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Monday, September 17, 2018

Riding The Blue Mountain Coaster

With only one day to explore around Owen Sound, we had to choose carefully what our day's activities would be.  We were lucky that we could do a little venture onto the Bruce Trail during our morning coffee walk (see our last blog entry).  Because we had some grocery shopping and other logistics to see to, we only had time for one other activity.  Ultimately, we decided to challenge The Blue Mountain Coaster, a speedy luge ride down The Blue Mountain, a ski resort in the nearby town of (you guessed it) The Blue Mountain, Ontario.

The ski resort is interesting for its layout.  Rather than several long runs interweaving down the side of one hill, this resort has 42 runs spread out over a long ridge facing Owen Sound.  While they're not long, these runs are not for the faint of heart, and we're not sure we could conquer the ones we saw:

On average, Blue Mountain sells more than 750,000 lift tickets per year, making it the third-busiest ski resort in Canada, after Whistler in British Columbia and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. It is one of the largest resorts in Ontario and has been extensively built out, featuring 42 runs, 16 chairlifts and 3 freestyle terrains.

It boasts a large retail-oriented multi-use village with outdoor clothing stores, restaurants, bars, and so on.  Kathy spotted these Muskoka (Adirondack) chairs in the plaza and, given her hobby of locating red chairs, couldn't resist taking this photo of them:

But we digress.  Back to the event at hand.

In order to ride the Blue Mountain Coaster, it was necessary to watch a safety video.  Below, David gives his full attention to the safety pointers:

Time to strap in and turn on the go-pro!

As you can see in the photo above, a rider sits on his/her own sled, which is pulled up to the top of the mountain --

Before long, the bottom of the luge, and the ski resort village, come into view:

When David had finished his ride, he waited at the bottom to catch this video of Kathy coming down out of the spiral into a soft landing.

Riding a mad coaster down a mountainside gives a soul a powerful hunger and thirst, so we decided it was time for lunch.  But we really didn't have an appetite to eat resort food, so we headed back from The Blue Mountain to the town of Owen Sound, where we are camped.  On the way, we passed through the town of Meaford, which had just finished its "Scarecrow Invasion" festival.  To celebrate, the townsfolk perch scarecrows and pumpkin people all over the town, in various situations, positions and circumstances, including climbing some very high light poles!

Our choice for lunch was -- as you might expect -- a local brewpub featuring its own brews as well as a number of guest local craft beers.  Our choice was Mudtown Station.  Once a gritty area of Owen Sound, Mudtown was known for its speakeasies in the long dry years of the city.  When the brewery owners purchased an old train station in the Mudtown area, it seemed only appropriate to rename the old Canadian Pacific Railway station, "Mudtown Station."  Built in 1946, the station has been awarded historical designation by the Ontario Heritage Trust.  In partnership with the City of Owen Sound, which owns the building, Mudtown Station Brewery preserved the station's unique architecture while repurposing the building to contribute to a growing and vibrant downtown.

We were excited to see that the pub offered several of their own unique beers, and Kathy jumped right in to order her personal flight of fancy:

The food, however, turned out to be the unexpected star of the show!  It was prepared and presented as well as in any upscale restaurant we've visited in Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans or elsewhere, and at a very reasonable, small-town price.  Kathy chose Great Lakes Trout, while David chose a Cauliflower Steak, and we shared some cottage fries to mop up the clotted cream sauce and almond tapinade:

How do you wear off a great big lunch?  Why, taking a walk, of course, and we found a local park in Owen Sound which gave us a chance to stroll along the water toward the town's marina.  We were pleasantly surprised to see three mated pairs of white swans swimming in the cove:

The marina was enclosed in a huge, square jetty built from huge boulders which have since fostered trees and shrubs and boasts a narrow gravel walking trail, so that we could view the marina from all sides.

Of course, what waterfront walk on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay would be complete without a lighthouse?  We got one, of course, beyond the marina.  And it even boasted its own community of proud cormorants, standing guard to warn the townsfolk of approaching ships:

What a day!  It was loaded with unexpected adventures.  This was our last full day in Canada, and we're more than sad to be leaving.  We already can't wait to return next season.

