Thursday, August 27, 2020

Stormfronts and Kindness: A Day Trip to Lake Superior Provincial Park

Have patience, ‘the Way Provides’ is a comment frequently said and often heard while trekking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  There are times while hiking across Canada that the sentiments and wisdom of the Camino, past pilgrimages, and previous treks come to mind and there are moments (often when things are not going well) that you forget even the simplest truisms.

Having spent the past few days in Sault Ste Marie generally feeling frustrated and sorry for ourselves while dealing with the collapse of our plans for trekking the land segments around Lake Superior we forgot that in its own time, ‘the way provides’.  

Yesterday, tired of motels and busy downtown centres we ventured 20 km along the Great Trail around Sault Ste Marie and then 10 km to the local KOA campground.  Given that we made these plans in  rush we forgot to account for the weather.  As a result we spent from 10 am onward in the pouring rain traversing the long way around town and arrived to the campground just in time to avoid the complete deluge that set into the region in the evening. 

There is no denying, last night was a wild one, during which the predicted 50-75 mm of rain fell (and then some). It has been a long time since we've felt the earth shake beneath us from the claps of thunder rolling through, or seen quite such an intense lightening show. We were extremely grateful to be a campground with solid structures and other people!

During the storm yesterday evening we met a very nice Indian couple and their young children who are also camping here, and they invited us on a road trip up of Agawa Bay today. Since we are still very disappointed about not being able to hike the Lake Superior Coastal Trail, we jumped at the chance to at least revisit Lake Superior Provincial Park.  The Way Provided.

Thankfully this morning the storm front passed!  The rain stopped, the clouds parted, and blue skies appeared!  The Way Provided. 

We covered the 130 km to the park, which would have taken us about a 5 days to cover on foot, in a mere 1.5 hours – which is both exciting and a little depressing. Getting our first glimpse of Lake Superior was very exciting! The expanse of grey, choppy waves stretched out to the horizon under a sky dark with clouds that were racing along on the wind. 

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, and the third largest lake by volume. It is bordered by Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The Ojibwe name for the lake is 'gichi-gami' which means 'great sea.' Indeed, the lake behaves as though it is an inland ocean.

Lake Superior Provincial Park is one of the largest provincial parks in Ontario, covering around 1,500 square kilometers of land along the shores of Lake Superior. When it was established in 1944 it was accessibly only from the water, but now the Trans Canada Highway runs through the middle of it.

This park offers spectacular and diverse scenery, consisting of steep rocky cliffs, sandy and pebbled beaches, lush, forested river valleys, roaring waterfalls, and numerous inland lakes. There are several front country campgrounds located within park (all currently booked solid), and the park offers world-class hiking and paddling opportunities along the picturesque coastline. 



One of the highlights of our visit was walking out to see the Agawa Rock Pictographs. A winding rocky footpath lead out to a narrow rock ledge on the very edge of Lake Superior. The sound of waves crashing into the shore below the ledge was loud, and we could feel the icy spray as we edged along. A sturdy metal chain ran along the bottom of the rocks near the water in case anyone fell into the rough and frigid lake. Signs warned that large rogue waves can wash visitors off the ledge without warning. 


After braving the ledge and the warnings, we were rewarded with up close views of 35 red ocher images drawn onto the rocky cliffs adjacent to the ledge. The pictographs were created by the Ojibwe people using a mixture of powdered hematite and animal fats. They are estimated to be 150-400 years old. It is believed they show both historical events and legendary figures.


As we climbed back to the Visitor Centre the nearby Ontario Park Ranger noted that with the recent rain storm the Lake Superior Coast Trail would be either very challenging or next to impossible to undertake given how slippery the coastal rocks would now be.  Instead he suggested that we visit Pinguisibi Trail which was just a short distance (by vehicle) from Agawa Bay.  


Apparently Pinguisibi Trail is one of the most popular short hikes in the Park.  Pinguisibi is the Ojibwa name for the Sand River which is near to the trail.  According to local interpretive signs the Sand River was a route used by the Ojibwa to travel between their summer camp on the shores of Lake Superior and winter camp upstream.   


When we arrived we found that it was a short pathway which takes you along the Sand River and past a number of beautiful waterfalls and rapids.  After taking the time to rest our feet and enjoy the waterfalls, as well as waiting for Sean who is delighting in again having a camera we made our way northward once again along the Trans Canada Highway to our next stop at Old Woman Bay. 


Here we discovered an amazing cove, a long sandy beach to stroll along, and even took the time to put our feet in the cold Superior waters.  This Bay has been a haven for centuries for Indigenous peoples, European fur traders and adventurous paddlers.  It is also noted as a place to see Peregrine Falcons (the fastest bird in the world) who nest in the nearby cliffs and ledges.  In fact, according to the Park staff, this stretch of cliffs was one of the most important areas for the recovery of the Peregrine Falcon following their near extinction in the 1960s when DDT and pesticides were widely used. Given the natural beauty of Old Woman Bay we spent most of the afternoon here delighting in the sandy beach and rugged coastline.  One of the neatest things was being able to actually see the face of the ‘Old Woman’ in the landscape along the shoreline!

While the plan had been to travel to Wawa for dinner and to visit the famous Goose, with the skies still clear the decision was soon made to stay in the park and enjoy a picnic at the side of our guest’s RV while enjoying the sunset at one of the park beaches!

What occurred next amid dining on amazing fresh and warm pita bread, enjoying a flavor filled lemon couscous salad with homemade / RV made falafels was a show unlike any we have seen before.  Lake Superior, its coastlines, its waters, its beaches and even the clouds in the sky were lit up in a vibrant show.    


Over the span of half an hour the blue skies mellowed in colour, the golden hue of the early sunset broke the horizon electrifying the even the ponds on the beach.  Then for the denouement the heavens broke into an amazing spectrum of oranges, reds, and pinks!  


No words can do the moment justice or evoke how it felt to stand on the shoreline awestruck.  As a result we all sat, quietly, hardly breathing as the sun sank below the horizon.   Each of us feeling that to make a noise would be to break the spell which the lake was casting in those moments.   

All I can say is that if you get a chance to come to Lake Superior Provincial Park, if you get an opportunity to sit on the shoreline, to see a sunset – take it!  Your life will be fuller for the experience.

If our original itinerary had proceeded as designed we would never have met this amazing family, had this incredible day, or seen such sights.   All of this arose from the collapse of our itinerary, the fierceness of a storm, and the chance meeting of these kind souls whose campsite was next to ours last night.  The Way Provides.

With the night sky setting in and clouds building again we all piled back into the RV for the drive back to Sault Ste Marie and to the KOA campground for the evening.  The drive was short, the RV warmed us from the evening chill, and we dozed as opur hosts navigated the route.

What an amazing day.  The Way Provides. 

Tomorrow we wait for the day in Sault Ste Marie before getting on the Ontario Northland bus at 10:30 pm to get to Marathon by 3:30 am so that we can trek the local segment of the Great Trail which spans from the community of Marathon to the gates of Pukaskwa National Park

With no set plans, we are now piecing this together day by day.  Rather than forcing this trek, its time to let the Trail show us the Way.  

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