Canadian Odyssey – Part Twelve

Sunrise on the beach near East Park Campground.

Sunrise on the beach near East Park Campground.

Like the rest of Canada, the economy has taken its toll on Pelee Island. All the more reason to go there.

I recently read that the island’s population has dropped from 2,000 to 200. Actually, the year-round population is less than that — 171 according to a 2012 headcount. No surprise there. During my three-day visit I saw plenty of empty houses and even an abandoned marina. For sale signs were everywhere and the asking  prices were surprisingly low.

There’s a reason for that; living there is costly. And it’s difficult for those used to creature comforts such as grocery stores, fast-food restaurants and electricity. However, there is a winery and a nice little bar on the north end of the island. What more could a person need?

A great little watering hole with the best perch dinners on the island and a laid-back atmosphere.

Scudder Beach — a  great little watering hole with the best perch dinners on the island and a laid-back atmosphere.

The Canadian Lake Erie Islands are also to be admired for keeping Americans supplied with booze and beer during the Prohibition era. God, I love the Canadians (except for Tar Sands and Molson Brewery selling out to Coors).

Pelee Island boasts an abundance of what I call default nature reserves. These are properties that owners let revert to nature — possibly out of the goodness of their hearts, but probably to cut their losses. Some actually have trails and signs.

The best one is Fish Point Nature Reserve on the south end of the island. It features woodland and wetland habitats and a great beach for strolling and annoying the gulls.

A heron works the surf on the beach at Fish Point Nature Reserve.

A heron waits for breakfast in the surf at Fish Point Nature Reserve.

I didn’t know what to expect when I set out for the island from mainland Canada. I stocked up on provisions in Kingsville, ready-to-eat foods and a four-liter jug of water. In recent years Lake Erie’s West Basin has been plagued with blue-green algae that tends to get worse as the summer wears on, so I wasn’t taking chances.

I had no idea where I’d sleep. I’d imagined that, if there were campgrounds, they would be pricey.

That wasn’t the case. After getting off the ferry, I headed straight for East Park Campground on the other side of the island. It cost only $20 a night Canadian. I gave the woman at the camp office an American $50 bill for two nights and she gave me about $700 Canadian in change — such was the exchange rate.

I pitched my tent, dove in and took a nap just to see whether I was dreaming.

When I awakened and discovered I hadn’t been dreaming, I took a walk around and surveyed my surroundings. A short walk from my tent was a public beach. The shower house was a short walk in the other direction.

It turned out that I didn’t need my provisions. On the north end of the island was a tavern with great fish dinners, a good selection of beers and a welcoming atmosphere. The food and drink were reasonably priced.

Great little place for breakfast. I had a hard time finding my way in — the door was out back with no signage. When I walked through the door I didn’t know whether they’d serve me breakfast or hand me an apron.

Great little place for breakfast. I had a hard time finding my way inside. The restaurant entrance was at the back with no signage. When I walked through the door I didn’t know whether they’d serve me breakfast or hand me an apron.

For breakfast, there was a little restaurant inside a Canadian Legion hall — their equivalent of our VFW or American Legion halls. It also had decent food, nonstop coffee, attentive friendly help and a pleasant atmosphere. Among the breakfast patrons was a Canadian customs agent. He kind of reminded me of Mr. Rogers — a stark contrast to America’s border guards. They tend to look more like skinhead versions of Rambo.

With three days to kill and recharged camera batteries, I was able to take a lot of photos on Pelee Island. Here are but a few:

An abandoned house on the south end of the island, one of many empty houses on the island.

An abandoned house on the south end of the island, one of many on Pelee.

images

A heron looks for fish at what remains of an abandoned marina.

A heron looks for fish among the ruins of an abandoned marina.

images

Every man’s dream — finding a naked woman lying on the beach. Sandy, I hated to leave you.

Every man’s dream — finding a naked woman lying on the beach. Sandy, darling, I hated to leave you.

images

The best of both worlds. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets are a short drive — or a long walk — away.

The best of both worlds. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets are a short drive — or a long walk — away.

images

A Pelee Island landmark, the shoe tree(s) on the northwest corner of the island. One blogger, remarked that his girlfriend needed shoes to fun a half-marathon and found a pair in her size.

