Building Connection and Community- The Hike for Health

Some of the most impactful connections that I have made have been in nature.  The breadth of space, and ability to breathe create perfect conditions for hearts to connect and for souls to align.  We build powerful connections through our passion whether its through climbing, hiking, fishing, paddling or what ever we engage in that sparks joy.  We can also accomplish amazing things or make a substantial difference in our community because of this shared joy. 

This has got me thinking about an incredible event shared between the communities of Nipigon and Red Rock, the Hike for Health.

The Hike for Health has been building connection and giving back to the community for 25 years.  It is an annual charity event held on the last Saturday of September and features the Nipigon River Recreation Trail.  This event is organized and run by a group of volunteers and service agencies that support health and well-being in our communities. What is incredible about this event, is that not only does it connect hikers from around the region, but all of the funds raised are re-invested back into local community  initiatives to promote the health and wellness of our region.  Incredible, right?

I tackled my first Hike for Health when I was 18 years old, it was also the very first time that I did the Nipigon-River Recreation trail.  Back then, I was overwhelmed by the 10 km trek.  I was worried I was going to get lost, or not be able to finish. I figured that setting out on this adventure alongside experienced hikers, I would receive the direction and encouragement I needed to help me conquer my fears. 

My first H4H was a memorable one. I remember starting the day with breakfast at the Red Rock fish and game club, meeting so many new and interesting people. With a full belly we hit the trail.  It was spectacular.  From Red Rock, you start an incline in a beautifully covered forest trail. The chickadees are always out singing, eagerly waiting for you to share a snack. By the way, sunflower seeds are their favorite.  The high canopy of birch trees filters the sun so that the trail is illuminated by a light green glow. It is breathtaking on a hot sunny day.  Not long after you begin, the trail climbs and it only takes about 20 minutes before you reach the breath-taking Lloyds Lookout. It is an incredible view of Nipigon Bay and the town of Red Rock where up that high, the islands look like little toys floating in a blue bathtub. 

This is a great place to pause, take a selfie, have a conversation with your hike mates, or take a huge drink of water and recover from the climb.  From Lloyds Lookout you continue along the interior of the cuesta, navigating through some incredible boreal greatness. 

The next lookout is Eagles Ridge, where a wooden deck welcomes hikers to the outstanding view of the mighty Nipigon River. From this spot, you can also see the town of Nipigon and admire the palisades section across the water, where the pictographs of Memegwesi reside.

Continuing along the trail you eventually get to the massive set of wooden stairs that lead you down the mountain and into the beautiful, covered forest below. Make sure you keep your eyes open for deer, moose and other creatures, as there is often lots of sign on the trial. Your journey will bring you right alongside the Nipigon River, getting a beautiful perspective from Saw Mill Point. The trail gently leads you along the river until you reach the Nipigon Marina. Along this section there are plenty of locations to pause and enjoy the wonder of this place.

The best thing about doing the Nipigon River Recreation trail during the Hike for Health is that the air is full of laughter, joyous conversation and excitement.  You meet wonderful new people and often get great stories of their hiking adventures or new knowledge of other trails to explore. You build a beautiful sense of connection, and it is impossible not to feel a sense of belonging.

Since I was 18, I have done the Nipigon River trail countless times. I think after this year, I will have done the Hike for Health 8 times total, once with my son on my back when he was 20 months old.

This truly is a wonderful experience with a fantastic cause. Something you feel good about doing and amazing while you are doing it.  This is the Hike for Health’s 25 year (a great time to participate) to register or for more information go to the website here:

Hope to see you Saturday, September 24th at the Hike for Health.

Until the next adventure,

Deana

Don’t “should” yourself.  

Sometimes I sit at my kitchen table to watch the sun come up.  Bright rays illuminate the long, tangled, grass in my yard. Dew sparkling on overgrown blades like emeralds.  Warm amber light creeps into my window and reflects the nose smudges left by my wild hounds pressing their faces onto the glass in the hopes of catching the attention of the groundhogs outside.

As I sip my coffee, I notice a few dishes in the sink and a pile of laundry on the floor sprinkled delicately with dog fur.  I start to hear email notifications and the familiar ‘ding’ of social media come from my phone and I flip the switch to silent. 

Turning back to my coffee, I see the steam gently dance over the creamy caramel surface. The smell rising, I inhale the delicious aroma, deep and comforting. I pull my favourite mug up to my lips and indulge. The things I should accomplish today start to roll around in my head and I can feel the wheel of life start to turn.

Pukaskwa National Park- Land of The Anishnaabe (Ojibway) of Biigtigong Nishnaabeg

I hear Beaver roll out of bed and see him peek his head out from his bedroom door. 

“Morning Mama, what do you want to do today?”

The question that changes everything.

The question that takes me from the “musts”, “ought to” and “shoulds” and sparks something deep inside.  The ignition of excitement, desire for peace, building of wonder and the possibility of adventure.  

The question that leads us to paddling sun-soaked surfaces, scrambling up rock faces to beautiful waterfalls, flying down trails on our dirt bikes, or exploring new places in the wilderness.

The question that trumps housework, the need to respond to technology and that allows the grass to grow… un-mowed.

There have been times in my life where I felt conflicted by the things I should be doing versus what I actually needed for my body, mind and soul. The reality is, there is always going to be laundry, dishes, conflicts to resolve, emails to answer and likes to make on Instagram.  This unending stream of “shoulds” forced me to approach life differently.  It was the realization that I needed to balance out work load and selfcare, find the value in creating meaningful experiences and not use  “should” as a barrier to the things I need. 

Easily said when we have to actually live a real life though, isn’t it? The struggle is real when sitting back examining true balance. Everyone’s “should” show looks different. Our responsibilities, tasks, chores and needs are determined by evolving and complex factors. There are times in our life where we are in deep should, other times we are up should creek without a paddle, and then there are times where our should isn’t overwhelming or consuming. It is not necessarily the nature of our shoulds that causes stress, despair and isolation. It is the pressure or the constipation, if you will, that we associate with it that is the significant issue.

In my efforts to manage my “shoulds” here are some helpful things that have worked the best for me:

  1. Something good every day.

You need to bring yourself back to center every day. This doesn’t mean you have to do a 20-mile canoe trip, or hike to the top of a mountain. But if outside is where you find your balance, calm, fun or peace. Get out. Go for a nature walk on your lunch break, take your coffee down to the lake before work, beach day on a Wednesday, or read to your kids in the grass on your front lawn.  This is true for any activity that gives you ‘good’ in your life. Music, painting, creating, learning, culture, fixing, exercise. Make it happen for yourself, even if it’s for 15 minutes. These bright spots allow us to harness positivity and recharge the energy bank that we expel every day with work, family, conflict, stress and “shoulds”.  

  • Should before breakfast

My “if I had a dollar every time someone asked me…” question is: “Wow! How do you find the time to do all of your adventuring?” Which, by the way, really annoyed me in the beginning. Likely because sometimes this question is saturated with judgement and preceded with the comment “It must be nice”.   With deeper understanding, I think that the judgement, is connected to the desire for others to want more space in their life to do the things they love, and to not feel so much undue pressure from the “shoulds”.  So, after careful consideration and self reflection, there are a few elements to my answer.

