Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Memory Lane Michigan and the Ontarian Odyssey

This summer Doug's cousin, the lovely Marion, got married. And it was a destination wedding, in Tobermory on the Bruce Pennisula of Ontario. Since Tobermory is an 11 hour driver from Indy, Doug and I decided to make an epic 2000 mile road trip out of it, hitting several spots along the way--and further!

View Road Trip Insanity to Canadia in a larger map

On July 4th, we headed north in our overloaded car, complete with car camping gear, backcountry camping gear, brand new camping hammocks, wedding clothes, and two kayaks. I lobbied for bicycles too, but was talked out of it. Since I organized all of the reservations, Doug was treated to a snippet of many of my camping childhood memories. We spent a few days touring places that are still vivid in my recollections of Northern Michigan before we crossed the border into Ontario.

As we drove through Indian River, MI on the way to our campground, we stopped at the Cross in the Woods, the largest crucifix in the world. I remember coming here for Sunday Masses when we camped at Indian River State Park as kids. I lit some candles for my parents, then we took a walk to the shrines. As we did, I took some time to think about the unique draw that this place still has for me. And what it comes down to, is that it's an organized Catholic place of worship that is in the outdoors. The first and maybe only one I've ever been to.

Then we headed the rest of the way up to the northernmost tip of Michigan's lower pennisula. We set up in a campground just outside of Mackinaw City. And we enjoyed our first night of car camping--until the car radios started. A baseball game from one side and bad music from the other. Sigh. Someday I'll find a campground that outlaws amplified music. Regardless, we had a pretty nice first night out. Except that it might have dipped down to 49 degrees F and we were just sleeping in our light 55+ bags. I was really glad that I'd tossed in my -20 bag when I packed the car, just in case!

The next morning we took the ferry to Mackinac Island.
We got to start our day off with a lovely cruise under the big bridge and then we were released with the hoardes of tourists on the Island--why were we traveling on a holiday weekend?? We were still lucky enough to rent a tandem bike and with only some initial wobbles and yelps, we started on our 8 mile loop around the island. Halfway around we took a break and dipped our toes into Lake Huron. Brr! We finished our ride, returned the bike, then took a nice hike around the fort and watched a court martial. And then we needed a nap, so we headed home to the campground.

One of the reasons I was excited for the week of car camping before we headed into the backcountry, was the chance to try out our new camping hammocks. After a bunch of research, and balancing price with reviews, I went with the ENO OneLink system. It came with everything included--hammock, tarp, bugnet, straps, stakes, etc. They arrived in the mail just before we left for the trip, so we hadn't tried them out yet. And I wanted to know if they were going to be a disaster before we paddled several miles into the wilderness with untried equipment. One of the other things I'd heard about hammocks was that you sleep colder, so I wanted to test it out in the balmy mid-fifty temps predicted for that night, before we tried them out in the great white north.

After only a reasonable amount of cursing and readjusting, I got it set up. Headed to the cooler to get myself a tasty beverage, and came back to find Doug in the hammock, already mostly asleep. Sigh. So I set up the other one too. We managed to wake up for some dinner then Doug retired to the tent with my liner and both of our light sleeping bags (I think we only dipped into the low 50s that night) and I tried out the hammock with my big sleeping bag. It was lovely!
Doug has vehemently declared that he doesn't recall stealing my hammock.  But we all know the truth.

Sunday morning started out rainy and stayed that way for most of the day. So I took a page from my Mom's playbook and we headed over to Petoskey State Park. Petoskey stones are a fossilized coral, found in this particular part of Michigan. They're gorgeous stones, but the fossilized patterns only show up when the stones are wet or polished. So it's the perfect drizzly day activity! After a lovely wet rock hunting hike, a dipping our toes in Lake Michigan, we dried out and warmed up with lunch at the Petoskey Brewing Co. It actually cleared up a bit, so I dragged Doug I to the lovely burg of Petoskey for a little shopping, although he quickly escaped to a bookstore until we were both ready to try out the other microbrewery in town. Yum.

We both wanted an early start into Ontario the next day, so we decided both sleep in hammocks that night and to break down the big tent and pack up most of our gear. And then the skies opened again, alternating between drizzle and downpour for the rest of the night. And we discovered, to our great pleasure, that the tarps over the hammocks worked beautifully.

