Thursday, August 20, 2020

Westward : Iron Bridge to Thessalon

It rained so hard last night it woke us up a couple times, and when the alarm went off at 6:00 am it was still raining. We spent a slow morning, lingering over our bread, jam, and tea and trying to fit all our winter gear and extra food from the resupply into our bags. When we finally headed out around 8 am the rain had stopped, leaving behind a cool, overcast morning.
 

As we headed out of Iron Bridge we found ourselves travelling through beautiful farm country that was being cultivated by Mennonites. When we arrived in Iron Bridge we passed a small stand with produce and hand made quilts, and during our stay we watched many horse drawn buggies go by on the highway.



 

We have driven through many parts of Ontario previously, but one thing we never realized was how much farmland there is up on the Canadian Shield on the north shore of the Great Lakes. Somehow we had imagined it to be Boreal or mixed forest and wetland. Just another example of things being different than what we expected - we've certainly learned a lit on this trip.

 
 
 

As we hiked along through the lush green hay fields we heard the distinctive calls and sounds of Sandhill Cranes. Sure enough, we soon passed a hay field with over 50 Sandhill Cranes in it, and about 100 Canada Geese. In a flurry of activity a handful of cranes took to the air, flapping gracefully over the trees and disappearing.

 



There was a lot of bird activity in the shrubs, bushes, and grasses at the roadsides. One wire fence we passed had four Eastern Kingbirds perched in a line on top. Song Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows darted in and out of the hedgerows. American Restarts moved in flocks of mixed warblers, many of which already had their hard-to-tell-apart green and yellow fall plumage. An Eastern Bluebird sat on a utility wire, its brilliant blue wings shining, even on this overcast day. Perhaps the most bizarre sight was three Pileated Woodpeckers flying low above a field, landing in profile in a straight line on a utility pole, and then chasing each other off to land on top of three adjacent fence posts.

 
 

As we walked, dark clouds were racing across the sky, and we began to hear and feel deep claps of thunder. As the sky darkened ominously ahead of us, the sun behind us lit up a herd of horses in a nearby field and threw the white siding on the Mennonite houses into stark contrast. It was a dramatic and enticing landscape.

 
 
 
 

Several farmers were moving their round bales of hay in from the field using tractors, or tractor-pulled wagons. Thwy left the damp, sweet smell of late summer behind as they passed us on the road. Many small fields were dotted with irregularly spaced pyramid shaped stacks of grain (maybe rye?), left out to dry in the sun. There were handmade wooden signs at the ends of many driveways advertising eggs, sweet corn, onions, garlic, beans, potatoes, squash, and on one farm cantaloupes for sale. It is clear the bounty of the summer is being harvested.

 
 
 

We thoroughly enjoyed walking between fields filled with bright yellow wildflowers. The sounds of crickets filled the air, and we could see bees, butterflies, and birds busily feasting among the flowers. The air smelled sweet and fresh, and although we couldn't see it, there was a hint of lake on the breeze as well. There was so much life in that quiet, peaceful landscape.

 
 


As we rounded one of the corners onto Dayton Rd we got a nasty surprise in the form of a large 'Road Closed' sign. When we took a second look we realized the closure will come into effect in four days. Phew! We happily continued on down the road, past several fields of curious cows, and several farmyards where Mennonite farmers paused in their work to give us a cheerful wave.

 
 
 

Around noon we realized we were walking along the side of the Thessalon First Nation Reserve No. 12. The Thessalon are an Ojibwe First Nation, which means they are an Anishinabee people. The Anishinabe is one of the largest groups of Indigenous people North of the Rio Grande.

As we walked along the forested road a very friendly lady stopped her car and asked if we were lost. When we said no, she cheerfully told us she was off to get cigarettes, and wished us well. We stopped for ice cream at Roy's Convenience store, before continuing on.
 


We had a very short stretch of walking on the Trans Canada Highway before the trail diverted onto concessions again. The highway was shockingly busy - almost as busy as the stretch between North Bay and Sudbury, and the edge was very soft. Pulling the cart through the deep sand, I could sympathize with the horses whose hoof prints we were following.

As we were trudging along a pickup truck pulled over ahead of us. It turned out to be George, who has been following our journey since we started out in Newfoundland last June. It was lovely to meet him, and it transpired that he has hiked the Lake Superior Coastal Trail, which we are trying to figure out how to do ourselves. How cool is that? We chatted for a few minutes, and then George and his lovely dog continued on.

A few moments later we were passing a house when two dogs came running down the lane barking their heads off. They didn't stop at the edge of their property, but shot straight out onto the highway, causing cars and trucks to slam on their brakes and skid. The owners yelled at them to 'Get back here!' but it wasn't too effective. We have dogs charge out at us down country roads all the time, and our biggest fear is that they will get hit by a car. I'm all for letting dogs roam free, but for their own safety and everyone's happiness and peace of mind, in my opinion they need to be well trained. 

It was a long and mostly uneventful walk to Thessalon, down a series of pastoral concessions. We were very happy to escape the worst of the rain, although a few times we put on our rain gear because we were convinced it was coming.


When we crossed Highway 17 and headed into Thessalon we found a charming and beautiful town with an extremely active Horticultural Society. The whole town was covered in beautiful cedar planter boxes filled with blooming flowers. Some of the gardens we passed looked like they could have been featured in gardening magazines.

 

We walked past the cenotaph park, with a beautiful memorial to WWI and WWII veterans, and followed the Thessalon River to the picturesque red trestle bridge which spanned its width. As we approached the town an elegant Black woman named Patricia stopped on her bicycle and asked about our cart and our hike. She was British, but had lived in Europe for a while, and then married a French Canadian from Newfoundland and moved to Little Rapids to raise her family. Like many Europeans, she seemed to accept the idea of a long hike right away, and focused instead on the logistics. It was very nice to meet her and share her enthusiasm and energy for a moment!


As we made our way down the sidewalk, another resident of Thessalon stopped to welcome us to his town. He had seen us on TV, and asked about the hike, and if we were allowed to accept rides. We said no, and he wished us well.

 

We made our way through town to the Thessalon Lakeside Park Campground. As the name suggests, it is right on the shore of Lake Huron, across from a large sandy beach. When we arrived the sky was again dark, and we were very happy to get the tent and tarp set up just as the rain began to fall. It is a very nice clean campground, in a great location. I had a warm shower in the incredibly clean comfort station, and then we headed back downtown to the laundromat.

 

As we passed the Sunset Beach Restaurant the smell of breakfast food was so enticing we couldn't walk past. Instead of heading back to the campsite to cook our rice and beans in the pouring rain, we enjoyed omelettes, homefries, and toast while the laundry was on. The lady who brought our food was super friendly and helpful, and in the end we decided it was a pretty good solution.

After dinner there was a short break in the rain, and we walked across town to the marina. We were somewhat surprised to see Customs, and to see that it was temporarily closed down, but of course we are very close to the American border here, which is still sealed due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We walked back through town and enjoyed watching the fog roll in off the lake and then disappear again, almost as quickly as it arrived. This is a gentle reminder of how fast the weather can change on the Great Lakes.
 



One of the things we enjoyed about Thessalon was that many of the buildings seem to be nestled among the rocks, as opposed to sitting on top of them as a result it's a very charming and beautiful community, situated on the shore of Lake Huron.

 
 
 

As we go to sleep the rain is once again pelting down. It is loud, but it feels very cozy and dry in our tent. Hopefully it will stay that way throughout the night!


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