Atikokan Rest Day(s)

Arriving in the small town of Atikokan was refreshing and relaxing, especially after the 50 km walk in.  Unfortunately for my feet, the walk in to town off Highway 11 is 4 km, which is always longer due to the anticipation of stopping for the day.  In many cases, the walk into a town off the highway is marked with encounters of the very kind local residents on bikes; conversations center around where I came from, where I am going, and why I am walking?  

After arriving, my first thoughts about Atikokan was that it is a quiet, well kept small town, with an obvious older demography; however, I feel this quiet town is the perfect spot for me to rest, and maybe breathe in the small town experience a little more.  First off, all residents, except for an odd encounter with an opionated older gentleman at Robin’s Donuts, have been nothing but kind to me — an unknown patron at the Outdoorsman Restaurant (pictures below) picked up my lunch bill yesterday!  I later found out that my encounter at the Robin’s Donut shop is somewhat of a known local anomoly. 

Atikokan is the Canoe Capital of Canada, with a rich paddling history dating back to the time of Canada’s Voyageur’s, but this place has an equally rich history of fur trade, the Canadian National Railway, mining, forestry, and coal (now biomass) power generation.  This week, especially this week, the Atikokan Bass Classic fishing tournament provides significant business and income for the town of Atikokan for almost a week as contestants fish, pre-fish, etc.  The tournaments contestants pack all three motels, work the restaurant staff of their feet, and various tournament events (fishing boat parade, dance, etc.) fill the usually quiet downtown cooridor..  So far, I stayed one night at the back of the Public Library (free) and one night at the municipal campground (Bunnell Park) to get a shower, nap, and restful sleep for the steep fee of $15.75 vs. $80+ for a no frills motel room.   

Above.  A poster for the Atikokan Bass Classic scavenger hunt.
Below are some pictures of the local restaurant, where a kind resident paid for my lunch!  This place has  good food, great decor, and a quality pizza.  In addition, the staff are super friendly and don’t pester you while you are eating or enjoying a coffee.  Although they are the only stand alone restaurant in town, they still provided great service, and deliver quality food at a fair price.

After sitting there and drinking coffee for a period of time — 4 or more hours over the last few days, I realized that many local residents stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner for their ‘usual’ meal that the waitress knows they came in for.  Many residents also use this place as a pseudo community centre, where they stop in to share a coffee with friends and family; ask the waitress to call the community van for a pickup, or to ask for help during some medical episode — a diabetic issue, circulatory transport issue, etc.    

Above.  The dining area, which is the final resting spot for many trophy fish caught in the region.  This region is a sportsman’s paradise (hunting, fishing, canoeing). 

Above.  The delicious pizza I had for lunch.  A generous bowl of parmesan and a shaker of pepper flakes provided.

After lunch I decided to visit the Atikokan Centennial Museum, which for a small community is quite a large museum full of some very interesting local history.  Below are select snapshots and a short summary of the exhibits:

Above.  The primary natural resource based industries of the region.

Above.  Artifacts of an game bag and piece of an old birch bark canoe.

Above.  An obligatory Atikokan canoe/kayak picture.  The blue kayak is the kayak used by a local team that paddled from Rocky Mountain House, AB to to Expo ’67 in Montreal, QC at a blistering speed of 40 days and some hours, which still stands has a record in Canada.  These guys were hardcore; team members slept on the kayak while others continued to paddle forward!  

Above.  A nice looking beaver felt top hat, and various fur trade 

Above.  An interesting story of the White Otter Castle built by the scottish settler Jimmy Mcquat is worth zooming in on; in summary, Mr. Mcquat started to build this very large multi-story log house for his scottish bride, but he mysteriously drowned and the White Otter Castle was left to rot.  In the future, community members plan to restore the White Otter Castle back to its original state.

Above.  Similar to the jail cell I visited when at the Thunder Bay museum with Portia over a month ago, however, this time I had no one to take my picture while I played prisoner.

I walked out of Atikokan a short distance this afternoon, and will setup camp at the tourist bureau just outside of town along Highway 11 for tonight.  Off to Fort Frances in the morning!

