Saturday, September 28, 2013

Northern Ontario 2013 - Part 2: Manitouwadge and Pancake Bay

This is part two in the two-part miniseries of our trip to Northern Ontario in the summer of 2013. Part one is here. When we last left our heroes, they we getting ready to leave Sleeping Giant for Manitouwadge.

Aug 23

Driving Day Three, though there was far less driving on this day than most of the other driving days. In fact, Driving Day Three and Driving Day Four combined were less than either of Driving Days Two or Five. We were on the road by 9am and about three hours later, we arrived in Marathon and did the same thing we did for lunch last year in Marathon – stopped at Pizza Hut, picked up a pizza to go, and drove down to a place called Pebble Beach. We enjoyed our pizza on the top of a cliff overlooking the beach, and then went down to the beach itself. There's a ton of driftwood on the beach – and we're talking about 20-30 foot logs here, not just a bunch of sticks. Rolly says they regularly remove it, but there was a pile that looked like a "fort" (which must have been arranged by hand, with enough room inside that a few people could semi-comfortably sit) which looked exactly like one that was there last year. After climbing around on the rocks and logs for a while, we were back in the van for the last bit of this day's drive.

About an hour later, we were at Rolly & Candyce's place in Manitouwadge. Arriving at around the same time were Norma and Lloyd, Rolly's aunt and uncle from Dawson Creek, BC, who we had never met (Rolly hadn't seen them in over 20 years). We got to know them a little over the next few days, and they are wonderful people; it's too bad they live four thousand kilometres away. Also arriving shortly after us were Jackie's brother Mitch (from Tracy, California), and two of Rolly's (grown) sons, Foster (Owen Sound) and Ethan (Mississauga). Rolly's eldest son, Rhys, is in the Canadian Navy and is stationed in Halifax, so he was not able to make it. We set up the trailer in Rolly's driveway, right behind John and Jackie's trailer, and just down from Norma and Lloyd's camper/pickup. Rolly and Candyce don't have the biggest house but they had thirteen people staying with them; without the campers it would have been a little cramped. Rolly later referred to everyone as his "band of gypsies".

Dinner was a big get-together at Candyce's friend Donna's place. They had cooked both a roast and a turkey, and there were veggies and potatoes and salads and such as well. For dessert, they had several (at least four) of those big metal lasagna pans (i.e. two feet long, a foot wide, and four inches thick) full of cheesecake and Black Forest cake. Donna even gave us a couple of them to bring back to Candyce's place, where we gradually finished them over the next few days.

Aug 24

The punny Perrows (photo by Michel Bazinet)Wedding Day! Tradition says the groom should not see the bride on the wedding day until the wedding, so Candyce stayed at Donna's the previous night. The morning was very leisurely – the boys watched TV for a while, and we played cards and chatted. Last summer, Rolly had helped the boys make slingshots, and even offered to keep them until our next visit. Unfortunately, he'd forgotten where he put them, so he helped Nicky make another one. Nicky spent a good chunk of the morning shooting rocks at a plastic bottle, and Ryan and I took a few shots as well.

Soon after lunch, we got dressed for the wedding. As I mentioned in the previous article, this was a Hallowe'en themed wedding, so "getting dressed for the wedding" was a little different from other weddings we'd been to. The four of us wore costumes that were linked – we were the "punny Perrows", and each of us went as a different pun:

  • Gail had a white shirt with a yellow circle on it as well as a cape, red horns, and a pitchfork – she was a "devilled egg".
  • I was dressed as a medieval knight, complete with sword, with a LED light attached to my belt – I was a "knight light". (Once I turned the light off, I was the Dark Knight.) In the picture here, the light is mostly hidden by the sword. 
  • Ryan had a baseball cap with a "C" on it, a foam finger (Toronto Rock!), and a t-shirt made by Gail that said "Ceiling" – he was a "ceiling fan".
  • Nicky was dressed in hospital scrubs with a stethoscope and a necklace with hot peppers on it – he was "Dr. Pepper".

The wedding started around 3:00 and was held in a beautiful gazebo in Donna's back yard. The weather was perfect and it was a lovely ceremony. Rolly was dressed as a Klingon, though he didn't wear the headpiece with the long hair and bumpy forehead during the ceremony. Candyce didn't wear a costume but had a beautiful orange and black dress that she had specially ordered from China – and then had a friend fix because when it arrived, it was the wrong size.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith (photo by Michel Bazinet)

There were a number of other good costumes there – an awesome Xena, two different Shrek's and one (male) Fiona, two other knights, Fred Flintstone, and a whole family full of Angry Birds. To go along with Rolly's Klingon, Foster went as Dr. McCoy while Ethan donned the Vulcan ears as Mr. Spock. There was even a man who donned a Nike hat and red Nike golf shirt, coloured his face, neck, and arms dark with shoe polish or something, and went as Tiger Woods. I'm still trying to decide whether that was in poor taste or kind of clever.

The wedding party went for pictures, and we went back to Rolly & Candyce's place to hang out until the reception, which took place at a local bar called K & G's. The hall was all decorated for Hallowe'en, including bride and groom zombies behind the head table, and bride and groom skeletons on top of the orange and black wedding cake. The food was great, the speeches were fun (and there weren't too many of them, just enough), and the music was good. The boys were up way too late but hey, it was their first wedding, and we're on vacation.

Aug 25

Sooooo hungover.

Oh wait, no I wasn't. I wasn't even drunk the night before. We had another quiet morning of cards, reading, and chatting. As much as I like to be active while on vacation (we've never been big on "head to the beach, sit down, stay for nine hours"), I really enjoyed these mornings of doing a whole lotta nothing.

