Homeward Bound

A room next to the highway makes for an unpleasant sleeping experience. On the flip side, it does mean we’re up and moving at an early hour. I’m feeling mixed about our final day. On the one hand, I’m anxious to see our pets and dive into my gardening that is getting a late start due to our vacation. On the other, the thought of returning to the daily grind and all that comes with it seems jarring compared the quiet days of reflection, contemplation and enjoyment we’re experiencing.

Our final day involves driving from Thunder Bay to Iron River. Along the way, three stops. The first is Kakabeka Falls. Steve rolls his eyes at the thought of another waterfall. This one does not disappoint, though. The falls drops about 130 feet, giving it the nickname “the Niagara of the North.”

 

We follow-up this stop with a very Wisconsinite thing—we visit Ontario’s only gouda farm. Thunder Oak Farm features more than a dozen types of gouda; many of which we taste test after watching a brief video and seeing some of the cheese making in action. The cheese curds are particularly delish. At less than 24 hours old, the expected squeak in our mouth is refreshing and fun. We do not leave Thunder Oak Farm empty handed. From here, we make our way to the border. Once again, we experience an unexpectedly and welcomingly easy crossing of the border.

Within minutes, we are parking at Grand Portage State Park. Steve and I have traveled the North Shore countless times. But, none of our journeys “up north” have made it to the high falls at Grand Portage State Park. The high falls, which are located on the Pigeon River and plummet about 120 feet, are the largest in Minnesota. We spend a few minutes watching the river cascade over the rocky canyon and make its way towards Lake Superior. As a kid, I spent a lot of time in school learning about the countless streams that have carved their way through layers of rock to find their way home to Gitchee Gummee. Today, watching the river in action, it helps me realize why I’m so strongly drawn to this region and why I’ll always consider the Lake Superior Basin my home. The clock is ticking. Steve is getting anxious. It is time. Stealing a kiss by the falls and snapping some final waterfall shots, I realize this is the perfect high note to end our trip around the big lake.

Site 23

The sun says it is early afternoon but our bodies are exhausted. The drive tired us and now we sit at a vast empty site with a lot of gear to set-up. “At least the weather is cooperating,” I explain to my husband. Looking at the bright blue lake and clear blue skies, even he can’t be grumpy right now. “I guess this won’t be so bad,” he says. Perhaps he spoke too soon.

It turns out my backpacking tent is smaller than I remember. This is itself is not an issue, unless of course you’ve packed a queen size air mattress to sleep on. My husband glances at the brand new box and says, “um, did you notice you need a plug-in to blow this mattress up?” Oops. This is going to be a problem. Before panic sets in I realize we’re at a campground with electrical sites, so somehow we’ll figure that part out. This still doesn’t solve the issue of the mattress being about 4-6 inches too wide for our tent, though. We resolve to the fact that we’ll be sleeping with our tent doors open.

After pondering our conundrum of electricity for a few minutes, we also come to realize that we’ll never fit the mattress through the door, either. We crack a beer and sit on the picnic table. It is then we discover two things. The first is we have a converter in the car to make our cigarette lighter an outlet. And two, our tent (especially given its size) is very mobile. Within minutes we have our mattress in the tent and our tent next to the car. Life is good.

Once our tent is set-up we begin the long-drawn out process of making dinner. On the menu, fresh asparagus we picked up at a farmer’s market in Michigan, hot dogs, beans and of course, plenty of s’mores. One problem—we’re missing some vital utensils to make this meal possible. In particular, spoons, something to remove the beans from the grate and something to cook the asparagus with. We improvise. What we lose in flavor and convenience we make up for in volume. The asparagus is amazing. The beans manage to get off the grate (thanks to Steve’s Gerber) and Joey enjoys plenty of burned hot dog ends.

After dinner we sit around the fire not saying much. After all, we’ve spent the last 100+ hours together. Instead, we watch the fire and listen to the waves lap against the rocky shores. It is in this moment I realize two things—this is what makes Lake Superior so great and two, I am one of the luckiest women alive. We soon decide to turn-in. Things quickly get interesting for several reasons. The first is, a two person backpacking tent does not actually sleep two adults and a dog comfortably. Two, Joey doesn’t like the tent. I think she thinks we’re crazy. We soon persuade her in only to discover that the open doors present a problem. Within seconds she’s jumped out the other side. This game goes on for a while until we finally leash her until she passes out at our feet. The only problem, no matter where she lays, she’s laying on us. This is going to be a long night. We pop some sleeping pills and soon exhaustion wins out. We awake the next morning, early but refreshed and ready to continue our journey… sans any more camping.

