Trees, Rocks, Lakes and Prairie Potholes

After 9 years of travelling in and through various and amazing countries around the world I had a different idea for our summer travels.  This time our journey would take us through Ontario right to Alberta. The idea of travelling through parts of our wonderful Canadian  landscape came to fruition in the beginning of February. I came across a posting concerning the Tar Sands Healing Walk.  After asking my son Derek about it my first and only thought was I wanted to participate.

For that past 20 years Stephen has written about the Tar Sands but never had he seen first hand what was happening in our backyard far away. It was time to see the monstrosity plundering through our mural of forests, rivers and creatures great and small. I felt and hoped this travel would renew his determination to continue the fight through his writing.  As for myself I was not sure at the time what it would do for me. I just knew I had to go.

It was not long after deciding about our summer travel plans that  I spoke to our daughter Katrina who was in New Zealand at the time about it. I barely finished telling her all the details and she said “I would like to come as well”. Now there would be three of us embarking on this adventure. With Derek the decision  to join us came about 2 months later. Having arrived home only a few months ago finding work had been on his mind. Would it surprise you that he did find work by way of writing for the award winning website Desmog Blog (for which Stephen writes for as well).

With now four us travelling in little over a month as we had to arrive in Albert by July 4th we had lots of decisions to make apart from making sure we paid a visit to Stephen’s nephew and his fiancee in Edmonton.

Our first thought was to travel by train but the cost of one ticket was definitely way beyond what we were expecting. Then I thought we could rent a small RV camper van for two people to sleep in while the other two slept in our 2 man tent, but that was a big no as well. Thus we were down to asking my father for the use of his van and putting out an all points bulletin for camping equipment. Without a second thought my father said yes to loaning us the van. I was not too sure if my mother was going to regret that decision as we would be leaving them our car with no air conditioning for them to use.

Our all points bulletin worked well except the tent loaned to us was missing poles. With just three days before leaving Stephen was in research mode for buying a tent. To all you outdoor adventure types do not start laughing, we bought a Coleman instant pop up tent. As we would be not staying long in one spot and probably arriving late to each campsite this was the logical choice. There was another camping item we did not buy but would soon regret within a few days of our travels that topic will come up later.

After much packing and shopping for supplies, we finally left our driveway at 1:00 pm on July 29th with the van packed to the maximum. We drove for 5 minutes realizing we were all getting hungry. Without a second thought we decided to lunch at the best gluten free restaurant in Ontario Frankie’s Ristorante.  We are very lucky to have this great restaurant in Uxbridge. Finally after our delicious meals we embarked around 2:30 pm for our first destination Chutes Provincial Park a five hour drive away.

The five hour drive was a good break in for what lay ahead in the coming days of very long drives. We arrived with enough daylight to set up our tent and start up the camp stove. Within minutes of our set up the beasties arrived – little blooding sucking insects that had us cover up from head to toe while doing the slap dance. We lit up some coils gaining  some relief but after a couple of hours of blooding letting it was time to jump into our sleeping bags as we had a early start the next day.

As I had not camped in over 20 years I was not to sure how my body would take to not sleeping on a nice comfy mattress. I am happy to say that when I crawled out of my sleeping bag the next morning I was able to stand up straight with no kinks. Mind you my sleep was not the most restful given the fact there were 4 of us in the tent with no room to sprawl. Word of warning when they say it’s a six man tent they really mean 4 with no room to spare.

Katrina and I arose before the alarm went off giving us  time before breakfast to check out the falls not too far away from our campsite. Now an early start for the Leahys does not always mean being up at the crack of dawn.   We all were pretty tired from some very late nights getting ready for this trip so it seemed reasonable to set the alarm for  7:30 am and leave our site by 8:30 am. Easy enough right?  The problem… when you get the four of us sitting around a table the conversations begin.  To our shock after eating, talking and packing up it was nearly 9:30 am and we till had a 8 to 9 hour drive ahead of us to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park in Rossport, Ontario.

By the time we arrived at Rainbow Falls (7:30 pm) our behinds had deflated. We were all definitely feeling stiff and hungry but thanks to the pop up tent it took us very little time to set up and get dinner started. There were other little creatures that were hungry as well, no matter how well you cover up mosquitoes still manage to find one bare spot of skin. To get some relief we walked down to the lake (Whitesand Lake). We found a walking trail where I came across some Ladyslippers. Unfortunately I had not brought my camera with me which meant I had to be up by the crack of dawn. Why you ask, well due to our late departure that morning from our campsite we were determined to leave Rainbow Falls by 8:00 am.