After lunch, Rolly took the four of us to the dump. Yes, the dump. And not only did we all go willingly, we all looked forward to it. Rolly and Candyce had both told us about a bear that lives near the dump and frequently wanders in to find things to eat, so we asked Rolly if we could go to see him. He took us over and we had no trouble spotting the bear; he was right out in the open, digging through the mounds of garbage for things to eat. Candyce said he was a big fat one, but I wouldn't know a fat bear from a lean and muscular bear – I just know this guy was big. We were able to get pretty close before he backed away, but once we backed off a little, he ignored us completely. We didn't get out of the truck at all but got lots of pictures.

A big fat bear

After the bear sighting, a few people decided to go swimming in Manitouwadge Lake, a 5 minute walk from Rolly's place. Rolly, Foster, Alison, Ryan and Nicky got their suits on, while Gail and I walked down as well (with no intention of swimming). The lake turned out to be very cold, and neither Rolly nor Ryan could bring themselves to go in beyond their waist. Nicky dunked his head a couple of times, but Foster and Alison were the only ones who actually swam at all. The swim didn't last too long before everyone was frozen despite the fact that it was 30+ degrees out. For dinner, Candyce had ordered pizza from the local pizza joint. Luckily for Candyce and Rolly, the pizza from this place is very good; when I say "the local pizza joint" I mean the local pizza joint – the next closest is the Pizza Hut in Marathon, an hour away.

Aug 26

Another hot, humid, and lazy day. Nicky asked Jackie and Mitch if they wanted to play Scrabble, and playing Scrabble with them is something I've never had the guts to do. Jackie and Mitch are both very good, and I'm pretty sure their sister Claudette (who lives in Alberta but was in poor health so could not make the wedding) was at one point nationally ranked. Nicky did very well in a close game, finishing third but within five points of both Mitch and Jackie, though he did get a fair bit of help from Rolly.

We spent some time in the afternoon doing more shooting, and then after dinner we got ready to go on a drive to nowhere. As I mentioned, this was our third trip to Northern Ontario and we had yet to see any wildlife that we wouldn't see at home. On this trip we had already seen a bear, so we told Rolly we wanted to see a moose. He said the best way to do that would be to drive on the highway early in the morning or after dark, so we decided to head out at night with the intention of driving south on the highway for 20-30 minutes and then driving back. Just before we left, Rolly (who's a bit of a joker) told the boys and Alison to put their tinfoil hats on, which would increase the chances of seeing a moose. He didn't say why this would work, just that it would. To their credit, neither Ryan nor Alison simply grabbed the hat and put it on, even after Rolly did. NIcky did, and even brought some foil to me and Gail for us to wear, but to this day I'm not 100% sure whether he immediately bought into it or was just playing along with the joke. With Nicky, that second option is highly possible. But we did get a picture with the hats:

The moose-attracting hats

We left around 9:00, and managed to get lucky. About 15 km south of the town, Rolly suddenly stopped and said "there's one." Sure enough, in the bushes on the left side of the road was a moose. We couldn't see it clearly, but well enough to get a good sense of the size of this animal. Think about one of those big Clydesdale horses; this guy could have been its big brother. Attempts to take pictures met with dismal failure since it was too dark, so I have nothing to show here but we were pretty happy we'd seen both a moose and a bear on this trip. I guess the wolf will have to wait until next time.

Aug 27

Driving Day Four. We got up and after a quick breakfast, packed up the trailer and left the Wadge around 9:30. After gassing up and lunch at Subway in Wawa, we arrived at Pancake Bay Provincial Park around 1:30pm. John and Jackie had the site across the road from us, and Sandy, Alison, and Foster had a site behind J&J. By this point in the trip, we were experts at putting up the trailer and getting things ready, so we were set up in no time. Nicky and I joined Foster and Alison for a swim in the lake. Pancake Bay is right on Lake Superior, known for being the biggest and coldest of the Great Lakes, but the bay was relatively warm. Note that it wasn't actually warm, just relatively when compared to the icy waters near Sleeping Giant and Lake Manitouwadge. After we were done swimming, we played some cribbage (which the boys are getting very good at).

After dinner, Nicky and Ryan went back to the lake with Foster until it started to get dark. By the time they got back, John had a campfire going, and they roasted marshmallows and spider dogs. Never heard of a spider dog? You take a wiener and cut the ends of it into quarters lengthwise about 1/3 of the way down. Then put it on a stick and cook it over the fire. As it cooks, the bits you cut will curl up, and by the time you're done, they've curled far enough that it looks like a spider.

Aug 28

After a breakfast of pancakes (did I mention my wife is awesome?) (Wait, actually John made these ones.) (He's pretty cool too.) we headed down to a "3.5 km" nature trail at the north end of the campground. I put the "3.5 km" in quotation marks because that's what the signs said, but it was way longer than that. I fired up the MapMyRun app on my phone which uses the GPS to keep track of where and how far you walk/hike/run/bike. Before the phone's battery died, we were over 6 km and weren't finished yet. We were making pretty good time though since the mosquitoes in there were unbelievable, and every time we stopped for more than a few seconds, we were all slapping ourselves silly. Once we finished the walk we were all sweaty and covered in bug spray, so we couldn't wait to get to the showers.

