Winter car camping at Mew Lake: Algonquin Outfitters guest post

My very first winter camping experience was a 3-day car camping trip at Mew Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park. In my guest post on the Algonquin Outfitters blog, I write about that first experience. Wouldn’t everyone go winter camping for the very first time during a cold weather alert?


Mizzy Lake

Posted in Algonquin Outfitters guest blog post, Car camping trip reports, snowshoeing, winter, Winter camping | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Trip report: 4-day snowshoe backcountry camping trip at Algonquin Provincial Park, with one clever thief of a pine marten

The thing about backcountry camping trips is that you can never really know ahead of time the adventures you’ll have! Taking that first step away from the car at the beginning of my 4-day snowshoe trip last week at Algonquin Provincial Park, I had no clue that I would a) do something really stupid, and b) hunt a thief!

Day 1: Mew Lake to Provoking Lake West, via the Highland Trail (3.4 km)

After stopping at the West Gate to purchase our backcountry camping permits, Cheryl and I parked at Mew Lake and loaded all of our stuff onto our 2 homemade sleds. I was eager to try out my modified sled, which I altered this summer to include more attachment points and more rigid poles. In addition to a winter tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, clothing and toiletries, cooking gear, food and emergency supplies such as a first aid kit, we had with us an axe, a saw, and 2 bags of kindling, which we purchased at the wood lot.

It was around -5 degrees Celsius, under a sunny sky!


We headed for the Track and Tower Trail, and then the Highland Trail, which we would hike until we reached Provoking Lake West. It was a Thursday, so there weren’t too many people around. We walked for 3.4 km before setting up camp, which is a much slower process when your fingers are cold and you’re trying to do things with gloves on! We got the tent up, found a tree to hang our food from little critters, and decided we were too tired to gather wood to make a fire. Before dinner, I took my GPS and headed out for a run, because I’m doing the #FebruaryChallenge, and having set a goal for myself of running a minimum of 1 km every day in February, I couldn’t let a little winter camping trip get in the way!

We were in the tent early the first night, and despite each having 2 one litre Nalgene bottles full of hot water, I was cold and didn’t sleep well – it was around -17 degrees Celsius overnight. Cheryl was fine, so I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a better winter sleeping bag. Mine is rated to -20C, but even with the addition of a fleece liner, it’s not enough.

We brought our winter boots (which we wore around camp) and our hiking boots (which we used with our snowshoes) into the tent at night, so that they didn’t get frosty overnight.

Day 2: Day hike along the waterfront of Provoking Lake West (1.5 km)

After breakfast I set aside our morning and afternoon snacks, and we put our carrot raisin peanut salad wraps into our coat pockets to thaw for lunch. We grabbed a sled and headed into the forest to find deadwood, so that we could have a fire that night. When we got back to our campsite, I found 2 Ziploc bags in the snow around a tree – definitely not where I left them. It was then that I realized I had left our morning and afternoon snacks on a tarp, an open invitation to hungry little critters to come enjoy a snack! While there were little holes in the bag holding our afternoon snack, the snacks themselves were edible, but one of two morning snack bags had disappeared, along with the big bag that had held it all. We looked for footprints, and decided that the thief must have been a pine marten! We went on a hunt, not really expecting to find our snack, but thinking we might find the empty bags. We followed fresh footprints, but they went everywhere, including into trees! We never did find the snack – thankfully, Cheryl shared her morning snack with me! I did, however, later see the pine marten jump from a tree onto the ground, in the area we had been searching!

Later we chopped our wood and broke it into little bits, preparing it for our evening fire.


In the afternoon, we went for a walk on our snowshoes along the waterfront, checking out some of the summer campsites. This was my second winter backcountry camping trip using my Tubb’s Women’s Elevate snowshoes and poles, which I got at Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville. They are awesome! We ended up back on the Highland Trail, where we ate our still frozen wraps – next time, we’ll need to heat them up a bit at breakfast!

The snow on the trees was very pretty that day, but the sun was melting it and it was falling on us over and over again! Not so nice down the back of your neck though…

Back at our campsite I decided to try out my homemade tin can stove, and with it I successfully made “hot” chocolate (field test of the stove here!).


Sunset on Provoking Lake West


At some point, I also ran for a set amount of time (equivalent to a 1 km run), in loops around and around or campsite.

