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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

They even had a children’s department.

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There were plenty of monarch butterflies on the island.

There were plenty of monarch butterflies on the island.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Next: Epilogue

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.)

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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.

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Ken’s collection of found objects from this trip.

Ken’s collection of found objects from this trip.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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We saw this juvenile yellowbellied sapsucker at Lawrence Lake.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Canadian Odyssey – Part Five

The GPS wanted me to head north on Route 64, drive around the north shore of Lake Nipissing and take Route 11 south to Huntsville. Fat chance.

Instead I spurnpiked it south on 64 and took one of the less-traveled roads  across central Ontario.

I would have done that even if Dad and my brother, Jeff, hadn’t invited me to breakfast at St. Amant’s in Britt, which is south of the lodge where we stayed. They were headed back to the states after our Lake Nipissing fishing trip and I was going to Algonquin Provincial Park to join my friends Steve and Ken for a canoe trip.

Before I continue here, let’s take a detour through a few photos from Lake Nipissing:

This foreboding sky pretty much sums it up. The weather pretty much sucked the whole week we were at Nipissing.

This foreboding sky pretty much sums it up. The weather sucked the whole week we were at Nipissing.

♦ ♦ ♦

While I was hanging out on the pier taking sunset photos, I saw a man trying to load a sofa into his boat to take to his island cabin. I could have waited for him to drop it into the lake and gotten video. But I decided to be a nice guy and help him.

While I was hanging out on the pier one evening taking sunset photos, I saw a man trying to load a sofa into his boat to take to his island cabin. I could have waited for him to drop it into the lake and gotten video, but I decided to be a nice guy and help him.

♦ ♦ ♦

So much for going to Canada to get away from it all. I didn’t notice the mailbox atop the flagpole until I downloaded this photo onto my laptop.

So much for going to Canada to get away from it all. I didn’t notice the mailbox atop the flagpole until I downloaded this photo onto my laptop.

♦ ♦ ♦

Having my canoe along allowed me to paddle into some of the backwaters of Lake Nipissing.

Having my canoe along allowed me to paddle into some of the backwaters of Lake Nipissing.

♦ ♦ ♦

Just off the lake is a whole different world — more like Algonquin than the fishing resort region of Lake Nipissing.

Just off the lake is a whole different world — more like Algonquin than the fishing resort region of Lake Nipissing.

♦ ♦ ♦

Dad at the lodge — my favorite shot from the whole trip.

Dad at the lodge — my favorite shot from the whole trip.

♦ ♦ ♦

As I was saying. I decided to spurnpike it across central Ontario. I picked Route 518, which turned out to be a good choice. It’s a winding scenic road that passes a few small lakes and crossroads towns.

This is why I prefer back roads to controlled-access highways. In spite of the ominous “No Trespassing” signs, I stopped to photograph this barn sculpture on Ontario Route 518.

This is why I prefer back roads to controlled-access highways. In spite of the ominous “No Trespassing” signs, I stopped to photograph this barn sculpture on Ontario Route 518.

♦ ♦ ♦

After a day of exploring the back roads of central Ontario, I headed into Algonquin to wait for Steve and Ken. The following day we’d start our eight-day trip on Cache, Head, Harness and Kirkwood lakes.

I spent the night at the Tea Lake Campground — a common staging area for backpacking and canoe trips in Algonquin.

After eating dinner in Huntsville, I settled in at the campground. Meanwhile, a large family moved into the lot next to mine. They sent three adorable little girls over to invite me to dine with them. I declined, thanking them and telling them I’d just eaten.

The youngest girl said, “Well, you can come watch us eat.”

Next: Backpacking with canoes and 100 pounds of gear.

 

 

 

 

Canadian Odyssey – Part Four

It is believed that the name Nipissing meant “people of the little water.” Frankly, I don’t believe it. Most likely Nipissing was a derogatory term meaning  “lake of very few fish.”

Sunrise on Lake Nipissing. You can almost hear the fish calling ... from some other lake.

Sunrise on Lake Nipissing. You can almost hear the fish calling … from some other lake.

