Well, the time had come to move on from Lake Superior provincial park and further westward, so on Saturday morning, we packed our little life into our little house and hit the road. We made it to Thunder Bay in good time and started looking for a place to stay while we were there. We booked a site at Kakabeka Falls provincial park and set up camp once again. The park is beautiful, the “Falls” are literally in the park and are comparable in their majestic, rugged beauty to Niagara. The falls are not as wide as Niagara, but nearly as high, and of course there are a whole lot less people……Not a single Asian person with a selfie-stick! (A little homage to a great time in the Falls recently!!)
We took our bicycles off the back of the rig for the first time in Kakabeka, and it is probably the first time that I have ridden a bike in the past ten years! We were camped way above the falls up a huge hill that seemed challenging enough in a 3/4 tonne truck, never mind a bicycle!! But ride we did!! In our bathing suits on our bikes, just like little kids, bombing down the monster hill (well, Paul was bombing down…..I had a handful of back brake almost the entire time……I was distracted by what a potential pothole bail-out would do to my pretty face!!) The swimming area is above the falls, in fact it is a reservoir controlled by the Ontario Power Association. The water was only chest deep at the deepest all the way across the reservoir and it was bath water warm!! What a flippin’ difference from the mind-numbing cold of Superior!! There were signs all over warning that if a giant influx of water was going to be released by the OPA, then there would be sirens warning of such………Damn! No sirens the whole time we were there! We would’ve loved to see something dramatic like that!! Anyway, in true Payne fashion, we trespassed like we owned the place, past signs that warned us to stay away from the area and not to get close to the rapids…….Surely those warnings are there for other people right!?! Well it was worth it!! If not for blatantly ignoring those signs, we night never have gotten the perspective that we did!!
We trespassed…uh, scratch that……explored the shore line around the power generating plant. It has been in service to the area since1904 and still provides renewable, carbon-footprint-neutral power to 25,000 homes in the Thunder Bay area. It really is a very impressive building and system that seems hidden away in nature until you discover it off the beaten path!! There were very few challenging hiking options at this park, but nonetheless, it was beautiful, and much work and effort has been put into making the park accessible in such a way that the natural beauty is protected. There are boardwalks built all around the falls that allow several beautiful vantage points, and there are super easy walking trails (read: we took our bikes!) that even a wheelchair could go on. We only intended to stay for two nights, but we were having a great time, and the park was beautiful, the weather was a scorching 32 degrees in Thunder Bay and the warm swimming water was calling our names…….so we extended our stay by two nights!! …..then spent the remaining several hours of the sunny part of the day lounging in the reservoir on our floaties, soaking up the sun and heat!!
An old friend of ours that we grew up with had moved to T-Bay a number of years ago, and we had been in contact with him as we moved across the province. We made plans to meet up with him in town and catch up. It had been many years since we had seen Pete, and truthfully, he was Paul’s brother’s closer friend growing up, but part of the challenge of the mission was to branch out a little, take people up on the offers to meet up, and catch up on old times, and we were so happy that we did!!
We met with Pete and his buddy Aaron at their place in town and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun, sitting on the back patio, sharing beers, lefties and stories of the old days. We had a BBQ together and chatted and laughed until the late hours and we finally said goodbye to our buds and headed back to the rig to take care of our little pug, Molly. What a super time catching up with old friends and new! A big thanks to our old bud Pete Finney and our new pal Aaron for showing us a great time in T-Bay!!
Before packing up and hitting the road again, we took the very short (3 minute) drive into the town of Kakabeka Falls to fuel up the truck…….. and……….this will become a running theme……..have ice cream at the ice cream parlour in town!!! We left Kakabeka Falls on the 29th of July with Kenora in our sights! On our way further west while driving, we passed the “Arctic Water Shed”; at this point, all rivers and tributaries north of us will flow into the Arctic Ocean, and all rivers south of us will flow to the Pacific. Also, while just driving along minding our own business, I saw a black bear on the side of the road in a little clearing!! I thought my eyes must be playing tricks on me for a minute and it took me a second to be able to blurt out to Paul, “A BEAR!!!!!!!”. Sure enough, a good sized black bear eating berries or something in a little clearing!! Totally wild!! We’ve yet to see a moose, despite numerous warnings on the roadside suggesting that they are in the area in great numbers……..but they’re elusive, clearly!! Mind you, I’ve got no desire to see a moose as up close and personal as we did with the deer!!
So, Kenora came and went, and we were still in the mood to continue driving. Not long after Kenora of course, Manitoba welcomed us, and just like that, we popped out of Ontario and it really sank in that, despite being relatively close to home in the grand scheme of things, we were not in Kansas anymore, Toto! It felt a bit surreal to have the one province that we knew and loved at our backs and the rest of the country looming before us, ready to be seen with new eyes. We were really on the way now, and it felt pretty damn good to be lost in the right direction.
We drove until we were about 90 minutes outside of Winnipeg and called it a night. We pulled off at an abandoned resort and camped for the night in the pull through driveway just off the highway. We learned “resort” is a super loosely used term in Manitoba also!! In the morning, we arranged to camp at the Winnipeg West KOA for the weekend. We didn’t think about it at the time, but we were very lucky to get a campsite for the whole long-weekend on such short notice. The campground was just off the #1 Highway, and is loud, and not private, but truthfully, doesn’t bother me at all. Up until this campground, I’ve always camped in provincial parks…….which are generally more remote, rugged, treed, have hiking trails and have geographically significant features. This was a parking lot built out of a swampy piece of property bordering the muddy Assiniboine river……and it was absolutely perfect for what we needed it for! It is cheap and has water and power hook-ups for your rig. It has sewer connections also, but that costs more, and there is a dump station on site, so if you are only staying for a handful of days, that’s the way to go!! The campground was about a half-hour from downtown Winnipeg, which is where we would spend the next few days exploring.
