Warming up


Karaoke at Partner’s in North Bay.

And Then There Were none.

Today was pretty nutso. Jessie will fill you in on the breadth and scope of our day but there is one event that I felt compelled to break out of my traditional “in front of the camera” role. The death of Willie Nelson, our 1979 Chevrolet 3/4 ton full-time 4X4 boss-hoss of a full-size old-school pickup. By all accounts we’ve put 12,000km on this rugged beast since I first picked it up from a farm in Hawkesbury, Ontario just over two months ago.

Things started to get weird just after we left the Taylor Made Bed and Breakfast and filled up for gas at the UPI. The truck simply would not shift and stay in third gear (it’s top gear) and when we got to even modest hills it would sputter, cough and backfire. We had to think fast and, with five hours of travel in front of us on an otherwise already long day, we decided to try to make it back to Toronto to switch cars, drop off the trailer and just spend the money we saved in gas (Willie has a bit of a drinking problem – 5mpg or so) on hotel rooms – we only had two more days of camping left anyhow.

Anyway that’s the story. Now we’ve had to decommission every vehicle that left Toronto those seven weeks ago. The 1977 Yamaha. The GS had to go back to Toronto for it’s 10,000km service to make sure I don’t void my warranty. And now the truck, and by default, the trailer. And while the battle scars of 8 weeks on the road have certainly left their mark on us, we keep moving, with new vehicles to keep us marching toward the only place we can go – the end.

Day 55 Video – We Traded The ST for a Scooter

Oh transmission, you’re a fickle mistress.


60km from home…

Day 52 – Smashing sunset fish & chips

Foolishly, I opted to hang out around Mindemoya today with an old friend who has a cottage nearby and was up for the weekend. But I should have known he couldn’t possibly compete with the fun the others were having in Manitouwaning, watching gently used ancient beaters smash into each other in a race for the gold at the Summerfest Smash Up Derby. I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for missing that.

I did, luckily, get to have some fun today, because we went out for a big UNORT family picnic dinner at Lake Huron Fish & Chips in Providence Bay, and watched the sun set on the flat rocks at the east end of the beach.

Tomorrow — Laundry! Beach! And packing up…

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 51 – Ride, Manitoulin, ride

This morning we all headed to the Providence Bay fairgrounds for the Ride Manitoulin event. After wandering the grounds and checking out the wares, we signed up for the Poker run and rambled east on Government Road to the first stop: Ward’s General Store in Tekhummah, established in 1922 and still holding on to a bit of the original merchandise.

The run took us along some of the nicest roads on the Island, and to some of the tastiest places to visit. From Tekhummah we ended up at the Manitoulin Espresso Bar in Mindemoya, chatting with other Poker Run riders in the line-up, and getting a coffee to go with the stamp. In fact, two people in one day mentioned that the Bar serves the best iced cappuccino they’ve ever had! So I’m definitely going to get one tomorrow to help me through laundry day. Next on the itinerary were the Manitoulin Chocolate Works in Kagawong, the Shell station in Gore Bay, and Buie’s General Store in Spring Bay.

Mike, Alexe, Bogdan and Pete hung around to experience the Motorcycle Games at the Ride event, while I headed back to camp to prepare for Alexe’s birthday gathering — a ‘Hot Times at the Fiesta’ themed dinner, with chicken fajitas, rice and beans, and homemade salsa and guacamole, and a spice cake with cream cheese bourbon icing.

Jamie, Kelly and Boggie decorated the campsite with balloons and streamers, and it was the most festive clothesline I’ve ever seen. New and old friends joined us for drinks after dinner, and we topped it all off with a midnight swim in our underpants. Viva la 28!

Tomorrow — Summerfest Smash Up Derby!

Photos by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 50 – Hayballs and Cloudbales

There’s always a day (or several) during your stay on Manitoulin where you do absolutely nothing and absolutely love it.

