A tale of trees, trinkets and three bears

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Miles of nothin’ but this…..

Brother #3 who lived in Ontario briefly, warned about the tedium of crossing Ontario. “It’s miles of nothing.” Being that #3 is more likely to be watching TSN than the travel channel, we took his warning with a grain of salt.

With Wawa and the feather-challenged geese in the rear view mirror, we head towards Sault Ste Marie into the ‘miles of nothin’ that reveal endless thickets of trees punctuated by breathtaking views of Lake Superior, dotted with islands and so vast it reminds former West Coasters of the ocean.

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The world’s strangest petting zoo

Native trinket stores abound. Want your picture taken beside a giant moose or bear, they’ve got you covered. Want a t-shirt with a pithy saying about how old and entitled you are, or one related to your beer obsession, they’ve got that as well. Inside are a mélange of strange foodstuffs; jalapeño popcorn, gigantic warty pickles and chocolate covered hotdogs (okay I made that one up). In sharp contrast are the impressive wood carvings of First Nation artists, from tiny animal figures to huge but intricate creations like eagles in flight or turtles swimming out of stumps, all carved in intricate detail.

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An engineer’s magical mystery tour lies behind this

Sault Ste. Marie is a city that got it right. Blessed with an abundance of downtown waterfront, the past city fathers (sexist, but city mothers doesn’t sound right) dedicated land for a linear park along the St. Mary River which connects Superior with Lake Huron. At the end of that walk is Whitefish Island, stolen from the Ojibwa First Nation but returned after a court battle. The route allows a close-up view of the locks. I know now why engineers get the big bucks. The planning and execution that goes into designing a system that allows a ship to transfer from one body of water to another without flooding out an entire city is impressive – gold star engineering nerd, gold star.

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Don’t feed the bears in Sault Ste. Marie, they feed themselves

Maybe you’ve heard of cottage country in Ontario. Cottaging is a fluid definition out here, sometimes the cottage is a ratty rundown travel trailer on a lot near a lake or it could mean a kabillion dollar home on the water.

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Parry Sound’s pride and joy, apparently #4 meant how many days it’s open                    

Parry Sound, in the heart of cottage country, is most famous for being the boyhood home of Bobby #4 Orr. A museum housing memorabilia of his storied career is on the waterfront. I can’t tell you what type of memorabilia because it was closed when we were there, as were the public bathrooms which apparently only open Friday to Monday, a lot of crossed legs and pained faces downtown Tuesday to Thursday.

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The Dog given a choice between this agility field and dog yoga chose the latter

We settle at a KOA outside of Parry Sound. KOA’s, in case you didn’t know, are the McDonalds of the camping world–ubiquitous, clean, efficient and staffed with well-trained yellow-shirted employees. Oh, one difference from McDonalds – expensive. Somebody’s got to pay for those yellow t-shirts and the dog agility training area. The Dog refused to try it out, sniffing that he wasn’t some trained monkey who did tricks on demand or was that the Dude?

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The Dude – trained beer drinking monkey

Winnipeg, A tale of two cities – Part 1

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White-knuckling it through Winnipeg traffic

After travelling for a while one thing has become clear; small is good, big is bad.

Take Winnipeg’s traffic.. please. It started off innocently enough, an uneventful drive from Dauphin through farmland dotted with cows. Thousands of cows. Forget Alberta beef, bring on that ‘Friendly Manitoba’ ribeye.

Cows in Manitoba

Hello Manitoba ribeye

Our GPS guide, Ms. Funk (Grade 5 teacher, perfect diction and a bun, need I say more), always affable and ever-diligent about finding the shortest route from point A to B, led us on a merry chase from one secondary highway to another. On roads (highways?) that were so narrow and deserted that at one point a kindly Manitoban pulled up beside our truck in the oncoming traffic lane gesticulating madly towards the back of the trailer. As it turned, the sewer hose had escaped its bumper lair and was bumping down the road. It wasn’t the kind heads-up that surprised me but instead the gentleman’s complete faith that he could drive indefinitely in the wrong lane with no expectation of oncoming traffic. Gotta love Manitoba.

