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Old 06-16-2012, 08:53 AM   #8
Nanabijou OP
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Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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1600 KM - Lake Superior Camping Adventure on a WR250R

1600 KM - Lake Superior Camping Adventure - Part II - In Search of Mishipeshu

I understand the convenience and luxury offered by hotels when traveling by motorcycle. After a long day of riding, it really is a satisfying feeling to enjoy a hot shower, eat a nice meal, have a drink, return to your lair to rest your head on a fluffy pillow, and slide under freshly laundered sheets (that don't smell like a stale mix of campfire smoke, wiener water, and Deep-Woods Off - from the previous camping trip). But hotels feel like "cheating" to me. I feel like I am cheating myself out of the full experience. While after spending the day on the road being exposed to the elements – variations in sounds, smells, temperature – with every sensation so immediate - I can understand why some choose to take a break from this overstimulation and yearn for some well-deserved pampering. Still, I'd rather continue this unique and stimulating sensory assault long after I've left the roadway. This explains why I am more apt to even set up a tent in someone's backyard - than accept the invitation to come inside. In my youth, I would often sleep in our tent trailer set up in the back yard during the summer. I preferred to sacrifice the comfort and sensory isolation of the house, for the less comfortable, more authentic experience of the trailer. Yes - there is something particularly enticing about sleeping outside. It just feels more "real" and immersive.

Few things are better in life than waking up feeling refreshed and rested after breathing fresh, cool, clean air all night in a tent. When I woke from my slumber at 7AM, I knew I had had a great sleep - the kind where I didn't toss and turn all night - or suddenly rise in bed in a violent Regan MacNeil-like sit-up, drenched in sweat, and disoriented - wondering where I was, nor did I strangely incorporate ambient sounds from outside my tent into my REM episodes. I just slept deeply and comfortably.

Yet experiencing a restful sleep in a tent hasn't always been that simple. As I age, I find myself less willing to suffer for the "raw experience" like I did when I was younger. Back then I slept on the cold, hard, and uneven ground. Invariably, when I awoke - imminent hip replacement surgery seemed likely. So I elected to add a rubber air mattress (the kind that you can either sleep on or float on a lake with - or both) to my set up. But I could never get comfortable lying on a bed made of long protruding baffles that dug into my flesh all night. If baffles were so comfortable - I think Serta would have implemented them years ago. And the "built in" pillow must have been Coleman's idea of some kind of sick joke, as it was canted at such an obscene angle, that after one night "in traction" on this medieval torture device my camping friends wondered if I was suffering from a severe bout of torticollis. Better yet, I would often wake up to find that I had "run aground" - feeling as defeated and deflated as the mattress itself. And it slept cold too. No insulation whatsoever. So with the promise of new affordable sleeping pads in the 1980's - I purchased a Therma-Rest. This was certainly an improvement over what had come before. But even the thicker ones left me with crippled, stiff hips in the morning and they too slept cold. I then tried a large unwieldy "airbed" from Canadian Tire. You know the kind? It looks to be about as thick and high as the captain's bed from your youth and promises to be about as comfy. Unfortunately, by the time I finished inflating it with a hand pump, it was time to break camp again the next day. And there should be a warning that comes with the bed for prone sleepers, as my torso would invariably sit about one foot lower than my head and feet above my arched back. It's no coincidence that I would often have dreams that I was skydiving when sleeping on this bed. And when I exited the tent in the morning people questioned why I was trying to "limbo" my way to the outhouse. I wish I could say I was doing it "for laughs".