The next morning we headed north into the Upper Pennisula via the Mackinac Bridge. Doug skillfully, but with very white knuckles, managed to steer us to the other side without mishap. And my last demand for childhood memories was fulfilled at a little dinner in Sault Sainte Marie before we crossed the border. We had Pasties for lunch! Then we crossed over into Ontario to start our odyssey there.

On day 4, we got to stay in a lovely campground right on the banks of the St Mary River, just outside of Sault Ste. Marie, ON. We took a lovely paddle out from our campsite onto the the river, watched the sunset, read books, ate too many marshmallows by the fire and went to bed. Sadly, this campground didn't allow hammocks that attach to trees, so we'd set up the big tent. But by morning, we were glad for the big tent, since it was blustery, chilly, and threatening rain. But we set out to see what the Soo had to offer. We visited the locks, tied knots at the visitor center, and got a very excited and heartfelt explanation of how the locks work by the adorable 19 year-old interpretive guide. And we took a hike out to the islands just next to the locks in the rapids of St Mary, and were warned by a cute 9 year-old as we walked out that the trail was washed out and the current was "quite strong"! He was right, but we foolishly decided that the 4 inch current probably wouldn't knock us down.  We got a lovely view of the swollen rapids from the observation deck that was nearly underwater.

Since this was vacation time, and we hadn't yet fulfilled our quota of naps, we headed back to camp. And read our books as we lounged in our camp chairs, piling on more and more layers, and then sleeping bags as the wind got more blustery and colder.  It was windy enough that we could barely get the food on the campstove to heat up, even after we moved the end of the table into our tent vestibule as a windscreen.

The morning broke a little less windy and rainy, but since yet another night dipped down into the low 40s, we decided that Doug was probably going to need a warmer sleeping bag. Luckily, Sault Sainte Marie had a decent outdoor store, and now Doug finally has a decent, backpackable, warm bag. This was the one gear thing that I was worried about for the backcountry portion of the trip, so now I could just focus on being concerned that we weren't going to be able to fit all our gear in our kayaks.

With one less worry, we moved on with our sixth day of travel to Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater lake island in the world. That's a Canadian fact. And a pretty gorgeous place, too! As we drove along, we were listening to Doug's eclectic collection of music on shuffle. And favorite song of his by the Canadian band, The Arrogant Worms, started to play.  I'd heard this one a few times, and recognized it...but this time I actually listened to the fairly long spoken intro before the song started.

"We often get to do a lot of driving across this wonderful land of ours, which means that we get to go through that wonderful place of snow and rock called northern Ontario. Has everyone here been to northern Ontario? Stop cheering! For those who haven't, northern Ontario is eighty billion kilometers long. There are thirteen people who live there. All of whom are named Frank. Even the girl."
"She's very popular."
"Very popular, indeed."
"We were driving across Manitoulin Island once, the world's largest freshwater island--that's a Canadian Fact. And we saw a theme park, this is a real place, it's called Terry's Taxidermy and Mounted Animal Nature Trail."

At this point, I lose my mind and start squealing. Because we are on our way to Manitoulin Island!  And why didn't Doug tell me that this is where the song came from?! Needless to say, we are both now VERY EXCITED that I accidentally organized this stop into our road trip! But more on the Mounted Animal Nature Trail in a bit.

We set up camp near Mindemoya, kind of smack dab in the middle of the island. And headed out to do some hiking since we'd been stuck in the car for most of the day. Doug decided on the Cup and Saucer trail, since we had just enough daylight to drive to it, hike it and get back to cook before it was time to immediately fall asleep. It's a lovely flat trail, until you get to the two parts of it marked as "steep". And they weren't kidding. But it was worth the clambering climb to get up to the highest point on the island, to get to see the view from the 70 meter cliffs.


Doug is not convinced to frolic on the cliff edge
But Fiona is just that foolish!

As we drove back to the campground after the hike, I kept staring through the windshield thinking that must be very dirty or I was suddenly seeing spots. And then the spots got thicker. And I realized that they were a huge swarm of flying insects! A mayfly emergence! And the seagulls were just flying though the swarm, with their mouths open, stuffing themselves. It was so cool, and creepy, and weird, and awesome!

And now, my friends, the Mounted Animal Nature Trail.

