So here we are on the road, a week after the “Bug Out” and it is Shangri-la so far….in fact I’m writing this in the late afternoon sun while enjoying an alcoholic cider over ice in our beautiful campsite in Wawa, Ontario!
But in true Payne fashion, the lead up to the final departure was dramatic! We had some trouble with a leaking tip-out on the camper and had made arrangements to have repairs done at a local RV shop. On the morning we had to move the camper from our friend’s donkey farm, the leaking tip-out was the least of our worries….as the landing gear on the front of the camper would not come up, and the bedroom slide would not come in. Well try as we might, we could not fix the problem ourselves, and so, we manually cranked up the camper to hitch it to the truck……what an arm and shoulder work-out to crank up a 10,000 lb camper!!! The bedroom tip-out however, could not be fixed with a manual crank…..and so we drove down the road with the bedroom slide out, all the way to the RV shop!!
After three and a half hours of work on the electrical system and the leaking issues, the tip-outs were fixed, sealed, the landing gear in good shape and we were on our way again, with another appointment to have canopies over the tip-outs installed in the next week, just for extra added piece of mind….This way, no water would pool on top of the slides, no matter how well they were sealed. It wasn’t a cheap investment, but worth it, since this is our home after all!! Before we pulled out of the repair shop, the owner advised that we take a look at all the joints on the camper and all the vents/windows/seams etc. and reinforce the waterproof caulking. Upon returning home, we discovered that a very poor job of water-proofing is done at the factory that builds the rigs. So off to the hardware store we went…..three separate times to get more and more silicone caulking….. in all a total of 7 tubes of caulking was used after we cleaned and stripped all the shitty, sticky, useless, inadequate caulking away, and replaced every single joint/seam/light/crack/window seam with clear silicone……I’m pretty sure the rig is sea-worthy at this point!!
I guess there’s a difference between packing up a camper for a week or two, and packing up a camper for the next foreseeable future! Everything that went into the camper was carefully considered and placed for hopeful ease of use…..spending a few weeks living in the camper before we left for the road had helped me greatly in realizing the best places to keep things that I used most in handy places and those things that I used the least tucked away and out of sight. All of our clothes were arranged in several clear totes that fit snugly inside our closet to make it the least pain in the ass to get dressed. We seemed to sleep about four hours a night in the final weeks before leaving…..somehow, with less to do, we had MORE to do!!
It was a super busy two weeks leading up to the departure, we were exceptionally fortunate to have so many friends and family members who wanted to catch up with us one last time, we just ran out of time to see everyone……..but how incredibly lucky we are to have such troubles!! We caught up with some of our oldest buddies and some of our newest friends and were immensely grateful for both. On the morning of hitting the road, my parents, John and Cathy, came to see us off. Of course, we weren’t ready to go when we though we would’ve been…….true Payne’s to the end!! Nonetheless, we hugged and kissed and all tried to hold it together bravely with a mix of excitement, giddiness, sadness and anticipation in the air…….the day that we had planned for…..the day that we had spent years thinking about…..months planning for, weeks of arranging and days of panicking…….was here. Everything thus far led up to this moment, and my god…….it was here.
We hit the road with our brother Daniel Payne and our sister-in-law Nicole in tow on the way to Aunt Linda and Uncle John’s cottage a few hours away. What a beautiful day! We got to the cottage around 4:00pm and quickly caught up with the family at the back of their lovely cottage over cold drinks and a few left-handers. We swam in the Black River and frolicked at the waterside like grade schoolers without a care in the world, with our family and friends all around and even though we had not been to this particular place before, being back in nature, in the water, the energy was entirely different, and even though we were headed away from it, it felt as if we were at home. We played washers and told tales and drank and laughed as we ate a late night BBQ and enjoyed ourselves long into the night.
When we parted ways with our family and our friends in Washago, Paul noted that this was the last real obligation that we had…….and as we drove away, we truly had no agenda, and didn’t owe anyone a thing in the world………maybe that’s the true start of freedom……the absence of obligation. We left the cottage at almost 7:00 in the evening, with the intention of driving for about four hours and staying the night at a truck stop or an abandoned shop along the highway. We came upon Jerry’s Truck Stop in Nairn, Ontario, about an hour west of Sudbury. We pulled in alongside a few dozen trucks and rigs, relaxed for a while in the back of the camper and hit the hay, ready to drive the 5-6 hours it would take us to get to Superior the next day.
Upon waking at Jerry’s on Monday morning, we grabbed coffee and breakfast, fueled up the truck, and hit the Trans-Canada highway, northbound, headed to Sault Ste. Marie. Although Paul has been to some far northern reaches of the province, we would be breaking new ground today, as I had never been north of Timmins until this trip.
