Oil and Agawa
The last chunk of my drive from home–to west coast–to home again, started the morning after a rockus June storm in Brandon, Manitoba. I woke up to sunshine, ate, and headed out. I always had some protein (cooked chicken, or a can of salmon), and snacks (apples, celery, almonds, peanut butter, chocolate) in my cooler, and would make salads (I had balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and lettuce) on the fly so never absolutely HAD to go to a restaurant. I discovered that my large, 2-litre water jug was an excellent tabbouleh container!
Isn't that exciting?
I would put the ingredients together at a camp site or rest area, boiling the water for the bulgur with my dandy camp stove. Once prepared, and since on this leg, it was only me, I could shovel it into my face directly from the jug.
Don't judge me.
Previously, Connor and I ate fast food burgers once during the drive out. I felt horrid before I was half-way through the tasteless puck of garbage, and vowed not to repeat. I did eat at restaurants now and then, but not from any chains that supersized. I actually preferred being able to pull into an information centre in Wherever-ville, open up my van, serve myself a meal, and walk around with it in the fresh air, instead of having to sit. You know, you sit enough when you're driving thousands of kilometres. Yes, thousands. Plus, it was cheap as hell, and I got 100% of the tips.
There. Now you know about food.
Onward, as the wreckless gods threw their darts, because something had to happen, apparently; my oil change service message came on: Oil life 15%, plus the little wrench symbol for extra oomph. I did have the oil changed in the van just before I left, over 8000 kilometers ago but, damn it to hell, and the bears, snakes, and tornadoes of the past. I always cringe when I see that wrench symbol. I emailed my mechanic back home; faithful to a fault with my service record on this vehicle. I told him that I could top-up the oil if it needed it, and he replied in the affirmative and that it should be fine until I arrived home. I was in Winnipeg when I sent this.
I drove to Kenora, and was able to avoid the reality of that(Kenora) by listening to Allen Stone, and Radio Lab podcasts. I was still mourning the mountains, and Kenora was not helping ease the pain of that. Pancakes made with sand would have been more comforting. More on that another time.
I found a motel. I slept. I was up early, eager to get the hell out of there, and did–with finesse and a heavy accelerator foot. I tucked into Thunder Bay five hours later, and, as I was not feeling a particularly neato vibe, kept driving, targeting Agawa Bay; the same campground in Lake Superior Provincial Park that Connor and I stayed in on our way out, twenty-seven days previously. This was a six-hour effort, but since I knew how beautiful it was, found the stamina to continue. The boring, scrubby landscape that was so draining to look at between Kenora and Thunder Bay, began to soften and dovetail into more idyllic, mountainous scenery that, at times, reminded me of a smaller scale B.C.. B.C. HO perhaps.
My oil service message showed, Oil Life 10%. Then, Oil Life 5%. I had never let it drop to this before, and was vibrantly stressed. I had to find oil.
This route, in between the mining and lumber towns, was sprinkled with abandoned motels, restaurants, and gas stations where someone, a Bruce, or a Wanda, had tried to make a go of it with the best of intentions. There were proper gas stations, but for some reason, I ended up stopping at a somewhat struggling motel–gas station in the very middle of nowhere.
At first glance, the pumps appeared to be out of service; awaiting their inevitable, rusted, decommissioned fate, but, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a small, neon, Open sign in the window of the motel office. I jammed on the brakes quickly enough to swing into the second driveway, pulled up to the office, and stopped, worried to bits about my darling van.
There was rain coming, plus nightfall shortly ahead. I checked my phone uselessly because there was no cell service in these parts. I de-vanned, and stood looking around for a moment. I heard a voice from inside the office say, “Come on in.”
I opened the door and stepped into a small, tired reception area. A diminutive, older woman in fuschia muumuu greeted me with a soft, motherly tone. I asked her if she had any motor oil for sale. She pointed to a shelf behind me where there were, perhaps, five different kinds of oil; one quart of each. It was clear that business was down, and there was little money to invest in fully stocking the shelves. I bought oil and a jug of windshield washer fluid. We chatted, and I gleaned that she rarely ventured out into the world beyond the towns nearby. Part of me envied her, living so close to the edge of Lake Superior, as long as she was content. I hoped that she was. I liked her. If I wasn't so stressed, it would have been nice to talk with her over a cup of tea.
But I WAS stressed.
I checked the van’s dipstick and added just a half quart of oil, which made me feel much better. I began breathing again, figuring the dashboard madness would stop, and continued on to Agawa Bay. I yipped with joy upon spotting the campground’s road sign. Since I was pulling in after gatehouse hours, I went directly in and found a site. I would register and pay in the morning which is not a problem. I set up my tent just before nightfall, and was asleep before it thumped to the ground.