MishipeshuAfter lunch, we drove back north to Agawa Bay to see the pictographs. These are paintings on the side of a cliff, done by the Ojibwe several hundred years ago. This picture captures a few of them: there's a canoe with people in it on the left, two snakes at the bottom, and the other thing is Mishipeshu, or the Great Lynx. Mishipeshu has the body of a big cat but has horns, spikes down its back, and is covered in scales.

At the base of the cliff is a small rock platform you can walk on to see the paintings, and then a short drop to the lake. Foster brought his swimsuit and was in the lake most of the time we were there, and the boys had fun climbing on the ropes attached to the platform to help swimmers get back out of the water. They must have done this for fifteen minutes until Ryan lost his grip and almost ended up in the water himself. He grabbed the rope again at the last second and pulled himself back up (still dry!), but then decided he'd had enough of that game.

When we were done there, we drove down a few km to the Agawa visitor's centre, which was a combination tourist info booth plus a little museum with some very cool exhibits. I thought this was going to be a five-minute stop but we must have been there an hour before heading back to Pancake Bay.

The evening was similar to most other nights on this trip – dinner, cards, campfire, marshmallows, bed.

Aug 29

Our last day at Pancake Bay, so we decided to see as much of the bay itself as we could. We walked out to the beach just across from Sandy and Alison's camp site, then turned right and walked along the beach to the point. The picture below shows the route we walked, though the point we walked to is shrouded in fog in the picture. I didn't have my GPS app running so I don't know how far it was, but it was farther than it looked. By the time we came back, it was almost lunch time.

Pancake Bay

We'd had fabulous weather on this trip. Up to this point, we'd had one night of rain and none during the day at all. But the forecast for the next day wasn't looking so promising – it was supposed to rain all night and all day. We planned on packing up everything but the trailer in the evening, so we had less stuff to pack up wet the next day, and John and Jackie did the same. But Sandy, Alison, and Foster were in tents, so they could only pack up so much the night before, and packing up a wet tent and stuffing in the car wouldn't have been too pleasant, so they decided to pack up and head home today instead. Sandy and Alison live in Sudbury, about 4 hours from Pancake Bay, and Foster was going to take a bus from there to Owen Sound. As it turned out, this was a good decision on their part.

After some more crib, we went over to the local trading post to fill up the gas tank, have a look around the gift shops, and pick up some ice cream treats. We then started to get ready for the trip home, packing up the clothes line and the mat outside the trailer door, taking down the dining tent, that sort of thing. By the time we were done, all that was left was to take down the trailer itself. After one last fire to get rid of the rest of our firewood, the boys went to bed, then Gail and I went back over to J&J's trailer to play some more cards (with Jackie; John was asleep) before bed.

Aug 30

Driving Day Five, and the final day of this adventure. As I said, Sandy did make the right choice in leaving a day early, since it rained all night and was still raining when we got up (and continued raining for most of the drive home). J&J's trailer is much bigger than ours, so we went over there for breakfast before the final packing up began. The pajamas were tossed in a bag, dirty dishes tossed in another bag to be washed when we got home, trailer taken down and hooked up to the van, garbage dumped, and goodbyes said. By about 8:30, were on the road home. We stopped in Espanola for lunch (Subway again) and some place called Grundy Lake for gas, and finally arrived home around 6:00pm. We all enjoyed this vacation and our new trailer is orders of magnitude more comfortable than tent camping, but boy, we all appreciated our beds that night.

Total number of kilometers driven: 3289.5. Not quite as many as last year (3608 km) but not bad. Pulling the trailer was a bit of a new experience. We'd done it a few times this summer, but most of southern Ontario is pretty flat so we didn't notice much of a difference on the small hills. But driving north of Lake Superior is very hilly, so we certainly noticed the trailer then. We also used more gas, though I don't know exactly how much more. But the comfort level vastly outweighs those extremely minor drawbacks. As I mentioned above, it was way more comfortable than sleeping in a tent, and the weather is just not an issue anymore. We've done our fair share of tent camping in rain, and Gail hates it. It ain't much fun for the rest of us either. Plus the trailer has lots of storage space so packing the van is much easier. I'm even getting pretty good at backing up and having the trailer go where I want it to.

I don't think I've written about the trailer at all since we got it. Earlier this year, John and Jackie gave it to us as a gift. They had it for several years (we stayed with them in it last summer in Manitouwadge and Pancake Bay) but they decided to buy a bigger one. Once they did, they asked if we wanted their old one. There was no way we were going to turn them down. We tried to buy it from them but they said no. We even gave them a "donation" that was a fraction of what the trailer is worth, but they refused to take it. In the short time we've had the trailer, we've gone on four different camping trips – three weekends in July and August and then this two week trip to northern Ontario. We have had an absolute blast, and we look forward to more camping next year too. We can't thank John and Jackie enough for their generosity.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wi-fi, fear-mongering, and pickles

Once again, I have to respond to a fallacious letter to the editor in my local paper, the Flamborough Review. And once again, it's by the same guy. This is the third of his letters I've responded to; the first was about teachers and the second was about vaccination. Here is the letter in its entirety:

The  idea of  “learning commons” in children’s libraries is a noble idea, although I am not an advocate of this kind of technology in primary schools.

We are distancing our children so far from the fundamentals that they will no longer have a foundation to build on.

Reading, writing, arithmetic and spelling has gone the way of the dodo. As a parent I am concerned, as are many others, that technology is beginning to replace the fundamentals. I can see it in the work my daughter brings home, and the work she doesn’t bring home.