Thunder Bay to Atikokan

After much contemplation regarding the route towards Winnipeg, I have opted to do the long, but verey scenic route along ‘mom’s way’, since this route has less transport truck traffic; considerably less traffic; I have never visited this part of NW Ontario, and I want to punish myself by walking a road many say is boring! In summary, my route will take me west along Highway 11 towards Emo, ON, then north on Highway 71 towards Kenora, ON and back onto Highway 17 into Winnipeg. 

So far, this route has been a much more enjoyable experience, and the traffic is considerably less along the highway.  The less traffic has reduced my stress level, but ‘they’ say this highway is boring, however, ‘they’ are usually wrong.  This region has the full hand of wetlands on display: bog, fen, and marsh flush!  To top it all off, there is a scattering of small lakes throughout the landscape, which is set within the beautiful palm of the Canadian Shield. 

Above. The beauty of boring Highway 11.

Above. More beauty.

Above. Just as I enetered Highway 11, a beautiful lunch location by the river was found.

There were some interesting watershed and time zone milestones I walked across, which included: the Arctic/Atlantic Watershed’s and the Central Standard Time Zone (Below).  Please disregard the hilarious graffiti!

I kept meaning to show the places where I lay my head each night, which for some reason used to be the most stressful part of my day; the uncertainty on where to sleep at night is something that I have never had to think about in my life.  Now that I am an old salty dog out here, the uncertainty doesn’t really phase me; however, I occasionally still get a little out of phase.  

The trend appears to be schools, churches, libraries, and the odd municipal campground ($12 to $15/night) in the small towns; motels ($60 to $87/night) and hostels ($25/night) when in larger cities, or desprately needed; forests, designated rest stops (when allowed), and private campgrounds when walking between towns and cities.  My favorite spot to camp is within forest locations adjacent to a lake, since I have unlimited access to fresh water and scenic horizon; however, with forests you have to find that little piece of forest floor that is level, free of debris and roots to place the tent, which can take time to locate.

Honestly, after a day of walking 40 or more kilometers, I usually just eat, hydrate, hang scented bag (err), setup camp, stretch, and gaze out of the tent door until I fall asleep.  Usually, there is not much time to just loaf around camp, and although school sites are not the most scenic locations, they are the easiest, since you can setup your tent anywhere and a picnic table is always available to cook off.

Above.  My first night’s accomodations outside of Thunder Bay in Kakabeka Falls (Elementary School).  It was stormy that day, so having this covered area was nice to come across.

Above.  Camping location off the Highway.  Notice the beautiful lake in the background.

Above. On the shore having dinner and a tea after setting up camp — the storm quickly passed.

Above.  Watching the world and storm pass over the lake while having a tea.

Thunder Bay: A Free Meal, New Shoes, Rest, and a Macabre Story

As I mentioned before, there are lengthy periods of time during this walk that are flat out boring; however, the addicting element to this walk has been waiting for those unexpected new experiences, and these last few days have been interesting and full of new experiences.

My walk into Thunder Bay was very realxed, since the rolling terrain is now behind me, and I was able to walk the length of Lakeshore Drive into Thunder Bay.  Lake Shore Drive is a quiet roadway sandwiched between the busy Trans Canada Highway on one side and the picturesque Lake Superior cottage country on the other.

I forgot to mention the following great happening just before entering Lake Shore Drive, which didn’t start out great, but good things happen to those who wait, I guess.  Ok, so lately, everytime there is a 10% chance of rain in the forecast it rains, and that day was exception, except that it opened up for the briefest period of time just as I was walking towards the Flying J Truck Stop to sit and figure out where to camp for the night.  

When I arrived outside the door to the Flying J, I took off my umbrella hat and sorted my harness, gloves, hat, and sunglasses; however, for some reason a number of people peppered me with some very thoughful observations and smart ass comments, such as it’s wet out there, eh; where you headed to; hey, can I borrow your umbrella.  As expected, I was at a loss of any great words to satisfy these individuals.  Anyways, water off a wet walker’s back!