The first revelation in tent sleeping comfort came when I purchased an army cot from Cabelas. It was one of those heavy, extremely taught cots that required the strength of 4 Nepalese Yetis to insert the last crosspiece into place. But it was comfortable. And at least I knew I was finally making progress in the sleep comfort domain. Yet - even these beds had short-comings. It wasn't long before my cot started losing nuts and bolts faster than an after-market WR250R rear sprocket without blue Loctite. And at 25 lbs, it was relatively heavy - too heavy to bring motorcycle camping. After exploring a variety of other cot designs, I settled on a Camp-Time "Roll-A-Cot". This bed promised something different. It was not only quick to set up, but physically easier too. It was affordable ($110), could withstand 250lbs of corpulence, and only weighted 10 lbs (a full 15 lbs less than the army cot). It also sat 15" above the tent floor, so I could conveniently store my gear underneath to save space, as well as enjoy the luxury of sitting down when changing clothes in the morning. Changing clothes while lying on a tent floor would make my abdominal muscles spasm more than watching this video clip while smoking delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol derived from the flowering tops of the female plant. With the "Roll-A-Cot", I could even use it as a bench around the campfire, or as a camp chair if need be. And it came with its own carrying case that doubled as a storage pocket. It was assembled with rivets instead of nuts and bolts - so I could take heart that there would be no "backing out of this one". The bottom line? This is the only cot I've purchased that has stood the test of time. It is the lightest - and surprisingly - the most durable cot I've owned. I now own four of them. Yes, I believe it is the holy grail of sleeping cots. And with no cross pieces - you lie in suspended comfort above the tent floor. I have never woken with a sore back using this cot. Any drawbacks? I suppose it isn't the easiest item to carry on the back of the bike (it is about 3ft long), but it has loops on each end that can be used to help cinch it down. I purchased four wooden furniture coasters for each leg to save my tent floor. As you can see from the photo below, I also place a Nemo Cosmo Air sleeping pad on top of the cot. After sampling many sleeping pads, this is now my "go-to" camp pad. Why? It is lightweight (2 lbs), packs down smaller than a football, is affordable, is 3" thick, is filled with synthetic insulation for good warmth, it doesn't make noise when you roll over on it, I don't get sore hips sleeping on it, and it has never leaked air on me yet after two years of use. The best part? I can inflate it in about 30 seconds (no typo here) using the built-in foot pump! A marvel of simplicity. You just step up and down on the end of the pad itself and the one-way inflation valves take care of the rest. Open the dump valve to release the air and you can roll it up in about a minute. I am so impressed with this pad that it is hard to imagine other manufacturers not scrambling - as I write this - in an effort to re-design their line of sleeping mattresses. It seems light-years ahead of the others I've tried in terms of comfort and convenience. It is that good.

I had been waiting for almost a year to buy my new Nemo Moki tent. All of them were sold out online and I was informed by Nemo that no new stock would be immediately forthcoming. There are a number of things that set apart the Moki from its brethren. Like my other Nemo tent (the "Andi" model), the Moki is single-walled, so no tent fly is required. This not only saves time and effort in setting it up, but also saves weight and prevents me from somehow losing the fly out in the field (literally). Yes - the walls of the Moki are both waterproof and breathable. I have endured full nights of hard driving rain in the Andi and the Moki is made of the same rain-proof material. The Moki also boasts a ceiling height of 48" which makes it taller than many similarly sized tents, and easier to walk around in while imitating Igor (EYE-gor). It also uses an incredibly sturdy 4-pole design (a tiny 5th pole is used as a "stretcher pole" across the roof) that makes it suitable for Four Seasons use, even by Frankie Valli in late December in minus 63. It sets up very taught as well - no flapping in the wind from this puppy. It comes with a vestibule - but the tent is so roomy, I just placed it in storage to save a few pounds. In this configuration, the tent packs down to a size similar to an armadillo's exoskeleton - and weighs roughly 7lbs, so relatively small and light-weight too. The tent poles are carried separately in my tailbag. Any disadvantage? Well, the Moki is expensive at $799 retail (I paid $610 on sale with a free ground sheet). Also, while Nemo touts the fact that one can take shelter from the rain during setup because the tent is partially erected from inside - during "mosquito and blackfly season" you will also end up providing shelter for several species of small furry insects - gathered in your cave and grooving around your Pic (coil insect repellent). I've also slightly bent the two interior poles. Because the pitch is so tight - the inadvertent bending of poles seems inevitable. However, this shouldn't affect the overall structural rigidity of the tent in any way.

I decided to take a few more photos on the beach in front of my campsite as the sun rose into the sky. Occasionally I get messages from people who have recently perused the photos from my reports and wonder "Where is this place!?! It looks amazing!". I think they are expecting me to reply that it is some exotic locale - perhaps along the northern coast of California - right alongside the Pacific Ocean. They invariably seem more stunned than Simon Cowell following a Susan Boyle audition when I tell them, "No, this is from the north shore of Lake Superior" in Northern Ontario, Canada. Take a look at the photos below and you might be able to understand why. I wonder if those who have never driven this route have a hard time assimilating the greenery and rugged, rocky shoreline and endless expanse of water into anything other than an ocean panorama.