Our plan for Day 7 is quite simple. We’re rounding the most northern part of the lake and making our way towards Thunder Bay. Along the way, we’re stopping by Canada’s longest suspension bridge. We also plan to shop in Thunder Bay and do some sightseeing. By early morning we’ve made our way to Eagle Canyon Adventures where Canada’s longest suspension bridge awaits to be crossed. It is $20 per person to walk across the bridge. I’m skeptical of the fee but we pay it anyway. It turns out the bridge is in fact long… 600 feet long to be exact. And, there are not one but two bridges for us to cross. I’m not a huge fan of heights. I’m less of a fan of feeling suspended in air, hundreds of feet above a canyon. But, I grin and bear it. The sun beats down on us as we make our way across.

As we approach the other side, we see the zipline. This is a new attraction to the park. The zipline extends down the canyon, over the river and ends hundreds of feet below. It looks absolutely terrifying. We watch several people make the plunge, including two women who are driving to Alaska. Again, our journey seems to short compared to those we’ve encountered on the trip. After much debate we opt not to do the zipline. Having done one in Mexico, it seems excessive. And frankly, a little to heart stopping for me on this hot, humid, sunny day.

By lunchtime we arrive in Thunder Bay. Here, we head to Bay Street which caters to Finlanders. It turns out that Thunder Bay has the largest population of Fins outside of Finland. We enjoy a lunch of Finnish pancakes at The Hoito. Hoito, which means care in Finnish, has been operating since 1918 and is one of Canada’s oldest cooperatively owned restaurants. Plus, the food is amazing and reasonably priced to boot.

We spend the afternoon perusing Thunder Bay’s shopping areas and eventually check-in at an overpriced Super 8. To compensate for our lackluster accommodations, we decide to end our last full day on the Circle Tour with a celebratory dinner at the Keg Steakhouse and Bar. OMG. It was some of the best food I’ve had in a while. In particular—the tempura asparagus and sweet peas in sweet, fried goodness that melts in your mouth. The meal seems like a perfect end to our final full day of travels.

A Goose, A Moose and Pooh, Oh my!

Today was a mixed bag of touristy gimmicks and authentic beauty. Our morning starts in Wawa, Ontario with a snapshot of the world’s largest fiberglass goose. Steve refuses to act like a goose so I have no choice but to step up to the challenge. Up close, it is obvious Mr. Goose has had better days. A sign on our way out of town confirms our suspicion—a mere $50 gets you a commemorative goose feather towards the new goose. We do not linger long.

From here, the road takes us away from Lake Superior around Pukaskwa Provincial Park. The drive is quite desolate. However, it is in this stretch of bog and swamp we experience our first moose sighting. I slam on the brakes. Luckily, this stretch of Trans Canada 17 has no traffic in sight. I jump out of the car and snap away, while Joey stares (and barks) in awe of the largest dog she’s ever seen. The moose lazily looks at me, almost seeming to accept its role of posing for yet another tourist photo. After posing for 30 seconds or so, it lazily makes its way back into the woods.

Next up is tourist stop number 2—White River, Ontario. I was particularly psyched for this stop, given it is home to the real Winnie the Pooh. Needless to say, I was less than enthralled. The Pooh on display in downtown White River makes the fiberglass goose seem new. The bright yellow fur is faded. The downtown is destitute. The one open “souvenir” shop has overpriced Pooh items you can get at Wal-Mart. A tourism brochure boasts about a saw mill you can tour. Steve asks the store clerk where the mill is and she looks at him like he’s crazy—“that’s been closed for about 5-years. I don’t know why you’d think you could tour that” she says. “It was in a tourism brochure,” Steve says. She laughs, commenting on how we must have had an old brochure. We had picked the brochure up in the tourism information place in White River just moments before. I think I’ve said enough about White River…

Back in the car we continue on our lackluster scenic drive of the Canadian woods. The road eventually makes its way back towards the lake. Here, we can see swaths of Lake Superior and in the distance the Slate Islands. Initially we had hoped to charter a boat to the islands and camp, hoping to catch a glimpse of the caribou. It ended up not fitting in our itinerary, which is good given there is a 40-50 mile per hour wind blowing off the lake. The rain comes and goes, coming more so when we are out of the car.

We stop by Pebble Beach in Schreiber. Similar to Whitefish, the beach is littered with driftwood. Large lake stones dot the shore with a pinkish tint that is different from the slate blue we are used to seeing on the southern end of the lake.  Still hoping to find the perfect souvenir in this stretch of the trip, we seek out downtown. We leave empty handed.

A few miles down the road, we arrive in Terrace Bay. Again, we leave empty handed. We do stop and stretch our legs at Aguasaban Falls, though, which is an unexpected and pleasant surprise.

