Friday, August 14, 2020

Angel on a bike and an Adventure on a boat : Massey to Spanish

Our walk today began down a quiet paved road that followed the shores of the Spanish River. The sky was cloudless, the air warm, and the buzz of cicadas and grasshoppers loud. The humid air softened the sunlight, lending an air of mystery to the calm, wide, dark river and the forested hills rising steeply on the opposite shore.


We followed the river all morning, passing small farms, hay fields and horse pastures full of brilliant yellow flowers. Small houses were well spaced out along the opposite side of the road to the river, and many of them had small wooden docks tucked down among the trees on the water. At one point we heard a rhythmic scraping approaching, and a man rowed past in a metal rowboat.


The fields were small and nestled among patches of Boreal forest and rocky outcroppings of shield. There was a fresh sweet smell in the air, and the landscape seemed alive with insects. Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows skimmed low over the fields. We spotted several Eastern Kingbirds perched on utility poles. Rock Pigeons sunned themselves atop many of the barns. Blue Jays and American Crows moved in groups among the conifers.


The road changed from paved to gravel, but the pleasant pastoral landscape remained largely the same. At one point we passed a large open area with a huge pasture filled with horses, the dark hills and rocky outcroppings rising behind them. It felt a little like we were in the wild west.


In the early afternoon we were passed by a very polite teenage boy on a bike. He asked us where we were headed, and when we said to Spanish he very helpfully gave us directions to get there without walking on the highway. We thanked him and he road away on his bike, only to return a few minutes later. He had called his mother to make sure he had given us good directions. She soon cycled up bearing ice cold drinks for us, and over the next few minutes gave us loads of very helpful advice for the coming days, as well as suggestions for possible camping spots, and her number in case we need help in the coming days. It turned out that her family had hosted Sarah Jackson - the first person to complete the east-west portion of the Great Trail on foot - a few years ago! So cool! We really appreciated the advice and the help, and were very impressed with initiative, enthusiasm, and great questions the teenage boy had.


Shortly after this fortuitous meeting we walked into the charming little community of Walford. As we made our way up the main street, with its tidy little houses nestled among the tall white pines, we spotted a Post Office. The tiny depot was in someone's home, but Sean stepped inside to mail his dead camera off for eventual repairs. The post mistress was extremely nice and helpful, and when we went to leave she offered us bottles of cold water. Another kindness to be grateful for!


After Walford we had three kilometers of walking along the Trans Canada Highway, but once again, we were following the Waterfront Trail and had a wide, paved shoulder to enjoy. In addition, it felt like there was much less traffic on this stretch highway, and that most of it was cars and pickup trucks as opposed to larger vehicles. We also passed some truly beautiful hay fields and barns along the way.

To further improve the highway walking we came across Lucky's Restaurant and Motel, which was serving ice cream at its take-out window, so of course we had to make a quick stop!

When we diverted off the highway and onto a hilly, winding, gravel road it was really hot in the afternoon sun. The road was bordered by tall pines, which provided a bit of shade, and it was nice to be away from the roar of traffic. As we crested a hill and began to descend into the community of Spanish we found ourselves walking between two tall rock walls, like we were passing through a gateway. Spanish is called the 'gateway to the north channel', so maybe this was appropriate.


The community of Spanish is located on the shores of Lake Huron and the North Channel at the mouth of the Spanish River. The river has played an important role in the development and economy of communities in this spot throughout its history. First Nations in the area used it for trade and transportation, as did fur traders and timber companies later on. Tourism and recreation are now the main industries on this area.

The North Channel is a body of water along the northern edge of Lake Huron, which connects Georgian Bay in the east to the St. Mary's River in the west. On the south it is bordered by Manitoulin, Cockburn, Drummond, and St. Joseph Islands, and at its widest point it is 30 km across.

When we arrived in Spanish we found a small community of neat and tidy houses distributed on both sides of the highway. There was an outdoor store, several restaurants, and a variety store at the crossroads. We stopped for a few supplies at the bustling variety store and then continued for one more kilometer down to the Almenara en el Rio Marina and Campground. The place was full, but the owners had very kindly found a spot for us to pitch the tent. 

We enjoyed cool showers and took the opportunity to do laundry, but that wasn't even the best part. The owners asked if we wanted to take a boat ride. When we took them up on this amazing offer they took us and a small group of other campers on a beautiful tour of the North channel of Lake Huron!


They showed us evidence of old logging camps, and introduced us to the 'west pines'. Apparently, the strong west wind in this area strips the branches off one side of the white pines that grow on the rocks here, and causes them to lean over. The British harvested white pines for the masts of their ships, and west pines were particularly prized because the wood was stronger on one side. If installed correctly, these trees provided stronger masts than normal pines.


We wove through a series of gorgeous islands in the North Channel as we went. Apparently the Benjamin Islands in Lake Huron offer some of the best fresh water sailing in the world, and it is easy to see why. This area is gorgeous!


As we made our way among the many small islands, with their pink and red rocky shores and their pine covered tops, we noticed a lot of shallow, marshy looking areas with dead trees and shrubs sticking up above the surface of the water, in between them. The campground owners said these patches used to be islands, but that right now the water levels on Lake Huron are very high. Apparently this is part of a natural cycle in the Great Lakes, and in years of low water a lot of marinas and channels have to be dredged to keep them open.


We stopped at a privately owned sandy beach on Aird Island, and most people got off the boat for a swim in the warm shallow water. The owner of the camp was on his newly acquired sailboat and offered everyone cold beer and entertaining stories of sailing the boat up to his cottage after purchasing it. What better way to watch the sunset? It was wonderful company and a beautiful evening.

As we go to sleep on the shores of Lake Huron the sky is crystal clear and we can see the milky way above us. We are keeping watch for shooting stars, as the Perseid meteor shower is still ongoing. It was a wonderful day on the trail, full of unexpected kindnesses!


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