This past July I had the privilege of taking a 10 day canoe trip in some of the most pristine wilderness on our continent, Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Can you imagine being able to simply dip your water bottle in the lake when you were thirsty? It was a humbling remembrance of what modern industry and society has destroyed in the majority of lakes and rivers. Oh sweet boundary waters, so pure and revitalizing! And let me tell ya, there’s something about paddling ~65 miles with a group of strangers and portaging with an 80 pound canoe on your shoulders through the rugged Quetico terrain that really changes you.
The trip was through Indiana University Outdoor Adventures and before we set out on our canoes, our trip leaders gave each of us a quote that we were to reflect on throughout our journey. My quote was simple, yet very profound to me:
“Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.” –Francesca Reigler
The strangers in my group became my fast friends, but let’s face it, team work can be frustrating at times. When you’re in the wilderness and more physically exhausted than ever, the frustration will hit you much faster, and the tendency to point fingers can set in. This quote was my reminder to not let any hiccups interfere with my enjoyment, because your state of mind is a CHOICE you make every time you react to a situation. On our much anticipated rest day we were able to put our paddles aside to relax and explore. A minor hiccup (in my eyes) occurred for me at first. I was having stomach pain and I must have been bitten by a spider in my sleep because when I woke up, my eye was swollen entirely shut. I wanted to not care about how it looked, but I couldn’t escape feeling self-conscious about it so I grabbed my journal and camera and hiked to a little waterfall nearby. I think that was the best thing that could have happened for me. I got naked and I bathed in that waterfall… it brought perspective and washed my worries away. I am going to share with you what I wrote in my journal that day:
“So my tum is in knots which sucks. Also, I woke up and my right eye is super swollen. Almost swollen shut and it looks terrible. But oh well! I’m in the Quetico and these are all trivial matters. It brings me back to my quote I am supposed to be reflecting on this trip: [see above for quote]. We’re our own fortune tellers in that way. It’s so easy to sulk in our unhappiness which only makes it compound into a miserable state. But happiness is contagious and sometimes you gotta fake it ‘til you make it. Like Micky (trip leader) said in regards to portaging: cracking a smile while you’re in the middle of a tough portage can release endorphins that could make a difference in your state of mind. Start small. Smile at a stranger, say something nice to an acquaintance. Their positive reaction may surprise you in how it affects your attitude. Positivity feeds off positivity and sometimes flicking the negative switch off in our brains is the hardest part. But as they say, it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smileàthe amount of work is the same-ish.
Knowing that you have the power to do whatever it is you desire with your life can set you free. It’s so easy to just tell yourself that it’s too hard or you’re not talented enough instead of taking the baby steps that could lead you to fulfilling your dreams. I think a lot of people in today’s society fall into this trap of settling for some bullsh*t job they don’t care about because we’ve been conditioned to care about things. Possessions and expensive lifestyles have been established as the “American Dream” ideal of happiness. I think deep down everyone knows happiness can’t be obtained this way but people continue to fall deeper and deeper into that trap. Maybe it’s societal standards, parents, or spouses. But sh*t, what do I know? Maybe it does make them happy.
Putting my trust in my intuition and always striving to maintain a positive mental attitude has put me in a very happy place. There have been times where I’ve definitely had to fake it, which some might view as insincere. But I see it as a survival tactic because the more positive I am towards the world and those around me, the more positivity I attract…and since I am a product of my environment, the result is a happy Bridget. Sometimes the mind can be a huge, powerful b*stard who wants something so badly, but still throws up mental blocks that inhibit you from making it there, which is fear. Fear of failure is the biggest crock of sh*t that ever prevented anyone from accomplishing anything. Seriously, WTF?! Why is that so scary to us? We’re such wimps. Who gives a d*mn if you have to try again or take a completely different course? I’ve only got one life as Bridget Borrowdale, and I won’t waste it being unhappy or complacent. So I hereby put my middle finger in the air to fear, expectations, and society’s bullsh*t!”
I felt a deep connection to nature while in Quetico Provincial Park. I wasn’t just spending time in nature, I was a part of nature. Rather than a semi-polished, semi-sophisticated human, I was a straight up mammal living in an ecosystem. I picked wild blueberries daily, drank water directly out of the lake with no treatment, and I even caught a walleye, fileted it, and ate it for dinner. This is the way human life began and persisted until relatively recently, but sadly today most aspects of our lives are disconnected from nature. Everything there felt so right, so simple, so serene. I couldn’t seem to stop thinking about the indigenous people who paddled those very waters for thousands of years before I had my turn. We even saw evidence of their past presence! Pictograms drawn by indigenous tribes adorned some of the boulders we paddled by.
There is a heart-wrenching aspect to Quetico’s history involving European immigrants and the native people, much similar to American history. The woman who runs the Voyageur Wilderness Programme (VWP) outfitters and the recipient of my props, Michelle Savoie, read us Chief Seattle’s letter from 1854 when the President asked to purchase their land while leaving aside only a fraction for them as an Indian reservation. Michelle’s voice trembled with passion as she read this to us and a few tears trickled down my face. It is the most beautiful and poignant letter I’ve ever read (I encourage you to read it attached!). It illustrates how deep their spiritual connection to the Earth was by explaining why they were so apprehensive to sell the land. Knowing how the rest of the story goes (as Chief Seattle predicted) only amplifies the anguish of being pushed off their sacred land.
So anyways, back to Michelle. She is an incredible inspiration who keeps the history and ethics of the Voyageurs alive. She has dedicated her life to educating people through wilderness experiential learning and it’s very obvious that she has never looked back. The VWP proudly leads by example and is committed to being in the forefront of environmentally friendly practices. Although I only spent two days with Michelle, her passion is so unbelievably life affirming that she has left a permanent imprint on my heart. Thank you, Michelle! I will forever cherish every aspect of the journey that was made possible by you. I would also like to extend my props to my trip leaders Micky and Brian and the rest of the staff at VWP. You guys are all amazing!!