A Pelee Island landmark, the shoe tree on the northwest corner of the island. One blogger remarked that his girlfriend needed shoes to fun a half-marathon and found a pair in her size. He didn’t mention how high she had to climb to get them.

images

Shoes for every occasion. There were even a few pairs of skates hanging from the tree.

Shoes for every occasion. There were even a few pairs of skates.

images

Yes, they even had them in children’s sizes.

They even had a children’s department.

images

There were plenty of monarch butterflies on the island.

There were plenty of monarch butterflies on the island.

images

This butterfly was at the Stone Road Alvar Reserve, an oak savannah habitat.

This butterfly was at the Stone Road Alvar Reserve. This was an oak savannah habitat where I nearly got lost. I wasn’t particularly worried whether I ever got out of there.

images

Stone man — part of an art installation on the west side of the island. There was also a makeshift memorial to cancer victims there — and several bras strung from trees.

Stone man — part of an art installation on the west side of the island. There was also a makeshift memorial to cancer victims there and several bras draped on tree branches.

images

This monument was erected near the airfield in the middle of the island. It’s self-explanatory.

This monument was erected near the airfield in the middle of the island. It’s self-explanatory.

images

Detail from the Flight 163 memorial. You’ve gotta respect people who hold their dogs in high esteem.

Detail from the Flight 126 memorial. You’ve gotta respect people who hold their dogs in high esteem.

images

Pelee Island in a nutshell. It was McKee who drained the island's wetlands, opening it up to settlement. The water was sloughed off into canals, which remain and keep the island well-supplied with mosquitoes.

Pelee Island in a nutshell. It was McKee who drained the island’s wetlands, opening it up to settlement. The water was sloughed off into canals, which remain and keep the island well-supplied with mosquitoes.

images

The Purple Gang — responsible for keeping Americans in booze during prohibition. They worked out of Middle Island, Canada’s southernmost island.

The Purple Gang — responsible for keeping Americans in booze during Prohibition. They worked out of Middle Island, Canada’s southernmost island.

images

The lighthouse at Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve, probably the island's most recognizable landmark. Besides the Scuttle Beach tavern.

The lighthouse at Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve, perhaps the island’s most recognizable landmark. Besides the Scudder Beach tavern.

images

pelitehouseinter

An interior view of the lighthouse — taken through a window on the door.

Next: Epilogue

Advertisements

Canadian Odyssey – Part Eleven

Southwest Ontario — mile after mile of cornfields and wind generators.

Southwest Ontario — mile upon mile of cornfields and wind generators. (And some cool old barns.)

On the road again. After more than a week of traveling 3 mph in a canoe, highway speeds seemed incredibly fast.

After leaving Algonquin Provincial Park, Ken, Steve and I made our obligatory stop at Algonquin Outfitters. As if we hadn’t tortured ourselves enough for the past eight days — trudging for miles on hellish portages, weathering torrential rainstorms and listening to Ken’s jokes — now we had to go to a canoe outfitting store and look at shelf after shelf of things we couldn’t afford.

That was followed by another form or torture, stopping at Weber’s on Highway 11 and not eating.

Sunrise at the Kinsville, Ontario, dock. Right church, wrong pew. After returning from breakfast, I’d learn that the ferry for Pelee Island wasn’t leaving from there.

Sunrise at the Kinsgville, Ontario, dock. Right church, wrong pew. After returning from breakfast, I’d learn that the ferry for Pelee Island wasn’t leaving from there.

We parted company at Algonquin Outfitters. Ken and Steve headed back to the U.S. and I set out across uncharted territory — southwest Ontario. I had hoped to stop for lunch at Weber’s, an Ontario landmark and a great burger joint. However, it was Friday and, when I got there, the lines were out the door and half-way across the parking lot. So I peed and left.

I resigned myself to still another form of torture, lunch at Tim Horton’s.

The Canoebaru, in line and ready to board the ferry for Pelee Island.

The Canoebaru, in line and ready to board the ferry for Pelee Island.

