Some belated notes on the trip:
Road trip and camping
More of an ordeal than I remembered. We took three days to get from Shawville to Winnipeg, driving eight to 10 hours a day, with me doing the bulk of the driving. (Long-distance driving is one of my talents.) We used the extra time to camp, staying at Pancake Bay and Kakabeka Falls provincial parks, outside Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, respectively.
This was not only an opportunity for us to get some camping in — we’ve always found it hard to make the time for it — but also to shake out the bugs in our camping routine. Next time, for example, we’ll have to remember to bring folding lawn chairs: we quite literally ran out of things to do in the evenings, and needed somewhere more comfortable to sit. And speaking of comfort, we’ll have to do something about the sleeping pads: the ground was excruciatingly hard for me — I’d previously camped on softer turf — causing the only real back pain for the trip. (That in itself is unusual: travel stress usually elevates my pain levels.)
We also spent some time discussing whether it might well be better to eschew the camping — and its accompanying gear and effort — and simply travel lighter and do the trip in two days rather than three. Camping’s time consuming: we saved nearly an hour by getting breakfast on the road rather than cooking it ourselves, for example.
This was Jennifer’s first real look at Winnipeg, and she absorbed as much as she could — preferring a quick once-over rather than a detailed run through specific neighbourhoods. In a nutshell: the zoo, the Forks, and a few good restaurants. (Delighted to see, for example, that my favourite Chinese restaurant in Winnipeg — the Dragon Palace — was still open, and still serving that ginger beef.)
Winnipeg always seems to look a little shabbier every time I come back, though some areas — the aforementioned Forks, for example — always manage to look good. My old neighbourhood is, bit by bit, performing the antonym of gentrification. Or perhaps it was always rougher than I thought, and now I’ve been around a bit and have something to compare it to. One thing’s for certain: Winnipeg is, more than any city I’ve lived in or visited, obsessed with crime. It’s much more in the public consciousness than I would have expected.
We went to the Narcisse snake dens on Thursday (the 17th) — my first trip back in more than 26 years — and I was surprised at the amount of snake activity at the dens. I thought this was low season. I’ll have a more detailed account up at gartersnake.info shortly. But that wasn’t the only reptile-related landmark in Manitoba that we visited: a reptile-focused pet store has just opened up in my old neighbourhood, and a new reptile zoo is pulling itself together near Shilo, just east of Brandon. Where were these guys when I was growing up and feeling like the only snake keeper in the world?
We spent two days travelling outside Winnipeg. In addition to the snake dens, we took in Gimli and a bit of sailing on the 17th (no wind, alas for all except my stomach), which meant that Jennifer got a good chance to see the Interlake region. On the 18th, we did a whirlwind tour of southwestern Manitoba, taking in the Spirit Sands at Spruce Woods Provincial Park, the neurasthenizing swinging bridge in Souris, and a quick zap through my family’s ancestral village of Hartney. After that, a tour of Dave’s zoo and a meeting with Jeff and Crystal in the evening, during the Portage La Prairie leg of their tour. Back by one a.m. — something I haven’t done in nearly a decade.
Jennifer still can’t get over the horizon — especially how it opened up as the forests rolled back on our approach to Winnipeg from the east. Truth be told, I’m a little out of practice myself, and had forgotten just how flat the landscape is, and just how far you can see. Unnerving for some, to be sure.
Finally, the whole point of the trip was to be in Winnipeg for my grandfather’s 90th birthday party. My brother Geoff and his wife also flew in from Calgary, so it was the first time the entire immediate family was in one place in more than six years. My grandfather was, I think, beyond pleased. And Jennifer got a chance to meet my entire paternal side of the family; previously, she’d only met my father.
All in all, it was the most relaxing (and one of the logistically smoothest) trips I’ve had in years.