Archive for October, 2008

the bones of the land   9 comments

Posted at 1:11 pm in Uncategorized

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

After leaving the Terry Fox park, I continued on into Thunder Bay to fill up the gas tank of the van before setting out for Kenora where we would be staying the night at a motel. From this point on, we would be moteling our way across Canada. My original plan was to camp as much as possible, but the weather had been cold and damp, so that plan went out the window. I wanted to get the van repaired as soon as possible, but with it being Thanksgiving Day in Canada, there wasn’t much chance of that happening. By noon, the rain had stopped and the roads were reasonably dry, so I decided to forge onwards — knowing well that this part of Ontario has few towns and fewer repair shops.

From Thunder Bay to Kenora, there’s a long stretch of mostly flat highway with only the occasional curve or gradual grade. It’s a land of shallow lakes, boggy looking wetlands, and endless stands of stunted conifers over rock. In places, it must be nearly impossible to sink a telephone pole as many were constructed with wooden support struts. Somewhere along that stretch of highway, I spotted a sign that read: Arctic Watershed – From here all streams flow north into the Arctic Ocean. Here’s a link to an image of the sign posted on an RV travel website.

Driving soon became tedious. With the cruise control on, I tried sitting in slightly different positions trying to give my legs a rest as they were falling asleep from rarely needing to brake. There was a brief moment of excitement as I spotted a moose standing just a few feet from the road. As I became increasingly restless, I laughed to myself, lines from Jill Frayne’s autobiographic book Starting Out in the Afternoon, mentioned in my first post, ran through my head.

After three days of driving I was still in Ontario. We think of the province as a pan of paved-over ground along the shore of Lake Ontario, a stretch of a hundred kilometres where most of us live, but the real Ontario is the Precambrian Shield – the great wastes of rock overarching tiny southern Ontario in an endless tract of elemental granite and pointed black spruce. The land up here is ponderous, orchestral, especially where the road follows Lake Superior, giving tremendous views of the hills standing up to their mighty shoulders in the sea. Once you leave Superior, though, and plunge into boreal forest — the dark, acid, interminable land west of Thunder Bay –the project of getting out of Ontario becomes daunting. This rock carapace is nothing less than the bulge of the earth’s raw core, scarred, disordered, primordial. The density and weight of the rock have an emotional quality that penetrates the mind. Time seems to clog in the runty trees and gravity tugs in a bold, unbounded way like nowhere else.

Drawing closer to the Lake of the Woods region and the town of Kenora, the bones of the Canadian Shield were laid bare in many places. Road cuts of great, sagging masses of pink Precambrian granite bordered long sections of the highway. The weather had turned frigid and rain began to fall. The van began running badly, so I stopped in an empty parking lot to let the engine dry out for awhile before pushing on. Arriving in Kenora, I checked into a motel, taking note of a small poster on the glass next to one of the doors. It read something like:

To our valued customers: As you may know, this is the time of year when black bears often enter the town. Please use caution when in the parking area of the motel, especially at night. Do not leave food in your car or outside of your motel unit.

Actually, I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bear in the parking lot, but though I checked periodically, there was no such luck. In the morning, after checking the weather and seeing several clear days ahead, we carried on with our journey.

Written by bev on October 26th, 2008

courage highway   8 comments

Posted at 1:35 pm in history

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

In my last post, I described how the van was running so badly during the final stretch heading west to Thunder Bay. I guess that could be regarded as something of a cliffhanger. The saga continues…

The van’s engine sounded like it wasn’t going to make it, but with a bit of encouragement — mainly pressing down a bit on the gas pedal to keep it from konking out — we reached the last few miles leading to the city of Thunder Bay, which lies at the western edge of Lake Superior. That section of the route is known as the Terry Fox Courage Highway and those marker signs began to appear as we chugged and sputtered past Nipigon. I was a little stressed, but began to relax as we neared the city limits. My friends back at the cabin had told me that there was a great view from the Terry Fox memorial park before Thunder Bay, so I turned off there to rest and take a few photos. Arriving just as a couple of other vehicles were leaving the parking lot, I had the place to myself. Walking to the look-off, I planned to take a few photos of the countryside from this high vantage point. However, the statue of Terry Fox, backlit by the grey morning sky, immediately drew my attention. On this drizzly morning, and in my frame of mind, the statue struck an odd note with me — almost as though it was alive — as though Terry was running the last stretch of highway where he was forced to end his run just short of Thunder Bay.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, it was in this place that he had to abandon his run due to the return of his cancer. From the above linked article by Leslie Scrivener, for The Toronto Star:

