Monday 24th July – Free Camping for the Win

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Staying up later thanks to the late sunsets mean I have been sleeping in. I did so this morning, not getting on the road until just before 10am. Having poked around on Instagram a bit to find a mate of mine riding through the mountains of Revelstoke in B.C., I did feel a sudden sense of urgency to get west so I could spend at least a week in the area. In saying that, I was looking forward to getting to my first point of interest in Canada – Pakaskwa National Park. Like always, I had no idea what to expect, but it was a national park, so by default, I wanted to see it.

I was surprised not to see more signage for the park, but found the turn off from the highway and followed it a few clicks to the park entrance. At the gate, I showed my discovery pass but the ranger didn’t seem interested in it. I explained it was my first visit to a Canadian National Park and asked what the deal was. She welcomed me and gave me the spiel, directing me to the visitor’s centre ahead. I parked and spoke to another lady inside about what to do in the park. Turns out, there wasn’t a whole lot!

On the ranger’s suggestion, I set off on the Southern Headland trail, only a short hike, but it had some great views of Lake Superior and the small lakes within the park. Before I reached the trailhead, I played with a couple of bunnies that were frolicking in the picnic area. They didn’t seem too fussed by me, but eventually hopped away into the bushes when I gave chase.

The trail was well built with boardwalks over rocks that wound through very healthy forest. Halfway along, I caught up with a group who were on a ranger led hike, the leader regaling all sorts of things about the plants. I passed them as soon as I could.

At the end of the hike, I came out to a beach where a couple were just launching an old school looking canoe with a shaggy dog sitting pretty in the middle of the boat. They gave me a wave as they set out into the lake. Turns out Lake Superior is the largest in the world by surface area, a useful piece of information I gleaned from a sign along the trail.

Back through the forest for a short way and I was back at the carpark.

Onwards! I munched on a muffin as I carried on my way west. Since yesterday’s scare with Mr. Copper, I duly stuck to the speed limit which I really don’t think is the best idea because it just meant I slowed a lot of trucks and cars down making them pass me. I will experiment further over the next few days. It was kinda nice just to sit back and let the cruise control do the work while I got towards the end of my audiobook.

The highway continually took me within sight of the thousands of lakes nearby and I did not tire of seeing their bright blue shining water. By 2pm, I was sick of driving, feeling like it was going terribly slowly considering all the miles I’d covered yesterday. Also hungry, I turned off at the town of Nipigon and followed the signs to the marina. I was rewarded with a lightly populated grassy park right at the water’s edge (yet another lake). I made myself a salad and ate it at a picnic table under the shade of a tree. It was mid 20* weather, absolute perfection after yesterday’s rain fest.

Not ready to get back in the car, I people watched a bit and lay myself down on the picnic table’s seat, stretching out my body and looking up at the clouds. I perused freecampsites.net for options tonight near Sleeping Giant Provincial Park but came up with nothing. I probably would have driven past SGPP if it wasn’t for some advice I’d gotten to visit it. Provincial Parks don’t fall under the Discovery Pass so I’d be liable to pay for entry. I did a bit of reading and found that you could ride within the park so I figured it would be worth it. Since it was nearing the end of the day, I resolved to find a camp somewhere just outside the park and camp inside it for a fee if that failed.

Turning off the highway, again without any signs to the park, I searched based on Google Satellite for a camp. I sussed out quite a few spots, but what had looked like forest roads and pullouts on my maps turned out to be private property or overgrown with forest. Trying not to be disheartened, I took one last stab just outside the park going down a dirt road. There was another road off to the side so I took that. It led me to a boat ramp with a dirt parking area. It was a pretty spot, but there was a house nestled in the trees that looked like it was maybe inhabited so I didn’t quite fancy it. Hmm. I was only a kilometre out of the park so I was unlikely to find anything else. Since I was feeling uncomfortable about the spot, I figured it wouldn’t be so bad to pay for a camp inside the park.

I drove another 20km into the depths of the park where the campground was located, finding that all the trailheads along the way were marked with signs that said no overnight parking and that a permit must be displayed. At the campground, I parked and went inside to enquire. Before anyone had the chance to come to the counter, I saw the prices quoted on a board and opened my mouth in horror. $41.50 a night!! When I asked the man who came to the counter, he confirmed the price and I quickly confirmed that I wouldn’t be camping. How ridiculous! I can’t believe people pay that!

I explained that I would come into the park tomorrow to explore so he armed me with an information booklet and talked with me about the trails I could do in the morning. I could get on top of the Sleeping Giant’s head and his knees by riding most of the way there on each trail, then trudging up the trails to the peaks. When he told me the day entrance fee of $14.50, I balked at that too, but this place was supposed to be pretty cool so I let that one slide. Leaving the campground, that boat ramp camp no longer seemed like a bad idea.

I drove back to my spot and viewed it through different eyes. There were no signs saying this area was not for public use, though I’m sure only the locals use it. I became confident the house wasn’t inhabited since there wasn’t a road to it and I couldn’t see any cars parked nearby. There were a couple of cars with boat trailers near the ramp but other than that, the spot was all mine. On top of all that, it was gorgeous!

I went for a swim in the lake (still Lake Superior), diving off the dilapidated pier after first checking the depth. As I dried off, I proceeded to chill out by the van, marvelling at how only 20 km away, people were paying upwards of $40 for a patch of grass, a picnic table and a fire ring, with neighbours on either side of them. I did not see a single person the rest of the night.

The night cooled off as I sat outside eating dinner and updated my travelling spreadsheet, packing it full with data. I kept the incense burning the whole time which was effective at keeping the mozzies off my skin. By 9:30pm, the sun had started going down and the temperature dropped enough to make me wanna lie under the covers the rest of the night watching some TV.

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