A DRIVE NORTH (Iroquois Falls Weekend, Part 1)

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From the floral bouquet wafting over the highway north of Orillia, to the sweet, indescribable scent floating throughout Iroquois Falls, a variety of smells delighted my senses over our weekend excursion.

I’m used to being able to record sounds and visuals and frequently found myself wishing to record what only a nose could perceive. When I think about it, if I could document the results of what Tessi sniffs, we’d own quite the collection. On the Road Tessi and I started out very, very early to conquer the eleven hour drive to visit my friend, Nicky, in Iroquois Falls. The drive itself is eleven straight hours. I knew we’d stop along the way, therefore forcing a longer journey. It started with a slice of light—a sliver of the moon—hanging high in the sky guiding me down a quiet Highway 401. Eventually, a bright, fierce sun appeared, revealing a hazy blanket over the land, or maybe my windshield merely needed cleaning. Either way, I was reminded of the weather predictions of the horrible heat on its way into Ontario. As I made my way east towards Toronto, however, I just suffered the heat giver’s blinding rays. When the destination is north of Toronto, I have to make the choice of battling through the craziness of the city’s traffic or avoid it by zigzagging the tedious back way, which presents many road changes I have to concentrate on and small towns to slow down through. The decision is usually the foremost challenge of the trip. On this particular getaway, however, it was so early on a Saturday morning I figured I’d speed through a somewhat sleepy metropolis. Toronto’s moderate traffic in its concrete-jungle surroundings was tolerable. Once we left Barrie behind and I smelled the floral scent north of Orillia, I finally experienced nature as I love. As the kilometers sped by, I welcomed Muskoka’s familiarity, where rocky outcropping thrusts out of roadside hills. I looked forward to the fresh, fresh air of northern Ontario. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the Muskoka region, the excessive warmth already obliterated any sensations of invigorating air. Muskoka After brief walks around service centre parking lots, we took our first relaxing break at one of the picnic areas off the highway just north of Bracebridge (Baysville/Cedarlane Exit). When I stepped out of my car, I inhaled the rich fragrance of pine. It was so much more pleasant than the only smell of it I get at home, which is in the artificial substance added to cleaning products. The picnic area is close to the highway but fenced off, so I let Tessi have a free roam off to the side while keeping away from a couple of vehicles in the main area. I’m finding at this point in her life, she knows she shouldn’t automatically say “hi” to everyone she sees. She busied herself sniffing through the dry grass and weeds. After our wander, I drove down a narrow roadway back into the trees. I discovered individual picnic spots along the route, which loops back to the main area. North Bay When planning the trip, I had decided on a stopover in North Bay. I figured there should be some pleasing places to take a dog. Since I couldn’t find any dog parks, I contacted the Cassells Animal Hospital. Tiffany, who works there, was nice enough to send me a map marked with some dog-friendly places. When I saw Duchesnay Falls written in, I knew I had to check it out. The busy highway wasn’t far off our route. While concentrating on driving within the thickness of traffic, I didn’t notice any signposts. Shortly after passing a parking lot in the indicated area, I caught sight of a small sign for Duchesnay Creek. I negotiated the sea of vehicles to backtrack to the lot. From there, Tessi and I soon discovered a trail, which quickly led to the cascade. Climbing the boulders in the middle of the creek took us to the base for picture ops. At first, I didn’t see a trail by the falls that we could continue our hike on, until I teetered on a wobbly rock, soaked my foot and splashed the rest of me. Then a trail conveniently emerged. I decided to return to the car for my walking stick and water. Back in the woods, we ended up on a different trail. We crossed what looked like an old, solid rock creek bed. Puddles of water sat in its tiers. In later research, I learned it is a separate branch of the same creek. We took a trail that disappeared uphill and surprisingly came upon another cascade. The vigorous rapids at its base disappear down the hill and likely lead to the first one we visited. Neither Tessi nor I were tempted to disobey the graffiti-decorated “Danger—No Swimming” sign. All around us, I could see the typical northern landscape, where tree roots struggle to find purchase in and around the bedrock, leaving