Our Old Friend - The Bruce Trail

September 17, 2018

Hi Blog!

We are working our way west in anticipation of crossing the border into the U.S. near Bay City, Michigan. We don't like to drive back-to-back days, so we gave ourselves a "rest" day near Owen Sound. This small city is a major Great Lakes port town often referred to as the "Chicago of the North." Located on the Georgian Bay of Lake Heron, Owen Sound is the gateway to the Bruce Peninsula, a popular tourist destination for camping, hiking and fishing. The historic Bruce Trail runs through the region to its northern terminus in the town of Tobermory.

We first encountered the Bruce Trail back in 2014, when we camped west of Toronto not far from the Niagara Region. The Bruce Trail is Canada's oldest and longest marked footpath. It provides the only continuous public access to the magnificent Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Running along the Escarpment from Niagara to Tobermory, it spans more than 500 miles of main Trail and over 250 miles of associated side trails. We just so happen to be camped at the Owen Sound KOA, which has its own side trail right from the campground to the Bruce Trail. With coffee in hand, we set out to explore the trail this morning. Nothing says "good morning" like some crepuscular rays!

We followed an old woods road up toward the Niagara Escarpment. The trail is well marked with blue blazes.

This area of Ontario was heavily logged. As we worked our way along, we passed a perfectly symmetrical forest plantation.

While the forest in this area is very young, there were a few examples of old growth trees that somehow missed the woodsman's ax.

This old guy is at the end of his life cycle. Its party time for the fungi!

After about a half a kilometer, we intersect another blue blazed side trail known as Rock Spring Trail. The KOA Trail, Bruce Trail and Rock Spring Trail make a 1.1 kilometer loop trail. Since we still had coffee left, we decided to make the loop. The Bruce Trail was easy to spot with its bright white blazes.

As you can imagine, the Escarpment is very rocky. In the humid Great Lakes environment, everything was covered with moss. We felt like we were in Hobbiton, not Ontario.

The return loop on Rock Spring Trail was dedicated to Robert Coutts, a local volunteer with the Bruce Trail Conservancy.

As we hiked along, little peepers hopped, skipped and jumped from the trail as we approached. However, this big fat bullfrog could barely muster the energy to lumber off to the side.

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago. 
Weather and rain have undone it again, 
And now you would never know 
There was once a road through the woods 
Before they planted the trees. 
It is underneath the coppice and heath, 
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees 
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease, 
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods 
Of a summer evening late, 
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools 
Where the otter whistles his mate, 
(They fear not men in the woods, 
Because they see so few.) 
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet, 
And the swish of a skirt in the dew, 
Steadily cantering through 
The misty solitudes, 
As though they perfectly knew 
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

The Way Through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling

We finished our two kilometers of hiking with a walk around the campground. As with all our stays, we wish we had more time.

That's it for now. We have a few more adventures planned for our "rest" day, so stay tuned.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Paddling Algonquin Provincial Park

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Hi Blog!

Yesterday we peddled. Today we paddled!

After exploring the Route 60 corridor through Algonquin Provincial Park the past two days, we decided to head over to Algonquin West for our paddle adventure. The Western Uplands of the Park are an extensive patchwork of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams. There are three access points from the west. We decided to use the closest access and paddle Rain Lake. The parking lot was full when we shoved off.

This access point is also used by backpackers who wish to traverse Western Uplands Backpack Trail. From this point, you can hike 32, 55 and 88 kilometer loops. This small bridge at the end of Rain Lake leads hikers off into the wilderness.

The backcountry of Algonquin Park does not really have individual “canoe routes,” but rather, there is one vast, interconnected canoe “network” shown on the Algonquin Provincial Park Canoe Routes Map-Brochure. Rather than being restricted to just a few possibilities, you can plan an almost incalculable number of possible trips thanks to the different choices that are possible at successive junctions in the route network. You can also just paddle about for the day without special permits, as long as you pay the park entry fee. Several day trippers were finishing their morning paddle as we began our journey.

