Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Roadtrek would have been so nice...

For years I expected my students to return to school in September and give the class a glimpse of their summers. A few of my Facebook friends also happened to be my students and so the shoe is on the other foot and so I present an exciting peek of

What I learned on my summer vacation.

Remember, exciting can sometimes be less than good. 

     To be honest, I was not totally into our mid-July trip to northwest Ontario. The Canadian Shield scenery is totally beautiful. Wild forests of pines, birches, and "bush"  are home to all manner of wild life.  Remember that word--wild. Lakes appear amid rock outcroppings and nestled among low, yet utterly unscalable peaks. Untouched ponds ringed by water lilies and cattails offer themselves to moose, bear, and birds of every species from humming birds to loons and eagles.  Roads are at best two-lane asphalt with occasional passing lanes and a fair amount of shoulder.
 Driving back in the bush, the roads change to lanes in a unique blend of solid rock and gravel pounded into shape by heavy logging trucks, whose companies created them. And driving them you feel that you are quite literally on the top of the world. You can see the curvature earth above the low trees and scrub as you drive on roads balanced on the planet's bare rock foundation.  You are truly at the top of God's Country, and you can feel our planet stretching out below you. The feeling is indescribable, but in the coming days I come to attempt it.

 Our transportation of choice is our Chevy Express van outfitted with refrigerator, sink, kitchen cabinet, water tank, food pantry, clothes closet and storage beneath and behind our fold out double bed.

That's a lot to get into a full sized van, and it does have its shortcomings. Neither of us can stand in it, and there is no potty inside--when we camp in the rough, we carry our own outhouse-- We can, however, stealth camp in it, which allows us low cost over-nighting in select areas. Most of our power is provided by two deep cycle batteries which we charge on the road as we drive, or at night when we can plug in or use our little Honda generator. The system inside is 110ac. so we operate a number of low voltage appliances to heat water and cook.
Our little bit of decadence.
 This year we added a Keurig K-Cup coffee machine and we are travelling in total decadence. (And oh, did I mention that we get 17 to 18 mpg? The better equipped full-sized RV's may get 10 mpg downhill with a tailwind on a good day).

 Camps at Frank Lake have always been eventful. We meet up with relatives who are uber-equipped. They drive pick-up trucks pulling fifth wheels with a trailer behind that carrying a fishing boat and a "Quad" -- a four wheel, two person off road vehicle which can travel a decent road at 40 mph or pull a boat trailer through rocky forests to fish in far off lakes. These folks are self-contained and ready for anything, even bringing welding equipment. Frank Lake has been their destination for twenty summers and through that time they have improved their campsite to include an outhouse, fishing dock, level parking areas; and they have improved a naturally occurring spring which help feeds the lake.

Path to the artesian well.

Spring water is colder than you can imagine.
All this is fifty miles back in "the bush" near a small railroad camp which is occupied by one fry cook who has the enviable job of providing food for Canadian National track repair crews who populate the town in varying numbers depending on the maintenance task or track-side cleanup at the time. For safety, there is also a land-line telephone connecting to civilization. We have visited the Auden town site, but never met the cook or seen the phone. These we have taken on faith.  There is much about Frank Lake fish camp that we take on faith.

July 21 Off to Fish Camp-at Frank Lake, 186 miles northeast of Thunder Bay Ontario.
     Our path North usually includes I-75 when we are trying to make good time. On our route we needed to stop at Sea Shell City for a shell in which our granddaughter could hear the ocean. I'd nearly forgotten about this natural oddity. Isn't it amazing how we overlook the common miracles only to be reminded by our little innocent ones?  I was especially stoked to get the proper shell so I could explain to them how it works. At the moment I am trying to decide between "tiny little mermaids and their friends throwing tiny cups of water making tiny waves inside the shell," or something more believable, like "even tinier molecules bouncing off one another as they are pummeled by the air carrying sound waves from our local atmosphere creating a minor cacophony in the calcium exoskeleton of a dead crustacean"...I think I'll go with the mermaids...

 As we approached Sea Shell City's exit, there were three transports-- (that's what our Canadian relatives call loaded semi-trucks and trailers, and since we are going to stay with them in the woods, we thought it wise to begin using their vernacular...more about "dead spit" later.)--parked diagonally under the overpass completely blocking our way. An assortment of police, fire personnel and EMT's were on the overpass, but all doing nothing.

