Thursday, July 23, 2020

Onto the Old Ghost Road : Compass Lake to Dufferin Bridge

After spending a peaceful night in the forest without further traffic, we awoke to the sounds of Common Loons calling to each other on a nearby lake. They were joined by a Wood Thrush, a Winter Wren, and a White-breasted Nuthatch in the woods around us.

We packed everything up, even though the tent, tarp, and all our clothes from yesterday were still soaking wet. Sean put his dripping clothes his back amid the cool breeze of the morning.  I opted to wear my last dry set clothes instead of being stubborn. It was an overcast and cool morning, which I enjoyed enormously - especially watching Sean gingerly walking around in his soaked outfit trying to ignore the wind. The fresh, invigorating smell of the wet pine forest was strong, and we could hear dripping from the surrounding trees.


Not too far down the sandy track we spotted fresh bear tracks! They were about the same size as my hiking boots, so it must have been a pretty large bear! Over the course of the day we saw what looked like wolf or coyote tracks, as well as many sets of moose tracks, but sadly we cannot report any moose sightings yet.


The first stretch of trail we covered took us past some truly beautiful lakes and wetlands. The dark standing water, delicate floating lilypads, lush green marsh grasses, tall bleached snags, and delicate white, yellow, and purple marsh flowers were a beautiful example of the iconic Canadian Shield marshes.


Our progress was slow as we stopped to search the wet meadows and marshes for moose and birds. At one small pond a Great Blue Heron took flight, disappearing into the spruce and cedars of the far shore. Swamp Sparrows moved about in the marsh grasses, and Common Yellowthroats called from trailside shrubs.


We moved between marshes and forested patches where the path became a lush green tunnel. In the deciduous forests we heard the intermittent songs of Wood Thrush, Ovenbirds, Black-throated Blue Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, Winter Wrens, and White-breasted Nuthatches. Many of these stretches had exposed pieces of pinkish shield poking up through the leaf litter, covered in soft blankets of emerald green moss and light seafoam lichen.


In one of these sections Sean spotted an Eastern Newt on the edge of the trail. This is a common newt across eastern North America, and can be found near small lakes, ponds, and streams and in adjacent wet forests. This amazing little semi-aquatic amphibian, which belongs to a subgroup of the Salamander family, produces tetrodoxin, which makes it unpalatable to predators like fish and crayfish. Apparently, they can live to be 15 years old. As adults they are silvery green, but the striking bright orange juvenile stage we saw today, which is land dwelling, is known as a red eft.


As we approached the tiny community of Sprucedale we passed a young woman on the trail, out walking her two dogs. She gave us a cheerful hello as she passed. Next we met an older gentleman in overalls and a wide-brimmed hat, who had an interesting walking stick, who asked us good naturedly if we were providing food for the deer flies. We assured him we were.

We stopped at Kirks Gas and Convenience for cold coffee, iced tea, and a snack for later. This little convenience store was located right on the trail and had quite a few groceries. It also has a bench outside, which was a nice spot to take a break.

After Sprucedale the trail wove back and forth across the highway. There was very little traffic, and we remained in our forested corridor, so we mostly forgot the road was there. One strange aspect of this arrangement seemed to be that the ATVs we heard were all on the road and not on the trail. This was okay with us, although the ATV community here seems to be very respectful of the trail and the other trail users.


The deep sand of the trail made for tough going with the cart, but the day was filled with beauty and small wildlife encounters. Many of the logs in the marshes had several Painted Turtles basking on them, their smooth, clean shells gleaming in the sunlight. We also passed several snakes curled up on the trail, basking in the afternoon sun.


Towards the late afternoon we found ourselves walking down a grassy track with wet meadows on either side. Cotton grasses were blooming in the meadows, and beyond were the scrappy outlines of spruce bogs. This section reminded us fondly of Newfoundland, especially since there were several large puddles along the way.

Towards the late afternoon the trail crossed several rivers. We had read online that some of the bridges in this section might be out, but we were very pleased to find that three brand new bridges were in place, and the two older ones were still passable.


The last rivers we crossed were truly beautiful. There rushing reddish waters flowed over exposed pink rocks that were dotted with bright orange and black lichen. Red-leaved bushes grew among the colourful rocks, and these were accented with tender looking tufts of light green. We spent quite some time on the bridge, just enjoying the stream.



The Park to Park Trail we've been following for the past two days follows the J.R. Booth Railway. This line extended the Ottawa, Arnprior, and Parry Sound line through to Depot Harbour on Georgian Bay, thereby providing the shortest route to the Upper Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. Booth used the line to transport timber from Algonquin Provincial Park and grain from the region until 1933, when a trestle washed out in Algonquin and wasn't replaced.

When we reached Seguin Falls we sadly left the beautiful Park to Park Trail behind and turned north onto the Old Nipissing Road. This was once a colonization road used by early settlers, and evidence of their communities can still be seen along it today. So far we have come across two historic plaques marking the place of a pioneer Cemetery, and an old hotel and general store.  As we trekked through this area which may or may not have been partially abandoned it was interesting to see that almost every building and electrical pole had a Canadian flag hung from it.  An fascinating image of patriotism to find in the midst of the Ontario wilderness.


At the junction where we turned there was a sign warning us that we would experience conditions similar to those the settlers found along the way, and that we should expect parts of the old road to be impassable and that much of the area 'was being allowed to return to nature'.   Neither of these comments sounded encouraging, but there was a modern road sign that suggested it was 31 km to Magnetawan, which gave us hope that we could in fact reach our next destination down this road.

Because of its history, the Old Nipissing Road is known as the Old Ghost Road. Perhaps as a result of this name, we were at first a bit unnerved by our surroundings. Small buildings and partially abandoned looking cottages and buildings lined the road, set back among the trees. Most of these looked much more recent than anything a settler would have built. We also passed a Gunner's Hunt Camp that looked decidedly creepy to us.


However, as we continued down the road, which didn't have much traffic apart from a crew of construction vehicles, we began to see the peacefulness and beauty of the forest around us. The sky was a clear blue, dotted with puffy white clouds. A cool breeze was blowing through the trees, rustling the canopy. The piercing cries of a Merlin echoed above an open field. Apart from the occasional vehicle, we were surrounded only by the sounds of nature.

One of the ongoing disappointments of our trek was that almost all of the road and accompanying forest was posted as No Trespassing. The property across from the hunt camp had No Hunting and No Trespassing signs on every fourth tree for about 3 km of road. It felt like once again we were walking into a conflict we knew nothing about, but could see evidence of. Throughout much of the afternoon the lyrics of Tesla's iconic song 'Signs' played through my mind.

"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Someday, our goal is to walk beyond the Private Property and No Trespassing signs, though we both have fears that these signs will follow us to the Arctic circle.

I thought there was a nice spot to camp behind the old cemetery which included shade and a water tap, but Sean wasn't about to camp in, by, or even near a cemetery. As such, we continued on, and eventually found a lovely spot to camp beneath two huge, old white pines.

At first it seemed very peaceful, and we were sheltered enough to string up a laundry line to try to dry some of our wet things. However, as we try to fall asleep something small is digging under me, something is chewing above me, and something large is crashing through the bush behind the tent. It is a very clear reminder that there is a whole nocturnal world sharing this place with us that is just as vibrant and interesting as the diurnal one, but which don't often see or think about.

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