We woke up, very excited to get to the Gordon's Park EcoResort on the east side of the island. We walked into the office and Doug very proudly asked to buy two admissions for the Mounted Animal Nature Trail. And the guy behind the desk just looked at us blankly. Uh-oh. He told us that there was a Mounted Animal Exhibit and that there were nature trails and we could see both if we wanted. We were desolated. We bought our tickets, and we went into the Mounted Animal Exhibit. It was fine. A little funny even. But it was not a nature trail. Sigh.

Then we wandered outside, trying to use the (horribly designed) map to get out to the trails, and another employee came over to chat. He pointed out the way to the trails and I decided to try again, "Did this used to be the Mounted Animal Nature Trail?"  "Ah, Arrogant Worms fans, eh?", he asked. And then proceeded to tell the sad story that time, weather, and live critters were doing to much damage to the Mounted Animals, so they had been moved indoors years before. BUT! He could give us certificates! We could be certified visitors of the formerly Mounted Animal Nature Trail. Yay! We are pretty sure that his name must have been Frank.

The nature trails were nice enough. We had a fine time. But we will always regret having missed the Mounted Animal Nature Trail in its heyday. Sigh.

The next morning, we had to get moving very early to catch the 9 am ferry at the southeast tip of the island. We had a lovely day for a cruise, brisk and bright, and we managed to score lounge chairs on the open deck, and watched Manitoulin Island shrink away as we made our way to the Bruce Peninsula for Marion and Matt's wedding in Tobermory.

As I mentioned, Marion and Matt's wedding was the inspiration for this whole trip. We were so excited that we were invited! The happy couple had decided to have a small and lovely ceremony at the Wonnacottage--the summer cottage on the shore that Marion had grown up loving with her whole family. We set up at a campground near town and then headed out for a visit with the Wonnacotts. And had a lovely dip in Lake Huron. We had a divine nap back at the campsite (still not quite meeting our vacation quota) and then headed back for a bonfire on the beach at the cottage. And there was family, and marshmallows, and fireworks. Then the mosquitoes chased us home.

The next morning, Doug, his cousin Carol (who was also camping with us for he weekend) and I made a quick breakfast, and then headed over to the hotel to wake up Doug's brother, Andrew, so we could all go out to hike at the Bruce Peninsula National Park before the wedding festivities. It was a grand day for a hike. And it seemed many other folks thought so as well. We hiked the Cypress trail and on out to the Grotto, and it was beautiful!

Then we headed back to the Wonnacottage to help out with some of the last of the tasks before the wedding. I believe that we have earned the best wedding helper karma helping clear the ceremony area of the beach of a whole lot of goose poop. Yep. Goose poop. Seven of the bride's siblings, a nephew, and us cousins cleaned up. While I won't say it was fun exactly, it was pretty funny! Especially the parts when Doug and Marion's brother, David, chased off the geese with garden implements.

After we cleaned the beach, then cleaned ourselves, it was time for the ceremony. And it was just lovely. We were all a bit concerned, because a rainstorm was threatening, but it stayed clear through the ceremony. Matt and Marion got to have their perfect start for their marriage. And then we all got to have a great party to celebrate them. A fabulous time was had by all. Oh, and there was a POUTINE BAR at the reception!

Please note, that Marion and Matt requested that the guests put away their cameras during the ceremony, so we haven't got any to post here on the blog. But trust me, it was beautiful.

And during the reception, the skies opened and it just poured. All night. And the hammock and I stayed dry! As morning broke, entirely too early, we packed up our really wet gear, and headed out for some quick goodbyes and coffee at the Wonnacottage before we headed down around the Georgian Bay and over to Algonquin Provincial Park.

We decided to treat ourselves after 9 nights of camping, to a night in a hotel before we went in to the backcountry for 5 more days. So, we stopped for the night in Mattawa, a tiny little town just northwest of Algonquin Park. We were thrilled that the day turned sunny, warm, and windy. And we were really happy to arrive at the hotel in time to hang all of our wet car camping gear out to dry, wash all of clothes at the laundromat, and manage to find dinner before the town shut down at 8 pm. While all of our stuff was washing and drying, we took a tour around town (this took about 15 minutes, because we dawdled and stopped in the grocery store). I had noticed an odd store name as we drove in earlier, so I wanted to snap a photo of it.

