In case you would like to read about this "epic road trip," here are the e-mails we sent to family and friends from the field:



July 6, 2007

Hi everybody!
Em and I are now at the halfway point in our trek across the top of Lake Superior, to the Thunder Bay area.  For those of you not familiar with our itinerary, we are currently travelling 4-5 hours every other day (the only sane way I can make this trip, as the only adult to drive and set up/break camp).  Once we reach the Thunder Bay area, we will be staying at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park for four nights, Quetico for five nights, Kakabeka Falls for four nights and then Pukaskwa National Park for five nights.  (Our friend Jane, from Minneapolis, will be joining us at Kakabeka Falls... and we couldn't be more excited about that!)
Our first stop, en route from Orillia to Thunder Bay, was at Chutes Provincial Park, a 4 1/2 hour drive north-west of Orillia.  Our rest day there was the first full day of R & R I have had since April 4th.  What culture shock!  The day seemed incredibly long, without a list a mile long of chores and work-related tasks to do, but it was a wonderful day of transition away from the extreme fatigue and insanity of the school year, a university course and a consulting project.  (I have no regrets about taking all that on at once... but I won't do that again!  :-)  )  Em's favourite part of the Chutes experience was the big, booming waterfall; mine was waking up in the middle of the night and being lulled back to sleep by the pitter-patter of rain on the tent fly on our first night of camping this year.
Yesterday, we made the 4 hour drive from Chutes to Lake Superior Provincial Park, with a nice lunch-hour stopover at the gift shops at Pancake Bay.  En route, we were treated to an amazing view of two Sandhill Cranes in flight, as they sailed westward, parallel to the highway.  We also saw a cormorant and a pair of loons, on the water, once we entered Lake Superior Park.  Despite a bit of highway noise, our campsite at Agawa Bay is paradise!  We are camped 50' from from the beach, and 150' from the water's edge.  We can actually lay in bed and gaze out on the majesty of Lake Superior!  WOW!
Here is a reflection I wrote last evening, as I sat in a lawn chair, with the dogs snoozing at my feet, watching Em playing in the sand. (BTW, I thought Casey would be the first to swim in Superior, but Em actually beat her... she fell in face-first, last evening while looking into the water... very funny!)
On the Beach at Agawa Bay: July 5, 2007, 7:20 p.m.
Tri-colour bands stretch across the horizon: 
   powder blue, navy blue, beige;
   air, water, earth.
Fire gleams off a column of the liquid expanse:
   a million sparkling diamonds dancing to and fro.
Superior is placid this evening... at rest;
   her gentle waves are a balm for my soul,
   beckoning me to join her in her restful state.
I am in paradise... Shangri La...
Life simply does NOT get any better than this.
One of the very best things about living with only a thin piece of nylon separating your bed from the sky is the access it provides to the scents, sounds and movements of Mother Nature.  Last night, Superior offered up what I came here to experience: a nocturnal feast of sound...
Awake in Bed:  July 6, 2007, 2 a.m.
"The Inland Sea" awakens and coaxes me out of my slumber to listen to her song;
   a song as ancient as the rocks she renders to pebbles, pebbles to sand, sand to silt,
   with the relentless pounding of her great waves.
The waves crash upon the shore just yards from where I lay;
   rhythmic, soothing, ebbing, flowing;
   and my cares ebb away, with each successive wave.
Soon, the waves that awakened my consciousness will rock me back to sleep;
   my heart and soul at rest and at peace... at last.
Tomorrow, we travel through Wawa and then we continue west into what is, for us, entirely new territory.  Superior will be our travelling companion from here on in... always off to the left, whenever the highway approaches the shore... then she will accompany us back toward Orillia, off the the right, on our return trip.  This is why we're here... to experience, for the third time in three years, the majesty of the greatest of the Great Lakes... the world's largest freshwater lake... and the other elements of nature that cling to her shoreline...
Have a great day!
Margaret, Emily, Casey and Scratchers



July 14, 2007


Since I last wrote, eight days ago, we have camped in three more parks...

