We paddled from Grand Portage to Thunder Bay in two days, at which point we took the opportunity to set the rules for how to canoe on this great lake of VERY cold water. Obviously each person has his own comfort level, and all the people we meet have generally a frightful description of experiences on this lake. Sail and motor boats cannot aim for shore as easily as we can in a canoe, meaning that any shift in weather is a major event where finding shelter quickly becomes a key factor for survival.
The rules are: stay within calling distance of each other in the canoes, safety first above any other consideration. And as always if anyone does not feel it is safe to be on the water, we go/remain ashore. Some can be frustrated by the others’ either too risky or too precautious attitudes, but this is the nature of working as a group.
The essential thing is to understand each other and be able to communicate. Adam is a great facilitator and manages to insure all have a voice. This whole issue came up when Adrien and I paddled ahead in the red canoe while the other boat stopped for a break, and lost touch until arriving in Thunder Bay late in the afternoon, causing some amount of panic in both boats. A general meeting on the pier of the Thunder Bay sailing club enabled us to work things out.
At the sailing club, the boaters greeted the red canoe, and a couple (Vic and Caroline) invited Adrien and I to stay on their boat, share a diner with friends; they more or less adopted us for the few days we stayed in Thunder Bay. 6139 Sophie arrived by bus and joined the group. Each member went about running his or her personal and group-related errands. The key issue was how to safely cross Thunder Bay, which is about 18 km across, and even if we backtrack to an island and cross over to another it is still 6 km of open water.
Clearly some members of the team did not want to risk it. With an initial arrangement having fallen through, Pascal asked Vic if he could arrange for us to be accompanied. In a couple of hours Vic had found Gus,
a retired construction manager who goes fishing in the area and offered to tow our canoes. 6176 At 7:30am he was there with his boat; his wife made us an excellent eggs and bacon breakfast during the crossing and towed us beyond Thunder Cape. Not only did he not want any compensation but his spirit, his competent approach, and genuine generosity were gifts we accepted thankfully. He even gave Adrien two spinners and advice on how to catch fish on Lake Superior. Later we heard that after we paddled on Gus had the best fishing day ever, having caught a big salmon and various large trouts.
Lake Superior is truly grandiose. Vistas of rocks, beaches, and open water at times like a mirror. We paddled on and reached a beach that night where every stone–we call them ‘gallets’ in French–is a complex marvel of veins, black, white, red, blue, transluscent plays of color where the black and the grey dominate.
The light roll of the rocks in the waves at night truly ‘rock’ us to sleep. Sunset is a two-hour spectacle worth stopping to look at and the moon rising in the sky announces the stars. We sleep early, get up early and set off for what ultimately became a 50km day. After paddling the shores, we turned inland and the wind rose allowing us to sail up the strait for another 20km at 6km per hour. We had heard that a music festival was starting at Red Rock on Friday (the next day) so we decided to paddle the 18km detour to go to it and spend a day.
Arriving at Red Rock after only a couple of hours of paddling, we set the boats on a dock next to a large Voyageur canoe which Naturally Superior Adventures had brought to offer rides to the festival participants. We then went to meet the festival organizers after having had lunch and learned the costs of the festival. After some discussion, the organizers finally offered to allow us to work as volunteers for a few hours and then take in the festival. Another example of the generosity and spirit of this country and of this particular festival.
The Red Rock Folk Festival is organized by the community of Red Rock. Most volunteers are members of the community and we met many of them as we assumed our responsibilities at the gates. Adrien, whose English is improving thanks to daily coaching from all of the team, has no problem filling his role making sure everyone has wristbands. The music is quite good and, most importantly, the festival participants are families, friends, people with common values that meet here once a year to enjoy music and each other over a weekend. As the day progressed we ran into no fewer than seven people that we had previously met elsewhere on the trip. When I was manning one gate I reported a change in shift on the VHF and suddenly heard ‘Mountains to Montreal, this is Cache Bay’. I recognized Janice’s voice but thought she was indeed in Cache Bay. In fact Hugo had lent her the VHF for the joke and I fell for it. We all greeted her and shared the rest of the day.
Then Vic and Caroline came in with their converted trailer truck, and Heidi was there with her friends with whom we had partied in Thunder Bay, etc. A meeting place for people who, though from various age groups and ways of life, share the desire to have a good time while supporting emerging artists and good music. Each one in the night revelled with his group of friends and then went to bed mostly in the early morning. At 7am Dana woke everyone up. It was time to go, have an early breakfast with the crew of volunteers and we took off by 9am.
The following day, we made good time and camped almost 60km further. Dana went to town to get bread and came back with Maude, Yann and Didi, three French travelers on bicycles crossing Canada from Vancouver to Halifax. All three are in a travel–study program which allows them to spend 6 months in Canada. A good way to promote travel for young people and cross-cultural experiences. That night aroundcampfire, French was the main language and all shared events and fond memories of the last months. In the morning Dana exchanged his position with Yann and went o the n the road with the girls.
Yann, whom we put in the middle of the white canoe, paddled with us. This turned out to be a big day for our 100th day on the water. 60km to get to Marathon.
A beautiful day, but with little time to rest; through the scenery of islands, rock facades, sun, and blue water … we arrived with the waves starting to whip up on a beach after a last hour of paddling in increasingly choppy waters. At last, near the shore we saw three people waving and knew we had reached the right spot where our friends were waiting. Dana, Didi, and Maude had arrived only a few minutes earlier having pedaled over 70km and as Yann and Dana greeted each other they shared their admiration for one another, having on one side very sore legs and the other very sore arms.