The photo below captures the aforementioned rugged nature of the Algoma hills east of the park. If you look closely, you can see the communications towers at the top of the Montreal River Harbor hill.

This photo was taken looking west along the beach and toward Highway 17 that winds down the hills in the distance. The imposing wall of shadowed rock and conifers to the right rise over 305 m (1000 ft) above Lake Superior and the Agawa River. This is truly a wild and beautiful area of Ontario.

Before leaving the park, I took a nice hot shower, shaved, brushed my teeth, and changed my clothes. I couldn't have imagined feeling more profoundly euphoric than if I had just left John Travolta's favourite Manhattan spa. I really did feel so much better. Granted, I had to use a fresh merino wool sock as a towel (no room in my bags for a towel either). Still, at that moment - nothing could taint my mood - nothing could spoil my desire that morning to set off and explore. Until I realized I had forgotten some extra t-shirts. I had laid out a pile of freshly laundered shirts on my bed back home, yet somehow only brought 2 extras with me. How does that happen? In my mind I kept playing back mental images of what that pile might look like folded on the end of my bed - like I was trying to convince myself that by continually re-imagining it - I could somehow reverse the event. At least I had grabbed several pairs of underwear. I also didn't have extra room to store my Joe-Rocket Alter Ego rain-gear either, so I had to wear it underneath - at all times - in hot weather. And no - it isn't breathable. And no - I didn't lay it out to dry overnight. Putting on "cold sweat-soaked gear from the day before" has this uncanny way of reversing the fresh, clean, euphoric feeling of a nice hot shower. That the day-time high promised to hover around 30C (86F) didn't help the cause either.

Each time I purchase new gear, it takes some time to develop an efficient system of packing and unpacking the bike. I removed all the items from the tent and laid them out on the picnic table, organizing them in a manner that would make Felix Unger proud. All told, it took about 1 hour to have everything neatly and securely loaded on the bike. I then took a last look at the site, bid farewell to my temporary home, took a deep breath - and prepared myself mentally for the adventure ahead. All without a motorcycle key. It was missing. In stunned silence - I suddenly experienced a moment of utter clarity - a moment of sheer astute and focused cogency..... that camping on a motorcycle is really a frustrating and cruel lesson in working-memory failure. That about sums it up. I am convinced that various batteries of neuropsychological tests used to measure working-memory could be simply replaced by creating a standardized measure of subjects' memory and behaviour while assembling and disassembling gear on a motorcycle for a simulated camping trip. For a brief moment I thought I might have to remove everything from my bags to facilitate the search. However, I had a fleeting recollection of having placed them next to a zip-lock bag on the picnic table and reasoned that they might have "slipped" in there "accidentally". After a quick search - I hit pay dirt. At least it felt that way at the time. Pain and frustration averted, I then said "goodbye" to my campsite for a second time.

I had to backtrack west on Highway 17 after leaving the Agawa Bay campground, as I had wanted to check out some pictographs nearby that I had often overlooked when driving along this stretch numerous times by car.

I took the photo below along the highway near the turn-off to the pictographs.

By the time I reached the end of the steep and twisty paved road leading toward the parking area - I was already sufficiently soaked in salty sweat. The real test would be the hike to the site under the humid, steamy tree canopy, and the arduous trek back - all up hill. One fellow had arrived just before me and had already set-off along the trail. Being an avid hiker, I felt a little silly walking down the 500 m long winding path in what effectively was a thick, black, waterproof, snowmobile suit - in summer weather.

The trail was well-marked and seemed to follow an old stream bed. The path even featured stairs (see photo below) that were built with flat stones and concrete to make it easier to negotiate the steeper sections of the route.

Here is what the end of the trail looked like as I began to walk down the rocky approach to the lake.

At this point, the water looked quite enticing. I briefly considered going for a swim in the refreshing ice-cold water - then wondered if heat stroke might have been toying with my sense of good judgment. I think the photo below nicely fits the prototype of the rugged and rocky shoreline so common along Lake Superior.

Approaching the cliff face, I looked out over the water and imagined what it would be like hundreds of years ago - to ply a canoe along this rocky shoreline and stop to etch images in red ochre across this vast cliff face canvas. I bet the watery view below hasn't changed much since the Ojibwe people responsible for these pictographs paddled through here. What were the lake levels like then? I wondered if they had to avoid some of the more conspicuous rocks I was looking at right now - just beyond the cliff ledge.