During dinner I looked up and saw a pretty pink sky. I quickly headed for the shore, and the sky got even prettier. Later we successfully made a fire, and enjoyed a snack with Baileys. It wasn’t as cold that night, and while I was cold at the beginning, I warmed up and slept quite well!

Day 3: Day hike along the Highland Trail to Provoking Lake East (5.5 km)

After breakfast we decided to go for another snowshoe hike, this time along the Highland Trail toward Provoking Lake East. We wanted to check out the summer campsites. We had barely walked 300 m when we both realized we were seriously overdressed! In fact, the high that day was +10C, so we stopped on the trail and stripped off some layers! We could have hiked in shorts and t-shirts. The sun was knocking down what snow remained on tree branches. We had lunch at a beautiful campsite, sitting in the warm sun.




After we returned to our campsite, I decided to do precisely what I wasn’t supposed to do (we only live once!) – toboggan in my very well marked “This is not a toy. This product has no steering or braking mechanism.” sled. Laughter ensued.

Again, I did a timed run, this time running a line back and forth, back and forth.

I also turned my homemade stove into a stick stove, and attempted to boil water. I did melt a full pot of snow, and it did start to warm up, but I lost interest (and patience) in continually feeding the sticks into it. There were more interesting things to do, such as build a snowman! After dinner, we had another fire, and burned most of the wood we had gathered.

It was so warm in the tent, that we had to strip layers off in the night!


Day 4: Provoking Lake West to Mew Lake (3.4 km)

We packed up everything inside the tent and started heating water for breakfast while we continued packing as much as we could. We met quite a few people on the way out, more so as we got closer to Mew Lake.

We even ran into Camper Christina and Outdoors Jen, who were camping at Mew Lake for the weekend as part of Winter in the Wild.

Version 2

Photo courtesy of Jen W.!

In the last stretch before reaching Mew Lake, I fed chickadees out of my hand. Back at Mew Lake, I ran 1 km within the campground!


It was a fun trip, despite the wild swings in weather. We were very fortunate to have gone last week, because while the snow was melting and shrinking and falling off tree branches, there was still snow! This weekend, with temperatures in the mid-teens in south-western Ontario, things may be messy at Algonquin!

If you’re wondering what we ate on our trip, breakfasts were hot cereals; lunches were wraps and homemade crackers, dehydrated hummus and dehydrated veggies; dinners were chile, minestrone soup, and spinach and quinoa soup; snacks were trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, chocolate, and energy balls; and drinks were water, gatorade, tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

I’m already looking forward to next winter’s trip!

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Posted in Backcountry camping, snowshoeing, winter, Winter camping | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Race report: Mini snowshoe duathlon – 4k snowshoe + 4k run

After starting snowshoe running this winter, and participating in two snowshoe orienteering races (Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid, and Stars War Adventure Race), I knew I wanted to do a snowshoe running race before the winter was out – i.e. one without orienteering! So I searched online, and found one within a reasonable distance from home: the Personal Best – Caledon Hills Bike Shop Winter Snowshoe & Fat Bike Races. (In fact, it was the only one left this winter that I was able to do without driving for hours and hours!) After checking that there was actually enough snow for the race, I signed up and recruited a friend, who then recruited two more.

The drive to Albion Hills Conservation Area was snowy, but Lisa and I took it slowly and arrived about 45 minutes before the race was to start. We met Mauro there, but unfortunately their friend turned back because of the weather. The temperature was perfect for the race, with the falling snow a nice touch!

It was a quick check in process – we got a race bib and an Awake chocolate bar. This was a no frills race, meaning that it didn’t cost much, but regardless we got a timed race and fantastic trails (no race shirt or medal). They even did some draw prizes before the race, so that people didn’t have to stay afterwards – if you won something, you were told when you registered. Nothing for us today!

While I had registered for the 4k snowshoe + 4k run, there were other events going on at the same time, all on the same trails and roads. Snowshoe runners were to stick to the left, and fat bikers to the right, to avoid any collisions! Here’s the full list of events:

  • Mini snowshoe 4k
  • Mega snowshoe 8k
  • Mini snowshoe duathlon (4k snowshoe + 4k run)
  • Mega snowshoe duathlon (8k snowshoe +4k run)
  • Fat bike 8k
  • Fat bike 16k
  • Fat bike 8k duathlon (8k fat bike + 4k run)

I’d love to do a snowshoe/fat bike/run race!

