On the Road
Before I left, I packed a survival kit.
I was going to traverse a huge tract of uninhabited country, a virtual wilderness, and if the car broke down, I would spend the night with only mosquitoes and other carnivores for companions.
I packed a water bottle, a can of pop, a sleeping bag, a flashlight, fly repellant, a pressurized can of bear deterrent, and an O Henry chocolate bar. I picked the most dangerous time of day to leave last Friday, early evening, when traffic on the trail would be minimal, because the smart motorists would be safely ensconced in front of their TVs to monkey with their PlayStation 3s.
There is one stretch of trail that is called, by the Guv’mint, an Industrial Road. It is not, I repeat, NOT a road. It is a trail. It is a trail in the muskeg, with intermittent patches of gravel and potholes. It is 90 kilometres long. When it is not used by logging trucks and pickups towing ATVs, it is used by moose and bear. A few of which I met. The wildlife, I mean.
After Manitouwadge was discovered, the Guv’mint built a highway from the North Shore of Lake Superior so that people could bring in the materiel necessary to develop the mines – things like tents and cartons of baked beans and drilling rigs.
About the same time the Guv’mint built a highway from the north end, from Highway 11, south to Caramat, a flag station on the CNR. Loggers moved into the territory between the two communities. They built logging trails. Then the Guv’mint had a grand idea. Why not link the two communities? The Guv’mint was making small fortunes every week from the operations of the mining industry and the forest industry, so they had the money.
So they tied together a few logging trails, put some gravel here and a culvert there, and created the Industrial Road. Which is, I remind you, not a road. It is a trail.
Before I left home, brother John cautioned me about the trail. It has to be patched up every spring, and the potholes renewed.
After I left Caramat, a ghost community with a few living souls, I hit the trail. In the first half-hour, I met a couple of pickups towing ATVs. Then nothing. Nobody. Till Manitouwadge. I travelled slow. I was able to spot most of the clutches of potholes and brake sharply before I broke my axles.
I encountered mounds of muskeg freshly piled beside the trail. Beaver muck. What happens is, the Guv’mint or Somebody sends out the BMCs every spring to muck out the culverts because the beavers have stuffed them full of branches and loonshit. It is the job of the Beaver Muck Crews to unplug the culverts so that the road doesn’t wash out with the spring run-off.
I did encounter a few washouts. But Somebody, probably the Road Washout Menders (the RWMs), had replaced the culverts and dumped a truckload or two of gravel into the trenches. When traversing these patches, one can scarcely feel the potholes beneath – unless you speed up to 5 or 10 kmph.
From time to time I was forced to creep around piles of gravel. Each pile was marked by alder branches festooned with red flagging tape, so that both motorists and wildlife had ample warning about the obstructions.
The potholes kept me awake. As did the blind hills and the blind curves. A blind hill is a hill that you climb straight up, preferably with the assistance of ropes and pitons. For the first second or two, all you see through the windshield is sky. Then you’re on top, and the next thing you see is either more landscape or twin headlights and a shiny grille that are two metres away and rushing toward you at 40 kmph – which, combined with your speed, makes that an imminent collision at 80 kmph.
Like the blind curves, which you can’t see around, the road on blind hills pinches in so that only one vehicle can squeeze through. This is all a Guv’mint Plan to assist the IBFDABSs (the Insurance Brokers and Funeral Directors and Auto Body Shops).
But the potholes are the most fun. It’s a game, see?
(Continued in Chapter 3)