Anyways, I entered the Flying J restaurant ordered a coffee, and began to look at my GPS and Google Earth on my cell phone for a suitable location to setup my tent for the night.  Luckily, I was familiar with the area, since I vacationed (cottage with Portia and parents) just 15 km from here off of Lake Shore Drive a month or so ago.  After a short time, the one waitress (Below, right) asked if I was hungry, since she heard me on the phone talking about the discharge of all my bug spray within my food bag and that I had to throw some of my food items out.  She then asked if I I was hungry, which I always am, and stated that if I tell her the story of why I am walking she would pickup the tab up for anything I wanted!  So I ordered away, which included fried chicken, strawberry milkshake, a fried Persian, and a few cups of coffee!  This was the first free meal at a restaurant that I have received during my walk, and the food and service was the best, naturally!  Thank you both for turning the end of the day around for me — if you are reading this.   

Above.  The two waitresses (I alway forget names!) that bought me a wonderful dinner at the Flying J Restaurant a few minutes east of Thunder Bay.  

Well, after 1700 km of walking some new shoes were desprately needed (Below).  A big thanks to my friend Kayla and Brady for kindly mailing these shoes to me!  These new shoes fit well. 

I am currently resting in Thunder Bay at the Sleeping Giant Guesthouse (Below), which is centrally located, quiet, comfortable, safe, and clean.  This place is a real gem, especially the welcoming nature of the owner and her family, which you don’t get when you stay at a motel or hotel; moreover, the price is right for a parsimonious individual like me.

Also, I now have a new appreciation for a shower and clean clothes, since it has been some time I have had clean clothes, especially clean underwear.

Now onto the explanation of the blood splattered bench and macabre incident while in Thunder Bay.  It all started after the owner of the hostel I am staying at came back after visiting her mother’s memorial bench at a nearby park, and the mention that her and her daughter saw some blood splatters on the bench and remnants of a large pool of blood on the concrete base of the bench.  She knew that police were investigating a body found near the bridge (Below), so she called the police and asked if they knew about it, and if it was ok for her to clean it up — she had family arriving in a few days and wanted to show them this memorial bench without the blood splatter and remnant blood pool stain on the concrete!

Anyways, I went over with her daughter and boyfriend in the morning after breakfast to take some pictures of this blood on the bench, since I obviously had nothing else to do!  When we arrived I saw a police vehicle under the bridge in the area where the deceased individual was found.  A few minutes later a very kind detective walked over and apoligized for the obvious mess, and mentioned that the blood on the bench was from another unrelated incident: an eye gouging incident, which is shocking to hear, and even more shocking to hear that this type of violence is almost common place at this beautiful park and within the City of Thunder Bay.

My impression of Thunder Bay after talking with a number of people and the detective reveals a preponderance of violent acts in this city, especially among individuals living a high risk lifestyle; moreover, these thoughts were further cemented after a short cycle to Walmart to pickup a few grocery items the day after.

Regardless of what I have witnessed, I still think Thunder Bay is a beautiful city located on the shore of the most magnificiant and rugged lake in the world; however, Thunder Bay is a small city facing big city problems of alcoholism, drug use, and the high risk lifestyle choices of community members within this city.      

The following is the The Chronicle Journal’s article of the above incident:

Lake Superior in Pictures: Part 2

This section of the walk has allowed me to camp on the shores of Lake Superior, and in the small towns that dot the North Shore of Lake Superior — this is the compromise between road walking and hiking a peaceful trail.  I am begining to find that walking along the side of a busy highway is, well, difficult — the constant hum of traffic a few meters from wherever you are all day, every day tires me out; unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it, since this is the only reasonable way for the time being, but I intend to change this from Thunder Bay to Manitoba.     

After the long wait in Terrace Bay, I walked past Schreiber, ON, and into this little out building and gas station off the side of the road (below).  What stuck me about this building is the decor, specifically the records of a local musician: Cosimo Filane (Below).  Although it looks like a characteristic place to sit and have a coffee and something to eat, but I was told by Cosimo that there was no food available, except chocholate bars and water!  I took some pictures and quietly left, and left Cosimo to sit on his recliner infront of the T.V., and man the cash register for the the gas station.

Above: Inside the small, non-food diner.

Above: The Cosimo Filane record collection.

Above: The view from a bridge.

Above: Overlooking Lake Superior, which I never get tired of.

Above: The Rossport, ON region is my favorite portion of Lake Superior’s North Shore.

Above: Having a tea, and waiting for clothes to dry after washing them in the lake.  The 10% chance of precipitation occured a few hours later. 

