The Soo Locks campsite next to the Saint Mary (not Marie, oops) has been one of the best we have stayed at in both Canada and the USA. The washrooms are clean with copious hot water and free showers, there is a lounge that is open until early evening with free coffee, the views over the river are wonderful and it’s quite exciting to see the HUGE ships go past on their way between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. The town is also well worth a visit
On Tuesday we went out for lunch at the closest bar/restaurant before we set up the tent because I was (as usual) really really really hungry.
The place is called Antlers and it is best to be forewarned about their birthday celebration habits; they (rather kindly) come around and tell everyone it is going to get a bit loud and the warning light starts flashing and then the bar staff pull a whole load of ropes and fog horns blare along with a range of boat whistles. I had to put my fingers in my ears. We had not managed to do any shopping so, after setting up camp and looking at the nasty clouds, we battled our way back through the evening’s wind and rain to enjoy more of their very tasty nosh and finally took in what was all around us. Hanging from the ceiling was a genuine birch bark canoe, so many animal horns that you could not count them (apparently, there used to be rifles, but they are all gone). Around the bar, there was a pride of stuffed lions, a group of all types of African grazing beasts, a polar bear, tiny little deer (a real spit for Bambi included), birds of every kind and so many horns and antlers that it was entirely possible that the roof might collapse.
(On the way to the bar we met this cute dachshund puppy called……
Maverick! We felt he had a lot of growing to do until his name fitted him.)
On Wednesday we woke up to a nasty drizzle and ate our breakfast perched in the boot of our hire car. One of the best things about that particular campsite was the freely available lounge, so we took our hot drinks up there to relax. Afterwards we went out shopping to replenish our supplies, and then went for a drive after lunch so that we could see Lake Superior. We drove about twenty miles, feeling that the landscape was not exactly impressive, but then we came across the Iroquois Point Lighthouse.
It was built on the site of a major battle between the local Chippewa tribe and the incoming Iroquois, where the locals whooped ass and sent the only two warriors left alive home to tell all their friends and family all about it. I loved the lighthouse building and the climb up the old, defunct lighthouse tower was well worth it. What has struck me about all of the Great Lakes so far is that they are rather…… unimpressive. It’s a bit like looking over the water from Bognor Beach on a grey and cloudy day. All the islands look the same (flat and full of trees) and there don’t seem to be huge flocks of birds to grab your attention.
When we came back to the campsite, the wind was blowing very strongly, so, despite Tim’s best efforts at a campfire and my hastily cooked hot food, it was a pretty chilly experience sitting outside, (even wrapped up in blankets) so we gave up and headed into the tent. As we were sitting outside , a really kind older gentleman called Jack came up to talk to us and suggested that we might be more comfortable heading out to the local casino, where the food was cheap, the air was warm and you didn’t even have to gamble to be there. Being mule headed we stuck to our own plans.
On Thursday we were hoping the weather would improve and, eventually, it did. So we shed our waterproofs and multiple layers, walked into town and booked ourselves onto the Soo Locks Boat Tour. It was something like our fourth boat tour, but they work really well, because, from the water you can see so much more in this highly wooded area. The commentary was a tad dry but really informative and interesting. They took us up through the massive industrial locks;
they are designed to accommodate the 1000 ft container ships that keep the Soo St Marie steel works supplied with raw materials and then take the finished products away. They had to lift the emergency stopping cable (there to protect the lock gates from runaway ships) and the railway lift bridge to let us through.
We were told that, if they had to transport the finished steel rolls by road, they could only take three at a time because they are so heavy. The mega barges can take about three hundred, so, despite the slow pace of a boat, it makes much more sense. The steel works themselves were really interesting and weirdly beautiful and it brought back all those chemistry/history lessons about Bessemer converters and the like.
The thing about the whole trip that surprised me the most was that the use of the locks is entirely free, for both American and Canadian ships and even lowly day trippers. At some stage the town of Sault St Marie gave the locks to the USA government on the understanding that they could never charge for them, or the ownership would revert. There is a little lock on the Canadian side , but it is only capable of letting through pleasure cruisers and the like.
Nobody on board the boat (including these friendly people) could work out why the USA government was subsidising the Canadian ships.