And so it went that glorious summer of 1980 – he ran 5,374 kilometres (3,339 miles) in 143 days. And then, on September 1st, 11 kilometres (seven miles) outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, something felt terribly wrong in his chest. The pains were so bad, he wondered if he was having a heart attack, but whatever it was, he needed to see a doctor. The doctor confirmed his worst fears – the cancer was back, this time in his lungs. Terry had run his last mile – The Marathon of Hope – was over.

I suspect that just about every Canadian old enough to have been following the Marathon of Hope on our televisions, will remember the CBC broadcast when Terry announced that he would retire from the run. But that wasn’t the end of the Marathon of Hope. From the CBC “The Greatest Canadian” pages:

Terry Fox died, with his family beside him, on June 28, 1981. That September, the first Terry Fox Run was held in Canada and around the world. More than 300,000 people participated, raising $3.5 million. Terry Fox Runs are held yearly in 60 countries now and more than 360 million have been raised for cancer research. His legacy lives on.

For me, the Terry Fox monument was a reminder of how much determination it takes to keep moving on while living with cancer.

* More about Terry Fox here.
* CBC media archives on Terry Fox (12 television clips, 8 radio clips).

[Note: I arrived in Thunder Bay on Thanksgiving Day, was not able to get the van fixed, so continued west. More about that in a subsequent post.]

Written by bev on October 25th, 2008

off the grid   12 comments

Posted at 2:31 pm in Uncategorized

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

Last week, I spent three days visiting with friends who are building a cabin on the north shore of Lake Superior a couple of hours east of Thunder Bay. It was nice to see their place and catch up on what they’ve been doing. One of their projects has been to outfit the cabin with gear to provide alternative energy as they’ve chosen to remain off the grid. Above is a photo of a solar and wind platform on the roof. The pipe from the large wood cookstove may be seen to the right.

The woodstove and the interior of the cabin conjured up some memories of my family’s cottage on the Ottawa River. We had a woodstove which was the only source of heat and was also used for some auxiliary cooking, although we did also have an old propane range. We also used to cook certain foods like foil-wrapped baked potatoes in a bonfire on the beach.

The view from the front yard was fantastic. The autumn leaves in this area are different than on the eastern side of Lake Superior. The red leaves of maples are seen until about the northern edge of Lake Superior Provincial Park, but as you travel northwards, these fade out and give way to the yellows and golds of aspen and birch. I was surprised to find a few flowers such as this blanket flower yet in bloom (see below). Although the climate of Superior can be harsh, in many ways, the lake also has a moderating effect on the temperature. The weather was a bit wet and cold during my stay, but everything was still beautiful.

Unfortunately, the dampness had a deleterious effect on the electrical wiring problem in my van. On the morning that I chose to push on with my trip, we traveled no further than a couple of kilometers west on the Trans-Canada when the engine light came on and the van began to chug and shudder. I made an executive decision to just continue on my way as no parts or service were available in that vicinity over the Thanksgiving weekend anyhow. It was a little nerve-wracking having to worry that the van might konk out somewhere along that section of highway, but it had been pretty trustworthy up to that point, so I decided to hang tight and carry on. Over the next hour or two, the whole “van problem” got me thinking about how we perceive risk. Here I was in a van with a comfortable bed with lots of warm bedding, plenty of food and water, a blackberry to communicate with, and my dog for company. If worse came to worse, we could just pull off of the road somewhere and hunker down for awhile, and then call for help after the holiday weekend. Compared to some of the other “risk” that has been a constant in my world over the past year, the possibility of spending the night in my van along a fairly well-traveled highway seemed pretty tame. It’s interesting how our perception and acceptance of risk can change dramatically over time.

Written by bev on October 19th, 2008

written in stone   6 comments

Posted at 9:29 am in Uncategorized

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

Picking up where I left off in yesterday’s post, last Friday, part of my journey led through Lake Superior Provincial Park. By Ontario park standards, it’s large, being 1,550 square kilometers (600 square miles). As the weather has been unusually cold recently, I decided not to try to camp there during this trip — instead, pushing on to visit with friends at their cabin near Thunder Bay. However, after stopping several times to linger along small rivers, I began to regret that decision and have already vowed to return to spend a few days here next year.