"Not Clyde's", huh. Weird. Funny. And oddly enough, it was just a regular clothing store, which struck me as even funnier. But then, at the other end of town--this would be a quarter mile down the same main street, we found this:

This empty store front is not "Not Clyde's". Not "Not Clyde's" any more. I was pleased. Doug was pleased. We are pretty easy.

But enough of this foolishness, on to Algonquin! I voted we get up silly early, since the Ranger's office would be open at 7:30 am for us to pick up our permit. We actually managed to get on the road before 8, which wasn't bad. Until we missed our turn and drove too far. Then realized that we needed gas, and we had to drive 25 miles back to Mattawa to fill up. Then we overshot the launch and made a quick stop in "downtown Brent", which consists of the canoe outfitter on this side of the Park. We chatted with the shopkeep, bought some snacks for lunch, and found out the the broken siding on the front of the store was not from someone driving into it--rather it was a bear who wanted in the night before! Eek!

We finally got to the launch and packed up and everything fit in the kayaks! We were on the water by 11:30 am. Yay! We paddled out onto Cedar Lake.

Since this was our first REAL backcountry paddling trip in our kayaks, we had been pretty cautious in our itinerary. No portages for the first night and camp on Aura Lee. Only two short portages the second day. We'd camp two nights on Little Cauchon, then head back to retrace the same portages on night four, and spend the last night at the west end of Cedar Lake, for (theoretically) an easy paddle out on the last day.

It was a brilliant plan, one that I confirmed ahead of time with a ranger when I made the reservations. And it was a good plan...except that we launched late enough in the day that Monday, that we paddled for two hours on a big lake into a strong head wind. Whew. It was not my favorite. But then we finally made it to the west end of Cedar Lake, and onto the much smaller Little Cedar Lake and then on to Aura Lee. And they were my favorite! And we made camp, just about six miles in, a little before 3 pm.

After our celebratory mug of wine, and since I love him a lot, I let Doug escape and go fishing after he helped with just a little camp set-up--mostly hanging the bear bag rope and his hammock.

And I lounged and read and reveled in the awesomeness.

Eventually Doug came back, after many many many fish.  We had dinner, including a bass that Doug caught, hung our bear bag, and turned in. Because it was REALLY dark.

And the next day when I woke up, Doug was already fishing. He gets extra bonus husband points for securing my tarp without waking me up, since the morning started with a drizzle. He eventually came home again and we packed up to head out for the day. The trip across Aura Lee Lake was super quick. The first portage was only supposed to be a quarter mile and reasonably flat. But it had lots of big rocks in the trail. And it seemed longer--especially for my wonderfully burly husband who took two trips to carry both kayaks while I dealt with getting most of the gear unpacked, into a backpack, and repacked into the boats. Then we were on Laurel Lake and a mile of paddling across to our next portage. And when we in the middle of the lake, the drizzle turned into a downpour and the thunder boomed! So we paddled furiously to the next portage, which was short, a mere tenth of mile, but most of that was straight uphill. We replayed the unpack, pack, haul, repack game again. And then panted a lot as we got back into our boats for the last of the paddling of the day. Oh, the start of the last portage we saw the last people--the second of two groups that day--for the next few days. We didn't see anyone again until Thursday afternoon.

We paddled another mile and a bit on Little Cauchon Lake, passing the first two campsites, and settling on the third one. It had been pretty steadily drizzling and raining, and continued as we started to set up camp. And that setting up mostly involved pulling out our big tarp and setting it up near the fire pit on a mostly big flat rock. Then we cowered there and the mosquitoes descended and feasted on us for the next two days. I'll admit it, it was kind of miserable. We'd be spoiled the previous day, with warm sunny weather and enough wind to keep the bugs manageable. Day 2 and 3 were just wet and cold.  But the cold didn't seem to stop these mosquitoes. They were demon mosquitoes. Sigh.

After a snack, the rain did seem to let up that first afternoon for a little while and I managed to get the hammocks set up and a bear rope hung while Doug did some fishing. It seems he got spoiled on Aura Lee Lake the first night. Fish had been hitting his hook even when he hadn't been actively fishing--twice while he was untangling his line, he caught two fish! This meant Little Cauchon was a bit of a disappointment. And then it started pouring again. So he gave up and managed to get a fire started, and we had dinner then hid from the mosquitoes.

