#1 of 6 posts from ’29 Days Driving 10,000 Miles around the Continent’ Jan. 17 to Feb. 14, 2010
The Chronometer reading on the dashboard is 92,290 miles.
We left home on Sun. Jan. 17 with our skis on the roof of the car. Our itinerary was to spend a month driving around the west and southwest of the United States without going anywhere we had been before. A relative-by-marriage in Pebble Beach, on the Pacific Ocean, had invited us to visit her and her husband, so that would be the midpoint of our trip. Her son lives in Santa Fe and she said we must drop in on him too. We emailed other friends to say we were on our way. Our last stop would be at our son’s home in Pittsburgh. We didn’t make any reservations because of the uncertain winter weather.We traveled up the Ottawa River on Rte 148, turned left at Shawville and crossed over to Ontario at Portage du Fort. The bridge at the Chenaux dam and hydro electric plant is pictured here. Then we got on the Trans Canada Hwy and headed northwest. Marg had gotten into a conversation with a retired truck driver on a recent bus trip to Toronto and he had told her that this route is good in winter, takes no longer than the superhighway via Toronto and Chicago and is very scenic. We had ski clothes with us, CAA guidebooks and maps, food and drinks, a blanket, an emergency kit, CDs and a first-aid kit. Although we had a cell phone, we knew it wouldn’t work in some remote spots. We were excited at the prospect of driving around the north shore of Lake Superior for the first time.
We stopped for lunch at Deep River, a lovely town made up of bungalows and stately pines. Just before Mattawa, the solid cloud blanket which had been covering the sky began to lift. Within 10 minutes, while we sped on, the sky turned completely blue and the sunshine bright. Past Sturgeon Falls it clouded over again.
The initial part alongside the Ottawa River is flat, more agricultural, with few big trees but some big, prosperous-looking farms (my idea of ranches). There are many French Canadian settlements. The routes leading to links to places across the river in Quebec are identified by signs.
We bypassed Sudbury to save time, even though we knew the stretch ahead was isolated and we were giving up our last sure chance of getting a good dinner at a reasonable hour.
Even the isolation was beautiful, with the highway becoming divided and the speed limit increasing from 90 to 100 kmph. Wide expanses of undriven snow stretched on either side in the darkness. The epitome of isolation is Whitefish. Don’t go there – go on to Jeremy’s crowded, apparently native-owned truck stop in Nairn and buy an expensive appetizer.
We arrived at the Mohawk Motel in Massey, a former lumber town. It’s heavily populated by tourists in summer because of the thousands of varieties of birds in the wetlands surrounding the north channel of Lake Huron.
And so to bed, after dining at The Dragonfly and watching the Tales of Hoffman on TFO. The motel receptionist told us this year the temperature was 30 degrees above normal. Still, we were awakened at 5 a.m. by the sound of someone chipping ice outside our door.
The drive around the north channel of Lake Huron mostly just gave glimpses of the water, Manitou Island and other islands, though we did get this picture at a wider opening. Blind River is a particularly pretty little town.Back in 1967, dynamiting for the Trans Canada’s construction exposed rock which geologists found to be two billion-years old. The Ripple Rock is 2.5 kilometres west of Desbarats and easy to miss despite its plaque. In fact we had to circle back. As we slowed down to look across at the rock from the car window, a shiver shook my spine. The shiny sandstone looks pristine and beautiful after all that passage of time, unbearable pressure and Himalayan-sized upheavals. The ripples are almost vertical, made by the waves of an ancient sea.
After lunch at the Soo we looked at the incredible engineering colossus of bridges, locks, dams, etc. linking the east and west of the continent, making international trade possible. We also drove around Roberta Bondar Park, built to celebrate the achievements of Canada’s first female astronaut. Traffic picked up near the intersection with Hwy 75 and the bridge to the US
After the Soo, the line of Laurentian hills we hadn’t seen since Mattawa re-appeared and circled the horizon. A lot of native people and Mennonites live around here.
The forest exuberates with northern and jack pines, white birches, spruces and an unidentified spindly, top-knotted species of evergreen obviously designed by Dr. Seuss. Speaking of artists, the Group of Seven painted their landscapes near the Agawa Canyon, which can be reached by a summer fly-in from here. Much of the interior is parks and reserves. Yellow sign after yellow sign warned us to watch out for moose.Up near Wawa, Lake Superior has beautiful sandy beaches, with waves whipped by huge winds. The highway was a velvety ribbon, with passing lanes and hardly any traffic. This town identifies with the Canada goose and has its image posted in the most unlikely spots.
Past Wawa the road hugs the shore and traverses the Adirondacks with fabulous vistas of Lake Superior, the biggest fresh-water lake on earth (350 mi. x 160 mi.). It was a warm day but around 5 p.m. it started to snow and the temperature sank. So did the sun, as we reached White River and bought gas around 6 at the first gas station we’d seen since the Soo. The owner and his wife both came out with squeegees to wash our windshield and wave us on with friendly smiles.
Darkness fell and we were tired but suddenly we saw a mass of brilliant lights shining on the right. It was the Barrick and Newmont gold mines, rivals standing practically side by side. This was an amazing, diamond-studded, incongruous sight. Employees’ cars were parked neatly in a lot, as if it were downtown Toronto.
We checked into a motel at Marathon after having travelled for 10 hours and covered 640 km. The clerk told us the town of 4,000 is angry at the Tenbec/Kruger pulp mill which laid off 230 workers a year ago. There is unrest and the scenic dock area, next to the mill, has been roped off. Pensions, benefits, are gone and it’s devastating, It was a comfort to eat at Wok with Chow, settle into a room with high-speed internet and watch the Australian Open.
Lake Superior is the biggest fresh-water lake on earth. The views of it from the Trans Canada’s high elevations are so overwhelming, panoramic and magnificent that we didn’t stop to take pictures. Moose reign supreme. We didn’t see any but we continually saw footprints big and small in the snow among the rocks by the road. How can you fit huge islands, waters and mountains into a little lens? The towns, like White River and Schreiber, are small.
We crossed over the two-lane bridge at Nipigon, the only way to connect one half of Canada with the other without going through the United States. As of this update in Jan., 2016 a new bridge described as a “106 million dollar crown jewel by the National Post was opened two months ago but embarrassingly damaged when “a section of the cable-supported bridge deck suddenly split apart and heaved upward by 60 centimeters or more.” It has been reduced to one-lane traffic at the moment.
Thunder Bay is a wonderful, industrious city, poised high over its waterfront and Sleeping Giant Rock and Pie Island. We took a picture of the Terry Fox statue (such a sad story) and ate at a Finnish restaurant, Hoito (meaning care). Tom had thin pancakes that were like Hungarian ones. I had salt fish (smoked salmon which doesn’t look or taste like ours), mashed potatoes and viili (clabbered milk – like yogurt but better). On the way out, we weighed ourselves on the standing scales which looked like they’d been a fixture since the restaurant opened in 1910 to meet the social needs of Finnish lumbermen and families.
We crossed the border at Pigeon Point. The agents were pleasant but thorough – couldn’t get over our multiple destinations. They found a kiwi rolling around on the floor and took it.
Duluth was dark by the time we arrived but we happened onto the scenic route, which puts Ottawa’s Driveway to shame.
Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics and Bliss on Wheels!
We are octogenarian writers who like to travel by car and share our adventures. We hope you enjoyed our notes and pictures of this cross-continent road trip as much as we enjoyed it on wheels six years ago.