(on the north shore of Superior)

Here, it was cool, breezy and it rained occasionally.  Great weather for hiking and for leaving the dogs in the car while touring the park nature centre.  I took Em to a really great kids' presentation on moths and butterflies.  They had costumes of both, to show the differences (Em got to be the volunteer butterfly), games, crafts, etc... in all, a one hour fun-filled presentation.  At Neys, we saw a mother Ruffed Grouse and her six babies strolling through the campground.  We also saw a fox and a pair of loons.  Our site was adjacent to the water and beach, and we were able to take the dogs for a long stroll along the sandy shoreline.  There is an island in the bay that was immortalized by A.J. Casson and, despite what many think, his artistic renderings of the Superior area were NOT that stylized... the landscape itself looks stylized, in places, often to the point of being cartoonish.  The big story here was the big, booming nocturnal thunder, which was not really on top of us, but was impressive nonetheless.

The deep percussion of nature's symphony dominates the soundscape.
Thunder roars, rolls and reverberates...
Amplified tenfold, one hundred-fold off the craggy cliffs that form the margins of the bay.
Echoes of antiquity, of majesty, of awe...

(out on a peninsula in Superior, one hour west of Thunder Bay)

Again, the weather was cool, windy and we had rain part of every day or night.  This didn't really interfere with our activities, as it made for comfortable hiking.  This place is a hiker's paradise... but would be best experienced with an older child and younger dogs, as some of the trails are quite challenging and lengthy.  While here, we hiked several trails and drove to an absolutely breathtaking lookout, over Thunder Bay.  The observation platform actually extends out into thin air from the top of a cliff face... not the place for anyone afraid of heights, but we enjoyed the rush!  :-)  While at Sleeping Giant, we attended two evening presentations about birds.  The second was by a naturalist from the Cape Thunder Bird Observatory, at the end of the peninsula.  This small facility bands over 3,000 birds during spring migration and over 5,000 in the fall, making it the third or fourth busiest tagging/observation post in Canada!  The slide presentation the man brought to show us featured pictures of an amazing array of species, large and small, that have been captured and tagged at the cape.  Amazing to see someone holding a Pileated Woodpecker, or a tiny Black Capped Chickadee, just before release... BTW... apparently, these are two of the most "dangerous" birds to tag... the woodpecker (obviously) because of his dangerous bill... the chickadee because he fights the process like crazy... biting and pecking at the person trying to do the work... apparently, one of the feistiest little guys around!!  While at Sleeping Giant, we saw an unprecedented number of wild animals... a porcupine and a snapping turtle crossing the road leading to the campground, a merganser baby-sitting about 40 (yes, forty!!!) tiny babies, swimming in the water just off our camp, also two mother mallard's with little guys, a pair of loons, off camp... and several grouse, on back roads and... get this: TEN deer!!!  Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera with me for the two sightings in the campground (wasn't expecting to see deer walking on the road on the way to the laundry facility) and the eight we encountered on the road leading to camp were shy, so I only managed to photograph the tail ends of two... the rest eluded capture on film.  Our campsite was in an absolutely outstanding location, on a point, right on the water.  One only minor glitch was that there was little protection from the elements... and the big story here was the WIND!

The landscape exhales:  in cool steady breaths, undulating breezes and then startling gusts!
We snuggle into our sleeping bags, protected from the onslaught in our little, nylon cocoon.
Our tend takes a beating, overnight, as it braces against the wind.
All through the night, I have visions of Kansas... of Oz...
But when we awaken, we are still where we fell into slumber,
And the wind is but a memory.

