Throughout the days before we travelled south for my grandmother’s funeral, we were preparing — both in terms of getting things like a house & cat sitter lined up and in an emotional way, too. By the time we were actually renting a car to set out down to the Ottawa Valley, I had decided to look on the bright side as much as possible. Yes, we were looking at a 4000-kilometre round trip to pay our last respects to my grandmother, but in that time, we would be able to celebrate her long life, and spend time with family.
Hanging onto that optimism became a bit difficult the longer I drove south. We hit terrible construction in Thunder Bay, due to flooding repairs, and after that it rained clear through to the next day. Superior Park was foggy, sometimes to the point that I could barely see twenty feet ahead.
Some of my favourite views were obscured by the rain, but it wasn’t all terrible. We stopped in Schreiber for a quick bite, and after that, Matt tried to catch a bit of sleep knowing he was due to take the wheel once I couldn’t drive any more. My night blindness kicked in as we exited the park, helped along by rain refracting on our tiny windshield. After I drove for about 12 hours, Matt took over at Pancake Bay (right near where the Edmund Fitzgerald sank!).
It was dark. Reaaaaally dark. I stayed awake as we pulled into Sault Ste. Marie, but downing my fourth caffeinated beverage of the day was a terrible idea and I immediately felt sick. I decided to get some sleep in hopes I would be refreshed and feeling better enough to drive once the day broke again.
I think I got about a half hour to an hour of fitful sleep, then woke up for good as we were driving through the Sudbury overpass. The rental came with Sirius radio and Matt had it turned to some ridiculous talk radio show about who in Hollywood has the most stupid face. It was enough to keep me entertained until North Bay, where, after hunting for an open gas station for a half hour, I took over the wheel again.
I probably should not have been driving. Turning on the steep curve to Highway 17 made me dizzy. But we were only three hours from my dad’s house and I wanted to get there for my Grandma’s visitation. Luckily the rain almost completely dissipated as the sun came up, and traffic was light, so I pushed through. I was so happy to pull up in that driveway!
We were up a few hours later, getting ready to go to the funeral home. The next few days were bittersweet — we got to spend a ton of time with family, especially our niece Ophelia and my sister and brother-in-law who we rarely see, but in the middle of it we had to say goodbye to my Grandma. And, while it was heartbreaking to let her go, it was lovely to see the life and vitality that has sprung up and coursed through the veins of our family tree.
My mom drove down for a few hours, which was greatly appreciated. I was able to catch up with my cousin and good friend Andrea, and reconnected with many people I haven’t seen in ages. Matt became a rockstar in the eyes of my younger cousins when he taught them how to make stink bombs and told them all about hitchhiking out to BC when he was younger. We shared a lot of remembrances, ate a ton of food… and I relished the opportunity to be surrounded by so. many. babies. SO MANY BABIES.
We also made a stop over at my Grandma’s house, a place that will be forever special to me.
But, as always, we had to get on the road again. Being south already, it only made sense to stop into Peterborough to visit with Matt’s family (although we wish we could have stayed much longer). Matt took the scenic route, up through Wilno and Bancroft, then followed the canal into the city to get a view of his own favourite places. I love seeing our niece Lily, especially having just seen Opie — Lily is so outgoing compared to her! She gleefully picked us flowers and took Matt on a jaunt through the backyard. Matt’s mom did us a huge favour and found Matt’s old tent in her house for us to take back with us, something that would certainly come in handy later in the trip.
After another sad goodbye, we started on our way out of town — and then Matt requested a small side trip to the mall. As if I’d turn down going to a mall. The clothing and sunglasses purchases were expected, but I was surprised when we went into a jewelry store on a whim and walked out with our wedding rings.
Matt decided to take us through Bobcaygeon on the way out, because I’d never been. He is trying really hard to leave me with a good impression of Peterborough and the Kawarthas (because I’m pretty neutral thus far, aside from believing the roads around Lindsay smell like gym socks after dark). The easiest way to make me have a good impression of a place? Feed me.
Matt has been waxing rhapsodic about Empire cheese curds since I met him. Imagine his glee when he finally managed to snag two bags, still fresh, at a random flower-covered gas station.
Bobcaygeon was beautiful! The main goal of our side trip was to get to the Kawartha Dairy. That ice cream cone up there? Butter tart ice cream. Seriously. It had pieces of butter tart crust in it and the ice cream itself was that caramel-y butter tart flavour. Mmm. On the way out of town we picked up two Kawarthas real estate magazines, so I could fully realize I will never live in a place with Muskoka chairs and a three-level waterfront deck unless I somehow manage to drum up a few million dollars.