The first thing is that it is my priority. I make it happen because it is at the top of my mind, and I (selfishly at times) push away other things to make it happen.

The second is a little bit of a trifecta: accessibility, privilege, and luck. I am fortunate enough to live in one of the most amazing places in the world. I can throw my canoe on my car and be on Lake Superior in 10 minutes from driveway to lakeshore.  I am able bodied and privileged to have the resources, and financial stability to make balance a priority. I fully acknowledge that there are a lot of people who just try to survive a day, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to live the life I do.

Finally, I put the work in. I wake up early, especially on weekends, to get my “shoulds” out of the way. Also, I am 100% fine with a certain level of messy. Like I said, there is ALWAYS going to be laundry and dishes. I am ok with throwing my covers off and leaving an un-made bed in my wake to head out to hike with my dogs.

  • Step away from the screen. 

I rarely watch TV, mainly because my ADHD is overwhelming, and hates sitting for any length of time. I love social media and the connections I make from it; I post lots, but don’t scroll for hours.  I set limitations on my screen time and will usually allocate time at the end of the day for a Netflix show or a 30-minute Insta reel binge.

In the past, screens occupied a lot of my time and energy, especially social media. It seemed like a good place to put my energy when I needed to disconnect from my life or relive stress. But overuse made me feel negative and un-productive.  If I need a sit still, or to reduce stress, I start reading, writing, edit photographs or pick up my guitar.  I engage in something meaningful rather then check out and virtually disconnect. 

  • Time suckers. Find them. Destroy them.  

What are the unnecessary, stressful or meaningless activates you get stuck in? (active conflict, toxic people, anxiety, scrolling through Facebook, falling into the YouTube vortex, the never ending conundrum of “what am I going to make for dinner?”). Some of these time suckers are easy to address and others can be bigger issues. How can you work to fix them? How can you create more time, energy and space for the things that matter? If you are struggling with anxiety, can you access therapy and supportive resources so that it doesn’t occupy so much of your headspace? Can you make changes at the onset of a should? Put a little work into yourself so that you have more energy for the things that bring you joy. Can you plan better to create space in your life? What are the “shoulds” you can get help with? (a great example here is meal planning and meal prep to reduce the time you spend in the kitchen).

  • Find YOUR passion.

None of this works if you aren’t getting joy from the activities you are doing. So many people make the mistake of turning joy into a “should”.  If you hate the gym, running, hiking, or trying to learn a new language, don’t put your energy into it. Find the things that genuinely ignite your passion, not things you are told you should like, or feel you should like because your partner/friend does.  Find it for yourself first and then seek out others to share in those meaningful experiences.

Navigating the “shoulds” of life is not an easy task. Despite all my greatest efforts and desires to live a life without them, occasionally they are a necessity. Eventually you are going to need clean underwear or go to work to be able to afford to live (or eat… seriously. Can you believe the post COVID cost of groceries? Holy. Should.).  You need to find a way to manage these responsibilities, so you don’t end up “shoulding” yourself.

It might involve planning, prioritizing or the radical acceptance that it is ok to have a messy house.  However, the balance you seek in the midst of that is what is important.  Create space for experiences that are valuable, produce joy and ignite passion and do this with intention.  So, the next time you are sitting with your morning coffee in the sunshine looking into the day, acknowledge the pressure of the things you should be doing. Don’t bull should yourself and think about what you actually need.

Beautiful Failure- Kayaking Lake Superior

It was just before sunrise. I pushed offshore in my slender, white kayak and just sat there, floating in the harbour. I was surrounded by periwinkle twilight. There was a gentle breeze in the air, carrying early morning chickadee songs and swallow calls. The sounds of the world waking up. I watched the sun gracefully rise over the horizon and ignite the little mountain range across the bay. The spark of orange light, signaling the start of day, brought a sense of excitement and urgency. It triggered the feeling to go. I dipped my paddle in the calm water and pulled my adventure closer, leaving the safety of Red Rock harbour.

Red Rock Marina and the Canadian Coast Guard Boat

The weather was in my favour and the forecast was promising.  My plan was to paddle out to CPR Slip and spend the weekend in the beautiful haven on St. Ignace Island.  This was the first time undertaking a journey this far alone, approximately 26 miles on the epic Lake Superior. 

The ‘Great Lake’ and I are not strangers. We’ve been acquainted. My earliest memories on big water involve my Papa, out on Nipigon Bay in his beautiful steel hull cruiser, The Superior Princess. His love of the lake was evident in the way he talked about her. His stories of adventure, hunting trips and fishing charters were always filled with vigor and passionate expression. They were also interwoven with a keen respect and words of caution.  He passed on this passion and love of the lake to me.  His last adventure on this earth was a family trip through the Trent Waterway System. He died on his boat on that journey.  My dad inherited The Princess, and my childhood was spent exploring islands, looking for treasure, fishing, and learning about the wind, water, and waves.  Most of my favourite childhood memories involve my family and involve Lake Superior.   Later in life I found passion being closer to the water, paddling on my stand-up board, canoe, and kayak.  I even tried surfing… once.

I knew about the lake’s precarious temperament, power, and desire to shift her mood without warning. As I made my way across Nipigon Bay, I was cautiously aware, and quietly negotiating with her, so that she would see me across safely.

Good morning Nipigon Bay

The sun continued to rise above the water, and I found beautiful rhythm in a steady pace. Eventually I passed Burnt Island and had little Frog Island in my sights. Nipigon Bay is about 23 km, long. A formidable and intimidating crossing, so mentally, I broke the trip into sections. First to Burnt, then to Frog and then to the mouth of the Nipigon Straits.

Burnt Island

Also, to break up the quiet monotony I had downloaded an audio book, Uprooted, by Naomi Novik.  While my heart was lost in adventure on big water, my mind was occupied with dragons and magic. It was the perfect combination.

As I was approaching Frog, I felt the wind pick up. It started as a cool breath on the back of my ear, and eventually cultivating to a steady push at my back. I could feel the waves small at first, urging me quickly forward. They grew bigger, shoving me, just like a bully in the school yard. I was glad to reach Frog for reprieve and to assess the unexpected environmental turn of events.  By that time, the wind had churned up 2-foot waves. I had to make an adjustment in my plans and head in the direction of the following sea, directly to the shore of St. Ignace and then follow the shoreline up to the mouth of the straits.

Frog Island – A reprieve

With a bit of apprehension, I pushed away from Frog and made my way to St. Ignace with careful maneuvering and hard paddling.  The shoreline seemed so far away and no matter how hard I tried; it didn’t seem to get closer. Time was absorbed into a frustrating vortex and the waves seemed intent on upsetting my little white kayak.  But I managed to surf along, constantly fighting to stay upright.   It was 2 hours of hard work (mentally and physically) before I made it to the mouth of the Nipigon straits. I pulled into the shore and celebrated. 4 hours, 400 curse words and almost 23 km later. I had made it across Nipigon Bay. 

Welcome to the Nipigon Straits

I felt almost euphoric. After a quick check in with family, I sat in the sunshine and enjoyed a few moments of rest. The wind eased slightly in the narrow passage of the straits.  I hydrated, got some food into me, and felt ready for the next leg of my journey. I was just over halfway! I had about 19 more km to go to get to CPR Slip and had anticipated the Nipigon Straits to be the easiest part.  I set out, determined.

