Yep, that first night of camping in five-degree celsius weather was a cold one! Paige and I felt it. The kids on the other hand voiced no displeasure. But they followed my lead and took an early morning shower. For those who don’t know, some Ontario Parks showers are amazing. Great pressure with bloody hot water. Another check mark for Neys. After the showers, we lit a morning fire (Paigey and I haven’t done that in years) which put Paige and I in a more comfortable state. The kids went off to play at the beach.
We didn’t leave Neys early on Day 7. We decided to slow things down and took a bike to a trailhead. Finally figured out how to get Julie Tailgator sorted out so that she doesn’t lean the entire time while being pulled by her mother. We went on a small hike and I made a bad joke about me growing facial hair…..anyways the punch line is MOSStache. And the pictures are spot on. We then went to the visitor centre at the park (we always go to visitor centres if the park has them) and did some homeschooling. Julie learnt about rocks. For those that don’t know, Julie will tell you that “Amethyst is the purple one”. Isabella played with the animal pelts trying to determine which one was the softest. We went back to the site, broke camp for the first time and were back on the highway.
The drive to Sleeping Giant took a long time. We stopped for lunch and filled up on some camping supplies. Our butane is due to go out any day so we stopped at the “smallest” Canadian Tire in the country. Don’t know if it is true but they have a sign saying so in Nipigon.
Many stops later we got to Sleeping Giant after 5pm. Good thing the sun doesn’t set until 10:30. Our campsite was a split level (first time we had stayed at one of those) that Isabella had selected when Paige let her select some sites. We went for a quick swim and noticed the water was full of crayfish. I always thought they hid under rocks and such, but here they were in the clear water in the sand. Might explain why their carcasses were also littered all over the beach. Paigey caught some live ones for the children to see. I went swimming.
The kids slept well that first night as the swimming tired them out. They got up and dived into their morning school-work. I was skeptical at the number of worksheets Paigey had brought for them, but they sure do love the morning activity work. Izzy did a worksheet on Red foxes and was blown away when we saw a stuffed one at the park visitor centre later in the day.
We went spent the rest of the day exploring the park and surrounding area. We were realistic and knew the hike to the sleeping giant formation was outside our abilities. So we picked a shorter one to a pebble beach that the kids loved. We saw butterflies and took a wrong turn that delighted the children as they had to scramble up some boulders to get back on the trail. They no longer let Paige and I lead the way on the trails.
We also discovered Silver Islet, a tiny hamlet at the end of the peninsula. It was one of those hot days where you dream “If only we could find an ice cream place …..” and then one appears out of nowhere. The kids had Superkid ice cream which is their new favourite flavour thanks to Aunt Sil’s Ice Cream joint in the Soo.
The entire time we were at Sleeping Giant we had no internet access and attributed it to the remoteness of the park. It was one of the reasons we seemed to stumble upon things these two days. Turns out there was a big internet outage in Canada that we were blissfully unaware of.
To set some context, you first need to know that I try to walk 5km each morning before the kids wake up. So there I was, walking outside the steel mill in Sault Ste Marie at 6am when a Jeep rolls to a stop alongside me. The window rolls down and a woman leans out and yells: ”Hey was that you taking over the gym this morning?”. I momentarily blank but then clue in and admit that yes, it was me. She then apologizes for her son being such a jerk and kicking me out of the gym. I shrug my shoulders and tell her he will be a great Pokemon champion. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, you obviously don’t play Pokemon Go.
Anyways we left the relatives early in the morning having received a download of the key lookouts on the drive ahead of us. We said our goodbyes and were on our way with the bikes tightly secured. Our first stop was Chippewa falls where the kids got to hike and use the washroom. This was going to be one of those days with multiple washroom stops. We then stopped a further down the highway to eat some world-famous apple fritters at the Voyageurs’ Lodge near Batchwana Bay. There is an entire rack full of individual fritters waiting for people to grab. There must have been 100+ sitting there and we watched a procession of cars stop to pick a couple up. For the first time in our lives, Paige and I did the sensible thing and bought one and shared it. We ignored the sign that said there was no tax charged if you purchased six. We only needed the one, they were ginormous.