But we don’t go there to fish. My father, brother Jeff, and I have been going there for about four years now. Prior to that, we went to Dollars Lake, which actually has fish. And plenty of them. In reality, we go to Canada to spend quality time together — and to keep the old man out of trouble. At least for one week out of the year.

We also go for the hospitality. The lodge we stay at, Shuswap on the Nipissing, offers great food, comfortable cottages and live entertainment.

Our host, Heinz Loewenberg provides the entertainment, joining us at our dinner table and regaling us with select yarns and filling us in on what we missed by not being there in the winter. Apparently that part of Canada rivals the South Pole for hostile climate.

Meanwhile, his wife and Gerda never fails to serve up a great meal. She also serves as a fact-check for Heinz’s tales.

It rained a lot this year, but we didn’t mind. That gave us the opportunity to take a break from sitting out in the boat all day drowning worms. Instead, we’d jump in the car and head for the big cities — exciting metropolises such as Sudbury or Sturgeon Falls.

Actually, Greater Sudbury (which apparently comprises everything in Ontario that isn’t Toronto) had quite a bit of excitement this summer. As mentioned in previous posts on my Canadian Odyssey, bears have been a big problem this year. A June frost wiped out the blueberry crop, forcing the the bears to forage for food in back yards, trash cans and an occasional pantry. While we were there, the local newspapers reported daily confrontations between bears and residents.

In Canada, newspapers don’t use circumlocutions such as “dispatched” or “harvested.” In Canada, problem bears are simply shot.

The burning question was, who had to do the shooting? From what we read in the papers, that responsibility normally falls on Natural Resources Ministry. However, they’re a little strapped for funds these days, so they were relying on the local police to shoot nuisance bears.

Jeff and his trophy sheepshead. We heard someone in the other boat holler, “You lucky bastard.”

Jeff and his trophy sheepshead. We heard someone in another boat holler, “You lucky bastard.”

Apparently, the police weren’t happy about it. This didn’t allow them time to go after real criminals — like maple syrup bootleggers and other Canadian miscreants.

On the days we could go fishing, my brother Jeff caught all the fish. All three of them.

Next — Algonquin

Alex James — A living legacy

Often, when I hike through Mohican Memorial State Forest or the state park, I marvel at the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The trees they planted and the roads, trails and structures they built in the 1930s have stood the test of time. So has Alex James, one of the CCC workers who helped make Mohican what it is today.

In early August, I had the privilege of interviewing him — along with his son, Jeffrey L. James. Here is the article I wrote as a result of that interview. It was published in today’s Loudonville Times.

Post Script: I was saddened to learn that, on April 14, 2016, Alex James passed away.  He was a colorful man and a part of Mohican history.

Alex James

Alex James

COLUMBUS — Alex James lived in the Loudonville area just a short time during the 1930s, but his legacy lives on in Mohican Memorial State Forest and Mohican State Park. At the age of 97, the one-time Civilian Conservation Corps worker still radiates the spirit and attitude of a generation that made the most of difficult times and built a better world.

“I was 16 years old, youngest guy in the group,” James said of his CCC service.

James wasn’t old enough to sign up for the CCC. He lied about his age and was accepted. After going through basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, he was sent to Camp Mohican to help reclaim agricultural wasteland adjacent to the mature forest that remained on the steep slopes of Clear Fork Gorge. Ultimately, the entire area would become a state forest and state park and transform the area into a popular tourist destination.

During an interview last month, James described what Mohican looked like when he arrived in 1933.

“It was bare, like a baldheaded guy who has hair around on the sides,” he said, describing the combination of forested and deforested land.

James’ duties included control of harmful vegetation and organisms, planting pine seedlings, digging ditches and building roads.

He recalled that his Camp Mohican days were difficult — mainly because of a particularly brutal winter. The drafty barracks were heated with coal stoves located at the ends of rows of bunks. There were half-inch gaps between the floorboards.

“When the bugler came in and blew his horn, we’d hurry up and get our clothes and get to the warm stove where we could get dressed,” James said. “I woke up to get my shoes one morning and they were frozen to the floor.”