The sun was warm on my cheeks and the water was a gorgeous turquoise. Eagles were soaring overhead, and the squawking gulls were welcome company. I had found my rhythm once more and got lost in my thoughts. Ninety minutes passed on the water when I was shaken back to reality by gusts of wind. It came fast and blew fiercely. A headwind, 24km/h was sending white caps directly towards me. I tried to hug the shoreline but was making no ground. I tucked into a little bay, behind a point and waited for calmer water. Unfortunately, there was no cell coverage, and I couldn’t touch base at my scheduled check points. I waited over an hour, and still the wind persisted. I tried to call on my marine radio to the boaters at CPR Slip so that they could touch base with my family but could not reach them. Worried I was going to have to spend the night in the straits, I began to head back to find cell coverage. I was concerned that if I didn’t touch base, a search party would have unnecessarily been sent out in dangerous waters to come and find me.

To my frustration and dismay, I didn’t access coverage again until I was at back the mouth of the straits, which meant I had to back track about 10 km.  By then, it was 4:00 pm and I had been paddling for 7.5 hours. I had covered about 46 km, and I was exhausted. I noticed dark clouds on the horizon, so decided to set up my tent and hunker down for the evening. 

Camp- Mouth of Nipigon Straits

I vividly remember laying back in my tent, listening to the rain gently patter and the wind gust, billowing the sides of my shelter.  My body was sore, and I was frustrated that I hadn’t made it to my destination.  So, I closed my eyes and let the sounds of the outside carry away my tension.

My attention came back into the present about an hour later. The sun was warm, and my little tent felt like a toasty fortress. I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen asleep, or just checked out mentally. However, I immediately noticed the absence of wind, for the first time all day. I peeked my head outside my tent and sure enough, the water was calm. I checked the weather forecast and came across some disappointing news. The wind was going to pick up, starting overnight and reaching 20km/h for most of the next day. This meant I was going to be stuck at my campsite and not be able to make the trip to CPR Slip. But the forecast had also given me a 3-hour window of calm. I knew that I couldn’t anticipate better weather for the rest of the weekend, so with a heavy heart, and failure tugging at my insides, I decided that I would make a run for it, back across Nipigon Bay and return home.

Back in my boat, my muscles were tight, and my hands were sore. Frog Island was a speck in the distance, and I was determined to take advantage of the calm to get there. The bay was peaceful, and the sun was sparkling off the surface like precious gems.  It was the calmest it had been all day.  I made it to Frog in great time, 1 hour and 40 minutes. My energy level was waning, but I was motivated by the fact that it was just over 10km between me and home. Leaving Frog behind, I pressed forward. I was a quarter of the way to Burnt Island when Lake Superior decided to change her mind. A fast transformation, with aggressive gusting, this time from the North.  It started with a trembling surface, but within 20 minutes the waves were over 2 feet high coming straight towards me. They were close together and a few were managing to come over the bow of my little bateau.  Burnt was still far away.  I stopped moving forward and the waves began to toss me around. All my energy was spent keeping myself upright. My desire to get to Burnt was starting to override common sense, but I knew I had to turn back before Superior swallowed me.

I started to make a quick turn. But as I maneuvered sideways, I noticed a monstrous wave coming for me. I kicked my foot down, swung my rudder over and dug my paddle in hard. The wave sent the stern of my kayak around and I felt myself starting to tip. A second wave, tailing the previous, caught my side and corrected me, pushing my boat in the proper direction. I don’t know why, but somewhere in my heart, it felt like my Papa Joe.  No matter the reason for the celestial intervention, I had a thought, palpable and resounding, so much so, I said it out loud: “You’ve got this. Get going”.    

I paddled hard back to Frog.  The waves got bigger, and I surfed through the whitecaps.  By the time I reached Frog, I was exhausted. Physically and emotionally.  I called my family for a check in and indicated that I would likely have to camp out on Frog, not knowing if I could make it home the following day with the anticipated wind.  In talking to my mom, my voice cracked, and my exhaustion came through. Although I knew I was ok, and that I was safe, I felt helpless and at the mercy of this huge body of water with a mind of its own.  The discomfort was raw and exposed my vulnerabilities.  I was temporarily stuck on this tiny little island that was more swamp than land. 

So, after reassuring my mom I was going to be okay through my cracking voice and tears, I hung up and started to look for somewhere to put up my tent.  I made my way from the shoreline into thick wet bush.  I noticed several game trails and moose beds, which was surprising at first, considering the size of the tiny island.  But, after some thinking, I realized that it was the perfect place for cows to give birth.  A great nursery for moose calves, not so much, a great place for me to stay.  I continued to look, creeping my way through thick ground cover. I saw a dark lump in front of me, and to my surprise a huge moose stood up and stared at me. She wasn’t close, but her size was overwhelming. I didn’t know if she had a calf, or if she was injured and couldn’t leave the island.  Rather than risk her coming closer, I blew my air horn in the hopes of creating some distance between us. Thankfully, she took off through the bush to the other side of the island.

I went back to shore and came back to a text from my mom.

“Don’t be mad” it said,

“Your Dad is coming out to get you”

A weird sequence of feelings came over me then. Disappointment, appreciation, annoyance, relief, anger.  I sunk onto the rocky beach beside my kayak and lit a cigar. Now, typically these are my celebration cigars, for when I have accomplished something meaningful.  I was saving it for that night, sitting by a campfire at CPR Slip looking back at the journey I’d hope to complete that day.  This felt more like a failure cigar.  Wet and exhausted, legs spread out on an uncomfortable rocky beach, with one eye on the bush looking for moose and one eye on the water, I waited while the back flies feasted.

The sun was sinking lower and periwinkle twilight crept back into the sky by the time I heard the boat. When it rounded the corner, I saw my husband at the bow and my dad behind the wheel. I went out into the water up to my waist, because the boat couldn’t pull directly onto the beach.  I handed over my gear and went back for my kayak, we lifted it onto the boat.  I took one more look over my shoulder to make sure I hadn’t forgot any of my gear, and because I almost expected the moose on the shoreline to be pointing and laughing at my shameful departure from Frog Island.

I turned back to the boat to push us off from the shore. Resistance.  We were stuck. In panic I put my shoulder into the stern and used every ounce of strength I had left to try and release the boat from the jagged embrace of the rocky bottom.  In that moment, I felt my Papa for the second time that day. “You’ve got this. Get going.”

To my relief, I felt the boat move and start to float. I pulled myself onto the stern and sprawled out on the floor. The engine came to life, and we made our way back across the bay.  A few minutes passed before I pulled myself up into a seat. 

When I sat up, I was welcomed by cotton candy skies and pink fluffy clouds.  It was so indescribably glorious. The sun, sinking behind Red Rock Mountain painted the water gold.  I was thankful for the beautiful distraction, from my exhaustion and internal conflict. Nature has the incredible ability to remove you from inside yourself and allow you to dial into the amazing or beautiful or terrifying or peaceful things that surround you.

