Dinner Debriefing: A Weekend in Thunder Bay

Caroline had a conference in Thunder Bay last weekend, so we drove down. I was warned that the drive was a bit bleak, but it was beautiful sunny spring weather, and the scenery was of the rocks and trees persuasion, which works fine for me.

Lakes were thawing, so we saw some that were open water, and others that were largely covered in candled ice. We stopped for lunch at the Riverside Lodge in Dryden. We were told it would be good, and it was.

We pushed our dinner reservation at The Caribou back by half an hour to be on the safe side, and arrived in plenty of time. We had a nice dinner there, with exceptionally fine service. Example: Shauna always came by to check on us just a minute or so after our dishes arrived, so if there had been a problem, it would have been rectified right away. The meal got off to a strong start with an original bread-basket accompanied by hummus. I always feel that if a restaurant does well with basics such as bread and soup, the food will be good overall. See the dinner menu here. We shared an order of Calamari to start. The squid part was very agreeable- lots of tentacle bits, which we both like. We were less sure of the tamarind dip. Caroline took a dislike to it right away, and switched to the hummus that came with the bread, while I persevered for a while before deciding it really wasn’t for me. We shared a salad, the warm goat cheese one with Dijon vinaigrette. For our main courses, I chose a fish special—I forgot to take notes, but I think European Sea Bass, with barley done like a risotto—while Caroline ordered the Mafaldine Braised Rabbit with Pancetta, mushrooms, truffle butter, and Parmesan. Both were tasty and tender. There was a fair selection of wines by the glass, and many suited our personal tastes. We picked the Noble Vines Merlot, and liked it so much I went looking for it in an LCBO the next day, but they list it as discontinued. We finished with a chocolate torte thing that rounded out the meal nicely. We would go back on any future visit to Thunder Bay. We might try for a quieter night; Friday evening was busy and rather noisy.

Saturday I had a day to myself while Caroline did conference things. A helpful front desk clerk printed me a map showing how to get to the scenic lookout on Mount McKay. I wanted to go there because every time I land on runway 30 in Thunder Bay, I get a good look at it from the pilot’s seat: Mount McKay is right beside an approaching aircraft. Map in hand, I programmed Dingbat, our long-time GPS, (notice I call him long-time, not trusty) and he knew a better way to get there. Which took me to a closed bridge. I told him to detour, and he diverted me to Boundary Road, which is blocked by gates to the mill property. When I attempted a second detour, Dingbat tried to guide me back to the closed bridge. Apparently, the Garmin algorithms do not deal well with double detours. I got the map out and did it the old-fashioned way.

The trip up the base of Mount McKay was serene, and a sign at the base said the scenic lookout was open from May to October, between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 pm. They didn’t mean all of May, apparently, because there was no one at the toll gate when I arrived at 9:15. Still, I had been told it would be okay to park my car outside the gate and walk in, so I did. It was about a twenty minute walk up the winding blacktop lane to the lookout.

Because we went by road, I had my titanium hiking staff with me! I can’t take it when I travel by air, because: one, it’s oversize and the cost is prohibitive, and two, it’s packed with survival supplies including some fire starting thingies that are prohibited on aircraft. Click to zoom in on this picture, and you can see that my staff is on its third wood grain paint scheme.

But I digress. Scenery!

This is as close to the edge of the drop as I cared to get; there’s a vertical drop of a hundred feet or more. You can see Thunder Bay’s runway 30 in the distance. There was a hiking trail that started at the scenic lookout, but it quickly became steep, and crossed scree slopes that I didn’t care to try alone with the ice still coming out of the rocks.