Beside the interpretive panel there was a sign warning visitors to not venture out to the pictographs in windy, wavy conditions. After all, wet rocks are slippery rocks, and a large rogue wave could easily suck you down into the deep, icy water beyond the lip. I could see the remnants of old anchors and post holes along the ledge that likely held up a railing and walkway at one time. I wondered if years of shifting ice had claimed them. An orange lifebuoy fixed ominously to a nearby post provided a "not-so-subtle" cue that sliding into the icy depths over the ledge was a "not-so-remote" possibility, and the warning sign confirmed in writing that the lifesaver saw regular duty each summer. It turns out, the fellow who had walked ahead was waiting for me to arrive so we could step out on the ledge together. His named was Raymond, and he had travelled up from Windsor, ON. He worked in Detroit for an electronics firm that specialized in designing card readers (e.g., NexPress) for toll booths, and border crossings. He was staying over-night in Sault Ste. Marie, ON, and hoped to later rent a canoe on a nearby lake and explore the area further. A noble adventurer at heart. After confessing that he thought it wise to wait for me before walking out and being quickly washed away by a wave, we took the er... plunge.. together and carefully made our way along the narrow rock way. And then it happened. It amazes me how things can happen so quickly and unsuspectingly. Just as I was taking my next step Raymond cried out........"I see one of the images!". As the one in the lead - I think I was concentrating too much on my footing to notice the story-board unfolding next to me on the rock face. Yes - I looked up and right in front of my face - at eye level - was the faded artwork.

Below is the cliff face containing the pictographs. If you look closely at the island to the right you will see the outline of a cottage. Raymond and I wondered who might own that little piece of paradise across from the pictographs.

Here is the view looking back to the lookout and interpretive panel. I can imagine how treacherous venturing out along the wall might be if the wind suddenly picked up. As you can see, we were quite a distance from the safety of the path.

Growing up, I've always been fond of animals. I developed a particular fascination with cats, and used to draw pictures of Canada lynxes in a little art book I coveted as a youngster. I think what drew me to drawing lynxes was the enticing image of a shy, elusive, strange looking tufted ear and ruffed neck cat that resembled something like if Chewbacca and a Maine Coon feline had a baby - that lived, hunted, and survived in the bush. One summer while rock sampling in the Onaping Lake area of Northern Ontario, I saw a lynx in the wild for the first time - from the comfort of a company pickup truck as we were about to begin work in the morning. The first thing I thought was "What is that?!?", as I wasn't expecting to suddenly witness a large cat emerge from a dune only a few metres away from where we were parked off the main road. It walked more like a puma than a house cat, and slowly sauntered toward the cut line that we would soon be hammering outcrop along. It seemed just as bothered by the blackflies and mosquitos as we were about to be. At the time, I learned that the lynx was a good swimmer too - an activity you don't readily associate with cats - especially after trying to bathe one. A few years later, I adopted my first cat - a Scottish Fold - with markings that resembled a lynx and creased ears that gave it its namesake. He liked the water too and I would often find him playing in the bathtub. At one point when he was still a kitten, I was teasing him and trying in vain to get his attention - but he seemed content to call my bluff - he simply wasn't falling for it. So I decided to utter some unusual vowel and consonant sounds to test whether these unique aural combinations might finally capture his interest. What came out sounded like "Ship-a-koo". Suddenly, he jerked his head toward me and stared at me intently with his large fixed and focused eyes. I laughed at his response and decided that this new nickname "Shipakoo" would stand, as would another variation "Shipashoo" and he would forever respond faithfully to these nicknames - whenever I called on him.

You can imagine my surprise when I discovered years later that the Anishinabek of Northwestern Ontario told stories of a cat that lived in the water, resembled a cross between a lynx and a sea-serpent, and went by the name of Mi-shipeshu. This cat could bring forth storms, play tricks on people, and sink canoes. I wondered if he liked to also play in bathtubs.

And here is an image of the "Great Lynx" of the water - Mishipeshu. The first image I saw on the cliff.

What other adventures lay ahead? Stay tuned for Part III - Lonely Lake


Nanabijou screwed with this post 06-27-2012 at 12:25 PM
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