Neepawa MB- 2,314 km/ 1,437 mi
We left Wawa around 7am to skirt the northern edge of Lake Superior, named gichigami by the Ojibwe meaning “to be a great sea”. The name is appropriate as Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. More surprising to me is the fact that Lake Superior is also one of the earth’s youngest features, only 10,000 years old- dating back to the last glacial retreat. For comparison, the world’s second largest lake by surface area is Lake Baikal in Russia which is 25 million years old. The topography here along the northern rim is very typical of the Canadian Shield with many granite outcroppings. Some of the world’s oldest rocks lie here, about 2.7 billion years of age, dating back to the Precambrian era when magma, forcing its way to the surface, created the intrusive granites of the Canadian Shield. It is an interesting dichotomy to have one of the world’s youngest lakes surrounded by some of the world’s oldest rocks. These intrusive granites were a prominent feature of our drive today and make for a rugged and adventurous landscape that puts me in mind of Adirondack hiking. This lovely landscape gradually gave way to the flat, wind-swept plains of the Canadian mid-west as we passed Thunder Bay and continued to Winnipeg. I have to admit though that there are more trees on the “plains” than I had originally imagined. Somehow I was picturing this vast expanse of frozen land where nothing grew but crops in the spring and summer. Not sure what gave me that idea- perhaps that’s just the image that “plains” invokes.
Just west of Thunder Bay we passed a sign that said “Protect Arctic waters. From this point all rivers flow North to the Arctic continent.” Of course I had to check into this claim, and it is, in fact, true. Here is a photo of the plaque that stands nearby (unfortunately not taken by me), a map to show where the Arctic Watershed began on our trip, as well as a map of the entirety of the Arctic Watershed, courtesy of Environment Canada.
The Arctic Ocean Watershed encompases 3.5 million km2. It drains two-thirds of the Alberta territory, northern British Columbia and Saskatchewan, part of the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, as well as the Arctic Islands.
Other signs along the highway are a bit more amusing, in particular the signs for hotels along the way. One said, “Westwood Motel. We have air conditioning!” I wasn’t sure that was the best selling point at this time of year. Currently it’s -30 C out with wind chill. There is also apparently an acute need for hotels to advertise VERY far ahead of their establishment: Silver Lake Motel- 3 hrs ahead! Best Western Inn- 300 km on the right! And perhaps the best- PInewood Lodge- 24 hrs ahead! Very useful if I’m planning on driving for 24 hours straight.
The land here is beautiful, in a desolate sort of way. I am beginning to more fully appreciate the swath of unpopulated wilderness that is Canada. Here we are driving only 100 km/ 62 mi from the border of the US and yet all that is to be seen are trees and vast swaths of snow-swept plains dotted here and there with towns whose populations barely scrape 1000. And the people that you see in these places- the corner minimart and Esso gas stations- look as craggy and worn as the windswept snowdrifts themselves, as much shaped by the weather as the natural landscape around them.
Tonight we are staying in Neepawa after deciding to bypass Winnipeg in favor of trying to secure a few more miles under our belt. Perhaps a bad decision. We ran into some wicked blowing snow creating near white-out conditions, especially when large semi-trucks passed in the opposite lane. Their tail wind lifted additional snow into our line of sight, momentarily blinding us and nearly blowing us off the road in the process. The single motel in Neepawa when we arrived looked like some thing out of a horror movie. The proprietor was kindly enough- even if it did take over 15 minutes to get the debit machine to work. The room itself is chilly and sparse and looks like it hand’t been re-modeled since the 1960s. The bed feels like you are sleeping on plastic covered cardboard but the sheets are clean (we think) and it is a (decently) warm place to sleep (warmer than the car at least). I am so tired that I doubt any of it will matter and likely I will be asleep as soon as my head hits the lumpy pillow…