Pre-race email instructions clearly set out the race route, and showed pictures of spray paint in the snow marking the way, but today’s fresh snow meant that the organizers had to go out and mark it again!

Just before 9:30 AM, we put our snowshoes on and headed outside to the start line, which was just a few feet from the main chalet. The fat bike racers started at 9:30, and the snowshoe runners at 9:33. All told there were about 50 people participating in all of the races combined.


Lisa, Mauro and I pre-race.


Two of many fat bikes ready to go!

And just like that, we were off! It didn’t take too long for the crowd to thin, and for me to discover the hills! It was such a pretty route through the forest. Once the faster runners lost me, I ran completely on my own for a while – there were slower people behind me who I couldn’t see or hear. Despite being a bit under the weather with a cold, I decided to try to run the entire course. Even the uphills. And there were lots of them! It was so peaceful  in the forest, with lightly falling snow and accumulated snow on the tree branches that I had to stop for a second to take a picture! The trails were nicely groomed by park staff, and it was easy to not get lost, since all I had to do was follow the footsteps of the snowshoers and fat bikers who has passed before me. A couple of fat bikers later passed me, but I figured they must have been late to start. I had no idea how far I had run, and wasn’t even able to estimate based on elapsed time, since I haven’t run on snowshoes enough to do that. I saw one biker do a slow speed tumble, but he was fine. I appreciated the fat bikers yelling “on your right” as they approached from behind. Later, when I was getting close to the end of the 4k loop (which apparently was closer to 3.2k), I was passed by several more fat bikers, who were finishing up their 2nd loops. Thankfully I was not lapped by any snowshoers!


Quick photo during the race.

At the end of the snowshoe segment, we were to run through the finishing arch, around the corner, take our snowshoes off and head out onto the park roads for the run.


I swear I was running around this corner, but it sure doesn’t look like it! [Race photo]

My legs definitely felt weird starting the run after having snowshoed! The park roads had been nicely plowed, so while there was some snow, the footing was good! The run route was hilly – more so on the way out, I think. Not too far from the run turnaround, Mauro and then Lisa passed me going the other way. I continued to run the whole thing. At one point on the way back, I asked a woman walking 3 dogs if she wanted to trade places. She offered me a dog, and said it would pull me along! At one point I wasn’t sure which way to go, but asked someone and made the right turn. Coming up the finishing chute, I saw Mauro and Lisa, who cheered me to the finish line! I was pretty happy with how my very first snowshoe running race had gone. It was challenging and super fun!

Afterwards, racers were given a bowl of chili and a hot drink (hot chocolate for me). I changed into dry, warm clothes, and headed home.

I was very impressed with the venue and the organization of the race. Well done Barrie and crew!


Pretty, freshly fallen snow.

Race stats:

Time: 54:42.6 (28:20.7 for the snowshoe segment, and 26:21.9 for the running segment, including the transition and me fumbling to quickly remove my snowshoes!)

Overall place: 6/6

Gender place: 4/4

By comparison, had I entered the 4k snowshoe race (no run afterwards), I would have placed 4/19!

I’m looking forward to doing more snowshoe races next winter!

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Posted in Running race reports, snowshoeing, winter | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Race report: Stars W.A.R. snowshoe orienteering race

Looking back now at the jumble of highlighting on my race map, I should have known how this race was going to go!

This was to be our first time participating in a STARS Orienteering Club race, and our second time doing an orienteering race on snowshoes (the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid was our first a few short weeks ago). Just shy of being experts, us.

We arrived at the Mansfield Outdoor Centre a little before race kit pick-up at 9 AM. We wanted as much time as possible to plan our route and get ourselves ready. It was a relief to see that there was plenty of snow for a snowshoe race! We grabbed a table, settled in, and then got our maps and bonus socks. There weren’t any instructions with the map, so we weren’t sure whether we could find the controls in any order we wanted to, or whether there were specific things we needed to know (other than the fact that we had 2 1/2 hours to find as many controls as we could). We figured that the controls joined by solid lines needed to be done consecutively.