Rescue mission sunset
Sunset and choppy gold water

It was then, I looked down at my Garmin and saw how far I’d gone that day. It read 56,740 meters (56.74 km). Lake Superior and I had been together for over 15 hours, 11 of those paddling. Disappointment and frustration melted away just as the sun lowered and the day ended. I was left with soft relief, a sense of achievement and sore muscles. I was so grateful for the lessons Superior had taught me and for the prodigious beauty she shared with me. I was also thankful for the spiritual connection I have with my Papa, who was watching out for me that day. Finally, I was damn appreciative to my husband and dad for the rescue and relieved I didn’t have to spend a romantic night with a swarm of black flies and a giant moose.

Until the next adventure,

-Deana  

Beaver on Belay

We aren’t strangers to early morning alarms on weekends.  Cold daybreak with hot coffee in frosty vehicles before the sun peeks over Doghead Mountain. Mornings filled with excitement as thick as warm breath in cold air on a winter day. Rolling out of bed with the anticipation of an adventure.  The best way to start a day with my kiddo.  This January morning was a particularly special one. We were heading West, towards Thunder Bay to meet up with my friend Aric, who is a guide and founder of Outdoor Skills and Thrills and it would be Beaver’s (aka Steven aka my son) first time ice climbing.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our family has thrived on the anticipation of anything exciting, different and new.  These have been challenging times and often life has felt stagnant. We aim for adventure and seek out the outdoors for solace because sometimes it’s challenging to keep the same level of stoke for the familiar, especially with the pressure of pandemic restrictions.

I had been hesitant to take Beaver ice climbing, because I was worried he wouldn’t be able to focus, would complain constantly about being cold, be silly and irresponsible with the equipment or hate it. But he was relentless in his pursuit to give it a try (probably because it’s something I enjoy immensely and am constantly talking about). So, we had a long conversation about expectations for his behaviour, we went over the ice climbing information package from Outdoor Skills and Thrills, and packed for the weather with extra socks, mitts and hand warmers.

Back to our adventure!  We set out in the darkness towards the city.  Even the drive towards Thunder Bay was a fantastic one. We chatted about being excited, we listened to music (mostly Johnny Cash, Beaver’s favourite) and we made plans for more exciting things to look forward to. I am super grateful for road trip conversations with my kiddo, even when winter decides on less than desirable driving conditions.  Our talks behind the windshield are focused and our energy and attention can be directed at each other rather than being distracted or filtered. 

We arrived in the city without much excitement and met up with Aric. We followed him South to a location he calls “The Playground”. We pulled in, got our gear together and set out on the short hike to our climb. Aric led us across a small lake that was already occupied with several ice fisher-folks. It was a beautiful day with creamy white sky as we trekked through fluffy, pristine snow across the lake. Steven marched ahead with excitement with Summit, Aric’s pup.

Photo credit: Aric Fishman

Across the lake, there was a tiny opening on the bush line that we went through, a secret passage to a magical place. The trees and tag alders gave way to a beautifully sheltered area at the base of a gorgeous wall of ice. As soon as Beaver poked his head through, his face lit up and his excitement spilled over. He ran to the wall and started to nag us to get his equipment on and to start climbing, like immediately.

Aric’s calm demeanor guided Beaver through the safety elements of climbing. With sharp axes in your hands, knives on your feet (crampons) and being suspended in a harness, its essential that safety is a priority, which is why it really is crucial to hire an experienced guide. You could see Beaver’s anxious energy give way to focus. I sat back and watched them proceed through a lesson on climbing ice. How to use axes effectively, crampon placement and how to properly rappel.

It was so exciting to watch Beaver navigate through something new and challenging. He had a hard time a first with his technique, but he kept coming back to the wall and trying again.

Aric and I both took lap on the wall while Steven watched. It was incredible to have him at the bottom cheering me on.  It was the first time he has seen me climb and he was impressed with my technique.  It felt amazing to see him proud of his Mama.

What happened next was one of the best experiences ever. I got to belay Beaver while Aric coached him through the climb. It was an incredible connection and a beautiful testament to our relationship as mother and son. His trust in me, our mutual pride, and most importantly how much fun we were having together.

Photo credit: Aric Fishman

There were a lot of moments during the pandemic I was frustrated and grieving the joy that COVID-19 had taken from us. However, in that moment, as I was belying Beaver, remembered that we have SO many opportunities we can create ourselves. Out climbing ice while my nine-year-old was suspended in the air and I was holding on to him, that moment brought the important realization back to me. It was the slap in the face I needed to shift back into a state of joy and it inspired me to continue to seek out opportunities.

By the end of the afternoon Beaver was getting the technique and making amazing progress. He didn’t want to stop and didn’t want to go home. I looked over and said:

“Aric, I think we’ve created a monster”

Photo credit: Aric Fishman

After some persuading and a promise to schedule another ice climbing adventure, we got Beaver and our gear packed up and made our way back to the car.  

Although Beaver was pretty tuckered out at the end of the day, he was super excited about his experience. He was so proud of himself for making progress and keeping at it, even when it was challenging. For the week following, he would tell anyone who would listen, and I watched him apply his new-found tenacity to other challenges that were in front of him. It’s now a touchstone reminder for us that when we try hard we can get better at something. That even though something is a challenge, it’s fun, and that even if we are worried about trying something new, we give it a go because there is a possibility that it can be an experience we will love and cherish. It was such a deeply profound experience for both of us and will be a highlight in my memory for the rest of our lives. We can’t WAIT to get out and try again.

Until the next adventure,

-Deana

How do I stop this train? #STFD

I’m currently sitting on the edge of summer looking into the vast, deep pool of autumn. With sunshine at my back and snowflakes on the horizon, I am fearful that I will have to take the plunge and leave my calm heart behind in the memory of my adventures in endless daylight.  Fearful of packing away my free spirit alongside my bikini and hopping onto a speeding locomotive, charging into the darkness of winter. 

For my whole life, I have felt a sense of anxiety and heaviness in anticipation for fall. Part of this worry is rooted in new beginnings. For many of us, September holds the memory of change.  As a child, teen and young adult it was the beginning of a new school year. Different expectations, new challenges, and the awareness that things are going to be harder. Stretching me. Pushing me. I would hover in my summer mindset and pray that life could be a perpetual August. I still do that sometimes.  In post-secondary education, fall meant moving. Moving away from home, from the safety of my wilderness to the cold cement of the city. Leaving behind one life for another. A huge transition. Now, as a parent, autumn means getting my son back into the routine of new and challenge. Mentally preparing myself for waking up on time, morning arguments, making lunches, homework and getting into a schedule that feels restrictive and occasionally, like a bit of a kill joy. 

Now, in saying all of that, it is important for me to explain that this change was (and is) typically positive. The challenges we face in “the new” are things that allow us to see success, grow, and learn. It creates opportunity for us to push ourselves socially, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Although this can feel hard, once the push is over we can look back and feel good about what we have accomplished. This season also helps to support healthy behaviours and consistency.  A routine can help us with better sleep schedules, regular exercise and good nutrition habits. It can create the environment for us to establish and meet goals, and the space for us to engage in the expansion of self.  Also, I always look forward to the new shoes and wardrobe items and fresh markers (AHHHH how I LOVE the smell of new office supplies!) that come with the beginning of a new school year.  There is exhilaration in anticipation for freshness, evolution and reinvention. 

