We just arrived home after spending a long weekend camping at Killbear provincial park. With this being Geekdad’s UnWired week, once the last of my work assignments were out of the way, I made an effort to keep my hands off the technology and concentrate on more down to earth activities -like watching for bears.
My wife and I have been camping for many years and once we had kids, we made even more of an effort to get out and explore. After all, the great outdoors is an important aspect of any education and it’s so much better for them to be out in the fresh air of the wilderness than exercising their thumbs on a video game or a TV remote. That’s the idealistic version of camping. We found that over time, reality has intruded a bit. Two years ago we gave up on the tent and moved to a tent trailer after a particularly grueling ten day stretch of camping near an insect-infested Cape Cod salt marsh in hot, humid weather. I justified it as still being a tent-like experience, complete with canvas and zippered windows, but we opted for air conditioning, a furnace, kitchen appliances, king sized beds and other features that make camping purists retch. The thing is, trips -especially long trips- are much more enjoyable now. I’m still outdoors and in the same campgrounds, but sleeping is way more comfortable and I’m seldom suffering heat stroke or freezing. Rain isn’t an issue anymore and even with the dogs along, there’s plenty of room. My wife likes it, so I don’t have to arm wrestle over hotel versus camping nearly so often as I used to. I keep the trailer packed and ready to go and just need to hitch it up and throw in a bit of fresh food to leave on a few hours notice. It also gives me the opportunity to indulge my geek tendencies a bit. I’ve mentioned before that the trailer is where we keep the comic book stash (kind of like a club house) and I’ve started messing with stuff like adding another deep cycle battery and picking up a solar panel and accompanying gear. We aren’t off the grid yet, but we can comfortably dry camp for a week or so.
This latest trip was to Killbear provincial park, just north of Parry Sound, Ontario. It’s about three hours north of Toronto, for those who know the province. Killbear is a very popular park and it’s difficult to reserve sites, even months in advance, and for this trip we had to go with a site that had no electricity or running water. So, even though we’re in a trailer, it’s more or less back to basics. With the auxiliary battery installed, we don’t have to worry about the lights going off after a few days, but there’s no plugging in a laptop, cellphone charger, iPod or any of the gizmos we tend to haul along with us. The kids had their game systems for the drive, but once their batteries were dead, that was it. I had to bring my phone, modem and laptop to complete some work for a client on Friday, but once I was finished, they didn’t come back on except for one episode of Prehistoric Park on Friday night that finished off the laptop battery and bought the grown ups forty minutes of relative peace while the kids were falling asleep. I kept my camera handy and I did still haul out the iPods when sitting around the campfire with our friends, but that’s only because none of us plays guitar (unless you count my mad Rock Band skillz and that would be cheating even worse than the iPod use anyway).
For the duration of our stay, the kids concentrated on hiking, playing in the woods (no playgrounds there either), swimming and watching for critters. Killbear is home to a variety of wildlife including the Massassauga Rattlesnake and Black Bears. As a parent of young children and an easily alarmed guy, both of these were a concern to me. I’m not a big fan of venom or mauling. We had the dogs with us, which I figured might be a bit of a deterrent in terms of the bear situation, given that they’re significantly bigger than bite-sized and sound pretty aggressive if threatened. Google tells me that it’s perfectly safe where the rattlers are concerned, as there appear to be no reports of park visitors having been bitten by a poisonous snake. Bears have mixed results with most articles saying you’d be “lucky” to see one outside of the garbage dump. The presence of these two creatures did present an excellent learning opportunity for the kids. Besides habitat and conservation issues, we reviewed bear and snake safety, including being aware of surroundings and how to react if they spotted either of these. In both cases, the emphasis was on not attempting to touch or get closer to these creatures, no matter how cute they might look. Sites had to be kept spotless, with all garbage removed nightly or stored in a vehicle, along with any food. One of the park staff dropped by on the first afternoon to let us know there were active bears in the area and he also suggested that we cover the cooler with a blanket when it was in my truck. Apparently the bears had figured out how to spot a cooler in a vehicle and that could potentially lead to a large bill at the local body shop.
I didn’t see a bear and neither did the kids, but one visited a site thirty paces from ours. Yes, it was exactly thirty paces (no GPS allowed); I checked it myself. After the kids had gone to bed the first night, my friend and I stayed up pretty late sampling the handiwork of Canada’s finer breweries while enjoying the spectacularly starry night sky. His wife was up at 6:30 the next morning and encountered the bear as it was investigating a nearby minivan. She backed away and everyone behaved themselves, but that was our only official sighting. I slept through the encounter and probably wouldn’t have woken up at 6:30 that morning if a bear had dumped the ice in my cooler into my sleeping bag, so I missed a good photo op. Of course for the next few nights every time we’d hear crashing in the woods, everyone would be a little on edge, but it always turned out to be one of these guys (pictured here happily eating out of the dogs’ food bowl while we sat by the fire). Apparently the dogs are not a deterrent as far as raccoons are concerned and as for keeping the bears away, they never even woke up, despite the beast that was snorting away only a campsite from them.