We had been driving for hours, seen more mountain valleys than we could count and had second guessed whether or not this whole trip was a good idea more than a few times. Shira and I decided to take my kids on a trip with us to Ontario and British Columbia, and when I’d mentioned it to my mother she stated somewhat emphatically how much fun that’d be, how she’d always wanted to do something like that and if I considered taking her along she would take care of her own needs. Well…how do I maneuver around that conversation, I stood there washing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner, side by side with my mom. As a she and I had travelled many times together, from taking a trip across country in her green MG as a toddler to road trips into Dresser Wisconsin as a teenager just for the hell of it and she and I even took our motorcycles all the way around Lake Superior back in the day, she had long left her bike behind and it’s been a long time since her and I went off on an adventures’ together, so what’s a son to do…I said “absolutely mom, come on along”. And the logistics from that point on for six people, three under eighteen, Shira, me and my mom proved challenging to say the least.
That said Shira and I began the planning stages, this was to primarily be a hiking trip, so we needed to make certain the kids all had the proper trail gear, we had enough camping equipment for everyone, searching for flights, car rentals, campsites, itinerary which involved activities aside from hiking to satisfy everyone’s interests. It was a lot of work and it took us all of the time prior to leaving we had. We even had to check a duffle bag crammed full of freeze dried food and if that weren’t enough, we had allergies to mind so even the food had to be intensely researched.
At any rate we made it to Ontario, even after the airlines cancelled our flight three hours before leaving for the airport from Minnesota because of bad weather, forcing us to scramble to find another route. We got into the country finally after many hours and a round-about way, found our rental truck and commenced our adventure, three teenagers, my mom and Shira and I and we were having lots of fun. About halfway through though things began to get challenging, folks were tired of sleeping on the ground and eating the same freeze dried food but we had made plans to take a respite from that and stay in a cabin for a few days, we researched them along our scheduled trip and found one that looked comfortable, clean, updated and quaint. We were all excited, Ha…life is funny.
On the way to our cabin and after studying a gas station map of the area, Shira found a “short cut” through the mountains which would save us a solid hour, so after democratically taking a vote decided to take the short cut. All seemed fine for a mile or two, and then as we ascended into the foggy mountains, in the rain, the asphalt turned to something that appeared to have been abandoned for years, only remnants of asphalt remained, but our truck kept on going and then the asphalt disappeared completely. Then as we began an ascent you’d normally only find on a roller coaster, our rear wheels spinning and spitting out rocks and gravel, the air inside the truck grew quieter, almost moody, and thick with anticipated danger. About 7 miles in we had elevated to about thousand feet above a lake on one side and sheer cliff on the other with no room for error much less any other vehicle coming our way.
Sitting in the back of the truck it was difficult to see the edge of the road without sticking your head out the window, the rear of the truck began bouncing around and shifting from left to right and back again. There were heavy gulps and suddenly blurted yelps and even screams at one point in the ride…ahem I mean adventure. The road was muddy and the rain was substantial and we were wondering when this short cut would end. An hour later we reached the other side, the rain stopped, the road became groomed gravel and we were surrounded by green pastures, old farms at the foothills of this summer mountain pass reserved for the not so faint of heart. We’d survived that leg of the trip and were an hour ahead of schedule. Here we come clean beds and showers and hot water from a faucet.
As the sun fell beyond the tallest pine trees in the mountains and the golden light started to withdraw from the valley we found the final leg of our journey to the cabin, we crossed a river a few times, buildings disappeared and the shadows at the edge of the road grew more ominous. “There it is” someone yelled and I pulled off of the road and stopped. The engine running we all gawked out the front window, it was quiet, no one said a word, and only the crickets could be heard above our breathing. There in front of us was what must be what was left of the cabin from the brochure we looked at online, the picture on the website had to be twenty years old at least. It was the main cabin and It was old, dusty, had a Victorian slash French Canadian style about it. We looked around and saw a few, much smaller, cabins strewn around the property, tin roofs, shabby siding at best and a bit overgrown. We checked the brochure again and decided this must be it.
As we stepped from the struck we noticed there weren’t any lights in any of the windows, I wondered if anyone might be home. Slowly we walked up the creaky stairs to the rusty screen door. As we walked inside we were greeted by a woman whom called out from a backroom beyond a curtain in a doorway of course, how else might you have it. She stood for a moment inspecting the lot of us standing there peering back at her. “It’s quiet hours now, your cabin is ready for you but I must go light the heater for the shower and make sure you only use the amount of water absolutely necessary, we don’t have an unlimited supply round here.” While she spoke we looked around and in the dark corners of the room where there were stuffed and mounted black bears and cougars eerily appearing to be stalking us.
