Saturday 22nd July – Oh, Canada!

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No bears in the night thankfully, just a still meadow to wake up to. I got up and drove straight out of camp. The tall grass and flowers didn’t make for the best sitting outside so I resolved to have brekkie elsewhere. I drove out onto the main park road and turned off at the Log Slide turnoff. This had been pointed out to me at the lighthouse yesterday and was basically a huge sand dune that loggers used to use as a delivery system to get their trimmed logs from the forest to ships.

I made myself some cereal in the carpark and carried it with me to the top of the dunes, munching as I went. There were a few people on the trail already but when I got to the tip of the dunes, I had the place to myself. Having put my legs through pain yesterday, they were screaming at me as I climbed the short distance up the soft sand to see over the top of the big sand hill.

I had to walk a ways down the dune in order to see the shore below, it sure was steep. I’d read that people roll or run down the hill for the thrill of it, only to turn and trudge back up the soft sand. Even I wasn’t that stupid. I ate my brekkie enjoying the view, able to see the lighthouse I’d been at the top of yesterday.

With that endeavour, my sightseeing at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was done and I made my way east out of the park. Today was the day I would enter Canada and I had two things I wanted to do before crossing – visit the Tahquamenon Falls state park (as suggested by Lonely Planet) and hit a library for some Wifi. It took me two hours of driving to reach my first objective and pay $9 at the entry gate to the lower Tahquamenon Falls park.

It was a touristy affair with a full carpark and (overweight) families everywhere. My legs protested as I got out of the car and followed the crowd towards the walking path. There were a few vantage points to visit and I outwardly cringed when I saw that they labelled the number of stairs required to get to each one. My poor legs, I’m an idiot.

My first view of the falls was a far one, but I could see they were pretty powerful. The river ended in a shelf to drop a perfect fat ribbon of brown water over the edge. There was a sign that explained why the water was brown, but I didn’t read it.

The next viewpoint was positioned right over the tipping point of the falls and made them seem more impressive and certainly powerful. The wall of water was so thick that I could imagine a cave behind the falls would serve as a perfect secret lair. The last viewpoint just took me far away from the falls so that view didn’t warrant a photo.

Next stop was the lower falls 4km away. Same thing here but I didn’t have to pay entry again since my pass was good for the day. I walked to the closest vantage point and didn’t bother with the rest of the viewpoints because I wasn’t too impressed.

Onwards, I kept heading east and when it came near lunch time, I was feeling lethargic so keen for a swim to pick me up. I saw Brimley State Park on the map and considered that a perfect option considering I could maximise my $9. I parked near the boat ramp, changed into my bikini and dipped myself into Lake Superior one more time. Still cold, I was refreshed. I made a quick lunch of an egg and bacon wrap back at the car and let myself dry off.

Sault Ste. Marie, the tip of America where I was going to cross into Canada, wasn’t far away now. I drove into the city and stopped to fill up with petrol since it is so expensive in the northern country. Following that, I navigated myself to the university where I hoped to use the library. When I got there I found the library was closed and the campus deserted since it was summer holidays. That didn’t matter because the Wifi still worked! I sat myself down at a picnic table and updated my blogs. When that was done, there was no more procrastinating, it was time to head across the river.

I was nervous about the border crossing, probably thanks to my last experience, but I hoped everything with my work visa would work out ok. As I approached the bridge, I forked out $3.50 for the toll then carried on over the single lane structure that stretched over St. Mary’s River. The toll booth attendant had warned me there was a big wait and he wasn’t wrong. I didn’t even reach the bridge’s halfway point before I hit stalled traffic.

Forty-five minutes and half a mile later, I came up to Canada’s entry gates. The big wait was partly thanks to the construction of the immigration building that meant only three lanes were open instead of eight. Lane 3 was me. I presented my passport and work permit letter to the attendant and she asked me the normal questions about why I was visiting and what I was carrying. She seemed nonplussed at my answers and was very polite. When she was done, she directed me to park and head inside to talk to immigration about the work permit.