I had until 9 a.m. the next day to be at the ferry terminal in Kingsville, so I had plenty of time to kill. I stopped at a Tim Horton’s on Highway 401 and attempted to log onto the Internet with my iPad mini. Suffering from 60/60 syndrome, being over 60 and having grown up in the ’60s, I couldn’t figure out how to log on.

This almost proved to be my undoing. Had I managed to log on and check my email, I would have seen a message from Owen Sound Transportation Company telling me the Kingsville dock was out of commission. All departures for Pelee Island had been moved to Leamington.

I suspect the ferry operator posted this sign for Michael Jackson’s benefit.

I suspect the ferry operator posted this sign for Michael Jackson’s benefit.

I arrived at Kingsville after dark and slept in my car in the parking lot. In the morning, I continued my torture regimen, eating at still another Tim Hortons. I returned to the dock at about 8:20 a.m. The parking lot was empty. This seemed odd because the ferry was scheduled to begin boarding at 9 a.m.

I walked up to the front door. A sign was posted there advising that all departures had been moved to the Leamington dock. I’d later learn that there had been an issue with dredging the Kingsville harbor, i.e. no one got around to doing it.

So I drove up the road to Leamington — about a 20-minute drive — and arrived in plenty of time to make the ferry. Much to my delight there was not a Tim Hortons on the boat.

Next: Pelee at last!

 

 

Canadian Odyssey – Part Ten

View of the lake from our campsite — a sunbeam creeps across the treetops.

View of the lake from our campsite — it was cool watching sunbeams sweep across the treetops.

We estimated that our Head Lake campsite was eight stories above the lake. After much deliberation, procrastination, a few meals and a nap, we finally got out the GPS and measured the altitude. It was closer to four stories.

When you’re young, the world seems much larger. That’s because you’re so small. When you’re old, the world seems to get larger all over again. That’s because you’re so old.

We set up our hangout spot on high ground — with a panoramic view of the lake to one side and a view of a waterfalls on the other. It was a nice level spot with adequate trees to tie off our rain tarp. We’d need it. On one of the two days we stayed there, it rained continually until around 5:30 p.m.

I passed nearly four hours of that time rebooting my brain. I dove into my tent and took a three hour nap followed by meditation.

The view of the waterfalls from our campsite. So inviting!

The view of the waterfalls from our campsite. So inviting!

Our plein-air artists had followed us from Harness Lake to Head Lake and set up camp at the spot where we camped on our first night at Alqonquin Provincial Park. Actually, they would have beaten us to Head Lake if there weren’t so many of them. Yes, a bunch of 14-year-old girls kicked our asses; they handled the portage trail much better than we did. And with what appeared to be heavier packs.

We did our usual daytime exploring there, this time on Kenneth Lake. Steve said that sometimes canoeists like to work their way there and spend two or three days because it’s one of the more isolated lakes and not used as much as others.

I took advantage of the waterfalls between Kenneth and Head lakes, rinsing off several days worth of funk and luxuriating under the rushing water as it massaged my aching shoulder and back muscles.

This fungus was growing from a stump near my tent.

This fungus was growing from a stump near my tent.

On our final night there, we savored one last sunset together. In the morning, we’d take the mile-long portage back to Cache Lake. Steve and Ken would head back to the states and I’d begin the final leg of my Canadian Odyssey — visiting Pelee Island for the first time in my life.

While paddling to the portage to Kenneth Lake, we spotted this. The tree, when it was living, had grown around the boulder. Now they were going their separate ways.

While paddling to the portage to Kenneth Lake, we spotted this. The tree, when it was living, had grown around the boulder. They have since gone their separate ways.

Here's a view of Kenneth Lake from atop the waterfalls.

Here’s a view of Kenneth Lake from atop the waterfalls.

Mushroom cloud. I've often thought that, if I ever saw a real mushroom cloud from one of my campsites, I’d just keep on camping and canoeing. No point going back to a world that is no longer there. And doesn’t deserve to be.

Mushroom cloud. I’ve often thought that, if I ever saw a real mushroom cloud from one of my campsites, I’d just keep on camping and canoeing. No point going back to a world that’s no longer there. And doesn’t deserve to be.

Ken’s beside himself — or beside his namesake. I don’t suspect there’s much of a chance of finding an Irv Lake in Algonquin.