September also means the loss of light and warmth. The end of late nights, sleeping in, freedom, adventures, long days, temperateness and sunshine. For us, living in Northwestern Ontario, the cold comes now. The days get shorter and darker and a lot of us tend to turn inward. We tend to limit our outdoor activities and spend more time focused on tasks, work, and routine. We spend more time in front of screens. We tend to live more in our stress and hold out for weekends and holidays for a break. We let our tension build in the cold and in the dark and we press forward anticipating reprieve. What tends to occur, is that we shift our priorities into a different direction where rest, connection and the positive mental state that we had in July is buried. We put our heads down and try to make it through until December. Then for holiday, we cram months of lost connection, passion and/or relaxation into a few days. Then, holiday typically ends up with its own stress and pressure. We end up with a lot of scheduled activities, parties, and family gatherings. We end up eating too much and consuming too much alcohol. We end up perpetuating our stress (or drowning it) and come out of vacation still feeling exhausted. Sound familiar? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t (maybe you’ve figured this out already, but for the rest of us…).

There is something unsavory about the loss of summer. It is rooted in a vast emotional and cerebral shift.  This ‘freight train’ mentality. Why is it that the calendar rolls over to 01 September and it feels like we climb on this train and start going full speed down the track? Why is it that we have this expectation that its time to hunker down, put on blinders and forge ahead leaving summer in the rearview mirror? As I look behind, perhaps it’s not the season that I miss, its more the state of mind and state of spirit.

So, I have been doing some thinking. How do I stop this train? This is what I’ve come up with so far.

There is a light switch connected to summer. We turn off and give ourselves the permission to power down. Summer is about having a more malleable schedule, moments of relaxation and an overall feeling of rejuvenation. Who designed this switch? The one that gets turned off in June and switched back on in September? Why do we turn on with such intensity? Why does workload and expectation and stress increase so significantly? Now, I know for some people (students, educators, seasonal workers) different times of the year mean different workloads… but why is our experience colored and determined by that switch? Why can we not look at evenings, or mornings or lunch time or weekends through the summer lens? Through the lens of alleviation and rejuvenation? What is our psychological approach to this? How do we frame our life and transitions? Well, I am taking control and I am going to make more intentional decisions about when I turn the switch on and off.

The days change. As fall rolls in, the days get colder and shorter… much shorter. I think this causes stress and panic for some. I know that it does for me.  I feel that I must fit more into a seemingly shorter time frame.  Nighttime falls just after supper here in Northwestern Ontario and perspective shifts. We tend to stay inside. I think about how much more time is occupied with television, social media, reading and other activities that bind us to our houses when it is dark and cold. Who wrote the winter rule book that binds us inside? I bet it was the same dude who designed the damn switch.

We need to shift perspective and throw the rule book out the window. Last year, one of the coolest things that I discovered was how much fun it was to cross country ski at night. A few girlfriends and I would throw on our gear (that included a headlamp) and we would head out in the evenings in the dark and IT WAS AMAZING! Adventures and mindset and fun don’t have to wait for weekends or holidays. Snow shoeing to a beautiful lookout to watch the sun set and have a tasty cocktail or waking up early for a morning drive and coffee to watch the sun come up and snap some Instagram worthy photographs. Cold and dark shouldn’t limit our experience. It should drive us to find beauty and excitement from a new perspective.

Workload. I’m fully aware that there are times that the train you are on will need to “choo-choo” down the tracks in full force. There are times where our workload increases, and we are required to allocate more energy and time to our career, our family or life in general.  Life cannot be an endless vacation, and this is OK. It is not workload that we should be afraid of. It is not new or challenge or hard that we need to be rejecting. What is required is a shift in our approach, the way we perceive and the way in which we cope whilst riding the runaway train. The first step in this, is knowing where the breaks are. Knowing that we can be on a productive path, but we can also intentionally slow down.  We can adjust our priorities and we can make space for what matters.

I am going to create sacred space within my work week for more balance. I am going to push the train conductor out the door and take the wheel, baby. I am going to stop the damn train and get off and climb the mountain I have been staring at out the window. I am going to get out and have a picnic down by the lake with my friends. I am going to pull the breaks and I am not going to always schedule meetings through my lunch, I am going to run or eat or poke my nose outside. I am going to choose to get up 30 minutes earlier, so I have a bit more time to pause and meditate and stretch or eat a damn good breakfast. I am going to choose to do something that drives my passion rather than make the choice to drive the train. 

So here I am folks. I have a fancy conductor’s chapeau. I have the wheel in my hands with equal parts anxiety and excitement, ready to take control of this freight train. I threw the rule book out the window and flicked the switch. I am ready to shift my perspective. I am going to be relentless in creating space for what I need emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.  I am going to wade through the deep of autumn and into winter with a summer attitude and I am going to do this with one had on the breaks, so I can slow the f$#& down.  #STFD.

10 People 10 Adventures Five/Ten: Wyatt Markall

There are special souls in this world. I have come across a few. Incredible humans full of passion and kindness and adventure and life. When I meet them, the really amazing ones, I know right away. Maybe it’s an energy they emit or maybe it’s because they are so special they show their unique brand of incredible instantly. For the next subject of my 10 People 10 Adventures article series, I knew how awesome this human was the first time I met them. What astonished me, was how very young this vibrant person is. Let me tell you about him.

It was mid-February and we were setting out for a beautiful day of ice climbing near Kama Bay. The sun was shining, and the weather was perfect. A gang of six of us were hiking into an amazing spot. Aric and I, Andy, Rosalyn, Dallas and his son Wyatt. We started an ascent up to the base of the climb called Grandy Mardy Falls, bushwhacking through knee deep snow up a huge incline. The forest was alive with laughter and chatter as we fumbled upwards. This was an incredible crew to be a part of. Truly amazing people, each of them. But I clearly remember looking back at Wyatt laughing, teasing his Dad and pushing himself along.  He was so incredibly comfortable in this element, interacting with the rest of us with ease. He struck me as such a unique person as I don’t know many teenagers who would see crawling up a hill in deep snow as entertaining or approach it with as much joy as he did. I remember being impressed with his character and inspired by his outlook and positive energy.

Suddenly, my phone rang. It was my mom. She was crying and let me know that my Grandmother had passed away and asked that I come home. My heart sank, and I immediately felt the heaviness of grief grab hold. I called to the group that I would have to turn back and filled them in on the unfortunate reason why. A few deep condolences were passed and offers to join me back to my car. I graciously declined and felt the kindness and love of my climbing buddies. As I turned to go I saw Wyatt and he looked at me in the most genuine way and asked me if I was ok. This amazing kiddo, with bright eyes that just trudged up an exhausting hillside hauling his own climbing gear, was thoughtful and courageous enough to make sure I was ok before I left. I had just met him that day and knew from our few hours together that this tenacious, joyful, adventurous and kind human was extra ordinary.

Fast forward, about a month later. I get a message from Dallas that he, Wyatt and Erik were going to be heading out to Orient Bay and invited me to join them. I jumped at the opportunity and we soon found ourselves heading down Highway 11 to look for ice. We pulled over to check conditions at Steve’s Ice Fall and Waiting for The Dog. We couldn’t find the marked trail, so we bushwhacked up to the base of the climb only to find conditions were less than ideal. However, we found the marked trail on the way back out and did some recon for future adventures.