So far so good, right? Wrong. Winnipeg like so many of Canada’s major cities is bursting at the seams. Bordered by two rivers and split into North and South quadrants, the growth is outwards to the ‘burbs a vast wasteland of boxy condo’s and tiny Stepford-like homes in neighourhoods surrounded by industry and train tracks.

Apparently road repair and hodge-podge urban development is driving Winnipeg’s economy. Now, we are no traffic sissies. The Dude and Dame are battle-hardened veterans of the Vancouver traffic wars. My left eye still twitches when someone mentions rush hour on the Patella Bridge.Winnipeg traffic is different, planned to cause optimum inconvenience. Like Portage Avenue. Four lanes snaking through Winnipeg, the main through-fare from East to West and my chosen route to meet a friend on the southwest end of town.

An hour should be plenty to get there, I think, programming Ms. Funk. It started innocently enough, I cruised through the north-end of town, an eighties rock station blaring in the truck. As we headed into downtown Winnipeg, the ninth circle of hell begins. Traffic in Winnipeg isn’t worse than Vancouver, it’s that built up wealth of traffic avoidance knowledge that is missing. I don’t know the shortcuts, the secret back roads, the side roads that will lead me out of this nightmare. I am trapped. Even the song stylings of Van Halen can’t lighten my mood.

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Downtown Winnipeg an innocent facade at first

And then suddenly it is over. The orange traffic cones and warning signs are gone, four lanes of freedom lie ahead as I rev my engine and head west. Now if they could only get those traffic lights synchronized.

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This car was new when the traffic jam started

Dexter speaks his truth

Big sign Winnipegosis

A Winnipegosis –  small town in Manitoba or medical condition

“If residents of Winnipeg are called Winnipeggers, are the 600-odd people who live in Winnepegosis known as Winnepegosisers? Sounds a bit ‘hoser-ish.’” –the Dude.

The above quote says everything you need to know about the level of conversation as the truck drives itself down straight and flat highways with the Dude occasionally moving the steering wheel a half inch to either side.

I’d like to know how he got top billing on this blog while I, with my legitimate ‘Dood” lineage, am relegated to third banana status, and further humiliated by being labelled simply as The Dog.

Dexter snoozes

Might as well grab a quick snooze while the humans look at stuff

Most of you know me as Dexter, the Meandering Maloney’s sweet-natured companion, affectionate and laid back, always on the lookout for a head scratch or a bum noogie. The oldies’s great adventure is putting my amiable disposition to the test. Sure, I’ve got three dog beds in the truck’s back seat and plenty of food and water, but the Dood does not live on creature comforts alone. I need intellectual stimulation and as I indicated at the beginning, the cab of the truck is a black intellectual void. And what’s worse there’s nothing to see out the windows. Grey fields, grey sky, grey water and a barely discernible grey horizon.

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Try looking at this all day

Back in Kaleden I had the run of the neighbourhood, friends who gave me cookies and plenty of deer to bark at. I could sniff the neighbour dog’s bum anytime. No fuss. I put up with ridiculously early morning walks with the Dame and being expected to pee and poo on cue because I knew I could go back home and snooze until mid-morning when the Dude gets up.

The Dude’s natural tendency towards laziness suited me fine at home. His big exertion of the day often amounted to going to the beach to smoke a cigar and knock back and can of Red Bull. I could go for a drink in the lake, chew old deer bones and sniff around while he blew smoke at the water. Now the Dude sometimes gets up as early as 9:30 and the Dame has us both on the go before noon.

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What’s with all the churches in Dauphin, was there a sale on minarets?

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Yawn…church #2

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Fire halls sure are fancy in Dauphin

How many Ukrainian Churches can one dog look at? Maybe they’re better in full colour but I’m here to tell you that from three feet off the ground one grey minaret looks like any other. I don’t get it. These two haven’t set foot inside a church in dog’s years.