Ken’s beside himself — or beside his namesake. I don’t suspect there’s much of a chance of finding an Irv Lake in Algonquin.

A spatterdock bloom on Kenneth Lake. There were quite a few of them there ... and there would have been a lot more if the beavers hadn’t eaten them.

A spatterdock flower on Kenneth Lake. There were quite a few of them there. There would have been a lot more if the beavers hadn’t eaten them.

Steve and Ken take in the last sunset of our trip. It was a beauty — the sunset and the trip.

Steve and Ken take in the last sunset of our trip. It was a beauty — the sunset and the trip.

I get a shot of Steve getting a shot of the sunset ... If Ken had a camera, he could have gotten a shot of me getting a shot of Steve ...

I got a shot of Steve getting a shot of the sunset. If Ken had a camera, he could have gotten a shot of me getting a shot of Steve …

A loon photobombs my last sunset shot.

A loon photobombs my last sunset shot.

Next: On to Pelee Island

Canadian Odyssey – Part Nine

Steve crosses a footbridge over waterfalls between Harness and Pardee lakes.

Steve crosses a footbridge over waterfalls during a portage between Harness and Pardee lakes.

I hated to leave Kirkwood Lake behind, but it was time to wend our way back through the lakes. Our next base camp would be on an island on Harness Lake, where we’d spend a couple of nights.

This is where Steve’s vast experience at Algonquin Provincial Park pays off; he knows where the best campsites are and tries to set up our itinerary so we get there ahead of others who might be vying for those spots.

It was a lovely spot and would have been much better if our predecessors hadn’t left it such a mess. In addition to toilet paper all over the ground and worse, someone had painted an eyeball and the word “Bye” on a rock. So much for leaving only footprints. (While I’m on my soapbox — OK, women, I understand that, for you, peeing outdoors is a little more involved. But would it be too much to ask that, when you pee, you either put your toilet paper in the fire ring and burn it or pack it out in a plastic bag?)

During our stay, I took it on myself to remove the graffiti. I used a combination of crumpled foil, rocks and elbow grease. Crumpled foil is good for cleaning pans and grills, by the way.

Harness Lake doesn’t offer much in the way of solitude. However, we were graced with a visit from a youth group — girls in their early teens — who camped across the way from us. Part of what they did involved plein-air sketching. It was quite a sight to see them all sitting out on the rocks at sunset, pads and pastels in hand. It’s always great to see young people doing something constructive, especially in the outdoors.

Once again, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Most of these were taken on Harness Lake; some were taken on Pardee and Lawrence lakes and, as I recall, an unnamed lake.

§ § §
A sundew plant at Pardee Lake. This carnivorous plant traps insects that mistake it’s sticky droplets for dew. If you look closely, you can see a little bugger in there.

A sundew plant at Pardee Lake. This carnivorous plant traps insects that mistake its sticky droplets for dew. If you look closely, you can see a little bugger in there. (Near the center of the frame.)

§ § §
On the rocks — Steve and Ken at Pardee Lake. While exploring other lakes, we often check out the campsites for future reference. Or Ken looks for found objects to incorporated into his art.

On the rocks — Steve and Ken at Pardee Lake. While exploring other lakes, we often check out the campsites for future reference. Or Ken looks for found objects to incorporate into his art.

§ § §
Ken’s collection of found objects from this trip.

Ken’s collection of found objects from this trip.

§ § §
Sun King Squarepants — one of Ken’s campsite creations. On every trip, he makes one of these out of abandoned grills.

Sun King Squarepants — one of Ken’s campsite creations. On every trip, he makes one of these out of abandoned grills and other found items.

§ § §
After I’d pitched my tent at Harness Lake, Ken told me that was the spot where they planned to put up the bear rope. It was too good a spot to give up and I decided that, if the bear wanted it, he’d have to fight me for it.

After I’d pitched my tent at Harness Lake, Ken told me that was the spot where they planned to put up the bear rope. It was too good a spot to give up and I decided that, if the bear wanted it, he’d have to fight me for it.

§ § §
This guy was hanging out among the rocks near my tent.