Mike and Bogdan went out with some Island cronies for an afternoon of off-roading around Lake Kagawong, leaving Alexe and I alone at the campground. We debated hiking the stunning Cup and Saucer trail — up the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment to a spectacular view of the North Channel and the Island — which in retrospect perhaps we should have chosen, but opted instead for a dazy laze around the dock at MCC. I love that dock like no other. It’s gone through a few facelifts since I first jumped off its weathered boards into the always warm waves of Lake Mindemoya — in a lifejacket with a crotch strap, aged almost five — but when I unfold my old bones down on the grey boards by the big rocks and close my eyes against the sun, it feels exactly the same. There is still no place I’d rather be on a sunny summer afternoon.

After a few rounds of swim, sun-dry, swim, sun-dry other side, swim, sun-dry on the floating dock, swim, sun-dry other side, etc., I moseyed on back up to the trailer, slapped the steaks in a marinade, and took Alexe out for an ice cream at Three Boys & a Girl in Mindemoya. We ate our cones on the sweet little mini-beach pull-off at the junction of Ketchankookem Trail and the turnoff from highway 551, and headed back to MCC to await the triumphant return of Jamie, Kelly and Pete to our little road trip crew.

We barbecued up a storm on the MCC cookout patio, where there is always an incredible view of an incredible sunset over the lake to accompany the meal. At dusk we took our party indoors to laze around Pete’s rented trailer — guys, orange shag carpet! Like stepping back in time. So amazing — and spun yarns of our adventures well into the night. It’s so nice to have friends.

Tomorrow — Ride Manitoulin!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 49 – Happy birthday, Casque-Roux!

We woke Alexe up today with a tinny serenade of NKOTB singing Happy Birthday through the miniature speakers of my phone. Her first act of the day was to slow dance with Mike around the picnic table. Then it became a lazy morning of gifts and breakfasting on crepes in the campground, and a mid-morning swim off the dock.

We spent an hour or two in the early afternoon exploring the random mysteries and treasures of the Up Top Sports Shop in Mindemoya — Episode Nine, coming soon, has a full report — and it is a shopping experience not to be missed! We then headed to Gore Bay to poke around in the shops and enjoy the delicious ginger frozen yogurt at the newly renovated Island Pantry.

Next stop was the “prettiest village in Ontario,” the lovely Kagawong, to sample the wares of the artisan Manitoulin Chocolate Works. With our treats in hand — handmade chocolates, from mint melts to white chocolate truffles, peanut brittle, and chocolate covered liquorice! — we opened the cooler for a quiet picnic on the beach, then explored the art galleries and studios of the Old Mill Heritage Centre.

Always the best part of any trip to Kagawong, which translates from Anishinaabemowin as ‘Mists Rising from Falling Water’, we pulled on our bathing suits and leapt through the lacy cascades of Bridal Veil Falls to swim in the pool below. Lake Kagawong flows over the limestone bluff and down the Kagawong River to empty in Mudge Bay on the North Channel. The water is quite shallow this year, allowing swimmers to walk back under the thundering sheets of water instead of swimming ferociously against the strong current. The low water levels are not good news for the spawning Atlantic salmon and trout, however, as there’s not enough room over the rocks of the river to allow them upstream.

After we were thoroughly swummed out, it was back to Mindemoya and MCC for a boisterous game of softball in the field. Declaring baseball a ‘fat-man’s sport,’ Mike cracked a hearty grand slam all the way to the cookout deck, and ran all the little kids home. Although the weekly games often end with a tie, this week the Beavers triumphed by one point, thanks to the new Babe Ruth of the Internets.

Then it was off to the antique interior of the Old Schoolhouse Restaurant in Providence Bay for fine birthday dining, Pernod and caesars, candles and homemade bread, mussels and steak, and antique schoolhouse paraphernalia. Their famous bread pudding and creme brulee finished the meal, and back home at MCC, the Thursday night bonfire completed our day with a classic rock singalong and roasted marshmallows under a starry sky.