QUETICO  (5 nights... last night was our first here)
(2 1/2 hours west of Thunder Bay)

Yesterday, we had to set up camp in the rain for the first time (we have yet to pack up in the rain), and today is cool and rain is threatening, but we feel incredibly happy to be here.  This is one of the parks I have wanted to visit since I was in High School.  This morning, I took Em to a kids program on insects; tomorrow they are featuring one on mammals.  Then, we drove to the town of Atikokan to pick up supplies.  (I am writing from an internet cafe in Atikokan).  Our site is outstanding... once again... it really pays to do your homework and book five months early!  From camp, we can walk a short path to our own private beach, with a panoramic view of French Lake... absolutely awesome!!  At all four of the five places we have camped, thus far, we have been on or near lakes (Chutes being the exception, where we were within earshot of a big, booming waterfall)... and every night we camped near lakes we have been serenaded by loons.  This has reminded me of a poem I wrote about 12-15 years ago, in Algonquin.  I actually still remember it by heart:

Striking plumage: coal and snow.
Crimson eye: a fiery glow.
Plaintive wails and gleeful raves.
Wizardry beneath the waves.
Untamed heart, so wild and free...
Spirit of the North.

Four more nights here.  Then, we head back toward Thunder Bay... where we are very excited about meeting up with our friend Jane, from Minneapolis, for some camping at Kakabeka Falls! 

M, Em, Casey and Scratchers


July 22, 2007

Hi again!
We are at a roadside cafe/store, on Highway 17, about halfway between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie.  Today, we are travelling from Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, just west of T-Bay, to Pukaskwa National Park, on the north shore of Lake Superior, near Marathon, Ontario. 
Since we last wrote, from Atikokan, we spent several more days camping at Quetico Provincial Park.  The cool weather, combined with daily afternoon/evening rain storms continued throughout this period.  The ground in the campsite was so saturated with water that any additional downpour resulted in the formation of a temporary moat around our tent and a temporary river flowing through our screen dining tent.  In addition, the mosquitoes and deerflies at Quetico were fierce this year (in stark contrast to last year, when there were near-drought conditions and virtually no biting insects).  The bug-scenario reminded me a bit of the Yukon, although the Yukon bugs were at least ten times as intense.  The vegetation at Quetico also reminded me a bit of the Yukon... lots of scruffy Black Spruce trees and northern lichens.  We worked around the bugs and rain for several days, and then decided to head back to the Thunder Bay area a day early... which put us there a day before our friend Jane was scheduled to drive up from Minneapolis, to camp with us at Kakabeka Falls.
We had been looking forward to meeting up with Jane and her dog, Roscoe, for five months... and their visit was every bit as wonderful as we had hoped it would be.  Jane arrived to find a "Welcome to Canada..." banner strung across our campsite driveway and a campsite already set up and waiting for her arrival.  Our site was absolutely perfect!  It had its own private driveway, was completely secluded from other campsites and was in walking distance of the falls and other hiking trails.  We walked to the falls several times with Jane and the dogs.  The falls were absolutely booming, when we first arrived, because Hydro was releasing vast amounts of rainfall, in order to lower the lake levels upstream. 
We had our traditional evening rainstorm the first night, but Jane, Roscoe and I managed to brave the elements in the screen shelter, which has rain flaps... staying up chatting until 1 a.m. despite the storm that was ongoing all around us (Em, Casey and Scratch turned in much earlier).  Despite the rain, Kakabeka had virtually no biting insects, like most of the places where we have camped this summer. 
On our first full day with Jane, our wacky family of three dogs and three people took a road trip together, in Jane's car (Em in the back seat with the two big dogs; Jane and I in the front with Scratch).  We drove to Ouimet Canyon, about an hour from camp, hiked the trails there and enjoyed the amazing views, drove a few kilometres to Eagle Canyon, and walked the longest Suspension Bridge in Canada... more amazing scenery and a really neat experience.  Then we drove to the Panorama Amethyst mine (largest Amethyst operation in North America), did a little mining of our own, drove to the Terry Fox Memorial to pay our respects, and then returned to camp... a full and eventful day trip outing. 
On Jane's second full day with us, she and Em took off on a morning hike. Jane thought she was doing me a big favour by giving me time to rest and relax, without the responsibility of caring for Em but, little did she know, I was actually setting up camp for a surprise birthday party for HER, the entire time she was gone... a banner, balloons, pink flamingos and presents.  The rest of the day we partied.  Jane opened gifts we had brought from Orillia, we shared some champagne, ate blueberry pie and relaxed in camp.  For supper, we went into the town of Kakabeka Falls for tiger tail ice cream cones (something that is a cottage-country staple, in Canada, but which Jane had never tried.) 
On our third full day with Jane, we spent a lot of time relaxing and playing games in camp.  Then, she took us out for supper, in Thunder Bay... to Em's favorite place, and a place Jane had never been before... Boston Pizza... which is actually a Canadian restaurant chain. 
This morning, Jane departed for home and we departed for the seventh park on our tour, amidst hugs and tears (mostly Em's and my tears).  We had SUCH a great time with Jane.
We have about another 45 minute drive from here to Pukaskwa.  We will be there either four or five nights.  Then we return to familiar territory... to Pancake Bay... a place we have visited both of the last two summers.
M, Em, C and S.