We decided we’d keep heading north as far as Sudbury, though we initially intended to go all the way to Sault Ste. Marie. It was rainy and we were pretty tired after several emotional days. I put my feet up and turned on the radio while Matt navigated through cottage country — we learned that of all the Sirius stations, 90’s grunge/alt rock is the most crowd-pleasing. Unfortunately, when we got to Sudbury, our historic horrible luck with hotels kicked in. A clerk at the very first hotel we tried informed Matt that there were only THREE vacant hotel rooms in all of Sudbury, and we had best get moving to the Days Inn if we wanted to secure one of them.
Lucky for us, we made it. I was really happy to see that glorious king sized bed, even if I ruined my slippers in the parking lot. I wanted to go to the M.I.C. Eatery and Whiskey Pub but as soon as I actually got into the cool, dark hotel room, I was exhausted enough to instruct Matt to call the hotel restaurant and find out if they were still open. Usually I think hotel restaurants are a bad idea — don’t you want to get out and see more of the city? — but this one actually turned out to be a brilliant choice.
Hardrock 42 is a surprisingly good gastropub with a serious beer list. I had Blanche de Chambly, and a Barking Squirrel/cherry brandy mix, along with a goat cheese stuffed burger. Matt went the cider and wings route, with Magners, Thornbury, and dill pickle and garlic/Parmesan wings. We ended up eating in the same place for breakfast, too.
The next day, I woke up early and sick. In fact, I couldn’t fall back asleep even though I was tired, because my throat hurt so much. My dad had been sick the day before, from stress, being in the hospital to visit my grandmother, and being in contact with so many people, and I figured if it felled him it would come for me next. I was right.
The goal of the day, then, was to get out of Sudbury and get as far as at least Marathon. But first, we had to stop at the Big Nickel.
The good part about driving back through the Superior Park? Bathroom breaks can be incredibly scenic. We drove through a few rain pockets, but it was mostly clear and gorgeous. I wiled away the boring parts of the drive reading about shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, thanks to mobile Wikipedia.
I have always wanted to stop at Katherine Cove, a pretty little sandy spot on Lake Superior. The bathrooms are certainly rustic but it gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch. Matt even waded into the lake a bit (he’s crazy — it was FREEZING).
This part is kind of cheesy, but bear with me. My Uncle Stan, my dad’s brother, passed away when I was in high school. I couldn’t attend the funeral because it was on the same day as my prom, but my dad has told me the story of preparing to write his brother’s eulogy. He wasn’t sure what to say, and was trying to find the right words, when he realized he was suddenly surrounded by yellow butterflies. That became the basis for his speech, and ever since then, I’ve sort of taken butterflies as a sign from the heavens.
So I stepped out onto the beach, just me, as Matt was still back at the car. Out of nowhere, two perfect yellow butterflies started dancing through the air, swirling all around me. They came so close, and only near me, no matter where I walked or how fast I moved.
Once we got to Wawa we knew we’d be spending the night in Marathon. It was getting dark, and Matt was doing all the driving. We stopped for Tim Horton’s and another tourist photo at the Wawa goose. We also spent a few minutes tracking down a pocket knife for Matt, because after firmly deciding to camp in Marathon, we checked the tent and realized there were no pegs, meaning Matt would have to carve some because all of the stores that might sell tent pegs were closed for the night.
We’ve camped in Marathon before so we knew to go straight to Penn Lake Park. This time around we had daylight to work with, and our choice of every single tent site in the park. It was only a bit chilly, and Matt had the pegs carved and tent set up in the time that it took me to walk to the bathroom and back. It took him a bit longer to inflate the foot-pump air mattress that was the exact size of the interior of the tent, with only a few feet of headroom to contend with.
Recognize that bathroom? I took the same photo on our bike trip.
In the meantime, I drove into town hoping to find something we could cook. My brain wasn’t really working after so many days out of my norm, so when there were no hot dogs at the only convenience store that was still open, I panicked and bought:
- one bag of marshmallows
- one can of chili
- one can of beans that required a can opener (which we did not have)
- eight sets of plastic cutlery
- 100 paper plates
And then, when I got back and set up the bedding, I realized I was super sick and super tired, more so than I had realized before. Matt got a fire going… but I crashed and fell asleep. Our next major camping gear investment is sleeping bags, because the tent was awesome and waterproof but the bedding wasn’t terribly insulating. We both had pretty fitful sleeps.
The next day, our last big stop was Nipigon. We had our final cheese curd treats (I had fromage-a-trois poutine with curd, feta and cheddar, while Matt had smoky poutine with bacon and onions) and admired the scenery. The rest of the drive was pretty straightforward; the same drive we’ve done plenty of times. We avoided huge construction delays in Thunder Bay, and didn’t see a single moose on the road from Ignace despite being warned. Matt picked up a turtle to help it across the road and it tried to pee on him as a defense mechanism. You know, the usual.
And now, we’re home. We’re both tired, still, and Matt is starting to get sick. The rental is due back tomorrow, and half of the bags are unpacked. We had a good time, albeit a sometimes sad time, but I’m happy to be back home and off the road.