I am happy to report that Bettine is back with a story of her experiences with a different style of camping than she is accustomed to. Normally a serious solo backcountry camper, she agreed to try glamping (glamorous camping), including kayaking and paddleboarding, and share her story with us.
Last week I left Toronto for a weekend of glamping in Georgian Bay, Ontario and a month later I came home.
Of course, that’s not true, but so much happened in such a short time that it doesn’t seem possible that it all transpired in a single weekend.
Generally, I’m a pretty strong and outdoorsy person, but let me open this story by confessing to you a scientific experiment I performed on myself this winter: it involved eating what I liked and exercising only when I felt like it.
I suspect the resulting data already exists on this subject, and I can assure you the science on this one is solid: it’s not a good idea.
The evidence supporting my hypothesis was driven home to me immediately upon arrival as James Roberts, my host for the weekend at Harmony Outdoor Inn effortlessly skipped along a windy rustic uphill path. He pointed out solar-powered fairy lights, glowing white tents nestled in trees, meandering pathways leading to the beach, the yoga deck, the outdoor hot showers, and the campfire. All the while, the path was steadily becoming steeper.
“You get the tent right at the top! It’s the best. The most private.” Yay! Lucky me! I was actually thinking the one right in front of me looked pretty good, but I dutifully followed James up another steep flight of stone stairs.
Eventually, we reached my mountaintop retreat (it was actually a very easy 5-minute walk from the communal area, which I came to call “base camp” for dramatic purposes) and it was indeed really lovely. It was essentially a large canvas tent stretched over an A-frame on a raised deck. I had a private porch, solar lights, a charging station, a real queen-sized bed, and my very own private composting toilet around the back.
I’m a proper backcountry camper, so for me, this was luxury. (You can read about how I normally roll in 10 Lessons Learned from a Solo Camping Trip.) However, if you’re a platinum-card-holding-five-star-air-conditioned-room-service-30-billion-threadcount-sheet-set kind of person, this would definitely qualify as camping.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
I imagine that glamping holidays can land all along a sliding scale from camping with a bed, to 5-star hotel with canvas walls. I would say that Harmony Outdoor Inn lands somewhere at the beginning of that scale. Located near Parry Sound, the resort consists of 6 tents nestled among the trees with a really decent amount of privacy. Some have queen beds and some have two singles, but all are roomy and comfortable.
There is a communal area (basecamp) which has everything you need to cook up your own food and meet some new people. Everyone gets their own shelf in the refrigerator and there is a big long communal table in a screened-in room which successfully keeps out the critters. There were even board games and books. It reminded me a lot of camp, which I loved.
Just outside the communal lodge are two hot shower rooms; the water goes through a solar filter and is heated on demand by propane, guaranteeing a nice long hot shower after a day on the water, even when demand is high.
My weekend at Harmony Outdoor Inn began with a spectacular sunset SUP paddle along the shores of Georgian Bay. If you have never been paddleboarding before, I want to assure you that it does not take a high level of fitness to do this! Even if you can’t manage it, you might enjoy kneel down paddleboarding (KDP), which is almost as much fun, and really good for your thighs.
The first couple of times I went out I was off the board more than I was on it, but then again, I have the natural balance of a sleepy toddler on a steep hill. I’m not joking–even mountain pose is hard for me.
My point is: if I stood up, you can stand up. And anyway, falling in is half the fun.
Watching a beautiful Georgian Bay sunset while gently bobbing in the water is the best way to shake off the week and begin your weekend in Canada’s famous cottage country, and it also gave me a great opportunity to get to know my host a bit better.
James Roberts grew up on the Isle of Wight, England where he fell in love with surf kayaking. He immigrated to Canada in 2003 and is the co-owner of Ontario Sea Kayak Centre along with his wife and partner Dympna Hayes, and together they also run Harmony Outdoor Inn.
Ontario Sea Kayak Centre offers experiences from day trips on Georgian Bay to epic 7-day Norwegian Excursions and everything in between. They have a whole team of pros who will help you have a great experience on the water.
The best compliment I can pay to my glamping tent accommodations is that I can barely remember my first night there—I was asleep almost immediately—and my last thoughts were, “these linens are really nice, I mus…zzzzz.”
I slept soundly until morning. On a bed! This is by far the best part of glamping, although you may not appreciate it fully unless you have slept in a sleeping bag on the ground.
Morning arrived gently and with the sound of a million caterpillars harmlessly falling overhead onto my double canvassed tent. I think I only barbecued one or two of them while I made myself a coffee on my little Trangia stove on my private deck.