July 27, 2007

Hi again!
We arrived in Pancake Bay, one hour north-west of Sault Ste. Marie, yesterday.  Today is a rain day, so we are catching up on e-mail and Christmas shopping at the local wood carver and native handcrafts stores.
Pukaskwa National Park (where we stayed four four nights before coming here) deserves its own e-mail.  The park came into being in 1983.  What an amazing place!  We thoroughly enjoyed our time there.  Outstanding scenery, a small, secluded campground, daily interpretive programs with lots of First Nations content and an interpretive staff comprised of middle-aged members of the local Pic River Ojibway community who know the land better than anyone else.  (By contrast, most of the provincial parks hire students from distant universities to lead their interpretive programs).  While at Pukaskwa, we participated in four interpretive events:  two First Nations get-togethers in a native camp adjacent to the Visitor Centre (a storytelling event and a bannock and tea social), plus a guided-hike through a dune complex at the mouth of the Pic River and a slide show and interactive presentation, about Lake Superior and efforts to conserve it, at the Visitor Centre.  We also got to know some other campers, including a couple from Uxbridge with a dog, that we kept bumping into on our day trip to Ouimet Canyon and etc. in the Thunder Bay area, a couple from Toronto and a young Micmac woman from The Soo, and her female friend from California who has an aboriginal heritage, both of whom were on a quest to get in touch with their spiritual roots.  We actually spent an evening with them, over a campfire, chatting and learning about their cultural heritage and customs.  We also met a local Ojibway elder and his wife, on the beach.  He taught Em the Ojibway word for frog, which is "mokie."  We will definitely return to Pukaskwa again, in the future... probably when Em is old enough to handle some of the more challenging hikes that this park offers.
This is the third year in a row we have spent time camping at Pancake Bay, which is famous for its 7 km long gorgeous white-sand beach.  We have a nice site, near the section of beach that is designated for dogs to swim off-lead.  Last night, we walked down to the beach and I threw Em into Lake Superior and then joined her for a swim.  Casey also joined us... Scratch just waded because the waves were too big and intimidating for her.  Tomorrow, the weather is supposed to be 27C and sunny, so it looks like it will be a lazy beach day for us!  :-)
Here are some reflections from our last three parks:
Juvenile Bald Eagle
Soaring high on the breezes
Gliding over the shimmering lake
Watchful, seeking, searching
Diving, hurtling downward
Splashing though the margin between air and water
But alas, a meal eludes him
Perhaps next time...
Kakabeka Falls:
Cascading White
Rushing, foaming, boiling white water
Falling, cascading down, down, down toward the canyon floor
Crashing, spraying high into the air
The illusion of a sun-shower; a rainbow
Kakabeka Falls after the rains...
Sacred Land
Endless lake
Craggy, windswept shoreline
White sand beaches
Volcanic rock, sculpted smooth by pounding waves
Towering spruce and tiny lichens and mosses
Peregrines, Bears, Caribou, Trout
Ojibway homeland, since the beginning of time
We are at Pancake Bay until Tuesday.  Then we have a two night stopover at Chutes (Massey, Ontario) en route to home.  We will be home next Thursday, after an amazing 31-day camping road trip.
We are already plotting out next summer... 
A trip to James Bay, via the Polar Bear Express, with camping stops en route to the train in Temagami (to hike in the White Bear Forest, Old Growth White Pine complex), Timmins (to tour the gold mine), and Cochrane (to visit the Polar Bear habitat and "swim with the Polar Bears"... in a special pool divided in two by a glass wall).  Estimated length of trip:  14 days
M, Em, C and S