While on a road-clearing detail, James lost the feeling in his toes. He spent a month in the infirmary recovering from frostbite. In his autobiography, entitled “Ripples on a Stream,” James wrote: “I kind of enjoyed it, listening to a radio, perusing a Sears & Roebuck catalog to pick out things I would buy when I left the Three Cs and got a good job.”

In 1934, Camp Mohican closed temporarily. It would later reopen, manned by World War I veterans. James returned to Fort Hayes in Columbus, where he was born and raised. He was one of nine children of Macedonian immigrants who eked out a living and taught their children the value of thrift and hard work. In order to continue providing money for his family, he reenlisted in the CCC and worked at camps in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.

James said that, during his stay at Camp Mohican, he didn’t get into town very often. In one letter he wrote that, while the townsfolk didn’t care for these strangers from the big city, they did like their money. CCC workers were paid $30 a month. All but $5 of that was sent home. James indicated that, during his CCC days out west, he got out more often and did partake of some light-hearted shenanigans with his buddies from the camps.

James also worked in Columbus restaurants and bars as a busboy and bartender. He continued to improve his lot in life, landing a job in 1941 in a defense plant building military aircraft.

In 1942, he received his draft notice and once again found himself in basic training at Fort Knox. In his autobiography, James said his CCC experience made that transition easier. He was classified as a non-combatant due to a childhood eye injury. But James — the guy who lied about his age to get into the CCC to earn money to help his family — wasn’t about to let that stop him. When the guys in his company shipped out for combat duty, James grabbed his duffel bag and climbed aboard the truck with them. His sergeant caught him and ordered him off the truck.

He was saddened when he learned that many of the guys in his outfit were killed in action by Rommel’s Panzer Division.

After being discharged from the Army, James returned to Columbus and worked for a while at the military supply depot, where his duties included guarding German prisoners of war. He dozed off one night while on guard duty. However, the German POWs realized they had it good there and were inclined to stay put.

“You couldn’t chase those guys out of that place,” he said.

James later worked at the Curtis-Wright aircraft factory. In 1948, he landed a job at Lustron, a manufacturer of prefabricated steel houses. James had high hopes that the low-maintenance, porcelain-enameled homes would fulfill the housing needs of post-war baby boomers. However, he was bitterly disappointed — heartbroken in his words — when the company failed and production halted in June 1950.

The experience inspired him to write a book, “An Employee’s Perspective of the Lustron Home: The Real Reason Why Lustron Failed!” The company reportedly failed because, by the time the prefabricated homes were in production, America’s housing stock had grown substantially, the houses took longer to build than advertised, they ultimately cost too much, and they didn’t meet local building codes. In his self-published book, James argues that the real reasons for Lustron’s downfall included political corruption, labor unions, special interest groups and selective building code enforcement. The book, published in 2003, is available through Amazon.com.

After a stint with the Defense Supply Center Columbus, James went to work for Westinghouse doing sheet metal work. He later worked at maintenance for the City of Columbus, retiring in 1980.

He and his wife of 69 years, Polly, live in Columbus. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.

He returned to the Loudonville area several years ago, but it was a different world than the one he knew in 1933. He didn’t recognize much of it.

“I made a trip down there and I stood near that church that was below our camp,” he said, possibly referring to the Memorial Forest Shrine on Ohio 97.

James has a gleam in his eye when he shares colorful stories of his CCC days and other parts of his eventful life. He sometimes chimes in with a few bars from songs he sang back then.

James explained the significance of the title of his autobiography.

“Our lives are like leaves in the stream,” he said. “We bump into one another. Some die of natural causes, some accidentally, and the stream takes us along the riverbed and some end up on the riverbank and wither. That’s my idea of how this life is. You’re given so much time on this earth. I think time means more than money.”

Alan James, second from the right in the back row, with CCC crew at what would become Mohican Memorial State Forest and Mohican State Park. (Photo courtesy Cleo Redd Fisher Museum in Loudonville)

Alex James, second from the right in the back row, with CCC crew at what would become Mohican Memorial State Forest and Mohican State Park. (Photo courtesy Cleo Redd Fisher Museum in Loudonville.)

Canadian Odyssey – Part Three

Anything but Tim Hortons!

That was my battle cry after pulling off the highway to camp at Killbear Provincial Park.

