Monday, August 3, 2020
Life is a long road : Lavigne to Monetville
It rained hard throughout the night, but thankfully we stayed nice and dry under our tarp. We were rudely woken up at 5 AM by the loud and raucous demands of a group of American Crows passing through the campsite. This was followed by the half hearted calls of an Ovenbird, the toy horn call of a White-breasted Nuthatch, and the soft knocking of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on a nearby utility pole.
After a breakfast of raisin bread, jam, and coffee we set off into a cool, cloudy morning. The water of the lake was light grey and ruffled by the breeze as we walked along its edge back to the highway. A large group of Canada Geese floated lazily in the middle, keeping an even distance from the docks, cabins, and boats lining both edges of the long arm of the bay.
When we reached Lavigne we crossed a causeway over Lake Nipissing. There was a beautiful cattail marsh on one side, which looked like a great spot to go birding in spring and fall, but today it was very quiet. On the other side was a boat launch and rest area on an exposed piece of granite shield.
After leaving Lavigne it was obvious that the landscape had subtly changed. Yesterday we walked through farmland for most of the day. Today we walked more through forested shield country. Pink walls of granite bordered the highway, lined with veins of white quartz and black minerals. Delicate, fuzzy mosses and lichens topped the solid rocks like a blanket that had been partially pulled up over the rocks, or like a wave lapping at the shore. Tall white pines towered overhead.
At first there was little traffic on the road, but as the day progressed it got busier. By the afternoon we were being passed by 3-4 cars per minute, some of them tailgating each other pretty fiercely and revving their engines, but refusing to pass each other. Although not an unpleasant walk, we had the sense that we were surrounded by a whole lot of beauty, but remained apart from it, stuck trudging along the sloped gravel shoulder of the highway.
One of the highlights of today was leaving the highway to walk through Mashkinonje Provincial Park. This 2000 ha park supports a diverse system of wetlands that includes marshes, bogs, swamps, fens, and ponds. The wetlands are interspersed with undulating granite ridges, and the whole complex is located along the West Arm of Lake Nipissing. The Loundon Basin and Muskrat Creek complexes are considered provincially significant wetlands, and are both located inside the park.
A combined group of community and educational partners have developed a system of hiking trails in the park. We were thrilled to explore a beautiful wooden boardwalk, a wide, gravel, wheelchair accessible path through the forest, and a small footpath running through forest, wetlands, and across exposed areas of shield. Being surrounded by nature was so peaceful and felt so restorative after so much highway walking! I think we could have simply stopped trekking and stayed here happily for the day.
We passed a group of Asian Canadian ladies foraging for wild blueberries, who asked us about the hike and wished us well. When we reached a particularly beautiful lookout we met one of the park stewards and his dog, Piper. He was sitting on the rocks and called us over to watch two river otters tussling over a fish on the far edge of the pond. He shared stories of a moose he had seen at the spot, as well as a mother bear and her two cubs. He also told us about helping to build the lookout tower and boardwalk with his friends. Once again we were left humbled and thankful for all the hard work of the volunteers who made this beautiful place accessible to the public, and we were grateful to have the opportunity to meet someone who knew and loved the land we were on.
We took a break in a beautiful wooden pavilion in the parking lot, before reluctantly setting out again. This is a beautiful and ecologically interesting park that showcases the shield and the wetlands of the area, and is well worth a visit!
As we continued down the highway we passed several yard sales, and several farms with colorfully painted lawn ornaments made of tractors. We also passed many lodges on the edges of rivers and lakes that were bordered by granite and pines.
In the early afternoon we stopped at a roadside picnic area that consisted of a long line of picnic tables stretched along a river and sheltered under a canopy of white pines. It felt like sitting in the campsites of a provincial park. As we sat at a picnic table a Quebecois man approached us from the table next to us. He was and his wife were enjoying a full lunch, complete with a bottle of wine, and he said they were out kayaking the French River, fishing, and exploring. He told us they had seen us walking a few days ago, and wanted to know what we were up to. He talked about hitchhiking through northern Ontario in the late 1960's, and how difficult it had been to get a ride due to the number of draft dodgers from the US. So many people were looking for a lift that it could take two days to find one, but it sounded like they had a lot of fun. He also speculated about why we have so many problems in Canada today. Suggesting that in the 1960s and 1970s there was a big push for Canadians to travel and explore their country because that would get them to see more of the nation and meet other Canadians from coast to coast. This meant that more people saw and understood the perspectives of those from the Atlantic to the Pacific which made us understand and empathize with one another more easily. Today, he went on, so few travel 'deeply'. People don't explore and wander, they go from Place A to Place B on a plane or in a car, and then sit on their devices by themselves. From this perspective things in the country are getting worse for the very simple reason that we don't delve into a region, we aren't open to learning about new areas, having new experiences, and we don't open ourselves up to talking with people from other cultures and places - we just text and watch stuff. As he said "people today are more interested in getting a selfie in front of parliament than learning about what goes on there!" People travel from Googled 'hot spot' to 'hot spot' for their facebook feed rather than actually experiencing anything. His comments gave us a great deal to think about. Clearly, he was very much in favour of real live adventures.
As we approached French River we passed the road leading to the Dokis First Nations Reserve. The Dokis lands are located on two large islands within the historically important French River. The main settlement or community is located on the northern island, which is called "Okikendawt Island" (meaning Island of the Buckets/Pails). The name is derived from several bucket shaped formations in the rock. I had never heard of the Dokis before, and would like to learn more about their history and culture.
By the time we reached Monetville North, which is a small community with a public school, we were pretty tired. There is an exhaustion in roadwalking that does not seem to exist along trailways. Perhaps it is the constant flow of traffic, or the hard rocks underfoot, or the reflected heat of the ash-vault? Despite our wearied state, we still had another 10 km to go to get to the Monetville Travern and Lodge. Sadly, this year the tavern is closed, and the cabins are out of our price range, but the park also offered camping.
We are now sitting in a beautiful grassy campsite on the edge of the lake. We are surrounded by music from the eighties from one of the cabins, and the sounds of waves laping against the edge of the lake. Our tent is beside the boat launch, and we are being entertained by people trying out a unique floating contraption constructed from a bicycle, several propane tanks, a floating wooden platform, and a propeller. You sit on top and peddle the bicycle, which propels you through the water - a homemade paddleboat! It looks difficult to steer, but like quite a lot of fun.