One of my stops was at a river trail known as Pinguisibi, or Sand River Trail. Here is a map of the trail showing a river with many rapids and falls. Sabrina and I explored the lower section, wandering about on the great slabs of rock.

At this time of the year, the rocks were cut through by a narrow torrent. Evidence of their wear leads me to suppose that this river must appear quite different during the spring freshet.

Most of the rocks are patterned with swirling striations such as those in the above photo. Click on the image to see a larger view — I’ve posted quite a large image, so you can scroll around to see it a bit better. Unfortunately, the images don’t really give a true sense of the appearance of these rocks — you’ll have to go there in person to appreciate them. I could spend a day or more just studying that one little section of river.

The view upstream was almost too much for me and it wasn’t long before we had wandered upriver over the tumble of rocks. We could have gone on like that for hours but that I had hopes of reaching my friends’ cabin before dark.

Along the shore, I spotted this Eastern White Cedar, appearing to beckoning from the forest’s edge. In this place, it’s not difficult to imagine that there must be forest spirits, and perhaps even the trickster, Nanabozho calling me into the woods.

I did venture a few paces along the woodland trail and soon discovered a wonderful knot of cedar roots joining two trees growing upon the rock. I’m not sure if Nanabozho intended this to be a lesson or message for me, but perhaps I will take it as such — that two beings can have lives that are so interwoven as to be like one.

Written by bev on October 17th, 2008

Tagged with ,

lake superior   9 comments

Posted at 10:06 am in Uncategorized

Note: I’ve moved this blog to a new location as it suddenly started to have problems with navigation and the comment feature (comments no longer displaying). Please visit the new location to read this and more recent posts. Sorry for the inconvenience. – Bev

Last Friday, I arrived at the shores of Lake Superior — to be more specific, at Batchawana Bay which lies on the eastern shore. Approaching the shore, I was immediately struck by the sound of the waves and was reminded of the Atlantic Ocean lapping the beaches of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. It was comforting and I loitered awhile, walking the lonely shore with Sabrina. The drift was different than one might find out east — a beaver-chewed birch log — but the feel was similar. That Superior should seem so much like the Atlantic isn’t surprising. It’s an immense body of water. According to this page of Lake Superior facts, it is about 350 miles (563 km) in length and 160 miles (257 km) in width, and the deepest point … (about 40 miles north of Munising, Michigan) is 1,300 feet (400 meters) below the surface. It’s the world’s largest freshwater lake, the surface area being 31,700 square miles or 82,170 square kilometers, and it holds about 10 percent of all of the world’s fresh surface water.

Driving the north shore, you are constantly made aware of the proximity of the lake. Every few minutes, interrupting the deep stillness of the forests, a seascape of white-capped waves crashing against ragged rock outcrops, comes into view. The scene is but a scaled down version of the Pacific breaking against dark sea stacks along the Oregon and California coast.

I soon learned to seize every opportunity to rest at any look-off as the driving is demanding for someone like me — someone used to putzing along country roads at 80 kph (50 mph). On this section of the Trans-Canada highway, you share the road with long haul transport trucks that are easily pushing 110 kph (70 mph) on the twisting downhill grades that frequently run between towering rock cuts. The official speed limit is 90 kph, but you soon discover that you must fall into line and become part of the crazy roller-coaster steaming along the shore — otherwise, you are nothing but a dangerous obstacle to be bypassed.

Some of the rock cuts are marred by graffiti, but most are pristine — for, in truth, there are few places safe enough to stop and get out of your vehicle even to shoot a photo or two — thus, the paucity of photos from this part of my journey. The incredible views were captured and must remain in my memory.

Still, I was often amazed to spot an inukshuk erected on some precarious outcrop above the highway. Very determined hikers must have scrambled aloft to assemble them — small reminders that, although we may feel we are in the wilderness, we are never truly alone.

I noticed the above Canadian geodetic survey benchmark at one of the look-offs. I was going to see if I could hunt down info about it online today — I’ve heard that the benchmark info is all online — but I’ve got to get moving on. Perhaps someone will sleuth out the data while I’m on the road today.

Written by bev on October 16th, 2008