Bread ’n Butter Kitchen — the best place I never ate.

Bread ’n Butter Kitchen — the best place I never ate.

There were signs of hope — a few mom-and-pop restaurants and delis along Route 529. One looked particularly intriguing, a little hole-in-the-wall place called Bread ’n Butter Kitchen. The signs outside promised beer, breakfast and used books. What more could I ask?

But it was closed. Closed for supper, closed for breakfast. Maybe it was closed for lunch too, but I didn’t have time to find out. I pressed on for Britt, a little town on the Georgian Bay.

There’s a restaurant there where my father, brother and I like to stop for breakfast. It’s called St. Amant’s Waterfront Inn & Marina. It’s one of those places that offers what corporate eateries don’t — character. And characters.

If St. Amant’s hasn’t been used for a movie setting it should. Situated in a quaint fishing village, it includes a trailer park, motel, general store and a bar/restaurant overlooking the bay. From your table in the restaurant, you can take it all in, watching the comings and goings the resort crowd and the locals. Naturally, the restaurant has its liars club — a table full of guys shooting the breeze.

On one occasion, when I was taking photos in the restaurant, one of them made a remark about shooting off a Canon indoors.

Dad at St. Amant’s — 2014 photo.

Dad at St. Amant’s — 2014 photo.

Next to the register is a sign that reads: “The nice thing about living in a small town is, if you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else does.”

I stopped at St. Amant’s for breakfast before heading up to Lake Nipissing to hook up with my father and brother. After our stay at Lake Nipissing, we would stop there for breakfast.

From there, we would part company. My father and brother headed home and I set out for Algonquin Provincial Park for a week of canoeing and camping.

I lingered behind at St. Amant’s to use the WiFi and telephone to make ferry reservations. I had decided that, after the Algonquin portion of the trip, I’d return to Ohio by way of Pelee Island.

One of the regulars noticed me sitting near the pay phone, cruising the Internet on my iPad.

“For crying out loud, you’re supposed to be on holiday, not looking at the Internet,” he said.

He had a point. I turned off the iPad and hit the road.

Next: Lake Nipissing, a tribal word for ‘no fish.’

Canadian Odyssey – Part Two

You’ve got to love a campground where they bar people for abusing the help.

When I pulled up to the campground registration office at Killbear Provincial Park, I noticed a sign advising that abusive behaviour (as they call it in Canada) would not be tolerated. If there’s anything worse than a jerk who sublimates his feelings of inadequacy by taking it out on powerless service sector employees, it’s a jerk who feels obligated to do so even while on holiday.

Enough about that.

Another thing I liked about Killbear was the help. When I mentioned to the young woman at the campground office that I wanted a campsite with as much privacy as possible, she was gracious enough not to laugh in my face. In the course of our conversation she told me that, on a summer weekend, Killbear Provincial Park has a higher population than the town of Parry Sound in the winter.

I thought she was joking. She wasn’t.

The population of Parry Sound is about 6,200, which probably doesn’t account for those who board up their summer homes in the winter and head for one of Canada’s sun-and-fun Meccas — comparatively tropical places such as Toronto.

There are nearly 1,500 campsites at Killbear, but you’d never know it. The campsites are situated in such a way that you could drive through the park and never see more than three dozen people at any given time. Assuming there would be at least four people in a camping party, there could easily be 6,000 people or more on summer weekends.

About 2.25 miles of fence has been installed in the park to keep snakes off the roads.

About 2.25 miles of fence has been installed in the park to keep snakes off the roads.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for Massasauga rattlesnakes. Their population within the park has plummeted in recent years. Among other things, cars have taken their toll on this threatened species. Volunteers and park employees initiated a program to prevent road kills. They put up 3.6 kilometers of snake fencing to keep them off the roads and built four ecopassages (tunnels under the roadways) so the snakes could cross safely.

The Massasauga rattlers are not out of the woods, so to speak. But these measures might help salvage some of the population.

I planned to spend the night at the park, sleep in my car, then press on for Lake Nipissing in the morning. I didn’t want to have food at the campsite, especially with malnourished bears lurking in the shadows.