Another concern is the use of Wi-Fi in primary schools. Our children’s exposure to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) is a cause for worry. According to Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute of Health and Environment at the University of Albany, there is a great body of work that shows continued exposure to EMF effects changes in the ability to learn and remember. Last fall, the World Health Organization could no longer afford to ignore the research and deemed EMF to be a Class 2 carcinogen. The list of Class 2 materials also includes items such as asbestos, lead and diesel fumes. I am certain I would not send my child to a room full of diesel fumes, so how can I consciously send her to a room full of harmful radiation?

In 2011, biologist Andrew Goldsworthy gave a witness statement to a standing committee on health regarding the dangers of EMF. One of the most horrific statements from his speech was, “it was first shown by Bawin et. al in the ‘70s that weak amplitude radio waves can remove calcium from brain cell membranes. This destabilizes them, making them more likely to leak. This is important in the brain because the normal function of brain cells depends on the controlled passage of specific ions through the membranes. When they leak, ions flow uncontrollably…When this occurs in a fetus or young child, it retards brain development…Wi-Fi should be considered an impediment rather than an aid to learning and should be avoided, especially by pregnant teachers.”

The very governments and agencies mandated to protect us allow this kind of harmful technology to exist. We need to reduce or eliminate our exposure to as many toxins as we can, for our own health, and that of our children.

There is a parents’ group in Collingwood trying to get Wi-Fi out of their schools, yet officials are siding with Health Canada, which is ignoring its own scientific data. Please go to safe and read up on this issue. Some of the evidenced side effects include nausea, headaches, dizziness, attention and focusing problems, low blood counts, disturbance of the immune system and heart palpitations and racing heartbeats.

I will be asking the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for the results of their testing to see what levels my child is being exposed to.

Kevin Inglehart, Lynden

My only comment on the opening bit about education is that my sons are in grades 9 and 6, all in the Hamilton public system, and they are certainly learning the fundamentals as well as technology. They certainly learn things differently than I did thirty years ago, but that's to be expected. Perhaps this is a problem with the particular school or his daughter's teacher. It could also be a problem with his expectations and not with the school board at all.

But onto the other issue he raises, that of wi-fi routers causing health problems. This time, I'm not going to write a letter to the editor in rebuttal of this. I'm going to write my rebuttal here rather than submitting it to the Review. Submitting it would require making it fit for general consumption, and so I'd have to refrain from the sarcasm and ridicule that I really feel like using. I'd also have to shorten it since I'll probably write a lot here and the Review won't print it if it's too long. Quite honestly, I just can't be bothered to clean it up and make it short. Writing concisely is much more difficult than just spouting off; in the words of Blaise Pascal, "I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

So, to business. First off, the EM radiation given off by a wi-fi router is called "non-ionizing" radiation, which means that it's not strong enough to remove electrons from atoms. This also means that it does not cause damage to cells. This is in contrast to ionizing forms of radiation, such as X-rays and UV rays, which do cause cell damage. Some forms of non-ionizing radiation (like microwaves) can heat things up and the heat can cause damage, but wi-fi signals are just not strong enough even for that.

It's true that electromagnetic radiation is considered a class 2B carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). All that means is that it's on a list of things that have not been shown to be carcinogenic but require further study. Ken Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, says:

Saying that something is a 'possible carcinogen' is a bit like saying someone is a 'possible shoplifter' because he was in the store when the watch was stolen. [reference]

Here are some other things that are on the same "Class 2B carcinogen" list (the entire list is here):

  • coffee
  • asphalt
  • nickel
  • pickled vegetables
  • carpentry and joinery
  • chroloprene (also known as Neoprene, a synthetic rubber used in hundreds of products including clothing)
  • aloe vera
  • gingko biloba extract
  • talc-based body powder

Presumably Mr. Inglehart will be petitioning the school board to move the local Tim Horton's further away from the schools, to remove wood shop entirely, and to ban pickles from student lunches.

Asbestos and diesel exhaust, which Mr. Inglehart claims are on the type 2 list, are actually type 1. (Diesel fuel is 2B.) Lead is on the 2B list, but lead is known for being a neurotoxin, not a carcinogen.

I did visit the web site Mr. Inglehart suggested, and found many anecdotes describing how people became sick when they installed wifi routers in their home or school. But as we all know (don't we?), such anecdotes are scientifically meaningless. (One famous skeptical quote is "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'.") There were also some studies that showed a possible association between cancer and cell phone towers – note that this is "possible association" not "proven causality", and a cell phone tower is not the same thing as a wifi router.

It comes down to this: unless you are a biophysicist specializing in this kind of research, you have to read what others have done and then trust someone. I haven't done the research myself, and I probably couldn't understand the details of the studies if you put them in front of me. But I do trust the World Health Organization, who says (emphasis mine):

In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. … Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. [reference]

The Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion says

After a decade of additional research, there is still no conclusive evidence of adverse effects on health at exposure levels below current Canadian guidelines.


…there is no plausible evidence that would indicate current public exposures to Wi-Fi are causing adverse effects on health. [reference]

Just like a lot of other conspiracy theories, this one is based on bad data, bad assumptions, and mistrust of the scientific community. Then you wrap it all up with scary words like "carcinogen" and stories about people getting sick, and give it to parents while implying that if they don't do anything about it, they obviously don't care about their children's health. If you do that, you might be able to convince parents that this is a real problem. That's why we have school boards considering getting rid of wi-fi, not because it's actually a problem.

