Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Rainy Lake to Kakabeka Falls - Then On to Dorion, Ontario - 35 years ago last week

On Sunday July 6, 1986 we were up pretty early: 5:30 was early by the standards of this trip. The next two days would be very full on this part of the Trans Canada Highway as we mad our way from Rainy Lake to Kakabeka Falls our our next designated rest spot. Oddly enough all we had for breakfast that day was bread and we were on the road by 6:50, peddling our way eastward on Ontario Highway 11. Though it really wasn’t breakfast it was just something to fill the void we were feeling in our stomachs.

Just East of Rainy River, Ontario

About 22 kilometres down the road from where we had rested we came a little town by the name of Emo. There was nothing particular about that town that I made note of in my travel log, though we did stop there for a complete breakfast. Once again I delve into the annals of Wikipedia in order to flush out my tale of 35 years ago. “Emo was officially created on July 1, 1899, and celebrated its centennial in 1999. Emo's first reeve was Alexander Luttrell, an Irishman who named the town after a namesake village in Ireland near where he was born.” Apparently the town is now famous for two things: its stock car races and its Emo Walleye Classic a catch and release fishing tournament; when we were passing through Emo the second of its claims to fame didn't exist. The tournament was about 18 years away from being born, while the stock car races came into being some 32 years before we were going through that little town. 


In retrospect it seems odd that all I write about is food and when we stop for food. Two entries in a row are about eating in Fort Frances and then stopping Emo and then stopping for lunch. It was really only about 35 kilometres down the road from Emo. How we had gotten so hungry in say the two to two and a half hours we had possibly ridden that morning is a mystery. How we had gotten so hungry in say the two to two and a half hours we had possibly ridden that morning is a mystery. 


It was in this Ontario-Minnesota border town, just across the Rainy River lies International Falls Minnesota, oddly enough there are no falls so what were the founders of that community drinking? However, there is a hydro-electric power station located there to harness the power of the Rainy River. It was just outside of Fort Frances that we met two older men on motorcycles from a place called Togo, Saskatchewan. Thirty-five years ago that little town had a population of 186 people, so these two guys must have known pretty well everyone. From Wikipedia I gleaned the following information: “Togo incorporated as a village on September 4, 1906.[3] This village was founded after the Japanese had won several victories in the war against Russia (Russo-Japanese War 1904–05). Britain was allied with Japan in this war and Japan was a very popular nation throughout the British Empire. Three towns in Saskatchewan along the CN line (Togo, Kuroki, Mikado),[4] a regional park (Oyama),[5] and CN Siding (Fukushiama)[6] were named in honour of Japanese achievements in this war.” 


Crossing Rainy Lake

We didn’t scoff down food in Fort Frances, which lies on the Canadian side of the Rainy River separating Minnesota and Ontario, proper but somewhere a little further up the road where we could see Rainy Lake proper, probably some six kilometres further eastward. It was quite the impressive body of water with a surface area of 932 km2 . And no, it wasn’t something healthy that we scoffed down, but something these guys from Togo were calling dog hots. Yes, you read that right and it’s not to be confused as being the Togolese Republic wedged between Ghana on its west and Benin on its east, though it was two older guys from Togo Saskatchewan mentioned above. However; there is in fact is an area in the Sudbury District of Ontario and falls between Ontario Highway 144 to the west and southward to Sudbury from Timmins and Highway 11 to the east as it runs from Matheson to North Bay, Ontario We thought it must have been some strange local dialect or just some strange form of oral dyslexia. 


Wind Causing Dancing Water, - Likely location Windy Point on Rainy Lake, ON

At a Place called Bear Pass - About 16-20 Kilometres East of Windy Point

Somewhere along Highway 11 we stopped at a place called Big Bear’s to replenish our water supply. Though in reviewing tools now at my disposal it may have only been about 18-19 km later after crossing the causeway across Rainy Lake, at a place called The Great Bear – some 35 years later. 


Then some 140 km into our day, just after we passed a place called Seine River (Village) I lost three spokes on my front wheel. This wasn’t the only mechanical problem, as a result I noted that I had also created a “self-induced flat”. Given it was a front wheel it was a fairly simple operation. Though that incident did play on my nerves. It was a pretty dark day in my mind that day... I wrote: “Cooked dinner on the side of the road and contemplated hitch hiking to Thunder Bay. We stopped just short of Atikokan (more precisely the road heading up to Atikokan, Highway 118). Camped in a lousy spot. Today we rode 188.4 km.” When we started riding 200 plus kilometre days, the 46 kilometres past the road up to Atikokan, did seem like a short distance.