On Friday, we headed into Winnipeg around noon and spent several hours exploring the downtown core, wandering around, taking in the sites. We loved seeing all the food trucks on Broadway for the lunch rush!! There are literally dozens of food trucks lining the main street offering anything from basic street meat hot-dogs and sausages to Korean BBQ, to Ukrainian cabbage rolls and pierogies, to pizza, Mexican……..the choices seemed endless!! All the trucks split around 2:30pm once the lunch rush is over, and as it turns out, because there is no parking along those places after 3:00pm to accommodate the rush hour out of the city. That evening, we headed back into the city to see a “Winnipeg GoldEye” AA baseball game at the Shaw Stadium. It was fantastic baseball, and similar to the food truck dynamic downtown, the stadium food was incredible!! There were so many choices…..sushi, southern BBQ, Tex-Mex…….uh…I had popcorn and a green slushie…….really went out on a limb there!! Beer was reasonably priced, plus they sling Caesar’s and cocktails along with the beer in the stands…..Bonus!! After the game, we met with friends for drinks at “The Beachcomber” in the “Forks” area of the city; from there we went to dance and listen to a band play at an old Winnipeg nightlife institution, the “Palamino”, a bar that’s been in business for the past 30-ish years in Winnipeg……What a blast we had!! An excellent day in Winnipeg!!
Saturday we recovered from the good time that we had the night before and later watched “Rowdy” Rhonda Rousey pound the shit out of Betche Correia at a local Winnipeg Boston Pizza on Saturday night……..what a savage Rousey!!
Sunday would be a busy day, as we had both lunch and dinner plans……a hard life I know!! Paul and I were lucky enough to join my cousin Kate and her husband Derek and their little ones Will and Addie for lunch at their place in Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon. Kate and I had grown up a province apart and really didn’t know one another as adults, but we quickly felt right at home and it felt as if I was catching up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in a few months, rather than the years that it had been since we’d last seen each other. We had a great lunch with Kate and Derek and mucked around with their sweet little munchkins in the back yard until we had to head out, so as not to be late for our next engagement!! A great big thanks and hugs and kisses to Kate and Derek for having us in, we had a super time and it was excellent catching up!!
Next, we met with our good pal Devon in downtown Winnipeg at an Indian buffet…..with no appetite at all since we were full from lunch still!! Devon gave us a quick tour around the area of the restaurant, showing us the MTS centre where the Jets play and some local areas of interest trying to work up a bit of an appetite!! We enjoyed a delicious Indian dinner……never have we taken so little advantage of a buffet dinner though! It was super tasty…..we just had no space in our bellies!! After dinner Devon gave us the full native Winnipeger tour, we checked out the “Forks” area that we hadn’t had much of a chance to do on Friday and walked to an old historic basilica in the french quarter of the city where many Catholic bishops and important religious figures in Canadian history were entombed……and we got shouted at by an old lady scolding us for having too much fun……turns out there’s buzz-killers in every province!!!!
Monday morning found us packing up the rig once again and heading out on the road. This time, the drive was only a short two hour jaunt to Neepawa, Manitoba to visit some more family and check out the local sights. We camped at Riverbend campground in Neepawa, and lo and behold……an ice cream parlour right on the property!! Woot Woot!! Shortly after arriving and getting set up, my Aunt Maggie and Uncle Bill found us wandering around the park and took us for a driving tour of Neepawa……which is about the size of Acton, so the tour was pretty short!! We made plans for the next day, parted ways and settled in for the evening.
On Tuesday morning we headed to “Big Valley” outside of Neepawa with my aunt and my cousins, Brad and Leah. Big Valley is a river that cuts through the shale landscape and has carved out deep, shale sided crevasses and we walked up the shallow river in the water exploring and puttering around in the beautiful warm, sunny day. We almost lost Leah and her shoes in a mire of muck and slippery mud, but she escaped…..and rescued her shoe!! In retrospect, we were entirely respectable as a family, and not a single person got dunked, splashed, attacked or mud-pied……god, we’re getting old and responsible!! We headed home for lunch and made plans to meet in the later afternoon to play a round of golf together along with Uncle Bill. I hadn’t played a round of golf in about 2 years, but for sheer, dumb luck, I was killing my drives!! We played nine holes all together and Paul and Uncle Bill went on to play out the full 18 together. We headed to Aunt Maggie and Uncle Bill’s for a BBQ dinner all together and ate and drank and chatted and laughed and told tales until it was time to call it a day once more.
It was so nice to spend some time with our family that we don’t get to see that often, and just like meeting with my cousin Kate in Winnipeg, it felt as if there was no time between us. The bond of family is perhaps even more obvious when catching up with those members that we don’t see that often, you acknowledge that you share some imperceptible connection, a sharing of similar energy and an invisible thread has connected you to one another all this time. We went to sleep that night full of love for our wonderful, happy family and grateful for our time spent together; with Saskatchewan in our sights for the next morning!