It wasn’t too long before a couple of people went around the tables giving instructions and answering questions. Then Rebecca and I set out planning our route. We decided to stick to the East side of the race course, not crossing the road toward the ski hills. We optimistically figured out the bearings for 12 checkpoints, including 3 pairs that would get us bonus points – the idea was that if you did the 2 checkpoints within each pair one after the other without finding any other checkpoints in between, you got the bonus. We figured if we were doing well time-wise, we could add a few checkpoints on our way back to the finish! (As Helen Keller once said, “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”)


Planning our route pre-race.

We wrote the bearings on our map, along with approximate distances between checkpoints, and this time, we highlighted our route on the map. Then another racer sitting at our table mentioned that the table we were working on had metal in it, and that the metal would affect our compass bearings! Yikes! I held my compass in the air on top of my map, took a bearing again, and sure enough, he was right! It was off by about 5 degrees. So, we decided to figure out our bearings during the race, comparing them to our written bearings as we went (Note: I have since learned that while the metal table affects the needle, it wouldn’t affect the bearing, since you don’t use the needle to take a bearing! Thanks Michael!). After multiple trips to the bathroom, it was time for a short pre-race briefing, and then we were off to the start line. We each had a camelbak with water and snacks. I also carried a small first aid kit, extra socks and gloves.


We’ve decided that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of clothes worn by racers (and the gear carried) and the speed with which they run.


Just before the race started, we snapped one last selfie!


And then, the race began! We all ran for the control just in front of us that denoted the official start of the race – it wasn’t an actual control, so we didn’t  have to put our timing chips into it.

Rebecca and I headed East with just a couple other teams, while everyone else (there were 25 teams in total) headed West. We wondered why, but stuck to our planned route! Our first checkpoint, #136, was easy to find, but by the time I got there, I was hot and needed to switch my winter hat for my baseball cap and headband, and remove a 2nd layer of gloves! Next we headed for #137, which was part way up a steep hill, and quickly realized that things weren’t quite as far as the map made us think. We continued up the hill and found #135. Things were going well, and we were feeling confident! We were doing a run/walk combination, and seeming to make good time. At one point though, I realized that I wasn’t holding my map anymore, so we backtracked about 100m and I found it. We knew that I hadn’t dropped it too far away, based on when I last had it (at the last control, checking a bearing). Sometimes we followed trails, and sometimes we went off-trail. On the trails we avoided the cross-country skiers and the classic ski grooves! At one point, we clearly looked lost, as a cross-country skier said to us, “This is a red trail!” Completely useless to us, but she was trying to be helpful!


Yay! A control!

We found #46, then made our way to #45, which we had to find immediately after #46 if we wanted to get a 25 point bonus. It was in this section, where pre-race I had highlighted straight lines between controls before realizing that what I meant to do was highlight our actual planned route (mostly along trails), that we got turned around. We figured we weren’t where we thought we were, backtracked, scratched our heads, and tried to re-orient ourselves to the map. Eventually, I looked up, and there was the control. We learned our lesson – sometimes we need to just look up!! We likely spent 30 minutes on that single control.

From that point on, things went downhill, fast. We had lost our confidence, and kept second guessing ourselves. For the life of us we could not find #43. It didn’t help that when a couple of teams went by us, they didn’t head into the woods where we were. Had they already found the control? Were they heading for a different one? Why were we the only ones looking for it? The hint on the map said that it was at a “re-entrant”. We wondered, “What the heck is a re-entrant!?” Clearly we need to work on our land formation terminology! In the end, we saw the clock ticking and realized we had to give up on it. It was looking like we should be heading back to the finish time to get back  without incurring penalties (10 points per minute over the 2 1/2 hours).

We got quite confused and really weren’t sure where we were on the map, but we knew we had to go south and West. Eventually we encountered a couple of other teams. We talked to one and they clearly knew which way they were going, which sort of helped us figure out which way we needed to go.

As we headed back toward the finish line, we hoped we’d spot the orange fence that was at top of the steep hill that we climbed at the beginning. We noticed that we must be close to the cliff, as the trees seemed to drop off, but when we went to the edge, we decided there was no way we were picking our way down that – it was far too steep and would have been slow going. We never would have made it back in time.

Finally, we spotted the fence and it seemed more likely that we would get back within 2 1/2 hours. What a relief. We descended the hill, and met a photographer on our way down. Such great shots! Obviously we were having fun.