Above: Enjoying my instant Cappucino and homemade granola bar while my clothes dry.

Above: The brief enterance of storm clouds and rain.

Above: A picture out of tent door.

Above: A small spot of sand to place tent on.

From Gravel River to my final resting spot in Nipigon, ON was a big day: a ~ 48 km day of walking.  I wanted to reach Nipigon to get some more snacks at a local grocery store (trail mix and bbq peanuts).  I also had a craving for some fresh fruit and real food.  Dehydrated meals are fine for the required calories, but every so often I really want fresh fruit and real food. 

Above: Remnants of a sliced up car, and the previous location of a gastation.  

Above: A selfie of me walking.

Above: An abandoned building/outhouse nearby abandoned gas station?

Above: The scenery while I walk to Nipigon

Above: A portion of downtown Nipigon, ON.

Above: Camp location at Marina in Nipigon, ON.

Above: Cooking up dinner for the night.

I am excited to reach Thunder Bay, which is a little over 100 km from Nipigon, and this will be the last major city until Winnipeg, MB.  

Laying About and Being Smelly in Terrace Bay

Due to a combination of my arrival in Terrace Bay and mail delivery services, I have been held up in Terrace Bay since Friday evening; however, this is giving me an opportunity to rest for a few long days after successive 40 km and 45 km days.  Although my stay is longer than expected, I guess it could be worse?  

Unfortunately, Terrace Bay has no laundry services, so dirty, stinky clothes it is!  I did get a shower at the community centre for $5, but dirty clothes reinvigorate that feeling of dirtyness.  Oddly, I haven’t been able to find any means of getting my clothes washed, even after explaining my situation to the usual places: a motel, community centre, and a local resident I chatted with outside of a coffee shop — I must smell really bad, but understandable, I guess. 

This is the first time I have had to unexpectidly stay somewhere for an extended period of time, so I am gonna relax and let the residents get a good smell of Matthew Meadows, and I get to be the town vegabond for however long this episode lasts! 

Relaxing in a coffee shop (The Visitor Room Coffee Shop)

It is hard to find a comfortable spot to sit down for an extended period of time without feeling like you are loitering, but I regretably do it anyways (Above).  I did find a quiet, somewhat out of the way park in the centre of a cul-de-sac to lay down and listen to music at; however, a little kid leaned over me while I was layed out on my sleeping pad, and greeted me with the tinest hello, which was nice, but the parents likely question my being in the park (Below).

 A picture I took while laying down in park after lunch (Above)

When in these small towns, free accomodations can be had at the back of a school, community centre, church, or other designated area(s) (Below).  I don’t really like to spend money on a motel if I don’t have to, since they are quite pricey during the summer.  However, I do spend money at the coffee shop and bakery.

A nice secluded area at the school to write (Above)

Campsite behind school (Above)

One last comment about Terrace Bay that I forgot to mention: if the wind is blowing in the right direction, odours from the nearby pulp mill fill the air (Below).   

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!

My sister had a great idea the other day, and I believe it is worth documenting: the small difficulties I encounter almost daily.  Although I do love it out here, and this is something I have always wanted to do, but there are times when I have to embrace the reality out here.  The following are some common items off the top of my head:

1.  Sometimes it is hard finding a spot to rest my head at night.  

This is especially true if you are trying to squeeze in an extra hour of walking and you find yourself in an area where it is really difficult to find a somewhat suitable place to setup a tent that isn’t in a wetland, or you have to put on climbing shoes to get over the rock walls that line the road!  Coincidently, these difficult locations always occur when I am tired and just want to stop and sleep.  This usually results in a less than ideal ‘camping’ location, where I have to just settle.   In these situations my first criteria consists of being out of sight from vehicles on the road.  Second, a suitable land surface that is large enough and is somewhat level (0-25% slope), surface water free, and gravel/debris free.  In an ideal world, a location well away from the cacaphony of the highway noise that is level would be great, but those locations are a luxury, anyways, I have really good earplugs!

Above: Can’t find a picture of a bad situation, but here is an easy one. When I need to be in town for more snacks, or to pickup packages, I ‘camp’ at discreet locations.  Remember, leave it the same or better (pickup some errant garbage if it’s around).