A perfect Manitoulin day.

Tomorrow — Mike and Boggie are going off-roading with the Ride Manitoulin boys!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 48 – Magic island

My favourite road in Ontario is the ride down highway 6 from Whitefish Falls to Little Current at 5pm on a sunny summer day. To use a phrase I learned in British Columbia (and which really should not be used east of the Georgia Strait), it makes my heart sing.

The landscape changes here, from the towering pink granite and quartzite rock cuts of the La Cloche Mountain passes to scrubby cedar brush, low dolomite and limestone miniature mesas peeking out from underneath summer scorched pale grasses, and grey and white lichen-covered shale slivers scattered with weathered branches throughout the clearings. The sun glints on the North Channel and the long flat rock steps that gently lead down into the water. Causeways carry the road through the bays of Great La Cloche Island, across the tiny Goat Island and down to the 100-year old swing bridge over the channel to the biggest island of them all, Manitoulin.

The largest freshwater island in the world, Manitoulin — translated from Anishinaabemowin as ‘Land of the Great Spirit’ — is an extension of the Niagara Escarpment that stretches north from New York State through the Bruce Peninsula. Surrounded by water, and dividing Lake Huron from Georgian Bay, it is filled with water too — 108 inland lakes give the island its distinctive scent (I think — but that’s also partly due to the sweetgrass on the wind) and cool breezes, and offer myriad secret fishing spots and swimming holes.

It’s a place of winding country roads, lined with hay fields and dilapidated barns; corn fields golden in the afternoon sun; unique white sand dunes and beaches stretching the shore of Lake Huron as far as the eye can see. The sunsets on Manitoulin are legendary purple, gold and orange affairs, and chances are you’ll be watching the sun fall over a lake. Locally made Farquhar’s Ice Cream has shops in almost every town, and with farmer’s markets almost every day of the week all over the Island and local sweets shops such as the Chocolate Factory in Kagawong, it’s a treat-hunter’s paradise. From fine dining at the Schoolhouse Restaurant in Providence Bay and the Garden’s Gate near Tekhummah to the relatively recent addition of the delicious Lake Huron Fish & Chips in Prov (so good!), you won’t go hungry. There’s even a sweet little espresso bar in Mindemoya.

The island has a long pioneer history and a longer First Nations history, and there’s even evidence of a Paleo-Indian settlement in Sheguiandah. There are several pioneer museums, and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation in M’Chigeeng First Nation and Great Spirit Circle Trail of Wikwemikong — Canada’s only officially recognized unceded Native land — offer glimpses into the Island’s rich cultural heritage through experiential tours, curated exhibits, and art galleries.

We arrived in Mindemoya at that magic just-before-dinnertime again, and I left the others to set up the trailer at Mindemoya Court Cottages & Campground on the shores of Lake Mindemoya while I ran into town for groceries before the stores closed. The spacious, leafy campground has 18 sites with RV hook-ups, as well as camping cabins, rental RVs, and motel-style accommodation. It’s a great place for families with a huge grassy field and baseball diamond, an idyllic dock (with a diving board that’s been there for at least 29 years and still bounces!) and fishing boats to rent, and suberb fishing and swimming. There are nine cozy two-bedroom housekeeping cottages rented weekly; nightly as available. The owner/manager, Greg Adams, is a rider, and is a great resource for good routes and local rides. Surrounded by trees and accessed by a private gravel driveway off the quiet Ketchankookem Trail, the Court hosts nightly family actitivies: Monday, a potluck BBQ cookout; Tuesday, an all-ages softball game pitting the Chipmunks against the Beavers; and Thursday, a family bonfire complete with songbooks and marshmallows.

After dinner we headed down to the dock for a magic swim in the clear blue-green waters of the lake.

Tomorrow — Alexe’s birthday! We’re going adventuring around the Island.

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki



We’ve gotten word that the festival is almost sold out! Check the video to find out why! (i.e. George Thorogood!)