She led us threw a few trees and to our cabin, I couldn’t help but think I’d seen this place before, and decided it might have been in an old R rated movie, the ones with scream queens and the group of teenagers drinking and dying at the hands of some poor lad who’d been mistreated at the hands of upset villagers for being a product of his size and limited education and decided to take it out on scantily clad teens. When she left us we all stood gawking at a bare cabin, no refrigerator, an old sink, a broken down old couch covered in an ancient afghan blanket and two rooms with curtains for doors. It smelled like old fish and dusty wood floors, oh, and don’t forget the wood stove for heat, as the temperature dropped outside I scrambled for cut wood for the stove underneath the cabin where it had been stored out of the rain.
After a long journey and so many nights sleeping on the ground we had expected much better, this would be fine if we hadn’t been cold and hunted by mosquitoes the size of small cats for the last week, but this, we were all disappointed to say the least. My kids had expected much more and in the spirit of teens couldn’t much hide their feelings. But to their credit, came to me at some point and voiced their feelings, and together we all decided to make the best of it. We broke out the playing cards after warming up and getting cleaned up as best we could, it did after all have an actual shower and we all took advantage of it. We scratched together some food and sat down at the table to play a few rounds of Spoons, always fodder for plenty of laughs and fun. No trip is perfect, there will always be things that don’t exactly work out but in the end, it’s nice to experience it with family, the human spirit is indeed finicky at times but always prevails.
The next day we woke with brighter spirits and decided to explore a little. We went for a nice walk along the woods and even decided to take advantage of the canoes they had available for us to paddle around the lake; we were thrilled and energized at the prospect. Once given the lecture about cleaning out the canoes we were given life preservers and paddles and prepared to launch two canoes, the kids grabbed one and I, Shira and my mom took another. The lake looked quite pretty surrounded by mountains and forests and we were about to embark on what ought to be a wonderful afternoon of lazy roaming about the beautiful shorelines of Square Lake. When we got to the edge of the water we realized the water was running in the opposite direction of the lake, it appeared that the lady in the house had forgot to tell us we must travail a deep raging river to get to the lake. I gave a fatherly explanation, you know, an overly explained tale of caution and safety to the kids that undeniably goes in one ear and out the other to anyone below the age of 25 and watched as the jumped in their canoe and paddled up river without much ado.
After making a decision as to our positions in the canoe we dumped it into the river and allowed my mom to climb into the middle, I hopped into the front and my lovely Shira pushed us off and stepped in back. Almost immediately we started drifting in the wrong direction but were able to redirect the craft upriver, we struggled to say the least, my mom began to fret as Shira and I tried desperately to find the right and easiest path to take along the shoreline against the current. You know the old movies where someone is running from someone else shooting at them and they begin running in a wide zig zag motion? Well that was us, the fast flowing waters push the front of our canoe to the side and we would pull it back and then the current would push it in the other direction so we struggled to pull it back again. This went on for about twenty minutes before we realized we had all but gone about five feet or so. This was proving more difficult than we had anticipated.
We noticed at this point that we were in trouble but that there was a sandbar immediately to our right, my mother being the only one without a paddle was designated the savior and asked to hop out and grab the canoe in order to pull us to the sand bar and to safety, unfortunately as soon as she hopped into the water she began to lose feeling in her legs as the water was icy and fast, she ended up grabbing hold of the side of the canoe fearing if she were to let go she might be carried away. Sadly for us that happened to be the center of the canoe and it only took moments for the water to swell and rush over the side and fill the small craft, flipping us over, and dunking both Shira and I. We scrambled to gather what hadn’t been swept away and dragged the canoe to the shore. We were now soaked to the bone, in our hiking boots, pants and jackets. And we were on the opposite shore of camp.
When I looked around for my children, worried about their safety after the adults whom surely should have been able to strategize better and navigate these waters with fluid, learned tactics failed, I noticed they’d cleared the mouth of the river and were quickly paddling out of distance of my voice, seemingly never having looked back. Embarrassed and wet we decided to just continue on, we were already wet, what’s the worst that can happen now.
In the end the cabin stay was one of my favorite parts of our vacation, memories are really the only thing we can all take with us and we made plenty there. We laughed, made s’mores over a raging campfire at sunset, looked out at the millions of wonderful stars, counted fireflies and played cards til we all fell asleep. When we finally left it was the beginning of another adventure, we drove away the next morning, the lot of us packed back into our big GMC SUV, dirty wet socks flapping against the rolled up windows and all.