‘This is a bad idea.’ We left all our belongings and drove across the country, just two poor newlyweds. I wanted to turn back.’: Couple moves to wilderness camp, ‘Say YES to new adventures’

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“In the spring of 2017, my husband, Jeff, and I had only been married for 4 months and we had a big decision to make together. I was doing online university courses and had just finished my semester. He was a newly minted commercial pilot looking for work. I remember both of us feeling very stressed out. This was a big deal and would involve something I have a hard time with: CHANGE.

We spent almost 2 weeks looking for jobs. We emailed roughly 25 outfitters in North Western Ontario, Canada. I remember feeling so desperate, hopeless, and ultimately, anxious. Rejection is so hard to deal with, especially when you are a poor newlywed trying to make a life together.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

In the end, our final two options were Red Lake (Excellent Adventures) or Savant Lake (Rusty Myers Flying Service). Red Lake required a 3-year commitment. Savant Lake did not. I remember feeling like 3 YEARS?! I was completely doubting my abilities and wondering if I could even handle 5 months! The future seemed big and scary and I felt small and nervous. All the voices in my head were telling me, ‘You can’t do this because of XYZ,’ ‘This is a bad idea,’ and ‘You should just stay in Alberta.’

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

We ended up choosing Rusty Myers Flying Service at Savant Lake. The Savant Lake base is a floatplane charter service for fly-in fishing. Some clients drove 16 to 38 hours just to get there before being flown out to the fishing cabins where they would stay for 3 to 7 days. Jeff was a dockhand. His job was to greet guests, weigh everyone and their gear to organize flights (planes can only handle so much weight), pack and clean planes, fix cabins, build decks and docks, etc. The deal was Jeff would be hired as a dockhand and when the season slowed down, he would get his floatplane rating on their Cessna 185.

At every step of the way, I remember feeling I wanted to turn back. I wanted to crawl into a closet and hide when we started packing. We left almost all of our belongings behind in storage and drove across the country to North Western Ontario. Just two poor newlyweds in one small car (crammed with stuff) driving across the prairies.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

We had fun along the way and made sure to stop at all the tourist locations. I remember feeling this strange combination of relief and dread. Happy we were finally getting a break after an intense semester of work and school, but also anticipating what our lives would be like in this new world.

Our final stop before starting the season in the northern Canadian wilderness, was Winnipeg, Manitoba. We stayed the night at my parents’ house. By then, I could not ignore the fact my life was about to change… a LOT! Every comment from my dad or mom made me feel more anxious. Questions drove me crazy because I didn’t know the answers!!

Jeff and I needed to move after such a long drive and get some time alone, so we went for a walk. I remember Jeff saying, ‘By this time tomorrow, we’ll be in camp.’ I wished time would just stand still and tomorrow would never come. I was getting further and further away from my comfort zone. I did not want to leave everything I was familiar with and loved behind.

Then my mom, who is always thoughtful and generous, gave us a journal. The cover of the journal read, ‘Say Yes to New Adventures.’ As I read those words, so many emotions swept over me. I felt proud and was finally starting to catch onto everyone else’s excitement. I said ‘yes’ to this new adventure and I was empowered in that moment.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

This new adventure was not going to be all fun and games, though. It was mostly about survival. We were poor newlyweds, remember. We were doing this to earn more money and mainly, to progress Jeff’s career. We were lucky enough to find a place that needed a couple, and I was hired as the nanny.

Despite having grown up in a large family and being familiar with kids, I was still so nervous! All I wanted was to do a good job and for their son to like me. I grew up going on adventures in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, Manitoba doing outdoorsy things. I was comfortable being outside, hiking, camping, canoeing, or fishing, but this was a whole new level. This was for a much longer time, months not days, isolated from civilization. I felt like my experiences were not good enough and I do not like feeling vulnerable.

But we took that journal and those words and carried on with more confidence as a couple. Just as we were leaving Manitoba behind, we stopped over at the Manitoba/Ontario border to take a picture by the sign. I remember smiling when I read the words, ‘More to discover.’ I was slowly starting to embrace the idea Ontario had something to offer me. I almost believed there was more to discover in my life than when I was younger and living in my comfort zone.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

The anticipation kept building the closer we got to Savant Lake. I had never been this far into Ontario before and I was entering into new territory. I was slowly leaving behind the giant, rusty, majestic rocks of the Canadian Shield and entering a wilder land. The forest encroached on the road and seemed to almost swallow the car up. I distinctly remember my anxiety building. I was losing more control. As the forest grew closer, my muscles grew tighter.

Taking that turn off the main highway, down a hidden gravel road, was terrifying and exciting at the same time. At each turn, we went further and further away from civilization. The peak of our excitement was when we reached an old beaten down sign that pointed towards the final road to base camp. My initial reaction to seeing base camp and meeting everyone was, ‘I can do this.’

