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Sunday, June 14, 2015, in Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, Canada

Hi all and happy Flag Day! (Does anyone remember that it’s Flag Day?) Anyway, we’ve arrived at our last Canada destination for the season, and we’ll be here for about a week. This city was split when the river that runs through it was declared the US/Canada border, so most of the place is here in Canada and there’s another Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan. Not confusing at all, no. Last week, we were in Little Current in Canada’s North Channel.

The North Channel is the body of water that hovers above Lake Huron. Virtually all of it is in Canada, and it’s up to 20 miles (30 km) wide at its widest part. Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater lake island on earth and sprawls between the channel and Lake Huron, providing pristine cruising grounds and some decidedly compact vacation spots. The island is big enough to have some lakes of its own, and those lakes have islands inside, like a succession of funhouse mirrors.

We left Mackinac Island and motored east and a little bit north, arriving at Gore Bay in Ontario at about 2:00. We’d stayed in the flybridge until lunchtime, ate at the inside steering station, and couldn’t bring ourselves to get back up to high speed if it meant going outdoors again.

The dock master met us as we approached the sparsely occupied town marina and helped with our lines. The weather was warm and sunny, and I couldn’t wait to peel off the many layers that had kept me from freezing during the trip over.

There isn’t a lot to Gore Bay, but there’s an outsized version of just about everything you’d need. There’s a big supermarket and a big hardware store, and then small versions of other places you’re happy to see: a marine store, a health food supplier, and a tiny electronics store. We learned that the weekly farmer’s market would be open the next morning, and that we should get there early. There was one caveat: it was too early in the season for there to be any actual crops. There would be baked goods, jams, and plants. There were some spring vegetables – asparagus, which I hoped would be there, but, I realized when we got there, they’d been jarred, as if the asparagus was from the previous spring.

On our full day in town, after our farmer’s market visit, we did everything we possibly could: a visit to the supermarket, a walk up and down the main street, lunch at the highest-rated restaurant (of two or three) in town, and even a whitefish dinner at the same restaurant overlooking the harbor. We had arrived in the height of lilac season, having left Mackinac Island only days before their Lilac Festival. The Manitoulin Island lilacs aren’t celebrities, but they’re in nearly every yard and along every highway.

A couple traveling on a powerboat and docked near us was leaving at about the same time we were, and hadn’t yet decided to go to Little Current, where we were headed, or to continue on to Killarney, at the eastern end of the North Channel. Bill and Annie were traveling for a few weeks, and then heading back to their vacation home in Charlevoix. They’d stored their boat at Irish Boat Shop as we did.

We left after lunch and fuel, when the winds calmed down and the seas flattened out, and continued east in the North Channel to Little Current. We had every expectation that this town would be larger than Gore Bay had been, and it was. But at least Gore Bay had opened for the season.

Only one of the docks at the town marina at Little Current had been completely assembled for the summer visitors. To get dock staff to help us tie up, we needed to borrow some of the workers at the nearby Spider Bay marina, a place where locals keep their boats for the season. Nobody apparently expected to see transients. The couple we’d met at Gore Bay had apparently gone ahead to Killarney.

There were two competing supermarkets a short walk away on the highway through town. But the ice cream shop was still boarded up for the season, and the waterside restaurant was out of business completely. The Wi-Fi wouldn’t connect. I was starting to worry that “Little Current” was a Native American name that meant that we wouldn’t be wired.

Luckily, the Anchor Inn across from the marina was open, with Wi-Fi and, as it turned out for us, a nice afternoon snack of a plate of pierogis and beer. Furthermore, the gentleman who runs both marinas was accessible by phone and text, even on our weekend arrival, and anticipated our needs for access codes. He even came in on Sunday and straightened out our wireless situation. For the rest of our visit, our Internet access was reliable and strong.

In the morning, Canadian geese waddled a line through the harbor behind us. Such a springtime scene it was, one adult followed by five tiny toddlers, then another adult and brood, and so on. In the sky, geese soared above in a chevron. I’m used to seeing them flying through my temperate hometown in spring and fall, but here they were, Canadian geese in Canada. It was like seeing a staghorn fern growing on a pair of antlers.

We whiled away our time wandering through the small main street, following a recreational trail along the water, and watching the only traffic light on the island managing the movements of car traffic on a one-lane, two-direction swing bridge that began its life as a railroad track.

Despite its lack of meaningful tourist-friendly commerce, Little Current was larger and more built up than Gore Bay had been, but it wasn’t the sort of town that we could enjoy waiting out several days of bad weather. We began to look around for places to move after a three-night stay.

