Friday, August 1

Welcome to Ontario!

The Trans-Canada Highway is a 4-lane divided highway with 110km/h speed limit in Manitoba. As soon as you cross the Ontario border, it narrows to a two-lane, the speed limit goes to 90km/h, the signs with the table of fines for various speeds appear, even the pavement seems to get bumpier. The paved shoulders persist for a while, then they too turn to gravel. Welcome to Canada's most populous and prosperous province, eh?

We drive to Dryden, where we have to gas up for the fourth time in 24 hours for the long empty stretch to Thunder Bay. About 20km before, the trucks all pull off so we're alone, and then we're enveloped by fog. We creep along at 70km/h, both driver and passenger intently peering into the murk for deer or moose. Waves of drowsiness overcome me. This is pretty nuts, and 360km more to Thunder Bay seem impossible to me.

Dryden is quite a little centre of nighttime activity - open gas station, Tim Horton's, a Greyhound bus (with parcel trailer) stopping in, trucks idling, sandwiches being made in the convenience store, etc. We pull into a quiet side lot for a 20 minute nap break. I don't get much of a nap, but Andrew apparently does, returning all chipper and ready for more, also eagerly ingesting the bottle of Jolt cola I've bought him.

Driving in the night
So we hang off a truck again, and at 3AM (still Central Time) and 80km/h we go off again into the murk. The major catch now is that if you're following close and the truck hits gravel, your windshield is endangered, and sure enough, we hit a long "highway improvement" section with gravelly bits and fresh loose gravel shoulders.

It eventually gets light, so we can separate from the truck and drive at our own pace. Luc is sounding pretty tired on the radio, and mentions that he is now alone, his passengers having gone to sleep. This does not sound good, so I summon every molecule of wakefulness I have and announce that I will take over. First I take a run of a few hundred metres along the side of the road to really get woken up. Driving the van, I am safe, but I have to carefully avoid road hypnosis, where everything around the taillights of the car ahead goes blurry and you get woozy. I pinch myself, tension my arm muscles against the steering wheel, hold my breath and so on, to maintain alertness. For the 150km that remain, it will do.

Getting closer to Thunder Bay, all this clears up and I feel fine. We find Marlene's place with no problems. No car in the driveway, and the side door is locked and there is no key stashed where it should be. But the back door is open, so I go in, yell hello and am just about to go around to let the others in the front, when Marlene comes downstairs - she's home after all! Finally I can introduce my mystery sister to Andrew and some of the other people I know in Ottawa, not one of whom had ever met her up to that point.

Andrew, Luc and Caroline say hello and then immediately proceed to lie down somewhere and go to sleep. Ewart, who slept soundly on the way here, is quite chipper. So we sit around and make conversation, then Marlene has some errands to run on foot and I come along. We walk all over one of the two downtowny areas of Thunder Bay (which is really two amalgamated cities, with separate downtowns about 5km apart). It is really nice here. A somewhat old-fashioned town, with lots of neat old houses, hotels and stores, which still functions as originally designed - not just some old disused buildings. For example, the old waterfront hotel is still in use. Apparently there is an artistic community here, with a symphony orchestra and a theatre. Marlene likes it here and I can see why. It's really too far from anywhere else for much tourism, and the local natural attractions (tall cliffs etc) are so uncharted that you pretty much have to ask the locals about them.

Speaking of the locals, Marlene says the population is aging because all the young people move away, and hardly anyone young moves in from elsewhere. And the town is economically in decline.

But I still like what I see. We drop into a grocery store and it is full of yummy delicacies, such as many kinds of cheese and great bread, that you would never find in Kanata where I live, or for that matter in many towns the size of this one. There are significant Finnish and Italian communities here.

I can't believe how energetic I feel. I'm practically jumping up and down with excitement at being here after 26 hours awake in the car. The tiredness in the muscles is gone, my mind feels alert. But it's psychological; as we walk up a hill in town I feel the emptiness in my stomach and could imagine collapsing in a faint any moment.

Later we go out for breakfast at a good local restaurant. I love it the moment I see it. Booths with Formica tables, bustle and noise, lively and homey atmosphere. The sort of restaurant the locals go to, not the tourists.

Ewart : After breakfast, we all cross the street to a corner Italian shop to get some provisions for the remainder of our journey. Whilst we are talking outside, who should pass by, heading for the same shop, but Dan Fossum and his wife Anne. Dan is an old friend of mine, who lives in Ottawa, who I have not visited since my arrival back in Canada some 2.5 years ago, and was my Adirondak hiking guardian between 1993-1996, the longest anyone has held this prestigious position. Dan's family is from Thunder Bay. I'll pop in on you soon Dan, promise!

Andrew has bought exhaust sealing tape and crawls under my car to try to tape up the gaping hole in the exhaust pipe. At first this seems successful, but when we set out, it burns through within a minute, and the noise is back as loud as ever.

So anyway, it was lovely to finally visit my sister in Thunder Bay and even to be able to bring a bunch of friends along.

The Wawa Goose commemorates the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway
Before we leave Thunder Bay, we drop by the Terry Fox Memorial. Later, as we wind our way down the coast of Lake Superior, alas in grey cloud and fog, we briefly detour through Rossport, a quaint little former fishing village from the look of it, but because of the nondescript weather it doesn't look like much and we don't stop for photos.

It is still a long way home. We drive through totally variable weather, sometimes sunny and pretty clear, usually hazy and sometimes raining cats and dogs. The highway threads its way through elevation changes, rock cuts and along the shore. I want to stop at Wawa and see the famous Wawa goose, but the others don't care and anyway the goose doesn't look that imposing, so we don't stay long.

Digging into dinner at Amogla Camp
We arrive in Sault Ste. Marie as it gets dark. Ewart does not want to arrive at the camp empty-handed, so we go looking for an open liquor store, but don't find one. Thus delayed, we get to the camp just before 10pm. My parents are still up and mom serves up pasta. Then Johanna arrives with guests. Thus it is pretty lively until mom bundles everyone off to bed at 11pm as she has to get up early and clean cottages the next day. Andrew, Luc, Ewart and Caroline get the guest house.

I still feel energetic and not sleepy, so I take a couple of those sleeping pills, because if I don't catch up on sleep soon the whole weekend could be ruined. With their help I manage to sleep until 8AM or so, when the noise in the cottage makes it impossible to sleep any longer.

All pictures for this day

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