Superior’s North Shore
Written by Issa Breibish » Monday, July 23rd, 2012
The high wave from Robin as we weave our way toward Thunder Bay stays with us for quite some time. Something about it reminds me of our friend Michael in New York and I spend the next while thinking about how lucky we are to have good people in our lives. Relatively speaking we’ve just started our journey through Ontario. It’s by far the longest province we’ve travelled through to date and the speed limit has dropped from 110kph to a paltry 90kph.
The selection of routes to the coast east of Winnipeg is limited. To the south, the Great Lakes provide an impassable ocean of fresh water. To the north, the roads disappear into an amalgam of dead-ends. There are two primary routes – the Trans-Canada (HWY 17 in Ontario) and a northern route past Timmins along HWY 11. While the northern route is more remote, the draw of lakes Superior and then Huron are calling our names. There are, of course, convoluted ways of making our way east but we’re happy to spend time on the Trans-Canada. It’s a classic route and the scenery through Ontario is beautiful.
Our second night in Ontario is spent in Thunder Bay. The street into town is similar to most Canadian in-city highways. It’s funny how similarly uninspired these roads are across the country – fast-food, motel, gas station, traffic light. But to be honest there are days when rolling into town and seeing these options presented to you without hassle is exactly what you want!
We pull into a motel and are immediately greeted by a guy on a bicycle. “Hey buddy, do you have any change?” Hmm, perhaps we should change location. Sensing my agitation he apologizes for asking then asks about the bikes which only adds to my distrust. Last time someone asked me for money then talked about my vehicle I got slashed tires for my effort.
Nita takes over. It’s a gift she has and I’m so very grateful for it. Suddenly they’re laughing and I know there’s no problem here. The guys passing through and, if anything, looking out for his new pal. All’s good. But I still keep a watchful eye on the bikes.
We’re awake early and stop just east of Thunder Bay to pay homage to the Terry Fox Memorial. It marks the farthest west he had gone during his Marathon of Hope. When I think simply of the physical feat of attempting to run a marathon daily it’s just incomprehensible to me. But there he was, doing just that. From St. Johns to Thunder Bay. He made it so far but had so much further to go. I can’t imagine what he went through at this spot realizing that he couldn’t continue – it must have been heartbreaking. What he couldn’t have known is that he’d changed so much in that moment – not only through fundraising and bringing attention to much needed research, but by inspiring a generation of people to do better. To be better people. He made us better by example.
Now along the north shore of Lake Superior, the breeze was cool even with the sun high in the sky. The trees open up from time to time to reveal a lake that thinks it’s an ocean, but what’s really on our minds is our stomachs. We’re hungry! We stop at a roadside diner called Missing Horse Restaurant and eat the best breakfast of the trip so far. A local asks where we’re heading and laughs at our answer. “You don’t want to go there. You want to go to Rossport.” We push for more info and he tells us that it’s a quiet artist town right on the water so we decide to check it out.
Rossport is well hidden from the road. A small green sign that blends in with the trees is the only indicator that the town exists. Down a winding road we’re suddenly on the mainstreet of something that looks more like an image of coastal living from Nova Scotia rather than the northern shore of Superior. The streets are quiet and dotted with a few Bed & Breakfasts which we take advantage of. There’s one restaurant which is, fittingly, called Serendipity, a town museum in a caboose and a town potter who produces some truly beautiful work.
For us, it’s the quiet. We sit on the dock overlooking Superior and just take some moments to appreciate the stillness. It’s heaven.
The next morning we share a table with Mike and Sherri a couple from the US who are driving a route around the North Shore. The conversation is light and we share some great laughs and decide the phrase “high-tailing it outta there” is actually in reference to the way chipmunks scurry across the road with their tail’s in the air – like miniature bumper-cars hooked into the overhead power-grid. We say our goodbyes and continue east.
Today is muggy. The heat’s up, and getting the bikes loaded is hot work. The good thing about sweating that much is how cool we feel when we actually start moving. We pass the northern tip of Superior and begin descending southeast towards Wawa, Ontario – home of the biggest goose in the world. It’s another roadside attraction and something I’ve loved since I was a kid.