I've seen a number of other letters to the Review from this same person. The majority of them are filled with fear-mongering and conspiracies like the "dangers" of vaccines and water fluoridation and that "banks and large corporations own and control the media". Most of them are just opinions and have no references, but some of them, like this one, have references to one or two articles or scientists who happen to disagree with just about every other scientist in the world. It's possible that he accidentally stumbled upon an article that describes the exact opposite of the scientific consensus and believed it wholeheartedly. But it seems unlikely that he's done this several times, so I am forced to assume that he simply mistrusts science and government, and believes in any conspiracy theory he hears.

I find it partially amusing but mostly irritating that these conspiracy believers (and many alt-medicine believers too) are all "mainstream science is wrong" and "mainstream science is covering up the truth" until they find a scientist who supports them, and then they're all "this person believes us and he's a scientist so he knows what he's talking about and you can trust him! And not all those other scientists! Just this one!" Sorry, folks, you can't have it both ways. Either you trust the scientists (or more accurately, the science) or you don't.

Update: I did end up writing a letter to the editor. Here it is:

I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Inglehart's letter, which contains half-truths and misleading statements, so that other parents don't concern themselves with a problem that does not exist. Wi-fi routers in our schools are not a cause for concern. There are certainly people who believe that they are, including a few scientists, but the vast majority of studies that have been done have shown no negative effects on health at all.

It's true that electromagnetic radiation is considered a class 2B carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO). What that actually means is that it's on a list of things that have not been shown to be carcinogenic but require further study. Other items on this list include coffee, asphalt, pickled vegetables, carpentry and joinery, aloe vera, and talc-based body powder. I don't hear anyone leading the charge against wood shop or pickles in school lunches.

But if you're going to believe the WHO's "possible carcinogen" list, you should really believe the WHO when they say "In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. ... Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields."

More locally, the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion says "After a decade of additional research, there is still no conclusive evidence of adverse effects on health at exposure levels below current Canadian guidelines. ...there is no plausible evidence that would indicate current public exposures to Wi-Fi are causing adverse effects on health."

There is no point is spending more taxpayer money looking at something that has been studied this much when the overwhelming majority of the studies show the same thing - that there are no negative health effects caused by wi-fi signals.

Graeme Perrow

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Northern Ontario 2013 - Part 1: Straits and Sleeping Giant

The Perrow Family summer vacation 2013 was a camping trip to Northern Ontario. "Hold on," I hear you say, "you guys went to Northern Ontario last summer! I remember you writing about it!" Yes, dear loyal reader. You're right: we did, and I did (parts one, two, and three). But last year the people we went to visit in Manitouwadge, Rolly and Candyce, were (gasp) living in sin and last winter, Rolly popped the big question. They decided to have the wedding this summer, and of course we were excited to make the trip back to the 'Wadge (I don't know if Manitouwadge residents really call it "the 'Wadge", but if they don't, they should) for the festivities. Since this was the second wedding for both of them, they decided to forego the traditional wedding and do something different, and what could be more different than a Hallowe'en-themed wedding in August?

But we'll get to the actual wedding later. As I have done with vacations in the past, I wrote in a mini-journal every night so I'd remember what we did, what we saw, and any other interesting facts that would likely get lost in the mists of time if I didn't write them down. I do this so that once we return, I can write about them here, creating an online "web log" – a "blog", if you will (I just coined that term now) – of our vacation.

We were away for two weeks, and stayed in four different places. I'll write about the first two (Straits State Park and Sleeping Giant) in this article, and then the second two (Manitouwadge and Pancake Bay) in the next article. I've also created a Google map of our trip though it's a bit hard to see since there was a lot of driving overlap, i.e. about half of the drive from Straits to Sleeping Giant was the same as most of the drive from Sleeping Giant to Manitouwadge, and the drive from Manitouwadge to Pancake Bay was entirely along roads we'd already travelled.

Aug 17

Driving Day One (of five). We left home around 9am and got to Sarnia a little over 2 hours later. After one of the quickest and most painless border crossings ever, we continued east from Port Huron to Flint where we stopped for gas. Then we hung a right and headed north to Straits State Park, just on the north side of the Mackinac1 Bridge.  The bridge is pretty impressive – 8 km (5 miles) long, and 200 feet above the water. They even have a free service where they will drive you across (in your car) if you're uncomfortable driving across yourself. We arrived at the park around 4:00, got set up, and then had dinner.The Mackinac Bridge

We had a lot of fun on the way to Straits. We have a DVD player in the van so the boys brought movies, but Gail also got a couple of books on CD from the library. One of them, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, turned out to be 35+ hours long so we didn't listen to that, but the other was a classic: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, read performed by Stephen Fry. I had read this book years ago, but forgot most of it. Fry did a great job with it, changing his voice or accent for the different characters – only slightly but enough that it was easy to figure out who was speaking. Obviously the book itself is hilarious, and we all enjoyed it. We got about 75% finished when we got to Straits, and then finished it a couple days later on Driving Day Two.

There are lots of restrictions on what kinds of food you can bring into the US, so we didn't take any chances and brought very little that was suspect. The last thing we needed was to be stopped at the border and have to throw half our food out. All the meat we brought was still sealed in the original packaging, and we didn't bring any eggs, milk, fruits, or veggies. After dinner, we headed over to the local grocery store to stock up on these supplies we didn't bring. Going grocery shopping in a strange area is interesting; sounds dull but I really enjoy looking at all the differences from home:

  • Products we don't have – various cereals and chocolate bars, aerosol cheese, pork rinds, strawberry marshmallows, Cherry Coke Zero (Dear Coca-Cola Canada: THIS. Thank you. Love, Graeme)
  • Packaging that's different – Kraft Dinner is called Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Knorr Sidekicks are called… something else, that kind of thing. Being from Canada, it's also weird to see no French on any packaging.
  • Products that have the same name and packaging but are made differently – in Canada, Mike's Hard Lemonade is a vodka cooler but in the US, it's a "malt beverage". Actually I think all coolers are malt beverages in the US. I don't think there are malt beverages in Canada at all.
  • Being from Ontario, it's weird to me to see alcohol on a grocery store shelf next to the bottled water, or beer in the cooler next to the cream cheese.

