A selective recap of our journey across the Canadian Shield–Arctic fireweed, pulp and paper mills, and giant walleyes–and musings about opportunities taken as well as missed.
“Continue six hundred and twenty four kilometres. Then turn left.”
Thus does our GPS let us know that she won’t be stretched to the limit in giving us directions across this southern edge of the Canadian Shield after our flying side trip to Yellowknife. With the road not occupying her attention or mine, I have time aplenty to reflect on what I did on my summer vacation. Well, not what I did so much as what I drove past or flew over.
So what did I encounter?
Piles of rocks: Canadians are, indubitably, excellent (maybe even compulsive) pilers-up of rocks. Most of the innumerable rock cuts along the road boast at least one such pile; a significant fraction (1 in 10, perhaps?) boast piles that are recognizable as inukshuks.
Memorial bridges: Named for Ontario Provincial Police constables killed in the line of duty, there are altogether too many of these.
Odd food ideas: One restaurant menu encouraged me to order French fries for dipping in their old-fashioned milkshakes and malts.
Odd signs: A truck stop sign advertised “Home cooked family dining” and pole dancers. (Seriously.) A gas station sign warned patrons: “Due to the increased cost of ammo, do not expect a warning shot. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
Odd smells—No, forget that PC impulse—Bad smells: pulp and paper mills.
Interesting people—No, forget that PC impulse—Odd people: Steve O’Brien, skateboarding along the highway as part of his cross-Canada campaign to raise money to fight school dropout-ism.
Memorable local news: The Dryden radio station reported that a car had “collided” with an arena. I believe the driver of the arena was charged with failing to dodge.
Watersheds, passed through: Lake Superior and Arctic.
Watersheds, just missed: At one point we were just 90 km from Bemidji, Minnesota, headwaters of the Mississippi River, which would have added the Gulf of Mexico watershed to our tally.
Wildflowers, pretty: Arctic fireweed.
Wildflowers, pushy: purple loosestrife.
Wildflowers, mutant: long-stemmed dandelion-like flowers growing by the thousands along the road cuts.
Animals, mutant and/or hybrid: one fox/coyote, two wolf/coyotes. What exactly is going on, out there in the woods?
Animals, dead: one skunk, not quite in the middle of the road.
Animals, living, non-mutant (as far as I know): turtle, black bear, moose, muskrat (one each).
Birds, identified: bald eagle, lesser yellowlegs, common loons (2), grey jays (3), wild turkeys (4), great blue herons (4), grebes or grebe lookalikes (8), crows (15,467).
Birds, unidentified: hawks (3), adding to my lifetime total of such raptors and imperceptibly worsening my identification percentage.
A bird-or-a-plane moment: a Northwest Territories water bomber, off to fight wildfires.
Tourist attractions, stopped at: Terry Fox memorial.
Tourist attractions, bypassed, sorta wistfully: amethyst mine (“Dig your own amethysts!”); Canada’s longest suspension bridge and zipline; historical plaques for the Great Fire of 1916 and steamboating on the upper Ottawa River; and the Brent meteorite crater.
Out-size statues: walleye, buffalo, Holsteins, hockey player.
Unfortunate juxtapositions: Gibson Lake (hurray!) and Mosquito Trail (boo!).
Road/bridge crews delaying traffic: 157. Seriously. Not honestly, but seriously.
Kilometres, flown over: 4,657; driven over: 4,983. Yes, the country is too wide. Seriously.