A Trangia is a small windproof camping stove which was invented in the 1950s in Sweden. I absolutely love mine and have combined it with my favourite parts of the GSI Bugaboo Camper cook set to create a complete compact camp kitchen. Coffee wherever I go!
Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely must have coffee before making eye contact or conducting verbal communication in the morning. Even my dogs know this and won’t even bother lifting their heads before I have had my brew. So, I was relieved when I was told that taking my little Trangia and some sealed espresso up to my tent would be okay and the chances of a bear helping himself to a double-double in the middle of the night were slim.
This meant I could start my day with a mug full of strong black coffee from the comfort of my own raised “porch” – and that is exactly how one of my favorite days of travel to date began.
Yoga was at 9 am, it was outside, on a deck overlooking the water, and it was fantastic. There were no mosquitoes! (There were tons of mosquitoes.) The instructor was a gem and – I suspect there was some collaboration involved here – we did lots of shoulder stretches, which prepared me nicely for a day of paddling.
When I say paddling, I mean kayaking.
When I say kayaking, I mean on Georgian Bay.
I know now why people come from all over the world to do this.
I had the best host and guide one could ask for, and I quite honestly don’t even know where to begin to describe how much I loved this experience.
Our launch site was from Wasauksing First Nation, which occupies a 19,000-acre island accessed from the mainland via a swing bridge. On the far western edge of the island there is a marina where you can buy a permit for parking or camping or even ice cream.
The moment we hit the water I fell completely into the magical present of it all. It was mindfulness at its easiest.
I forgot that I was supposed to be writing about my trip. I forgot to take pictures. I forgot about work stresses, deadlines, my age, and misguided winter science experiments. I forgot about my hat, my sunscreen, I even forgot to drink enough water. I paid dearly for those last three later that night, but never mind about that!
James clearly loves the water and is in his element with a paddle in his hands. I would recommend going for a paddle with him whether you are a pro or have never been on the water before. He will quietly adjust to your pace and comfort level with all the subtlety and tact of a true Englishman.
While I oriented myself and became familiar with my little craft, he silently paddled circles around me wielding a gently sculpted art stick like some sort of amphibious ninja duck.
Fortunately, he is as graceful at imparting knowledge as he is at navigating a kayak, and after a couple of pointers I found myself happily splashing along next to him out into the open water. We headed crosswind toward a lighthouse which marks the entrance to a slew of islands in this dreamy archipelago of swirly sculpted rock and bendy pines.
We paddled a total of 12 kilometers that day. At one point, a delicious picnic lunch emerged from one of the many kayak compartments. We explored islands, admired remote island cottages, chatted about this and that, and even got stalked by a loon at one point.
You know it’s been a perfect paddle when you are neither disappointed nor desperate to see the put-in just ahead of you.
Clearly my day could have ended right there and I would have gone to bed a happy camper (literally) but this sunny Saturday had one more treat in store for me.
There is an annual event near Parry Sound called Women on the Water and it just happened to coincide with my stay. After expressing my extreme enthusiasm at checking out the event, James deposited me at the main lodge and then made himself scarce while I met and mingled with 200 women just like me! Women who love the water, love to travel solo, love to camp, love adventure, and, most of all, love to paddle.
I felt like I had walked into my Instagram fantasy world where all the people I follow had magically come to life!
Within 45 minutes of arriving I watched someone assemble a foldable Oru Kayak, listened to Camper Christina hilariously describe why she prefers kayaking over canoeing, and met a woman who mentioned that she was getting a Backcountry Custom Canoe. (These beautiful skin on frame canoes are made in Guelph, Ontario. They make it look like you are paddling around in a skeletal fairy leaf, and they weigh about as much.) And the whole event was brought to us by Wild Women Expeditions and the Ontario Sea Kayak Centre. There were even mermaids! I’m not joking. Check out #womenonwaterpaddlingfestival on Instagram and see for yourself.
I can honestly say that because of my experience at Harmony Outdoor Inn I am now addicted to kayaking. Almost 12 days have gone by since I returned home and not one of them has involved me being happy about not being in a kayak.
I have decided to conduct a new experiment, a slightly healthier one. I theorize that paddling in Ontario for an average of 1 out of every 3 days this summer will increase my happiness level by 100%. You can check in on my results next year at the Women on the Water Festival where I will be hanging with all my peeps.
Because sometimes solo travel is all about the people you meet.
I want to acknowledge that I was on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Anishinabek, and Odawa. This territory is covered by the Robinson Huron and Williams Treaties.