Sunday 23rd July – The Long Way Through Wawa

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I was woken up a few times in the night, not because of highway traffic noise, but the sound of rain and thunder overhead. It rained persistently all night and continued on into the morning. A few times I’d woken and thought I should probably put my water catching bags up but I was too lazy and luckily, there’d been no leaks, probably because the rain was being filtered by the trees overhead and not hitting the car directly.

I delayed getting out of the car thanks to the rain, practicing some Spanish in bed before finally convincing myself to get outside and have a shower. I was due for one and the night before, I’d resolved to take a dip in the lake. I held this resolve, put my bikini on and carried my soap down to the water. Clothing was necessary since I was just visible from the cars flashing past on the highway. This was one of my colder showers but it was worth it and what a brilliant wake up call.

I dried off quickly and put some warm clothes on and the rain stopped enough for me to make some cereal at the back of the van. I ate inside while practicing more Spanish then packed up to leave. I crept out of my camp without an issue and continued my drive north up the highway. I only got about 5km before I hit traffic. I could see the lights of a police car arriving on the scene as I approached the end of the queue so I assumed there must have been an accident recently. I didn’t mind the wait, I put the car in park and when there was no movement, I turned the car off. There was no traffic coming the other way so it must have been a big one crossing both lanes. I sat there for half an hour before traffic started coming from the other direction, including a guy in a truck wearing a vest who was stopping to talk to everyone. When he got to me he instructed me to turn around, explaining that there was a washout ahead and they didn’t know when it would be fixed. The traffic that was coming from the other direction were people up ahead that had turned around.

As I pulled forward to turn around, I noticed the cop car was just ahead. The washout was only a few cars ahead of me. Keen for a sticky beak, I pulled up as far as I could behind some trucks and pulled off to the side. Another guy came up to my window and explained the situation, but he appeared to just be a bystander. I put my rain jacket on and walked towards the scene. I could see there was a big amount of water over the road but it was only when I got right to the cop car that was blocking off the road that I saw the side of the road had completely washed away, the guard rail bent and sagging off the cliff as a result. The whole underneath of the road had probably washed away too so I could see why they weren’t letting anyone pass. It was a Sunday morning and it would take them ages to get an engineer out to do an assessment and even longer to put a fix in place.

Interestingly, if I’d made camp at the original site suggested by freecampsites.net instead of pulling off at the private beach, I would have been beyond this section of road, but I couldn’t do much about that now! I had to drive no less than 600km to get around the closure. Ouch. I had been only 3 hours away from Pukaskwa National Park but now I was more than a day away! Well it was raining anyway, so it was a good day to be driving.

I drove all the way back to Sault Ste. Marie, where it was raining, drove east for 150km to Thessalon, where it was raining, then started north on highway 129, where it was raining. By the time I was halfway to Chapleau at the top of highway 129, I needed a break and some lunch. I set myself a target to get to 2pm then find the first pull over spot for lunch. Right at the clock hit 2pm, there was a forest road off to the right which was signed as Aubrey Falls Provincial Park. That’ll do! It was still raining, but only at a sprinkle which meant I could make myself a salad in the outdoor kitchen. While I ate, I perused the sign for the falls and they were only 0.8km away so I walked as I had lunch.

Mozzies harassed every inch of exposed skin as I walked so I was multitasking like a pro trying to eat, walk and swat them away simultaneously. It was an easy walk through the forest and came out to a footbridge crossing a wide river. The falls looked like a single cascade down some tall rocks, but after crossing the bridge to another viewpoint on the other bank, it became much more than that.

It was a whole network of falls with plenty of features. From the little I read on the signs, the river was dammed upstream so the flow of the water here was essentially restricted which meant they weren’t as grand was they were back in the day, but it was still a pretty impressive sight!

I finished my lunch at the lookout, then started my trudge back as it started to rain more heavily. I really must re-waterproof my rain jacket because the shoulders soak through instantly at the first sign of rain now.

