Northern Ontario and Officer Steve
Day 2 of 20: Lake Superior Provincial Park to Kakabeka Falls, Ontario
- Route: Highway 17 West
- Driving Distance: 8 hours, 720 km
- Favourite Song: "Two Coins", City and Colour
- Quote of the Day: "LSD stands for Learn to Slow Down." Santosh Kalwar
Agawa Bay to Wawa
After a restless night's sleep I was ready to greet the second day of my Great Canadian Road Trip. My second night would be spent close to Kakabeka Falls
, 32 km west of Thunder Bay, which was 700 kilometres away. I'd visited the falls several years prior when I flew to Thunder Bay for a work project and I was excited to see it again. Once the car was loaded I pulled out of Agawa Bay Campground
excited at the possibility of finding all sorts of interesting spots along the way and it wasn't long before I found one.
The exit for Old Woman's Bay was still within the park's boundaries and only a few kilometres west of the campground. It was early morning and like many points of interest along my route, I had the whole place to myself.
If you're unfamiliar with how large the Province of Ontario
is, a flight from Toronto to Thunder Bay takes 90 minutes versus the 15 hours and 1500 km to drive around the Great Lakes. Lake Superior
is the largest fresh water lake in the world, so it takes a little while to go the long way around.
After the brief interlude on the beach of Old Woman's Bay it was time to get on the road and make some miles. I was about an hour into the morning drive on The King's Highway known as Highway 17 West
, and I was feeling as happy as I'd ever been. The road was fun to drive, I had my favourite song on the radio and the windows were down. I didn't realize how fast I was driving when my eyes caught the half-hidden police car at the base of the hill I was speeding down. I immediately looked at the instrument panel and cringed when I saw the 123 km/hr on my speedometer, especially since the posted speed on the sign I'd just passed showed 90 km/hr. As I zipped along in front of the O.P.P. cruiser, he pulled out after me with full lights and sirens until I could find a safe place to pull over. There wasn't much going on in Wawa
on a Thursday morning so my only hope was the Officer would be impressed enough by my road trip story to let me go with a warning.
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I received a lecture about the dangerous roads of Ontario's North and how I was needlessly burning copious amounts of fuel by speeding. He volunteered some driving tips to help me conserve gas which, he suggested, might also prevent me from acquiring more speeding tickets. After he disappeared to sit inside his cruiser with my driver's license in hand, he re-approached my driver's door with several pieces of paper after what felt like a long time. Apparently it was my lucky day because as I looked at the ticket he told me he'd reduced the offense and accompanying fine from ridiculously expensive to moderately expensive. "Thank you Sir", I replied, to which he seemed annoyed and stated, "You can call me Steve. Sir is my boss."
Off the record we had a nice chat. He wanted to know where I was going and why I was driving across the country. After sharing a mini-version of my story he smiled and said, " I wish I could go surfing in Tofino too." He never took his sunglasses off throughout our conversation but I imagined he had bright blue eyes with a lifetime of wisdom behind them.
Although I'd just received a speeding ticket that would likely increase my car insurance premium by my next birthday, the conversation between myself and Officer Steve brought a smile to my face. As I turned the key to start the engine he tipped his hat, told me to be careful, and that was that.
Marathon to Terrace Bay
was absolutely brilliant. While travelling along the north shore of Lake Superior I drove through the town of Marathon
. The Canadian National Railway put it on the map in the late 1800's however, the region wasn't discovered by new world immigrants. It was inhabited by the Ojibways of the Pic River First Nation
for thousands of years, long before any gold miner or timber company set up shop.
My next stop was Terrace Bay
and the small roadside mall called The Simcoe Plaza. I gassed up, grabbed a few supplies, a hot cup of coffee from the gas bar and was on the road again in under fifteen minutes. Just beyond the city limits was Aguasabon Falls
and a great little trail that ended at a viewing platform. The visitor plaques inform passers-by that the bedrock surrounding the falls and gorge below have been around for over 2 billion years.