It was also interesting to note that people were allowed to walk across the Canadian side, even jumping across the gap as the gates opened. On the US side, the locks were run by the military and there were guards all over the place,
but they had thoughtfully provided a free viewing platform.
Further up the river we saw a cute little tent among the local giants
Afterwards we went out for a late lunch and I sampled another type of local freshwater fish called Walleye, very tasty, nearly as good as Whitefish.
In the evening we built another campfire and got chatting to Linda, John and Jack,
who told us all about how there used to be so many salmon and other fish in the river that they could catch them easily from the bank at the edge of the campsite. They say the river is now severely overfished and blamed the local Indians, who were given the fishing rights after the American Canadian war of 1812. They think that the Indians are using gill nets, although they are illegal. They were really friendly and wanted us to stay a few days more. It’s nice to be wanted and we were sorely tempted, but we are really looking forward to getting camel back and we have to head back to Toronto for next Wednesday.
We travelled towards Bay City with the view that we might find a campsite (trying all the while to block out the sounds of ‘We Sang Shangalang’ going through our heads in a very annoying manner).
It was not quite as bad as travelling through northern Sweden, because the trees were not ALL the same, there were other cars, we did see buildings and I saw a lot of raptors in the sky.
We drove over the Mackinaw bridge,
with views of Lake Huron on one side and Lake Michigan on the other.
Saying these lakes are big is like saying there are quite a lot of trees in Canada. They are HUGE and the only thing that stops them from being called seas in their own right is because they have fresh water in them. Even when the visibility is good, it is impossible to see the opposite shore.
Sadly, there were no campsites to be found. My iPad app does not work in the USA and we resorted to driving around picturesque roads near the shore of Lake Huron. Not a single campsite in the whole area. We drove up and down and back and forth but to no avail and in the end we drove out of town and found a budget motel. It was quite a way out and I was quite concerned that we might have to end up eating in a Burger King or a Kentucky Fried Rat, but then I found a ‘Family’ restaurant just down the road called Bergers, so we thought we would give it a shot. We had to queue by the door, because it was totally heaving in there.
A nice bloke called Bruce chatted with us while we waited for a table to become free and he turned out to be the owner; his great grand parents set up an ice cream bar to use the waste products from their dairy farm, then set up a more substantial place , passed it on to their children and now after four generations Bruce has his step son working in the bar. The fish was beautiful, the service slick and the only complaint we actually had was that the bread was too sweet, but that is a local hazard.
The hotel was fine and the breakfast the next day was included; the real treat was they had a waffle making set up. You get the mix in a little cup and then pour it into one of two preheated waffle irons, close the lid, turn it over (we had to get a nice lady to show us how) and then the automatic timer lets you know when they are ready. With butter and maple syrup, they are evilly delicious.
The drive to London started off very wet, which made us feel at least a little grateful that we couldn’t find a campsite.
Along the way we saw a range of road signs that gave all sorts of good advice
but there is one in particular piece of advice that we thought we should listen to.
We had originally planned to visit Detroit, but everyone we mentioned it to said we would either get mugged, murdered or have our wheels nicked. I then thought that the town of Flint might be a good place to break the journey, but when Tim looked it up on line it came in as the most dangerous city in the USA, with 66 murders in 2012 alone and residents having a one in thirty seven chance of being a victim of violent crime. The whole area seems depressed after the decimation of the car industry. Flint used to have 80000 people employed directly in the manufacture of American gas guzzlers and now there are only 8000. We had to drive through Flint to get back into Canada but we survived, but it did feel good to get over the border.
The Canadian border bloke first of all asked us what we had in the car apart from our clothes and that took a little while. He then asked us about our plans and that took even longer, as the thought of actually bringing our own car into Canada only for it to break down seemed to perplex him mightily. He didn’t even ask us how much wine we had….phew!
Just as we thought we were clear, we were waved to one side by a police man and we thought the car was about to be stripped down by customs, but it turned out to be a group of nice young people carrying out a tourism survey. The young man seemed a bit perplexed that we should want to tour Canada, as he is desperate to get to Europe.
We drove on through the long straight tree-lined roads of Ontario and had to laugh as the sun burst out from behind the clouds just as ‘Here Comes the Sun’ started playing on the radio. To add to our happiness, we have heard that the parts have turned up and, all being well, Camel should be good to go by next Tuesday. Yay!!!!