Ontario’s black bears have been particularly obnoxious this year. They have every right to be. A June frost wiped out the blueberries, one of their main food sources. On top of that, it’s been a bad year for wild nuts. They don’t serve bears at Tim Hortons, so they’ve been left to fend for themselves, raiding campsites and backyards in urban areas.

When the campsite registration lady advised me of the bear situation, I responded with a stale joke about always camping with people you can outrun. She burst my bubble by telling me that running is never a good strategy when encountering aggressive bears. The guy who’s running is the one they’d go after, she said.

I wanted to tell her to mind her own damn business. Then I remembered the sign.

Next— Where can a guy get a meal around here?

There were thousands of people camped at Killbear Provincial Park, but the 30 or so people who came out to watch this sunset were the most I saw at any given time.

There were thousands of people camped at Killbear Provincial Park, but the 30 or so people who came out to watch this sunset were the most I saw at any given time.

Good Morning, Lancaster

A downtown walkabout

LANCASTER, OHIO — I stepped out of my hotel room shortly after 7 a.m., camera slung over my shoulder. Found a pot of coffee and carryout cups in the lobby — Priceless!

Stepping out onto the street.

Taking it to the street.

§ § §
Men at work — I wasn’t the only one up and about.

Men at work — I wasn’t the only one up and about.

§ § §
Never a good sign

Never a good sign.

§ § §
A sign of promise

A sign of promise.

§ § §
The power of suggestion

The power of suggestion.

§ § §
Don’t build them like they used to

Don’t build them like they used to.

§ § §
See previous caption

See previous caption.

§ § §
Roll out the welcome mat

Roll out the welcome mat.

§ § §
bbbfountain2

Obligatory fountain.

§ § §
Famous son

Favorite son (from the hotel window).

§ § §
Speaking of “sun”

Speaking of “sun”.

§ § §
Tripping down the alleyway ... Yes, I did hear cathedral bells (With apologies to Paul Simon)

Tripping down the alleyway. Yes, I did hear cathedral bells! (With apologies to Paul Simon.)

§ § §
Speaking of Paul Simon ... For some reason, when I saw this the song “Save the Life of My Child” came to mind.

Speaking of Paul Simon. For some reason, when I saw this sculpture high above the street, the song “Save the Life of My Child” came to mind.

 

 

Canadian Odyssey — Part One

August was a blur. That’s what I intended.

I-90 from the Angola Travel Plaza in New York State

I-90 as seen from the walkway of the Angola Travel Plaza in New York State

Most of it was spent rambling around Ontario. This time of year I typically drive up to Canada twice — once for a family fishing trip on Lake Nipissing and a few weeks later for a canoe trip to Algonquin Provincial Park.

This year, the trips were scheduled closer together. One pretty much segued into the other, so I drove up separately and stayed in Canada — doing a little exploring between trips. After the Algonquin trip, I took a detour and returned to Ohio by way of Pelee Island.

Normally I ride with my father and brother on the Lake Nipissing trip and with my friends, Ken and Steve, on the canoe trip. In both cases, there’s never time to stop and explore along the way. I took advantage of this year’s convoluted itinerary and did some spurnpiking along the way. (“Spurnpiking” refers to the practice of exploring via back roads.)

I took two days to get to Lake Nipissing, planning to camp somewhere along the way. An hour or so north of Toronto I needed to get my bearings, so I pulled into a plaza — featuring a Tim Hortons eatery, of course.

You’ve gotta love a park where they respect snakes.

You’ve gotta love a park where they respect snakes.

In Canada, they have what I call “socialized dining.” You can eat anywhere you like, as long as it’s Tim Hortons. The food is mediocre and the service is slow (mostly because of the business model, which is harder to figure out than Canadian politics). However, Tim Hortons has the best damn coffee in North America. If you’re going to go for a long drive in central Ontario, I’d highly recommend Tim Hortons coffee and the amazing mix of music on 104.1 FM in Simcoe.

I checked the map at Tim Hortons near Barrie and decided to camp at Killbear Provincial Park on the Georgian Bay. I knew I’d made the right choice when I pulled into the park and saw a sign advising motorists to brake for snakes.

More on snakes and Killbear Provincial Park in Canadian Odyssey – Part Two.