Sparwood, BC has what used to be the worlds biggest truck, Vulcan, AB has the USS Enterprise, Drumheller, AB has, well, the biggest dinosaur and Wawa has the goose. The reason for the goose is unclear to us at first. One local tells us that the east and west points of the Trans-Canada met here completing the cross-country highway – though I’ve been unable to confirm that. Most likely it’s a hat-tip to the towns name, Wawa which is Ojibwe for “wild goose.”
It’s at the goose that we meet two guys from the states who are riding their Harleys around the lakes. One has a vest that’s covered in patches – including a veterans patch from the Vietnam war and one from Barber Motorsport Museum. They’re great guys, eloquent and thoughtful. We joke at our seeming inability to get guys on Harley Street and Road Glides to wave. Generally any other bike – including any other Harley – gets a wave in return except for the Glides. Too cool? Who knows. They also seem to only travel in large packs so perhaps it’s a culture thing.
These gents, also on Glides, have no issues. “I’m not a biker, I’m a motorcyclist” says the well-patched man. It’s a nod to an idea I appreciate – it’s not about the tool, it’s about the experience. When you become loyal to a single idea you immediately close yourself to other, sometimes opposing, ideas. And that limits our ability to grow. Then, to our surprise, he throws out a wonderful quote from Steinbeck:
When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, once a bum always a bum. I fear this disease incurable.”
We say our goodbyes, pause for a photo and head back to the Parkway Motel’s chatty (and proudly Polish) owner. She’s a treat, and knows every interesting spot in the area which is a great help to us.
Leaving Wawa the next morning, the roads continue to gently wind through the rock and trees and the limit remains a slow 90kph. We’re frequently being passed by people driving 30-40kph over the limit and it’s tempting to follow suit. The benefit of moving slowly is that we often find gaps in traffic that leave us feeling as though we have the road to ourselves. The scenery on the eastern side of Superior is even more beautiful than the north.
What seems like moments from Wawa, the road rises, curves and then drops into a splendid view of Superior and a beach nestled into it’s side. We turn into Old Woman Bay and stop with our bikes on the beach. This secluded strip of beach is completely empty and offers the most beautiful views of the lake we’ve seen. The sun is high, and it’s a perfect day for sitting by the water. We take it in, sitting on the sand and walking the beach taking pictures. There’s nowhere we’d rather be at this moment.
About two hours into the day we stop at a beautiful spot right on the water. Pulling into the Voyageurs Lodge along Batchawana Bay, it’s tempting to end the days riding here. The motel is well-appointed and sits across from a beach that’s very inviting. We stop for a coffee and snack and are almost immediately surrounded by some lively ladies. One of them is 77 and the mother to one of the establishments owners.
She’s baking for the restaurant today but takes 20 minutes out of her day to tell us the story of the Voyageurs and their history in the area. She tells us how they would row and portage their cargo of furs and 25’ to 36’ canoes for hundreds of miles. The life of a voyageur was grueling and their toil is captured in many folk-tales in this area. The famous sash the voyageurs wore was actually used to contain hernias which were a common malady for them. Everything we’re told makes our journey seem quite easy!
Still, this collection of women seem to think that we’re quite crazy for doing what we’re doing.
When the ladies disperse, we take a moment to breathe in the lake and to sit in quiet. It’s moments like this that help us remain peaceful. We don’t rush to leave.
South through Sault Ste. Marie, we turn east again. Always away from “home.” We make it to Blind River and pull into the nicest looking motel we’ve ever seen. At Pier 17 the rooms are beautifully designed. Downright lush even. Attached to main building is an excellent restaurant with a patio overlooking the lake. The price is right too – coming in at the same cost as any other motel we’ve stayed at.
The area seems to be part of a northern bible belt with plenty of “Jesus Saves” billboards lining the highway on the way into town. As we eat dinner an RV from Michigan pulls in and about 20 kids begin to pour of it’s every door sporting “PRO LIFE” shirts in large, bold letters. They remind me of Wham in the ‘80s. I’ll admit it annoys me. Not because they’re religious – faith is a powerful thing and I don’t begrudge anyone their beliefs. And we’ve had folks pray for us in various parts of the world – something we gladly accept. What annoys me is that it’s in my face and it’s intended to be confrontational. Divisive. And I, for one, am so very tired of humans finding ways to create imaginary lines with which to declare all others wrong. In reality, everything that divides us is a human invention.
With “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” firmly in my head, we move to the patio with our drinks and finish the evening watching the geese play on the shore. Nature has it right.
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