I must note here that there are places in my travel log that are in-congruent between my odometre readings, and current mapping technology. In looking back at this journey three and a half decades later, I can very well understand how many errors could have made in cartography a century or two ago. 


On Monday July 7, 1986 we rose at 6:30 and within an hour we were on the road and half an hour later we stopped at the junction of Highway’s 11 and 118 to sit down to breakfast. I have no recollection of how long we had stopped to put nutrients into our bodies, though about two hours into our continued journey we met a man by the name of Andrew from NYC. His kids and wife had financed his dream trip and would be meeting him in Vancouver at Expo ‘86 for his fiftieth birthday. He was riding a sleek Cannondale, an all aluminum frame. Back then this was a Cadillac of bicycles. Andrew made a few suggestions. One was a place he said made a perfect place to stop for a swim. The second place was a place called Kashabowie, just off of Highway 11. 


After meeting Andrew we continued down the road for a bout 25 minutes, then we stopped for a tuna break. Yes those simple little cans had a protein punch in them. While we weren’t bothered much by black flies, which seems to be the norm in this part of Canada we were pestered by both female deer and horse flies. The nasty little blood suckers would draft behind us and then land on our necks to try to get a snack of blood. While deer flies are quite a bit smaller than horse flies, their bites are quite nasty. After our tuna break we continued on for about an hour and a half, and passed a place that I’ve marked in my travel log as Huronia, however, some 35 years later I can not find such a place on Google maps. My best possible guess is that we had met Andrew somewhere on the Trans Canada Highway between Eva Lake to the north and Marion Lake to the south of the highway. 


Wild Flowers on the Shore of a Northern Ontario Lake

The Beauty of Just One of the Countless Small Lakes in Northern Ontario

A Refreshing Dip

We stopped at what we thought was the lake that Andrew had spoken of. By my best guesstimates three and a half decades later, I would say that this was something called Sitches Lake as after our swim we rode on for one more hour until we reached the little cottage town of Kashabowie. I refer to it as a cottage town as the day we rolled in on Monday July 7, 1986 there was literally no one around. The general store that Andrew had told us about was closed, we saw on young boy on a bicycle, on the north side of the Canadian National Railroad line which crossed over Kashabowie Road also known as Highway 802, which we had ridden up from Highway 11. It really had been a very short jaunt, all of about a kilometre and three quarters. 


Kashabowie be Damned - My Only Injury

It was here in Kashabowie that other than Ron’s beaver fever I experienced an incident that can be considered medical in nature. As I went to get on my bike to leave the place that really seemed like a ghost town, my right foot slipped and the left side of my right ankle came down hard on my upper chain-ring. The sprockets made a wonderful gash in my ankle. Both Ron and I had worked as life guards and had a fair amount of experience in dealing with such injuries and within quarter of an hour we had my wound cleaned and bandaged and were on our way out of Kashabowie and heading eastward once again. We had already travelled about 90 kilometres that day, and eventually break the 200 kilometre mark when we finally arrived at our planned destination. 


Some time after leaving Kashabowie we stopped at some side-of-the-highway grocery store. I guess it was something I did to deal with my injury. We bought nothing but junk food. What it was I can’t be certain but it was clearly emotional eating. 


Just before crossing the the 90th parallel west of Greenwich, and into a different time zone we crossed a spot that is called a Height of Land and moved from what was the Arctic Watershed into the Atlantic Watershed. This is where the water would drain into the Atlantic Ocean and not the Arctic. 


Shortly after we passed over into the Atlantic Watershed, in a place called Sunshine which has the Wiegand River running through it. In Sunshine something odd happened. According to my travel log I ran of the road. What on earth that entry means is beyond me. Was I run off the road by a crazy person in a car or did I run off the road to avoiding being hit by a car. It will remain a mystery. 


At Shabaqua Corners Highway 11 meets up with Highway 17 and then continues south-eastward. We stopped to have dinner in a place called Sistonen Corners. It was here we met two fellow travellers. One of them was from Westmount on the island of Montreal and the second person was from Switzerland and both were heading towards Vancouver. We told them of what we had learnt about the highway up by Kenora and suggested the try to get more information from drivers so the can make the appropriate decision. 