We ran to the finish line, and ended up beating the cut off by more than 5 minutes (grateful for small victories!). We didn’t find as many controls as we would have liked to, but we had so much fun. It was actually quite neat to have gone in the direction that most teams didn’t, because for a large chunk of the race, we saw no other racers! (And that’s not because we were completely off track – I promise!) The weather was perfect. The location very pretty. The sport awesome!

After the race we enjoyed a lunch of chili, a bun, and some desserts. We chatted with other racers, and learned about an adventure race called the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race, a paddling/biking/running race in Wiarton in August. We’ve since registered!

Race stats:

Time: 2:24:55

Points: 155 (130 from controls and 25 bonus)

Placing: 5/5 female teams, and 23/25 all teams

You can check out the full results here.

The STARS Orienteering Club did a great job organizing and running this race. We’ll definitely be back!! Thank you!

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Making a simple, tin can back-up stove for backcountry camping

Just for the fun of it, I decided to make a simple, tin can emergency back-up stove to take with me on my upcoming winter snowshoe backcountry camping trip at Algonquin Provincial Park. We’re planning to take 2 MSR Dragonfly stoves, just in case it’s super cold and one doesn’t function, but in future, that might not be necessary if I’m happy with my emergency back-up! For winter camping, I keep things really simple, and either boil water (say, to add to oatmeal), or heat up frozen things (like soup). No extended cooking in the winter!

To make my stove, I followed directions online, but made a slight modification when I realized that 3 inches couldn’t possibly be right and they must have meant 3 centimetres. Either that or the picture just didn’t match the instructions. In any case, here’s what I did!



  • 2 tuna cans (I made 2 fuel sources)
  • 1 peach can for the stove (798 ml)
  • 1 peach can to melt the wax in (798 ml)
  • cardboard
  • 5 emergency candle
  • scissors
  • church key can opener
  • tin snips
  • pot
  • tongs
  • oven mitts


Step #1: Remove lid from tuna can. Eat tuna. Wash can. Dry can. Cut strips of cardboard the same width as the height of the can. Put cardboard in can.


Completed Step #1.

Step #2: This step depends on whether or not you have a double boiler. I don’t. So, I put about 4″ of water in a big pot and boiled it. In the meantime, I broke the candles up into smaller pieces, put them in a peach container (label removed) and put that in the big pot. Of course, it floated, so I had to hold it down with tongs while wearing gloves. As it melted, I took it out and poured the hot wax into one of my tuna cans, then put the solid wax back to continue melting. If you have a double boiler, then you can half fill the bottom pot, boil the water, put the wax in the top pot, and put it inside the bottom pot. However, I’m not so sure I’d want to then cook food in the pot that had melted wax in it. In any case, continue pouring wax into your tuna can, but leave some of the cardboard exposed at the top so you can light it (don’t overfill the wax, but try to get it into all the nooks and crannies).


Holding the can down.

Step #3: Remove the lid from the peach can. Eat the peaches. Wash the can. Dry the can. At the end that you didn’t just remove the lid from, make 3 or 4 holes in the can using the church key can opener. These are your vents. At the end where you removed the lid, use your tin snips to cut a little door out so you can open it to let more oxygen in or close it to reduce the oxygen fueling your fire. I followed the directions I referred to above as written, then realized once I’d make 2 vertical cuts 3 inches apart that you couldn’t possibly “open” the door. Hence I made another cut down the middle. So, I now have 2 doors, which coincidentally appear much more similar to the ones in the picture of the instructions I followed.


I may have overfilled the wax in the one on the left. Time will tell.

Step #4: Light the cardboard, put the peach can over top of the tuna can, and voila, cook something! Remember, the tin cans will get HOT! Use gloves! Be careful of sharp edges!


Doors fully open.

I’ll be using my little stove in a couple of weeks, and will report back on what I thought of it and how it worked. Stay tuned! [UPDATE: I have now field tested it. See how it worked!]

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My 10 favourite things to do while camping at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

If you live in south-western Ontario like me, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is far away -very far. But wait! It is so worth the drive! It is incredibly beautiful, and we have had some of the most amazing wildlife experiences there.

