Hello from kenora the forest capital of ...
Trip Start Jun 29, 1999
29Trip End Dec 04, 1999
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I'm going to start by apologizing to all those who I didn't get a chance to call or contact while I was in Toronto last week. Things were hectic enough as it was cleaning the mess I had made inside my car as well as preparing for what should be a far longer trip away from home. It was especially nice to visit my former workplace and watch the poor suckers hunch over their keyboards. I also enjoyed my couple of excellent Mexican meals at Sneaky Dee's. There isn't much in the way of Mexican cuisine east of Ottawa.
I spent a couple of days up at the cottage hanging out with my parents and doing some canoeing, hiking, and swimming and then I was off once again on my adventure.
Wednesday, August 4th
There are times when I become obsessed with the road and "making good time." I knew it was a long haul to Thunder Bay and I wasn't about to let anything stop me. I got up early and took off from my cottage towards Sudbury. I made pretty good time (3 hrs) but I knew the worst part was yet to come. The 300 km from Sudbury to Sault Ste. Marie is horrible. There isn't much to look at and there is a lot of traffic on the two-lane Hwy #17. There also seems to be a hundred little towns to drive through which also slows you down. Surprisingly I covered the distance in just under 3 hrs. Now I was stoked. My original plan was to "grin and bear" it during this part of the drive and then relax and enjoy the drive around Lake Superior which is nice scenic. Once I realized my great time I became obsessed with getting to Thunder Bay as quickly as possible. I only stopped twice - in Blind River and White River - for gas and I did all of my eating in the car. There are some things on this trip that you can enjoy from the comfort of your car. A fire whipped through the forest near White River and the resulting devastation was actually quite eerily pretty. The lakeside near Rossport is also quite scenic as is the driving near Nipigon and Red Rock. I made it to the camp (cottage) of Trish's parents just in time for a late dinner. I had covered 1286 km in just over 12.5 hours. I was a little dizzy when I got out of the car but I quickly recovered once I got some food and booze in me. You might think that such a long drive must be boring. If you have things to think about on the way it's not that bad. I remember spending a long time organizing a list of reasons why Sheryl Crow doing a cover of "Sweet Child O' Mine" was one of the worst things to ever happen. After dinner Trish's dad took us for a quick sunset tour around Squaw Bay and Black Bay in his boat. It was nice and relaxing except when Trish was driving. After a nice sauna and dip in the lake I slept well that evening.
Thursday, August 5th
The Pantry Camp is located quite close to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park about 45 km east of Thunder Bay. The Sleeping Giant is a mesa that resembles a man lying on his back. The local Ojibway Indians have a legend that it is the final resting place of one of their gods who perished when one of their tribe told the white man of the offshore silver mine. In the morning we did a quick tour of Silver Islet which is now a small summertime community that originated over a hundred years ago as a living place for the miners who worked in the silver mine. A couple of the original log homes still stand. Then we headed into the park for some hiking. We hiked 10km to the base of the Sleeping Giant. Then came the hard part. The previous evening Trish's dad had described the climb to the top as a half kilometre hike. It's a little more complicated than that. It's half a kilometre of climbing up a giant pile of rocks on your hands and knees. It was a long, hot climb but the resulting view at the top made it worth the effort. I found the climb down much easier than everybody else (I think I was the only person to go down faster than come up). Just as we started off on our return 10km hike the skies opened and it fucking poured all the way back. When we got back I had one of the best showers of my life.
Friday, August 6th
After the supreme hiking effort of the previous day I decided that today would be Lazy Day. It helped that every muscle in my body was sore. After a nice morning of reading in the sun, Trish and I headed out to Ouimet Canyon. This 400 foot chasm is cool enough at the bottom to support arctic wildlife. The view from the top (which you can drive to) is fantastic. On the way back to camp we stopped at a local Amethyst mine. Amethyst is the official gemstone of Ontario and the deposit in this area is one of the largest in the world. Trish displayed what kind of thrifty shopper she can be. After I had walked through the rock fields and selected a fine example of amethyst to purchase (1.5 pound rock for $3) she went out into the parking lot and found a great chunk of almost pure crystal for free. The rest of the afternoon was spent on the deck enjoying many drinks. Another sauna and swim in Superior after our delicious steak dinner was enough to put me down for the count.