 We pulled off the highway using the ramp and since we were going to Sea Shell City anyway, that was no detour.  Once out of the van, we found out from someone in the crowd that there was a jumper whom the police were trying to keep from jumping. Oh Lord, what a way to begin--praying that the jumper find solace somewhere in order that he not jump. I mean we usually begin our trips in prayer anyway, but usually (selfishly) for things like nice weather, little traffic, low gas prices; but this trip our prayers turned to this poor soul who felt his life to be so bad that he had to end it.  (On the way back we found he was about thirty and he had a weapon he was using to cut himself and to keep the cops at bay. He did not jump and is apparently as okay as a person in his frame of mind can be. We still pray for his peace.)

 Once across Big Mac, the bridge, not the hamburger, we found a spot in Mackinac Straits State Park. We were near the bathroom, the lakeshore and our favorite edifice, The Mackinac Bridge.  Life is good.

July 22 Across the UP
It is truly amazing how  l-o-n-g  you can drive in Michigan! Especially if you go the entire "height" of the Lower Peninsula and nearly the "breadth" of the Upper. Many of our favorite UP spots were buzzed by: Germfask, Seney Wildlife Refuge, Munising, Marquette and finally Ironwood. We arrived in Superior, Wisconsin and marveled at the boldness of people who were so completely certain their city was the best. Frankly, we liked Ashland, Wisconsin far better-- it is such as beautifully maintained and decorated town, you have to love it. We cruised through Wisconsin and into Duluth just about in time to discover their Lakeshore Park.
One very short section of the Duluth Lake Superior Shor
We had to stop. This park is along seven miles of the most wonderful Lake Superior Shoreline you can imagine. And it's all user friendly. Roads and walking paths take you to the shore, to rest rooms, to woods, even to hostels where you can get in out of the weather to the warmth of a fire. There was a full moon rising but our clock was ticking. We had not yet decided on a place to stay and we were far short of our goal of the Canadian border. So we pulled out of the park, to be treated to the loveliest celebration of paper lanterns released over shimmering Lake Superior with the moon as its backdrop. The hour was past to get a campsite and the parks we tried were all full. Finally we crashed at an Americinn south of Grand Portage.

July 23  The border
We arrived at the border in Pigeon River, Minnesota.
Wouldn't you think crossing a border to a friendly country at a crossing with a namby-pamby name like Pigeon River would be a breeze?
Yeah, us neither.
We figured that like the boy named Sue, this crossing had something to prove. So we fessed everything. No fibbing or hiding anything from these folks. It's always worse if you get caught in a lie. So the Canadian border patrol agent asked all the requisite questions, which we answered truthfully.

 We did have four sticks of firewood left over from camping two nights ago... Oh.. and we also had fire crackers... they're not explosives are they...they're for the bears... to scare them away...when they came into happened to us before... at this same camp we were headed to...really... it did.....

Only two strikes but we were sent to the Inspection Shed! Now my childhood was full of tales of being sent to the woodshed, so naturally there is some concern on our faces, but this really nice agent told us we could throw our things away there.  The shed agent didn't seem so friendly. We told her of our forbidden materials and that the previous agent said we should leave them here with her or in the trash.

 Dumbfounded by this seeming attack on my character and country, images of HUNDREDS of garbage trucks dumping TONS trash from Toronto into Michigan landfills tinted my vision crimson. I opened my Big Yankee Trap and told her about it in loud, patriotic terms, what bleated out sounded more like a mumbling babble of,  "Yes, ma'am..."

 We had to drive back across the border, through U.S. Customs and dispose of this trash in our own country.

 On the U.S. side, the agent had received a call from his Canadian cohort, and with eyes a-twinkling, asked us what contraband had we tried to bring into Canada?
Photo taken from Google images. NOT the actual officer.
I think we were not his first loop-de-loop border crossers. He chuckled and told us what we had to do.  So we drove up the road a hundred yards to a store, gave the firewood to folks coming into the States, dumped the firecrackers in the trash, and re-entered the homeland of my father and Rhonda's mother not too much the worse for wear. We would be in camp in a few hours!

 Note: To be fair to the Canadians, it is understandable that they are a little snippy once in a while. The price of gas in the USA at the border was $3.64 per gallon or $1.05 a liter. As we got into Canada we never found gas for less than $1.43 a liter and usually more---that's at least $5.45 a gallon. I'd be snippy once in a while too. Plus there's that typically American attitude that all us Yanks have...we're better than anybody and I wanted them all to know it---not!

