There is nothing quite like the feeling of coming home. I don’t mean the place where you eventually choose to settle down; I mean that special magical place where you ran free as a child, where summers lasted years, and imaginations were as real as dandelion seeds floating in the warm breeze. My special place is way up in Northern Ontario. Kapuskasing, the Model Town of the North, where Queen Elizabeth once stayed in the Inn; where tree planters brave endlessly long hot days, where the air is black with swarms of blood-sucking bugs of all sorts, just for a few cents per tree.
When I was a kid growing up on the river in the ’70s and ’80s, I was wild and free alongside my cousin Rylee, who lived just two doors down. We played cowboys and indians, wildcrafted miracle potions, searched the woods for faeries, built tree houses, picked berries, swam in the river with the moose and beavers, rode our bikes until sundown, gazed at the northern lights, caught fireflies, tadpoles, garter snakes, made sandcastles where the king’s horses were caterpillars, fished for pickerel, and got up to no good, which compared to today’s standards in hindsight was endearingly innocent. I thank my Mom and Dad for giving my sister and I the best childhood. Returning every few years always makes my heart swell.
This visit was wonderfully leisurely. Summers in the North often mean hot sunny days and clear nights, which are perfect… except for when the mosquitos, noseeums, and black flies also join the party. The best place to be was on the dock where the gentle river breeze helped to ease their incessant need for blood.
My cousin Rylee and I were so excited for our visit, we stayed up for hours catching up in the camper one night. We made plans to attend her Hatha Yoga class on Saturday and to take her out SUPing for the first time on Monday.
Every year the river freezes and thaws, causing havoc on Mom and Dad’s cottage. Dad and Stefan were able to secure the supports until next year’s thaw, and put in the docks for easier water access.
Monday night Rylee came over for a SUP lesson (stand up paddleboard) and took to it like she’d done it a hundred times. Before long she was chasing me, trying to tip me in the river, and even testing her balance with yoga poses!
After tipping over when she tried to mount the dock, Rylee made sure I would get soaked too with a huge bear hug. Gosh I missed my ‘cuz’!
For Father’s Day we packed the bikes and a picnic lunch in the Caravan, and headed to the Moonbeam Trail for a day of adventure.
My aunt Junie and uncle Mike had invited Stefan and I over for a Yoga/Lunch/Plane Ride day. FUN! Junie is a Yin Yoga instructor, and she looks better than she ever has at 70 years young. She’s such an inspiration! Junie gave us a tailored personal session where she showed us poses, stretches, and mindful focus techniques that would help us both.
Every time we visit Kap, which isn’t often because it’s such a long and expensive treck to get here, we spend a day at my aunt and uncle’s in Moonbeam, just a short drive up Highway 11 to Remi Lake. I’m pretty sure Mike was born flying out of the womb. He loves to fly and is generous with sharing his passion with us whenever we visit. Stefan took flying lessons for a while so it’s a real treat for him, too. This trip Mike toured us up the Kap River, over my folks house, over Beaver Falls (now a hydro dam), my former tree-planting sites, and over the town. Sometimes I think birds are the luckiest creatures on the planet (…until I think of dolphins and dogs and koalas and kangaroos).
Eventually we had to say goodbye for another year and move onward west to Thunder Bay. As always, it felt great to be back on the road again (is the Littlest Hobo theme playing in the background?). Thunder Bay was warm and pretty. It’s become a game of ours each day we’re on our own with no one to visit, to find a free place to park for the night since paid camping is out of our budget. The marina proved to be a great find, and later heard that it was one of the safer areas in an otherwise crime-ridden town no thanks to the younger generation’s saga of meth and crack. It’s a divided town, light and dark, rich and poor, fortunate and unfortunate; we’re grateful that we were drawn to the charming side. The evening was so calm and warm, promising a spectacular sunset. Stefan went for a skate while I sketched the marina in my journal.
After dinner we set out on our SUPs to explore a hairline of Lake Superior’s coast and enjoy the last glow of the day. The water was fresh and cool, but comfortable. While paddling out, an overly confident (drunk and cocky) guest aboard a tour boat called out to me asking how the water was. I said it was nice. He retorted with, “This lake is a shit lot colder than the ocean, sweetheart. Put on your f*cking lifejacket!” Surprised and amused by his feigned concern, it dawned on me that he thought I was from California or thereabouts. Preferring to enjoy my paddle than retort, my unsettled thoughts left his words as I moved closer to the Coastguard Lighthouse. It was like the entire building was aglow with the sun. I snapped a few shots with my Sony Actioncam with the prospect of using them as references to paint from later.
I like to capture our nightly parking spots. The marina’s parking lot was right next to the train tracks. I didn’t sleep well.
The next morning greeted us with ugly weather. Grateful for such a beautiful night before, we left Thunder Bay for Minnesota. As is usually our luck with border crossings, the US customs agent pulled us aside for a search and a team’s worth of questions. After about 30 minutes we were free to go as 4 smiling officers waves us off, excited for our journey. Uninspired by the weather, I forgot to take photos the entire day except for this one through the tunnel as we drove south along the north shore of Lake Superior.
We stopped in a quaint little touristy town called Grand Marais in front of the visitor’s centre. They were really friendly though not very knowledgable on free camping spots. But in this department we’ve had luck on our side. We strolled over to an outdoor adventure sports store where we drooled and dreamed over all the pricey fun stuff. The clerk was full of life and adventure, with experience under his belt. Being a fishing tour guide he knew all the camping spots. In no time we were off to a free state camping site on the Poplar River, just off Honeymoon Trail. We were excited to go for a SUP or a hike or fish. But when we got there we were greeted by a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. In desperate need of a shower I braved the outdoor set up on our camper, while doing a ridiculous dance between rinsing and swatting all in the name of cleanliness. On the bright side, once I was warm and dry inside again, I set about painting that breathtaking Coastguard Lighthouse that seemed to glow from within the night before. It was a fun night filled with Pepsi and rum and rummy 500.
Minnesota became the errand state- Camping World for supplies, garages, looking for a portable printer. We stayed spent most of our time driving around Osseo and slept in a Walmart parking lot in Maple Grove. It was bright and loud all night. We’re learning to sleep anywhere comfortably! I downloaded an app on my phone called Allstays which helps us in a pinch to find free camping and dump sites. Another great website I found is called freecampsites.net
As we drove west on the 61 through Minnesota to the 25 towards South Dakota the land changed to rolling plains of cornfields. I no longer felt like I was still in Ontario. Taking the roads less travelled, we cruised gravel for hours. I thought back to my younger days of horror movies- Children of the Corn was a fave. You couldn’t pay me to watch it today. Our next mission is to find a garage who can work on our truck. It seems 14′ bay doors are not easy to come by in a state full of diesel trucks and farm equipment…