Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Longest Day : King Creek to Nipissing

Perhaps it is pure superstition, but we've found that life brings balance. Both on the trail and off, when something very bad happens, it is often followed by something very beautiful. Sadly, the opposite is also true. The last two days have been filled with an abundance of kindness, generosity, gifts, and unexpected good fortune. Today the bill came due. We hope it is paid in full.


When a noisy flock of Common Grackles woke us up from our broken sleepless night on their way through our campsite it was already hot and humid, feeling like a sauna. It felt like 32°C at 7:30 am when we had everything packed up and were ready to go. Totally gross.


We began by crossing a lovely wooden bridge over a small stream. The rising sun lit up the conifers on the far side of the marsh, turning them to gold. The river provided beautiful reflections of the deep blue sky. Green Frogs gave their rubber-band calls in the muggy morning, and Red-winged Blackbirds added their rough squawks.

 

Not far past this beautiful marsh we came to Smith's Camp. This complex featured several small wooden cabins and a large central chalet with an outdoor firepit and kitchen. It looked very inviting. At this point we seemed to join the South Shore Restoule Snowmobile Trail Network, and the dirt track we'd been following became a wider, newly graded gravel road which made trekking far easier. 


The road was bordered by beautiful mixed and deciduous forest. The sun filtered down through the canopy, lighting up the geometric patterns of the lush green ferns, which are now about shoulder high. There were lots of cabins, cottages, and small camps along the road. A lot of acreages were either for sale or newly sold as well.  Neither of us is sure whether it is a good think that so many people want to live in nature or whether it simply means that with so much for sale that much of this beautiful landscape will be slowly clear cut and opened up. Indeed many of the recently sold lots had already been transformed from beautiful dense forest into acres of lawn.  Why anyone would purchase property amid such a beautiful landscape only to make it into suburbia is beyond me.

 
 


Occasionally the forest would open up into a marsh, surrounding a meandering, tea-coloured stream. Although marshes are some of the most diverse habitats on earth, supporting a huge number of plants, insects, amphibians, fish, mammals, and birds, only the plants and insects seemed to be in evidence on this hot, quiet, July morning.
 
 
 
 



At the end of Jerusalem Rd we turned back onto Rye Rd, in a bit of deja vu. We were again walking through rolling countryside, getting views of rolling hay fields and partially cleared land, broken by stands of dense forest. It seems that at least some of the settlers that were originally sent up here to farm must have made a go of it.
 
 
 

Eventually we made our way up to highway 522, which was a somewhat busy, paved, two-lane road that brought us to Commanda. Much like the nearby town of Restoule, Commanda is named after an Ojibwe Chief.  Legend has it that the Ojibwa Chief earned the rank of Commander when he led a band of Native troops in the War of 1812.  After the war, he brought his band to this spot in the 1830s, which was named 'Commanda' in his honour.

 

As we hiked past, we didn't see much to recommend Commanda. We passed a few houses. At one of these a man and his young son were using guns to shoot targets in their front yard. A pair of dogs ran out of another yard, yapping and barking at us as they ran out onto the busy highway. Luckily the passing cars avoided them, but the dogs were reluctant to respond to their owner's bellows. Not for the first time we were left thinking that the quality of life is better for both humans and dogs when living together if both are properly trained. Apparently there is an historical General Store covered in gingerbread trim in the community, but we didn't walk past it. Perhaps we missed the more appealing aspects of Commanda.

After leaving Commanda we began a very long walk north on Alsace Rd. This was a very hilly gravel road that seemed to go on forever. It was mostly bordered by forest, offering very few changes in scenery.

 
 

It was here on a the top of a road that we learned of the first challenge of the day.  Given the heat, despite it being 10 am we had both already drunk through the 4 litres of water in our bottles.  In any usual circumstances this would lead us to either filter local water from a pond or river, or to use some of the 10 litres that we carry on the bottom of the wheelie cart.  Unfortunately there was no accessible water by the roadway and as we went to use some of our reserve we discovered that the lid had popped off and that it was empty. Not a drop was left.  This meant that - at the moment - we had no water.   With the hope that we would have the opportunity to fix the situation we walked and soon came to a number of houses and cottages.  As we walked down the unshaded roadway we found a man watering his garden and asked if we could fill up our water bottles.  Despite appearances his gentle demeanour quickly changed into a scowl and he barked at us 'none to spare, go away'.  We continued on and soon found a family man packing the truck of his Mercedes.  When we asked him if we could fill our bottles his response - despite the presence of his children near by - was profane.  Simplified his comment amount to 'you should buy water like everyone else does' and marched away.  Undeterred, we walked on and soon found another individual with his child loading up fishing gear in the back of his large truck.  We again asked if we could fill up our water bottles and were abruptly told 'get off my land.  Instead of begging why don't you go get a job and pay taxes'.  It would seem that we were going to have to wait and figure this out ourselves.  Thirsty we moved on with the kindness of Magnetawan seem to be far far behind us now.

