Focus on road tripping along Lake Superior

A personal story

I watched as my husband set the old nightside clock to 5:00 a.m. but also the cell phone, just in case. Luckily, the digital sound woke us. After a sleepy visit to the bathroom, I strolled into the walk-in closet. My husband had already dressed himself, so I had the space all to myself. I picked my clothes off the shelf and dressed promptly, grabbed comfortable shoes, and went downstairs. 

Daylight peeked above the two-story houses as we shoved the suitcases into the SUV at 5:30 a.m. I don’t enjoy driving in the dark, so we planned to reach our destination before sunset. After our customary prayer before any travels, we started off. Fortunately, we live north of Toronto, there’s no need to travel on the congested 401. We enjoy the two-lane roads in North York which bring us to Highway 400 at Davis Drive. This time we hadn’t made coffee, so we stopped at the first ONroute Plaza after about two hours. A nice place to stretch the legs and pick up Tim Horton’s coffee, a favourite of ours. 

Finnish bakery

In Sudbury we purchased Finnish baking and meat pies from the famous Leinala’s Bakery. The fragrance of freshly baked cinnamon buns tempted me, but I restrained myself until the next break at Espanola, about one hour away. Here we used the restroom and purchased another coffee to enjoy with the baking.

I wanted my husband to rest a few hours, so I drove until Sault Ste Marie where I pulled to a gas station. We gassed up and devoured our lunch in the vehicle. Covid-19 had restricted restaurants to takeout only. I picked up a cold drink, and he purchased another coffee.

Now halfway through our 16-hour drive to Thunder Bay, I worried if we could achieve our set goal with sleep deprivation or unplanned obstacles slowing us down.  

The Lake Superior Circle Drive begins at the Soo on the Canadian side. I always look forward to this part of the drive with its majestic scenery. You can feel the beauty of Lake Superior and the never-ending forested wilderness. Sometimes the water glistens like diamonds and other times the whitecaps paint a stormy picture. Or a sudden unnerving point creeps up, and the road seems to end into the lake with magnificent scenery up ahead. Then the winding, hilly highway meanders over the varied terrain of the Canadian Shield. Cliffs along the route reveal multicoloured sedimentary rocks horizontally layered like a birthday cake with various fruit fillings. 

Lake Superior Tour

Old Woman Bay

The trees whizzed by as I chatted, “Let’s stop at Old Woman Bay.” Before he could form a reply I continued, “I love the sandy beach with driftwood for photographing.” Married almost five decades, we often read each other’s intentions, but I say it anyway.  

But as many times before, he replied emphatically. “We don’t have time, or do you want to drive in the dark!” I knew the tight schedule, so we didn’t stop that time, but only two months later we travelled there again so we stopped for photos. The old woman’s face on the 200-metre cliffs stands outs against the sky.

A worthwhile attraction along the Lake Superior Circle Route is Batchawana Bay between Sault Ste Marie and Wawa, which is enjoyed by locals and sightseers alike. Although it’s a fantastic scenic area of sandy beaches and clear shallow water for swimming, we don’t swim there, but I did get a photo of the beach. There are the beautiful Batchawana Falls off the highway which we hope to explore one day. Our road trips are more focused on destination rather than exploration.

Batchawana Bay Beach

Land of the big goose

Although I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve travelled the Trans-Canada Highway, starting from my university days to our latest move from Thunder Bay to the Greater  Toronto Area (GTA) in 2017, the natural beauty always amazes me. It never gets old. I enjoy the shoreline of Lake Superior in its ruggedness and the beauty of the wilderness along stretches of this part of the highway.

Perhaps most travellers are not aware that the northern part of the route opened to cars in 1960. A large goose monument commemorated this event at Wawa, about two hours west from Sault Ste Marie. My husband’s focus allows no rabbit trails when he has a destination in mind. Therefore, we didn’t stop there until a few years back when I finally convinced him to admire the goose structure which stands 28 feet tall!

Why a goose? To attract tourists to visit Wawa, which is an Ojibway name meaning ‘Land of the Big Goose’. They erected this restructured version in 2017 to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday. Hidden from the highway, I’ve heard of beautiful waterfalls and nature trails which, sadly, I’ve missed, but will add to my bucket list. 

The Goose at Wawa

Heading west, the next quick stop was Terrace Bay, a small town four hours from our destination. I pondered about road/bridge construction like last summer. No sooner had I thought this, when a flagman stopped cars for highway repairs. Thankfully, it didn’t delay us long, and we were on our way. The low purr of the motor and the silence of the vast forest spoke to my spirit. Though I prefer quiet contemplation mixed with conversation, I enjoy checking social media whenever service is available. I don’t doze in the car like I used to. I try to keep the driver alert by engaging him in conversation. 

A memory: roadside rest

We passed a roadside rest on the shore of the Lake near Rossport village, a unique nature lover’s paradise with waterfalls and trails. Funny how locations entice memories. “Remember, we stopped there and had a picnic. Remember the photo of our van and Uhaul beside the picnic table.” It was 1976. We were moving from Sudbury to Thunder Bay, starting our respective careers, myself a high school teacher and my husband pastor of a small Finnish church.

I admired the tall steel cables contrasting against the sky at the newly built 4-lane Nipigon Bridge, and the rushing water below. I had wrestled sleepiness in the last few hours so when we passed Nipigon; I considered it as the destination, almost there with one hour to go. The Trans-Canada highway snarls along the Lake Superior Circle route much of the time as a two-lane highway but from here we can enjoy a few kilometres of 4-lane roads, just as the Sudbury and Barrie areas.  

Canada: my adopted country

Before we arrived in Thunder Bay, enormous thunder and lightning slowed us down, and rain hampered visibility. But thankfully, it ended quickly. Back to normal driving speed, I remembered one attraction. The Terry Fox Memorial & Lookout overlooking the famous Sleeping Giant on Lake Superior.

The year was 1980 when cancer returned and Terry ended his cross-Canada fundraiser at this very place. Every time I visit this location, I stand in reverential awe. We had lived outside of Canada, and when we returned in 1983, the year they erected the statue, tears flowed down my cheeks the moment I viewed it. I recall being so overjoyed to be back in Canada! 

Lake Superior Tour

The time on the dashboard read 9:33 p.m. when we pulled into the driveway in daylight. Exhausted but thankful, we hauled our bags into the tiny lakeside cabin just before rain pelted the roof. God answered our prayers–no animals on the road, no bad drivers, and the driver stayed alert. The goodness of God.

Sleeping Giant, Sibley Provincial Park

Enjoy the journey but keep the destination in focus.

Pirkko Rytkonen

Wife, mother, and grandmother. Christ follower and seeker of truth. Blogging to inspire and encourage others.

4 thoughts on “Focus on road tripping along Lake Superior

  1. Hi Pirkko, I really enjoyed reading about your trip. Like you I have travelled the northern rout many times as Grant’s family are from Sault Saint Marie..

    1. I didn’t know Grant was from the Soo. The Lake Superior Route is most beautiful from Sault Ste Marie to Thunder Bay, but unfortunately we’ve been focused on the destination and didn’t stop to explore new areas. Next summer we will do more sight seeing. Thanks for reading.

  2. Thanks, Pirkko, for sharing this journey with the lovely photos. I’ve traveled much but often forget details that I could share with others who may never visit those places.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Same with me. I forget a lot of travels and details about places unless I write it right away. This summer I’ve seen a lot of friends post photos of their travels, and I like the ones with captions and explanations the best. Maybe I’ll write more travel stories in this blog with photos, since I have thousands of them.

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