The Canadian Shield
A few hours later I crossed into the Township of Nipigon, which was without a doubt the most beautiful leg of the road trip yet. High rocky cliffs, rugged landscapes, giant pine trees and the deep blue waters of Lake Superior's north shore combined to mark a section of the Canadian Shield
. After a quick peek on the Internet, a retrieved fact informed me that the shield covers over half of Canada and was the first part of North America to rise above sea level somewhere between 4 billion and 500 million years ago. I found myself wishing I'd paid more attention in geography class back in high school while I smiled at the thought of our planet's ongoing, magnificent evolution.
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The area is home to an ancient rift valley
not unlike the Great Rift Valley of Kenya
, with remnants of soil and rock that began over 1 billion years ago. Even without knowing the geological history of the region you can still sense the lingering spirits of an ancient people as you drive through it. Perhaps the animals know something about the power of this place, as it was there I saw my first bald eagle and grey wolf within a kilometre of each other. The eagle soared as straight as the crow flies right above my car and I nearly drove off the road as I couldn't keep my eyes off of him. After catching my breath from a near missed ditch, I saw a grey wolf that was standing on the gravel shoulder ahead; who turned his head to look at me before darting into the brush on the other side of the road. Could life possibly get any better than that? I didn't imagine so.
I arrived at the outskirts of the City of Thunder Bay
at rush hour, so I decided to take the by-pass route so I could make camp before dusk. Although Ontario Parks
take reservations during high season, the month of September was considered off-season so it was first come, first serve. I had scouted a private riverside camp site through their online map ahead of time so I wouldn't have to drive around in circles looking for a good spot like I did the night before. Once I arrived at the Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park
entrance and drove towards my waiting riverside oasis, there was a locked gate preventing access to it. One lap of the open section revealed a sweet little spot just a stone's throw away from the showers. The best part of my new home for the night was the stand alone beautiful, gigantic pine tree I could sleep under. I'd heard the weather forecast mention the possibility of rain, so the large pine boughs might help keep me dry. My tent was borrowed and I had absolutely no idea how waterproof it was, or wasn't.
I missed the park office again which meant I was going to have to spend the next little while trying to gather enough deadwood for a fire. I still had a few hours of daylight to set up the tent, get myself some dinner and relax awhile before nightfall. With a little extra time on my hands I decided to go for a walk to Kakabeka Falls
as I was too excited to wait until morning to greet what felt like an old friend. They didn't disappoint and were even more outstanding than I'd remembered.
Although I'd missed the opportunity to purchase a bundle of fail-proof firewood, I saw the self-registration area and was able to figure out how to fill out a form and attach a copy to the post at my site. After putting up the tent and gulping down a pot full of soup, I scavenged through the surrounding bushes and pulled out a half decent amount of dried up wood. I made a big pile of twigs of varying sizes and while rifling through my supplies to find the fire starters and a lighter, the Park Ranger pulled up and got out of his truck.
"Good Evening, just checking for registration Ma'am. Did you need some firewood?", he asked. "No, I think I'm ok - I cleaned up all the underbrush from a section over there so I've got enough for an hour or so, but thanks anyway," I replied. Then I learned all about how I wasn't supposed to disturb anything from the forest floor, let alone pull out dead wood and dried cedar boughs. He was nice about the warning, and said he'd be glad to sell me a bag for $7.00. I bought two bags to make peace.
I only had 1 fold up stool for seating as I'd tried not to over pack, but there's something not right about a lawn chair-less campfire. I'd find a way to jam one in there the next time I passed a Canadian Tire, and maybe I'd splurge on a thicker mattress pad while I was at it.
As the sun began to set I saw a set of headlights doing laps around the camp, much like I did the night before. I smiled when I saw the red pickup circle around my campsite three times in less than 10 minutes. Been there. Done that.
Tomorrow I would cross my first time zone and the provincial border to Manitoba, and I was so excited I couldn't fall asleep.
Stay tuned every friday for the next installment of The Great Canadian Road Trip