Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Every Kilometre has a Story : Monetville to St. Charles

We awoke to the sound of sloshing and splashing in the lake as a cool, stiff, breeze swept across the water. We are very grateful for the cooler temperatures, but this morning was actually slightly chilly feeling!


As we checked out we were chatting with the campground owner, and he mentioned that a few years ago a man cycled through on the Trans Canada Trail who had lost his wife on the journey. He showed us the sticker the man left behind - Ride the Trail for Elizabeth. Although a sad story, it is always exciting for us to hear stories of the people who came before us on the trail.  Out hear every mile has a memory and every kilometre of trail has a story!

As we headed out down the highway towards Noelville a car pulled over on the road ahead of us. It turned out to be the park steward that we met in Mashkinonje Provincial Park yesterday, curious to know if we were able to identify the animals we were watching across the pond from Sean's photos. We chatted some and told him that our best guess was that they were river otters, and we were happy to have him confirm that this made sense.

A little farther down the road, we came to a stone cairn with a Canadian flag flying proudly above it.  Sean is drawn to historical plaques and monuments like a bear to hunny, and so, despite the weight of his backpack and traffic he jogged across the roadway to find out about this site.  The historical plaque commemorated the pioneer spirit and contributions of Cyrille Monette. He was born in Longueuil, Quebec in 1840 as Alexandre Boisvert, and he was the first settler who came to this region in 1895. He opened the first Post Office, was elected Mayor, served on the school board, and was instrumental in getting the land surveyed, roads built, and access to Shanty Bay opened up. After all that work, a dispute about the location of the first Roman Catholic Church in the region caused him to move to Saskatchewan in 1910, where he died two years later.


It was about an 8 km walk into Noelville from Monetville. Just as we reached the outskirts of town we got a call from CBC Sudbury, asking us to share the story of our hike across Canada. One of the questions the interviewer asked was what we had learned from the hike so far, both in general, and in Northern Ontario in particular. This was a very good question, which we spent the rest of the day mulling over.

One of the things I was surprised by in Northern Ontario was how bilingual the region is.  As a resident of Southwestern Ontario I suppose I had assumed (in a very basic way) that Quebec was French and Ontario was English.  As a result I have continually been delighted to find so much French culture here as we explore our own home province.  In Northern Ontario, the names of roads and communities are French, signs are French first, and we hear French being spoken regularly. The legacy of the French explorers can still be felt up here, which is pretty amazing. 

In general, what we've learned as we've crossed the country is that most people are very kind, generous, and good, and many relate to setting out on a long-distance adventure, whether it is driving coast to coast, snowmobiling, cycling, hitchhiking, or backpacking around the world. We've also come to realize that when someone puts their mind to something, they have the power to change the world, whether that means building a kilometer of trail, protecting a piece of nature, or getting a sports center built.  As one wise man in Newfoundland pointed out two years ago while we trekked the East Coast Trail, "if it took a single lifetime to deforest the region, it only made sense that with a little dedication that it could be fixed in a lifetime too."  Time and again we have seen amazing examples of the dedication of individuals to transform their own communities.  What we've most learned in crossing the country is we should never underestimate the power of individuals to make a profound and lasting difference.


When we reached Noelville we were delighted to find that the Noelville Restaurant was open and still serving breakfast. We enjoyed a delicious meal of veggie omelettes, homefries, buttered toast and coffee on their outdoor patio. After a few rainy days during which breakfast consisted of bread and jam, it was an extra special treat!

While we were enjoying a second cup of coffee, Greg called from the Moose FM. We got a huge kick out of this, because we used to listen to the Moose when we camped and worked up in Algonquin Provincial Park. In any case, we really appreciated having another opportunity to share the story of our hike, and spread the word that we are encouraging people of all ages, cultural backgrounds, abilities, genders, orientations, and identities to re-connect with nature through birding and Community Science.

After our wonderful meal we headed over to the Foodland to resupply. The small grocery store was incredibly busy, especially the well-stocked potato chip and beer sections. Unfortunately, they didn't have too much in the way of light-weight supplies, but luckily the cart gives us the option to carry a bit more weight, so this resupply consisted mostly of bread and soup. We weren't sure of the resupply points between here and Sudbury, which is about three days away for us, so we decided to follow the Boy Scout motto, of 'Always be prepared' and purchased enough food to get us there.


After leaving Noelville the road became noticeably more hilly. It didn't feel like we descended into the town, but we certainly spent time climbing out of it as we headed North again on Highway 64, and for most of the day the highway wound up and down over rocky outcroppings.


We spent the day walking along the shoulder of highway 64 through a landscape that was similar to what we've been seeing the past two days. It was a nice mixture of farmland, picturesque barns, and exposed shield topped with white pine and deciduous forests. Occasionally we would pass a small pond or cattail marsh.


Although the cloudy afternoon was mostly quiet we did spot a couple Turkey Vultures circling high above the fields. A young Great Blue Heron took off out of one of the marshes, and we spotted a Wood Duck among the cattails in another small wetland. Chipping Sparrows and American Goldfinches popped in and out of the white pines and yellow, white, and purple wildflowers at the roadsides. The highlight was seeing a Northern Goshawk swoop low over a stand of trees beside the road.

At one point we passed a large billboard with the words 'Put Down the Phone' by REDD - Riders Eliminating Distracted Driving. At first we were surprised that a group of motorcyclists would put up an add like that, but upon reflection we realized that although bikers often seem tough and noisy, they are almost as vulnerable as we are out on the road when it comes to collisions.

It was only minutes after passing this sign that we almost got hit. We were on the shoulder, walking against the traffic. We heard vehicles approaching us from behind, coming very fast and loud, but we assumed they were in the far lane where they belonged. It turns out a large pickup truck had chosen that point to pass a car at very high speed, and he came so far over that his tires hit the edge of the road a few inches beside me. I don't know how his side mirror didn't take my head off. Yikes!  Worst of all is that I don't think the driver even saw us.  Unnerved I sat on the roadside for about 10 minutes building up the courage to keep walking beside the traffic. 


Late in the afternoon we passed a tall white pine tree at the side of the road that was covered almost to the very top in pairs of shoes. Some of them were filled with moss. At the bottom was a sign reading 'Chuckashoe tree.' It is not the first shoe tree we've seen, and they are always appear in unexpected places, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. How do they get started?  Regardless, this local oddity was a wonderful discovery to make on our route!


Around 3:30 pm we crossed the first of two bridges over the West Arm of Nipissing Lake. Both shores of the arm were lined with cottages and cabins, some of which belonged to various high end lodges. Many of the accommodations had docks, some with children and dogs swimming off the end and many with fishing boats docked alongside. This is a region known for it's great fishing and hunting opportunities.


When we came to the second bridge we stopped for the night at the West Arm Lodge and Restaurant, which is also a campground. Sadly, despite the reassurances of the website, the restaurant isn't open yet and is under new management, and there are no guest laundry facilities, but we are happy to have running water and hot showers.

As we lay in our tent we can hear Common Loons calling on the water beside us. There is a White-breasted Nuthatch in the forest behind us, and somewhere nearby a Hairy or Downy Woodpecker is gently drumming on a tree. We can hear the crackle of campfires around us and smell wood smoke on the wind. The sky is heavy with clouds and it smells of rain, but for now we are warm (just) and happy inside our little tent.

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