Weeks 6 and 7 – Pukaskwa National Park to Pancake Bay
We set out from Hattie Cove in a teasing drizzle paired with a sharply cold wind, forlornly saying goodbye to the lake as we headed further inland to follow the highway for the next five days. After a few hours passed we hopped off the road to grab a quick snack and some water, only to realize that somewhere along the way we had lost a water bottle and our day’s portion of trail mix. It was becoming apparent this day was not going to be forgiving. We shouldered on and gratefully the rain abated. The rest of the day passed kindly enough but we were once again relying on unhelpful notes of our past selves to find a campsite for the night. Our plan was to tuck off on a forest road away from the highway, but unfortunately right about the time we wanted to end our day we crossed into the property of the Hemlo Gold Mine. This meant that either side of the road was peppered with no trespassing signs and the loud beeps and crunches of earth-moving machines. After a couple more unplanned and somber miles we found an overgrown path right next to a road dubiously called “Yellow Brick Road”. The rest of the night wasn’t too kind to us either. As we cooked a dinner that we would eventually burn badly, a thunderstorm rolled right overhead. We went to bed wet, hardly full, a little defeated but laughing nonetheless at the absurdity of it all. As each lightning bolt crashed above us the outside of our tent became illuminated and we could see the silhouettes of the dozens of slugs crawling all over our stuff. We dubbed our newfound campsite “Slug City”.
The next day we de-slugged all of our gear and put our soggy clothes back on for another long day of running further away from the lake. Eventually we made it to White Lake Provincial Park and were grateful to spend the rest of the afternoon in a breezy and sunny campsite. There we dried out every soaking article of clothing and gear and settled in for a rest day.
From White Lake Provincial Park we ran the 21 miles to the town of White River, the birthplace, as many signs and billboards told us, of Winnie-the-Pooh. We bopped around town for a little while asking motels if we could pitch a tent in their backyard and were lucky enough to find such a place. As we walked the town’s streets a couple came out of the hardware store and asked what our story was. They mentioned that they had seen us on the road a couple days previously during the rainstorm, and that they were going to stop and ask if we needed help but then realized we weren’t actually pushing a baby in Rig. They wished us well on the rest of our journey, regardless of our status of having a baby or not.
From White River our next major destination was the town of Wawa. It took us two more nights to get there. Two more nights of camping on forest roads, dealing with hordes of blackflies and mosquitoes, and, of course, more rain. We coped by playing endless hands of Rummy 500 and eating Canadian candy bars. Never underestimate the power of one-third of a shitty chocolate bar.
The next day we were welcomed to Wawa, which means goose in Anishinabe, by a giant sculpture of its namesake. We were excited to be in Wawa because it meant that we could resupply in town, and it also meant we were once again on the shore of the lake. Our destination for the night was Naturally Superior Adventures, a kayak guiding company a couple miles out of Wawa. On our way to Naturally Superior, a small red car stopped on the side of the road for us. Out stepped Dave, the operator of NSA and our host during our stay there. He told us they were headed to a gathering in Wawa to celebrate Canada Day. We changed out of our running clothes, stashed rig in the woods and zoomed off to the festivities. We were glad to spend Canada day in such a Canadian manner: along with current and former guides and employees of NSA we watched films by Bill Mason, a famous Canadian paddler, painter, and newfound hero. Once the sky darkened enough we headed outside to catch the fireworks. At the end of the night we were given a ride to where Rig was stashed in the woods and walked him the rest of the way down to NSA to spend the night. We were giddy and content. Not only were we done with the arduous stretch so far from the lake, but we had also just reached our halfway point. The thought that we were already halfway done with our trip left us dizzy as we tucked in for the night, listening to the soft laps of the lake.
