The 11 day, 291 mile walk from Wawa to Thunder Bay has had its fair share of ups and downs….And I’m not just talking about walking the hills and mountains surrounding Lake Superior!
The mercury soared on my way out of Wawa. Afternoon highs were in the low 90’s and humidity hovered around 70 percent. In another month that may feel like a cool day, but considering it was my first dose of summer heat, I was toasty.
On the bright side, the cashier at a gas station I stopped at near the end of the day said the unseasonably hot temps would kill most of the black flies*….he did, however, caution me that more would hatch in coming days when it cooled of.
*I am happy to report that through Thunder Bay, the black flies have been a non-issue! That could change down the road, but I have lucked out so far!
Darkness quickly approached after I had walked 32 miles. I settled on a spot next to a lake in Obatanga Provincial Park. The black flies weren’t an issue as I set up camp, but the mosquitos ate me alive. It was as if they decided to swarm me right as I started pitching my tent. I put on my “bug jacket” and soaked myself in deet, but it didn’t deter them.
I hurried into my tent, drenched in sweat and bug spray. I itched all over. I hadn’t put on my “bug pants” in an effort to see how effective “Ben’s 100 Deet Bug Spray” was on its own. The nuclear mosquitos of Northern Ontario must be resistant because my legs and feet itched until morning. A constant mosquito buzz accompanied me through a restless night.
After steamy temperatures the day before, my walk into White River was much cooler. Overcast skies, periods of light mist, and temperatures in the low 50’s were a drastic change. Canada’s schitzofrenic weather continued to keep me on my toes.
I camped at a free campground in Winnie the Pooh’s hometown of White River. My site was right behind an A&W Restaurant. I don’t know if the employees were grossed out or impressed when I downed seven junior burgers for dinner.
The weather improved for two days after leaving White River, leaving me comfortable conditions for the two day, 56 mile walk to Marathon.
From there, the Can-Can returned to the shores of Lake Superior. With that came some spectacular views, but plenty more hills and mountains to climb, too.
The weather coming out of Marathon was rainy, cool, and foggy once again. About 10 miles into my walk, a small sedan pulled over. The driver, who was about my age, hopped out of the car and said “I know exactly how you feel right now.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had just met “Fast Eddy.” Eddy completed a 601 day run from BC to Newfoundland (and then turned around and ran back) in 2015 and 2016. His run totaled 12,100 miles. When he told me about his achievement I was speechless.
Midway through my day I walked through a thick fog bank for about two hours. At times it was so thick I couldn’t see a vehicle approaching me (even with their headlights and/or hazard lights on) until they were 30 yards away. I didn’t bother walking anywhere near the road and stuck to the far left side of the bumpy, unpaved shoulder for safety’s sake. It was an unnerving stretch! But thanks to the morale boost from Fast Eddy, I was able to walk 34 miles. I was thrilled with that total given the lousy weather conditions.
I continued to check small towns on Highway 17 off my list over the next two days, walking through Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Rossport, and Pays Plat. There were plenty of nice views of Lake Superior, along with some exhausting climbs, during the stretch.
My seventh day out of Wawa began about 20 miles east of Nipigon. At about 6:30, I woke up to a series of footsteps and snorting near my tent. I froze, fearing what creature was on the otherside of my tent wall. I had slept with my tent fly open, and when I rolled over and looked out the door, a big black bear had walked through my camp and was smelling PJ. “That’s a (insert numerous expletives) bear.” I said out loud.
He was about 10 feet away from my sleeping bag. My heart pounded and my mind raced as I decided what to do. I started talking to the bear as I reached for my can of bear spray. This certainly wasn’t “Winnie the Pooh.” That boy was big, and based off the size of his gut, he was having a successful spring of eating.
“Hey there big fella. I’m just passing through. No need to be alarmed.” I said in a calm voice. I thought about my options. I could make a bunch of noise and try to scare him off. I could just lay there and hope he left. But given the fact I was still inside my tent, I was stuck. I took the safety cap off the spray and decided to use it to try to get him to run off.
I didn’t appreciate how sensitive the trigger on the cannister was and inadvertently sprayed the corner of my tent as I unzipped the door. The “phhhhhew” of the spray coming out made the bear jump. Then he fixated on my tent.
