Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CLEAR LAKE: Family paradise

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We are camping this summer, altogether in our tent with the dog, and I can't wait.

Unfortunately for me, my family can wait -- in fact they'd wait forever to never go tenting again, except for my Mother's Day gift. It is a hand-made certificate by my daughters which clearly states that my husband and both of them will go tenting with at Clear Lake and only "minor complaining may occur in the presence of insects."

This would be different from years past when copious amounts of complaining have occurred.

I love tenting, I love tenting at Clear Lake. It is the site of a couple of my favourite childhood summer vacations in our family trailer along with my cousins in theirs. Riding Mountain National Park, with Clear Lake and the quaint and rustic town of Wasagaming inside it, is a collection of gems just three-and-a-half hours away from Winnipeg.

We've gone tenting as a family five times including once when I was pregnant. The last time was six years ago, when our oldest girl was nine and our youngest daughter was 18 months old. The little one couldn't understand why were all together and lying on the ground. She kept standing on her sleeping bag, saying 'Hi!" in the dark to no one in particular and then jumping up and down on the spot like she was spring-loaded.

It began to rain, of course, and the dog was stressed by the tree branches blowing and kept standing up with his butt above my husband's face and uttering the odd gutteral "woof" just as you thought you might be able to fall asleep. A moth got in the tent and we thought our eldest daughter was under siege with all the high-pitched squealing.

Due to the rain, my husband could not have his nightly bowl of cereal since, well, you can't eat in the tent because then a bear will come in, all the food was locked in the truck and he'd get drenched going out to the truck, only to have to drape himself over the back seat and contort into some unnatural position to find a bowl, milk and the cereal.

The night culminated with my husband bitterly proclaiming, "I'm cold, hungry and dirty. And there's stump in my back."

But look past all that, I say! We're out in the fresh air, surrounded by the massive trees in the park, the boardwalk by the lake and the spectacularly clean beach. There's adorable little gift shops and ice cream parlours dotted everywhere in Wasagaming. The amazing Interpretive Centre features realistic displays of stuffed wildlife found in the park, park staff to answer our questions and give us maps to anywhere we want to hike or drive, a massive wood-burning fireplace that is roaring when it rains, and a theatre showing educational programs with a conservation message.

When we're done soaking up all of that, we can go back to our campsite, have a cosy campfire of our own, eat our supper beside it and crawl into our sleeping bags to sleep, breathing in the scent of the pines.

Until the next morning, when we have to take down our tent in the rain. That's also happened every year, but I have a feeling this year will be different!

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2009 E5

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