I was happy for the break and opportunity to stretch my legs so didn’t mind getting back into the car, especially since it was a haven from the rain. I continued north on the overly-busy highway that was carrying all the traffic that would usually be on highway 17. The road was narrow and riddled with potholes in sections so that driving it in the rain required a lot of concentration, especially when trucks roared past. I was learning just how less populated this part of Canada is compared to the US. Over 200km, there wasn’t a single rest area or hint of infrastructure beyond forest roads.

When I got to the tip of the highway, I drove 5km out to the town of Chapleau to fill up since I wouldn’t make it to the next major town of Wawa. The small servo was overrun with highway 17 customers and incredibly, I saw the man that had told me about turning around earlier that morning. I waited my turn for the pump then pulled up. It was pump first, then pay inside, so I grabbed the pump and pulled the handle. Nothing. Looking at the display, it looked like I had to set an amount or quantity. I tried that and still nothing. Clearly a tourist, I asked the guy in front of me who was pumping successfully for a lesson. He came over and lifted the handle at the bottom of the pump. That was obvious! A little embarrassed, I pulled on the pump lever again. Still nothing! I fiddled with the handle but eventually Mr. Man came back and got it working. I don’t know how he did it, he just had the magic touch. Once I got pumping, funnily enough, the guy that pulled up after me asked me how it worked. Ha ha, at least I wasn’t the only one.

Inside, everyone was talking about the highway and I showed a lady the photo I’d taken of the wash out. I paid for my petrol, nearly $100 for a tank compared to the $40 I’d gotten used to paying in the land of the free. Thankfully, it had stopped raining and when I joined the highway going west towards the town of Wawa, the skies got bluer and bluer. With the bright coloured sky, my mood lifted and I happily drove along. I hadn’t really understood just how long the detour would be but it added up to over six hours by the time I reached Wawa.

I drove through the small town that resided next to Wawa Lake and continued north through a network of lakes of all sizes. I listened to my audiobook to get me through the last hour and marvelled at the car club that was travelling in the opposite direction. It was a collection of classic cars but they were all towing caravans. What?! It didn’t look right having such an immaculate vehicle towing a home, especially when they probably didn’t have the appropriate pulling power.

As I approached the camp I’d looked up earlier, I was cruising doing 110 km/hr on the highway. The speed limit was 90 km/hr and was the highest limit I’d seen since entering Canada, but I took my queue from others on the road who were driving like Americans well over the limit. As I crested a hill, a cop approached but I maintained my speed. As soon as he passed me, I saw his brake lights come on. Shit. I knew what was coming. I adjusted my cruise control to put me at 95 km/hr and started thinking of good excuses. Sure enough, seconds later, he appeared in my rear view but in an amazing stroke of luck, so did a white van who was travelling in front of him. The white van had come up fast so he had obviously been speeding as well. The cop stayed behind him a while as Mr. White slowed down to the speed limit. When his lights inevitably started flashing, I was sure Mr. White would pull over and Mr. Copper would come up and get me but to my great surprise, when Mr. White pulled over, Mr. Copper stopped behind him. I couldn’t believe my luck, what an escape! Paranoid that he would come after me next, I watched my nav and it was only 7 minutes to my camp. I rationally told myself that was ample time to get to camp before he came up the road. I kept to the speed limit as I drove through the small town of White Fish but cursed when I saw Mr. Copper in my rear view again as I exited town. Resisting the temptation to find a road to dive down and hide, I kept on at the speed limit, watching him in my mirrors. A few minutes later, he got closer and I saw it wasn’t Mr. Copper at all, just a civilian in a Tahoe. Sweet! I pulled over at my camp and drove off the highway. He he, I’d really gotten away with it! I’ll take that as a fair warning. Sorry Mr. White.

I drove down the narrow forest road to see a couple of pullouts but I carried on to see if I could get a beach spot because there was a lake nearby. I turned around eventually when I didn’t come across anything and made myself comfortable in a clearing. I was grateful there were no mozzies, but there were definitely huge flies! I got straight onto the firewood hunt and got a fire going to keep them at bay. It was effective enough. It was nearly 8pm so I heated up leftovers for dinner and repeated last night’s activities of blogging by the fire.

It cooled off a lot when the sun went down, making me appreciate the fire’s warmth. It will take me a while to get used to the sun staying up until 10pm, it definitely means I’m staying up later!

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