Day 3 was spent pretty much the same way, but colder. Wet and 50s all day. But with better napping! I am now a firm believer in hammock camping!  I've spent a lot of wet and miserable days in the backcountry...but swinging gently in a warm sleeping bag in a dry hammock, reading and napping, is pretty much a lovely day any way you look at it. Sometime that night after we retired, as I read myself to sleep, I heard something biggish moving in the woods and something big splashing in the water. Neither of us was brave enough to get out of the hammock or foolish enough to let the mosquitoes at us again, so we aren't sure what we heard.

Day 4 was a treat after the previous two days. Mostly sunny and already warmer. So we packed up camp and headed back toward portaging. If we thought the mosquitoes were bad on Days 2 and 3, we were just wrong wrong wrong. They were unstoppable during our two portages on Thursday. At some point as I was hiking at a pretty good clip, I looked down to see six on small portion of my arm that had escaped by bug jacket. Ugh! I'm sad that we never managed to get a photo of me with the big backpack, dry bags and life vests clipped all over it and paddles in the side pockets...but we couldn't stand still that long or we would have been completely drained of blood.

Doug's trip fishing highlights:
He caught his first walleye ever
The largest small mouth bass he caught was 17"
His best run was 4 fish caught in 4 casts

Finally, we were safe back out on the water. Doug fished and fished and fished, then fished some more. After the last portage, I abandoned him to the lure of fish and paddled the last two connected lakes on my own. I headed for the most awesome campsite ever, on an island at the west end of Cedar Lake. When I arrived, that same wind that we'd hated our first day was blowing again, but this time it was a blessing! I set up camp, reveling in the sun on my un-bugnetted skin, then took a swim in the lake. And swung away in my un-netted hammock, taunting all the mosquitoes that couldn't land on me! I also got visited by the park rangers, who were checking out the site. We had a nice little chat and I found out the that this island, which has an amazing old chimney still standing, used to have an illegal cabin on it. They tore down the structure, but left the chimney. I also found out that this was the worst he had ever seen mosquitoes in his twenty years at the park. Yay, us. Ugh.

How to serve wine in the backcountry!

Doug eventually found his way through all the fish and joined me hours later. We had a nice big fire and a great dinner. We were smart enough to get the bear bag hung and nearly made it into our bug-netted hammocks before the swarm of all swarms of mosquitoes hit at dusk. We laid in our nests and marveled at how many there were and how loud there were. It was amazing and terrifying!

We woke up early the next morning and packed up quickly. We wanted to get out on the water, first of all to escape the mosquitoes who didn't seem to care that it was no longer nighttime, and to beat the wind for the last 4.5 miles we had to paddle.

And I'll admit it, I was was ready to be done. It was a lot of paddling on a really big lake. I might have cheered a lot as we turned around the last bend and could see the launch. Then we packed up the car and started our long long long drive towards Indianapolis. And this cute little rough grouse was just as happy to see us go.

We were a little sad that we hadn't seen any moose or bears, or heard any wolves...but we will be back!

We had one last important mission before we left Ontario. Doug had asked for a Crokinole board for Christmas a while back. Crokinole has some similarities to shuffleboard and curling but as a board game.  It is fairly regional to Ontario, but scores at 38 of BoardGameGeeks top 100 board games! Doug didn't realize just how regional it was, until his mom started her quest to find him a good board. After a very long search, Doug's wonderful mother, Joy, gifted us with a lovely, custom-made board from Elmira, ON. Willard makes beautiful boards! Since we were mostly going past there on the way home, we stopped and picked it up. It's a thing of beauty! I'm well on my way to being obsessed with beating Doug. He seems to be a Crokinole shark!

Since we made our pick up in Elmira way earlier than we planned, we decided to head on down over the border before we crashed for the night. Despite being trapped in a car that smelled suspiciously fishy. The border crossing barely slowed us down and we miraculously found a hotel with a jacuzzi tub just of the interstate south of Detroit. We were in heaven as we boiled away some of the itchiness of the bug bites. We made it home most of a day ahead of schedule, finishing off the vacation requirements by having ice cream for lunch on the last day. Then we collapsed for a day, recovering, and loving being home after an awesome adventure.