Slipping into the Slipstream – Part 4

CIM Note: We wanted to bring you a different perspective on our Slipstreams. In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring a mini-series of blogs by Brad Lee. He experienced Summer Slipstream in his first ever Slipstream experience this year. His reflections, observations and letter home are all chronicled in the following posts. Catch up with part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Kates wrote that her father, after returning from WW2 as an intelligence officer, decided that people learned best when they were active. Outcomes included perseverance, commitment, and “a lifelong love of learning and challenge” – which dovetailed with my own personal goals in living successfully with diabetes. It struck me that although much of Kates’ camp philosophy was targeted at adolescent summer campers, it could also apply to anyone in the Type 1 diabetes community and at any age. Arowhon’s methodology also depended on buy-in from camp participants and the ability to exercise “free choice within a structured environment,” something that was pretty easy to do when the surroundings were the freedom of the backwoods, a pristine Algonquin lake, and footpaths and canoes routes that connected with adventure. Whether or not by coincidence, Connected in Motion’s Summer Slipstream offered a fine menu of activities to choose from over the course of nearly three days out of the city.

On the second day, the rain had stopped but I’d been feeling thunderstruck. It was difficult to process on the new experiences, and I was unsettled. I’d slept okay, even with a persistent cough, probably due to the change in weather. The morning was cooler, but everyone was awake or in states of wakefulness. I’d wanted to stay up late with a smaller group who stayed up, after wine and cheese (it’s an adult camp), chatting into the night. We were total strangers bound by an unexpected understanding of one another, and our willingness to share, and be together. But the previous night’s sleep in the car took its toll, and I had drifted off.

Before breakfast, a few of us showed up at the last remaining canoe dock, near a diving tower, from which I imagined I might cannonball if I’d been there a few weeks earlier. Yoga instruction at dockside had moved indoors, closer to the fireplace. I tried to recall names from the night before, at the wine and cheese party. And I was comforted to see a couple older guys, who clutched paddles and who might be closer to my own age. Everyone paired up, and it looked like I might be the odd man out. I’d picked a paddle and was ready to solo my own canoe, if I could just get a hand lifting a canoe to the water. Then Jen showed up, and carrying on several conversations at once, with me and everyone else in the early morning mist, she directed me to a canoe, where I took up position in the bow. No questions about who would stern the 14-foot touring canoe!

We paddled towards East Arm. Jen kept us straight, as I paddled and hoped to set an easy rhythm, all the while delivering a running commentary about Connected in Motion’s good fortune to run this year’s camp at Arowhon. I got the history of the camp, the Kates family, and how Joanne was an intimidating force of nature, who really cared about how people experienced her camp. I learned more about the idea of the Slipstream, which draws from founder Chloe Vance’s observation of Canada geese flying south, with big northerns leading V-formations across the sky. The idea was that within the Type 1 diabetes community, we would find ways to support each other, and at times of our own choosing take a turn at leading. Admittedly, I was a little out of practice, and my paddling slowed as I absorbed my serene surroundings, Jen’s voice like the constant flow of a river in the background, and being lost in my thoughts. I had found my tribe.

Breakfast was a blur. I held a hot cup of coffee in my hands, and a pile of bacon made everything better. Adam Brown had written something about high protein, high fat, and low carb diets being better suited to his T1D lifestyle. I wanted to believe, and tried to put those ideas into practice. The Arowhon breakfast buffet did not disappoint, and I had my fill of better-than-expected camp grub, before we were off to other activities.

I chose more paddling from the activity menu, hoping to get in a little more practice and learn more about the lake, in hopes of getting my kayak out later on. Of course, it was all a pretense for spotting potential fishing spots, but I didn’t tell anybody, and nobody needed to know. On my way back to the canoe docks, I added my own twist to the activity, and had an unexpected hypoglycemia. I was caught between getting to the docks before everyone left, or dealing with the low. I popped about half a dozen Dex tabs, my mind starting to swim in the miasma of hypoglycemia. Let’s see, six times – how many carbs are in Dex tabs again? – maybe four grams of carb. Oops! Might have overcorrected. But the cold, clammy, hyperactive sweats were gaining ground. More sugar. Then my legs went wobbly, and I had to stop for a moment.

“Brad, are you all right?” asked Amy, another Slipstream stalwart and very subtle den mother.

“Not really. Just having a low that I need to fix,” I said, feeling somewhat embarrassed that I’d established my camp rep as the guy who had the blood-sugar low in public.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Amy offered me a handful of low snacks, which proved delicious in their gumminess. I’d always relied on the fast recovery brought on by chewing chalky sugar tabs, but Amy introduced me to a whole new world of recovery. I also appreciated that she made sure I was okay, but she did not hound me with care, telling me what I needed to do to alleviate her own anxiety. I could feel my sugars coming back. Whew! That was close! But I wasn’t quite myself yet, and I told Amy I needed to go back to the main lodge. I felt very disappointed in myself, my low, and not joining the others who were practicing their paddling strokes out on the lake.

