Sharon and I were looking for new roads and sights as we came east to the Kitchener Roadtrek factory and went back out west, and we were richly rewarded by routing our trip over the top of the Great Lakes coming and going. It’s not the fastest way on the biggest road, but we are retired and like to amble around, and it suited us just fine.
Coming east, we avoided the Chicago I-90 gauntlet of death by angling up through Wisconsin, spending the night at a casino in Green Bay, and then across the upper peninsula of Michigan along the western and northern shore of Lake Michigan. After two days of 90s on the plains, the 70ish, misty air coming off the lake was very refreshing. Even for Labor Day weekend, it wasn’t crowded. Another night in a casino at Sault Sainte Marie, and across the bridge we went into Canada, following the Trans-Canada Highway eastward along the northern shore of Lake Huron.
The Trans-Canada Highway isn’t your giant four-lane, limited access road cutting across the countryside like our US interstates. You’re driving by people’s houses, sharing the road with the locals, and even (gasp!) slowing down for the towns along the way. Irritating if you’re trying to get across the countryside as fast as possible, charming if you’re there to appreciate the scenery. The most striking thing about the scenery north of Lake Huron is the rock. This is the Canadian Shield, the oldest and original part of the North American continent. The glaciers rounded off the surface, but this rock is so old and so hard that it seems the glaciers were just here a few years ago. There is no real water table to speak of, water runs off the surface, trees seem to grow right out of the rocks, and there are lakes in every depression of the landscape.
And there is wildlife. Despite seeing a hundred “watch out for moose” signs, we never actually saw one, which I am willing to settle for, considering the damage 1,000 pounds of moose can do to a passenger vehicle. We did see a 300ish pound black bear run across the road in front of us up by Blind River, though.
Coming south past Parry Sound, where we again spent the night at a casino, the landscape abruptly changes from bare rock and lakes to beautiful farmland, and the population density soars. We meandered southwest toward Kitchener on the two-lane roads, avoiding the congestion of the Toronto area. We went through small towns, contributed five dollars at the friendly roadblock where the local volunteer fire department was collecting for muscular dystrophy, past Mennonite farms, and on into the Kitchener/Waterloo metropolis.
For our return trip, we went straight west, crossed the border at Sarnia/Port Huron, and drove up the main part of Michigan to Sault Sainte Marie again. There was our border checkpoint guy again, sitting in the same booth. We razzed him about not getting much time off, and turned west this time, across the top of Lake Superior, one of those trips you always want to take, but never seem to find the opportunity. We made the opportunity.
More Canadian Shield rock, and the cottages near the Sault petered out fast as we headed west. The Chippewa River cascades down over a ledge of VERY hard rock on its way to the lake – just a trickle now in autumn, but from the look of the tree trunks lying around on the rock surface, spring runoff must be something up here.
We stopped in early afternoon along the lake an hour or two west of Sault Sainte Marie, spending a pleasant afternoon and evening. Driving again the next morning there were more moose signs, but no moose, and we drove on through beautiful scenery and some hilly country as we headed up to the top of the lake at Nipigon. We saw 50 degrees north latitude on the GPS. Down the west side, overnighting at Thunder Bay, and instead of heading down into Minnesota and its 20 percent biodiesel headaches we decided to keep heading west, because here was another opportunity – visiting Sharon’s birthplace at Selkirk, north of Winnipeg. Which we did.
She left when she was four, but once we got into town and drove around she remembered the post office and the bridge over the Red River. Searle Farms, where her father was the manager, is long gone now, but it’s nice to go home when you get the chance. We got off the Trans-Canada Highway for the last hour or two going into Selkirk and drove along old Highway 1, the original, pre-Trans-Canada Highway road that her family headed east to Ontario on, all those years ago. It’s an old road, going around the rock outcroppings instead of through them. The fall foliage and wildflowers were magnificent, the birds were singing, and it was a wonderful memory for her.
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