It was the end of summer 2014 and as I helped my post-secondary children get organized to move back to their university towns for the Fall Semester, I decided it was time for an adventure of my own. My adventure would serve two purposes: Keep my mind off the soon-to-be empty house and take some time to think about what to do with my life.
The next stage of life was coming fast and in less than a year my little birds who weren’t so little anymore, were going to fly the nest for good. A road trip across Canada felt like the perfect opportunity to gather the courage to navigate my way through a major change in my life. If I could face the fear of camping and travelling alone surely I could adapt to living alone after 22 years of being a Mom.
The incentive for overcoming the risks of a solo road trip was the promise to knock a few items off my bucket list: Photograph the grain elevators of the Prairies, visit my Father’s birthplace in Saskatchewan, camp under the stars in Banff, whale watch in Campbell River and body surf in the Pacific Ocean from the beaches in Tofino, to name a few.
Join me over the next 20 weeks as I share some of the highways and bi-ways of the beautiful country we Canadians call home. I’ll also share photographs, personal anecdotes, inspirational quotes, and favourite songs so you can ride shotgun on an 11,000 kilometre cross Canada adventure on 4 wheels.
The morning of departure. My living room, Barrie, Ontario, September 3, 2014
It was sunny and warm on the day of my departure and I packed my new Chevrolet Cruze full of clothes and enough camping gear to last a month: A brand new portable burner for cooking (still in the box) along with half a dozen propane cylinders, a borrowed tent and tarp, bungee cords, tools, utensils, blankets, lawn chair, coolers full of food and water, and a canister full of bear spray. By the time I hit the highway in Barrie it was already 10am, so I didn’t stop for a much needed extra large cup of coffee until I reached Parry Sound. From there I drove past Shawanaga First Nation, alongside the Magnetawan River and through the popular summer cottage area of Pointe au Baril while I marvelled at the beauty of my home Province. Ontario is so enormous it hosts 40% of Canada’s population and contains 2 separate time zones.
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The next stop was French River Provincial Park (2 hours and 225km from Barrie), a beautiful rest spot with information about the historic trade route of First Nations and early Canadian trappers and fur traders. I decided to stretch my legs along the easy-to-access visitor trail and peeked over the cliff’s edge at the breathtaking gorge below. It didn’t take long to get sidetracked by the 3km trail marker for Recollet Falls. You know how some people have to stop at every museum or tourist attraction while on holiday? I’m like that with hiking trails, and this one was worth the detour.
I was a bit behind schedule despite having an itinerary planned out to the nth degree, so it was along the banks of the French River that I decided not to allow the clock to dictate the next three weeks. No doubt there would be days to take detours and other days to haul donkey, so go with the flow became my new modus operandi.
The sign for the City of Greater Sudbury appeared an hour or so later and although the beautiful rugged landscape beckoned to be explored, I chose the by-pass route and drove through to Blind River instead. The North Channel of Lake Huron had the best view I’d ever seen from a coffee shop’s parking lot and as I leaned up against my car sipping on yet another extra large coffee, I began to feel the stress of working to deadlines and meeting endless responsibilities begin to evaporate.
After a relatively uneventful leg of Highway 17 West between Sudbury and downtown Sault Ste. Marie at rush-hour, the splendour of Algoma Country began to rise from the horizon in the form of canyons, rugged cliffs and an emerging view of two of Canada’s Great Lakes. I was headed towards my first overnight stop at Agawa Bay Campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park, and although I didn’t have a reservation I was hoping to arrive early enough to snag a beachfront campsite.
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By the time I arrived at the campground (726km later) the park office was closed, I missed getting access to bundled firewood and the sun was setting. Not to be deterred, I drove around the campground to hunt for the perfect beach spot to set up camp. After a few laps down a one way street with RV occupied beach sites as far as the eye could see, I settled on a vacant site one row up from the waterfront so I wouldn’t waste any more time driving around. Once out of the car I could see the brilliant colours of the sky from behind a row of trees that stood between myself and the shoreline of Lake Superior. As perfect as my first patch of dirt was, I realized I had to make an important decision immediately. Do I put up the tent in what little daylight was left or do I grab the camera, an iced cold beverage and head to the beach instead? The camera and beverage won, so off I went to greet the waves, the sand, and the first sunset of my road trip with a coffee cup full of bubbles. Besides, I could always sleep in the car if I couldn’t see well enough to put up the tent in the dark. It was the first week of September and it was still 23 degrees at almost 9:00pm, so at least I wouldn’t freeze.
