Saturday, August 22, 2020

A Long Day in the Sun, a Long Afternoon in the Rain : Bruce Mines to Echo Bay

When we woke up this morning we found the world shrouded in a thick layer of fog. The tall pines and cedars of the campsite looked magical and mysterious as we made our way out of the campground and into town. By 10 pm last night the campground had almost filled up, but about half the other campers had already left when we headed out at 7:30 am.

We stopped on the way through town at the Copper Bean Cafe for hot coffee and apple blossoms. As we stood outside, admiring the brightly coloured paintings on the wall of the outdoor patio, which had an eclectic assortment of metal and wood chairs with brightly coloured cushions, we noticed an abundance of delicate spiderwebs decorating the fence, eves, and sign. Each web was covered in hundreds of tiny dewdrops, rendering it useless to the spider, but turning it into something beautiful.

Sean walked over to look at the lake in the fog, but was ultimately disappointed with a lack of view. Apparently, all he could see in the harbour was fog. Sometimes life is like that.

As we headed out of town we found ourselves on the 1 km long Mine Trail. This trail takes visitors past the sites of several smaller copper mines that were started in the area in the 1800's. The mines we passed were around 40 - 60 m deep, and they were fenced off for safety purposes, so we couldn't really see too much other than small treed gullies.


As we headed out of town we found ourselves in very hilly, rolling countryside. The landscape was a mix of woodlots, pastures, hayfields, and small farms. We were still in Mennonite country, and were again impressed with how naturally these small farms seem to be fitted into the landscape. Rather than forcing perfectly rectangular fields at right angles to the road, fence lines were often gently curved to fit the contours of the land, and fields followed the shape of the hills.

We also noticed that the landscape was very alive. Hedgerows bordered the fields that were full of American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, various sparrows, and many other birds, feeding on berries and insects. Bright yellow and purple wildflowers filled the hay fields and bordered the road, and these patches of flowers were alive with grasshoppers, crickets, bees, and chipmunks.


Flocks of Canada Geese were hidden among the tall grasses of many fields, regrowing their feathers and fattening up before migration. We heard the first v's of geese flying overhead today. Many fields also had large groups of Sandhill Cranes. Their loud, resonating calls could be heard all day, and I don't think we were ever out of sight of a flock of cranes. It looked like some farmers were farming cranes, with healthy flocks of more than one hundred birds.

Another treat for Sean was all the beautiful barns we passed today. It felt like we were on a tour of the barns of Algoma, and the backdrop of misty, rolling hills was very romantic looking.

As the day progressed we boxed north, then west, then north, then west up a series of paved and gravel concessions. Although we were more or less following the trajectory of Highway 17, we couldn't hear it, which made for a peaceful walk. There was a surprising amount of traffic on the backroads, but almost everyone gave us a friendly wave as they passed.


One of the more interesting moments during the morning was watching a Pileated Woodpecker make his way up a utility pole at the edge of a field. He must have previously dug holes all the way up, and as he hopped up the pole he carefully inserted his bill into each cavity. Much of the time he came out with a juicy insect to swallow, but we watched as two moths escaped and flew off. So much for thinking that Pileated Woodpeckers only thrive in large tracts of mature forest! This one seemed to be very successfully farming a utility pole.


Another highlight was watching a group of Mennonite children pass in a wagon. Over the course of the day there was quite a bit of wagon traffic, but this one was being driven by a very young lady. She had two small siblings in the front with her, and the young boy looked at us in amazement as they passed. He spun around to look over the back of the wagon, waving shyly and then resting his chin on his hands and watching until we were out of sight. We could see the small bonnet of his sister peeking around the side repeatedly as they pulled ahead. We must have been a very strange and fascinating sight.


When we approached the outskirts of Desbarats a very friendly lady stopped her car and told us that since today was Saturday there was a Mennonite market about a mile down the road, and a much larger Farmer's Market in town. Apparently the Foster's Farmers Market is something this community is known for, but we didn't realize this until afterwards. We thanked her, and continued on with anticipation.


When we reached the market it was extremely busy, with cars parked down the road and filling the small gravel parking lot outside. Sean went inside and emerged with raspberry jam, walnut butter tarts and chocolate peanut butter bars! I watched as others emerged with arms piled high with fresh corn, greens, large baskets of ripe peaches, and fresh pies. The butter tarts were among the best I've ever had. They weren't too sweet, but instead tasted of walnuts and maple syrup!


Since we had everything we needed, we decided against going into downtown Desbarats. As we headed out of town we passed the turnoff for St. Joseph Island. This is the second largest island in Lake Huron (after Manitoulin), and is home to Fort St. Joseph. This fort, which consisted of a blockhouse, powder magazine, bakery building, Indian council house, and storehouse was at one time the most westerly outpost of the British Empire. It was also a major center for trade and commerce for the region. Its main claim to fame is that it was the staging ground for the initial attack in the war of 1812. Today it is a National Historic Site of Canada.  Several years ago we were fortunate to be able to visit this site and so are fortunate to be able to share some images from here!


As we continued through the open countryside, the sun had broken through the clouds and turned the afternoon hot. To my great delight we passed a field with a herd of bison in it. We took a break, and as we sat on the guardrail across from them, enjoying one of the chocolate peanut butter bars, the herd slowly seemed to pour across the field towards us.