The title image was taken a few meters from my campsite, but this was where I enjoyed a great breakfast.  This scene gives you an impression of times when being close to the road is the only option because there is just nowhere to pitch a tent in the dense, rocky forest stand on both sides of the highway.  Unfortunately, I was tired that night, and had to erect my tent on a steppe at the edge of the forest.  I forgot to take a picture, but I really should of taken a photo of the slope my tent was on!  Nonetheless, I still slept well on that stormy night.

2.  Hanging my bag of food/scented items on that ideal tree branch is difficult.  

I always hang my food and scented items in a bag away from where I am camping, since that is the ‘bear smart’ thing to do.  However, my ability to find that textbook branch that can hold the bag still eludes me most evenings.  Ideally, a fallen tree resting on another tree, or a small bridge far enough off the ground/water are the two quickest locations, with the bridge being the best option.

Above: Hanging bag off leaning tree.

Honestly, the frustration might not be over once the bag has been hung up.  When you wake up in the morning you have to get it down, and hopefully it doesn’t get stuck under some odd improbable situation when you hung it, but don’t worry, the bag only contains all of your food, first aid, cooking, etc. supplies!  Even better, when you are 3 or 4 days (30-40 km/day) walk from the nearest town these moments will test your ability to stay calm.  The solution is easy: stop, take a deep breath, and take a good look at the situation.  Most times you can wiggle it free after ten or twenty minutes, or fashiniong a long stick to prod it free.  Don’t worry, I will never climb, or put myself in a dangerous position to get it free.    

3. Finding non-brackish water for drinking.  

Wetlands along the side of the road are great, but many of the basins are full of weak to very brackish water that clogs up my water filter.  I will only draw waters from these locations based on absolute desparation.

4.  A time and place to write after all the small tasks are completed.

I thought the evenings would be filled with long stretches of writing and self-discovery, however, most evenings are spent dozing off and sweet dreams.  Most times I stratch something out in point-form before it escapes me, then expand on it later.  I hope what I write is decipherable, and will provide enough detail for future reflection.

5. A place to sit that isn’t the ground or my cart beside the road.

This isn’t such a big deal, but you really take it forgranted in daily living.  I am now thankful for picnic tables, couches, chairs, or anything that is situated off the road and can be converted to a seat. 

As of today (July 28th, 2017) I am becoming more accustomed to life out here, and I am content and comfortable for the most part.  In reality, these are very small things, and I should be thankful that these are the only difficuties facing me on a regular basis out here.  Remember, I am living my dream!    

Thank You Smartwool Canada

The exciting news I mentioned in an earlier post is now able to be shared.  It is with great pleasure to say that Smartwool thinks my project is amazing, and they sent me a care package of some apparel!  Thank you again!

First off, I am already a Smartwool sock user and I have been for many years, so when I say that Smartwool socks are honestly the best socks I have owned, this is not based on the package they sent me.

Above: These socks are my favorite socks, and proof that I wore Smartwool socks before they sent me this package.

Unfortunately, I won’t get to use any of the apparel they sent me until my next drop off, which isn’t for another 8 or 10 days!  However, I promise to give everyone feedback on how great these items perform while I try and break my way into Manitoba!

Lake Superior in Pictures: Part 1

As I walked out of Sault Ste. Marie, ON towards Wawa, ON, I forgot about the rugged, raw beauty I was about to stroll and sleep across from for the next few weeks.  Lake Superior is magnificiently big ocean like body of water encircled with an equally gargantuam rocky shore, with beaches peppred throughout.  The large rock islands and landmasses jutting out into the Lake and many Bay’s frame an ancient Canadian landscape to me (see Old Womans Bay picutres).  The natural beauty that Lake Superior is, is unmatched. 

This portion of the walk is one of those instances where you must accept the bad, and be greatful for the glimpses of that big blue water giant that shines out from the cracks in the forest, and the absolute beauty that surrounds you when a bend in the road presents you with a blue horizon, or another larger than life sized landscape.  These moments reinvigorate me, and I am once again thankful for being able to walk amongst these giants.  I will only rant once about that goddamn draft created from those damn transport trucks; the inconsiderate weekend drivers; loud accelerating vehicles — pickup trucks should be banned; close calls on the road; the reflection of the sun, and the radiant heat from the road.  Done.