Still searching for the perfect souvenir, we make our way towards the campground. Our plan is to camp near Lake Superior at the campground in Rainbow Provincial Falls. By now the skies have cleared and we’re anxious to get our site set-up. But first, we make our way into Rossport for some ice and firewood. It turns out Rossport is not equipped to cater to tourists/poor planners.

The fishing village is quite quaint. And, more importantly than ice and firewood, it has the cutest pottery shop overlooking Lake Superior called Island Pottery. Better yet, it is open! We drive out to the pottery studio, which is located at the Tim Alexander’s (the artists) home. The pottery is well crafted and functional. I find the perfect, oversized coffee mug in a sandstone brown with a kayaker engraved in the clay. I can already see my morning joy poured in the cup as I pay for the purchase. Tim asks us if we’re making our way around the lake. Steve nods while saying, “it is a big lake.” Tim smiles and says, “yeah, massive.” No matter what the adjective, nothing really seems to describe this endless blue vat of water we’re driving around.

With the souvenir hunt out of our way, it is time to buckle down to business. We spend the next 45 minutes or so tracking down beer and ice. We appear to keep striking out on firewood. The problem is finally resolved when we discover you can buy firewood at the campground… for $6 a bundle.

We pull up to our campsite—number 23. The park attendant had told us it was the best spot in the campground. As an avid camper around Lake Superior (in a previous life), I’d go as far as saying it is the best campsite on the entire lake. This is good given my husband is not into camping and a series of mishaps over the next 24 hours, could have spelled disaster had it not been for the calming effect of the big lake….

Divide and Conquer

We awake to sunny blue skies and plenty of heat. By mid-morning temperatures approach 80 degrees. Our jaunt through customs proves to be brief and unadventurous. I cannot complain. We stop at the tourist information center to pick up a map. After Steve struggled to find Lake Superior on the Ontario map, I question whether we’ll ever make it back to the states. A helpful volunteer points him in the right direction (or in this case, the correct side of the map).

After a brief drive thru the urban sprawl of Sault Ste.Marie, Ontario we enter the woods. It quickly becomes apparent that today will be one of the most isolated, undeveloped and in many respects, scenic stretches of the trip to date.

As we approach Lake Superior Provincial Park we make several stops along the coastline. The lake looms large here, dotted by a rocky coastline and endless horizons of towering pines. Our first major stop of the day is Chippewa Falls. This falls divides the Trans Canada Highway at its halfway point. The highway, which is the world’s largest national highway, extends lengthwise across Canada and is the only road we’ll travel today. During our stop we meet a couple from Germany that is making the Trans Canada trek over a course of 3-months. Our 8-day journey suddenly seems short.

After several more stops along the scenic coastline, we enter Lake Superior Provincial Park. It is here that my heart begins to race. We pull off at Agawa Rock. Here, we descend down a steep, unstable, and undeveloped quarter-mile drop through jagged rock. The trail alone is a heart stopper.

We finally reach the lake, where a steep drop-off with a tiny ledge awaits. After removing our shoes and socks, Steve slowly tiptoes out on the ledge. A rusty old chain is his only support. Beneath him, slippery rocks fade into the icy cold waters ofLake Superior, daring him to make one misstep. My heart is pounding through my chest.

He soon returns and questions whether I have the courage to walk out. This is something I must do. Why, you might ask?

The answer is simple. I am a photographer. And, along the rock ledge are multi-century old paintings created by native people. As I make my way down the slippery rock, my husband provides these words of encouragement, “if you fall into the lake, I can’t come get you. Just don’t panic and if possible, don’t smack your head. Once in the water, just make your way over to that point and pull yourself out.” As he’s shouting these words of advice I see the life vest attached to a 10-foot pull along the ridge, just in case.

Snap, snap, snap. I focus on balancing and trying to take a good snapshot of the faded caribou etched in the crimson stone. My adrenaline is pumping. On the way back, my legs seem weak but I somehow muster the courage to grab the rusty chain and make my way back to Steve. He grabs my camera and snaps a quick shot before I pull myself to safety. Another couple watches, patiently waiting their turn. Within moments, they strut their way to the rocky edge. They make it look so easy… Despite this, Steve says he’s proud of me. The coward in me is conquered. In this moment, I feel fearless.

Our next stop isn’t quite as adventurous. We decide to enjoy an afternoon beer on the beach at Katherine’s Cove. Under the sunny afternoon sun, I sip away at one of the last Keweenah brews we have left, enjoying an entirely deserted beach. Joey frolics by the water, barking uncontrollably at a rock. Suddenly I hear my husband chuckle. It appears the sun has taken a toll on our lounge chair, leaving him anchored in the sand.

From here, we head to Wawa. We check into a questionable motel at best. But somehow, the turquoise toilet seems appropriate here. We look forward to our free muffins in the morning, which marks the start to another day on our adventure.