After some contemplation between heading up Mellow Yellow or continuing deeper into the Northern corridor, we decided to go for the sure thing and scooted a bit further down the highway to the epic and beautiful Psycho Icycho.  It was a much shorter approach, and we zipped up to the base of the climb.

While the professionals set up, I free climbed up a gradual slope to the left perched myself on top of a chunk of exposed rock jutting out of the side of the falls. I started drilling Wyatt for climbing advice and a tutorial for how to use ice screws. He was glad to give me a run down, after a staunch warning, that I was under NO circumstances allowed to try lead climbing after his tutelage, and that he was being helpful, and I was not allowed to sue him. We chatted about climbing and his other interests. He made his way up beside me and we watched Erik lead up the bright blue ice, as Dallas belayed from below. Dallas was poking fun of us on our icy balcony referring to the cantankerous Muppet duo, Statler and Waldorf after which we were happy to heckle him from above.

Erik made his way to the top with the graceful ease of a seasoned pro. I love watching people who are proficient at their craft. It’s almost memorizing how each movement flows with intention. Its strangely relaxing.

So, we sat and chatted and observed and watched and learned. When Erik reached the top, Wyatt and I down climbed from our Muppet perch and tied in side by side at the bottom of Psycho Icycho. Wyatt was quick to give me some helpful tips on my axe swing and grip placement. His kind guidance and words of encouragement were beyond his 14 years and I gladly listened to his wisdom as we climbed together.

The conditions were ideal. The weather was glorious at plus two degrees and the ice was perfection with each swing finding a strong hold. The sun was just creeping over the crest of the palisades and the Orient Bay corridor was glowing with golden light. It was beautiful.

Wyatt and I continued to climb and so did his words of encouragement and advice. We rose above the seemingly magical world. We finally got to the top of our climb and were warmly welcomed by Erik at the summit. Wyatt was belayed down, and I rappelled down shortly after. Once we both had feet on the ground we high fived. We were so stoked, it was a great climb on the most beautiful March day, and we did it together, side by side.

I was so inspired by Wyatt and knew he had to be the next person I interviewed for 10 People 10 Adventures. So, I asked him if I could interview him right then and there! He happily agreed, and his dad gave us the green light.

It was Dallas’s turn to head up Psycho Icycho. Wyatt suggested that we free climb back up to our icy balcony for a great view to watch his Dad and complete our interview so, we sat, on our Statler and Waldorf perch. We watched another pro dance up beautiful blue, glistening ice in Orient Bay and I interviewed this incredible human. Here is what I found out about him.

Wyatt started his life in Dryden, Ontario and he reports that his earliest memories of being outside are driving his bike down the dirt roads near his home. He told me that they grew up in the country and spent a lot of their time exploring outside, especially by bike. Wyatt started rock climbing when he was two and always remembers his Dad climbing. In fact, his family spent a lot of time doing outdoor activities. He recalls they had kayaks and quads and would race around and spend lots of time camping.

I asked Wyatt what his favourite outdoor activities are and with a huge smile across his face, let me know that he couldn’t possibly choose just one. He loves ice climbing, rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, road biking, target practicing with his bow and camping. He told me that he loves just being able to get outside and see beautiful things.

“The smells, the views and the sights. The flow of everything in nature. It’s all so balanced and beautiful and truly amazing”

Wyatt has also travelled away from home for some epic adventures. He was thrilled to tell me about the travelling he has done with his family in Quebec, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica. He told me about adventures salmon fishing, learning to surf and one cruise where he went swimming with nurse sharks (which I was super envious to hear about!).

Despite all these amazing adventures abroad, Wyatt recognizes something particularly special about Northwestern Ontario. He explains that there are so many different areas here to explore and everything is super close, so you don’t have to drive far to do awesome things.

“I feel safe here, its where my family is, and I love it. You don’t have to worry about crazy things happening. Like you don’t have to worry about avalanches when you are out having fun ice climbing and stuff like that”

He goes on to explain;  

“It may be small, but there are a lot of amazing things to see, you just have to know where to look. Orient Bay is amazing especially when you get to the top of an ice climb, it’s so beautiful. The mountain biking trails are just amazing. My favourite is the Conveyer Belt trail at Trowbridge.”

Wyatt has a deep appreciation for the natural world, which Dallas proudly highlights.  He is quick to point out the beautiful things, even if it means stopping dead in the middle of a mountain bike trail, nearly causing a collision just to point out to his Dad how awesome and beautiful it is. He has a passion for exploration and is content just to observe.

“I love finding new ice climbs, looking around the area I am in, the different shapes and different types of ice. It’s the same with mountain biking, just experiencing a new flow or the different turns and jumps on a trail. I love getting to experience the different feeling I get from the activities I love”

From all the activities Wyatt enjoys, I was curious to know what his favourite piece of gear was. He reports that his Giant Trance 3 mountain bike and Trango Raptor ice axes are is favourite pieces of gear and he is super stoked to try out his new carbon fiber paddles for kayaking this summer.   

Dallas made his way back down from the climb. Wyatt and I threw out a few more heckling remarks in true Statler and Waldorf fashion and then climbed down and packed up our gear. It really was the most incredible day in Orient Bay and I was sad to leave. We made our way back down to the vehicles buzzing with stories, stoke and conversation. Although all good things must come to an end, we live in the hope that the next adventure is always just around the corner.

I am super grateful I got to know this ice climbing, mountain biking target shooting, kayaking, kind, helpful and vibrant young dude and I cannot wait to see what this kiddo accomplishes in his life. I am so grateful to you Wyatt. Thank you for being my youngest subject for 10 People 10 Adventures and for inspiring me and others to get outside and do incredible things.

The incredible Wyatt Markall

Mutualism. Our beautiful connection.

The weather was hot, and our water supply was dangerously low. Paige, Joanne and I were 14 km into a 21 km day. We had just made a small ascent onto a high, rocky outcrop and we were all exhausted and approaching dehydration. We had been diligent about filling up our water supply, but it was scorching, and the terrain was challenging. Our consumption was much higher then it normally would be, and we had not come across a water source in a few hours.

Paige was looking white and she had let us know that she was dizzy, we saw heat exhaustion on the horizon. This was day 3 into our 5-day hiking trip on Isle Royale and we were in the middle of the island, with no means of communicating with anyone. We were relying on each other (in more ways than one).

Although the journey this far had been a beautiful challenge, this was the first time that I felt worried.  We had pushed ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally on this trip. Pulling 20 km a day in various conditions, hauling around backpacks that were FAR to heavy (we were new to backpacking at the time and overpacked), nursing sore muscles and an obscene amount of bug bites and blistered feet. But all of that had been tolerable, a part of the amazing journey we had embarked on together. However, we were amid coping with dehydration, heat and exhaustion and we had one option. Stop and rest. We needed to lower body temperature, get fluids into us, fuel and get our bodies back to a place where we were able to continue.

We found a tiny bit of shade. My pack and shirt came off and I stretched out under a gnarly little pine tree. Despite my discomfort and worry, my energy and thoughts were completely dialed into the moment. Closing my eyes, I began to take deep breaths and focused on slowing down my heart rate and the feeling of gentle breeze cooling my skin.  I listened to the sounds of birds chirping and the rustle of leaves and took comfort knowing my friends were at my side.  

