No regrets: Senior takes a solo portage trip in Algonquin Park

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“About six years ago we started camping in the same spot in the northern part of Algonquin Park, between Mattawa and North Bay”

Sheila Nollert wants people to know that age is just a number.

The 65-year-old Barrie woman recently returned from a four-day, three-night trip to the Canadian wilderness, where she hiked, camped, canoed and ported more than 20 kilometers , completely alone.

Nollert tells BarrieToday she has been active all her life and has been a strong believer in healthy living for many years. She and her husband often go canoeing and camping trips together.

“About six years ago, we started camping at the same spot in the northern part of Algonquin Park, between Mattawa and North Bay,” she says, noting that the small campground they stay at each year serves also an access point for canoe routes.

It was during one of these camping trips that Nollert says she noticed a woman loading her canoe alone.

“I was like, ‘Where’s the guy? Is he sitting in the vehicle texting!? Why is she doing all the work?!’ Then she got into the canoe and paddled out into the desert,” Nollert says.

She soon learned from chatting with the park superintendent that it has become increasingly popular over the years for women to go out into the wilderness alone.

“That was a bit of a wake-up call for me. I thought, ‘Wow! I really want to do this.

Despite her newfound desire to follow in this stranger’s footsteps, Nollert admits it wasn’t until September that she finally followed through.

“Every year, I saw women going out. Of course, they were younger than me, but they were there. I had to do it, but I kept finding excuses not to,” she says. “COVID was one, or I would think how vulnerable I would be there. All it would take is a twisted ankle and it could be very dangerous. There is no cell service and you are completely on your own…but every year I wondered why I kept doing this to myself.

In order to make it harder for her to pull out, Nollert says she set her intentions by announcing her plans on social media. Then she was locked up.

“It’s harder to break that commitment when everyone knows it,” she says,

She began to prepare for the release by purchasing new equipment.

“The exercise, the endurance aspect was already taken care of because that’s my lifestyle, but I got through it.”

Nollert left on September 13 and spent four days and three nights alone in the park, where she paddled 23 kilometers and carried her canoe and gear 14.1 kilometers across eight lakes.

She says BarrieToday she is always on top of her adventures.

At the start of the trip, Nollert knew the night was going to be her biggest challenge, but she says she discovered while she was there that she wasn’t as scared as she thought.

“When it’s just you, you don’t fill your head with all those ‘what ifs’. You just deal with what is,” she says, adding that a leaky tent was an added challenge that she had to raise. “I had one of those emergency blankets in case it got too cold that I used on my sleeping bag and I put this sheet on my sleeping bag to keep me dry.”

Overall, Nollert calls the whole experience “empowering” and she is extremely proud of what she has achieved.

“It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you have the ability, stop and realize your abilities and see what you can do,” she says. “Society norms are that older people need help and are unable to do the things they did when they were young, and this affects how we feel about ourselves as we age. We must break this cycle.

“I can’t tell you how happy and fulfilled it made me to do it. I know I would have lived with regret if I hadn’t. I loved how much I was relaxed there – and felt really at home and like it was where I belonged.

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