Friday, May 27, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere

Did I say fun? I meant hard labour. What was I thinking? I somehow imagined that the kindness and generosity I’d shown Mike and Janelle in Wellington would be repaid when I got to their manor, squire, but instead I was put to work in their new house – a real fixer-upper – within moments of my arrival on Thursday afternoon. OK, so Janelle fed me first, but then she got out her whip and jackboots, and not in a good way!

With a kitchen installation looming on Friday morning, we were on a tight schedule to get a whole, freshly plastered kitchen to undercoat and double top-coat before then. With 4 hours of drying time between coats, we used a fan heater to speed things along but, even still it was quarter to one in the morning before we were done. And then the installation was delayed to Tuesday anyway. Never mind, I thought, it’s the least I could do to earn my keep for a couple of days…and then the landscaping started.

In the end, I spent four days with them, shifting dirt, clearing brush, digging vegetable beds, planting seeds, and having a great time. Their new house is right on the lake side in North Bay, Mike’s parents, grandparents, niece and nephew came up to help and were great, and in a way I see it as earning my whole trip. In South America I did voluntary work with kids and animals to feel like I earned the ride, and this time…well, this time I guess it’s much the same…just not quite for as long…but then neither is the trip.

The worst thing about spending the first two weeks of my trip with friends is that I was sorely tempted to ditch the whole cross country drive thing and just hang out and re-paint Mike and Janelle’s house for three months. Still, that would be cop out, so enough of that kind of talk.

Anyhoo, work done, back still in one piece, just about, and it was time to hit the road properly – at last! I plotted a vague course for a few days and got cracking, aiming on the first day, not for the touristy town of Sault Ste. Marie, but to the Lake Superior Provincial Park a bit further north, for some camping out and an attempt to get into the spirit of the trip.

It was a good call. The road itself was interesting enough…for a while. Then, however picturesque the mixed pines and silver birches were, decoratively interspersed with reflective lakes and creeks as they were, they got a bit samey after a while. Even trying to check each clearing for a glimpse of a bear or moose that might have been wandering past, lost its excitement factor after about 6 hours with not a sniff. Still, thinks I, it won’t last for long…except it did. It lasted for hours…days, in fact as it turned out, as it was still the same at the end of the third day of driving, I was beginning to get an idea of just how large Canada is.

Case in point: I have so far driven along the shores of three of the Great Lakes – Ontario, Huron and Superior – and while they are definitely beautiful to see, they are so unbelievably large that it’s hard to tell them apart from the ocean for a lot of the time. It’s a bit like looking at the pixels that make up a picture, close up. They lose any kind of meaning until you take a step back and they merge into an image. The lakes are like this. You’d need to be able to look at them from a great distance to get any sense that they were, indeed, lakes rather than oceans, and even then it’s not that clear.

There were plenty of spots to pull in and stretch the old legs of course – and more importantly the even older-feeling back – but, rather disappointingly, if they were in a Provincial Park (of which there are many to drive through) the spots all required a hefty parking fee, in cash - of which I didn’t have any. So, I chanced it, parking up and rushing to whatever cliff edge or waterfall this particular stopping point was promoting, taking some quick photos and skidaddling. A bit dishonest, but I tell myself (and you, too, you judgers) that I was quite willing to pay if they’d had a better system in place that took plastic or notes rather than exact change.

The same thing happened at Lake Superior Provincial Park, which was closed up when I arrived at 6pm and still closed when I left conveniently early at 8am, once again being unable to pay the ridiculously high camping fee (C$35 a night!! That’s more than a hostel charges!) . Still, I grabbed myself a spot along the deserted lake front, with a view of the setting sun, where I was able to organise the back of Flash Harriette and cook my first evening meal. No hiccups there…except that the fuel bottle of my Whisperlite stove decided to leak like a geriatrics bladder instead of carefully channelling the fuel to the burner. Luckily, it did this before ignition, but trying to fix fiddly little metal bits with very cold hands indeed was not easy. I was equal to the task however and got it plugged and fired up safely. Dinner was a snap, the sun set over the horizon (not sure where else I’d have expected it to set), and the back of Harriette was fixed up for sleeping. Nice. This was what it was all about!

Next day it was further on round Lake Superior, all the way to Thunder Bay – no, really, that’s its name. A bit ‘Hollywood B-movie’ for my tastes, but a nice enough little town. On the way there, I pulled in to check out another impressive vista, and as I pulled in to the car park I got my first taste of real live bears! A mother and her cub were scavenging around the bins, and my car startled them. The cub scrambled up the nearest tree (so fast that I instantly dropped “climbing a tree” from my list of bear evasion strategies) while the mother stood and stared down Flash Harriette. I got a quick photo before they shuffled off into the bushes, but it was a better sighting than I’d expected to get outside of a rubbish dump. Definitely a highlight of my two days so far. Still, I gotta say that I miss my bike. Its not as challenging, somehow…

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