Just as we cleared the dock, a group of backpackers pulled into the parking lot. Their puppies were so excited to finally get out of the car, they raced down to the dock and proceeded to help these fisherman dock their boat.

Just around the corner from the parking area, we came across a cabin. We later learned that this cabin was moved to Rain Lake from Cache Lake in the late 1970s. It was used as the backcountry permit office until 1995. Today, you can rent this ranger cabin from the park service. That picture window in the front would make a great spot to watch sunrise and sunset.

A hiss of wind through pinions
   The only sound they make;
Wingtips skimming sullen waves —
   Daybreak on the lake.

The mergansers are passing through;
   A spear of zebra snow
Lancing through the rising mist,
   Silent as they go.

Tooth billed, hooked beaked and ravenous,
   They arrow through the mere.
There’s many a carp in Candlewood
   Will see no spring next year.

And I shall wait the whole year through
   To hear their whirring hum;
The whispered call that mergansers
   To Candlewood have come.

The Mergansers by Felix Dennis

Rain Lake is five miles long. There are lots of islands, bays and coves to explore. Some sections are so narrow, it was hard to paddle side by side, while other parts of the lake are expansive. The wide open areas gave us lots of views of the coming fall foliage.

We paddle to explore. It is rarely about getting from point A to point B. Sometimes we paddle in circles just to see what we can see. You never know what you'll find like this little island in the making.

A lonely lake, a lonely shore,
A lone pine leaning on the moon;
All night the water-beating wings
Of a solitary loon.

With mournful wail from dusk to dawn
He gibbered at the taunting stars- 
A hermit-soul gone raving mad,
And beating at his bars. 

The Loon by Lew Sarett

Floating genteelly over the lake
with its breath taking beauty
Kayaking slowly past
my fingers sweep over its
soft yellow petals
Trying to take in all
its pure beauty
Watching the mergansers
slowly drifting by
In slow procession

Inspired by, "Short Poem," by Julie Leigh Rodeheaver

Several of the deeper bays had beaver lodges. The day was too bright and sunny to see any beaver activity, but the evidence of their activity was all around us.

I think that I shall never see 
A poem lovely as a tree. 
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 
A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 
A tree that may in Summer wear 
A nest of robins in her hair; 
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 
Poems are made by fools like me, 
But only God can make a tree.

Trees by Joyce Kilmer

There are dozens of paddle-in campsites. We understand that competition for permits can be pretty fierce. We did notice a couple empty sites, but no sooner did we pass them, then we saw canoes loaded with gear heading out toward them.

The rolling hills of Algonquin are remnants of ancient mountain ranges that have long since weathered away due to the relentless forces of wind, rain, snow, ice and sun. The soil in the highlands is quite shallow and lies atop hard metamorphic rock. This moss we spotted turning from green to red doesn't seem to mind such a hard bed as it gets ready to take its long winter nap.

Paddling with loons is fun. They are cautious, but also curious. When they dive, you just never know when they will pop up again.  This one popped up right next to the kayak, and was so surprising that we barely had time to catch a photo of it:

We made it almost three miles down the lake before turning back. We ran into a group of canoe campers coming back from their multi-day journey. They looked ready to be done. We, on the other hand, would have loved to stay longer, but we have miles to go before we sleep.

We took our time leaving the park to allow our canoe friends a head start. Rain Lake Road is 25 kilometers of graded gravel. Our Jeep is dusty enough; no sense eating more dust if you don't have to. Besides, this gave us plenty of time to scout the lakes and ponds along the way.

And so ends our Algonquin adventure. We wish we had more time to explore this area. We hope to be back some day. We would love to do a multi-day kayak trip. Stay tuned.

A Wild Moose Chase

We've been on the lookout for moose ever since we've arrived in the vicinity of Algonquin Provincial Park, but it's been hard to find any.  When we arrived at our campground, the owner said we should take a walk down to the local beach on the Lake of Bays, and then head into downtown Dwight, where we'd find the moose.