Working Port

Our pace is considerably slower today. In addition to sleeping in, we came back to the hotel this afternoon to relax before heading over to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario for an authentic Italian dinner.

Our day was spent learning about and experience the Soo Locks. We had the opportunity to watch two boats go through the locks. This in itself is quite impressive and reminded me of the working docks in Duluth.

We also went to Clyde’s Drive-Inn, which is located on the outskirts of town along on the water. Their burgers are delicious but extremely greasy. (This might be partially to blame for why we’re taking an afternoon rest). Sitting at the old school counter, watching the ships come in, it quickly became apparent this is a working town that hasn’t seen the tourism boom (and financial benefit) Duluth gets. If anything, this part of Sault Ste. Marie is authentic.

The downside to today is the shopping in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. The street of “gift shops” could also be called t-shirt and tacky tourism central. This alone would not be entirely irritating. What is, though, is the fact that every shop has the same set of hoodies, t-shirts, and random knick knacks that have absolutely nothing to do with Canada. The one exception to this rule is Fudge Du Locks. The complimentary Rocky Road Fudge was still warm when handed to us. I’m usually not a huge fudge person but this was exceptionally delicious, as was the fresh made saltwater taffy I ended up buying before leaving. One cheesy shop did catch my attention by having dog hats on display. It was $5 well spent 🙂

  

Photography wise I don’t have much to post today so I thought I’d take a few minutes to download photos from my other camera. This one tends to focus on the “candids” my husband is quickly growing tired of. To me, it is these photos that memories are made of. Tomorrow we begin the “rustic” end of our journey. I hope to keep posting but if not, expect some updates when I return to internet coverage.

 

 

Moose Capital of the World…

The sun is in full force today. With it, the bugs. More specifically, lots of hungry mosquitoes. Despite this, we forge ahead. Our first stop is the Seney National Wildlife Refuge where we encounter a variety of animals floating about the marsh. Eagle nests, baby geese, swans, and plenty of unidentified birds flutter around us as we wind along the unpaved road. At one point we let our puppy out to run full speed ahead. She loves the warm weather and open trail. All is well as long as we are moving. We pause to soak in the view and the infamous buzzing instantly becomes like a bad surround sound system. It is time to move on.

Our second stop for the day takes us to Newberry, Michigan where we enjoy a self-guided tour of an old CCC Logging Camp. In addition, the camp now features a variety of artifacts from that time period, including a museum of chainsaws. Suddenly, Steve thinks the $5 entry fee is the steal of the decade!

It is here we learn two things—first off,  Newberry is the Moose Capital of the World. Second, the main route to our next stop is under road construction. It turns out the road construction isn’t an issue. And, even though we never actually see a moose in the Moose Capital of the World, it makes for some fun souvenirs… including a sledding moose for our Christmas tree.

The drive to Tahquemenon Falls takes us down a windy, deserted paved road filled with garage sales that clearly are a weekly affair. Finally, we reach the entrance of the park. What a contrast. It is like the Disneyworld of northern Michigan. The packed parking lot reminds me of  Gooseberry Falls on on a fall weekend. Better yet, (or worse if you are going for an authentic hiking experience) a brewery sits within the park along with multiple cheesy gift shops. I cannot help but smile. A cold brew sounds good about now and I love a good, funny t-shirt.

It turns out staff isn’t expecting such a large crowd this Memorial Day weekend. The waitress apologizes at least a half dozen times for the obnoxiously long wait. It is after 2 pm and the lunch crowd is massive. The Lumberjack Lager settles our stomach until the fresh whitefish arrives. It is worth the wait. Then, a short ¾ of a mile hike to the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi (minus Niagara Falls of course). It is a spectacular view.

For those wondering how a brewery ends up in a state park, it turns out long ago a man used to canoe upstream to see the falls. A time came when he was finally able to buy all of the land around the falls. Eventually, he sold the land to the state with the condition that there always be at least a short hike to the falls so that its beauty is maintained. I’m guessing he somehow worked the brewery into the deal as well… I’m not minding this arrangement today at all.

After hiking the lower falls, we continue heading north for our last major stop of the day—the Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point. It doesn’t disappoint. The artifacts are authentic, including the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Growing up in Duluth, I always heard about the great ship and the “lake that never gives up her dead.” After touring the museum and outbuildings, we go by the lighthouse and over to the lake so Joey can get a drink from the big lake and stretch her legs.

As we climb over the observation deck, we are met with a graveyard of driftwood, endless calm blue water, abandoned pilings, a great lakes vessel, and an infinite number of skipping rocks. This is the Lake  Superior I love.

The tour book hinted at multiple moose sightings in the Moose Capital of the World. What it overlooked was the great sighting of all—A little slice of Heaven, right here on Earth.