The remaining 15 kilometres we would ride southward down Highway 11/17 as it is known at this point and considered to be the Trans Canada. We would stay at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park for two day while I took care of some mechanical issues with my bike. Some point along the way we had stopped at a LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and picked up some vodka, where we had stopped I can’t be certain, though I have an inkling that it may have been in Shabaqua Corners. One of my penultimate entries on July 7, 1986 read: “Now we are drinking screwdrivers.”


Fellow Travellers Reunited - Death on the Road

When travelling on often meets many different people and sometimes you never know if you will ever see them again. While we were out on the prairies we had met a group of senior citizens who were doing a supported cross country tour. They probably got ahead of us when we had taken the two days off in Buffalo Pound Provincial Park and then the additional two days off in Winnipeg. We ended up staying next to them at Kakabeka Falls and we had some bad news from them. One of their travel companions had been struck by an 18 wheeler somewhere on the prairies and lost their life. We shared stories with them for a little while before turning in. 


For that day my last three entries were as follows: “Well today we rode 203.6 km. I’m surprised my wheel survived. Yahoo!” By the end of the day and since we had left White Rock, British Columbia we had travelled 3162 kilometres and were now one month less a day from our departure. 


Two Generations of Pipers
in Paterson Park, Thunder Bay, ON

After having breakfast on July 8th we hitch-hiked into Thunder Bay and more specifically to a bike shop called Petrie’s at 125 Archibald Avenue North. It is nice to see that they are still in business. The service was great as they rebuilt my back wheel, replaced my tire with a Specialized Expedition tire, and I bought two extra tubes and the entire thing cost me a grand total of $53.34. I’m quite certain I would have insisted that the wheel be built with DT Swiss spokes a brand I had learnt to trust over the last number of years.

Carbohydrate Loading at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, July 8, 1986

Thunder Bay Thunderbolts - Earlier Times at the Lakehead

I have no clear indication of where the A & W was located though if it was located where it is now, that was about a 3.8 kilometre walk from the bike shop and is at 588 Arthur Street West. Edward Street in Thunder Bay is the street which forms the line that separates the eastern part of town from the west. I had been to Thunder Bay a few times before though didn’t really know the town to well. Twice I had been billeted and dependent on those I was staying with regarding getting around, and the third time I had stayed in the residences at Lakehead University. Other previous visits centred around swimming, and the last time I had been there had been nine years earlier for the Thunder Bay Thunderbolts Invitational Swim Meet in 1977. The mid 1970s had been that club’s heyday and the club had been coached by Don Talbot, former Australian National Swim Coach. We had had a couple of dual meets with the Thunderbolts when I swam at the Pointe Claire Swim Club, and my first flight ever had been to Thunder Bay, with a stop in Toronto. Some of the guys I remember from that team and whom I got along with even though most were somewhat older than I were: Tom Alexander, Jari Lind, Andy Ritchie, Paolo Rodeghiero, Bill Sawchuk, Gary Trevisan (Gary’s family was the first I billeted with on my first trip to Thunder Bay.) 


It had been at that competition in June of 1977 when I was 14 that I had met Cheryl with whom we had stayed in Winnipeg. She was constantly flirting with me and clearly got my attention. A few weeks earlier at our club championships I had won high point for my age group, I won the high point in Thunder Bay and a week later in Gardner Massachusetts I would win the high point once again. It was some time after that they there were clearly a few team mates who must have been a little jealous, because it was sometime after that that my family name of Pawlowsky got bastardized into Ugliowsky. It still amazes me at how cruel kids can be! 

The Legend of Green Mantle

Though this was many years later, so once I picked up my back wheel at Petrie’s we thumbed our way back out to Kakabeka Falls, it was when we entered the campground that we learnt from some sign that this was Ojibwe for “thundering water”; however, this may have been incorrect. The spot where the water tumbles down the Kaministiquia River is from the Ojibwe word word gakaabikaa "waterfall over a cliff", and it is quite an impressive cliff of 40 metres in height, or 130 feet. If there is anything worth remembering about the falls, would be the “Legend of Green Mantle”, you can find that on the Wikipedia entry for the falls. While July 7th had been a day for some liquor, on July 8th we had stopped and picked up some beer. Somehow, it was a good think that we had done so. Around dinner hour I had called home “collect”. My mother mentioned to me that I had received some mail from the University of Ottawa and asked whether she should open it. She read the letter and I found out I had received a $4,800 scholarship for my upcoming Masters in Ukrainian literature at the said university. We spent the rest of our day off cleaning up our bikes, and having just passed the time line it was quite bright out and the sun didn’t set until 22:00 that night.