Driving from Timmins to Sault Ste Marie was a longer drive than we had expected (about 6.5 hours). There were not a lot of stops along the way but we did manage to stop at the Watershed Drainage Divide this time (after missing it on the way north). It is pretty awesome to think that rivers and lakes north of this line feed the Arctic Ocean as opposed to the Great Lakes.
Other interesting sights along the way include a population of white moose near Foleyet. They are not albino – they just carry a recessive gene that makes them very light in colour. I kept my eyes peeled thinking that white moose might be easier to spot than brown ones. I had no luck with white ones either.
We drove through the childhood home of my friend Kandice, a tiny hamlet called Wharncliffe and we were reminded just how small of a place it is -wow. The drive’s highlight for the kids was the Big Loonie right outside Sault Ste Marie.
The “Soo” has always been a place where Michael’s relatives spoiled him with elaborate Italian meals – this was no exception. Michael’s aunt Silvana made a delicious homemade pasta with meatballs and sausage. Luckily the kids had swum in Sil and Ernie’s pool before dinner because, afterwards, we were all in a food coma!
After getting new haircuts the next morning, we visited the Sault Ste Marie Locks which is a National Historic Site. The Historical site was partially closed but the kids still managed to find a tent with National Parks workers and collect their first “dog tags”. We suspect that they will collect many more of these as we continue west.
Whitefish Island is also nearby which is an island with a unique location between Lakes Huron and Superior. There is a rich fishery at the St. Mary’s Rapids and we even saw fishermen standing on the breakwater casting into the rapids. This island has an unfortunate history whereby it was taken from the Frist Nations who had treaty rights to the island and was only returned to their ownership quite recently. The hike around the island was full of birds and animals but we had to turn around when the boardwalk was flooded -causing lots of excitement.
We finished our time in the Soo with a meal at Auroras and some movie watching with aunt Sil. The girls also loved watching cousin Aly put on her make-up each morning we were there. Now we have at least 5 camping days ahead of us so I guess we’ll test out all the gear and hopefully we did not forget anything important. Also, let homeschooling begin!
The kids were up at the crack of dawn on Day 2 to play with some of my cousin’s toys they had seen when they fell asleep the night before. After prying them away from the Groovy Girls, they descended upon the kitchen for a “dream breakfast”. There were 8 different options of breakfast cereal available for us to choose from. It was like a kid’s version of an omelet bar. I ate Apple Jacks (I didn’t know they still existed) while the kids ate a mixture of cereals. Good start to the day as all the eating and playing had us leaving a little later than expected.
Before leaving Lively I made sure those bikes were buckled in tight. I was tired of stressing over them falling off so took my time to find the “optimal” configuration. I did such a good job, I took pictures so that I would remember how to replicate it.
We also realized after day 1, that our packing strategy needed to be tweaked. It was just too much effort to bring each of our luggage down from the roof each night. What we needed for the future was a grab bag of a small set of clothes for each of us together. Also, putting toiletries in the trunk was also idiotic. For the most part, we want the trunk to be storage and we need to be able to grab any gear we need from the back seat without doing all the Jenga.
Were we anxious the night before? Absolutely. For some reason, everyone slept in the same room even though that will probably be the norm for the next few months. We got up too early (4 o’clock), did our walk, “fed” the kids (if you can count a breakfast of cucumbers as a meal) and posed for the obligatory Day 1 picture in front of the tree. Paigey wanted to take the picture to see how much or how little we change when we get back. If I don’t come back with a better tan, I’ll be surprised.
Anyways we were so anxious we actually packed the jeep the night before and hoped no one broke in. All I had to do was “fight” with the bikes and get them mounted on the back. I imagine many of my future posts will be ranting about the bike hassles. Morning departure was a breeze and we were on the road by 9am.