls on the South with the dense forests of the Lake Superior National Park on the right with vast and beautiful area of wilderness known simply as ‘North of Superior’. As we drove along the highway, we could spot bears, deer in the wooded hills, sand hill cranes, turkey vultures feeding on an old moose carcass, an accident victim who might have had an encounter with a truck at night.

All along the highway, there are signs to warn drivers about the dangers of wild animals crossing the roads. There has been many such accidents and many have lost their lives due to such accidents. The highway is a two lane road, one lane either way and mostly frequented by trucks, cars and a few buses. At many a places, there are small detours of about 50 meters, to park the vehicles. These detours have been mostly made at points providing a scenic view of the Lake Superior. There are garbage cans placed and these garbage cans are ‘bear proof’ and for the first-time user, a bit intriguing to open one. There are restrooms, picnic tables and a covered picnic area in some of them. These are the favourite spots for many bikers, cyclists and trekkers whom we crossed all along the highway.

Camp Wawa

As we drove along, the landscape changed from rock and forest to a narrow band of farm land, known as the Canadian Shield’s north shore clay belt. We reached the town of Wawa and at the entrance to the town is a large, free-standing, metal sculpture of a Canada Goose as ‘Wawa’ is an (Red)Indian word for Canada Goose. Wawa came into prominence in 1897 with the discovery of gold, followed closely by that of iron ore and more recently diamonds. The area is well known for its pulp industry as the forests around the town is abundant with soft wood trees.   Wawa has a municipal air field and a few eateries and we had our breakfast here.

The next stretch of 480 kilometers was to the final destination – Thunder Bay. The road passes through the mining towns of through the communities of White River, Mobart, Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Rossport and Nipigon. Most of these towns have shrunk due to the mines closing down. Only the paper pulp industry and farming seems to be active in these towns.

We reached Thunder Bay by 3 PM. The city of Thunder Bay was formed by the amalgamation of the cities of Port Arthur and Fort William. Thunder Bay is located on the shores of a bay formed and protected by the Sleeping Giant rock formation. The myth is that the Ojibway tribal chief was cursed by the Gods as he let out the secret of the silver mine to the European explorers and was converted into a rock to guard the bay. Thunder Bay is a stopover for ships from around the world who have negotiated the St. Lawrence River and locks on the Great Lakes to reach the most westerly Canadian inland port.

Camp TerryFox

The Eastern edge of Thunder Bay is the site of the Terry Fox Memorial. The cross-Canada Marathon of Hope undertaken by this courageous young man ended near Thunder Bay when his cancer flared again. In 1980, with one leg having been amputated due to cancer, he embarked on a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Although the spread of his cancer eventually forced him to end his quest after 143 days and 5,373 kilometers and ultimately cost him his life. Terry Fox continues to be an inspiration for Canadians and Terry Fox Run is held in communities across Canada each year in September to raise funds for cancer.

After driving about 1,500 kilometers North-West from the City of Mississauga on the shores of Lake Ontario, and along the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior; crossing 10 degrees Longitude to the West and 5 degrees Latitude to the North – we were still in the province of Ontario.

Maps Courtesy Google Maps

Camping at Thunder Bay in the next blog

Nikhil’s Grad Breakfast

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Grad Breakfast is a wonderful high school tradition where the graduating Grade 12 students get together one last time and enjoy breakfast as a group. This is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the hard work and achievements of the graduating students. The Grade 11 students serve the Grad Breakfast for the graduating Grade 12 students, generally during the last week of the class. It may also be a charity event and the money generated may be send to a deserving charity. This occasion also marks the passing of the mantle to the Grade 11 students, who will now be the seniors in the coming academic year.

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The Woodlands Secondary School from where our son Nikhil is graduating from, had their Grad Breakfast on Friday, June 12, 2015. The occasion is also used to select the valedictorian from a pool of applicants. The prospective candidates apply to run as a Valedictorian and the application got to be validated by two high school teachers. All candidates have to deliver a short speech at the Grad Breakfast, in front of the graduating Grade 12 students. The term ‘Valedictorian’ is an Anglicized derivation of the Latin ‘vale dicere’ meaning ‘to say farewell’, historically rooted in the valedictorian’s traditional role as the final speaker at the graduation ceremony. So the valedictory address generally is considered a final farewell to classmates, before they disperse to pursue their individual paths after graduating from the high school.

The major criteria for the Valedictorian applicants was that the valedictorian must be a well-rounded individual whose accomplishments reflect the values of the school community. The recipient of this honour would have to meet the requirements for Graduation with a minimum of 30 credits; must be a honour student (80% average) from Grade 9 to 12; have demonstrated respectful behaviour in school as well as in the community at large; have not been in any discipline cases; must be a positive role model for the junior students; must have demonstrated leadership in various aspects of school life throughout the school career; and be able to represent the entire graduating class.

Nikhil along with four other classmates had applied to be the Valedictorian. After the Grad Breakfast, all five candidates delivered their speeches. Nikhil spoke about the changes the graduating students are going to bring to the community, the country and the world. Click here to listen to Nikhil’s speech on YouTube.

The graduating students were asked to vote online to select their Valedictorian. This was not merely a popularity contest, but the chances of an unpopular candidate winning it despite an awesome speech is very slim. Nikhil was confident that he would win it. After a few days it was announced that Nikhil was selected as the Valedictorian for 2015.

Being a Valedictorian, it will surely confer one bragging rights and will also and a line to one’s resume and will also look good. It normally does not provide you any extra boost for your university admissions, but for sure, the admission panel will take a close look at it.

Now Nikhil had to nominate one of his teachers to introduce him as the Valedictorian at the Commencement. He chose Miss Pils, his French teacher. Ms Pils is the only teacher who taught him for all the four high school years. She was the one who recommended Nikhil for the cultural and educational exchange programme in France based on his performance in French. As per Nikhil, one month he spend in Nantes, France with the Le Floch family was very fruitful and memorable. It was not only an important career milestone, but also a personal one for him. It had a telling impact on Nikhil’s outlook and conduct.

The Valedictorian has to deliver the Valedictory address at the ‘Commencement’, to be held in October 2015. There is no greater recognition of a graduate’s achievements than a high school graduation ceremony, or Commencement. Diplomas are conferred or handed out to graduating students. Various award winning graduating students are honoured during the ceremony. The speakers selected for this event often include community dignitaries, alumni and the valedictorian. During our daughter Nidhi’s Commencement in 2009, it was Ms Hazel McCallion, the then Mayor of our city Mississauga (Please click here to read more about her), who delivered an inspiring motivational speech to the graduating students.

Commencement is a very special event for the graduating class, teachers, staff and the families of graduating students. The occasion is used to celebrate the achievements of students with many special guests in attendance. It is a formal celebration that has associated with it a high level of maturity and respect for one another’s achievements.

US senator Orrin Hatch aptly said about High School Commencement that there is a good reason they call these ceremonies ‘commencement exercises’, as graduation is not the end; it is only the beginning.