Saturday, February 21, 2009

Canada 2006 - "Northern" Ontario

As the sun rose up over Lake Vernon, I knew it was time to leave the cottage behind me. The last few days were spent with family, and with friends. I wasn’t traveling yet, simply visiting. I’d been to all these places before, and I’d experienced them many times over. Like a familiar book, it’s comforting to read and re-read, but it will never be like the first time.

Driving North from Huntsville, I contemplated all that lay before me. More Ontario. More boring, tree filled, seen it all a hundred times over Ontario. I was in no mood for this trip, yet I was stuck with it for day to come. To break the monotony I decided to look for some geocaches that I had programmed into my GPS before heading out. My GPS was my lifeline to the unknown. Every map, every road, every point of interest was contained within its small frame. And by the help of two rechargeable batteries, I was never without home; I was never without help. A person who knows where they are, has no reason to fear.

One cache was hidden high in a metallic fire tower. I climbed its unstable frame, in hopes of adding another found cache to my record. This was not to be. Either the cache had been stolen, or it was never at the wavering peak, rocking in the afternoon’s breeze. As I climbed down, holding tight the railing, for fear of a dropping death, I had no time to think about the beauty of my vantage point. No, that would come later when back in my van, safe, secure, and once more pressing onward.

I don’t even remember the name of the town now, but I do recall the rusted equipment nearby, the water tower with some name stenciled onto the side, and the uneven spattering of houses. A community built organically, free of the obsessive impulses brought upon by urban planners.

Sudbury offered Science North, where I spent some time investigating the Internet exhibit. More than anything, this allowed me my first contact with those back home. Messages were received; messages were sent. I also discovered that I needed corrective glasses as an astigmatism demonstration. But it would still be years before I acted on this.

Sudbury offered very little of interest to me, and so I returned to my travels once more. Several hours had passed since I began for the day, but as I was already half way to Thunder Bay, I felt as if I could relax. Signs posted all along the highway reading “Fatigue kills!” and “Pull over. How much time is your life worth?” informed me that I was wrong. There would be no relaxing. Any moment of ease, calm, or hesitation would lead to my immanent death, and the death of fellow travelers sharing the road with me. You can tell a lot about a community based on its road signs.

At some point I discovered that half way to T-Bay as the crow flies was a very different thing than following the roads. Apparently there was some water in the way? Something about a lake. It pretty good lake at that, as some were referring to it as being great. I didn’t know what was so great about it, aside from the fact that it seriously delayed my journey and would cost me a night.

As dusk fell, confusing my body into assuming that dawn was actually upon me – this is something that should have been a sign of how much I needed to pull over, yet all it did was spurn me to drive further – I considered finding a camp site. The problem? There were none to be had.

With exhaustion firmly set upon me, I pulled onto a little patch of land, and set up my tent. It would be home for the night. A terribly, terribly cold home.

But morning would bring warmth, both metaphorically and literally. Under the morning sun I pressed ever north, once more cursing the repetitive nature of Ontario’s landscape. Until I crested a hill. There was nothing strange about this hill, nothing out of place, or ill expected. It was one hill like any other. The only difference was that it concealed the North Superior Region. Once I reached the peak, the landscape ebbed and flowed, showing its roots as an ancient mountain range. And the waters?

I stopped many times along the lake, and looked out at the horizon. I’d seen the ocean before; I’d seen lakes before. Never had I seen anything as beautiful as this. The reflected light bounced off my camera’s lens, making a clear crisp shot impossible. But digital representation of this moment would have been a pale comparison, at best. This moment, this view, would live on inside me. For years, when I thought about Ontario, I would acknowledge the great beauty on par with, or surpassing, anything the rest of the country has to offer.

Ouimet Canyon is where I would begin to settle down for the night once more. It is a great gorge that rises above the earth, only to rip downwards. A canyon like nothing I’d imagined my home provice to hold. Ontario was full of surprises today, and I was willing to take them all in.

Having no patience to gain a few more kilometers, and try to find a camp site down the Trans-Canada Highway, I followed the signs to Eagle Canyon. This would lead me two kilometers down a red-soiled dirt road. My white van would never look the same again, as the tires kicked up all manner of debris, plastering everything to its doors, hood, and – somehow – roof.

Eagle Canyon was home to Canada’s largest suspension bridge, measuring in at three hundred feet. At first I used my time to Kayak in the lake, but looking up at the bridge, from down below, I knew I’d have to face my fears.

The construction men fixing it, as I took my pass, did not instill me with confidence. Still, as my only real fear is dying alone, I assumed if the bridge snapped, they’d go down with me. Though it would still be a terrible end, I’d be with others. As luck, and reason, would have it, the bridge held. And I had crossed it. A minor accomplishment, but it was the first of many.

That night I met a native who was a traveling salesman. His wife left him, his children didn’t care, and the nineteen year old stripped he had met a town over finally got to be too much for him to handle.

His was a life story like I had never heard before. He was the first person I met on the road, and probably the one whom I think back on most often. His job cost him his wife, and the loss of his wife cost him his kids. Still, he loves his children, and has to support them. Because of that, he needs to keep working the job. There’s a message in there somewhere.

As I awoke, a bit in pain from the rocks I had slept on – I realized just how warm I was; it was a sharp contrast from the sleep before. This time, I was covered in the down jacket lent to me. Without waking him, I placed the coat on his vehicle, and stole away into the breaking sun.

Within an hour, I would reached Thunder Bay.

1 comment:

  1. Eagle Canyon, eh? Huh, I'll have to pay a visit whenever I go back to northern Ontario.


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