I began to think about our experience so far. Hours on the trail, pushing our bodies far past comfort. Deep and meaningful conversations, lying in the forest floor admiring the trees above us, sitting lakeside bathing with loons and leeches and all of the wondrous observations that continue to sit in my heart. The experience that we were sharing would forever connect us. I knew that we were going to get through this together.  When I think back to the trip on Isle Royale I always think about the concept of mutualism—the symbiotic relationship where organisms benefit from the existence of the other. That trip, in those moments I saw all of us connected in the experience and with nature.

Now, the end to this story is that we paused and hydrated and reduced exertion and lowered our body temperature and continued on. We eventually came across water and later that evening, made it to our campsite. We had two more days of GLORIOUS backpacking after… and it would take me a novel to write about all of the incredible things that we encountered in that journey.

That experience, in addition to MANY other adventures with these women have created a deep and profound connection. These experiences bond and bind us in something big and expansive and limitless. Glowing moments. Times in my life that I connect to with vivid detail.  The times in my life where I was completely dialed in.

I have been doing a lot of reflection lately. Thinking about humans in my life and places I love and why that matters. Thinking about why nature and outside are essential pieces to my existence and to why the relationships I develop in those sacred places are so deep, penetrating, meaningful and profound.

For me, there is something very different about outside and there is something incredibly unique about people who connect with nature, especially here in Northwestern Ontario. I have a keen interest in exploring those delicious nuances and exploring the ‘why’ of people here in the North.

Our world, as it exists right now, our time, energy and connection exist in a very virtual space. We are often spending hours behind devices, screens, at desks, under pressure, and stress and stuck within four walls. Although we have limitless information accessible at our fingertips, and instant gratification in a fast-paced existence, we are often disconnected. Our heart, relationships, and soul are often detached, filtered and observed behind barriers.

Here is what I’ve noticed: When we are truly connected, without the filtration of technology, it is an entirely different experience.

In nature we can unplug. We aren’t sitting across from each other at the dinner table with cell phones in hand, answering texts. We aren’t mindlessly navigating from one Netflix episode to the next, we aren’t answering “urgent” emails (also isn’t it funny what our definition of urgent is now?!), We aren’t worried about stopping to Snap someone we are attracted to with a filtered and edited picture that doesn’t even accurately reflect who we are inside or out. When we are outside we are not preoccupied with likes, views and followers and false connections.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is value to our virtual world. I utilize technology to build connection with likeminded people, to get reassurance, to use as a tool to build my feeling of self and connect with positive material. However, when I am truly honest with myself, I can sincerely say that no virtual connection, experience or engagement has EVER been as genuine, open, powerful, honest or impactful as those I have had outside.

Why does the natural world allow us to plug in?

When we are separated from the filter of our devices, our attention is no longer fragmented between what is going on in front of us and what is going on in our virtual space. Outside we are presented with the opportunity to connect to the moment. We can allocate our whole attention to what is going on in real time. We are able to dial into our sense of wonder, delight, joy, or even engage in challenge with the world around us.

We can connect with the sight of eagles soaring overhead, or the sound of squirrels chattering on tree branches. We can be inspired by little mountains, the smell of pine and juniper and cedar in the hot summer sun, the rustle of leaves blowing in the wind, the feeling of dipping your toes into frigid water. These experiences ground us in the present moment. Raw. Unfiltered. Genuine. These experiences allow us to open ourselves, to be curious and vulnerable and attentive.

These experiences also create conditions for meaningful connection. Think about the times you’ve been outdoors with friends. I know that every time I’m around adventure buddies, these words always come out. “Remember that time….” In recalling every detail about a shared experience, the challenge of the hike, the excitement of the climb, the shape of the moon, the temperature of the water, all the beauty around us.

I also think about times that I have been out with strangers, with people for the first time, or with people I know I would never see again. Sometimes we walk out into the wilderness as strangers and on the way home, discover that we are forever connected in something vast and endless and profound.

So today I express my gratitude to all of the people that I have shared pure space with. The people that have been with me in nature and with whom I am connected. You contribute to my happiness, well-being and health more than I can ever explain. Thank you for the experiences that bind us and for the symbiotic relationship we share.

Until the next adventure,

Deana

What men say about me in the locker room.

A bit of an overture to this piece. It’s been inspired by a series of serendipitous events. Thing number one. I had an amazing conversation with a colleague who was in the post office today and heard a few older gentlemen talking about fit people. My name came up. Along the lines of… “You know who is fit? That little Renaud girl” Now, considering small town dynamics and the probable age of the men talking about me, it’s likely that they have known me my whole life, so I am ok with being “that little girl”. Also, at 35, I am not antagonistic to the idea of time reversing and being perceived younger than I am. It also triggered a memory of one of my favourite stories of what men say about me in the locker room.

Alright thing number two. Today I attended a workshop on human trafficking. It was heavy and sparked some interesting discussion with the people I work alongside. The conversation was triggering. I learned about at-risk youth, young girls who are involved in human trafficking in our communities. It made me reflect on the perception that our society has on women. Our bodies. The acceptance that exists in our culture that we can be sold and that our bodies are an avenue for commerce.

Thing number three. I am currently engaged in a mental health promotion initiative with my current work around Bell Let’s Talk Day. If you weren’t aware, Bell Let’s Talk is focused on building awareness, acceptance and action in mental health. Now, more than ever, especially considering we are amid a global pandemic, mental health matters. I want to put my money where my mouth is. I want to make an important connection to this story and my struggle with mental health as a teen coping with anorexia.

Whoa. If those three paragraphs didn’t scare the shit out of you, I recommend you read on.

Rewind, to before the pandemic. To the beginning of winter. I was in the gym and I was working through a WOD (workout of the day) that involved 205-pound back squats and 135-pound clean and jerks. That is a considerable amount of weight. Amounts that I built up over years of going to the gym, getting coaching, participating in competitions and just loving lifting weights. There were four other people in the gym. All of them men. All of them within 10 years of my age. All of them from out of town. They didn’t talk to me. They didn’t pay much attention. I had my ear phones in and my mean face on. I was there to focus. I was there to work out and I did! It seemed like an uneventful gym session. Until one week later.

Back at the gym seven days later. It was empty, and I had the whole place to myself. My friend James walked in. James works at the community center and he and I have been friends since high school. I always enjoy our conversations and will take off my mean face and put aside my focus anytime for a conversation with him. Today he walked in with a smirk.

“Deana, I have to tell you something. Your name came up in the dressing room at hockey”

My heart sank, and a little bit of panic started to whirl around in my chest.

“Oh, yeah?!” I replied

“Yeah… They were talking about the little blond girl in the gym”

I felt yucky and James must have noticed my reaction right away. He started to laugh.

“Yup, you sure know how to scare the shit out of these young guys, one of them came to hockey and talked about this tiny blond thing in the gym throwing around huge weights… he felt pretty inadequate and actually left to come back after you were gone”.

I let out a belly laugh. It came out much louder that I had anticipated, likely out of relief! James continued to talk about the conversation and about how impressed the guys were with the workout I was engaged in and that there were a lot of fit women in our town.

