Is there a Future for Canoe Tripping and Bicycle Touring??

Considering we are not likely to make it out on an overnight canoe or bicycle touring trip in the near future, I thought I’d add a few posts summarizing some day trips. But before I get to that, I need to hash out a few philosophical reflections on the future of canoe tripping and bicycle touring in my life, which relates to the lack of updates on this blog. This is for myself to process some thoughts, so the editing will be minimal. But if anyone else finds this vaguely interesting, feel free to read on.

Portage around Stanley Rapids on the Churchill River. Rapids also known as “Nupukihtuk-o-Pawistik” in Cree, meaning “board rapids”. The story is that long ago, two white men drowned in the Big Stanley rapids and a large wooden board was used to mark their graves.

Over the years, my focus on canoe tripping and bicycle touring has been tempered by two main factors: the demands of raising children and pushing the envelope on urban bicycle commuting. The first has changed the coefficient in “calculated risk” and consumed most spare time and energy beyond a full-time job, especially through the “baby stage” marathon.

The second has gone a long way to satiate the need for regular aerobic activity in the outdoors. For mysterious reasons,  the experience of engaging with the wild fluctuations of Weather in a physically demanding way is deeply satisfying.  My guess is part of the reason relates to human adaptation in the distant past to a lifestyle much different than most experience today (that is, in heavily industrialized countries). Another factor seems to be related to my particular genetics which require aerobic activity in an outdoor environment more regularly than the average person. Regardless of the reasons, I have concluded this is a need I must make a priority to accommodate. I have found this is necessary to remain sane (physically and mentally healthy), especially working full-time in an office environment.

Fortunately, I live in a situation where I can cycle to work most of the time. This is due in part thanks to the City of Calgary making snow clearing of Multi-Use Pathways a priority (and due in part again thanks to “Bike Calgary” advocacy work). This has at the same time somewhat reduced the deep-seated drive to explore the world on multi-night outdoor trips. Add the demand of babies and small kids at home, and the priority of such trips was moved down the list to the point of not happening.

Bicycle and trailer with typical weekly load of groceries for family of four.

But with the kids finally out of the baby stage, the question of the priority of canoeing/bicycle touring in my life has risen up from hibernation. Was this just a phase of life to move on from now? Or should I make this a priority in my life again? If so, how much of a priority?

There are some needs bicycle commuting alone does not meet. Needs to explore new places, get out of the daily routine for a time and engage with wild places, to name a few.  Again, the reasons for these needs are varied and not fully known. But, regardless of the reasons, it seems these needs are still important. How important is still being worked out.

Part of the working out is wrestling with the dilemma that exploring new places and engaging with wild places can involve a lot of travel. Travel that consumes significant resources that usually deplete natural environments in various, usually harmful and sometimes irreversible ways. I find the current unsustainable path of the human race deeply troubling.

While attempting to do my best to play my part in dragging the human race (kicking and screaming?) toward the seemingly distant goal of sustainability, I still have basic needs that must be met. I have wrestled with how these needs can be met, while at the same time meeting the need to bring humanity to a sustainable path. Over the years I have found that my needs can be met in ways that require much less unsustainable consumption than I would have previously thought.

I have found there are many local wonders to be explored (some places more than others, it depends where you live). With the right attitude and perspective, I have found even a relatively small area of naturalized environment can meet much of my need to engage with wild places, even though it is in reality surrounded by intensive urban or agricultural land use. This is possible thanks to the hard working dedication of many in the past to create naturalized parks in and around many cities.

Hiking in Nose Hill Park

The reasons why these needs are being met, even in isolated semi-wild places, is not yet fully explainable, although breaking research hints at some of the reasons. These include how aromatherapy from wild plants affects hormone balances in a positive way.  I still see great urgency to conserve large tracts of land with minimal or no human development, but I do not feel as strongly the need to visit them all (although the desire of course remains to some degree!).

So I will not likely be venturing to northern Alberta, Saskatchewan or the Yukon on an annual basis. Perhaps not even once per decade. But I have decided I will continue to explore the world by means of bicycle and canoe, with local destinations being a priority, even if that means I have to at times compete with crowds of other humans.

Kayakers descending on the “Widow Maker” rapids on the Kananaskis River.

In the meantime I reserve a hope that the human race will place a priority on conserving wild places and find that as yet elusive path of true sustainability; such that the river of life will continue to flow in an earth thriving with biodiversity for centuries and millennia to come.

A small piece of the front lawn upgraded in biodiversity with non-invasive, (mostly) native or near-native plants.


4 Responses to “Is there a Future for Canoe Tripping and Bicycle Touring??”

  1. adventurepdx Says:

    Good thoughts there, Dan.

    I’m wondering if it might encourage you to go bike camping (even for a night) if there was some sort of organized family friendly event, a la Kidical Mass. Kidical Mass Portland did a group family camping trip in July that had 40 folks on it! Of course, the issue remains on the getting in/out of Calgary by bike. If I remember correctly, most options sucked in that department. Sketchy for two seasoned bicyclists, so it would be tough for families.

    • prairievoyageur Says:

      There are certainly several obstacles to bicycle camping in this area (without driving first). I think the main obstacles are:

      * Heavy traffic on roads in and out of the City often with minimal or no shoulder, combined with drivers who think cyclists should not be on the highways = dangerous situation. A large group would help, but still sketchy in my mind. Plus the idea of cycling all day long with loud traffic noise constantly buzzing in my ear is not appealing and does not meet my desire to “get away from it all”.
      * There are very few campgrounds within a day’s cycling distance of the City, especially at the end of a nice bicycle route. There is heavy competition for the few campgrounds that do exist and I prefer to avoid fighting the crowds when I can. I have not visited most of these campgrounds, but I can imagine that garbage and noise in campgrounds so close to over a million people would again invade the sense of “getting away”. This is relatively minor, since the alternative is car camping at similar campgrounds. The first point is the main issue compared to this second point.

      My first choice of a cycle touring trip would be a rails-to-trails type of ride, although to my knowledge the nearest one of these is in northern Alberta or southern B.C., either of these at least a half to full day drive away. These are definitely on the radar for “when the kids are older” and can ride on their own (teens).

      By comparison there are several canoe day trip options within an hour or two drive. Hence the bias toward canoeing at this stage (i.e. combined with car camping). I think the kids have more fun in the canoe at this age compared with being strapped into a bike trailer, which they already do much of the time riding around the City (a group would help if there was other kids to interact with at rest stops and campground). Plus my wife gets around a lot by bike already and I don’t think would see such an outing as a “vacation”. Once the kids can ride confidently on their own, I think they will find both canoeing and cycle touring of interest, but that is 5 to 10 years down the road. Or they may decide they have better things to do. In which case, I may just end up going on my own. Still hashing this out I guess.

      • adventurepdx Says:

        Yeah, I figured it would be a sucky ride out of Calgary. Been there, done that.

        It could be a cool idea if a bunch of y’all could get together (is there Kidical Mass in Calgary yet? Or maybe the Bike Bike folks) could figure out some sort of creative, family friendly “bike camping trip” that may not even go to an official campground outside of the city. Maybe someone’s property that is accessible via one of your numerous bike paths? Just an idea. (Cyclepalooza in June?) Just a thought.

  2. prairievoyageur Says:

    That is a good idea Shaun. We (my wife and I) have considered doing an urban bicycle tour considering the Multi-Use Pathway system is nicer to ride than most rural roads, and just camp on someone’s property or stay in a hotel. I think getting a group together might give the idea some momentum and actually happen.

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