This guy was hanging out among the rocks near my tent.

§ § §
Darner flies at one of the lakes we explored. They got the name because people used to tell their kids that, if they didn’t behave, these little buggers would come along at night and sew their eyelids shut.

Darner flies at one of the lakes we explored. They got the name because people used to tell their kids that, if they didn’t behave, these little buggers would come along at night and sew their eyelids shut.

§ § §
We saw this juvenile yellowbellied sapsucker at Lawrence Lake.

We saw this juvenile yellow-bellied sapsucker at Lawrence Lake.

§ § §
A sunset on Harness Lake. It would have been fun to see how the group of plein-air artists across the lake interpreted it.

A sunset on Harness Lake. It would have been fun to see how the group of plein-air artists across the lake sketched it.

§ § §
Another Harness Lake sunset — this one on a rainy evening. Beautiful just the same.

Another Harness Lake sunset — this one on a rainy evening. Beautiful just the same.

§ § §
Sphagnum moss growing on a rock outcropping on Harness Lake. Steve said it gets its red hue from overexposure to sunlight. I thought it just looked that way because my eyes were bloodshot.

Sphagnum moss growing on a rock outcropping on Harness Lake. Steve said it gets its red hue from overexposure to sunlight. I thought it just looked that way because my eyes were bloodshot.

§ § §
It’s always a joy to see Steve botanizing on our trips. Talk about a man in his element.

It’s always a joy to see Steve botanizing on our trips. Talk about a man in his element. If you look carefully, you can see all three of us in this shot.

Next: We return to Head Lake

Canadian Odyssey – Part Eight

Steve and Ken at Founders Lake. We didn’t drag our canoes there; we just walked around the lake and a bit. And snacked on raspberries along the way.

Steve and Ken at Founders Lake. We didn’t drag our canoes there; we just walked around the lake a bit. And snacked on raspberries along the way.

I’ve never been a fan of base-camp  canoe tripping. Algonquin Provincial Park is an exception to that rule.

By base-camp canoe tripping I mean setting up camp in one spot, paddling during the day and returning there to spend the next night or so. That sucks for river tripping. For me, the attraction with river canoe camping is the ever-changing scenery and a feeling of constant movement through time and space.

But Algonquin is  a different animal. It’s primarily chains of lakes — with occasional streams in between, many of them unnavigable. Steve, who’s been going there for three decades, is familiar with many of them and that helps. It also helps that he’s a naturalist. Steve appreciates the subtleties of the landscape and readily shares his knowledge of it. In other words, he’s a walking encyclopedia. And he makes a great supper to boot.

As mentioned in the previous post, we spent a couple of days camping on Kirkwood Lake. While there, we took day trips to explore Phipps Lake and Founders Lake. There is no marked portage to the latter; you have to do some serious bushwhacking to get there. Steve said we probably were the first humans to set eyes on it in over a decade, which made it kind of special.

Steve checks out some Indian pipe on Phipps Lake. He got some great shots using a hand magnifier and his iPhone. By the way, it happened to be his birthday. He made Ken and me promise not to sing Happy Birthday. Although we were allowed to recite random lines from the Beatles song.

Steve checks out some Indian pipe on Phipps Lake. He got some great shots using a hand magnifier and his iPhone. By the way, it happened to be his birthday. He made Ken and me promise not to sing Happy Birthday. Although we were allowed to recite random lines from the Beatles song.

§ § §
Look out guys! Thumbzilla — about to crush Ken and Steve. (I think this was taken at Founders Lake.)

Look out guys! Thumbzilla — about to crush Ken and Steve. (I took this photo with my GPS camera at Founders Lake.)

§ § §
Phipps Lake — one of several we explored on our day excursions.

Phipps Lake — one of several we explored on our day excursions.

§ § §
Ken strikes an outdoorsy pose at the falls between Phipps and Kirkwood lakes. Notice the chiseled feature, the rugged demeanor, the hole in his boot ...

Ken strikes an outdoorsy pose at the falls between Phipps and Kirkwood lakes. Notice the chiseled features, the rugged demeanor … and the hole in his boot.

