A chance meeting over breakfast in a small B&B overlooking Lake Superior, was to change the course of my leisure time forever. It was this first small shove which pushed me off the sofa of indolence onto the wobbly feet of adventure, admittedly very minor adventure. In fact there were numerous small encounters on this trip which, having now realised I was on my unsteady feet, began to drag me in the general direction of the door of opportunity …the door to the great outside. This was an alien place I had not seen for the best part of 25 years.
I’ve decided to split our 3 day trip to the northern shore of Lake Superior into a series of short articles. Looking back I regret not being there for longer. Given that it is unlikely I will return it feels like a huge opportunity missed but on the other hand, had it not been for this experience, it is highly probable I would not be sitting here typing up this and other stories. These short pieces contain no wilderness adventures but our staying so close to the edge of the wild proved to be such an inspiration that, on our return home, it was only a matter of a few weeks before I set off on my first hill walk…into the wilds of Scotland.
It was the summer of 2006 when J and I flew across the Great Lakes into the port city of Thunder Bay at the west end of Lake Superior. This is the end of the “road” for sea going vessels who have navigated almost half way across Canada from the east, via the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes…
Part 1 – Here Be Hairy Beer-Swilling Critters
The small jet swung into its approach to the airport but baulked at its first attempt and swooped back out across the bay to spend another 10 minutes lining up for a better shot. The weather seemed fine but that first approach had a rocky road feel to it. The pilot must have been happier with his second try as we landed without mishap, thankfully relieving me of the need to divulge the contents of my churning stomach to our captive travelling companions. J and I were on our way to a family gathering in the small coastal town of Schreiber about 2 hours east of Thunder Bay along the north shore of Lake Superior. This was our first visit to the centre of Canada having been as close as Toronto travelling from the east and Calgary from the west. While Thunder Bay is the tenth largest city in Ontario where we were heading was just a wee bit more remote.
It took us about two hours to drive from Thunder Bay along the Trans Canada Highway, with the bush on one side of the road and never far away, the magnificently massive Lake Superior on the other. We pulled off down a dusty road, bumped over the main coast to coast railway line and looked out over a small cove with offshore pine clad islands sheltering our destination from the temperamental lake beyond. Rossport is a sleepy lakeside community with a single through road and a small jetty. Once a busy fishing port it, like the other towns along the lakeshore, appears to be in terminal decline as local industries (e.g. timber and mining) are contracting.
Having dumped the bags in our spotless room overlooking the cove we headed off the few miles along the coast to the larger town of Schreiber to meet up with my aunt and cousins. There was a warm welcome waiting for us at the town’s campsite with about fourteen or so of the family present. Although we had travelled the furthest others had come from BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The evening was starting to chill as the Anderson Clan sat around chatting. The blackfly had taken their toll on the kids with most showing tiny rivulets of blood trickling down exposed legs and arms. That’s when I noticed a similar red trickle running down my forearm. One of Canada’s famous little sods had bitten me. J was covered from top to bottom in Boots Mozimilk (sadly no longer available) which proved to be also black fly proof and as dusk and the insects took hold she sat smugly in her camp seat watching my apparent astonishment as I stared pitifully at the crimson streak on my arm. Insects usually find me unpalatable…this was wholly unacceptable!
The previous evening a couple of the girls had been wandering aimlessly around the campsite, completely oblivious to the presence of a bear…who was also wandering around, but in his case in search of supper. It wasn’t until the local constabulary, who regularly handle bear incursions, arrived to chase the poor beast away that they discovered they weren’t the only ones out for a walk.
The guys had had another visit from “Bruin” later that night. It broke into the beer supply below the trailer then disappeared off into the adjacent woods all set for a night on the tiles. No different from Saturday night in Glasgow, I thought. It transpires the bears hang out at the local “dump”, with delivery day being the highlight of their week. It was suggested that we might want to visit. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It just seemed too sad.