Here are my favourite things to do while camping at Sleeping Giant, in no particular order:

1 – Hike to the head and the top of the Sleeping Giant

Sleeping Giant has over 100 km of hiking trails for both day, and overnight hikes. We have been on close to 10 of them. The views from the top of the Sleeping Giant are spectacular!


View from the top of the Sleeping Giant


Starting the climb to the head of the Sleeping Giant. The trail is marked “extreme”.

2 – Do an overnight bikepacking trip

We have done 2 bikepacking trips at Sleeping Giant, which I have written about previously. These trips allowed us to get further into the park, since we could cover more distance by bicycle than on foot. We locked our bikes together, and continued on our way, walking to interior campsites on Lake Superior. Both times we were the only people camping in the area. There are 5 trails in the park that allow cycling:

  • South Kabeyun to the junction with Talus Lake Trail
  • Sawyer Bay Trail
  • Sawbill Lake Trail
  • Burma Trail
  • Pickerel Lake Trail


3 – Explore the Visitor Centre and attend programs

In addition to simply walking around the Visitor Centre and exploring the displays, we have attended scheduled programs, learned lots, and been entertained! We have learned about Silver Islet, an area of the park, been treated to a concert by a singer/songwriter, and taken part in a trivia night.

4 – Search for animals

Several times at dusk we have hopped into our vehicle and driven slowly around the park, looking for creatures of the night! We were lucky enough to see a wolf (our first ever), an owl, a mama deer with two babies, and bunnies, just by driving around. Other times we grabbed our headlamps, and went for a walk at dusk, hoping to spot wildlife. I encountered a bear while running just outside the park one day, and another day, we saw a mama and 3 cubs at the entrance to the park! They were standing on their hind legs eating from the trees. Another day, we spotted a bald eagle just outside the park. I snapped quite a few pictures, one of which was a winner in the park’s annual photo contest!


“Bald eagle in flight”


Standing beside my winning photo in the Visitor Centre!

5 – Explore the nearby Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park

Just an hour away from Sleeping Giant is Ouimet Canyon Provincial Park, a day use only park featuring arctic plants which are usually found 1,000 km north. According to the park’s website, they survive because of the unique environment at the bottom of the canyon. The website also says that there are “Panoramic views of a 150 metre wide gorge and sheer cliffs that drop 100 metres straight down to the canyon floor”. There is a short trail and boardwalk that allows you to see the canyon from lookout platforms. We brought a picnic lunch and sat at one of the picnic tables near the tiny office, where you can pay for a park permit if you haven’t already paid for day use at another provincial park.


6 – Play at the beach

Enough said!


A shovel and hours of enjoyment.

7 – Mine for amethyst nearby

We drove approximately 45 minutes to Amethyst Mine Panorama, where we learned about amethyst mining, got to mine our own, wash it off, and buy a small amount. It was not too expensive, and we had a lot of fun doing it.


Looking for the best little pieces.

 8 – Visit the Terry Fox monument

The Terry Fox monument is located on Highway 11/17 (Thunder Bay Expressway). Terry Fox was an inspirational Canadian who ran across Canada to raise money for cancer research (the “Marathon of Hope”).


9 – Canoe and kayak in Mary Louise Lake

While the weather and waves can make paddling in Lake Superior rather challenging, Mary Louise Lake is a much smaller lake that is more friendly for paddling. It’s rare that my daughter has paddled a kayak on Lake Superior because of the frequent big waves, but Mary Louise Lake is more calm and kid-friendly!

10 – Explore the Lake Superior coastline

There are trails that hug the Lake Superior Coastline, and many opportunities to explore the beautiful coast! Pack a lunch, lots of water, your binoculars, camera, and curiosity, and head in any direction for an adventure you won’t soon forget!


One of two Spotted Sandpipers that we saw at Middlebrun Bay, on Lake Superior


Sea Lion at Perry Bay, on Lake Superior

What are you waiting for? Start planning your camping trip today!

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Posted in Backcountry camping, Bikepacking, Hiking trip reports, Trip planning | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Race report: Robbie Burns 8k 2017

Clearly my knowledge of Scottish history is lacking, as I had no idea that wearing a kilt could get you arrested in Scotland in 1746! According to the Robbie Burns 8k race website, “By decree of King George, Highland dress was outlawed by the passing of the Dress Act, with the intent of suppressing Highland culture. A first offence was a six-month in prison sentence; second offence was a seven-year exile to a work farm. The ban remained in effect for 35 years.” I have an excuse though – I married into a Scottish family.