Our plan was to go to Killarney. There was an inn at the marina that apparently had a lovely restaurant. In fact, the whole marina would be a sort of resort. Art constructed a route and got it set up in our chart plotter.

In the meantime, we’d stay through Sunday and Monday, with rain and wind making a departure an unattractive option. On Sunday, as we arrived at the Anchor Inn to get some lunch, we saw the couple we’d seen in Gore Bay. Maybe they hadn’t gone to Killarney after all.

But they had. Killarney had been even more shut down than Little Current. The restaurant that would have been our hope for dining out wouldn’t open until Father’s Day. Worse, apparently in this shoulder season, there was a convention of mosquitoes and biting flies. Annie showed me her neck, covered with red welts. I thought that she looked like she’d just been to the prom. They couldn’t wait to get out of Killarney, and that was enough for us. We’d set up a route to a different harbor.

We gave up island living on Manitoulin and headed for the mainland, at a place called Blind River. Because its entrance is so hard to find (hence the name “blind”), it would provide lots of protection for us as we sat out some forecasted high winds.

The trip from Little Current provided a crescendo of waves which kept us in the flybridge for a few hours, but convinced us to slow down and huddle at the indoor steering station until we were close to the harbor.

We’ve got two VHF radios in the flybridge, and Art used one of them to hail the marina. He thought they were ignoring him, but in fact it was malfunctioning and so it could send but not receive. We learned this when three people, perhaps the whole neighborhood, met us at the T-head of the dock and waved us to our proper place.

The marina was nearly empty, but the main building was new and striking. We could borrow some bikes they’d make available for the half-mile or so to get to the actual town. I asked about bike locks and was told, “There are locks, but you don’t need them. Everyone knows whose bikes they are.”

The café at the marina was not yet open for the season yet, of course. Our lunch plan was to walk into town and find a place that we could have lunch, and we settled on a sort of luncheonette that was very similar to a luncheonette we’d visited in Little Current. I had to order the “hot hamburger” I’d overlooked in Little Current. It’s an open-face hot sandwich that had been the special in the other place, and it’s apparently as ubiquitous in these parts as a hot turkey sandwich in our own places. Canadians have a choice of a hot turkey sandwich, a hot hamburger, and a pork version, each smothered in brown gravy and each made into a volcano shape by the addition of a family-sized serving of French fries. Gravy usually smothers the fries as well. Don’t even think that this sandwich can be redeemed with something other than the white bread, which is already the low-fat component of the meal.

When we’d eaten breakfast for lunch on an earlier outing, Art had been intrigued by the inclusion of “peameal bacon”, so he ordered it. It was delicious, but not an adventure; we in America call this meat “Canadian bacon.” I was actually surprised that they don’t just call it bacon. After all, the French simply say that they would like to have frites, not frites françaises. We also see a lot of poutine around, which we’ve only tried once or twice and originated in Quebec. It isn’t exotic; it’s essentially diner food (and the movie Diner food), French fries slathered in gravy, and in Canada, cheese curds or some sort of meat sprinkled as well. So even poutine is essentially a “hot hamburger” or its cousins, but built as a skyscraper instead of a strip mall.

There isn’t much to Blind River. On our first day, we walked to town in about fifteen or twenty minutes; on our second, we used the graciously-provided marina bikes. Neither of us has been on a bike with the brakes in the pedals since we were kids. Without gears, you barely need brakes to stop anyway. You just stop pedaling and eventually the motion goes dead, and you need to catch a foot on the ground before you topple over. I’m sure that never bothered me when I was ten.

There are signs delineating a few blocks as “downtown” along Highway 17, or as it is briefly named, Causley Street. For our needs, there’s a supermarket that’s identical to the last two or three in the same chain that we’d visited in the North Channel. There’s a coffee place where a tea biscuit is Canadian $1 and a tiny capsule of Nutella to put on it is $1.80. There’s a French-style restaurant with an interesting menu that’s tucked into a roadside motel. There isn’t much to Blind River.

It’s a friendly place, but still the summer visitors hadn’t yet arrived. We’d now been in a handful of channel towns, and we’d had our fill of relaxing places filled with water sports but too cold to do any of them. We decided to move on to Sault Sainte Marie on the Canadian side of the border.

That’s it for now. We’ll be heading to the US version of Sault Ste. Marie sometime this week. Hope you’re having fun and that there’s summer somewhere by now.

Love, Karen (and Art)