Question: You want me to bring long underwear with me for a summer trip?!
When you go on a trip with Quiet Guiding Co. you receive a trip package with a packing list towards the end. And yes, a set of long underwear makes the list along with the note: Ask Kate about the time she nearly got hypothermia in August.
So here’s the long-ish version of the long underwear story:
It was my second season guiding and day three of a four-day Temagami trip.
I woke up to skies of grey cotton batting. Altostratus clouds meant rain later. How much later was the question. I stretched in my tiny solo tent, hitting both sides with my arms and knocking off some of the morning dew from the lime green fly. I listened: no human on our little Donald Lake island seemed to be awake yet. The red squirrels started to chatter and scold one another while the white throated sparrows warmed up their “o Canada Canada Canada” song.
I wriggled out of my sleeping bag and looked for my stuff sack of day clothes. The tent was too small to kneel in without hitting my head. I changed out of my pjs and into my paddling clothes while seated on my sleeping mat, legs straight out in front of me. I packed away my sleeping bag and Thermarest into their respective stuff sacks and crawled out of my tent.
K., the other guide, waved at me from her tent. I smiled and waved back a silent good morning. We wandered over to the camp kitchen to start our morning ritual. I grabbed the biggest pot and headed for the clearest spot of water along the shore. I dipped the lip of the pot into the lake and filled it up about two-thirds, careful not to slide off of my algae-covered perch. As I walked back to the kitchen, I could see women emerging from their tents, bleary-eyed. K. mixed up a batch of pancakes in the next biggest pot with a little bit of the gravity-filtered water.
We fired up both of the Whisperlite stoves while women deconstructed their tents. The air filled with the noise from the stoves, whisper light they were not, drowning out the rustles of nylon and pings of metal as women packed away flies, tents, and poles. I set the pot of water on one to boil water for coffee. K. grabbed the cast iron pan and started pancake production on the second.
Once boiled and steeped I banged the coffee pot to settle the grounds and ten sleepy women zombie-walked towards me. I skimmed the top of the pot and filled blue plastic mugs with hot, black cowgirl coffee. They added powdered nonfat milk or whitener as needed, dropping a dollop of maple syrup or a spoonful of sugar to take a bit of the bite out of my strong pot of morning nectar. I sipped mine, nothing added, and scarfed down a pancake.
“Good morning, how did you sleep?” I asked S.
She shrugged. “Oh, you know I don’t sleep through the night anymore. I got up at two to go to the washroom. I wanted to see the meteor shower but the clouds had already rolled in.”
I nodded. Last night was supposed to be the peak night of the Perseids but with the incoming system of rain, we couldn’t enjoy the light show.
She grabbed a plate of pancakes and sat down with the other women. I listened to their conversation for a few minutes. It sounded as though everyone had a restless night’s sleep. We would need to take it slow and steady today.
I swapped in at the second stove so K. could eat. We plated and dished them out as fast as we could make them. Women ate, dropped their syrupy dishes into our collapsible sinks, and returned to packing up damp towels separately from dry sleeping bags. K. and I started in on the dishes once everyone had finished eating.
We had a few task-driven women on trip. They were the ones who, for the last few mornings, had gotten up, eaten breakfast, packed up their belongings, and taken over dishwashing from us no matter how much we protested that they had already done enough. This morning was no different, so K. and I finished our own packing, tucking the last of our personal belongings into our blue waterproof barrels before rounding up the rest of the group gear.
Once the cast iron pan and last plate made it into the kitchen pack, we piled all of our bags and barrels near the water’s edge. We circled around the map for our pre-trip briefing. The grey cotton batting darkened and thickened. Nimbostratus clouds were not a good sign. We were in for rain all day. On cue a drop of rain bounced off of my nose and onto the map as we explained our morning’s short paddling route and long portage.
“We’ll paddle towards that shoreline,” I pointed to the far shore behind most of the women. They stiffly turned around to get a visual.
“Then we’ll bear right and once we run out of water we’ll be at our portage. It looks like we’re in for a bit of rain so keep your rain gear in your day pack. Any questions?” They shook their heads and got to work in pairs, getting the canoes ready to go.
We didn’t have a lot of flat shoreline to work with, so we loaded the canoes one at a time. Two women would grab their personal bags and a group gear bag, balance them evenly in the canoe, climb into their boat and shove off. By the time the sixth canoe shoved off shore, a steady rain fell. The August morning’s air temperature still felt warm. I left my rain gear packed away in my day bag, saving it for when we reached camp this afternoon. With a kilometer-long portage coming up and loads of gear, we would be traversing the trail multiple times. I didn’t want to get sweaty, reach camp, stop moving, and freeze without any extra dry gear.
The rain persisted. Though we paddled four kilometers to the portage trail, my quick dry tee shirt and shorts were soaked through. I was chilled.
This is exactly what I was hoping to avoid. Too late now. Pull yourself together and get going.
I ate a handful of trail mix and a protein bar to get my internal engine fired up, had K. help me get a canoe on my shoulders, and marched briskly to warm up. The rain tapped lightly on the canoe over my head. Pat…pat pat pat…plop. After twenty minutes, I reached the end of the trail and the waters of Kukagami Lake. I slid the canoe off of my shoulders and managed a brisk run-walk back along the trail. A cloud of mosquitoes followed behind me.
“Way to go, A.! Keep it up, M. You’re halfway there.” I cheered on each woman loaded down with a canoe pack as she trudged towards the end of the trail.
Everyone seemed warm enough. They had all donned rain gear either before we left camp or on the water once they realized the rain wasn’t letting up. After an hour and a bit all of our gear had made it across the trail. We loaded the canoes one more time and made a beeline for the large campsite nestled across the bay, in the red pine forest.
The rain continued to fall. We hit shore and scrambled to bring barrels and bags up on shore without slipping on slick granite. Women set up their tents. K. built a smoky fire. I broke out the tuna sandwich lunch supplies and then ducked into a client’s tent vestibule to change into my wool socks, long underwear, and rain gear. My lips and fingernails were blue. My teeth chattered. If I had waited much longer, I was headed for hypothermia in the middle of August.
Lesson learned….ahhhhhh, long underwear
Always have one set of warm layers – long underwear! – tucked away at the bottom of your bag or barrel! And don’t be stubborn. Be like these smart women and put on your rain gear.