The following day we crawled out of our tent at 8:00 and apparently we had a pretty decent breakfast and after cleaning up and breaking camp we left Kakabeka Falls at 10:38 that morning of July 9, 1986. We arrived in Thunder Bay by noon and then ran a few errands. One was to pick up some tent sealer and some food. Though there is no indication of where we picked up these things there is a pretty good possibility that the first of the two would have been purchased at one of the two Canadian Tire stores in Thunder Bay. With their lay out standardized it wouldn’t take much time looking for what we needed. Over the last month it was also not be unusual to get our dry goods at Safeway grocery stores. We didn’t spend a great deal of time in Thunder Bay, we were basically in and out. 


Shortly after leaving the city limits Ron broke a spoke on his front wheel making it a relatively easy and quick replacement. While we were stationary we decided to eat lunch. We would take our next break at the junction of Highway 11/17 and Highway 587 south, also known as Pass Lake Road at the truck stop there. It’s a little place called Shuniah, Ontario and while the truck stop we stopped at is the same one located at 3200 Highway 11/17 it’s hard to know it as it has been 35 years. The place there now is a Flying J Travel Centre a company in which Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway acquired a 38.6% stake in the Knoxville Tennessee based company in 2017. While we were refilling our water supply there these two guys from Thunder Bay gave us each a can of beer for the road and seemed very impressed that we had only been on the road for a month, with a number of two day stops along the way. 

On the North Shore of Gitchie Gumee

A short time after that stop, we were creeping up on a group of two couples. For a while we rode with them and we discovered they were from North Carolina and were doing what is called the Lake Superior Circle Tour. It’s a massive body of water and one thing we were experiencing while riding near its shores was that even though it was quite warm out when we descended to be near enough to its shores, one could feel the cool air being blown off the surface area which covers an area of 82,103 km², that makes it immense. The amount of time that it would take the water to be replenished in North America’s largest body of fresh water is 173 years. In addition, as made famous by Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, we learn just how cold the waters of this lake are as his ballad opens: 


“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down 

Of the big lake they called Gitche Gumee 

The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead 

When the skies of November turn gloomy....” 


This is an interesting piece of information I found on the website: “An old saying, “Lake Superior doesn’t give up her dead.” is both folklore and fact. The cold water of Lake Superior does not allow bacteria to grow like it would in warmer water. The bacteria that usually causes the body to bloat and float is kept at bay in the frigid waters of Lake Superior. Because the temperature of the water is so cold, bodies can be preserved for many years in the deep depths of Lake Superior where water lingers around 34F or 1.1C. I can’t imagine the secrets and stories that Lake Superior has yet to reveal – or may never reveal.” 


Back then in 1986 and to this day I am often amazed at the lack of geographic knowledge our neighbours who live south of our border possess. One of the members of that group asked us were we were coming from and where we were heading. I’m not sure which one of us gave them the answer, but their response blew both of us away. We had said, that we started in Vancouver and were heading home to Montreal. Then after a short pause came their response: “How far west did you travel?” Now even if they had thought that we had departed from Vancouver in Washington state they would have understood that we were pretty close to the Pacific Ocean. We grew tired of riding with these people and increased our cadence and slowly pulled away from them. 


Somewhere between 26-30 kilometres further along the Trans Canada we found a place by the side of the road were we could pull over and cook dinner. It was near a place called Dorion Ontario, known for two things: The Dorion Bible Camp and the Ouimet Canyon. My friend Rose had given us a bag of instant dumpling mix so we cooked that up and had it with a can of tuna each. We next stopped in Nipigon, Ontario for a replenishment of water primarily. Shortly after Nipigon we found a place to set up camp. We had ridden 155.5 kilometres that day and covered 3,217.5 kilometres since we had left White Rock, BC.

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