Inside the immigration building, there was no one around so I walked straight up to the desk to talk to an older lady in the full uniform. I presented her the letter and gave her a brief explanation of my intentions. It took her a while but eventually she understood what was going on and looked up my application number in her system. Long story short, she explained that the work permit was only valid up until March 2018. This was not my understanding since the “Experience Canada” visa I’d applied for was supposed to allow me to travel and work within Canada for two years. The letter stated that I had to enter Canada by March 2018 to activate the visa. The lady was very courteous, explaining the situation from her end and in the end we concluded that maybe the visa office had made a mistake or not granted me the two years for some unknown reason. I was fuming considering the money I’d paid and effort I’d put into gathering all the supporting documents they’d required. In the end, I entered the country as a tourist and on the immigration lady’s advice, I would contact the visa office and ask why they had denied me the full term of the visa. I just don’t have any luck with these things.

I drove across the road to the visitor’s information center but I was in a foul mood because of the visa situation. Inside, I talked to a nice young man and he answered all of the questions I’d written down in preparation and gave me my pass that would get me into all the national parks for free, a special offer for 2017 since they were celebrating their parks’ 150th anniversary. Works for me! The man told me that free camping in Canada was difficult, which I’d already heard about, but the casino right next door allowed free camping!

Armed with a few maps and pamphlets, I went next door to Walmart, looking for an Atlas. No dice, so I went to the book shop in the mall as Mr. Visitor Centre Guy suggested and kind of found what I was looking for. They had an Atlas for all of France, but nothing for just Canada. In the end I had to buy a North American Atlas that had detailed pages for Canada and Mexico as well. It will prove useful to the future Astro owners at least.

It was around 5:30pm and I considered camping in the casino lot, but decided I didn’t want to be in a concrete jungle. It had been a while since my last non-forest camp and I wasn’t ready to be camped somewhere not in the wilderness. Freecampsites.net offered a place an hour away so I took a chance opting for that instead. I did a brief shop in Walmart for some groceries then left Sault Ste. Marie. It was not a very pretty town with run down streets and leaning light posts so I was happy to see the back of it. It didn’t help that it was overcast, which always dampens my first impression of a place.

Highway 17 leading north hugged Lake Superior for most of the way and the cloudy skies actually made the surface of the water and impressive colour so I appreciated the drive. I was nervous about the camp since there wasn’t a back up nearby so for practice, I kept a lookout for potential camps. It seemed like there were plenty of dirt roads leading into the forest so I began to feel better about the situation. About 12km from my way point, I saw a road leading down into the forest that looked like it had access to a rocky beach. I pulled over immediately and turned around.

I parked at the road’s inlet to suss out the road and parking situation. If I backed the car in, I could be level and tucked away, hidden from view unless someone was really looking for me. Even better, there was a flat bit of forest with a couple of fire rings and fire wood and I’d have this beautiful beach to myself. Camp!

Discretely, I waited until there was no traffic then turned my lights off and reversed the few meters down the road. With the Astro nestled in her place, I went for a walk along the rocky beach. It was a pretty spot where the forest met the lake with rocks the medium. I tested the water and it felt colder than the American shores had but that was probably due to the weather. I prepared the fire then got started on dinner while I spoke to my parents with the spot of internet service I had. I was pissed off to find that my water container had sprung a leak through a crack in the bottom corner. This being my fourth container, I refused to entertain the idea of buying yet another one so fixed it up with some chewing gum and electrical tape. She’ll hold alright!

I sat by the fire the rest of the night, the wind feeding the flame so that I hardly had to do anything to keep it going. There were a couple of sprinkles of rain, but nothing that made me retreat inside. I stayed out until the ashes dwindled, then called it a night, having some yoghurt for dessert in the van while I tried to get into a new TV series, “Carnivale”.

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