I have the word “real” in quotations because aside from sleeping in my backyard a few weekends ago, Friday night was the first overnight hike of the season. The overnight low hovered around 5°C. My daughter and I have camped in November but this past weekend has been our earliest. I was just itching to get out there and the weather looked promising.
I woke up at 6 AM on Friday, drank a couple of cups of coffee, and put the finishing touches on our gear. With it being early in the season and unsure about water access on the trails due to possibly being frozen, I brought extra water to keep in the car to top off after our lunch hike. I later learned that the well-water goes below the frost line.
We arrived at Spirit Sands in Spruce Woods Provincial Park around 11AM and spent a couple of hours hiking and stopped for lunch. I packed cheese, hard-boiled eggs, crackers, and cucumber slices. Spirit Sands is such a unique place in Manitoba with the forest and sand dunes. The parking lot was the busiest that I have ever seen it and the trail was loaded with hikers, mostly families from what I saw. It was truly a gorgeous spring day to be outside exploring.
We returned to the trail head and drove ten minutes to Épinette Creek Trails and hiked to the first campground on Spruce Trail. The total loop of Spruce Trail is 3.5 km, making it an easy day hike or short overnight jaunt. We have hiked this trail countless times before. We stopped along the way to re-jig my daughters backpack to make it more comfortable for her. She had heavier layers on the last time she wore the pack and the straps needed further adjusting from what I originally did at the trail head. I also removed some of her clothing to bring the weight down a bit more for her.
My friend and her son joined us for the night along with another friend of mine. The trail and campsite turned out to be busy, much to my surprise. With it being early in the season, I figured there would not be many hikers staying overnight. If my memory serves me correctly, I counted eleven humans and three dogs at the site and word on the trail was the second campsite was packed as well.
Much to my delight, I met someone who I admire and I’ll be completely honest, I was a little giddy. Mel Vogel AKA Between Sunsets has been walking across Canada on the Great Trail for two years. I knew she had been in the Spruce Woods area but I didn’t expect to see her. I spend my evenings watching YouTube hiking videos so to meet someone, especially a woman, whose journey I follow was a really nice treat.
“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child.
I had some fun with food on this trip and tried a new recipe for dinner, made from scratch at home using pantry items and a few select purchased items. When it came time to cook, my daughter asked to help so I let her screw the stove onto the canister of fuel. The main chore that the kids helped with at camp was pumping water and for eleven people and three dogs at camp, they stayed pretty busy.
Sun-Dried Tomato Chicken with Cauliflower Rice in Rosé Sauce
Portion serves 1
1/2 tbsp dried tomato paste – dehydrated a can of tomato paste and ground it up with a coffee grinder
2 tsp dried basil
2 tbsp chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup dehydrated cauliflower rice – riced, blanched, dehydrated
I kept the chicken separate (comes in small bag) because I was concerned about moisture from the sun-dried tomatoes. All ingredients were added to a vacuum sealed bag including the chicken in it’s own sealed bag. NOTE – I had plans to add dried spinach and parmesan cheese but I forgot.
Bring 1/2 cup of water to boil and add to bag. Mix well and soak for 10 – 15 minutes.
For the first time ever, I did not over pack food and only came home with a handful of goldfish, pumpkin seeds, and Smarties plus the “emergency food”, a package of tuna and two granola bars. This was a great triumph because I am notorious for over packing food because I like to have options depending on my food-mood at the moment. I learned my lesson on the Appalachian Trail when I brought way too much and noticeably felt the weight.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” – Robert Frost
We took a walk after dinner and when all of the chores were done. The creek bank had a lot of busy-beaver activity. The kids were feeling fairly worn out and did not have much interest in continuing to walk so I took them back to camp while my friends went to a look-out. I told that kids that play-time was essentially over and that it was now time to wind-down and to find something quiet to do. They read a book together while sitting at the picnic table. I too sat down with a book.
Around 8:00 PM, my daughter asked to go to bed. I didn’t feel much like socializing anymore so I crawled into the tent with her and continued to read for a while. My book of choice for this trip was UnLearn: 101 Simple Truths For A Better Life by Humble The Poet. There is always space in my backpack for a book.
When it comes to technology and camping, I bring along an extra cell phone for my daughter to watch shows on in the tent at bedtime or in the morning if I am not ready to get up for the day. Netflix has a new series called Our Planet that is narrated by David Attenborough. She watched an episode about jungles and grasslands. She knows that she does not get the phone during the day but it doesn’t stop her from asking. I told her to go play with a stick instead. Harmony!
With it being early in the season, I wanted to make sure my daughter was warm overnight. I carried our -20°C (-4°F) sleeping bag which my daughter used and she carried in her -5°C (23°F) sleeping bag that I used. We both used Cabela’s Instinct sleeping pads that have an R-value of 4.5, making them an excellent choice for early and late season camping. We slept in my Kelty Salida 2 tent.
I actually woke up overnight because I was too warm, felt clammy and a bit sweaty on the top part of my body. I was uncomfortable and overheating. I wore an Icebreaker merino wool long-sleeved base-layer top, base-layer tights, and a Columbia fleece zip up. I sleep much better when I am cool so I removed the fleece.
My daughter wore fleece pajama bottoms and a long-sleeved base layer top. She opted not to put a fleece top on. She’s old enough now that I trust that she knows her temperature comfort level so I didn’t pressure her to add a fleece layer for sleeping. During the night when I woke up and looked at her and felt her to feel her external temperature, she had most of her body outside of the sleeping bag. I guess the -20°C sleeping bag was overkill.
For breakfast, both my daughter and I had oatmeal. I added chocolate protein powder to mine and I considered adding protein powder to hers but I need to research how much is OK for her age and weight. Both of our oatmeal contained hemp, flax, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, and dried berries that I made in the dehydrator.
It began to rain around 6 AM and drizzled off and on for two hours. We packed up camp and headed on our way around 9 AM. The walk back to trail head was cool yet crisp and fresh. A short-sleeved t-shirt was perfect for the overcast morning. Early spring overnight hiking is definitely something I will do again.