I had low expectations for myself going into this race, given that I hadn’t run “fast” (for me!) in months, and instead, have been rehabbing multiple aches and pains through physiotherapy rather than pushing the pace. Last year, my goal time was 44 minutes and I beat that by 12 seconds. This year, I would have been happy finishing in 50 minutes.

We arrived at Burlington Central High School at about 8:30 AM for a 9:30 AM race start, with plenty of time to pick up our race bibs and small backpacks. Alasdair hadn’t even decided yet whether he was going to run or spectate (he’s also rehabbing aches and pains), but eventually made the decision to join in the fun.

Here we are in our kilts, all the way from Aberdeen, Scotland!


Alasdair and I pre-race. Our friend Kathleen took this photo, moving a chair out of the way so it didn’t appear in the picture. The chair’s former occupant had no idea, went to sit down, and, well, you can imagine what happened!

Prior to the race start, a band played some tunes in the gym.


During one of my pre-race bathroom visits, another racer asked me if I was wearing anything under my kilt – and then proceeded to lift it up to see! I didn’t even know this woman.

Alasdair and I headed for the start line, arriving with less than 2 minutes to go before the race started. The amazing 85 year old Ed Whitlock, who holds an incredible number of running records, and continues to earn more, counted us down to the race start.

It was quite congested at the beginning, but it didn’t take too long for things to space out. I did have to run around a couple of people as I went. I had no idea what pace I was running, but I wasn’t feeling any aches or pains, so I ran as hard as I could, knowing that I wanted to hold the pace for 8k. It felt hard, but when I saw a distance marker for the first time at 2k, I knew why! I was running a sub 5:45 min/k pace, which is much faster than I have run recently! I used a young girl as my pacer for a while, and hoped that I could keep up. I guessed that she was running with her dad and maybe her sister. Later I passed them.

I do like this race course, because it’s mostly flat or slightly downhill! One spectator yelled to me, “Nice kilt!” A runner caught up to me and said I was crazy to run with bare legs. They were cool, but not cold.

From about the half way point, I started doing mental math, estimating my finishing time and recalculating as I went. I knew that I would beat the 50 minute mark for sure, and wondered if I might finish under 48 minutes.

Somehow, I was managing to hold the sub 5:45 min/k pace. At around the 7k mark, the young girl I had been following passed me, and I told her that I had been using her as a pacer, but that I was sure she was going to beat me now, because I was fading. Her dad said “almost there!” There was a hill in the last 300-400m along Lakeshore Boulevard, but it’s not too steep.

I continued to push as hard as I could, and heard my swim coach Mat and Alasdair cheering for me in the last 100m or so. In the end, I finished in 45:31.2, less than 2 minutes slower than last year. I was pleasantly surprised with how the race went! Alasdair took it easy, but had a good race too.


Almost done! [Photo courtesy of race photographer.]



Afterwards, I enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal and a pita with jam, as well as a cup of hot chocolate! There were also cookies and bagels on offer. A big thank you to the awesome volunteers, from check in to those standing in the cold (around -2 degrees Celsius feeling like -8 with the windchill) to those doing food clean up! Two young girls were super star volunteers, pouring water before the race, setting out food afterwards, then sorting through the things that could go into the green bin. They were super friendly and cute! I asked Mikaelle’s mom for permission to post her picture here, and she said yes. (Hi Mikaelle and Avery! It’s so great that you are already volunteering! I try to volunteer at races too, because I know that races can’t happen without volunteers like you! I even wrote an article with 10 reasons to volunteer at a race. Thank you for spending your Sunday morning making our race experience great! And Mikaelle, I love your t-shirt: “I’m not strong for a girl. I’m just STRONG!”)


This is Mikaelle, one of the awesome volunteers!

We stayed for the awards and once again, participated in the kilt contest. We didn’t win!


Costume contest after the race. The runner who got the biggest applause (by far) was the man in blue 5th from the right. [Photo courtesy of race photographer.]

It was a fun, very well organized race. We’ll be back!!

Race stats

Time: 45:31.2 (pace 5:41 min/km)

Women aged 40-44: 27/69

Women: 122/410

All runners: 379/845

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