Surprisingly I was relatively conscious when I woke at 6:30 am okay not the crack of dawn. I quickly dressed grabbed my camera and snuck out as quietly as possible. A note on that there is no way one can open or close a tent zipper without it making that lovely zzzzip sound. Time someone invented noiseless tent zippers. With camera in hand  I barrelled down the road to the lake. I was determined to get there as quickly as possible no way was the rest of the gang going to blame be for any late departure. With my focus on speed I was an orange blaze (wearing orange raincoat) with my eyes looking down on the road and not ahead of me . Rounding the bend I was suddenly taken a back by a huge brown object. To my utter astonishment a moose was walking right towards me. It took a few seconds to register what was before me and for the moose as well. But once the dots connected for the moose he did a 180 in four seconds flat which was quite a  feat considering he was turning on asphalt. Alas I was not quick enough to get a shot but I did find the Ladyslippers. I walked back to the campsite with the biggest smile on my face. Katrina knew right away I had seen a moose. We did not manage to leave by 8:00 am missed our target by a half hour not bad for us.

Oh my God will we ever get out of Ontario! July 1st two and half days later we were still working our way out the second largest province in Canada. Mind you we all agreed it was a terrific way to spend Canada Day seeing our wondrous and beautiful Canadian landscape. While taken in the beautiful vista of Ontario the Rocks and Trees lyrics from The Arrogant Worms immediately came to mind.

We’ve got Rocks and trees >And trees and rocks>And rocks and trees> And trees and rocks>And rocks and trees>And trees and rocks>And rocks and trees>And trees and rocks> And water

Many hours later there was great shout of celebration we crossed into Manitoba …the land of 100,000 lakes and Prairie Potholes or wetlands. At one time many of these wetlands were drained by farmers to provide more workable land. Now however this practice has stopped as it has been recognized that the potholes are important habitats for migratory waterfowl. Which we saw plenty of, every pothole was dotted with ducks enjoying their alluring oasis. By 9:00 pm we arrived at our campsite disappointingly were not in a provincial park but at a KOA campsite not far from the highway. One thing that was not different at this site were the  mosquitoes. We were engulfed by them making setting up and cooking a nightmare. That was the last straw for us. Remember I had said there was one camping item we would regret not buying? Well that was a screened in dinning tent. Our mission for the coming days of travel was to find a Canadian Tire store and buy that tent.

Before I continue one thing I should mention that finding a perfect campsite is a monumental task these days because most sites are geared for the heavy RVs that come rolling in. This means very rarely do you find soft ground to pitch your tent on. I am pretty sure that the Rangers at various Provincial Parks thought we were nuts for the number of times we came back and changed our site location. But the back and forth to the registration office did have a plus side on one of our trips when we discovered a great horned owl that had just caught it’s meal.

Well it’s Tuesday July 2d and we are in Saskatchewan and armed with a dinning tent. Like Manitoba the farmlands were dotted with prairie potholes with paddling ducks of all shapes and size.  Another sight we were seeing more of upon entering Manitoba and Saskatchewan was conventional oil drills on farmlands. These drills had me pondering some thoughts which I will come back to in the next posting.

We arrived at Battlefords Provincial Park by Jackfish Lake with a peace of mine knowing that no longer would we be doing the slap dance while trying to cook and eat our meals. Yes we bought a dining tent!

After travelling through tar sands country around Cold Lake, Alberta and next camp stop was the very lovely Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park outside of Lac La Biche.  Sir Winston is an island in the middle of the lake providing a nice breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

After our evening meal we enjoyed a lovely evening stroll to the lake where a Killdeer was very working hard to distract me in order to steer me away from it’s young ones. One thing we had to adjust to being in the Western provinces was how long it stayed light.  Many a time we thought it was only 9:00 pm but in reality it was closer to 11:00 pm. We went to sleep that night knowing that tomorrow we would finally hit our destination.

That my friends is the end of our crazy 4 and half day journey to Alberta.

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Next will come a journey or a walk I feel everyone should experience. So long for now.