This being our 100th day, Dana had bought beverages aplenty as well as a cake, and after setting up tents we began a party that did not end until the wee hours. Murray, a lone cyclist crossing Canada on a three-wheeled recumbent bicycle, joined the party. Local kids were having their own party down the beach so they came straggling by as we talked and played music around our bonfire. A beautiful beach strewn with thousands of pieces of lumber, round rocks on the shore that rolled in the waves, and a lake lapping the shore with up to 2-meter waves. That night it rained and the wind came up so that Dana had to pull the boats higher on shore and Didi almost lost her tent in the morning, having had it blown away into the lake. We learned in the morning that that beach had not existed a few years earlier … lakes carve their shores over time.
In the morning, Dana, who had been talking with Bruce (his dad, who has been posting regular updates to the site) had contacted the Pukwaska Park authorities since we had heard on the news that a bear had mauled a woman and thus the park had been closed. He arranged, since it was impossible to pass through, to have us and our gear transported to Wawa, 200km away. So we packed up and waited for the park workers who showed up early afternoon with a van and pickup with a trailer. Kevin and Lindsay, park seasonal workers who generally work maintaining the wilderness trails for which the park is renowned, helped us load and drove us to Wawa. We took them out to dinner in for some fine pizza at the Viking Restaurant. It was strange to drive, clocking so many kilometers so fast. Along the route we saw Murray and about 5 other groups of cyclists. Cycling on these main roads is quite dangerous as trucks thunder by at 100km an hour and this 2-way road has only narrow gravel siding at times. Of course there are no small roads in parrallel most of the way in this wilderness so there is no other means of getting across the country. At a stop midway we ran into a town that called itself the birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh.
In Wawa the guys dropped us off at the mouth of the Michipicoten River. A beautiful place with a view over the lake that is owned by a guy who after having travelled the world set up this canoe/kayak camp and has turned it into a thriving business. Windbound the next day, another expedition in their 50s
composed of people from the area going the other way for a 10-day trip joined us on the beach and we had a great evening. I talked at length with Jim and Karen, and I took wonderful pictures of the sunset, the people and then shared them over the campfire. The waves that had been impressive in the evening had by morning calmed and after sharing breakfast with the other group we went off.
We are now a little over a month from our arrival in Montreal. We plan to arrive with a target date of the 23rd of September and definitely a weekend so that friends can easily come to meet us. Since Ottawa is just 5 or 6 days from there, we’ll adjust our trip in Ottawa so we ensure timely arrival. We are still keeping open the possibility of arriving either the weekend prior or after but we will know for sure once we are up the French River. Meanwhile we are hoping to find a safe place to land, store our gear, and possibly the canoe until we can sell it. Any help is more than welcome.
As part of this expedition, I am hoping to edit a photo album of our best pictures of the trip with a word from each participant. My aim is a 200-or-so-page album with one to five pictures per open page as a commemorative illustration of this expedition throughout this great country. Anyone who might be interested should send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The next paddling day was full of rocky savage shores and rocks jutting out into the lake. Islands, often barren, gave us calm passage along the shore. One of them, a 100-meter rock face, had a rope left by some mysterious climber. I could sense that Adrien would have loved to climb it but we were passing through. Red rocks and, now and again, decidious trees rising on the shore amaze us, rose granite and later red limestone, pitted by time and/or their original lava bubbling give us the feeling that nature is indeed powerful. We paddle kilometers after kilometers, the body tiring but the soul nourished by the beauty. We are by now hardened and though we still feel the tiredness after 12 hours of paddling, we do it without a second thought. It just is the way we travel by now.
Stops for breaks or at night on these shores are always a time to admire stones, to swim even when the water is ice-cold, and to hunt for blueberries when the island shrub calls us. Short stops during the day, late camp stops at times leaving us little time to explore the shores. Tomorrow we stop at Bill and Susan’s house, relations of Dana’s who accepted to invite us. We start off at 8:30 after a wake-up call at 6 for which I wake at 5:30 to have coffee, hot water for tea or yerba matte ready. The camp had been a narrow beach of sand and rocks in which we pitched tents at dusk with the mosquitoes delighting with our blood (though I discovered in the morning a beautiful space back in the woods). But we made our 30km and even though we only had one more point to reach and then turn into the bay for our destination, the wind rose and it was decided that we should stop at the nearest beach. We headed for a small bay of rocks with gravel and edged carefully our way into it. A man, having seen us coming in, ran down to shore and waved us in. As we landed we pulled the canoes into secure positions and breathed easier about this difficult landing. Dan greeted us and, understanding our plight, proposed to carry our gear to our destination only 11km down the road. He was moving stuff with his truck with his friend Sandy and going in our direction. Quickly, alongside the couch and armchair he was transporting, we loaded our food barrels, green packs, and waterproof bags. Two of us climbed behind, two in front and three decided to walk. We reached our destination, a lovely house built in 2002 by Bill and Susan and now after retiring in 2009 transformed into a cosy warm and practical home. All that with a view on a beach of the lake from the deck; a jewel of a home.
Greeted we were! Bill and Susan welcomed us like the prodigal team and offered all they had but most important shared their lives with us. A beer, muffins, dinner with lots of vegetables and excellent pizza, showers, an open kitchen to prepare loaves of bread for our journey; by the time we had to leave after a sumptuous breakfast we felt part of the family. But the trip must go on and so after recuperating the canoes and paddling them around the point, we picked up the gear and left for our last campsite on Superior. A rocky beach close enough for us to reach the locks tomorrow afternoon in Sault Ste. Marie.
This is where I must end for now; please let us know if you have questions about the trip. I try to relate the goings-on as best as possible, but invariably miss a lot. I suppose you just have to live it.
PS – The pictures posted can be sent to you in the form of digital or photos. Let us know … we may have to wait to after arrival to coordinate.