Backpacking with Jim Joque
with excerpts from Jim’s outdoor adventure journals
Nestled in the wilderness of Ontario, Canada on a seven-day fly-in canoe and camping trip to Wabakimi Provincial Park, members of our group worked on creating a song or poem for our final campfire event. I decided to write a poem about our adventure. It went like this:
“Moments of contentment nestle in tranquility among the elaborate steadfast pines, displaying their silhouette against the mirror-like waters.
“Silence echoes across volumes of Canadian landscape, as ears of its precious inhabitants graciously absorb its mystical awe.
“Ripples from the infinity of streams feed the thirsting lakes, like a mother compassionately breast feeds her tender infant.
“And softly whispers the wind as it traverses through stately forests, providing a breath of fresh air to nature’s deserving residents.”
While metaphorically describing our float plane as a bird of great magnitude, eight peers quietly listened while the fire crackled and the wind blew across a hovering tarp.
“As this carousel of nature lies fast asleep, yet awake with vigor, from its sky appear a bird of great magnitude and boisterous sound descending as an eagle would soar from the heavens to abduct its prey.
“This great bird produces from its belly a minute population of woodland visitors, excited and in great anticipation with eyes expanding to the newness of their surroundings.
“For the visitors, each awakening dawn disguises a new birth of adventure, as groups of sea-worthy vessels filled with hearty explorers trespass to unknown yet promised lands in search for fountains of enrichment.”
The poem continued to tell the story of our adventure and appreciation of the land we visited. In conclusion, the float-plane left the wilderness area where we were mere guests.
Picturesque Lake Louise nestled in Alberta’s Banff National Park. Jim Joque photo
“And now in near-tearful departure, these visitors board the great bird to remove them from their pinnacle of enchantment and return them to their natural environment.
“And once again, silence echoes across volumes of Canadian landscape as ears of its natural inhabitants graciously absorb its mystical awe.” (Jim Joque, Journal 1993)
Fellow campers seemed to identify and appreciate my words. This poem and adventure took place in 1993. That’s 24 years ago! It seems like it just happened this past summer. Where has the time gone? Although this is intended as a rhetorical question, I do sometimes wonder.
Value of the journal
“A person does not have to climb the highest summit or run the wildest river to have gained a love for, and an appreciation of the outdoors. It is our early interactions with nature and with the people who take us there that contribute to our establishing a love and respect for the wilderness. It then becomes the simple interactions with nature and the people we go there with later in life that heighten our environmental sensitivity and places us in true harmony with nature.” (Jim Joque, Journal 2000)
On my bookshelf at home are eight hard-bound journals filled with nearly a lifetime of outdoor adventures that I partook over the past 60+ years. Included are some of my childhood recollections that I wrote about in my adult life. I say nearly a lifetime, since I plan to fill a few more journals.
Boarding the float plane on our trip to a silent week at Wabakimi Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Jim Joque photo
In skimming through my journals, I found some passages that took me back to a few adventures worth reminiscing. Although I am not a high-adventure person, I have had numerous (if you wish to call it) low adventures.
A few reminisces
“I feel I heightened my environmental philosophy a great deal through Leave No Trace.” (Jim Joque, 2002 Journal)
Over the years as a Leave No Trace master educator, I trained many university students, scouts, and other camp and trip leaders as Leave No Trace Trainers. Training took place on a two-day backpacking or canoeing and camping adventure in the backcountry. One of my memorable trips was training trip leaders while backpacking along a segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail near Severson Lake – a very small lake in central Wisconsin. We watched a beaver protecting its lodge with tail slaps as we approached, enjoyed eating pudgie pies, and experienced an outdoor classroom around a campfire.
“Life is an adventure.” (Jim Joque, 2005 Journal)
Early in our marriage, my wife Liz and I traveled across most of Canada on two separate adventures in two summers – going east the first summer and west the second summer. We camped the entire way on both trips. One of our highlights was camping at Lake Louise in Alberta’s Banff National Park. We hiked the trail along a river from our campground to the lake. When reaching Lake Louise, both our mouths and eyes opened wide when we witnessed one of the most beautiful natural vistas we have ever seen – an emerald-colored, crystal-clear lake mostly bordered with majestic snowcapped mountains. It was awesome!
“It is not the distance you travel that counts, but rather the quality of the journey that matters.” (Jim Joque, 2007 Journal)
Six of us planned to backpack Isle Royale National Park from end to end. This nearly 572,000-acre island located in the western end of Lake Superior is one of my most favorite places to visit. After we hiked 10 miles of the roughly 45 mile-long island, one of our members had foot blisters and another was experiencing heat exhaustion. So, we hiked a little further and set up camp at McCargo Cove, a scenic inlet off the great lake.
One of Isle Royale’s screened shelters where campers escape mosquitos in the evening. Jim Joque photo
There was a lot to see and do in the area, including watching a moose bathe in a nearby pond, exploring an abandoned historic mine entrance and dodging mosquitoes by sleeping in a screened shelter. There we stayed for three nights before returning to Rock Harbor and catching the ferry back to the mainland. We had no regrets for altering our trip goal.
“Winter among the hemlocks provides me spiritual enrichment.” (Jim Joque, 2008 Journal)
Although my first winter camping experience as a Boy Scout at age 13 is most memorable, I experienced a touch of spirituality when leading a group of students on a backpacking and winter camping adventure in the Sylvania Wilderness Area of Upper Michigan. The students were in their tents later that evening, and I could hear laughter from storytelling and card playing.
I was the last to leave our campfire. I sat for a while on a log under pines and hemlocks, alone, staring into the golden burning embers as heat was diminishing from the fire. I felt warmth that only we feel inside when all is perfect with the world and we appreciate all that nature has to offer at the moment. It was a special moment.
“As the years pass by, my craving to set up a camp, sleep in a tent, and experience the backcountry only grows stronger.” (Jim Joque, 2011 Journal)
In my 30s to age 50, I would wonder when I may tire of setting up a camp and sleeping in a tent. Or, I would wonder at what age I may physically not be able to do so. At that time, I defined old age as 60. However, I didn’t dwell on it. It just crossed my mind now and then.
Well, the time has come when I do dwell on it, since I am presently in my golden years. Now at age 67, I still have that craving to set up camp, sleep in my tent and enjoy the wonders of the backcountry. And, I still have the physical capability to do so as well as having the motivation. It just so happens that I move a little slower, tire a little sooner, and crawl in my tent to sleep a little earlier.
College students experience an outdoor classroom around a campfire in central Wisconsin. Jim Joque photo
I now have moved my definition of old age from 60 years to 80 years of age. I will contemplate on whether I still have the craving at 80 and not worry about it until then. Although, that time, too, shall pass.
“Leaving home for anywhere is always an adventure.” (Jim Joque, 2013 Journal)
A few years ago, Liz and I went on an adventure to the Amalfi Coast and the Cinque Terra in Italy. We spent two wonderful weeks visiting small villages, hiking on trails and climbing numerous stairs, since the villages are built on bluffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
For this fall, we planned a trip to England, Scotland and Ireland to visit villages, hike some trails, eat some fish and chips, and drink some tea, scotch and Irish whiskey. We look forward to this adventure, and hopefully many more to come, making every adventure at our age count.
“It is the simplest outdoor challenges that provide the greatest personal satisfactions; especially now that I am in my 60s.” (Jim Joque, 2016 Journal)