north by northwest   8 comments

Posted at 11:38 pm in Uncategorized

a rocky section of shore near the Agawa pictographs on Lake Superior

First, a couple of notes: For those who left comments that didn’t appear with the last post, sorry about that. For some reason, WordPress held quite a few comments for approval. I’ve been without a net connection for almost two weeks, so just caught that and have approved everything. Next, yes, it’s been awhile since my last post which was written shortly after leaving the farm. I’d hoped to have a better net connection along the road, but that has not proven to be the case. I’d actually suspected it might be a problem once we got up north of Lake Superior, so it comes as no great surprise. Anyhow, I’m connected for the moment, so hope to put up a couple of more posts in the next day or two. Chronologically, this one is the first. Reading through it now (close to posting) it seems too much like a “we went here and then here” type of post, but when I wrote it, that’s probably how it felt. My trip got off to a rather frantic start. Things are feeling different now, but I’ll leave that for a later post.

~ * ~

After several delays, we left my mom’s house in Ottawa about two weeks ago. I say “about” because I’d have to start counting nights on the road. I’m already at that point where it’s hard to remember the date, let alone the day of the week. We’ve stayed at several campgrounds, so my way of keeping score is by counting the nights spent at each place.

Although it may sound like a rather odd choice, our first night was at a site at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park. It’s about an hour west of our farm. I chose to camp there for a few reasons. I knew it was almost empty, so we’d have the place almost to ourselves — which we did. I settled on a site at the furthest point on an unoccupied campground loop. We had silence other than Loons calling on the nearby lake, and two or three Barred Owls hooting in the forest. In the morning, we awoke to Crows cawing from the sumac directly above the van. I took Sage and Sabrina for an early morning walk on the Sylvan Trail — one of several trails that Don and I walked over dozens of times during past visits. When we couldn’t think of a new place to go hiking, Murphy’s Point was one of our old standbys – and that’s another of the reasons that I chose to begin our journey there. On the Sylvan Trail, I found many Hickory Tussock caterpillars moving across the trails and also suspended on long threads leading up to the tree canopy above. As they thrashed and wriggled on their threads, they put me in mind the aerial acrobats who perform suspended from ropes.

Sabrina and Sage at Driftwood PP

After our walk, we began northward trek in earnest. I decided to take the route up through Lanark – through one of our other favourite stomping grounds – the Lanark Highlands. I gave a tip of the hat to Cate on our way through the village of Lanark (hello Cate), then we rolled on up to Calabogie and followed the Madawaska River out to Highway 17. Turning on to the main highway, it finally felt like we were on our way — north, then northwest, to make our way across Canada, before turning south to travel along the coast of the U.S.

Our second night was spent at Driftwood Provincial Park. Again, there were few other campers, and I chose the furthest unoccupied site along the shore of the lake. We slept with all of the van windows opened wide, listening to the waves washing up against the sand and driftwood not more than 30 or 40 feet away. I grew up spending summers at our cottage further downstream on the Ottawa River, listening to these same waves rolling onto the beach. I’d forgotten that sound, but being here brought it all back to me.

sunset at Driftwood PP

After Driftwood, the driving becomes more serious as the highway leaves the upper reaches of the Ottawa Valley and rises onto the rugged landscape of the Canadian Shield. From North Bay through to Sault Sainte Marie, the roads were busy with tractor-trailers mixed with vacationers in RVs, or hauling camper trailers loaded up with canoes and kayaks. Most were heading in the opposite direction, returning to southern Ontario after vacations up along Lake Superior or other northern shores.

signboard north of Sault Ste. Marie

At Sault Sainte Marie, we left much of the traffic behind. At this time of year, from this point onwards, the highway is mainly a thoroughfare for long-haul transport trucks, the locals from small villages along the Lake Superior shore, and the stragglers — tourists taking advantage of this unusually warm September. Last year, I blazed through Lake Superior Provincial Park. By any standard, it’s quite a large park with scattered hiking trails and canoe routes. The interior is wild and remote. In this heat, most of the visitors seemed drawn to the long, sandy shore of Agawa Bay. I stopped to look around at the campground, but even in the shoulder season, found it too “inhabited”. I ended up driving back a bit south along the highway to Crescent Lake where I found a site – one of only 4 occupied out of around 40 that night. The dogs and I had a long stretch of shoreline to ourselves that evening. Just before dark, a park warden dropped by to check on things and we had a good talk before she continued on with her rounds.

