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