Now, I know that every time a woman’s name is brought up in a locker room the conversation isn’t always about the weight she can lift. However, it was incredibly powerful and impactful for me. Let me tell you why.

I struggled with my body my entire childhood. I have struggled with my value as a human being, because, for much of my youth, I connected value to my appearance, my weight. I remember first feeling this way at the age of five. Playing with Barbie, and thinking that this chubby, brunette, curly haired girl with a crooked nose didn’t look like dolls I was playing with. Why was there so much value in them? Why did people on TV and people singing songs and people in magazines not look like me? I remember thinking that at 5.

As I grew, those nagging and negative thoughts continued. I was teased in school for being fat and was constantly confronted with my body. I was convinced that I wasn’t going to be worth much, wasn’t going to be loved, or wanted, if I wasn’t thin, if I wasn’t blond, with long hair and big boobs. When I was 14, the thoughts became overwhelming and started to impact my behaviour. I started to drastically reduce the amount of food I was consuming. I lost weight and I got an INCREDIBLE amount of positive attention as a result. That positive reinforcement solidified and perpetuated my behaviour. I went from 160 pounds to 102 in a matter of months. I started to lose my hair and I passed out at school, but the positive attention continued. Unfortunately, the way I felt about my body did not. I was depressed and never reached a point where I felt good enough, thin enough.  It came to a head when I passed out in choir practice. There was a bit of an intervention from friends, my boyfriend at the time and our schools nurse practitioner.

Now, I am going to pass over some of the complexities of me getting better. But for the sake of this, want to highlight how I changed the relationship I had to my body. In the midst of recovery, found weight lifting. I needed to exercise and to move my body and fell in love with being around friends and positive people at the gym. I started to focus on what my body was able to do, rather then what it looked like. My attention shifted from pounds to lose to pounds I could lift. Something that stands out for me, was the opportunity to do this at school. They opened up the gym for students and I was often in there with one of the tech teachers. Mr. Broadhurst I don’t think he ever knew the impact that had on me. Someone to show up, just to be there and allow me the opportunity to do something that was changing who I was.

It was a long journey for me. It required an incredible amount of work. But I got there. I began to see value in what my body could do. Then I saw value in my intelligence, and then my emotional worth and then my spiritual worth.

The challenge in working with body image in a culture where there is so much pressure for perfection is overwhelming. The challenge is seeing value in ourselves as women, as people, in a society where our bodies are worth currency is overwhelming. I was reminded of that today learning about sex trafficking in our region.

But here is where hope lies. There is incredible power in talking about what we go through. Whether it’s reaching out to someone to deal with something challenging, or to inspire change in others. Our actions matter, even small ones. Every time we present an opportunity for others to be valued. Every time we provide unconditional regard and support. Every time the conversation is changed and boys in the locker room talk about the weight we lift, and not the weight we carry, there is hope. So, I challenge you, not only for Bell Let’s Talk day, but for every day. What are the tiny steps each of us can make? How do we change the conversation? How can we be there for each other? Because, within every small action there is possibility to make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Until the next adventure…. do something powerful

-Deana

Overcoming November Blues and Seeking Resolution in 2021

Mother nature, why did you have to turn off the lights at dinner time? Why does the clock say 7:00 pm but it feels like midnight? It’s too cold to do summer things and there is not enough ice or snow to do winter things. We’re still in a pandemic and I can’t even go to the bar and drink my blues away, sing karaoke or plan a vacation to an exotic place to distract me from my misery. November. WTF?!

It’s a challenging time in general, even more so with the craziness that the year 2020 has brought us. Here in the North our seasons are in transition and we anticipate the onset of winter. Its dark most of the day, it’s hard to get outside into nature, especially during the week and it is easy to turn inward and engage in hibernation. It’s easy for mood issues to arise and it can be challenging to cope with emotional lows. On top of it all we are suffering from fatigue deeply connected to living through the fear-soaked experience of a global pandemic. We are putting a lot of energy into coping with the challenges of COVID and we are running out of steam and positive vibes. In my darkest moments this year, I was caught up in my grief reaction. I was angry at 2020 for taking away a trip I had planned to Costa Rica with my mother and son. I was mad that I was forced to work from home and be isolated from my colleagues. I was frustrated that gyms were shut down and I was stress eating and gaining weight. I missed a dear friend’s wedding and I couldn’t attend a funeral for someone important to me. I was isolated from my friends and somedays I felt trapped in my house. There were some moments where it took a lot to get out of negative headspace.

Even with the best intentions it takes a lot to harness energy, set goals and have adventures. It takes clarity and motivation, which is not easily attained. So, what are our choices? Shut down, give up on exploration, succumb to this new existence of being tired and stuck on the things that we can’t do? Or do we work at shifting our perspective, practice gratitude, look to the future, embrace the darkness and cold and find adventures as we dive into winter and a second wave of managing pandemic times?

If I am given the choice I am going to make the most of what is in front of me. I am going to look to hope and future opportunities. It got me thinking about 2021 and what I am going to do with this year. I am going to get to my resolution early and start on shifting my perspective now. Right now.

Before I set clear intentions for new adventures in 2021, I want to reflect on the infamous year that was 2020. There have been challenging moments FOR SURE. But if I look over the last year objectively and mindfully, I can easily identify amazing moments and huge positives. My resolution last year was to log 1000 hours outside. Due to COVID, working from home and adjustments to my schedule, I was able to make that goal by August! Now, I had a few multi-day backpacking trips that added some huge hours. BUT, walking my dog at lunch every day and having outdoor adventures in beautiful weather after work meant that we were averaging three hours outside every day. NEVER in normal times would I have that opportunity. I was able to be present with my family and travel from work was eliminated. I had time and energy to cook nutritious meals and could stay on top of chores. So, weekends were filled with much fun outside. I was fortunate enough to be able to hang out with friends because here in the North social distancing is a breeze out in the bush. I was lucky.

When I look to 2021, I am looking with a new perspective. I’m anticipating another year where international travel plans will be postponed and the big adventures I was dreaming about remain a dream for now. I am better prepared to wrap my head around finding beautiful adventures that exist in my back yard. I have a new-found passion for exploring my region and big plans to find new activities, new places, new people and new experiences even in our COVID reality.

Here I go. My resolutions for 2021.

1. Flex my creative muscle every month. Paint, photography, sculpt, write, play guitar, create. Have week night evenings with more time pouring my soul into making beautiful things rather than occupying energy on social media.

2. Plan for weekend staycations, especially in the winter! I want to look for a cool year-round cabin to rent, or a yurt or try winter camping. I want to road trip to a different community and try out some new trails, fishing spots and explore.

3. I want to network. I want to meet more people in North Western Ontario. I want to connect with people I know in my hometown but don’t necessarily hang out with. I want to take new people to my favourite places. I want to see it from their eyes and find new ways to explore the familiar. I want to collaborate with other humans on creative and adventure projects.

4. I want to try something new. Dog-sledding, kite surfing, snowboarding…. something different, something to fail at, to learn more about, to get my heart pumping.

I want incredible opportunities, cool places to stay and amazing things to do. I want to meet new people and establish deep and meaningful connections with humans. And GUESS WHAT!? I can do all of that here. During COVID. All I need is my shift in perspective. Wish me luck.

Until the next adventure,

Deana