Monday, May 12, 2008

I left my burdens in Canada

The last time I was in Canada... was the only time I've been in Canada! It was 1993. I was 24 years old and single (although in a not-so-healthy relationship). A small group of people from my church (at the time) here in Waterloo, Iowa joined up with a few other small groups from around Iowa and Minnesota and took a trip up into the boundary waters of Ontario. Other than me, there were two men from my church and three women. The three women included the woman who would eventually be my wife, Tracey (who was also dating someone else at the time), as well as two of her best friends.

This was a trip in which God planted me in some fertile ground in which I began to trust Him more. For starters, during the final day before leaving, I was still short $20. At that time in my life, that was big money to me. I was trusting God to provide it if He wanted me to go on this trip and I asked people to pray for me. Well, in an unrelated spontaneous incident, I came up with the idea that I needed a book or two to take on the trip, so I dug through my book collection and found C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters that my mom had given me the previous year. I opened the book, and there was a twenty dollar bill tucked into it! NOBODY knew I would be looking through that book. I didn't even know I would be! I realized I could truly trust God to do what He wants to do, even if it looks impossible to me.

The trip itself turned out to be so much more than I bargained for, in a very good way. More on that towards the end. On the first day we drove up to Clear Lake, IA and Minneapolis, MN to pick up more people. We ended up with four vehicles hauling our total group of 25 people, along with two trailers loaded with canoes and all our supplies for the week. We stayed the first night in cabins in Grand Marais, MN.

The next day we headed into Canada and we drove for several hours on some old logging roads. Once on those logging roads, we didn't come across another person at all until we came back to the civilized world a week later. We took this trip under the leadership of a man named Dave who had done this same trip 19 years in a row, so we were in good hands. We had large coolers full of good food - ground beef, chicken, turkey, vegetables, Tang mix, etc, etc - and it was kept cold all week long with block ice.

In two places on one of the logging roads, the road had been washed out, and we could see that people had used trees/logs to patch things up. Two of our vehicles were large extended vans, each pulling one of the canoe trailers - and we had to get over these bad sections of the road! In both cases we emptied ourselves out of the vans and pretty much just prayed that the vans and trailers could make it over, and when they did make it over we prayed that they'd be able to make it over on the way back! We made it through, and we eventually arrived at a lake. We simply left the vehicles on the side of the road for the week. We unloaded the canoes and put them in the lake and unloaded all our supplies and put them in the canoes.

The first day we only canoed for about two hours. We ended up at a temporary campsite and spent the night there. In the morning we headed out again and canoed for several hours. This canoe trip included two portages, in which we had to unload the supplies and gear from the canoes, carry it all down a 1/4 mile path and a 1/2 mile trail and load up the canoes again. It was a lot of work! Finally we arrived at our main campsite for the week.

Over the years, Dave and others who had taken this trip had built up kind of a rough kitchen area, with a table, benches and a cooking area. He noted that it looked like no one had been in this area since they had been there a year ago. We were waaaay out in the boonies! Our toilet area was down a long path. It was simply a hole dug in the ground with some rocks build up around it with an actual toilet seat on top! To take a "bath," we would grab some soap and jump into the lake and start scrubbing!

The scenery was beautiful and untouched by man. The lake was clear. You could see bear claw markings on the trees alongside the lake. It was very peaceful, very beautiful. Occasionally we would see and hear loons on the lake.

Our days at the campsite had various times of activity and rest. There was always someone out fishing on the lake. One day we went cliff diving. Once or twice each day, I would grab a canoe and another person, and we would head out quite a distance from the shore with a huge container in which we would collect clean drinking water. The water near the shore was too contaminated with bacteria. We would then bring the water back in, along with one of our canoe oars. Into the huge water container went some of the Tang mixture, and we stirred it with... yep... the oar!

We had campfires, we sang songs, we rested in hammocks. We made meals on a huge "Texas skillet." Some of our meals included fish we had caught in the lake. It was an unbelievable week. The weather was perfect all week, and it wasn't until the last day that it got a little overcast and we had a few drops of rain.