Saturday we went for dinner at Bistro One. We’d heard good things about the food, and we weren’t disappointed. On the other hand, the meal was slow getting started. We began with some classic French bread with roasted garlic and butter, but then there was a long pause before we saw anything else, and our server seemed to be avoiding us. I started with the Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna, while Caroline chose the 5 Hour Roasted Confit of Ontario Duck Leg. We were both happy with them, although the duck leg was salty, as it often is; some chefs believe this dish should be rinsed, some do not. The wine list here wasn’t quite as tailored to our tastes, but there was a good choice of wines by the glass. For entrees, Caroline had the Roasted Fillet of Atlantic Salmon while I decided on the Cognac Flamed Breast of Duck. Both dishes were superb. By the time we were done, it was getting late, the staff were clearing things up, and there was a hockey game on, so we didn’t linger for dessert. We wouldn’t be likely to go back, but this restaurant was tranquil, and might suit people who wanted to take their time and talk.

Caroline’s conference finished before noon on Sunday, so we hit the road, pausing for lunch in Upsala. We were told it would be okay, and it was.

There were two incidents of note on the way home. First, I saw moose. Not one, but a group of four. They were down by the ditch, so it was more interesting than startling. I flashed my hazards at the next truck, in case they moved onto the road.

Second, we got flagged down by motorists with two cars stopped at the side of the road. I pulled over immediately, in case someone had been hurt in an accident, but they just needed a screwdriver to remove a wheel-well liner that was rubbing on a tire. Boy Scout that I am, (well, was once) I had tools including a Leatherman and a multi-tip stubby that was just the thing. We had them fixed up in minutes and were back on our way.

All in all, a nice little trip.

 

Extreme Cold

I go for a walk every day, even when it’s extremely cold. I try to keep my eyes open for beauty, and sometimes I remember to take a picture.

Yesterday morning, walking in the icy mist by the river on the Tunnel Island hiking trails, I got this.

Iron & Ice

Iron & Ice

 

Today, our extreme cold warning came back, so I waited until the afternoon. The wind died down, but it was still bitterly cold down by the river.

Fenceposts

Fenceposts

 

You might be wondering why I shoot landscape photographs in portrait mode. It’s partly because I like the depth of having the near foreground start right at my feet, and it’s partly because I like to save them as wallpaper for my computer monitor. Yes, I have my 27″ monitor in portrait mode, for writing, so I resize and crop the images to 1200×1920. You can click on the pictures to see them at that resolution.

Those letterbox pictures at the top of my blog are also my own work, by the way.

Dog Story

We writers are known to be cat people. When it comes to walking on a keyboard, dogs are useless. But I married a dog person, and for decades, she has wished for one.

Voila!

20161216_194812

This is Piper. She is, according to It’s A Dog’s Life, a Husky cross. Crossed with what, they don’t say. Her reddish coat, bushy tail and narrow snout make me wonder if she’s part fox.

She’s large enough to hike with me, but small enough to not pull Caroline right off her feet. She’s unbelievably quiet and tranquil, but a fussy eater.

We went to Tunnel Island today. I hike there a lot, and I even do a little trail maintenance now and then, such as clearing fallen trees with a Swede saw. This was our second visit together, and although it is common practice there to let dogs off the leash, after less than a week together, I wasn’t ready to turn her loose just yet. I’ve been using a retractable leash to give her a little freedom of movement.

There was a blanket of fresh snow on all the trails, and once we got to where the A and B trails forked about a mile from the parking lot, there were no more footprints. We’d be breaking trail. We did the easier A trail last time, so today I picked B. Piper trotted happily ahead. She hesitated at the first footbridge, but after pausing to look through the planks at the ravine below, she decided it was okay with her if it was okay with me.

All went well until about halfway round the island. Then an off-the-trail excursion to look at a squirrel got her tangled in the undergrowth. Rather than floundering uphill through the deep snow in the bush to get her, I coaxed her to come back the way she went in. That went well enough at first, but as she tried a little too awkwardly to negotiate the last sapling, she pulled right out of her collar. And took off.