After shopping, we walked down to the beach, right on Lake Huron. The bridge is the dividing point between Lakes Huron and Michigan – this side of the bridge (the east side) is Lake Huron, and the other side of the bridge is Lake Michigan. From the beach, we got some great views of the Mackinac Bridge all lit up. We took a bunch of pictures (including the one above) and stargazed for a little while before heading back to the campsite. We were pretty tired and it was already getting late so we skipped the campfire and went straight to bed.

1 – The bridge and island are spelled Mackinac and the city is spelled Mackinaw, but they are all pronounced "MACK-in-aw". It took Nicky a couple of days to stop saying "Mack-in-ack".

Aug 18

Quick breakfast, then drove into nearby St. Ignace (pronounced IG-nuss) for the ferry ride to Mackinac Island. The ferry we took was called a "hydro-jet", which meant that it had a rooster-tail of water shooting out the back. It actually did move pretty fast, and we specifically chose a time where they went under the Mackinac bridge as well.

Ferry with hydro-jetNo cars are allowed on Mackinac island. Later in the day, we did see one driving in the middle of the island somewhere, but it was an ambulance so we let them off the hook. We got off the ferry in a little downtown area, where we saw lots of little touristy shops as well as tons of bike rental places and horse-drawn taxis. There are lots of walking trails throughout the island, and we decided to take the one that goes all the way around the outside. We do a lot of walking on our vacations, so we figured we could handle the 8.2 mile perimeter trail. The trail was almost right on the edge of the water; usually there was only a rocky beach between the trail and the lake. In a number of places, previous visitors had made tall piles of rocks – similar to an inukshuk but just a single pile, some of them five feet tall or more. We saw hundreds of these things.

We stopped for lunch at the "world-famous" Cannonball grill (obviously you've heard of it, since it's world-famous) for some pretty decent though overpriced burgers and dogs. (Three burgers, a hot dog, a couple of orders of fries and some drinks cost > $40.) After lunch we continued on our around-the-island trek but just over half-way around, we realized that we wouldn't be able to finish it. We probably could have, except that we wouldn't have seen anything else. There were a few things on the interior of the island that we wanted to see, and it would have been too far to walk into the middle of the island, see what we wanted to see, and then walk back to the outside. An 8 km hike is no big deal for us, but we were starting to realize at this point that 8 miles is not the same thing as 8 kilometers. 8 miles is more like 13 kilometers, and by now we knew that we were going to be pretty tired on the ferry ride back.

We headed for "Crack-in-the-island", which Nicky wanted to see though we couldn't find a description of what exactly that was. All we knew was the name, and that it was right next to "Cave in the woods" which Nicky also wanted to see. We did find it (the walking trails on the island are fairly well marked) but it was a bit underwhelming. Crack-in-the-island is just what it sounds like – a fissure in the ground, maybe 7 feet deep and 20 feet long. The boys actually walked through it and when they did so, they saw the cave in the woods, or so they think. There was no sign around saying what or where cave in the woods was, but there was a little cave (apparently not much more than an indentation in the wall) at the bottom of the crack, so we figured that was it.

Some battles during the War of 1812 were fought on Mackinac Island, and Ryan wanted to see the battlefields. When we got there, the "battlefields" turned out to be a couple of informational signs describing what used to be there, and the actual field itself was now part of a golf course. That was kind of on our way back to the south end of the island, so we didn't really feel like we'd wasted a lot of time finding it. From there, we headed towards the Grand Hotel. This is when the GPS and Google Maps on my phone would have come in handy but it was not available. (The data rates when roaming to the US are insane a little too high for my liking, so I turned the mobile network off as soon as we entered the US and didn't turn it back on until we were back in Ontario.)The Grand Hotel

We weaved through the town until we reached the hotel, which is absolutely magnificent. The balcony out front is massive, and the gardens are beautiful. Of course, I'm saying this based on the limited view we had and the pictures I've seen, not so much based on what I actually saw. I've never before seen a hotel that charged admission just to walk around, but this one does. If you are not a registered guest, it costs you $10 (half price for kids under 12!) just to get onto the grounds. It would have been $35 for the four of us, which we were not willing to pay, so we took some pictures from the road and decided that that would do. The only part of the building that you're allowed in without paying the admission is the ice cream shop, so we took advantage of that.

At the time, we assumed the place was expensive but had no idea how much it would be to stay there. Once we arrived home, I did some quick research. For the cheapest room during the cheapest time of the week, it would be $264 per night. Per person. And that's just for two of us. For extra people in the same room, it would be $59 for Ryan and Nicky would be free, so a single night would cost us, once you factored in the taxes and "Mackinac Island assessment" and luggage fees, about $786. For one night. Now, that includes both dinner and breakfast, so there's that. But still.

We continued through the cute little town back to the docks, and caught the 5:30 ferry back to St. Ignace. Despite not finishing the 8 mile walk around the island, we figured that we'd walked at least 8 or 9 miles anyway, or 13-14 km, so we were tired and hungry. We decided that cooking dinner would take too long, so we asked one of the guys on the dock if he knew of a good place to get a pizza to go. He pointed us to a place across the street called Pizza Builders. We got a couple of pizzas to take back to the camp site and enjoyed them thoroughly. After a campfire and some obligatory marshmallows, we all went to bed.