Before getting to the Wawa area we had reached out to a handful of folks asking if they would be interested in sharing their story. Many people were excited to share that place and their lives with us. In the morning, we started off talking with local historian Johanna Rowe. We spent a bright morning drinking coffee in the kitchen of her cabin that sits right at the mouth of the Michipicoten River as it empties into Lake Superior. After our conversation she asked if we wanted to take a sauna. How could we not? We spent the next hour steaming ourselves in the sauna then sprinting into the cold rivermouth and back again. We bid farewell to Johanna to meet up with another kind and generous soul who offered to show us the area, Joel Cooper. Joel met us and asked if we would be interested in spending the afternoon walking the beaches and trails, intermittently stopping in with folks to share their stories. Joel was a superb guide, giving us a run down on the natural history of the area as well as stories of residents along the shore. We spent the afternoon being offered homemade blueberry wine, moose stew, and Finnish chocolate and listening to folks talk about the arcs of their lives with this lake.
We were reluctant to leave after our wonderful time at NSA but, as always, had many more miles to cover. After packing up the stroller in our usual routine, we ran to Rabbit Blanket Lake Campground, our first of four days spent in Lake Superior Provincial Park. From Rabbit Blanket we were planning on spending a night near Coldwater River, a beautiful spot on the Coastal Hiking Trail which runs through the park. Right after cleaning up camp that morning, we were wheeling away Rig and unfortunately snapped off the front wheel. Apparently after six weeks of running, Rig got tired too. After some initial panic we were helped by a kind and patient maintenance worker. It turns out that the quick release bolt that holds the front wheel to the stroller had finally been met with too much stress and broke in half. We luckily got a fresh bolt on Rig and headed out for the day, keeping a close eye on our recently injured friend. That day officially marked our latest start yet as we rolled out of camp at 4:30 in the afternoon. Rig has held up so well the first half of our trip, but can he withstand the rest of it?
We got an especially early start the morning at Coldwater Creek because we wanted to reach Agawa Bay Campground with plenty of time to spare. Our intentions were good but we were once again delayed on the road by a finicky Rig. It was our third flat tire of our trip. This time, however, it wasn’t raining. We fixed the flat and, after coming to a tenuous truce with Rig, headed to Agawa Bay.
The next day at Agawa Bay was very restful as we made heaps of pancakes, stretched our tired muscles, and spent some solid beach time reading and writing. Eventually Joel’s partner, Carol, the head naturalist at Lake Superior Provincial Park, stopped by to say hello and take us to the pictographs at Agawa Rock. It was a treat to have her share her extensive knowledge about the history of the area. She dropped us back at our campsite along with some gratefully-received veggies and cherries. Our trip would not be possible without the help and generosity of folks like Joel, Carol, Dave, and all the others that we were introduced to during our stay in Wawa.
We bid farewell to the wide expanse of beach at Agawa Bay to head further south and, eventually, out of Lake Superior Provincial Park. We were giddy to get our resting place for the night- it was a place we were looking forward to ever since driving around the lake and scouting out the route. We made it to our secret and hidden away campsite off a small nondescript sand road. Once there we made a filling dinner and watched the sunset over the water undergird the overhanging clouds in a swath of crinkled pink.
The next morning we were met, once again, with rain. It’s a wet summer. We packed up camp but couldn’t quite get the gumption to head out to run 20 miles in the rain. We sat under our tarp and delayed the inevitable with hands of Rummy. The rain that scoured the surface of the lake died down to a soft dimpling. We swallowed hard and headed out on the highway. We thought we had said goodbye to most of the storm but as the day progressed, the skies darkened. Eventually we rounded a curve and saw the front of the storm rapidly advancing. The tops of trees bent under the strength of the wind as a sheet of rain came and pushed us off the road. We took shelter under a copse of firs and waited out the worst of it. Once it cleared up a bit, we ran the rest of the way to Pancake Bay Provincial Park in our raingear.
From our spot on Pancake Bay we can almost see the city of Sault Ste. Marie which means another international border crossing. We’re excited to head back into the United States as it means we’ve made it back to the south shore, for which we turn ourselves west, a bearing we’ll hold until we make it back home.