NORTHERN JOURNEY

In early summer of '86 I had some business in Chicago and nothing pressing at home, so I figured this was as good a chance as any to go on up and see a little more of Canada. Any country that can produce Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson, and Leonard Cohen deserves more than a few hours' casual visit.

Which was how I came to be having lunch at a railroad diner near Duluth; and as I recall it was a pretty good burger. They usually are at railroad diners, if you can find one.

Actually this wasn't Duluth, but Superior, on the other side of the nose-tip of the Lake Superior wolf's-head.

I crossed into Canada late that afternoon at International Falls and spent the night at a campground on Lake of the Woods, a really beautiful body of water that had me wishing I could temporarily change the Honda into a canoe.

This was floatplane country; with water more plentiful than roads, a floatplane is a valuable item. Most of the ones I saw were small single-engine jobs, but there was this gorgeous Beechcraft D18 twin.

Water, water...water and rock, the defining elements of this land.

The one real drag was Kenora; apparently the entire traffic between eastern and western Canada bottlenecks down the main drag of this little town - or did then, anyway, though I believe they've put in a bypass since. West of Kenora the traffic was pretty unpleasant, a lot of people driving like assholes; but then just beyond the Manitoba line I turned off the Trans-Canada and there was almost no traffic at all.

Most of the area was taken up by Whiteshell Provincial Park, a huge park by US standards, though nothing special in Canadian terms. The route ran through low-lying, partly flooded land, where beavers built their wooden condos right alongside the road.

Big Whiteshell Lake: end of the road, at least this particular one. I took a campsite, noticing rather nervously that the garbage cans were enclosed by a stout wire cage that bore a warning about bears.

Later I got out and walked around the woods a bit. The trees were dense but stunted, the soil here being thin and poor. This is where the big glacier came south during the last Ice Age and bulldozed everything down to bare rock, and the land still hasn't really recovered. I didn't meet any bears.

Next morning I followed a winding narrow road up through the western arm of the park, and then out into the open country and straight across to pick up Highway 59 into Winnipeg. There were flags all over town and ceremonies going on at the provincial capital grounds; it was Canada Day.

And suddenly I got the idea of seeing if I could make it back home in time for the Fourth of July. Ten thousand miles or so, a couple of days, why not?

And so I did it; and a long long flat flat FLAT run it was, how the HELL do people stand to live in that soul-killing flatness, nothing to see in all directions but that dead-straight horizon and that endless SKY...and yet people not only live there, they used to fight and kill each other over it. Amazing.

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