standard fare on the road – pancakes with maple syrup

In, the morning, I made pancakes doctored with maple syrup picked up along the way through Lanark County a few days before. We continued north, stopping at the trail to the Agawa pictographs. I hiked down, but must admit that I chickened out of shuffling along the ledge above the lake. The bright red signs warning of how people have died, or been seriously injured, visiting the pictographs must have made some kind of impression on me — and a not particularly good one. Although the waters were relatively calm, I didn’t feel much like risking a dunking and probably a smashed bone or two if I slipped from the ledge into the submerged rocks below. This is a significant aspect of traveling alone — this “risk assessment” business. When Don and I traveled together, we rarely shrank back from doing just about anything. In fact, we were quite a fearless pair. However, now that I’m alone and have the two dogs depending on me, I find myself calculating risks and avoiding those situations where there’s any chance of possible injury. At Agawa rock, seeing no one, I pondered on who might haul me back out of the water if I fell from the ledge? Oh, there were ropes hanging over the ledge into the water, but was I sure I could haul myself out and up to safety? Or, who would drive the van and look after the dogs if I smashed an arm or leg? These are typical of the thoughts that occupy my mind when I’m on the road — along with considering how it is that I seem to be the only person traveling alone. Do other lone travelers harbor such concerns?

pancakes and maple syrup for all

Written by bev on September 21st, 2009

8 Responses to 'north by northwest'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'north by northwest'.

  1. To answer your question, yes. And not just travelling. It’s a fact of life and a major concern for me. If I were in an accident on the way home from work, who would look after the beasties? On the other hand if something happened to me on a Saturday – say I broke a leg in the hayloft – no one would know to look for me until I didn’t show up for work on Monday. And even then they might not question it because I work in an isolated spot in one of the offices.


    22 Sep 09 at 5:04 am

  2. It’s a good question, bev, and I remember a discussion somewhere in a blog comment section about the wisdom of hiking alone. I have always been a believer that it’s important to head out with a companion. Of course, I’ve always chalked that notion up to being a twin, and so never even having been alone not even in the womb. I don’t think there are easy answers, but cell phones and wireless communication devices do make it easier to journey alone.

    It’s as beautiful there as I imagined. A wonderful beginning, bev…

    robin andrea

    22 Sep 09 at 12:31 pm

  3. You and Sabrina and Sage have been in my thoughts. Good to read about your travels so far and see your photos again. Maybe you’ll get to see pictographs in the Columbia Gorge.

    This last weekend I drove alone up Mt. Baker Highway to the end of the mountain road — Artist’s Point. The parking lot / trailhead was full of people. I headed off “alone” (but with other people in front of me and behind me) to the top of Table Mountain — an easy hike on a well-traveled trail.

    There are many more people who take road trips with other people than people who take road trips alone. I feel odd writing this, but I travel alone because I have become comfortable being alone. Not to say that I don’t get lonely. I am more cautious than I would be if I were traveling with another person or with a dog or dogs.

    Then again, I don’t have a camper. Maybe someday. I stay in motels and with friends when I travel up and down the west coast of the United States, but I visit forests, oceans, rivers, mountains and deserts alone. It’s exhilarating. I think of Georgia O’Keeffe and John Muir when I’m traveling alone. And I think of Richard. He’s still with me in spirit.