Aug 19

We slept in a bit today and enjoyed a full pancakes-and-bacon breakfast before having showers. Once we were all refreshed, we took a drive back over the Mackinac bridge into Mackinaw City, stopping at Colonial Michilimackinac Park, where we took 10 or 15 minutes to learn how to say the name of the place (MISH-ill-uh-MACK-in-naw). We had been to Fort William in Thunder Bay last summer, and we figured this would be very similar to that so we didn't actually go in, just stopped to pick up some of those touristy brochures for other things to see. We were headed for a place called Mill Creek, and figured it would be half a day so we were looking for somewhere else to go once we were done there. Turns out we needn't have bothered.

Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park is the site of a two-hundred-year-old sawmill which was in use for years but subsequently destroyed. It has been painstakingly recreated in every detail, and there are regular demonstrations of how it helped transform the logging industry. Sawing logs into long boards used to be a slow and very labour-intensive procedure – a single board might take an hour to cut, and they'd get 12 of them cut a day. Once they built the mill, no manual labour was necessary and a board could be cut every 7 minutes. The show was really interesting and the guy who did it was very knowledgeable and entertaining.

Boys on the climbing wallThere was also an "adventure tour" which we enjoyed. It started with a short nature hike with a guide who pointed out local flora and told us about local fauna, not that we saw any fauna. In fact, I don't think we saw so much as a squirrel or chipmunk at our campsite, on Mackinac Island, or at Mill Creek. A few birds, but that's about it. That would change later in the trip (foreshadowing!). In the middle of the hike was a bridge made primarily of ropes and wires, but with a narrow wooden floor to walk across. The views from here were pretty nice, and despite being 50 feet up, the bridge felt strong and we were also attached with wires to cables above the bridge so we felt secure. After a bit more of a hike (the hikes on this tour were maybe 1km total), we got to the zip line. This was nowhere near as long as the one at Horseshoe Adventure Park, but still a lot of fun. After zipping over the river, we went around the corner to the 40-foot climbing wall, which Gail and I passed on but the boys enjoyed. Both made it to the top without any trouble.

There were some walking trails through the forest, and we never pass up a good walking trail. They were only a few km as well so it was nothing like the walking on Mackinac Island, but we got some good views of the beaver dams in the river (but we didn't see any beavers). We ended up spending the rest of the day at Mill Creek and thoroughly enjoyed it all. The whole place was clean and very well kept. The place was quite inexpensive too – admission was $4.75/person and the adventure tour was another $8/person. My only complaint was that there was no food available other than some ice cream, small snacks, and drinks in the gift shop. A place to buy overpriced burgers and dogs would be a good addition. We had brought our own sandwiches, veggies, and drinks for lunch anyway so we were fine.

We headed north again to our campsite (trip #3 over the Mackinac Bridge – total tolls for the 3 trips: $20) for dinner, a campfire, and bed.

Aug 20

Driving Day Two. We packed up quickly and left Straits about 8:45am, heading north. After another very quick customs stop (this is not always the case, so we got really lucky twice on this trip) at Sault Ste. Marie, we stopped at the Sault KOA for a quick visit with John and Jackie (Gail's dad and stepmom) who were camping there on their way to Manitouwadge. We only stayed a half hour or so since we still had over 700 km still to drive. We finished the Hitchhiker's Guide, and the boys watched The Dark Knight and then the first half of Batman Begins. Yes, in that order, and no, they didn't even bring The Dark Knight Rises. They do that. I don't get it either.

We stopped for lunch at Krazy Fries (a chip wagon) in Wawa, where we also got gas. (Old joke.) After another gas[oline] stop in Nipigon, we finally ended our 11-hour driving day at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park around 8pm. For this part of the trip, we were camping with Jackie's daughter Sandy and her 17-year-old daughter Alison, who had already arrived. While we were getting set up, Ryan and Alison went for a  short walk (that turned into a long walk because they got lost) and saw the first fauna of our trip: four deer walking through the campground.

The Sleeping Giant is a huge rock formation that is clearly visible from the city of Thunder Bay, and looks somewhat like a man lying on his back. We saw the Sleeping Giant from Thunder Bay last summer, and I was hoping we could get to these rocks and climb them, getting a view of Thunder Bay from the Giant. No such luck though, as the cliffs that make up the Giant are a 22 km hike from the campground, and there are no roads that go there. It's not an easy 22km walk either, it's recommended that you take provisions for a night or two and you should be an experienced overnight hiker. So we had to make do with the great views of the Giant from the beach, which was a two minute walk from our camp site.

Aug 21

Our first day at Sleeping Giant was a little more laid back than our days at Straits. In the morning, we played some cards and did some reading. Sleeping Giant more than made up for our lack of wildlife sightings at Straits; there were chipmunks all over the place. They were tame too – they'd take peanuts right out of our hands.

Nicky made a friendAlison and her friend

After lunch we headed over to a walking trail, of which this park has many. The one we chose was called the Wildlife Habitat trail, and I believe it was designed so that wildlife would be drawn to that area. The trail was very nice but for viewing wildlife, we should have stayed at our site. We saw a few birds and one butterfly, but that was about it. The visitor's centre had a map that listed recent wildlife sightings, which over the last month or so had included wolves, bears, deer, various kinds of birds including cranes and herons, and various others. The hike was only a couple of kilometers so it didn't take long. After the hike, we returned to our site for more card games. I alternately read and napped for a while.

