Canoe camping with an infant
- Posted by Stoked for Saturday
When Jordan and I found out we were pregnant last November we were determined to integrate our kids into our adventurous lives. I had many friends tell me “Kids come into your life, not the other way around”, and if you start it early, kids will adapt to your livestyle and you’ll be able to have a fuller life you all enjoy.
So when I was 3 months pregnant and booking our Kejimkujik National Park backcountry campsite (accessible only by a 2hr canoe ride), we made an early decision to follow that advice with our future 6 week old newborn.
Since the last 6 months have limited our adventures while I was in the later part of my pregnancy and into the first few weeks of learning how to be parents to our sweet Lexa, this trip would be our first real adventure as a family of three!
The first thing that was different when planning a trip with a newborn was packing. We needed A LOT more STUFF! While the food situation was easy as she was exclusively breastfeeding, we had to think through a whole new world of needs when backcountry camping with a newborn.
First of all, getting her safely secured in the canoe was the biggest hurdle we had to cross. While we had a few ideas in mind (using her bouncy chair, holding her in a carrier, laying her on blankets in front of us, etc) the best option that provided the most protection from the elements and comfort (and also the only one that really fit at the front of the canoe) was her carseat. Since the long weekend in September was proving to be much colder than we expected, we bundled her up in a sleeper, fleece winter suit and hat along with a newborn life jacket. To provide a bit more protection from the sun and wind we also added a car seat cover (however didn’t zip it up as I needed quick access to Lexa should we get into trouble)
I had chosen backcountry campsite 19 as it provided two access points. One from Eel Weir Road that was shorter and through a narrow channel of the lake, the other was a longer route crossing the larger part of the lake. Keji is known to have high winds that can create some challenging canoe conditions, therefore this seemed like a good option no matter what the weather was. However, a week before our trip I found out Eel Weir Road was closed for a bridge repair, leaving us with the only option to take the 2hr+ trip across open water. And the forecast was predicting upwards of 40-50km/hr winds – NOT ideal for transporting a newborn!
After much debate, and analysis of the weather and route with the local canoe rental company, we decided to go ahead and if it got too treacherous, we would just turn back (I actually booked a backup campsite inland just incase we had to bail on our canoe plans) So we piled up the canoes and headed on our way.
The plan was to take the ‘long’ route and hug the shore of the islands along the way to minimize our exposure to the wind and keep close proximity to land. After leaving Marrymakedge Beach, we would tackle the longest and most challenging section of the route across a couple hundred metres of open water against strong winds. Jordan and I both have a lot of paddling experience. I grew up paddling a canoe at our cottage and spent 7 summers on a competitive Dragonboat team while Jordan spent his summers growing up canoeing and kayaking the many great lakes of Ontario.
Therefore, we were confident in our ability to both muscle and strategically navigate through the wind and waves. The new challenge for me was mentally preparing myself for the worst case scenario and playing through in my head exactly what I would do to get Lexa out safe should the canoe begin to capsize. That played through my head as we paddled hard against the wind towards the calm waters behind Bear Island.
Once we had successfully navigated that first section I knew we would be fine the rest of the way. We spent the next hour and half snaking our way along the islands, taking breaks in the calm waters after each short sprint through the rough waters between the islands. I think the gentle swaying of the canoe rocked Lexa to sleep as she slept the entire 2hr and 15mins to our campsite, only stiring when we stopped for breaks.
Another obstacle we quickly realized was just how shallow the waters of Keji are. I had to be constantly on the look out for boulders hidden just underneath the water as they were peppered all throughout the lake. Along the way our friends Christian and Leona managed to snag their canoe on a couple, luckily not damaging their boat or capsizing! Their dog Ella seemed to like the trip as well as she just laid in the canoe and chilled out the entire way!
Our campsite provided all the necessities for a great backcountry weekend. Two tent pads, picnic table, outhouse (with toilet paper!), fire pit and an entire shed of firewood! Lexa happily hung out in her bouncy chair while we setup camp!
We spent the next two days cooking meals over the fire, hanging out in the hammock and even going on a bit of a hike to an old tower! Leona cooked us up some amazing cinnamon sticks over the fire while the boys competed in a fire wood chopping contest. We sat by the fire sharing stories and enjoying the beautiful pristine environment around us.
A bonus that came with our campsite was the abundance of berry bushes! After some ‘research’, Jordan felt pretty confident they were huckleberries (and not night shade berries that are poisonous) and gave them a try. Luckily he must have been right as he didn’t start choking! Having never tried huckleberries before, we were pleasantly surprised how delicious they were! Jordan even took one of our camping cups and filled it full for us to snack on!
While it was fun to hang around at camp, we were itching to explore. Although Sunday ended up being quite windy and predicting rain anytime, so Christian, Leona and Jordan set off in the canoe while Lexa and I stayed back at camp. They paddled up the shore into Minards Bay where they parked the canoe and took off for a hike up the trail to a retired tower. It’s no surprised the trio decided to climb the tower and take selfies at the top!
At night the three of us curled up inside our little tent. This was the first time Jordan and I would be ‘co-sleeping’ with Lexa, so in order to take the right precautions and not risk us rolling on her in the night, we brought along her silicon changer. Not only was it great to use when changing her in the tent, but it had raised sides that acted like a barrier, but were not tall enough to provide any kind of risk. We covered it with a changing pad cover for comfort while sleeping and dressed her up in a jumper, hat and warmer winter suit and blankets since it was supposed to get down to 5 degrees Celsius at night! It worked out GREAT as she slept just as good as she did at home (8-9 hrs!) and we felt comfortable knowing she was safe and warm.
Although the sun came out the last day, the wind did as well. It was forecast to be 30km/hr winds with gusts up to 50km/hr! With it coming from the West, we decided to re-trace our path and hug the islands again but return through Jake’s landing where our car was parked. The return trip was challenging but ok as we were confident in our route. The last ~500m section though into Jake’s landing would test our nerves and paddling skills. The water was very rough and the wind howling almost perpendicular to us – which is the worst direction when there are white caps. We both became laser focused on reaching the other side safely and paddled as hard as we could through the rough waters. On a number of occasions Jordan had to steer us into the waves as a few would have likely capsized us if we stayed our course. Leona and Christian were in a smaller canoe so they took on water a few times, but we all managed to get across safely.
I definitely wouldn’t recommend paddling in those conditions, especially with a newborn unless you have nerves of steel, strong paddling skills, a very good steersman and complete trust in your partner. I’m lucky to have Jordan as my partner who I whole heartily trust my life with (and have many times!) but it was a huge relief to get to the calm waters of Jake’s Landing.
All and all it was a hugely successful and fun weekend exploring Kejimkujik National Park with our friends and daugher Lexa. It was amazing to see Lexa’s eyes widen as she took in her new surroundings. She was mesmerized by the trees and was absorbing so much in this new, outdoors environment and took that rough canoe ride like a champ! I look forward to bringing Lexa on many more adventures going forward and hope to inspire others with little ones that you can do the same!