It was a bad low. Base and mid layers were soaked through with sweat, and it was an uncomfortable, yet familiar, walk back to the lodge. I felt like I had to will myself to take every step. And when I got to the lodge’s patio, I slumped down, shedding layers and waiting for the sun’s warmth to heal me, and dry me out. All around, camp was abuzz. My group was still getting some paddling instruction. I was recovering, and I struggled between giving into wanting to have a nap in the sun, or trying to get up and go. Inside the main doors, the cookie challenge, or the “Master Baker’s competition” as Slipstream lead Heather announced it, was in full swing, three teams getting the lowdown on creating the tastiest, low-carb cookie recipe they could invent. I loved cooking and baking and I wanted to be inside with them. I also wanted to be on the lake. I wanted to be everywhere and experiencing everything camp had to offer. I wandered over to the lakeshore, and thought about stringing up my fly rod. My paddling group approached, and a solo canoeist broke away, and drifted in close to ask me if I would rejoin the activity.  

Stephi, an expert paddler who’d spent most of the summer on still and moving waters from Algonquin to the Ottawa Valley, was the only person I met the entire weekend (apart from Andre) who didn’t have diabetes. We had an interesting chat and I learned that she knew the Connected in Motion gang through summer camp work at Alive Outdoors, a smart operation that provided skilled counselors to summer camps from Algonquin, throughout the Muskokas to Temagami, Mattawa and beyond. Stephi spoke about an upcoming return trip to paddle Antarctica, and about growing up in Scotland, but feeling that she’d found her true home in Canada’s wilderness. We ended up in a water lily-choked bay, and other canoes pulled alongside for a group photo. The sun was shining bright, and I rolled up my sleeves to feel its warmth. Stephi agreed to drop me off on the way back, where one of the big docks had been removed for season end. The water was shallower, and I guessed the bass might have scattered without the protection of the overhead wooden platforms.

Quickly, I got into the familiar rhythm of crisply casting the heavy Clouser minnow to distant lily clumps and reed beds. Fast and slow retrieves yielded nothing. I remembered seeing another area that Andre had pointed out, not too far along the shore, and headed in that direction. By happy coincidence along the way, I met two more Slipstreamers who I recognized from the summertime cooking event in Toronto. Luke and Kieran were brewing a pot of coffee on a new camp stove. I caught a whiff of the white gas, as it ignited, and Kieran tamed the flame into a sputtering blue jet that would bring the pot to a boil in minutes. I was invited to stay for a taste, but I’d already been bitten hard by fish fever, and wandered away to the water.  

First cast, nothing. It’d been a fast one, and I hadn’t let the Clouser sink too long, probably only enough to be just under the surface. I stripped in the slack, and began my casting cadence once more. It felt great to throw the heavy weighted fly line and big minnow pattern in tight loops, back and forth, building velocity and finally letting it drop into the lake. I waited for the leader to sink. I counted to 10, then 15 seconds, just to be sure. In the clear lake water, I imagined the olive-and-white bucktail fluttering towards bottom, like a wounded baitfish. Then I gave the line a quick jerk, stripping in line at alternating speeds. On about the fifth strip, the hook bit into something, and for a moment nothing moved. I put a bit more tension on the fly rod, then struck home – high and fast – as a big fish ran for deep cover in the weeds! My reel screamed, as the fish took off in the opposite direction, swimming fast over bottom structure, down and deeper among submerged stumps and along what I suspected to be a trench in a long transition zone. I kept the line tight, but gave the fish enough to play with. Suddenly, it broke the surface in a head-shaking jump. Sunbeams caught droplets in tiny prisms as the water erupted! It was a big, fat smallie! And the largest I’d seen all summer, while fishing lakes and rivers from Lake St. Clair to Temagami and back. Andre wasn’t lying – Arowhon had some lunkers!

It took a few minutes, but I landed the bass, and had it on shore for some fast C.P.R. (catch, photo, and release). I was shaking. I felt the euphoria that always takes me back to being a kid, and catching wild trout in the headwaters of the streams and rivers that flow through the Alberta foothills, at the feet of the Rockies. Arowhon’s bass were a different story altogether, but I was feeling very satisfied, transported in my dreams to my home waters, and back again to the here and now at Arowhon.

 And I thought to myself that I was indeed a very happy camper.

Catching fish, gee that’s better!
Mother, Father, kindly disregard this letter!

Want to experience the Slipstream yourself? Check out our events page to find out when they’re happening!

About Brad Lee

Brad Lee is a recovering journalist and avid fly angler who’s as happy chasing fish, in rivers or by Hobie kayak, as he is introducing others to the sport. Sixteen years on, he’s still learning to live well with Type 1 diabetes. He enjoys sharing good food with friends, cooking, travelling and exploring Ontario and the world.