The following is a collection of some picutres I have taken along the way.  I have driven this portion of the Trans-Canada Highway a few times in the last 10 years, but walking it is different.  Many times I think I am on a different road, or in a different area.  Experiencing the world at 120 km/h versus 4-6.5 km/h is different, naturally.

Above: The shore I slept on during my first night on Superior. 

Above: First night camping on beach.

Above: Small beach along the way.

Above: Left my mark on the beach.

Above:  I take a break on the road to air out feet, socks, and shoes.  I am always fighting foot moisture to reduce blister occurance.

Above: Agawa Bay beach sunset.

Above: Agawa Bay during the day.

Above: One of the many rivers that run wild in the area.

Above: A passerby while I walk.

Above: The scenery while walking on a foggy morning.

Above: Old Woman Bay.

Above: Accomodations while in Wawa to pickup food package at postal office, shower, and purchase fuel for stove.

The Trans-Canada Highway Community: First Thoughts About Going Far

Title photo by Asad Chishti.

There is a community of people that I didn’t even know existed in Canada, and they really only come out in the spring, summer, and fall: the cross country cyclers, hitch hikers, walkers, and I even heard a story of a unicycler one year.  I call this group of people the Trans-Canada Highway community. They line the highway during the day, and with each peddle, footstep, or ride they jump into, they get closer to their goal.

Not that this needs needs to be said, but the undertaking of a cross-country journey, especially when doing it solo, results in a common experience that others and myself have witnessed: the highs and lows as time passes throughout the day.  Sometimes it feels like an emotional rollercoaster, as if you are experiencing all the emotions you would normally experience once a week in your normal life, but now experience it once or twice a day.  Eventually, a low will hit you, triggered by the ususal suspects: head winds, discourteous vehicles, insects, rain, boredom, homesick, monotony, and everything else that one experiences when on the road or trail each day.  For the most part — thankfully, you are riding or walking on a high, or just existing in the great space you travel across.

The best moments out here is when you interact with people on a similar journey.  Regardless of the journey they are undertaking, they are a welcoming bunch, and when you have the opportunity to either pass them on the road, or meet them at a common camp location, the conversations are never lacking content as we circle a fire, or gather around the luxury of a picnic table.  One palpable feeling is the comradary that is always present when a great story is being told as food and drink is being shared amongst us.

The conversations are varied, but if work is mentioned, it is about quitting or taking a break, then how great the journey has been thus far.  The conversations out here are different, and never circle around to the trivial and punitive nature of work complaints we are all guilty of discussing among friends and family, which I regretfully participated in too often.  I am begining to think that complaints about work is rooted in a lack of purpose, meaning, and fufillment.  We are all over worked, under paid, under valued, etc.  I cannot count the numbers of people that hate the work they do, or the neutral life they fell into.    

Out here on the road there is purpose, meaning, and great fulfillment when you look back on where you began and the obstacles you have overcome to get to this point.  In all, we are all doing something meaningful out here, and our spirits are sky high for the most part, since we are either pursuing a dream, or raising awareness for something we are passionate about. 

Eventhough the vast majority of participants out here are out here for adventure, self-fulfilment, or to raise awareness, the odd handout (money, food, materials, or good words) and help bestowed upon us by onlookers helps us move forward on those days when going forward seems difficult.  Whenever these encounters of kindness occur, which occur at such random times and places, they give you such a lasting feeling that makes you realize how great it is out here.  The kindness I have witnessed, and that others along my path have discussed with me is unbelievable.  I already have a dozen or so stories, and they seem to occur more frequently now; however, everytime still feels like the first time!

I have been asking myself the question of why everyone is so kind and giving, and I have yet to focus in on the reason; however, I have flushed some ideas out, and will list them lazily below:

– People think what I am doing is interesting, and want to do something to help me achieve my goal.

– Since I am living very small and have such a small amount of resources with me I am more open to kindness from strangers?

– I have changed? My mind is now relatively free from the daily stress of waking up early to ‘get ahead’; deadlines; money — for the most part; agenda’s; goals; dealing with unhappy people and the problems they bring to work.

– I’m in a better spot in life to be open to ask for help, and receive it.

I’m still scratching my head as to why, and would like to get some insight from the readers of my page.  All comments appreciated.

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