§ § §
Steve holds a developing frog at Founders Lake. This poor guy probably won’t survive because of the leech attached to his side. Speaking of leeches, I still need to reimburse Steve for my share of our back country fee.

Steve holds a developing frog at Founders Lake. This poor guy probably won’t survive because of the leech attached to his side. Speaking of leeches, I still need to reimburse Steve for my share of our back country fee.

§ § §
Mama loon stretches her leg while her baby pretends to be camera-shy.

Mama loon stretches her leg while her baby pretends to be camera-shy.

Next: Back to Harness Lake

Canadian Odyssey – Part Seven

I just wanted to roll on the ground and laugh like a man possessed. And I would have, if it hadn’t been for all the sharp rocks, tree trunks and Steve and Ken watching me. After two days of grueling portages in 200% humidity, we arrived at our island campsite on Kirkwood Lake.

Somehow it all seemed worth it. I’ve never seen a more beautiful campsite, even though you couldn’t find two square yards of level ground to pitch a tent. Not that it mattered. After what it took to get there, you could could get a good night’s sleep standing up. Which we did.

Kirkwood Lake is small, but quite scenic and isolated. In reality, there is one campsite, which is on an island rising out of the middle of the lake. There is a second campsite where you first enter the lake from the Pardee Lake portage, but it didn’t appear to have been used much.

For two nights, we had the lake to ourselves. Except for a few people who paddled through between Pardee and Phipps lakes.

I’ll just shut up — for the most part — and let the pictures do the talking.

Our Kirkwood Lake campsite was atop this island rising out of the waters.

Our Kirkwood Lake campsite was atop this island rising out of the water.

§ § §

Our campsite afforded a great view of the sunrise. Too bad Steve and Ken slept in and never got a chance to see it.

Our campsite afforded a great view of the sunrise. Too bad Steve and Ken slept in and didn’t get a chance to see it.

§ § §

Ken does a little bird-watching from our campsite as I do a little Ken-watching from the lake.

Ken does a little bird-watching from our campsite as I do a little Ken-watching from the lake.

§ § §

Who needs a camp stove? Ken demonstrates his technique for boiling water using only body heat.

Simultaneous Convection — Ken demonstrates his technique for boiling water using only body heat. Let us know when it’s done, Ken.

§ § §

I thought this curved boulder across the lake from our campsite was really cool. But then, I am easily amused.

I thought this curved boulder across the lake from our campsite was really cool. But then, I am easily amused.

§ § §

We didn’t exactly have the lake to ourselves. Naturally, there were a few loons around. They probably said the same thing about us.

We didn’t exactly have the lake to ourselves. Naturally, there were a few loons around. They probably said the same thing about us.

§ § §

There were plenty of beaver around, including this one. It kept me distracted early one morning while the mosquitoes ate me for breakfast.

There were plenty of beavers around, including this one. It kept me distracted early one morning while the mosquitoes ate me for breakfast.

Next: Exploring other lakes

Canadian Odyssey – Part Six

Suck it up, lads, this portage is only 175 meters. And that’s just the ascent.

Suck it up, lads, this portage is only 175 meters. And that’s just the ascent.

Think of it as backpacking with canoes. So went the first two days of this year’s Algonquin canoe trip.

Nearly two miles of hiking, lugging canoes and gear — uphill.

Not that I’m complaining. I just sucked it up, soldiered on and kept my mouth shut, mumbling under my breath. Mumbling very loudly under my breath.

We put in at Cache Lake Friday afternoon. The plan was to press on Saturday through Head, Harness, and Pardee lakes to Kirkwood Lake, where we’d spend the next two nights.

By the time we reached Head lake, after a portage of over a mile, storm clouds had gathered at the southeast shore and were lumbering toward us. We dumped our gear into the canoes and hauled ass for the nearest campsite.

We managed to get the rain tarp up before it began to rain in earnest. Steve and Ken pitched their tent in the rain. I waited it out, pitching my tent inside there’s after the rain stopped.

It didn’t stop for long; it rained all night. But, after the portage from hell, it didn’t matter. I slept like a baby — waking up wet and crying.

As is often the case, the next morning the sun was shining and life was good. Until the next portage. And the one after that. And the one after that.

Next: No one here but us and the beavers.