Algonquin Provincial Park has eight familyfriendly drive-in campgrounds, each attached to a lake. The backcountry has more than 1900 campsites reached via backpacking trails and 2100km of canoe routes. Most camping and park facilities are open from spring (April) until autumn (October). The optimal months are July and August; SeptemberOctober is peak time for autumn foliage. Park permits are required. • algonquinpark.on.ca • ontarioparks.com/park/ algonquin could be driven down a treacherous river highway from the highlands to the seaport in Quebec.
Black-and-white photos show moustachioed men around open fires, inside windowless shanty buildings, two to a bunk, socks hanging from the rafters to dry. I think of the loneliness, the bitter cold and their bleak diet of bread, salt pork and beans as I dump my packet of dehydrated chicken vindaloo on to my Trangia 25-3 ultralight stove (designed in the mountains of Jamtland, Sweden) and wrestle with the poles of my “three-season wind-stable feather-lite 20-denier-nylon tent”.
The juxtaposition seems comical. How can you compare burly frontiersmen to me, a lone female, the Canada-born daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. But are we so different? My parents were pioneers, too. They came here on a promise of opportunity, a narrative as relevant today as it was two centuries ago. They came here to work, grow roots and fulfil dreams. My country has a long history of immigration, from Loyalists to Scottish Highlanders to 60,000 Vietnamese boat people. It’s estimated 20.6 per cent of the total population is foreign-born; in Toronto it’s 50 per cent.
My campsite for the night is Oak Lake, a small yet dazzling pool and one of about 1500 in the park; it is mine alone for the night and the sensation is overwhelming.
I wish I could tell you about a gripping event, perhaps a transcendental encounter with a beaver or a tale of becoming lost and surviving on nothing but bark. A solo trek in the woods is usually a series of minor undignified moments, such as tripping over roots, walking into branches, encountering leeches of course and cowering in a tent petrified that every snap or rustle is a bear or the ghost of an axe-wielding revenge-seeking lumberjack.
I recall my colleagues wondering why I was going alone. Now I can tell them how I crawled from the tent at first light as dragonflies hovered and dewdrops sparkled on clover leaves. How I saw the mist rising into the shadows between the pines, and how I knew I could be completely content to be by myself, here in my element.