A few hours west of Jerry’s truck stop, we were just cruising along, listening to good music, enjoying ourselves, minding our own business, when I absently said to Paul, “It sure would be nice to see some wildlife out here!” Literally, minutes later, a deer popped out of the ditch on the other side of the road, it happened with enough time for us to think “oh f@$k, oh f@$k…….don’t come across the road!!”……but come she did….an eastbound pickup truck narrowly missed her…… praying she wouldn’t hit the front of our truck or the transition between the truck and the rig, yet knowing she was going to hit us in some fashion, we sort of braced for her to hit us. Simultaneously, Paul shouted while watching his driver’s side mirror…..The deer had missed our truck and the front of the trailer, but jumped up against the side of the rig, almost as high as the windows and essentially slid the whole way down the camper and off again on wobbly legs into the meadow…….”HOLY SHIT!!!!!!” I had no desire to see wildlife up that closely! We were unsure if any damage had been done, but for one thing, you simply cannot “swerve” in a 34 foot camper, and you also cannot just pull this thing to the shoulder of the road. So we drove for about 15 minutes until we had a safe place to pull off the highway. Amazingly, there was absolutely no damage! There was the scuff marks of the deer jumping up on the side of the wall, and deer hair all over the side of the rig, with a little tuft of deer fur stuck in one of the cable inputs on the side of the camper!!
We arrived at the northern end of Lake Superior Provincial Park, about 160km north of the Soo, and settled into our site where we will stay for the next five nights. The site is perfect, a little sunny, a little shady, level and private. We really couldn’t have asked for a better site!
The first morning we woke at Superior, we had a good breakfast and headed off for an 11.5 km hike up Peat Mountain overlooking Foam Lake, deep in the bogs and forests of the park. Whew!! The first five km in were almost entirely up hill, along craggy cedar roots and pine needle floored forests. My heart was screaming and my ass was aching, but we killed it in less than the expected time to finish the hike, so that felt great!! I can’t wait to get into better shape, all the while, enjoying nature and being outside breathing crisp, clean, healthy air and swimming in clear, cool lakes!! Spending a beautiful day outside is exhausting, and we were in bed and sleeping by 11:15pm!!
Today we checked out Old Woman Bay, a beautiful sandy stretch of beach along the southeast shore of Lake Superior. It was way too cold to swim, and walking in the surf for any long amount of time made your feet ache with the cold…….I think even a strong swimmer would succumb to hypothermia in not too long in that cold water, even in July. The weather in general, especially with the cool breeze of Superior, and the fact that we are comparatively so far north, really makes it feel a lot more like the fall camping we’ve done before. Further north of the park is Wawa, where we picked up groceries and fuelled the truck. It is quite obvious the food prices are more expensive and food availability is much less diverse this far north, where the population is comparatively so scarce to the anywhere around the GTA. Also we had cell reception, which we do not have in the park. That has been nice actually. I don’t even consider myself to be much of a cell phone junky, but when you cannot use it, you do realize how much you just passively refer to it all the time in our previous life.
After a day of rest and checking out the “beach” (kinda pushing it calling it a beach…..it was a barely dragged out area that led into a silty, weedy, swampy, forest lake!) at Rabbit Blanket Lake where our campsite was, it was time to tackle another tough hike into the interior of the park. We had to drive to get to this hike, as the park stretches for about 100 km in total, and we were camping at the most northern end of the park. To warm up for the big hike, we hiked out to the water at Superior to explore and observe the ancient pictographs that were painted on the rocks so very long ago……the walk out to the cliffs was wild, a steep rocky chasm, beautiful with sun creeping through the trees and mosses growing in the dewy valley. We popped out onto the rocks to find a rugged path leading through the craggy rocks out to literally a little cliff ledge 10 feet above the water. We were told by one of the park naturalists on duty at the site, that today, was exceptionally calm, and not very often was it safe enough for people to venture out as far as we would get to today because of the calm water. The pictographs were incredible…..i mean they were reasonably primitive paintings, but the fact that I could go see them, stand in front of them, touch the same spot that an ancient, native told the story of his civilization right here on this very rock, in this country of wonders that I was so lucky to be a part of. It made me feel both small and huge all at the same time and it was a settling moment of ones connection to the planet and our connection with one another, even hundreds of years after we all the earth.
Nicely warmed up after the 2.5km pictograph loop, we bug-sprayed, booted, and back-packed up to begin our hike that would be almost two kilometres shorter than our previous hike, but with a longer recommended time for completion and a 150m higher summit….we knew we were in for a challenge! So hike we did, uphill mostly, at places so steep that you had to put your hands against the roots and rocks to help yourself up, with my heart pounding out of my chest and my thoughts alternating between an empowered “SWEAT IS FAT CRYING!” and a defeatist “please dear god, I hope death comes to rescue me right here on this very mountain”. As could be expected, the trek was well worth it……..the first look-out that we got to was hundreds of feet above the tallest trees in the valley, and they themselves were hundreds of feet tall from the valley floor where they grew. The vista was truly breath-taking as we looked out over eagle’ nests heights to see the vast beauty of Lake Superior, deep, green lush, dense forests for literally as far as the eye could see, under clear, royal blue skies in the middle of July on a 25 degree day………If one had a mind to be looking for God in this moment, they would have had no problem finding it in the beauty of the forests and the reflection of one’s gratitude for being allowed to be a part of it. Aside from the splendour of nature, there was also some cursing with the challenging climbs, and eventually silence on the long, level trek back out of the interior along an old logging road, for two reasons, when you are at one with nature and with your best bud in the whole world, it is easy to take in the silent splendour…….and more than that…..we were simply too exhausted to talk to each other anymore. Seeing the truck in the distance at the start of the trail head upon our return was like heaven!!