We barbecued steak and potatoes for dinner, and just as we were finishing up, Gail suddenly gasped and pointed out towards the road behind our site. Walking across the road was a deer. We thought the chipmunks were cool, but this more than made up for any lack of wildlife sightings at Straits. I grabbed my phone and took a few pictures. In this one, you can see Nicky behind the deer.

Mama deer

After she moved off a bit to my left, I went up the road to try to get a better picture, and that's when I saw the others – two baby deer, covered with white spots, playing on the next road over. They jumped around each other a few times and NIcky and I just stared in awe at these beautiful and majestic creatures before they bounded with amazing speed into the forest. This was our third trip to Northern Ontario and we'd never really seen much wildlife on previous trips, so this was certainly a highlight. But we weren't done with the wildlife on this trip. (More foreshadowing!)

Baby deer

Aug 22

After a lovely breakfast of French toast (my wife is awesome), the boys and I borrowed Sandy's canoe and went paddling on Marie Louise Lake. We only had two paddles so Nicky got a free ride in the middle, but Ryan was in the back (the steering position) and was proud to show off his skills. The beach is on a little bay at the south end of the lake, and we were going to do a tour of the lake. But when we went around the point, we found that the lake was far bigger than we originally thought so we killed that idea and just stayed in the bay.

After lunch, we went on a couple of other nature hikes. The first was called Sea Lion, but not because there are sea lions living there. There is a rock formation visible from part of the trail that apparently looked like a sea lion at one point, though the head fell off about a hundred years ago. Now it just looks like a stone arch. The total of the wildlife on this trail was a garter snake that Ryan saw. We got some great views of Lake Superior though, and were able to walk down right by the lake. Gail likes to walk on beaches with her feet in the water, but there was no way that was happening here, the water was just too cold. This trail continued on for another 10 km or so, and then joined other trails that went all the way to the Sleeping Giant itself, but we weren't up for a hike that long so we turned back.

Once we finished that trail, we took another one called Ravine Lake. This was a loop that included a climb to the top of some cliffs where we got more great views of Lake Superior as well as Ravine Lake. Each of these trails was just a couple of kilometres, but the Ravine Lake one was quite hilly so by the time we were done, we were done, and we went back to camp for dinner. After dinner, the boys and I went on another canoe trip (our legs were still tired from the hikes but no leg muscles are needed for canoeing), then some desperately needed showers before campfire and bed.

At one point during this day (I think it was after dinner but I don't remember exactly), we saw movement on the other side of the trailer. I assumed it was one of the many chipmunks that visited us during our stay, but then saw that it was much bigger than a chipmunk. It turned out to be a very cute little skunk. Of course, a skunk isn't the kind of animal that you try to pet or toss peanuts at, and while it was wandering around our site, nobody moved. We weren't afraid of the animal, just afraid that we'd spook it. We all know what could happen if a skunk gets spooked. I was standing near the open tailgate of the van and our visitor strolled nearby as well and actually went under the van for a short time. I very casually took a couple of steps to my right and closed the tailgate; the last thing we wanted – well, the last thing we wanted was to get sprayed. But the second last thing we wanted was to have the skunk jump into the back of the van and either steal some food or find a soft place to have a nap. It turned out to be fine; Mr. LePew just kept on walking across the road and we didn't see him again. Gail thought she smelled something the next morning though – something must have made him unhappy.

The next day we left for Manitouwadge. The story continues in the next article.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Literally: Making stupid people correct rather than correcting stupid people

You may have already seen this, but if you do a Google search for the word "literally", it comes up with the following definitions: literally

Note the second one, which was apparently added back in 2011 though nobody really noticed it until recently. I see it all the time in the sports world; a player will play very well for a few games in a row and people say he's "literally on fire". I've heard people saying that someone "literally took the bull by the horns" or something they didn't like "literally drove me crazy". Up to now, this has simply been wrong. Now, apparently, it's not.

At the risk of being (correctly) labeled a "grammar Nazi", the misuse of this word has been (figuratively) driving me crazy for years. Language changes and evolves, I get that. The sentence "My cell's out of juice so I can't tweet" would have made no sense thirty years ago. These kids today People younger than myself use the word "sick" to describe something good, but that's slang and was likely done intentionally for ironic effect.

This is not the same as giving a word (cell, tweet) a new meaning for which no word previously existed, or using a word ironically. In this case, people who don't know what the word means are incorrectly using it to mean precisely the opposite of what it actually means, and now we're saying that's OK. We are catering to the seemingly increasing number of ignorant people. Rather than teaching people the correct meaning of the word and correcting those who misuse it, we are just making it right so that there's no problem.

We are dumbing down the language.

If this continues, here are some other words that will be added to the dictionary sometime soon:

Prolly: (adv.) Probably. As in "I'll be there late in the morning, prolly around ten-thirty."

There: (adv.) Synonym for "they are" (formerly "they're") or "belonging to them" (formerly "their"). As in "They can't remember where they parked, so there looking for there car over there." Much easier to have just one word since people use them interchangeably anyway. Similarly, "its" vs. "it's".

Alot: (n.) A lot. Alot of people use this word, not knowing that it does not exist. But it doesn't need to make you unhappy.

Ignorant: (adj.) Rude. It actually means "without knowledge", as in "I am ignorant of the rules of cricket." But if someone cuts in line in front of you at the grocery store, that's rude, not ignorant.