Last night I returned home from my annual fishing trip into a remote section of Ontario’s Lake of the Woods. This year, for the first time, the afterglow of the trip was intermixed with questions about how long old men can handle serious backcountry travel. Five of the seven members of our group are of Medicare age, so climbing in and out of boats, rolling out of small tents, and navigating slippery rocks are getting progressively more difficult. 

If the problem was solely arthritic knees and shoulders, I think that I would know when to retire my balaclava and Therm-A-Rest pad. This year, however, everything was complicated by a week of inclement weather. Each inconvenience, each concern was either created or intensified by constant wind, rain, and cold. At the onset of one storm, we had to fight two-foot white caps to move our boats to the leeward side of a peninsula. During a second storm, we had to tie additional ropes to all of the tents and tarps. For most of the week, all of us wore every layer of clothing we’d brought with us and still weren’t completely warm until we crawled into our sleeping bags. Several pieces of equipment blew out of our boats, and one of them was my rain jacket. I would have thought rain jackets would float at least for a while, but mine did not. Nothing happened that we could not handle, but weather affected almost every action.

In spite of the weather, it was again a very good trip. My fishing partners are outstanding companions. The walleye fishing was as good as ever, meaning it will be the best fishing I encounter all year. All of us saw a double rainbow one afternoon and a couple days later watched a litter of eight mink kits bound into the lake for a swim. They were so playful that we initially thought they were otters.

Still the question of age hovers over me. In the past, bad weather during wilderness trips morphed into fond memories. This year I am not sure that will happen. I need to wash my dirty clothes, dry out my tent, and heal my tick bites before I draw any conclusions about the trip, but something feels different.  

* Photograph taken by Tom Spaeth

Steven Simpson