After my whirlwind tour of Toronto the next stop on my Canadian adventure was the northern Ontario town of Thunder Bay. If I’d felt the cold in Toronto, I was really going to feel it here, with the pilot announcing “a bitterly cold -20C” on arrival.
When I touched down I was met by two paddling legends; Thunder Bay local Joe O’Blenis, who recently set another World Record for paddling quickly around Vancouver Island (his second!), and Helen Wilson, Greenland rolling expert, instructor and medalist from two Greenland National Kayaking Competitions. It was hard not to feel like a bit of a pretender amongst these two accomplished paddlers, but regardless they both greeted me warmly before proceeding to tell just how bad it was going to be when I stepped out into the cold.
They weren’t lying. The air was so cold it felt like I was having an asthma attack, with my lungs coughing and spluttering at the incredibly cold air. Thankfully we were all whisked away in a car with Joe’s mate Chris before heading out for a quick tour of Thunder Bay and the shores of the World’s biggest lake, Lake Superior.
Then it was back to Joe’s house to catch up with local paddlers and for a Canadian feed of Pierogi, deer and Persians. The food was rich and tasty but clearly Canada had thumbed its nose at the humble vegetable. I quickly filled up on the local delights before preparing for the nights activity – Snow Shoeing with the Superior Kayak and Canoe Club.
Clearly I’m an Aussie and not exactly experienced in such things. I wasn’t even quite sure what the POINT was, since it made much more sense to stay in the nice warm house than to trek through the snow at night in sub-freezing temperatures. But after putting on almost every piece of clothing I had, boardies included, I grabbed a final beer and head out the door into the cold.
The location for our night cross country session was a small creek not far from Joe’s house. It was frozen over (mostly), covered with a decent layer of snow, and would take us a few miles along its path. Of course I had to get into it first, after putting on what to me looked like two short water-skis, climbing the snowy embankment, and making my way gingerly down the creek proper. My graceful moves instead were to trip over the embankment, collapse on my arse into the snow with a tangle of snow-shoes and then moan at the fact several handfuls of snow had made their way down my bum cleavage and into my pants. Somehow I managed to get up after a brief ten minutes or so, gingerly slid down the embankment on my butt before landing with a PLONK into the creek below.
Once there it was fun… in a freezing cold kind of way. Helen, dressed in a blue full face-balaclava looked like a cross between a smurf and a commando. My array of clothes made me look like a mis-dressed fat Aussie tourist (hmm, exactly what I was!). The Canadians all got by in shorts in tshirts…. well, ok, maybe not, but they all seemed pretty much at home in the icy conditions.
I learned a lot on that snow-shoe session. Like how to get a beer can stuck to your tongue. Or how not to stick a pole into your snow-shoe whilst walking. Or how it feels to freeze to death on a mountainside. In fact by the time we turned around to head back I had truly learned just how harsh the cold can be, as my eye-lashes grew icicles and then promptly froze together.
The next morning I got to experience Thunder Bay food icon The Hoito and a little bit of shopping before heading home for a little birthday dinner surprise for local Chris Johnston, one of the sweetest ladies you’d ever be lucky enough to meet.
We all shared a little cake before heading off our own ways to prepare for the real reason I’d come up – Rolling classes in the pool with Helen Wilson, Joe and the Superior Kayak & Canoe gang! (coming soon). Cheers – FP