 
 
  
As we continued one of the highlights was seeing a Painted Turtle crossing the road. As Sean gently shooed it towards to the edge of the road it hissed fiercely, and repeatedly raised itself up on its front legs, giving it the appearance of hopping.


Traffic moved fast on the road, and we saw a corresponding increase in roadkill. Quite a few snakes, turtles, and chipmunks were among the victims. The number of beer cans and empty mickeys littering the road edges made us slightly uneasy as the cars and pickup trucks zipped past us on the hills. The situation was unnerving given the amount of radical driving - including two pickup trucks which appeared to be racing at high speed and side by side - on the roadway.

 
 

In the early afternoon we walked around a large lake ringed with upscale cottages. We stopped for a break on a municipal beach at the water's edge. It felt good to sit on the soft grass and cool off in the shade of a tree. Quite a few people were swimming in the shallow, sandy lake and a few boats were motoring around out on the water. The breeze coming in off the lake was refreshing. It was hard not to fall asleep in the relaxing setting.  As we sat here Sean decided to purify some water for us only to discover that the cottage next to the beach had run its septic line across its property and to the water pouring out 'waste' directly into the lake.  We both decided that despite our thirst, perhaps getting water here was both an unhealthy option and unnecessary.




Tired and now having trekked over 30 km in the high heat and humidity of the morning and afternoon and now very much in need of liquids we decided to push onto the town of Nipissing. By late afternoon, crossing 40 km for the day, we arrived in Nipissing. As we came into town, we passed the Nipissing Township Museum. This collection is housed in an historic log church, and consisted of local artifacts dating from 1864 to the 1940s. The log church was beautifully preserved, but closed when we walked past.

 



















A plaque outside informed us that the Rousseau-Nipissing Road we were following was constructed in 1866 to encourage settlement in the surrounding Parry Sound District. It remained an important regional road until the Gravenhurst to Callander Railway was opened in 1886. Evidently it is still used today.

                                (this store has amazing staff and is an oasis!  A Huge Thank you!)

A highlight for us was finding Foote's General Store. This was a very well stocked variety store, which sold iced tea, ice cream, and jugs of water among many other things. It also featured a small chip truck type outdoor restaurant, which was doing a roaring trade. By this point we were completely exhausted and dehydrated from the heat, so these cold treats seemed like pure heaven. We both had 2 ice creams, 2 ice teas, and a litre of water! 

But again we forgot that which is given and received must be paid back for in full.  The world demands balance. 

And so, whether because of this or out of exhaustion, at this point we made a fateful decision - one that came close to ending our trek permanently. We were both overheated, overtired, and wishing for a shower. There were two campgrounds located 4.5 km off the trail, a few kilometers outside of Nipissing. Neither of us wanted to walk that far off the trail, especially since it meant pushing our distance for today to over 45 km. However, the temptation of a cold shower proved too much.

We called the campground before setting off to make sure they were open, had available campsites on the edge of a river, and were able to offer showers despite covid restrictions. We made double sure of the showers, probably making the proprietor think we were nuts, and were assured they were available.

We summoned the energy to drag ourselves down the winding, hilly road to the campground, motivated purely by the promise of a picnic table to sit at, a cold shower, a proper washroom, and running water. We finally arrived, hot, tired, thirsty, and on our last leg.


The proprietor was on his cluttered deck drinking beer with his colleague when we arrived. He showed us to a small campsite on the edge of the river, which was about 10 m below us, down a sandy, eroded, embankment. He proudly showed us the fire pit, which was full of trash, but there was no picnic table. So much for resting on a seat for a while.  Well, we could live with that.

We went to the office and registered, paying $50 for the site, which we thought was pretty steep, but which he said included a fee for last minute registration. It took about 40 minutes, because he was looking for a covid release form I needed to sign, which he never did locate. He asked if we wanted firewood brought to our site, and charged an extra $15 for it.  He then informed us that he just had to change the head on the shower because the old one only dripped. He assured us it would only take half an hour. An hour later he still hadn't unlocked the bathroom for us to use, or started to repair the showerhead.  Nor had he delivered the wood. 