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss
Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

Fast forward a month and it got a lot harder. The days were super long, and I started to miss the normalcy of life in a city. I missed simple things like streetlights, restaurants, being able to socialize with other people or shop whenever. Food had to be flown an hour to our base camp. We had to freeze milk and bread and other basics so they would last. There was no cell reception in the area, but our base had a big generator for power and the internet for the office came via Satellite. When it was working, we communicated via Skype.

I got along with the others, but I didn’t stay up late drinking or smoking like the others, so we only connected so much. Living with the same five people for 5 months was challenging.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

I started to find ways of coping with my sometimes less-than-ideal situation. Being a nanny turned out to be exactly what I needed. The hours I spent caring for, teaching, and exploring with that little boy brought me so much joy. The dogs kept me safe on our long walks through the forest. I felt confident they would ward off any bears or other wildlife. Taking in all that beautiful scenery and fresh air was therapeutic for me. Noah needed me and I needed him. I saw base camp through the eyes of a little boy. I paid close attention to every intricate detail of nature because of him.

There were still days where it felt like I could not make it another hour, I made a mistake, or I just wasn’t good enough. I often felt exhausted, like I just wanted a break from my job. (Little did I know then, but that is exactly what being a mom is like.)

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss
Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

I also kept busy doing office work. I was confident in that. I did lots of cleaning/organizing around camp to feel more in control of my life and keep busy.

Honestly, I was grateful for the peak of the season when the Americans came daily for their flights to one of the nearly 20 camps and outposts that we serviced. It felt like Christmas when I would see their cars drive into camp. I’d introduce myself to them and often people thought I was Noah’s mother. It was nice to get to talk to someone who was not one of the same five people we were with every day. My favorite people to talk to were a local couple, Robert and Yvonne. Talking with them was enough to stave off the isolation and loneliness that would creep in. Plus, they brought wild blueberries.

The longer we stayed, the more it started to feel like home. Noah called me ‘Nana’ and my husband ‘Neff.’ I gained so much confidence in my ability as a caregiver with Noah. It was so rewarding to see him grow in such a unique setting. I felt proud of myself for teaching him sign language and getting him to nap.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

We worked 6 to 14-hour days and then would get a day off with a few extra days at the end of each month. Every longer break, we would go someplace new, like Ojibway Provincial Park. It would take a lifetime to explore such a beautiful and wild place. After a while, seeing a bear was like seeing a friend walking down the street.

Some of my most treasured experiences were with wildlife. I remember seeing a mother bear and two cubs on the side of the road. Around these parts, the highway had no ditch. It just goes straight to bush. One of her cubs came right to the car and put its nose on the window. It felt like the mother bear trusted us.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

Some days would stretch out very long, especially while trying to keep Noah safe and busy. One day, an eagle came into our bay. I had to ask someone to watch Noah so I could capture this moment. There were seldom any bald eagles that would fly over, so this was a special occasion. In Native American culture, the eagle is considered the strongest and bravest of all birds and I could feel a sense of peace as I looked into its eyes.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

One of my other duties was to run errands in Sioux Lookout, the nearest city. I felt confident and on top of the world when I got to drive that big truck by myself and blast the tunes. The responsibility overrode my anxiety, even though I wondered what would happen if I saw an animal by myself. One day, a huge moose came out of the woods in front of the truck I was driving. He stared me down. I felt scared and small, even in that truck. I knew he could destroy the truck and me. It was humbling and I carried on remembering my place in the woods.

Over time, the setting we were in became like an old friend. I knew where paths lead, I knew the trees, and I was familiar with the lake.

Even still, by the end of the season, I was feeling frustrated and ready to go home. But after a spaghetti dinner at the local elementary, there was a stunning and vivid sunset. It felt like such a treat. Almost like nature was saying, ‘Thank you.’ Everyone from camp went to capture the moment. The colors were vibrant. It felt like you could reach out your hand and the paint would come out of the sky and onto your hand. In the picture, we are silhouetted and dark, but I was not feeling dark. I felt so satisfied with our decision to come and work as a couple. The sunset was like fireworks to the end of a great and challenging season. I wanted to give up and go back, but I stuck it out. Now when I look back, I am grateful for the experience.

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

Since then, I have said ‘yes’ to many more adventures, including the adventure of parenthood. I am grateful for the lessons I learned about child-rearing, as we now have our own 14-month-old son. (The exact same age Noah was when we arrived.) I would not be who I am today if I did not say, ‘Yes.’ The highs and lows are worth it. Once in a lifetime opportunities need to be seized.”

Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss
Courtesy of Alyssa Kiss

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alyssa Kiss of Manitoba, Canada. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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