Week Of ManCamping Women: How I Grew Some Balls – Kirsten Graham-May

We’re continuing our Week of ManCamping Women with two stories today both from Kirsten Graham-May! We have a feeling Kirsten has a lot more than two stories to share with us so were hoping to share more of her adventures in the near future. Here is Kirsten’s first story, stay tuned for another one this afternoon!

How I Grew Some Balls
By: Kirsten Graham-May


It’s Murphy’s Law that I never sleep well the first night out on a canoe trip. Anticipation, anxiety, excitement, and those amplified night noises combine to keep sleep at bay. I try to quell my heightened imagination by reassuring myself that I’ve been extra-diligent at keeping a clean campsite. At night, all items having any kind of appeal to critters are hoisted up high in a tree, well out from the trunk, and stored in an odour-dampening container as an additional precautionary measure. The trip I embarked on last summer with my step-daughter, Abby, in Killarney Provincial Park was no different.


That first night I took a muscle relaxant as I’d hurt my back 30 minutes into the trip, doing something ManCamping-esque, no doubt. It was a hot night and we’d opened up the vestibules of our small tent to keep things cooler. We’d also left our remaining loose gear inside our rubberized canoe pack, loosely rolled down the top and clipped closed to keep things protected. Abby passed out immediately but I laid in my sleeping bag reading until the drugs kicked in.

Killarney Provincial Park Campsite

First night’s campsite on Bell Lake, Killarney Provincial Park.

As sweet, drug-induced sleep was taking over my senses around 11:00 pm I was thinking that, for once, I would get a good night’s sleep on the first night out. Suddenly I was jolted back to reality by a loud, unmistakable scratching sound right outside our tent! I was certain that whatever was out there was trying to get inside our pack. I woke Abby up quietly – mostly because I was scared shitless and wanted company – and told her I was going to make a loud noise in the hopes of scaring the critter away. I hollered a sudden, sharp “HEY!” and our visitor crashed through the trees and brush surrounding our campsite clearing, thudding footsteps running away from us. The beast sounded huge – surely a bear! – and by far the largest creature I’ve ever had visit my site on a trip.


Now I was wide awake and petrified! I was supposed to be the experienced, brave one on this trip as it was only Abby’s third or fourth canoe trip and, at 17, she was relying on me to know what to do in daunting situations. So much for that charade. I tossed and turned all night, bolting upright at every little sound. And then, around 4:00 am, our visitor returned.



Black Bear

My preferred format of bear encounter: from a canoe in broad daylight.

Again, the scratching beside the tent started up only it was louder and more persistent. This time my hollered warning did not scare it off – but did jolt Abby out of her deep sleep (To this day she says this is the fastest she’s ever woken up!). I tried shining my headlamp out through the tent’s mesh window but couldn’t see the beast so I put on the bravest face I could muster and told Abby I was going out there. On shaky legs I climbed out of the tent and shone my light towards the canoe pack. Nothing. I scanned my light along a wider arc and panned across the biggest tail ever. A big, flat, glossy, brown tail attached to the largest beaver I’d ever seen in my life. It was gnawing on a tree a few metres from our tent, creating the sound I’d perceived to be scratching. I reached down and picked up the first expendable item I touched, a small rock, and tossed it towards the beaver. It took off through the undergrowth, re-creating the exact soundtrack we’d heard earlier in the night that we so certain had been a much larger creature – although I’m sure this beaver could have given a bear a run for its money.


An hour later, as I was finally drifting off to sleep, the beaver came back to finish the job, felling the tree right beside our tent and dragging it through our campsite. Needless to say, I did not end up getting any sleep that night. To add insult to the injury of my bruised ego, in the morning we discovered that the bugger had left the tree floating uselessly in the water beside our site. I guess he was tired or something.



Relaxing on Killarney Lake with a cup of “coffee” (read: whiskey).

A number of good things have come from this bear-beaver experience of ours, besides a great story. I now always keep a small stash of ammo – a pile of small rocks – beside my tent at night. I also now down my muscle relaxant with whiskey and sleep with earplugs in, having full confidence in my critter-proof campsite cleanliness. But most importantly, I grew some balls – this is a ManCamping blog, after all – and now have the courage to actually look outside the tent when strange noises are heard in the night.

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