 Just south of Nipigon, one of the last stops before going into the bush, there was a terrible accident. At 3:10 p.m. two cyclists were riding north along the edge of the road where there was no shoulder and only a foot of cracked pavement to ride on. They were run down by a pickup truck which then swerved into oncoming traffic, struck another truck and its trailer. Another vehicle, a transport, was coming south upon the scene, saw what was happening and to avoid everyone, took to the rocky ditch and overturned.We arrived on the scene at 3:15 and were near the beginning of what was to be a twenty mile long, one lane parking lot.  Two were killed and six people were eventually transported to hospitals for their injuries.
 The coroner was called. Traffic-wise this was bad news. Nothing could be moved until the investigation at the scene was completed.  The cyclists' bodies would have to lay in the road right where they died. We found from the troupe of riders they were traveling with that this couple had been two or three years older than Rhonda and me. This was to be the last long cycling trip they planned to make as the husband was beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's and there would probably not be another opportunity for such a trip. The thought of these two souls, whose lives ended just 500 meters and five minutes ahead of us, who most certainly had family and grandchildren as Rhonda and I have, jolted us back to reality.   Prayers for courage and strength for those who survived-- the twenty-two other cyclists who were traveling with them from Vancouver to Ottowa-- were said, but hardly seemed sufficient. So much tragedy, so many people waiting in their cars, so much...humanity... and so little to do to help.
  One kind man, Mr. McGuire, did find something to help.

  He drove his jeep along the side of the road next to the waiting cars. He carried with him two cases of bottled water, offering water to any and all who would need it in this heat. This was indeed most helpful, as by official word from the officers on duty, we all would be held up until at least midnight, and possibly overnight. As he offered water to Rhonda who was walking the dog, she told him that we had what we needed in our van, and thanked him. In return, he offered a place to park for the night, just up ahead, short of the accident, down a driveway to his greenhouse. Doing as he instructed we moved to his business and found others waiting. There was also a pair of rather shaken goats in a cage on a trailer.They were also victims of the accident, though we were not sure how.
What are these creatures?
YEOW!! the ol' goat has horns!!!
 We stayed and our third night was punctuated by bleating goats and tainted with a veil of sadness.
  The overall effect for Rhonda and me though, was one of gratitude that we had not been ten minutes sooner down the road,and that Mr. McGuire had been so generous.

Remember! McGuire's Greenhouse on Rte 11 south of Nipigon, where you can find all your growing needs and wonderful landscape plants and flowers!

(Thank you, Mr. McGuire, for hospitality and I hope I may have brought you some business, should anyone reading this ever travel your way.)

next...The Road to Auden is filled with good in-tensions...

OKAY, so if you have been good enough to read this far, you know I am long winded, so to reward your patience I'll summarize.

July 24 The Road to Auden is filled with good in-tensions
  Thirty miles into M 801, which is basically a one lane logging road, we got a flat tire. There was no way to remove tire as the lug nuts were rusted. So we drove flat for six miles.
Then we continued until we drove the rubber off. Then we drove on rim for ten miles.
The rim disintegrated but loosened and we got it off.
Put on spare. Discovered broken brake line.  The custom nuts on my once expensive mag wheels weren't deep enough to tighten the spare tire fully. Continued last five miles at ten miles an hour which was exactly three times the speed since the flat. Rolled into camp feeling like fools. Salvaging the trip, we tried fishing, and got line caught on bottom from shore. With no boat in water it stayed there.

  Throughout this entire day, we said no negative words, thought only hopeful thoughts and prayed like an evangelist at a Texas tent revival. We made it, we were together, and we loved each other. Life was good.

  That night the rain started.

July 25 Canadian National Treasure

  100 mile round trip drive to look for brake line and nuts for wheel lugs. We stopped for ice cream, that always raises our spirits. In Geraldton we had hot hamburger sandwiches and  poutine--french fries covered in rich brown gravy and cheese curds. The cheese was like a mozzarella, and was AWESOME. Poutine is a Canadian National Treasure, and one of its better kept secrets. The rain continued, but nothing could drown our spirits as long as we had ice cream and poutine.

July 26 In Camp
  RV battery system dead apparently shaken to their demise in the twenty two mile drive on a flat tire.  The incessant FWOP!! FWOP!! FWOP!! of that drive also drove the dog to her bed, only to emerge when the van stopped moving. Batteries wouldn't charge. Generator wouldn't run, though it ran well the day before. Right before dark we discovered it was low on oil. Generator fixed. Rain.

