mosquito spray performance and other canoe trip details


View from my seat at the bow.

All-natural, homemade mosquito spray sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Picking the pungent herbs from my garden, infusing them into apple cider vinegar, and shaking the mixture every day all felt so wholesome. So ecologically responsible. So idyllic. But something happened that changed all that; I stepped out of my car.

We arrived at the campground–where we would stay for one night before launching our canoes– at about 10 pm. I covered myself in my repellent at 10:01 and by 10:09 I was reaching for the OFF like a parched desert traveler reaches for water. The bugs were worse than anything I’d experienced since Great Slave Lake (In the North West Territories).

Normally, I prefer covering up and don’t use mosquito spray at all. Planning our canoe trip, I knew we should take something for the bugs and thought my herbal remedy would be sufficient. Not only did I think it would work, but so did everyone else on the internet who blogged about their miracle spray. In retrospect, I wonder if anyone who posted those recipes ever stepped out of their paved backyards to test them. The recipes may have increased their blog traffic, but I guarantee they won’t provide much solace in the bush. In summary then: My homemade mosquito repellent failed. I don’t recommend homemade sprays unless marinating yourself for droves of voracious mosquitoes sounds pleasant. In other words, if you’ve found an effective alternative to DEET, I don’t believe you, and never will–unless you’re willing to accompany us on our next canoe trip to prove it.


Note to self: add modifier to “mosquito spray”…

Besides the mosquitos, we battled strong winds, rain, and bone-chilling temperatures. But that wasn’t the whole trip; there were wild berries, a winding river, calm waters, sandy beaches, a rousing game of kick-the-can, and most of our menu was deep fried in butter or bacon fat. Mmm…


All packed and ready to put in…


We went with another family of four–Michelle, Dion, Sarah, and Tyler.


wild strawberry on portage


So. Hard. To Stop. (Picking berries, that is)


Stopping for a fishing/snack break


“He caught fish! He caught fish”


Fileting the walleye cheeks


Campsite at the edge of the lake. This photo was taken after supper–we really noticed the longer days here (5 hours north of home).


Jack and Pickerel frying over the fire with loads of butter. This year I packed less food, relying on the fish potential, and we had more than enough.

When I told our neighbour where we were going, before we left, she said, “Oh, that’s so good for them.” I’m assuming she meant them as in our kids, and not the mosquitoes, but I think it was a win-win situation for all parties. While stabbing my paddle into the waves, trying to bee-line for the shore as the rain clouds kept gaining on us, I wondered about the good my neighbour was talking about. Perhaps the biggest gift the wilderness offers us is the way she deftly re-arranges our priorities. After two days in, I see the comb I packed (under the bright lights of my bathroom vanity) and it looks ridiculous against the backdrop of sand and spruce. Why did I think I’d need that? Woolen underwear became an obsession on the other hand, and I started day-dreaming about trading all the dresses in my closet for a pair of merino long-johns.

The kids adapted to the new routine quickly. Any lull of activity (between packing, eating, paddling, sleeping, etc) signaled a seamless transition into complex, imaginary play.  Before we even left the shore they had developed a “traditional” dance involving strange moves and a new language–all copyright of the Rockers (our last names combined). They considered coining themselves the “Reekers”, an appropriate descriptor, but decided it didn’t have the effect they were looking for.





Here’s why Grey Owl–a famous Canadian conservationist who duped the world into thinking he was First Nation–thought all of this would be good for us:

I think that the souls of many of us who have had to hustle our way along are a little undernourished in some directions. We need an enrichment other than material prosperity and to gain it we only have to look around at what our country has to offer…in the lakes and streams and woodlands of our North…Go see all of these things, or only one of them, you who are sometimes tired of the hurly-burly, the conniving, the conspiring, and contriving, that so wearies you, and you will come back twice the man or woman that you went.”

Tales of an Empty Cabin by Grey Owl

I’m not sure we came back twice the man, woman, or child we went; maybe twice as itchy, twice as dirty, twice as tired… and certainly twice as lucky for having gone.


Kudos for making it through this very long post! Have a lovely weekend,



3 thoughts on “mosquito spray performance and other canoe trip details

  1. Fresh fish AND berries? That is TOPS in my world. I bet you’re feeling the good reverberations long after climbing out of the canoe. We were amazingly lucky not to meet up with biting insects on our river trip, but a friend warned me before to “forget that hippie repellant, bring the DEET.”

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