Saturday, August 7th
Trish and Skip headed back to civilization (i.e. Toronto) early this morning. I slept in and had a light breakfast before heading into Thunder Bay. I stopped at Terry Fox Lookout which is a monument just outside of town where he had to give up his Marathon of Hope. I had been here two years ago and the view is great but on this day the mist prevented anyone from seeing much. I then headed through town and on to Kakabeka Falls. These falls on the Kaministiquia River drop 129 feet making them the second highest falls in Ontario. By this time the sky was starting to clear. I headed back eastward and made it to Old Fort William. This fort is a replication of the fur trading post that was operated in the area by the NorthWest Company in the late 1700's and early 1800's. The fort is populated with many actors and students who are excellent. The visitor must converse as if they were in 1815. Thus I had come from York and not Toronto. It was a very fun afternoon. Then I headed into downtown Thunder Bay. The population of northwestern Ontario has many descendents of Finnish settlers. Along Bay Street in Thunder Bay you can find a small Finnish business area. I went into the Hoito restaurant which was excellent. For $9.03 (tax included) I had a bowl of beef noodle soup, two slices of bread, mashed potatoes with gravy, cooked vegetables, a tossed salad, a Pepsi, three fried Finnish sausages and a piece of pumpkin pie with ice cream. What a great meal! The Hoito opened in 1918 as kind of a co-operative for the Finnish bushworkers. The decor of the place probably hasn't changed since the late 1960's which adds to the charm. When the waitress placed the meal on the table she dropped this strange blue and yellow metal tube on the table. All the printing on it was in Finnish so I had no idea what it was. I guessed it was something for my sausages so I applied some. Finnish mustard is very sweet and very strong. It's not for people with finicky tastes. I spent the night at Trish's parents' place in Thunder Bay. They were kind enough to lend me a key and let me make myself at home. I wish to thank Doug & Ruth Pantry for their excellent hospitality. Of course I have to thank Trish and her sister Suzanne as well and Skip for supplying the cider.
Sunday, August 8th
I took my time awaking this morning as I was is no rush after the past two weeks of relative comfort. When I finally got my ass out the door I headed west along Hwy #11. I didn't do this for any real reason other than to see "the end" of Yonge Street. The drive wasn't to exciting and I daydreamed most of the afternoon (mainly thinking of new songs for everybody's favourite death metal band Morbid Head. How does "Washroom for the Criminally Insane" sound?). I stopped in at Atikokan - The Canoe Capital of Canada. Like a lot of small towns they needlessly planned their main street for the future. It seemed a mile wide. On a lonely Sunday afternoon it made the town feel very desolate. I moved on to Fort Frances. The drive into Fort Frances is kind of nice and the town gave me a kick since every business had the word "fort" in it. My two favourite were Fort Dance Studio and Fort Duty Free. After Fort Frances the Canadian Shield gives way to a flat marshland caused by the rivers. It's kind of a neutral zone between the rocky forest and the prairies. Rainy River is a nice little town that seemed just as empty as Atikokan did. It's here at the Minnesota border where Yonge Street, the world's longest street, comes to an end with very little fanfare. On my way to the campground I passed two 80 year old ladies cruising down a barely paved road in their scooters. They both had pink bonnets clamped tightly to their heads and they seemed hell bent for leather. they gave me a sweet smile and wave as I passed them. I camped at a campground right on the Rainy River and read "Canoeing with the Cree" which is Eric Severeid's account of canoeing from Minneapolis to York Factory (2,250 miles) during the summer of 1930 when he was 17 years old. Although it had been a couple weeks since I had last slept on the ground my body didn't notice.
Monday, August 9th
On my way in to the campground the previous evening I failed to notice that on one of the farms neighbouring the camp buffaloes were being raised. They are impressively large beasts. I backtracked back up Hwy #11 to the cutoff for Hwy #71 north. It poured for most of the drive into Kenora which ruined some of the great views of The Lake Of The Woods, especially near Sioux Narrows.
I probably won't make it all the way to Winnipeg today. I'll camp just short of it and spend all day Tuesday seeing the city. I'm considering taking the train up to Churchill for a couple of days but that will depend on the price and where I can leave my car.
Bradley T Hughes