From Brokenness to a Boler: Chris Nelmes

All I knew about Chris Nelmes (of Family Outdoor Adventures) going into our interview was that he’d recently bought a boler trailer –  a symbol of the “new style of adventure” he planned to experience with his family.

Being the sometimes jaded mountain-dweller that I am, I thought this was an interesting choice. I often felt that people who used trailers were selling themselves short of the true outdoor experience. At the end of the day, I was happy to see people at least leaving their homes and venturing into the mountains. But I knew how much the “outdoor” experience  – the kind found inside a flapping tent, rain streaming down while you’re attempting to boil pasta in a pot and keep your thermarest dry – meant to me. I needed to learn to appreciate that the outdoor experience comes in many forms, including a hard-sided trailer called a boler.

A family photo in MacMillan Provincial Park Cathedral Grove among 300-year-old trees.

As it turned out, my conversation with Chris went in a direction I could never have predicted. For weeks I’d been talking to outdoor adventurers of all kinds, none who had ever lost sight of the role that their outdoor passions play in their lives (or at least they hadn’t mentioned it). But though he had enjoyed outdoor activities since he was a kid and truly needed the outdoors to keep a clear mind, Chris went through a stage just prior to having kids when the rat race really took over and his commitment to the outdoors evaporated.

A family day in Elk island National Park, where they saw coyote, plains bison, wood bison, beaver, deer and many birds.

Originally from Surrey, British Columbia, and now living in Edmonton, Alberta, Chris’ professional background is in the areas of investments and insurance. For a while, making money and getting ahead became the priority. These were things you were supposed to do to have a good life, he thought. So, by the time he and his wife, Alane, had a family, he had sold all his mountain bikes, given up camping and abandoned the outdoors. The irony of it all? He gave up on having fun to have kids. “But when kids come along all they want to do is have fun,” he explained.

His kids made him ask himself, “why did I give up all the best parts of my life?” 

Playing at the Alouette Lake provided a great way to end a beautiful day of hiking.

Now, almost every trip is with his boys, Carter (5) and Ewan (4). And after many years in investment and insurance planning, Chris has a goal of moving into more lifestyle planning – “taking people from a broken life that they seem to accept to a life they really want,” he described. (Sounds like he’s the right guy for the job.)

For Chris, adventure is really about getting out and having fun, not necessarily about being hardcore or risky. Enter: the boler. Chris purchased it last November after looking for an alternative to tenting. Some people have thrown him the odd comment about it not being a ‘real’ camping experience, as my internal dialogue had. But it’s all about “choosing to use the best tool available for that time,” he says. If they were headed out on a canoe trip, for instance, they’d bring a tent (“bolers don’t float,” he added).

Carter and Ewan riding a ladder at a local bike park.

He caught me off guard again when he explained how the boler can actually create a more enriched family experience (rocking my tent-flapping world again). “When I get to camp I don’t have to get distracted by the work of camping,” he said. “I have more time to go off and play with the kids. I don’t have to set up, tear down or worry about drying out the tent when I get home.”

Because when you’re a parent, time is everything.

This father of two has a few other tricks up his sleeve, like how to help his boys hike farther. Bring a friend seems to be the top of every parent’s list. Encourage them forward with snacks and interesting things to come. But, my favourite?

“Pull a hot wheels out of your pocket. It’s amazing how much further they can walk with a car in their hand.”

Thanks Chris! You can check out the latest on the renovations and customizations of their family boler here.

How have children helped you to experience the outdoors in new ways?  I’d love to read your responses in the comments below.

Author: Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Canada, and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Meghan has written several books, as well as produced content for films, anthologies, blogs and some of North America’s top outdoor, fitness and adventure publications. She has a forthcoming travel memoir (Fall 2022), to published by Rocky Mountain Books.

5 thoughts

  1. On a scramble up Burns Ridge in Kananaskis last spring, I found clam shell fossils half-way up while stopped, bent over to suck wind. The next weekend I led a kid’s hike there for a fossil hunting “expedition”. Since then, my boys have been finding clam and coral fossils on every hike we’ve been on. I’ve found a few fossils over the years, but had no idea they were literally everywhere in the Rockies. Last fall, I led an adult hike up to Tryst Lake to see the larches turning color, but the lake was socked in and we couldn’t see much. The next weekend, I led a kid’s hike to the lake. The sky was clear, but the larch needles had already fallen. The kids didn’t care: one pulled out a jar from somewhere and scooped up a see-through fairy shrimp from the frigid alpine water. Again, I had no idea there were shrimp in the Rockies. On these hikes and many others, the kids have reminded me to stop and truly experience where I am, not just take in the views.

  2. Great post. We are tent campers. We love sleeping in our tent, listening to the sounds of nature and making shadow shows on the tent walls with our kids. But I can relate about the time issue. With school aged kids, sometimes a quick weekend camping trip turns in to a mad dash to the campground to setup our tent before dark. We usually have a wonderful time on Saturday, fishing, hiking, etc… but Sunday morning is spent tearing down and packing up. As much as I too, have always felt tent camping was “real camping”, I think a small pop-up or trailer may actually get us to the outdoors more often. And our time would be better spent once we arrive at the campsite.

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