Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ottawa-Winnipeg overland

There I was, on a hazy Ottawa day, about to embark on a road trip I had covered many times before, this time with my good friend Tara. There’s something about the feeling I get when I’m about to leave for a roadtrip, the quickening of my heart beat, the surge of adrenaline, that is comparable to the lead up to sex. Of course, the acts are considerably different, but the bodily sensations are eerily similar. It's the anticipation.

But here I am now in Winnipeg, a rainy, damp, and cold Winnipeg, fully 26 degrees colder than when I left Ottawa. Ahh, Winterpeg, I think I’m in love. My infatuation could merely be due to the fact that I can get out of the car for more than 30 minutes, or it could be the lovely house I’m staying in, but who cares why really, this little patch of the Earth strikes me as nearly perfect right now. The leafy streets of Wolseley are dripping, and yet I can feel the Prairie sunshine on the horizon. I didn’t see any blowing wheat or canola, it’s a bit early for that, but the big sky welcomed us as we sped into the city earlier this afternoon. That moment when the boreal forest morphs into the prairie somewhere just east of Winnipeg is magical. In the blink of an eye, the forests open up and the fields pour forth, not quite as far as the eye can see, at least not in that spot, but far enough that I was left humbled.

But, what might you ask, of the trip between Ottawa & Winnipeg?

Lake Superior. There’s very little else one can say after over 20 hours of driving through long stretches of marshland and bogs, except for those two magnificent words. Anyone who has been on the stretches of road between Sault-Ste-Marie & Wawa, and then again from Terrace Bay to Thunder Bay, will get it instinctively.

The shores of Lake Superior, in all of their ruggedness, are nothing like what one expects. It seems there’s a surprise at every turn. Drive up over one crest, pass by a slow-moving transport trailer, glide back down around a tight corner, come to another hilltop, and there it is, laid out majestically before you, bay after bay, inlet after inlet, stream after stream of landscape that almost quite literally stops you in your tracks, and probably would if it weren’t for the army of trucks descending upon you from every direction. Reknowned as a moose-maze, this piece of blacktop is more like a big-rig obstacle course with stunning scenery thrown in as an added distraction. Keep your eyes on the road, and stop as often as you can, whether to walk a beach, smell the sweet pine forest air, take in a commanding vista, or just to bask in the sunlight and wonder why life doesn’t always feel this full.

There are three places you must stop at that are easily accessible from Highway 17. The first is Pancake Bay Provincial Park, just west of Sault Ste-Marie. Pull into the park and head straight to the beach, or better yet, pitch your tent near the lake and listen to the soothing sounds of the crashing waves as you dream of lakes to come. The second is the Old Woman picnic grounds in Lake Superior Provincial Park, a short distance before Wawa. The view of the peninsula jutting out from the shore is seared into my memory, as is the feel of the bitter cold breeze blowing off the lake. The third is the lookout point between Wawa and White River, with a stunning view of a large bay of turquoise water framed by gigantic cliffs. This is perhaps one of the greatest vistas I have ever seen, and it’s just waiting for you along your way.

This was the tenth time I’ve gone on this route, and while I wasn’t much looking forward to it before leaving, I’ve been reminded of what exactly makes it such a memorable journey. And if you can score a place to stay in Winnipeg after your hard work, as I’ve had the lucky fortune to accomplish on this trip, then I’d have to say that life doesn’t get much better.


piKe said...

Yes yes yes! It is so gorgeous up there. I love that lake. I've done that drive 3 times now... doesn't get tiring along that stretch.