their roots to grow above. The multi-level cascades, outcropping and boulders resulting in the challenging terrain intrigued me enough to want to explore more. Considering there were still a few hours ahead of us before reaching our final destination, we needed to drive on. Before heading out of the city, I stopped for gas. The attendant mentioned she’s spent a few hours on the trails at Duchesnay Falls and could still find more to hike. I would be provided with a few more tidbits during my trip. The employee at the Temagami Information Centre, where I would end up an hour later, mentioned that Duchesnay Falls is usually a very busy place. He asked me if anyone was selling hot dogs there. I hadn’t found it very busy—just enough to not feel isolated, and there couldn’t have been a refreshment stand or Tessi would have dragged me over to it. Later, Nicky would advise me that the city’s university has issued cougar warnings in the past. Temagami Temagami, with its pine forests dotted with lakes, has intrigued me since the first time I stopped at its information centre 11 years earlier on my first trip to Iroquois Falls. “Wow, I can breathe,” I had initially thought as I had stepped out of my car. I was impressed at the overwhelming sensation of pellucid air. Maybe I had lived in the city for too long. (I lived in London then.) I had never heard of Temagami, never knew what wonders it offered and it took me my week’s visit for my brain to retain the pronunciation of its name. Since then, through jobs I’ve had and people I’ve met, I’ve learned it’s a Mecca for canoeists and naturalists. On this trip, however, I ended up slightly degrading the town’s environment. South of Temagami, as I climbed a hill, a noisy truck passed me. The racket stayed long after the truck disappeared. With a growing feeling of dread, I pushed the accelerator a bit. Yep, my muffler had suddenly broken. Hills would prove a roaring annoyance on the rest of our trip. Even though no one was about, I still felt self-conscious as I drove into the Information Centre parking lot. Dogs are not allowed in the building—not surprising, but still a shame. Luckily, I beat most of the heat north so I could safely leave Tessi in the car. It helped that in the empty lot, I was able to open the windows a generous amount. I was left wondering, nevertheless, how many people miss out on tourist centres because their pets aren’t allowed and it’s too dangerous to leave them. New Liskeard South of New Liskeard, we took our last break at a picnic area situated on the top of a hill. The scenery was pleasant with its tufts of trees and bushes on the mostly flat terrain, which extends to hills on the horizon. I quickly realized an ugly factory sat off to the side of the lovely panorama. Making up for the disappointing view, my favourite floral scent, lilac, wafted into the car as I drove back down to the highway. Since our lilacs at home had finished blooming weeks earlier I was delighted to once again take in their scent. In looking at the bushes bordering the roadway, I discovered their florets were already dying. Getting Closer/Getting Hotter I had been struggling through those last few hours of driving, anxious to reach our destination. Meanwhile, with it almost in reach, I noticed my left arm was getting sore. I never thought about its prolonged position in the window under the unrelenting sunshine. I was too warm to throw on a long sleeve shirt so I duct taped a piece of paper towel around my arm. Earlier, while I was packing, Wayne had spotted my roll of duct tape and commented on how useful the stuff is. He was right. My arm immediately felt better once shielded. (Later, when easily peeling the tape—it was a cheaper type—off my skin, I was relieved to see it hadn’t burnt.) About an hour south of Iroquois Falls, we came upon the Arctic Watershed sign, which states, “From here all streams flow north into the Arctic Ocean.” Like many travellers I imagine, it’s these little discoveries that inspire me to travel. When I first saw this sign many years ago, I had never considered where our water ends up and found it an interesting fact to contemplate. This time, I stopped to take a record shot of Tessi in front of the sign. I miss having a travel companion to take our picture. But with the day escaping us, I didn’t want to bother setting up for a self-portrait. Besides, for a nice picture, I’d have to remove my duct tape dressing. Soon Nicky would be able to play photographer, which is an interest we share and led to the creation of our friendship. And I would wish for a way to record the sweet smell permeating the town of Iroquois Falls. For More Info

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2012

 Story continued in Northern Explorations

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