I quickly aimed at the bear’s face and let it fly, hitting him square in the nose (and also spraying PJ in the process). He looked stunned and clumsily walked into the woods seconds later, pawing at his face and running into a few tree branches during his escape. I stayed in my tent for a few minutes, stunned. I eventually got out and dumped a gallon of water on the portion of my tent I had sprayed, mopping up the peppery water with dirty shirts and socks from my laundry bag.
After packing up camp I got back on the road, disheveled from the experience. My high visibility vest, which was resting on PJ’s handlebars, had an empty granola bar wrapper in one of the pockets. I also neglected to pull out other scented items, like sunscreen and bug spray, and include them with my food bad and toiletries which were hanging a good distance from my tent. I had made an amatuer mistake, I thought, and all but invited the bear to my campsite. I had gotten sloppy. As I thought about the whole ordeal, I rubbed my eyes, not remembering there was still pepper spray residue on my hands. They started burning and watering. I had to sit on the side of the road for 20 minutes waiting for the pain to subside.
As I sat in my little camp chair on the gravel shoulder I felt a huge sense of embarrassment and regret set in. What was I thinking? I had gotten cocky, thinking “I have these woods figured out. I have these bears figured out. I have this walk figured out.” As the burning in my eyes continued I had to accept the fact that I had a lot to learn. And no matter how many miles I walked, the road (along with the animals that inhabit it) would continue to be unpredicatable. I needed to accept that and know I would never have it mastered. That things could change in an instant and I must do my best to always be ready. And most importantly, be open to continual learning and improvement.
I had been served a huge piece of humble pie for breakfast. And then I laughed, thinking about what a glorious and ridiculous journey I was on. My day got considerably better from there.
I aired out my tent during lunch, hoping to get rid of the peppery scent inside, and arrived in Nipigon later that evening. I hadn’t showered in eight days, so I decided to camp at the Nipigon Marina Campground for the night and rinse the unappealing aroma of B.O., sunscreen, bug spray, and now bear spray, off my body.
I had called the campground earlier in the day to let them know I was coming. When I arrived, Sean and Cora (two of the camp’s employees) were waiting for me. They had set up a tree tent for me to sleep in for the night. The green tent, suspended by three trees, hung about four feet off the ground. It was like sleeping on a cloud!
From Nipigon, Thunder Bay was still seventy miles away. First, I needed to do laundry. Once again, I was out of clean socks. I stopped by a truck stop, which luckily had a stackable washer/dryer unit in a hallway next to the restaurant kitchen. I was expecting to have to sweet-talk a trucker out of a Tide Pod, but the Husky Travel Center provided laundry detergent.
As I was waiting for my clothes to dry, Dan and Susan Shaver (who insisted I looked good with a beard and said I didn’t need to shave) struck up a conversation with me. They invited me to stay in their yard, 27 clicks down the highway. I arrived at seven and enjoyed porkckops, potatoes, salad, and ice cream with the friendly couple.
I walked the final 40 miles into Thunder Bay over the next two days. I arrived at Marie and Wayne Ferguson’s around 5 PM June 9th. Marie is Lesley and Paul Morin’s niece. I stayed with the Morins in Sudbury. For the first time in three weeks I would have a roof over my head! I was pretty exhausted from the adventures of the last 291 miles, but a mountain of steak, potato salad, ice cream, and the couple’s company perked me right up. Their sweet and energetic seven month old Husky/German Sheperd mix, Echo, helped too!
I am resting for two days in Thunder Bay and preparing to conclude my walk in Canada and begin trekking through Minnesota, which is about 40 miles away.
Days – 61
Miles – 1315.5
Peanut Butter Jars – 40
Favorite Roadside Find – New to me sunglasses! My previous pair broke. Duct tape around the rim provided a temporary fix but their days were numbered. After a little cleanup the new pair works great and is stylish enough!
Loose Change Count – Stuck on $4.66
Favorite Three Pictures
A heartfelt thank you to all of the incredible Canadiens who made my walk through Ontario truly memorable. Ontario will always have a very special place in my heart!
My next post will come from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” I am coming for you ‘Sota!