We got up early this morning to walk to the beach and then on to town.  Our campground owner said it was only "a kilometer or so" to the beach, and that many of his seasonal residents often walk down there from camp.  We thought:  "Piece of cake."

As we left the campground, we saw the last of a large caravan of Canadream rental RV's packing up to leave.  Caravans and tour buses have been the bane of our existince everywhere in Canada since July 1 when the tourist season started.  Luckily, this time we were just leaving on foot rather than trying to navigate around them in our RV.

Our campground owner has several horses, including this beautiful Arabian horse, who immediately took to Kathy:

We had to walk along Highway 60 to get to the beach road, and even though it was only 8:00 am or so -- and Canadians, as everyone knows, are never up before 10:00 am -- we expected the highway to be deserted.  Wrong!  It seems that, up here in the vicinity of Algonquin Park, lots of Canadians are eager enough to get out to paddle their canoes in the Muskoka, that they're even willing to get up early to do so.  So we had to be mindful of the traffic.

Our campground map indicated that two bakeries were in the vicinity, so, as we passed Henrietta's Bakery, we stopped in to see if Henrietta had any loaves of bread for us to buy.

Why, yes, indeed!  Lots of loaves of lots of different kinds of bread!

We continued our walk down to the beach, and passed the Dwight Public Library, which boasts murals depicting images by the well-known Canadian painter Tom Thomson.  This mural was by Ron Murdoch.
Tom Thomson, born in 1877, was an Ontario artist who, over the course of his short career, produced roughly 400 oil sketches on small wood panels, along with around fifty larger works on canvas. They consist almost entirely of landscapes, depicting trees, skies, lakes, rivers and other nature scenes. His painting utilizes broad brush strokes and a liberal application of paint to capture the stark beauty and vibrant colour of the Ontario landscape. Thomson's accidental death at 39 by drowning came just prior to the founding of the Group of Seven and was seen by his contemporaries as a tragedy of Canadian art.  He developed a reputation during his lifetime as a veritable outdoorsman, talented in both fishing and canoeing. The tragic circumstances of his drowning on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park enhanced his mythic reputation in the popular imagination.

The Group of Seven, also sometimes known as the Algonquin School, was a group of Canadian landscape painters who believed that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with nature.  The Group of Seven is best known for its paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape, and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement. 

We pondered Thomson's art and early demise as we walked down to the public beach on Lake of Bays, passing some old boathouses that might have made their way into a painting by one of the Group of Seven:

Fog was settled over the lake, giving the waterfront a somewhat mystical look:

To our surprise, the park boasted some red chairs!  We couldn't resist a Red Chair Photo.  While they are not official Parks Canada red chairs, they nevertheless deserve Honorable Mention:

By the time we left the beach, we began to wonder how long this walk would be.  Our campground owner had estimated the distance to the beach as "about 1 kilometer," but it felt much longer.  And we still hadn't found the moose.

So we wandered back up to Highway 60 toward the center of town.  Lo and behold, we encountered this very frightening bear!
Some things about the bear struck us as strange.  First, it was black -- but it had the hump of a grizzly bear.  Perhaps this was a new breed we had never heard about.  Then, as we looked more closely, we realized it had the nose of a pig!  A very strange breed of bear, indeed.

But we had digressed, and we still had to hunt the moose.  

After a walk of perhaps another mile, we finally found our quarry  -- The Moose!


Kathy had a scrumptious Eggs Benedict with lean back bacon.  David went straight for the center of the target and ordered a side of lean back bacon with a side of homefries.  Believe it or not, the restaurant served a fresh-ground Sumatra coffee from a local roaster, and it was very good.

The good food and very good coffee filled our tummies and made the very long walk back to our campground much more enjoyable, despite the increasing traffic on Highway 60.  By the time we reached our campsite, we had logged 5 miles -- a very, very long coffee walk.  It's not often we start our day with a hike.  And we still had a paddle scheduled for this afternoon.