July 27 The skies open
  Rain all day. We read in the van. It was quite cozy really, all snuggled down together in bed...
My reading choice was a Dean Koontz novel in which nature had turned completely against humankind and created a deadly environment over the whole planet to kill off all humans...which made my trips to the outhouse psychologically, as well as olfactorally, scarring.  Nerves in the van began to fray.

July 28 Robinson Lake
  Morning heavy clouds. Afternoon would turn out to be sunny. Fished at Robinson Lake. We got there  by boat--on land. Travel to Robinson Lake was overland, the quads pulling the boats on the trailer where we rode, bouncing merrily along. After a launch from improbably rough bank, we had two boats in the water with three adults in each.  My boat saw moose plowing through the water across the lake. In her uncles boat,  Rhonda caught five fish---3 pickerel (one eighteen incher) and 2 pike. One of the smaller pike she caught and threw back was swooped up by an eagle who had adopted her boat.  I, in my sister in law's boat, caught nothing. I did have the privilege of netting a 36 inch pike which wouldn't fit into the net. "Just jump in and get that fish!" my sister in law yelled. (I henceforth referred to her as Twisted Sister.)  Back in camp we put our own boat in the water, retrieved both lines which were stuck on bottom. Starter rope on motor refused to retract on second pull. Brother in law helped repair.

July 29 The beauty overwhelms

  Fished in camp. Beautiful day. Caught two pike, released them....too small.  The screen over the windows on the van worked well and kept the inside tolerable for those times when we had to escape the bugs. Apparently warmer weather and no rain is also appreciated by our carnivorous flying friends of the North.   Generator worked perfectly all day and set to charging up the system...but one of the batteries in the RV really heated up. Hmmm disturbing.  Was that normal?

July 30 Last full day in camp
  Batteries wouldn't work, and the overheated battery as still warm. No coffee in the van this morning. Later tested to determine if either of them is usable. The whole thing is strange. The charger is supposed to shut down when the batteries are charged, but it did not. Charging both batteries wired in parallel has never been a problem before and so either the bouncy trip ruined the batteries or the charger is busted....
  Luck was on our side as there was only one problem battery, and it turned out to be the one that overheated as we tried to deep charge it. This poor battery, rallied to accept only nine volts where in its youth it would easily handle nearly thirteen. The old boy was after all the first one I had purchased and the one upon which I had relied the most. Now, two long years past its prime, it flatly refused to work in tandem with its partner who was two years its junior.
  Technically speaking these two batteries should never have been put in a parallel series circuit as their capacities where indeed different. Chalk one more up to my lack of obscure yet important knowledge.

July 31 Day One on the return to Paradise
  Left camp at 6:30 to get to Joe, the mechanic, by 9:00. Driving 50 miles with 10% brake pedal. Got to the store where I was supposed to tell Joe's daughter that I was ready for him to fix the brakes. She looked at me with almost a contemptuous stare when I told her that her father said she would know where he was. "I don't know where he is, she said. He has his business and I have mine. I won't talk to him."
 (sigh) And this was my one and only contact.
  I must have looked as pitiful as I felt and she finally relented, though she told me that I would have to talk to him, as she dialed the phone and handed it to me. Must have been some huge falling out in that family!

  Brake line replaced, new spare tire and wheel purchased, we finally headed south at 11:00 am.

  Slept the night in an Indian Casino Parking lot in Wisconsin.

Aug 1 Final Day on road
  Nothing bad to report, in fact we discovered that the van got a very respectable 20 mpg.

  While this trip sounded like the trip from hell, and some people would insist that they would never enjoy it, we did.  Not a rollicking good, kick your heels in the air, laugh out loud kind of fun, but something more sublime.
  We enjoyed the surroundings, the landscape, the sun when we had it, the rain when it knocked out the bugs, our relatives when we all laughed over insanely funny stories, and most of all each other. It reminded us that we couldn't have made that trip with anyone else without either of us killing someone. It proved that 43 years  together created a bond that no misfortune could break. It proved I love my wife and she loves me.

Oh, about DEAD SPIT---it's an expression that one of our Canadian relatives uses a lot. It is a real British- English term used the same way we would use "dead ringer" or "spitting image."   I try to learn something new everyday...not that I would use it.

No comments:

Post a Comment