You want to know how big Ontario is? Trying getting out of it going west. It took two long sweeping drives around Lake Superior to close in on the Manitoba border. Moreover, we were doing it in a 20-year-old GMC Safari which was gaudily painted and converted to a camper by the Aussie company, Wicked Campers.
Badass, named so in two-foot deep letters on the van’s right flank, would have to get us to Vancouver Island, no matter its 425,000 odometer reading.
Badass drew reactions like this across Canada with it’s bold colours and counter-culture comments.
We had got in our first Ontario paddle in 31C heat at Bluffer’s Park in Scarborough, where we had both spent our youth. So paddling in the shadow of the bluffs, one of Toronto area’s under appreciated attractions, had a nostalgic pull.
Reunion By The Water
Also, John had a grade-school reunion at the Dogfish Pub & Eatery at Bluffer’s Park, so it was a day of remembrances and stories featuring friends going back to kindergarten.
We paddled through the marina to a connecting marina and steered clear of powerboats heading into the lake. For Pam, it evoked memories of time spent visiting her grandmother and checking out the bluffs with her sister.
John navigates around kayakers at Bluffer’s Park in Scarborough with the Toronto suburb’s bluffs as a backdrop.
John recalled climbing up and down the bluffs, once toppling off on a bicycle in a fit of teenage derring-do, rescuing a dog trapped on a ledge and swimming out to the gutted shell of a steamer, the Alexandria, which sank in 1915. He and friends would climb its smokestack and dive into the lake.
Getting To Know Badass
Picking up Badass was an adventure in itself. The company is based in Vancouver but has a small depot in Mississauga. Our hearts sank at first sight. Pam had warned it might come with some colourful saying painted on it, John was sure the sometimes risqué Aussie humour would be toned down for the Canadian market.
What was painted on the back hatch doors was likely to get us arrested in Saskatchewan or Alberta. As well, Badass had its idiosyncrasies. When the fuel gage read a quarter, a notice on the gauge suggested we fill up due to the unpredictability of petrol quality in some regions. And the gas pedal was sticky, meaning lunge-like starts.
Nonetheless, we would learn to love Badass as a stalwart machine that kept going when others stopped, like in a freakish Alberta blizzard featuring 80-kilometre-per-hour gusts.
Camper Van Amuses & Shocks
Until we got it home to cover offending phrases on the back hatch, the van drew thumbs up from truckers and horror from Soccer Moms. When John pulled in front of a mother and her kids at a turn lane, the mom threw her hand over the nearest kid’s eyes.
Back in Hamilton, we rushed to cover it temporarily with a tablecloth. The next day Pam hit on a clever answer, she found some blank magnetic signage panels and turned them into an ad for our website and a place to mark down our paddles.
Our answer to cringeworthy graphics.
The attitude gets contagious.
The second Ontario paddle would involve an overnight in Badass at Pukaskwa National Park on Lake Superior, which already had a wintery feel in late September. The converted van had lots of storage space under the bed, which consisted of three sectional pads, and a small, rudimentary kitchen at the back. And we enjoyed a roomy and good sleep.
We made pancakes, tea and coffee as the sun crested the hills and burned off the morning mist at Pukaskwa National Park.
We passed that overnight test well in a camping spot about 50 metres from a little cove where Superior’s raging waves were quieted. On a nippy early fall morning we produced pancakes on a little stove and braced for a chilly paddle with tea and coffee.
One look at the lake, which lapped angrily at a narrow pass into Hattie Cove, and we opted for the protected cover, where we could paddle into rocky backwater pools and along rock faces, some topped by a hiking trail.
We were joined by Occy, the Aussie Shepherd of fellow travellers we met on the beach of Hattie Cove. Occy posed like a pro on cue.
Max, Lee and Occy near the start of their Vanlife journey. Follow their adventures on Instagram @vantacruz
Nature’s Wave-Action Pool
The park features backcountry paddling and hiking and a suspension bridge overlooking falls, but on our timeline we had to content ourselves with a paddle around the cove and some water play at the pass as Superior’s surge drove us backwards, a natural wave-action pool effect that was fun and a little scary for the novice.
The colours of fall were already setting in on Hattie Cove as we skirted rocky shores near Lake Superior.
We marked it down as another must-visit-longer destination and headed out to Kenora on Lake-of-the-Woods, another long drive to a place we plan to return to as well.
A Google search on the highway approaching threw out The Brewers Inn as a bed for the night as it was a fine find, an upscale spot overlooking the lake with high ceilings, big comfy beds and a dock we could have launched from if we’d had the time.
Kenora Was A Delightful Surprise
Kenora was recommended to us by Jeremy Smith, who had guided us along the Margaree River in Cape Breton, see our previous post Beautiful Margaree . He called it kind of funky and a tour around town the next day revealed a nice collection of one-off restaurants, bars and coffee houses.
That included Lake of the Woods Brewing and it’s taproom, which is associated with The Brewers Inn. It was a lively spot downtown with breezy service and garage-style doors that open to the street.
The harbourfront area is a big attraction with the Whitecap Pavilion offering outdoor concerts in summer and the ‘Goodwill Geyser’ erupting with a 200-foot torrent of water on the hour. We left town with the notion of paddling around that frothing fountain during a concert, and damn local bylaws. Badass was giving us attitude!
Feature photo: Pam checks out the rocky shore of Hattie Cove off Lake Superior at Pukaskwa National Park. We had the cove to ourselves on a late September day.