By Wayne Litke
By the time you read this the Liberals will have formed a minority federal government, if pre-election pollsters are correct. However, that has no bearing on this column since that is hard news and what you are reading at this moment is good, old-fashioned fluff.
Getting back to life on the road, after visiting Marcia’s parents at Dundalk, Ont., we traveled north to Algonquin Park in hopes of seeing vibrant fall colours that are one of the trademarks of eastern Canada. I have always wanted to experience autumn in eastern Canada, and visiting Algonquin Park has been on Angela’s bucket list for several decades since visiting family has always trumped sightseeing when she returns home. The leaves were beginning to change colour at her childhood home in Bruce County, but lacked intense red and gold as we left for the park.
This year we actually had the time to visit family members and the park and we were determined not to miss out on either. In contrast to autumn on the Prairies, the colours seemed brilliant on our late-afternoon drive into cottage country. We were excited about finding a camping place and looked forward to sightseeing the next day. As we approached the turnoff to the visitor information centre, I noticed a flagman directing all highway traffic into the centre. He told us the highway was closed for at least four hours due to a fatal accident, so all vehicles were being turned back. I wasn’t happy as we began considering options as we slowly inched our way through the parking lot.
It was jammed with automobiles, recreational vehicles and people walking aimlessly in all directions, yet we somehow managed to find a place to park the truck. Approaching the office, we discovered it was closed – that was another major letdown as we could not find out if any campgrounds were open. We doubled back the way we had come and could not find any provincial or private campgrounds that were open. At the suggestion of a helpful local we met at a gas pump, we diverted onto a different highway in search of a place to stay. Our travels took us past a sign promoting the Dorset Scenic Lookout Tower, but no campgrounds. Since it was getting late and we were getting desperate, we contemplated parking beside a vacant building or a Mormon church which we had passed. As we cruised past the entrance to the Dorset Tower it became clear that camping in their parking lot was not an option. It was packed with vehicles and people and there was no tower in sight. My curiosity was aroused.
Upon entering the tiny community of Dorset we discovered it has a single streetlight that controls traffic over a single-lane bridge that arches over the narrows of a lake with the same name. It also has Robinson’s General Store. We had seen highway signs promoting the business as it had been voted Canada’s Best Country Store. Since we needed a few food items, we decided to go in. Upon entering the store I was blown away by the number of products and groceries the store carries. Furthermore, like an optical illusion the aisles seemed to extend far beyond the physical limitations of the building. The modest storefront certainly holds a great surprise for anyone who steps inside.
As it was getting late and I was tired, we decided to camp in the village. It was our first truly urban camping experience as we have not yet tried Wal-Mart camping. The next day we drove back to the Dorset Scenic Lookout Tower and discovered what the hype was about – a 30-metre high tower built on the tallest hill in the area. It is actually a tower that was used to spot forest fires in years past and is now operated by the town. Since the autumn colours peaked about a week later than last year, the tower had been kept open for tourists such as ourselves.
The view was breathtaking as we climbed above the hardwood canopy and entered a world of kaleidoscope colours as far as the eye could see. It was more picturesque than the rainforest canopy of Central America and reminded me of the incredible beauty of our own country. It was easy to see why Asian tourists flock to the area for the sole purpose of seeing the “wed weaf” (according to local residents). Despite light rain, we spent a day hiking in Algonquin Park and enjoyed the experience. Leaving the park the next morning was like driving into a never-ending sunset as the sun’s rays illuminated vivid colours on the hillsides on both sides of the highway. It was one the most memorable drives I have made.
However, the visual spectacle slowly gave way to pastel shades as we made our way toward Thunder Bay. It all changed the next morning when we awoke to find the temperature had fallen to -4C and a thin layer of snow was blanketing everything. It did not take long to get rolling that morning. The gentle reminder that winter is on our doorstep was followed by a knock on the door the next day when the nighttime temperature dropped to -7C and our furnace quit when the propane ran out. Water that was left in my cup froze solid, as did the water lines to the sink and toilet in the camper. Needless to say we were on the road in record time that morning.
We certainly appreciated the warmer temperatures that greeted us when we reached Manitoba and found the sky dark with smoke from straw that was being burned in fields. It has been the trip of a lifetime – at least my lifetime.