Day 45: Huntsville to Mew Lake (75 km)
“Bear in area”
The a-frame sign was propped up outside the campsite office entrance.
This wasn’t the species of mammal I saw hoping to encounter today. I’ve spent all day peering in the bushes, scanning the trees, and peaking under the rocks in the hope of seeing a moose.
But alas, no moose.
There was one exciting spectacle to liven up my otherwise usual day’s jaunt cycling past the forest, rocks, lakes etc etc of northern Ontario. There was I merrily swooping around the corner of a nice descent when what should fly across the road in front of me but…
This plane was literally flying across the road. If you’d been driving a truck or wearing stilts when it passed you’d have been knocked over. It swooped gloriously by, all buzzing blades and shiny yellow paintwork. As I approached the bottom of the hill, I squealed on Monty’s brakes and swivelled around to see the lake. On the dock stood the outline of two figures and a stack of crates and bags. The plane was now floating on the lake and skirting around to meet the dock. Like any good tourist I jumped over the “no trespassing” sign in order to take a better photo without the limb of a tree in the way (regret: I took the photos on my actual camera not my iPad so cannot share it with you).
I then continued to cycle past more forest, rocks, lakes etc etc. Until at a pleasantly mid-afternoonish I pulled off the highway towards the campground. To welcome me was the warning sign: Bear in Area.
Inside the office, the staff informed me that there was a Zero Tolerance policy in operation. Perhaps more scary than the the threat of seeing a bear was the fact that if a park ranger found you had left out a crumb of food or a smudge of toothpaste you would be fined $150 on the spot. Eek!
I decided to try my luck hanging up my food using my rope. After a few throws, I successfully had my rope hanging over a high branch. With a bit of fiddling I attached one food-laden pannier. And heaved. And heaved. The friction of branch to rope wasn’t helping me. I finally succeeded in heaving my pannier up by poking it up with a stick with one hand while simultaneously pulling down with the other. Despite the tallness of the branch, my bag was now only up at the height of me + arm + stick. I stood back. Hmm.. What to do? There were no tall people strolling past.
I wanted to leave at dawn tomorrow so that I could get on the road during the wildlife window of the day (ie between dawn and human breakfast). The office staff had informed me I could get a bear locker but in order to get my deposit back in the morning I’d have to wait until the office was open and thus miss the wildlife window. I looked up again at my pannier dangling only a metre from my head. I estimated the height of a bear on tip toes.
Off I wandered to get the keys to my bear locker.
On reflection, this was probably the sensible choice as when I went to retrieve my pannier from its tree the branch broke as I yanked the string down. Oops.
Having stashed my food away I went to gather firewood. I was happily gathering from a cache of dried bark when a man’s voice boomed through the trees.
“If a warden catches you doing that you’ll be fined!” The man yelled.
“Warden. The police. Banned. Illegal.” He shot words at me in an angry tone.
Yikes. I put down the firewood. And, in my clearest English accent, explained
I haven’t seen a sign, didn’t know it was banned, and thank you very much for telling me.
I’m sure there is some sort of explanation for the ban on collecting firewood (eg leave the wood to rot so it can provide a home to numerous varieties of fungi etc) but I would like to know what it is and not just be yelled at. At least the guy did save me from a potential fine. But having spent the day entirely alone a small bit of human contact can really swing your mood. His angry tone had put me on edge and made me feel quite alone.
And because bad stuff comes in 3s I then encountered the water tap. The first water tap had a sign up indicating in pictorial form that one is not allowed to wash dishes under the tap. Fair enough. But then the sink in the washroom had the same sign. And then the industrial looking sink in the laundry room had the same sign. Hmmf. And where is one supposed to wash the residue of one’s tomato gnocchi off one’s folding bowl? There was no indication.
Are bears not going to be attracted to the smell of my unwashed hot chocolate cup and a sticky bowl? I was not impressed and decided, warden or no warden, to wash my dishes.
So yes, the evening was quite frustrating. I can’t collect my own firewood, I can’t wash my dishes in the sink and now I have to stomp up the road for 5 minutes to retrieve any smelly item from my bear lock. Now – yes, now – I understand why so many of you good people choose to stay in hotels. You don’t have to put up with this nonsense.
I now have only 3 more days of cycling until I reach Ottawa and civilisation. I will be pleased to be out of the woods and in a place without so many rules on dishes, firewood, bears etc. But not before I have seen a moose.