Written by mstansberry on 02 Sep, 2004
The trip starts at 4am on a Saturday, dad pulling me off the couch after about an hour’s nap. My brother and I load our gear into the truck, fight over the seats, and fall back to sleep immediately. By 4:30am, we meet my uncles…Read More
The trip starts at 4am on a Saturday, dad pulling me off the couch after about an hour’s nap. My brother and I load our gear into the truck, fight over the seats, and fall back to sleep immediately. By 4:30am, we meet my uncles and friends at a gas station near the Ohio Turnpike. My dad’s friend John drives a giant, white van that’s full of contraband, destined to cross the Canadian border. He’s packing enough beer to sink us all, homemade wine housed in Hi-C jugs, Cuban cigars, goose sausage, and caribou meatballs. It’s a miracle that he ever makes it across.
John’s friend, an old Italian guy named Jack, hands me and my brother something that looks like a piece of pizza that got dropped in a compost heap. We can’t eat, we’re still drunk from the night before. But Jack makes us eat it. He tells me it helps "kill the goodness." Jack’s English isn’t so great. Kill the goodness turns out to be the catch phrase for the rest of the week.
The next few hours blur together. We drive through the cornfield-watertower wasteland of Northwestern Ohio, through Vermillion, past Sandusky and Toledo, until we get to Michigan. There’s a Cabela’s (The World’s Foremost Outfitter!) in Michigan and we have to stop there every year. I usually mill around like a zombie, filling up a basket full of lures, since I hadn’t bought anything for the trip yet. It takes an hour to get out. Maybe two hours later, we stop in Frankenmuth. Somebody has to have Freeway Fritz fried chicken for lunch.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula takes forever, despite the fact that the speed limit is 70mph. It’s too late to sleep and too far away to get excited about anything. Me and dad run out of things to talk about and my brother is pretending to sleep in the back. This is the time when I drive the truck.
When we finally get to Duty Free, it’s always a fight. Dad doesn’t want to pay duty on the beer. He thinks two cases will be enough for us for the week. And I have to tell him that two cases won’t last three days, even if I’m the only one drinking them. We drink a lot on this trip, and the old man underestimates his own beer consumption. Every year we end up drinking John’s beer by the end of the week, so I put my foot down. We each buy a bottle of booze and plan to buy beer on the other side.
We stop at the border, they ask the questions, and they let us go. We buy licenses, beer, smoked whitefish, and other crap in Soo Ste. Marie. It’s the seediest town in Ontario, by a lot. By this time, it’s about 4pm and John busts out the beers. Dad doesn’t have one, but he smokes a cigar in his new truck. I take a picture of him to show mom.
We take 17-North towards Thunder Bay. That part of Lake Superior is gorgeous and spooky. Low hanging clouds seem sentient. The cliffs overlook the bluest freshwater you’ll ever see. There are human-shaped piles of stone all along the sides of the road. It’s a Native American tradition that the local Canucks have taken up. The human-shaped piles at one time had meant to mark that a person had been in a certain place. That a man had walked on this remote location. There are moose everywhere and yellow road signs show a charging moose. It would be like hitting a parked truck. John had hit one before.
One of the last stops is Wawa, the biggest town this far north. There are huge statues of Canadian geese in this town. It’s the main attraction, and doesn’t seem to be a very successful gimmick. But somehow a PA/Jersey gas station chain called Wawa picked up on it and uses the goose for its logo. We stop at Young’s General Store and buy more pointless crap. Fox pelts, pumpkin seeds, pickles, presents for mom.
By 8pm, we’re pulling into White River and the Continental Motel. White River is famous for being the coldest place in North America and for being the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh. As a tourist draw, the two seem to cancel each other out. By this time we’re starving, and the only game in town is an A&W and the motel restaurant. We always go to the restaurant, and we’re always served by attractive, surly waitresses that are so sick of horny fishermen that they don’t even give us a chance. Not that we deserve one, but benefit of the doubt would be nice.
After dinner, it’s off to Green Gables, the local dive. In years past I’ve seen touring bands, tried free hallucinogens, and been punched in the mouth. It’s always interesting, and usually at last call somebody is either puking or bleeding on the front steps on the way out. But this time, when we get there at 11pm, the owner decides to shut down early. The bar is for sale. So sadly, we return to the Continental unfulfilled.
At 7am, we’re up eating breakfast. The same waitresses are there. Maybe that’s why they’re so pissed. Maybe it’s my uncle’s comments. Who knows? But after we check out (my cousin has stolen a key every year since he was eight years old), we make our way down to the station to wait for the cargo train. The caribou balls go around. John breaks out the turkey jerky and the cheap cigars. My brother breaks out the whiskey. It’s a two hour ride into the bush, where they drop us off at the lake. On the ride out, John hangs from the open doorway of the cargo train and swings out on the curves. Dad cringes.
When we stop at mile 88, we unload the car in a flurry of efficiency that would impress anyone. We take so much gear that the lodge sends extra help just for our group. John packs for an army. I gain ten pounds every trip. Once we’re loaded and I start my cedar boat, I’m home. I know this lake better than I know anywhere. And there is nowhere in the world I’d rather be for one week every summer.