When I went to inquire whether they could unlock the bathroom so we could use it, the proprietor came with and started work on the shower head, making it impossible to use the toilet. An hour later a simple repair required them to shut off the water main to the entire campground. To make a long story short, five hours later there was still no running water, no shower, and we still didn't have access to a toilet. In addition, he had 'lost the key to the wood pile but would find it very soon'. In the middle of a crowded campsite, this was awkward.  Our neighbours in RVs were clearly aware of why the water was off and began to direct their derision at us - one going so far as to demand that 'we leave'. We were incredibly thirsty, still overheating, and hungry as we waited for water which was necessary to make our rehydrated dinner.  Making matters worse, Sean was clearly sick from the heat with a nasty heat rash extending across his neck, chest, and back.  Through it all, the owner felt compelled to keep us 'updated' on the lack of progress on the shower and about every 30 minutes would stumble over with a new beer in hand to comment on the heat and how it would only take another 10 minutes to fix.  By 9 pm, about the time the other campgrounds and general store 5 km away closed, it was clear the proprietor was not capable of making the necessary repairs, and the beers likely weren't helping, although he kept quipping that it was sure great he had cold beer to help deal with the horrible heat.



As we sat there in the hot, muggy night, getting eaten alive by mosquitos, the man in the RV beside us began shooting fledglings in the nearby trees with a BB gun.  Unfortunately he was quite adept a shot and baby birds soon began to fall - one by one - out of the trees.   The nearest one to us fell out of the shrubs, at the edge of our site. It was clear the Great Crested Flycatcher fledgling had other problems. There were no adults in the area, it was swarming with mites, flies, and ants, and its eyes were closed. It still responded to pishing, but only slightly. It didn't accept water or dead mosquitoes we offered it. When it finally passed away in a nest of grasses under a shrub at the edge our site it was the final straw for Sean - who sat weeping and exhausted beside the creature in the evening twilight.

I think if Sean could have quit and gone home tonight he would have.   I stopped him from confronting the RV owner or the proprietor of the campground making him stay in the tent.

At 10 pm, we received yet another 'update' on the status of the water and in response and amid his rage Sean began packing up our gear, and we left around 11 pm - without water, without having gone to the washroom, without having eaten dinner, without having taken a shower, and after 45 km on the trail already today we were hiking again.

As we stormed out, not bothering to be silent, I don't think the proprietor - whose RV was next to our site - even noticed. 

The road out was pitch black, and swarming with mosquitoes. With our headlights on, bright green froglets leapt out of the way as we walked along the gravel road. We made it a few kilometers and then it began to rain torrentially. We found a place to pitch the tent, but in our exhaustion and frustration we didn't do it properly - setting up in a gully between two rows of trees on the side of the road - and we were too overheated to close the doors on the fly. As the night progressed it poured on and off, and the rain came streaming into the tent filling the basin up soaking us, our sleeping bags, and backpacks. For reasons we still fail to understand, the tent also repeatedly filled with swarms of mosquitoes, moths, June beetles, and Daddy Long-legs spiders. The doors were closed, and we couldn't find a hole, but we were soaked and eaten alive all night. Hungry, thirsty, completely overheated, and exhausted, we were ready to give up.  By 4 am we were both exhausted having now trekked 48 km without rest, much of it without water, and now sitting entirely in water, it was clear that all of this was our due for having an amazing day on the Great Trail in Magnetawan.

If we'd decided to continue down the trail instead of being lured by the promise of a shower we wouldn't have had any expectations. We would have instead filled our water jug at the General Store, and we would have pitched the tent properly. The series of events might have been comical if we hadn't been so tired and desperate.  As I write this at 4 am Sean has dozed off sitting up and pitifully cradling his cameras above the waterline in a desperate attempt to at least keep them dry.

Hopefully tonight's rain will wash away the devastation and bring a new beginning in the morning. Hopefully we can find the grit to get ourselves out of this mess. Morning is almost here and I don't know where either of us will find the energy to continue on.

2 comments:

  1. So sorry to hear! You definitely see the worse and the best of people. I wish I could take the bad ones away.

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  2. A very kind sentiment, and actually I think - especially with Covid - that we have seen that Canadians are kind, helpful, and go beyond the call of duty to assist people in need. Covid has revealed to us the best in people in every community we have come to. The challenges we face on this trek are amplified by our own exhaustion and condition. In retrospect not getting a shower and not eating for a day isn't the end of the world, just an inconvenience - but in that moment it certainly felt worse for us. Perhaps I should take more time and revise blogs before they go out to tone down some of our challenges....

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