August 3, 2007

We are home again, after a wonderful 30-day camping road trip to the Thunder Bay area and back. 
Our last extended stop was in one of our favourite "leisure places"... Pancake Bay, an hour north-west of Sault Ste. Marie:  We stayed there for five nights.  On our first full day at the park it rained all morning.  Then a high pressure ridge set in and we experienced perfect "beach weather" throughout the rest of our stay (sunny or partly cloudy and hot).  I wrote my most recent trip report on that rainy morning.  When Em and I exited the store that offers internet access I heard someone calling my name, across the parking lot.  It was Aaron, the woman from The Soo, that we had met at our last park (Puskaskwa).  After we had parted company with she and her friend Katherine (the woman from California) had headed north-west to the Thunder Bay area and we had headed south-east to Pancake Bay.  That day, they were just passing through Pancake Bay en route to Aaron's home in The Soo.  They had stopped to gas-up and buy some souvenirs for Katherine to take home to California, when Aaron spotted me coming out of the store.  We had a nice visit and lunch with them and then we headed back to camp and they continued on toward Sault Ste. Marie.  Before they left, they said they might come back to Pancake Bay to visit with us within the next few days.  In the interim, Em and I spent a few days attending morning and evening presentations at the park and lounging on the beach in all afternoon.  We attended a story and song session for kids, a really informative and interactive presentation on what to do if you ever get lost in the woods, a three-hour acrylic painting class, a power point presentation on bats and a National Film Board movie about a year in the life of a painted turtle.  Great stuff!  At the beach we all swam, Em played with other kids, flew her kite and built lots of sand structures; I did lots of reading (Barbara Kingsolver novels).  Total beach-bum R and R!  :-)  On our last full day at Pancake Bay, Aaron and Katherine found us at the beach in the afternoon.  At suppertime, I walked back to camp and assembled an impromptu picnic supper for everyone, and took it back to the beach.  We dined on cheese and crackers, grapes and Koolaid, then headed back to camp, for a bonfire and some more food.  Later, we all went to the store for ice cream, and then Aaron and Katherine drove back to The Soo.
On the 31st, we packed up camp and headed toward our last camping location, Chutes Provincial Park on Highway 17 at Massey, Ontario... a brief stopover between The Soo and home.  We had a "car problem" en route that needed to be addressed ASAP (see "challenges" below), and so we elected to just stay one night at Chutes, instead of two.
Favourite park we have visited before
1. Pancake Bay (8 hours from home) wins, hands-down!
Favourite parks that were new to us this year
1. Pukaskwa (12 hours from home)
2. Sleeping Giant (15 hours from home)
...amazing places we will visit again when Em is older and can handle some really challenging hikes
Favourite new experiences:
1.  Meeting our friend Jane, who drove up from Minneapolis to camp with us at Kakabeka Falls!
2.  Walking across Ontario's and Canada's longest suspension bridges, at Eagle Canyon, near Thunder Bay
3.  Seeing Kakabeka Falls, with four times the regular amount of water flowing over it, due to recent rainfall
4.  The Terry Fox statue outside Thunder Bay
5.  The acrylic painting class Em and I took at Pancake Bay
Best pieces of equipment
1.  Our little Hyundai Accent, that transported us 3,800 kms, carried a ton of gear for a month and kept us safe from harm
2.  Our "4-man" Eureka El Capitan tent, that withstood damaging winds at Sleeping Giant (thanks to its Advantec E aircraft-grade aluminum poles and ripstop nylon fly) and practically walked on water in Quetico (thanks to its amazing "Stormguard" waterproofing)
Biggest challenges:
1.  Day 4, 7 p.m.:  Someone stole the roof bag off our car, while we were parked at the Lake Superior Park Visitor Centre.  It was broad daylight, the dogs were in the car at the time, and we were only in the Visitor Centre for about 20 minutes.  The thieves made off with our screen tent, all of our clothes, our double lawn chair, Em's life jacket, a spare pair of summer-weight sleeping bags (for layering on colder nights) and my prescription migraine meds. (NOT labeled with our name/address).  Park staff and the OPP officer who drove an hour from Wawa to take our statement were wonderfully supportive.  All assured us that this was an extremely rare type of event (we knew that... in 30 years of camping, we've never had anything stolen before!)  We were able to replace the roof bag and camping gear the following day, at the Wawa Canadian Tire store.  We replaced our clothes in Wawa, Marathon and Thunder Bay.  Em thought the shopping for new clothes part was great!   :-)
2.  Day 29, 2 p.m.:  We were almost involved in a head-on collision with another car.  We were driving eastbound on Highway 17, on a two-lane section of highway just east of Blind River, when a westbound car crossed the centre line and headed straight toward our vehicle.  I quickly veered onto the soft shoulder, in an attempt to get our to harm's way.  As the vehicle passed, our driver-side mirrors collided.  My mirror was driven backward with such force that it caused my driver-side window to explode inward, showering the dogs, Em and I with bits of safety glass.  I sustained minor cuts; everyone else in my vehicle was fine.  The impact woke the other driver up (he had fallen asleep at the wheel), and he was able to bring his vehicle under control, although he almost hit two other eastbound vehicles, in the process.  The other car only sustained a broken side mirror, because the driver had his window all the way down.  The other driver was unharmed.  People from Calgary, in the van behind us, stopped to offer assistance.  The woman wrote out all the insurance information for me and for the driver of the other car (an eighty year old man who had been on the road attempting to drive 10-12 hours in one day) and provided a cell phone number where she and her husband could be reached as witnesses.  The lady's husband located the nearest OPP station for us, on a road map, and then we decided that the other driver and I should head to Blind River to report the incident.  The police and support staff at Blind River kept Em busy, while I was interviewed about the incident.  Em was given a grand tour of the station, including the jail area, and was treated to a popsicle and a new teddy bear.  When the dogs and I located her, after my interview with the officer who filed the report, Em was shooting baskets with the Staff Sergeant (they were taking turns lobbing paper balls into the recycling bin in the main office).  In the end, the other driver was charged, so I was able to put the damage through insurance without a deductible or any sort of penalty (his insurance company has to pay for my damages).  As usual, the people at my local Orillia garage are taking excellent care of us. Yesterday, they phoned around for several quotes, on my behalf, and to find a source that could provide a new window prior to the long weekend.  I owe them big-time, for that!  :-)  The window and mirror are being replaced at noon today.  
From Tuesday through Saturday, Em and I will be off on our annual camping trip with my friend Louise and her son Christopher.  Our friend Laurie will be driving up from Toronto to visit with us at camp one of those days.  This year we will be staying at Silent Lake Provincial Park, near Bancroft (which will be new to us), so we can visit nearby Petroglyphs Provincial Park (a day-use-only facility... also be new to us).  Petroglyphs boasts one of Canada's largest collections of native rock carvings.  We are really looking forward to seeing our friends and the petroglyphs!
Margaret, Emily, Casey and Scratchers

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