Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Take the Chapleau Road, And Drive with Wolves

I drove past a pack of wolves up on 129, near Chapleau, ON. They were running along the highway between a rock cut, probably travelling about the same speed as I was. Deep snow. I was glad to have tire chains. Big wolves. They are always big. I could clearly see their eyes. They bounded up through the drifts into the woods. I held on to the wheel, downshifting, hoping to make the top of the hill.

An early start from my Zero to 100 Motel in Marathon, ON. I'm thinking that the road crews have had all night to scrape and sand- and open- the TransCanada highway running south and east towards the Sault. On line, I find that the road is still closed south of Wawa. That's part of the reason there is no traffic: nothing coming up, and the trucks further north are probably routing down 61 into Deluth, MN and the bigger, cleaner, Interstate system. But here I am, heading south to Wawa, a 250 km drive that will end up taking nearly six hours...

I only think to take pictures on the good bits of road. The rest of the time I'm busy, stressing to hold the road. Steep hills up, down, tight curves, ice, snow. Sometimes deep snow in drifts. It's white, dim. I'm alone out here. At Wawa it is snowing hard, the highway remains closed beyond, so I head up Hwy 101 into town to look for Tim's. I'll use their free wifi to check road and weather conditions, drink some coffee, and plan my next move. I'm glad to be stopped and indoors.

Reports don't give any hope of the highway being open anytime soon, but the maps show a secondary highway, 101, as being "snow packed and snow covered," but open. If I take 101 east for about 200 km of bush driving, and then take 129 south for another 200 km, I could drive right around the closed highway. And besides- these little roads are INLAND. There will be less snow away from Superior. I can't spend days waiting in a motel- the back end of this Tour has been running on fumes. I gas up and head out. The road looks small, but not any worse than I've just been on. And there's no traffic to worry about...

As the snow deepens and the hills get bigger, I stop on the road and chain up. I'm not liking this, while the sky had cleared a little bit at first, now the snow was starting again. Go back an hour and a half? Or press on? Press on, into the gathering darkness. Headlights on high, fog lights on. Nerves on edge. Wheels clattering on ice. Tires slipping in the snow.

Nine hours later I reach the TransCanada, Hwy 17, near Blind River, ON. Made it! Boy, are my arms, back, neck and legs stiff! It's a good thing the Lincoln has a sturdy steering wheel. That was like a ride through the dark side of Narnia, complete with wolves, lights in the sky- and probably beasts in the deep woods as well.

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