A storm came through early in the morning. I heard the waves building on the lake along with a fierce wind through the trees around me. A business-like rain hurled itself to the ground; the patter of it on the outer shell of my tent sounded like there could have been a squadron of sixth-graders firing elastic bands at it. Then the wind took hold of my tent and gave it a good shaking, enough for me to notice quite clearly.
In time, the shaking stopped, the wind eased, and the rain relented to a sensible rate before ceasing. There are no windows in my tent–my judgement of the kind of world I unzip myself out into comes only by figuring on the sounds outside and the general light level inside. On this morning, I emerged to a fresh, misty heaven; the air busting with the smell of wet pine, and I could not have been happier.
Yes, my tent was wet, but I was completely dry. There was quiet, with minimal surf at this point. I put on my raincoat, made my coffee, walked the thirty feet to the edge of the shoreline, and stood staring at everything.
I watched, not wanting to make a sound. Over the space of the morning, the mist lifted, like the lid off of a gift box, to reveal a sunny, perfect sky. I’m normally not a beach-sitter (unless it’s on the beach on Quadra watching the sea, or bald eagles), but here, in this little bay, I couldn't not. The setting was oddly perfect, like something out of The Truman Show. The mist held to the edges of the bay like sideburns. The sun shone in the middle. A wonderfully refreshing breeze came off of the lake–not enough to chill, but enough to mitigate the focused attention of that sun. I brought my little chair out to the stony edge of the surf and sat for what could have been hours, looking into the glass-clear water, watching the waves riffle along the shoreline, and feeling more relaxed and at peace than I had in some time. I let myself be totally present; no unsure future, or oil problems to worry about. Nothing.
I felt that I could have fallen apart–molecules into the beach with such caressing breezes. I was planning on leaving that afternoon for absolutely no good reason. I didn’t. I gave myself this day.
With my own permission, I drove out to a few other of the park’s sites. I walked a few short trails, scampered up Sand River and was transfixed by the loud, deep flumes running through the rocks.
I saw the Ojibway pictographs at Agawa Rock. I was careful, because there were wet rocks, wet leaves, and great places to fall terribly.
I reminded myself that I was alone, nobody knew where I was, and there was no cell service I could use to call for help after I'd fallen and shattered whichever bones. I would have to lay there and eat moss until the next tourist came along. I still went out to the edge of the cliffs and examined the pictographs, but carefully planned every step that I took. It was totally worth it.
Later in the afternoon, back at the campground, I met a woman from Owen Sound, walking her dog. We began chatting, and were joined by a father and daughter from Missouri–all of us hanging around the water spigot like you would the office water cooler. The woman was there camping with her husband, celebrating thirty years of matrimonial bliss, and she invited me to join them at their evening fire later on. I arrived with a celebratory bottle of Saskatoon Berry Syrup that I had bought at an information centre just inside the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, near Maple Creek. I had to bring something, and canned salmon is more industrial than celebratory; the syrup was the thing.
It began raining minutes after I arrived, so I presented my offering, then went back to my tent, serenaded to sleep by an easier, gentler rain. No sixth-graders this time. I did hear a crash during the night, and awoke to find that a branch had come down on my picnic table. Yes, I was lucky. No, it was not big enough to end me, but it would have put a hole in my tent.
Yay for having that completely not happen!
It continued to rain in the morning. I got up, still thrilled with how this place made me feel. This time I took my coffee and walked the length of the beach, water dripping off of the brim of my rain jacket hood when I wore it up, dripping off of my very noggin when I had the hood pulled back.
I didn’t want to go. I very much did not want to leave this place. I still missed the mountains, and now had to pack up and tear myself away from another environment where I felt such a deep connection.
The anniversary couple invited me to breakfast, so I disassembled and threw my wet tent into the back of my van, and drove over to their site. We enjoyed a fine breakfast of Lake Superior shoreline eggs, bagels, and great coffee. We talked for quite a while, shared contact information, and then I departed.
I didn’t want to go.
Did I mention that? I almost felt sick. But, there I was, back on the road, heading for Sudbury.
My oil service message came on like I had never seen it before. I started the day with, Oil Life 5%, then later on, 0%. I added more oil until the dipstick showed that the reservoir was full. The message began flashing and then went to negative numbers.
What the hell?
Just as I began invoking my ujjai breath from yoga, in order to calm down, I noticed a billboard for Jiffy Lube in Sudbury.
I found the place, and gratefully, had them change the oil filter and add the best oil. The very idea of having engine trouble now, on this part of the voyage, gave me chilblains. Or something that sounds horrible like that (make up a horrible word for your own imagination).
That done, I found a hotel, slept, awoke, and left Sudbury. I arrived home late in the afternoon, my indicator finger twitching; I could still make a run for it and keep going.
I’m home now, doing laundry, and checking my plants, but the idea of staying here is not sitting well. No, it’s not sitting well at all.