    22 Sep 09 at 2:54 pm

  4. Glad to see you’re off and running, Bev. Also that youre
    observing those solo-traveller precautions.

    Your posts ignite such wanderlust in me. I’ve been doing
    weekend “tune-up” trips for past month, similar to your
    first stops at Murphy’s Point and Driftwood, but keep
    finding reasons to delay actual “lift-off” moment of my
    six-week cross country hegira. Not sure what that’s about,
    except that Ive planned for this moment TOO LONG, over
    planned and over-thought the whole project. Anyway,
    it’s good for me to hear youre under way. Hope to keep
    tabs on you enroute as much as possible.

    Ive always been impressed by how photogenic Sabrina
    is. Ive never seen her in a less-than-dignified photograph. Clearly, Sage is following in her footsteps.


    23 Sep 09 at 10:09 am

  5. Shelley – I haven’t thought about it so much while at the farm, although it crossed my mind occasionally. I think that was more because I considered how an injury might sideline me badly enough to not finish getting the place sold and/or starting out on this trip. I tend to think of it more while on the road and far from any of the little support system that I have in a couple of places. However, I also find that I have to banish most of those thoughts so that they don’t make me lose confidence in what I’m doing.

    robin – I always think of those warning of “never hike alone”. Of course, that presupposes that you have someone that you can hike or canoe with — which I did until recently. Now, I have to weigh the risk of hiking with just the dogs in certain places. I’m not much afraid of bears or other large animals, or even of some weird person, although that should always be a consideration. For me, it’s concern over having a bad fall on a rugged trail. I sometimes turn back of a trail seems too risky. Having Sabrina along is probably a good thing. If I think a trail is too much for her, that’s good enough reason not to bother continuing onwards.

    am – I don’t think I knew of the pictographs along the Columbia. Is this somewhere along the Horsethief Lake region? I’ll be down that way in another 3 or 4 weeks, so could look.
    I too feel pretty comfortable traveling alone. I like solitude, but must also admit that traveling with Don was really the best of two worlds. He enjoyed solitude, long silences, and wandering around together or alone when we went places. That’s definitely something I miss very much now – but as you have mentioned about Richard, I feel that way about Don too – he’s along in spirit, or now as part of me (difficult to explain here, but it’s just how I feel these days). Having the two dogs with me does give me a different outlook toward where I feel okay hiking. There are places I would probably not hike if I didn’t have them along.


    23 Sep 09 at 11:44 am

  6. Bev – is your route westward the same as last year, going and coming? It seems to me that the weather (so far) is better than it was for you last year.

    Interesting about encountering folks going in the other direction as they return home from a vacation. There’s certainly something to be said for going against the flow!

    It’s good that you have the dogs with you – especially Sabrina to keep you from hazards. Having the van as a more secure sleeping place is probably also wise.

    On to Wawa!


    23 Sep 09 at 2:19 pm

  7. Wayne – Yes, the first part of my route is the same as last year, but I’m traveling slower and also making more side trips. When I get further out west, my route will be quite different this time round as I’ll be staying at a few different parks here and there. Last autumn and this spring, I passed quickly through B.C., but this time, I’ll probably be wandering off on a couple of side trips. A lot depends on the weather. My youngest brother has been keeping track of the weather ahead of me and letting me know which direction looks good. So far, the weather has been terrific almost every day. I hope our luck holds for awhile yet.
    The van seems like a very secure sleeping place, especially when there are bears wandering around as there were for the week that I was camped at Pukaskwa. The didn’t seem to be causing trouble for anyone, but it’s also a bit disconcerting to know that they are making appearances around the campground.


    23 Sep 09 at 6:27 pm

  8. Steve – I don’t know how this happens, but your comment was a late arrival to those that WordPress mysteriously chose to put in the penalty box awaiting my approval. I can’t figure out why it keeps doing so, but in any case, I just wanted to say that I did get a chance to read it and it’s up with the other comments now. Regarding trip planning — I think that having done last year’s trip helped a lot in making it easier this time around. Also, I think my state of mind is such that I just go and figure that, if I need something along the way, I’ll try to get it once on the road. You’re right — Sabrina is very photogenic, and Sage is too. There is the odd out-take with both of them, but most of the shots are always pretty nice.


    27 Sep 09 at 4:57 am

Leave a Reply