After taking in the magnificent view I walked the short distance back to my campsite and just stood there. I wasn’t scared or overwhelmed, but I did feel odd. Odd in the sense that everything I needed was somewhere over there, in my car, in the dark, and all I had to do was figure out which bag held which valuable piece of equipment to satisfy my hunger and my growing exhaustion.
I managed to erect the tent by the light of my lantern and I settled on a dinner consisting of a bag of carrots and a few warm yogurts I retrieved from the bottom of my backpack. I had no idea which box had the soup and can opener or which bin held the peanut butter and bread, so I made a mental note to label everything the next time I embarked on such an adventure. I managed to gather enough deadwood to build a small campfire, wrote in my journal about the day’s events by flashlight, and decided to sleep in my clothes because I was far too tired to try and guess which of the 6 duffle bags contained my pyjamas.
But where was the nearest washroom? Not that I am above using the woods if need be, but surely there was a washroom close-by. I had forgotten to scout out the nearest facility from the excitement of the sunset followed by the necessity of building my shelter. You can imagine the thrill of discovering a tandem outhouse with a sink and cold running water just a short distance from my campsite. After a quick wash I crawled into my tent with flashlight in hand and car keys around my neck. (The car keys stayed around my neck whenever they weren’t in the ignition in case I had to run for cover in the event a bear decided to invade my personal space). And so, I settled onto the thinner-than-I-thought sleeping pad, pulled the sleeping bag over my head and tucked the can of bear spray under my pillow. I was in bear country, after all.
I didn’t sleep much. It’s amazing how the sound of a mouse chewing on a seed on the other side of the tent can seem daunting in the dark of night. I tossed and turned at every sound, every hoot, and every crack of a branch that was surely breaking under the weight of an approaching bear. After obsessing about bears and bugs and bumps in the night for a few hours, I was finally lulled to sleep by the sound of the not-so-distant waves lapping at the pebbled shore.
The glow of the next morning’s sunrise gave me the excuse to say goodbye to the confines of the tent and hello to the beach for an early morning walk. Although I was tired, I was proud of myself for not sleeping in the car.?? My first camp breakfast consisting of a pot of freshly brewed coffee and a bowl of hot oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts was an accomplishment. It wasn’t fancy but it was enough to satisfy my hunger from the night before and I had figured out how to work a propane cylinder with the camp burner stove. In between bites I began to take down the tent and repack the car until I caught this little guy helping himself every time I turned my back.
It’s amazing what a change of clothes and a bar of soap can do for you after a long night of little sleep. Although the smell of the outhouse permeated every fibre of my nostrils, I was happy to feel refreshed and ready to greet day two of my adventure. ?I was feeling quite accomplished until I saw a group of campers walk past my site with shower kits in hand and towels draped over their necks. When I asked if there were showers out there somewhere, they pointed and informed me there were really nice facilities just up the road a bit. You can imagine my sarcastic excitement. Excellent. Showers and flush toilets. Note to self: Check the park map before celebrating the discovery of an outhouse.
The highlight of Agawa Bay, besides the spectacular beach sunset, was a brief conversation I had with a woman whom I met while walking the beach at sunrise. She was a newly retired school teacher from England and had waited her whole life to visit Canada. After sharing my plan to drive to the furthest, most westerly shore in Canada, another 5000 kilometres give or take, she looked concerned and asked, “Are you driving all alone, to the Pacific Ocean and back?” When I confirmed that I was alone, and indeed I would be driving to the far side of Vancouver Island and back, she squealed with delight and said, “How marvellous!”, and then she hugged me.
Stay tuned. We will be posting a new instalment of this amazing cross Canada road trip every friday.
Next stop: Day 2/20 – Wawa to Thunder Bay, Ontario
Stay tuned every friday for the next installment of The Great Canadian Road Trip