West from Algonquin we hit Lake Superior. The early settlers thought they’d hit the Pacific, and you can see why – the rugged coastline, the endless horizon, the choppy water. But instead it’s the largest fresh water lake in the world.
We could have completely bypassed it. Taken the high road and avoided the lake completely. In fact, this is what I would have done – not necessarily on purpose, it was just a slightly more direct route to the West Coast, which I was starting to get a bit impatient to see. But, as is the way of going into things with no expectations and anticipating a few days of solid driving – it became a trip-so-far-highlight.
Our first day, from Algonquin was wet. It had all the hallmarks of a terrible day. The rain was just torrential. The trucks sped up behind us and made driving pretty stressful, with the limited visibility. We had nearly 600km to drive.
But we resolved early on to make the best of it. We stopped at French River and learnt more about the trade between the early settlers and the First Nation communities. We picked up our first set of hitchhikers (Vincent and Thao who were skipping a bit of highway on their journey hiking across Canada).
And we ended the day at a beautiful spot on the Lake – meeting a fellow overlander, Yuki, who was just finishing his trip. In the end, it was a brilliant day – admittedly quite soggy, but filled with great conversation and the excitement of discovering new places.
We drove on the next day slowly around the lake, stopping in Lake Superior National Park to take a dip in the Lake. We looked excitedly to a little island a bit out from the shoreline. We would swim to that, relax for a bit, and then swim back. I dipped a toe in. Bloody hell it was cold. I’m good at cold water, I told myself. It’s all about getting used to it. I slowly moved in. Nope, this was really really cold. I looked around, it was a beautiful day, but no one else was swimming. Knut was tip toeing in next to me.
“I actually don’t think I can get to that island without freezing”. I said to him
“Yup me neither” He replied.
And we retreated – Lake Superior 1 – Janneke and Knut 0.
We ended up that evening at a place called Sandy Beach. Unsurprisingly, it was host to a very sandy beach. We took the opportunity to christen our new portable BBQ – testing out pretty much every BBQ’able vegetable on it’s VERY small cooking surface (think 3 pieces of courgette at a time….). But the slightly bitty approach to cooking allowed us to sit back, relax and watch the sun go down.
Moving on from Sandy Beach we found ourselves in the town of Wawa, a very cute little place along the lake.
We parked up in the centre outside a Canadian Tire in Wawa to steal some WiFi, when we heard a knock on the door.
“Gutentag” said the elderly lady standing at the window. “My son said there was a German Feuerwehr in town and I just had to see it”. Knut started conversation in quick fire German which I struggled to follow. Five minutes later he turns to me:
“Karin has a cabin in the woods and has invited us there for the afternoon, you up for it?”
Well I’m never one to turn down an offer to go into the remote wilderness with someone I’ve just met. “Sure” I say.
We followed Karin’s red truck out of town and turned on a long unpaved, bumpy road. We got to a yellow gate and she signals us to park up and jump into her truck – the road is rougher from here and it’s better if we go with her. We chucked a bag of stuff in the back, and clambered in the front, relegating Mickey the dog to the footwell behind.
Karin smiled as she regaled a story from a few years back. She’d met some Germans in town and taken them back to the cabin. They’d been fine until she’d hit the small single track road that led further into the wilderness. “Everything went a bit quiet, and I could see them looking at each other…the fear in their eyes”. She laughed.
I looked at Knut…the conversation was in German and all I could here is the word “angst”…scared….! Where the hell were we going? The track got smaller, the trees denser…a rabbit jumped ahead of us on the path. This was definitely in the middle of nowhere…
We turned a corner and were met with the most perfect picture of remote bliss. A beautiful log cabin overlooking a pristine lake.
Karin gave us a couple of beers and we sat on the veranda listening to stories of Karin’s past. She was a consummate storyteller. Having come over from Germany 55 years ago to chase a Hungarian gypsy she had fallen in love with, she soon realised he wasn’t right for her and eventually married a German, staying in Canada and having two kids. She was widowed at 38 and brought up the boys as a single parent. Her face was alive with her stories – the people she’s met, her children (now in their 50s), and the random people who find themselves at her house.
She scurried off to put the fire on in the sauna. “It’s not strictly legal to have a sauna, but I don’t care, it’s my sanctuary”. It was a very warm day, so spending time in a sauna was not necessarily high on our to do list, but it was glorious. Ten minutes in the sauna toasting ourselves into a suitably red glow, then jumping straight into the ice cold lake. And repeat!
Eventually it became time to say goodbye. We gave Karin a massive hug and drove off along the highway, further round the Lake. It wasn’t the plan we’d had for the day, but it continued our run of having pretty awesome experiences on Lake Superior.
We spent our last “proper” night on the Lake next to a place called Pebble Beach. Similarly to the very descriptively correct Sandy Beach, this was a very Pebbly Beach. We parked up next to a couple who had spent their summer on the East Coast and were now driving back to their home in their Alberta. We had been sat there for about five minutes before the lady introduced herself with a bottle of wine – pouring us two glasses to enjoy with our meal.
And then finally, we made it to Thunder Bay – the last big Canadian town on the West side of the lake. From what we saw it wasn’t anything particularly special, but you’ll be pleased to here the name didn’t disappoint. We were treated to the most almighty storm and fantastical thunder.
On from there to the Prairies….!