Meeting Norman: A New Camping Friendship
It was the summer of 2016, and I was onto my 15th year of exploring the Great Outdoors. By this point, I could easily organize a camping trip and was getting into the groove of solo trekking.
But while I had been daringly trying out never-before-eaten camping meals and new packing strategies, something seemed to be missing.
Perhaps something about Google Search being my newfound camping advisor for new routes or meal ideas felt a little lonesome.
What I needed was a real live camping compadre to challenge me to new heights and unexplored vistas!
I met Norman during my first stint volunteering with Parkbus, a non-profit that shuttles passengers from the city out to nature destinations.
It was August first long weekend and I was paired up with co-volunteer Bryanna to take a busload of passengers up to Bruce Peninsula, while Norman was leading a second bus travelling to Algonquin Provincial Park.
At one of our pick-up stops in the city, Norman suddenly popped up behind us.
“Hey!” he greeted us cheerily.
Bryanna and I cheerily greeted him back and in volunteer comradeship, we exchanged a few pleasantries in the brief moments we had before our bus duties summoned.
While at first glance, Norman appeared quite unassuming, his camping prowess was not to be undermined. In fact, I quickly learned that Norman was on a whole other level.
Following that weekend, Norman’s social media-savvy self located me through the #Parkbus hashtag on my latest Facebook post, and we soon found ourselves engrossed in discussions about the Great Outdoors via instant messenger.
He sent over photos of his three-week expedition to Greenland, including one of his solar panel-lashed pack and emergency ration comprised of 18 bars of compressed, concentrated food that he swore tasted just like soft, coconut cookie.
His Facebook feed was full of #TBT photos of past adventures in the Rockies, bushwhacking through thousands of acres of deadfall, and the first time he dared cry at a sunset.
By the time he was counselling me on how to pack a bag of chips (poke a small into the bag, squeeze out all the air, and scotch tape the hole), I was already calling him sensei.
I discovered that Norman had earned a Master’s in Engineering, but instead of continuing on to work in his field, he had turned to a job in marketing for a health food company. However, it became abundantly clear that trekking in the Outdoors was Norman’s ultimate passion.
He had ventured on his first solo trips, also through Parkbus, six years ago, and his self-proclaimed masochism was corroborated by the fact that he had hiked an 88-km route in less than two days and – even worse – cold turkeyed coffee just to save pack weight on the Great Divide Trail.
After some back-and-forth conversation where we babbled away about hiking trails, camping gear and general life tidbits, Norman proposed that we hike the Western Uplands Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park during one of our upcoming Parkbus volunteer runs in September.
I was in! This was exactly what I had been needing, a new camping bud who was already opening up my eyes to an outdoor world I had never known.
After learning about our mutual love for scotch and determining that it would be sacrilege to forego a flask on our trip, Norman declared what had already been brewing in my mind: “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The Good, the Bad, and the Sharable Ugly
I recalled Linda, who I had met on my solo trek around the La Cloche Silhouette Hiking Loop just the previous month. One day, while ambling along the trail to my next campsite, I ran into three members of a group, one by one, as they were each going at their own pace.
Linda, the last of the three, was an older woman, stylishly garbed in all white and delicately taking her time to navigate the steep decline we crossed paths on.
Stopping for a chat, I learned that Linda had organized her trip with two campmates whom she had never met before.
She had been somewhat wary about the potentially messy group dynamics, but decided to throw out the invitation on an Ottawa MeetUp group message board. Three days in, she was pleasantly satisfied with how well the trio had been getting along.
She explained that a key factor to their success was getting together before the trip to lay out all their cards on the table – the good, the bad, and the sharable ugly.
So, one Saturday afternoon in August, Norman and I met up at Black Rock Coffee, a cafe co-owned by Alex, one of Parkbus’ co-founders. Black Rock Coffee seemed like the perfect spot for channeling some camping planning inspirational vibes.
The cafe was situated right next to a climbing gym and even had a large window that allowed cafe-goers to observe climbers scaling the walls. Provincial park maps beautifully decorated the cafe’s table tops, while travel books for customers’ reading pleasure adorned a wall shelf.
After grabbing some much-needed java from the bar, we found a table and quickly got into planning. Although I already had a full Excel spreadsheet that I used as a template to plan my trips, it was nice to let someone else take the lead.
“I’m always interested in seeing how other people do it,” I told Norman.
Going through his gear list, I learned that Norman used a homemade quilt instead of a sleeping bag and had bought a new hammock tent that weighed a mere 12 ounces.
Being a strong proponent for packing light, his spreadsheet not only listed an extensive catalogue of camping items he owned, but the weight of each.
To help me cut down on my own pack weight, he offered to lend me a super-light quilt and sleeping mat, which I gladly accepted.
We decided to take care of our own meals, which was very different from the communal meal planning I usually partake in with groups, but infinitely easier. It was cool to bring our own independent, solo approach to the trip while still planning as a team.
Getting to the more important matters at hand, Norman and I discussed what type of scotch we should indulge in on our trip. Norman was a smokier-tasting scotch kinda guy, while I tended to like varieties from all regions except the Islay which produce more peaty scotches.
But as Norman aptly pointed out, the experience of partaking in scotch over a campfire needed to be “smoky on the inside and on the outside.” I dared not argue with that philosophy.
After a quick planning session, Linda’s white figure suddenly materialized in my head like a mirage and I said: “Alright. Quirks. Lay it out there.”
It turned out that Norman and I shared some of the same tendencies – being a bit introverted, getting hangry in suboptimal camping conditions, and requiring coffee in the morning to stay vertical.
I guess if we both had the same quirks, they weren’t actually quirks at all – rather, points of mutual understanding.
The conversation then turned to general life topics – work, relationships and travel. However, I couldn’t help but continue returning to the subject of camping. There was just so much valuable information Norman had that I wanted to pick his brain about.
Interestingly, Norman was just as drawn to my unmistakable enthusiasm for the outdoors. It appeared that he needed a bit of a camping boost as well.
Perhaps I wasn’t the only one missing a link, and that we could both inspire each other in different ways.
Continue the Adventures!
>> Find out how my trip hiking the Western Uplands Trail with Norman unfolded here!
>> Photo Credit: Norman Goh (except first photo).