As the herd approached us we could hear many of the bison making a low grumbling sound. Combined, the group of animals seemed to be giving off a low purring sound, which was complimented by the dry swishing noise made by their tails as they brushed away flies. It was quite unexpected and fascinating.


In our time we've come into relatively close contact with herds of horses, cows, donkeys, and now bison. Each group of animals has it's own distinct personality. Cows seem cautious and curious, but ready to bolt if the unknown presents itself. Horses seems curious, analytical, active, and free to roam. Donkeys seem patient, polite, and above all else, peaceful. It turns out, bison purr. Nature really is wonderful.


As we continued down the road a car stopped in front of us, and Violet Aubertin, a photographer for the Sault Star got out. She took a few photos and asked us a few questions. It seemed like a very random and fortuitous encounter, especially since we haven't been able to post much in the last few days.


After Violet left us we passed a second field filled with bison, and what soon became our favourite bird of the day - an emu! There were actually two emu, and we spent a few minutes enjoying watching these prehistoric looking animals. They are native to Australia, and they are the second largest living bird on earth (after the ostrich). They were very curious, coming up to the fence to investigate us.

Much of the afternoon we spent walking up and down rolling hills through beautiful countryside. In the early afternoon we met a very friendly retired lady who was out for a bicycle ride. She asked what we were doing and where we were staying tonight, and said if it weren't for Covid 19, and her husband wasn't recovering from surgery, she would love to have us stay in their AirBnB. She and her husband had hosted a group of three young French men who were lost and on their way to BC, and they ended up spending a lovely and memorable weekend with her family. We would have loved to stay, but foolishly decided we needed to cover a few more kilometers in order to reach Sault Ste Marie tomorrow.


We continued on into the hot sunny afternoon, taking short breaks occasionally. After we'd covered about 30 km of trail, we began looking for a place to camp. That's when things went off the rails a little.


Our first find was a small pine plantation, that offered cover but was a bit too close to someone's home for Sean's comfort. The satellite map showed lots of forest in the next five kilometers of trail, but upon inspection it turned out to be marshy and difficult to access. We followed a concession which seemed to have never ending traffic, robbing us of any chance to disappear. When we finally found a lovely piece of forest, we discovered it was full of well used trails, and a nearby dog was barking continuously. When we reached the last forest that gave us hope, we were followed by a curious girl on a bicycle, who was carrying her younger brother and a small white dog in the basket on the back of her three wheel bike. She stared at us without comment as she pedalled slowly along behind us for about 20 minutes making any 'jump into the woods' impossible.  It is a challenging thing to remain upbeat and hoping to promote curiosity in youth when you are wet, cold, and tired. 


As a result we passed the forest line for viable camping spots and arrived at the Trans Canada Highway and the community of Echo Bay.

 Echo Bay is a small community on the shores of Lake George and the St. Mary's River. Half the river is located in Chippewa County, Michigan and the other half is in Algoma District, Ontario. As we walked through the residential neighborhoods, we caught glimpses of the sun setting over the water. In this area we passed quite a few residents out walking their dogs and enjoying the beautiful summer evening.

After passing through the community, we continued back out onto highway 17b, until we came to the World's Largest Loonie Monument. This structure was constructed in 1992 to honor Mr. Robert R. Carmichael, the artist who created the design on Canada's $1 coin. It is located in Echo Bay because the artist is a resident of the township of Macdonald, Meredith, and Aberdeen Additional, where Echo Bay is located. The date on the coin is 1987, which is when the first "loonie" was introduced. By the time it turned 25, in 2012, over 1.5 billion $1 coins had been produced.


The Loonie is situated in a lovely little park, which is also a rest area that is equipped with washrooms, garbage cans, picnic tables, and a large grassy area behind a water treatment plant. There was also a new and very high end boardwalk installed by Ducks Unlimited Canada that led out to a Provincially Significant Wetland on the shores of Lake George.

As I walked out to the marsh hundreds of Leopard Frogs leapt out of my path, preceding me like a wave. An American Bittern, who was standing invisibly at the edge of the cattails, likely feeding on the frog buffet, took flight as I approached. Wood Ducks, Mallards, and Canada Geese paddled among the shrubby vegetation. A Great Blue Heron fished farther out. Despite our predicament, it was a beautiful evening.

I wanted to stay and camp at rest area, but Sean was afraid it was illegal, and that we'd be confronted and chucked out in the middle of the night. By this point we'd walked just over 43 km.

Moreover, by this point I was feeling like we were part of the parable of the drowning man who was waiting for God to save him as the flood waters rose around his house. He climbed up on his roof, praying and waiting to be saved. His neighbour came by and offered him a ride in his pickup truck. The man refused, saying he was waiting for God to save him. The waters continued to rise and a man in a boat floated past, throwing him a rope. The man refused his help, saying he was waiting for God. Finally, as the waters reached the roof, a helicopter flew by overhead, a voice speaking through a loudspeaker instructing him to grab the harness and be saved. The man refused, saving he was waiting for God to save him. A few hours later the man drowned. He stood before God and said "God, I had complete faith in you, why did you let me drown?" God answered "I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter. What on earth where you waiting for?"

Today we were sent a lovely offer to camp in someone's yard, a pine plantation, and now a rest area. We decided to take the rest area, pitching our tent behind the water treatment plant at the edge of a marsh, just out of sight of the boardwalk. Hopefully no one comes to evict us in the night, especially since quite a bit of rain is expected.

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