Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kenora 2013: The North Shore of Lake Superior

Sarah about to "test the waters"

Kayaks again, in a different light
The morning dawned dull and cool but dry. This last feature was a very rare one for us while camping, but especially while camping in Pancake Bay Park. The new air mattress had rewarded us for our struggles by bestowing upon us one of the best sleeps we had ever had in a tent together, helped along by the wolf song that started up just before we nodded off. We broke camp quite early, but were reluctant to leave the beauty of the park. We headed down to the beach and just breathed in the fresh air for a long while, checking to see if the clear waters of Lake Superior were any warmer than last night (they were not) and listening to the water lap gently at the sand. After an almost tragically short amount of time we left the beautiful vista and drove to the comfort station for showers. We left the park, keeping the vehicle permit to use for stops later in the day, and drove across the highway to the shops and gas station there, a must-visit on each of our trips to Pancake Bay. We enjoyed some free coffee and friendly service, purchasing a small bottle of blueberry syrup to bring to Kenora as a gift. The skies looked threatening as we pulled out of the station and headed for Thunder Bay, but we managed to avoid being rained on for much of the day. We munched on granola bars and fruit as we entered the spectacular Lake Superior Provincial Park.

"First glimpse" of Superior from Highway 17
There is a very specific spot on the Laurentian Autoroute in Quebec that comes upon you out of nowhere; at the top of a hill, the road dropping away to the front, a rock face on the left, valley vista far below on the right, the view takes your breath away but there is absolutely no place to stop and take a picture for posterity. I've long bemoaned the lack of a photo-op there; maybe some day I will travel that road again and find that the shoulders have been widened and I can safely stop, shoot and move on. There is a similar spot on Highway 17 in Lake Superior Park where you come upon your first stunning view of the lake from the top of a long downhill slope to sea level, a spot that has never failed to bring about complete and utter silence in the car whenever we have come upon it. A little over a kilometre further on there is a dedicated "scenic lookout", but this is far too late for me and, in any event, at the bottom of that hill. This time around we stopped, as usual, at the touristy spot where I took the usual photos and stewed about the lost opportunity of several hundred metres back up the road. When Sarah and I went back to the car I paused for a moment and then decided that I wasn't going to regret missing that shot for this whole trip again—as I always do—and took us back up the hill to a point where there shoulders were wide and safe to pull over onto. Traffic was very light on this stretch of road and I was able to snap off a few pictures until I was finally brave enough to actually step out onto the pavement of the Trans-Canada Highway and shoot the photo you see here. I'm particularly thrilled with this shot, for this is exactly what we experience every time we take this trip. Magical, wondrous, achingly gorgeous. I will never grow tired of this scene.

As drove through the park we stopped at other scenic vistas:

Spectacular scenery!

Including "Old Woman Bay" where Sarah stretched out all of her limbs:

Tossing stones into Gitche Gumee

And on to Wawa where we (sadly) missed an opportunity to meet up with my old classmate Neil (we were too early) but nonetheless stopped for gas at Young's General Store, where we encountered this big fellow:

Young's General Store in Wawa

Sandhill cranes foraging along Highway 17 near Wawa
While in Wawa we also grabbed coffees at Timmy's, stopped to salute the giant Canada goose statue and checked out our lodgings for the way back. We had hoped to book a cabin at High Falls Motel & Cabins but they were full for the night in question, so we took their advice and reserved a room at Mystic Isle Motel. We stopped by both places on the way west, confirming our reservation with the one and asking the other to let us know if any cancellations came about in time for us to switch. This also gave us a better sense of exactly where the motel was located, because it's not that easy to find from the highway. (This information came in very handy on the way back east.) After we finished up our Wawa activities, we continued our trek around the top of Superior, keeping our eyes peeled for moose and other wildlife along the roadside. The temperature began to plummet as we drove along, causing us to spend more time in the car and less time checking out the sights on foot (which was ok with us, because we had made this trip more than once before). We grabbed lunch at the A & W in White River (birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh) but shortly after that it began to rain and that, coupled with many traffic delays at all of the bridges along our route, caused us to spend most of the remainder of that day on the road. We eventually arrived in Thunder Bay where we were booked to stay at the Thunder Bay Inn, based on recommendations from Trip Advisor (which is how we chose every place we stayed on this trip). We were not disappointed: the place changed hands a couple of years ago and the new owner had made some very effective changes. We were delighted with our room and the continental breakfast the next morning. The owner also gave us an outstanding recommendation for dinner: Sweet G's just up the street where we had delicious home-made food. We slept very well on Night Two of our trip!

Tomorrow: we leave Superior behind us as we travel the final leg to beautiful Kenora.

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