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Train stations, The Dame is all over these

And railway stations. What’s up with that? Brick piles with tracks running alongside. Of course, it’s not all tedious. I’m keeping in shape on bike ride runs through small town neighbourhoods. Sometimes I get lucky and a yard dog comes snarling at the fence. Lucky for them I’m trained to resist trouble. Still, it’s fun to see them all frustrated as I prance by. In one campsite I got an off-leash shot at a big jack rabbit. That hopping thing generates the closest thing I’ve seen to warp speed. The dratted rabbit’s easy escape left an embarrassing taste and the Dude, not unexpectedly, rubbed it in with a derisive “Nice try, Dexter.”

It’s true I get a lot of attention from the geezers at the RV parks. A dog over six inches stands out in these places. Every night it’s the same thing, the geezers take their precious little poofters for a stroll around the grounds. Try and get up close for a bum sniff and the poofters freak out. Honestly, as if I could be bothered.


Thank Gawd I’ve got my monkey to talk to

Here Moosey, Moosey, Moosey

The Dauphin bayou campground

Camping near the Dauphin Bayou

Leaving Yorkton, Mean Machine purring like a hyper-caffeinated cougar, we head for Dauphin Manitoba. This is not a planned stop; the trip is a shoot-from-the-hip, dart-on-the-board type of adventure. Not a comforting thought for those who live life with electronic organizer at the ready.

When you think of Manitoba what comes to mind? The Dame’s perception is clouded by childhood memories of family outings in Shilo–Brother #1 screaming as a bloated bloodsucker is carefully removed from his foot by a lighted cigarette, and Brother #1 again (apparently a magnet for childhood drama) being rushed to a clinic to have a tick removed from his belly.

Manitoba is the province of lakes. Forget that “Friendly Manitoba” label. How can you guarantee that anyway? One surly guy at a convenience store can ruin the whole provincial image, calling your province “Mostly Friendly Manitoba” is probably a safer bet.

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Come on in the water’s fine!

One thing you don’t expect to see in Manitoba is a mountain. When you live in B.C. you become blasé about mountains, they are just there blocking out the sun in early evening. We are startled when visitors from other countries gush, as if they just sprouted from the earth to become a photo backdrop.

Manitobans celebrate their mountain; the federal government even built a park around it; Riding Mountain National Park, just south of Dauphin. We set out to experience our own mountain moment.

Can you point me in the direction of your mountain

Can you point me in the direction of your mountain

Hmmm, okay, well… perhaps we’re jaded, maybe our definition of mountain and/or hill needs to be adjusted, tweaked a bit to include the broad spectrum of vertical rock formations that Canada has to offer.

The park looms above the waterlogged prairie, a giant bump on the horizon. No white-capped peaks; in fact, no peaks at all. Don’t get me wrong, the park is beautiful. Lakes shimmer and gleam around each corner, a bounty of hiking trails lead off in all directions.

Mountain climbing in Manitoba

Mountain climbing in Manitoba

Inexplicably, two red Adirondack chairs sit empty atop a bump on the bump. We hike up to discover an amazing prairie panorama. The Town of Clear Lake is a post card, complete with outdoor cafés, tourist shops and rangers walking around in park uniforms.

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Clear Lake Resort where Easter lasts all summer

Riding Mountain is also a safe haven for moose. The mighty, comical Canadian icons apparently abound in the park. There are signs dotting the road warning unwary travelers that a moose might dash across the road at any time. The Dame is ecstatic, camera at the ready. A moose sighting in the wild, does it get any better? That bear, crouched in the bush at the side of the road… we can see those at home, in fact three strolled down our road last fall. I’m looking for the money shot,Bullwinkle in the flesh.

Here Moosey, Moosey, Moosey…

Somehow I thought they would be bigger

Somehow I thought they would be bigger