When I came on this trip to Canada, I didn't feel like I was all that stressed out or anxious in life, but as the week progressed and I found myself living a very free and enjoyable life, I realized that there were several huge burdens that I had been carrying. I had no money. I didn't know what I was going to do with my life. I was in a bad relationship, and I didn't want to hurt the woman but yet I knew I had to get out of it, but didn't have the gumption to do it. And there were just lots of little things that added up to a huge weight on me.

The wonderful thing was that during this week on the lake, I was away from all of it. Even though I hadn't come on this trip to escape anything, I found that this was exactly what I needed. Being miles and miles away from civilization and from all my problems temporarily made it impossible for me to do anything fix any of my problems, and that was a good thing. During this time in which I was in such a peaceful situation, I realized that there's more to life than struggling to deal with "life." Without the pressure of having to deal with anything, I was able to finally see clearly and to see my problems from a different view. I can't explain what a huge release that week was for my soul! I was at peace. I was refreshed. I could breathe. My burdens melted away in Canada!

When we set out on our canoes at the end of the week, I first ended up in the catamaran. (Most of the canoes were powered by us and our oars, but there was also a catamaran - which was simply two parallel canoes joined together in a certain way, powered by a motor. We called it the Party Barge!). So anyway, instead of paddling hard I was able to relax on the first part of our trip out of the boundary waters. I looked all around me and I was overwhelmed by the love God had shown me and the release He had given me during the week. I didn't want to leave! I saw a bald eagle flying above. Behind my sunglasses, tears began to form in my eyes and then eventually they began to stream down my face. Tears of joy for the great experience I'd had and tears of sadness and apprehension because I would miss this place and because I didn't want to go back into the 'real world!'

I'll never forget my time in Canada. In fact, I go back there quite often in my mind. Not to try to re-live the experience, but as a way of reminding myself of the faithfulness of God and of how He takes my burdens... and how there is no need to carry all these burdens and worries in life.

Here are some pics from the trip. I know I have more somewhere, because I know for sure there's a picture of some of us standing underneath the Welcome To Ontario sign, as well as a few more pictures that I can't seem to find. If I find them, I'll add them to the slide show.


  1. I think we were invaded (by the shear numbers) giggle.

    Yup can hear the Loons and fish jumping - you should consider a repeat back into the bush.

    Maybe called it walkingchurch!

    thanks for sharing the the way it looked like you had a dead guy in the back of the pickup (plaid sheets)

  2. Great pictures. Makes me want to visit Canada.

    It's amazing how much more clearly we can experience Father's presence when we're away from the hustle and bustle of every day life and are where we can enjoy the beauty of his creation. At least, that's true for me.

    I do have a dumb question, though? What is portaging?


  3. Alvin,

    Yeah... the 'dead' guy in the van. It was kind of a mix between Nat'l Lampoon's Vacation and Weekend at Bernie's.

    In Vacation, remember how Aunt Edna died and they put her up on the roof of the car? Well, we did the same with this guy, only it was inside the van. We were a little more respectful.

    And you know how in Weekend at Bernie's they carried Bernie around and made everyone think he was still alive? Well, that guy in the one picture in my slide show who was 'diving' off a cliff... is the same dead guy in the van! Did you know dead people float???

    Nobody even figured out our scam!

  4. Aida,

    Portage: "The carrying of boats and supplies overland between two waterways or around an obstacle to navigation."

    Yeah, I want to go back to the place we went to before. I've thought about finding out if the same man still takes the yearly trips.

    And you're so right... getting away from it all, and being in a place where we can simply enjoy the beauty of creation is a wonderful way to experience the presence and love of our Father.

  5. I think your role was in the movie 'Weekend Vacation in Canada -eh"!

    Did you folks go home with an accent - eh?

    Yup there is still some sweet spots up here unlike SW Ontario - unless you know where some of these gems are.

  6. Joel!

    I loved your story! Sounded like an amazing time where Father really showed himself to you! Awesome pics. Looked like a whole lot of fun!!!

    In Freedom, Nicole!

  7. Alvin,

    We had no opportunity to pick up an accent. We neither saw nor talked to any Canadians for most of our week. We just figured everyone must be off at a hockey game, or perhaps they saw us coming and simply went to hide the beer. However, I think I heard one of the loons calling out, "Good day, eh."

  8. Nicole,

    I'd go back there in a heartbeat if I had someone to guide us through the area again. It was very serene and beautiful and I've not experienced such a place that even remotely resembles it since that time.