For the Dog


This is a time of year that I am always writing about canoe trips. There is always something that a canoe trip generates worth writing about whether it’s noticing that whenever I go into the park with a group of only female/non-binary identified folks, we are the only group of that description we see, finding my strength, taking my 72 year old mom out or just hanging with my favourite people.

One consistent element of almost every trip is my best dog. But this year, my excellent adventure with adventure friend, Cheryl, did not include Shelby the wonder dog. She is, a last, too old for me to feel safe to take her. Gone are the days when she could easily and delicately hop in and out of a canoe like a bunny. There was that one time that she stood on a rock about a foot square with all four paws and then, one at a time, she placed them in the boat, carefully balanced like an Olympic gymnast. She can’t scramble up a rock face any more. She has unreliable shoulders and, most distressingly a sarcoma on her front left leg. So, the idea of bringing her in, when I could not carry her out felt dangerous. It was also achingly sad.

Worse even was the look she gave me when I packed all that tripping gear in the car and left her at home. She knew what was happening, that I didn’t take her. SHE KNEW. That dog is old and weaker and creakier but she is also SMARTER than she has ever been. It killed me, that LOOK. So. . . what is a dog girl to do?

Take the dog camping.

That’s what I did. I took my dog camping. Car camping of course. There was a small-ish problem, in that outdoor recreation has become super popular in the pandemic and the possibility of finding a Provincial Ontario Park camp site, with it’s reliable clean and practical set up, it’s running potable water and guaranteed accessibility, that did not exist. So, I took a flyer on a private nature reserve, Limberlost Forest. I have hiked here for years and day hiking is free. It is an impeccably maintained place with beautiful cabins and cottages that I was familiar with. They had recently developed car camping sites in the interior of the property on a small lake. They were not booked. My dog needed a camping trip, so I took the risk.

I’m always conscious of the fact this is a feminist blog that is notionally about fitness and I so often just write about my life with tenuous connections to blog like themes but here is the link. First of all, car camping is just as exhausting as canoe tripping. I forgot that for some reason. You can bring more stuff, but then, there is more STUFF. You can bring a cooler and coolers need ice and ice is heavy and all the cooler food is heavy. The two burner Coleman and the bigger camp chairs and the shade tent and all the things. So many things. Car camping is setting up your bedroom and living room on a sand and gravel pad in a thick forest at the end of a recently bulldozed road into bush. Car camping in a private nature reserve doesn’t have handy taps with potable water. I brought my ceramic pump and we were on a lake. . .”set back from the lake” it said. Cool cool, I didn’t bother to ask what that meant. It turns out it meant up a steep hill in thick bush from the lake. And that meant to get to said lake, it was down a steep hill in thick bush to a swampy, mucky inaccessible lake front. Water is not optional so, functional fitness FTW. I spent much time precariously balanced on rocks and logs with my pump intake hose in the one place that offered slightly less swampy water. There were frequent breaks to clean the filter then back at it. Core, balance, legs, flexibility were all on display. The other technique was going down with my 20 litre portable wash bin and scooping up as much water as possible to bring it back up to pump. I did that a few times but I let my kid fuss with the pumping while I recovered. Oh, and all of this in 30 degree weather.

We did have a marvellous time. On the Saturday, we drove to another part of the park for a big hike along an accessible lake where we could all swim when we got hot. Shelby bounded around in her doggy zen way, thrilled to run and sniff and roll and stroll. In the evening, after I made a fabulous meal and we cleaned up. We had a little fire and then Shelby declared it was time for bed, grumbling half way between the tent and the picnic table, as she does, “It’s dark! Don’t you know it’s time to be inside?” When she came into the tent, malodorous as she was, she curled up at our feet and happily went to sleep, the most content dog. It was all about her after all.

As I type this, I am staying over in my mom’s house in Toronto with my dog and by the time you read this tomorrow morning, Shelby will be in surgery to remove the sarcoma from her front leg. I’m trying not to think about all the things that could go wrong with that. Instead, I’m just grateful that I could find and pay for my dog’s care, and hope that my nearly 12 year old lab has a few more camping trips left in her. Can you all hope with me and send the vibes? Shelby appreciates it.

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