Northerning Pt. I

You can never really put a proper grasp on your hometown until you’ve travelled, and after seven years on the road, there’s a few elements of southern ontario that create a good, solid cringe. The yokel accents. The incredible lack of style awareness. The bravado on the roads. It’s still possessive of that distinctive Canadian politeness, but there’s a lot under the hood here.

The urban life in Toronto is something you tend to grow out of. It lacks the style or action of a New York or London, the controlled chaos of a Bangkok or Hong Kong, or the grit of Melbourne or Mexico City. It’s too spread out, the weather is sticky humid in the summertime and downright depressing in the winter. And the transit system is so laughably poor, mired in the 1970s (what kind of first-world city uses diesel locomotives for commuter trains?), that you either wind up dropping nearly $100 on nightly transit (if you live in the suburbs), staying sober, or slumming it on a friends’ couch. Not my cup of proverbial tea.

But the true appeal of Ontario isn’t the city life, it’s in the huge tracts of unpopulated land to the north, rife with Canadian Shield lakes and forests. Apart from a few mining or pulp logging concerns, there isn’t much to offer industry here, and the towns are suitably small and modest. It means less pressure on lakes. And it means that with a little work, there is some outstanding outdoors pursuits to be had. I’m biased – I summered on the Great Lakes for the first twenty years of my life – but I’ve yet to find its equal.

I was still jetlagged halfway to Sodom by the time we left the city at 4am, on the strength of a 36-hour turnaround after the flight landed. I’ve never dealt well with jet lag – random acts of extreme fatigue tend to knock me down a peg – but not unlike a serious hangover, distraction is absolutely vital. Besides, who cares how badly you’re hurting? You’ll feel better at some point. In this case, the sunrise in the east over the stretch of rural farmland off the 400 was easily attractive enough to wake me from my torpor, and a body clock that had essentially done a bolt.

We fortified with some ghastly coffee after a few hours, and almost exactly on target, I had to piss. It’s a truly annoying element of North America, on the whole: the coffee sucks. Its absolutely brutal. It’s brackish, overly sweet, way the fuck too big, and weak as piss. Four years in the land of espresso machines and proper mixes will destroy anyone’s illusions that what we’re drinking isn’t processed garbage.

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Six hours of asphalt, and we made it up north to Temagami, set up, gained our permits, and launched. The fatigue had properly began, as I found out on our way out, nine days later, when I couldn’t recall nearly any of the landscape. But there was nothing for it. Eight hours of shoulder-wrenching paddling, and three stinging portages later, we set up our first camp, on a canoe-only lake surrounded by naught but the purest wilderness.

 

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