She sprinted down the trail right out of sight, but I was reassured when she came back to check on me before running ahead again. She was acting like all the other dogs I meet on Tunnel Island, the ones who have established relationships with their humans. I let her have her way for twenty minutes, then I realized that if we got separated, she had neither her collar nor her tag to help people reunite us. When she waited at the next junction to see which trail I wanted, I gave her a treat and put her collar back on. But not the leash. She was having way too much fun, and she was being pretty responsible. We carried on like that for a while, and I decided that I would reattach the leash when we approached the parking lot and the highway. She was with me, more or less, all the way to the railway bridge. She paused there to see some ravens, and I figured she’d catch up like before. But a couple of minutes later, when I went to see about putting her leash back on, she was nowhere in sight. I called for her, but she didn’t come. We’re only so-so on her coming when I call.

I backtracked to the railway bridge. No Piper. I returned to the car in case she had outrun me in the woods somehow. No Piper. I went back to the bridge and checked the pond and river for dog footprints and broken ice. Nope. At the railway bridge, there were dog prints that looked like hers. They didn’t go near the water. They went up to the railway tracks.

I clambered up the steep, snow-covered embankment. No dog, and I could see a long way. I called some more. The pawprints went along the tracks. Were they even hers? I saw a few spots of blood. Had she  fought an animal, or been hit by a train? Up ahead there were ravens on a kill.

Fussy eater, my ass. What does a husky cross like better than dog food? A deer carcass. This one, lying by the tracks, was mostly reduced to hide. Piper was happily gnawing on it. The ravens were not impressed.

She let me put her leash back on. I reeled it all the way in and we returned to the car handcuffed together. She obediently got in. I didn’t give her a treat, but she found one on the back seat from earlier.

At home, we were tired from our adventure and napped together on the couch. Surprisingly, Rufus, our male cat, came and joined us for a few minutes. He has been rather leery of Piper. She has done nothing to upset him, in fact she’s been the soul of animal diplomacy, avoiding eye contact and showing studious disinterest by lying down or scratching herself when he is in the room. It’s working. He is slowly getting bolder about approaching her.

We have another week before we must formally adopt Piper or return her. I think it’s working out. But we’ll be going to evening classes.

Titanium Hiking Staff II

Back in March, I constructed a titanium hiking staff. Click here to see the original post. Basically, it’s a five foot length of 1″ titanium tubing from Online Metals, filled with survival equipment and first aid supplies and capped at the ends. I’ve put a lot of miles on it since then and I recently stripped it down to make some minor improvements.

On the end that hits the ground, it had a simple rubber cane tip from the drug store. Those wear out occasionally, and the last time that happened, I was a long way from the car. By the time I made it back, I had packed quite a lot of dirt into the end of the tube and soiled the triangle bandages. It was time for some maintenance.

20151215_165550

Adobe & Chocolate paints

Repaint: the original paint job was too dark. I had used a red oxide primer and chocolate acrylic for the graining. The faux wood grain looked vaguely like teak, but only in bright sunlight. Indoors, it just looked brown. I went looking for a lighter base coat and settled on this adobe colour. Only the primer changed; the chocolate acrylic used for the grain is the same, and so is the clear coat.

 

Repack: no need to change the contents, except to replace the soiled bandages with clean ones. Some later additions like the emergency whistle had been kind of jammed in, so I took the opportunity to stow them properly.

Regrip: when I originally frapped the grip area, the only cord I could find was  a rather random mix of colours, and rated for just 200 pounds. I had always wanted to use  paracord, so I ordered some three millimeter cord from Canada Paracord, rated at 425 pounds. A multicolored pattern shows the grime less, so I went with a camouflage pattern called Canadian Digital.

Recap: The first time around, I capped the ends with a 1″ rubber cane tip on the bottom and I made a wooden knob for the top that screws on to a broom handle thread, so it could be swapped out. Now I turned the whole staff over, so the threaded end and the metal band are on the bottom. The end has a smooth face to reduce wear on the rubber, and I backed up the tip’s thin steel disc with a loonie. That end is watertight even if the rubber gets perforated. I wanted to carry a spare cane tip, so I put a second one on top, and that’s the one you pull off to access the contents, starting with the first aid stuff. The rubber foot is not as pretty as the wooden knob, but if you fall on it, it won’t go in your eye.

Last time I did the faux wood finish with a nubbly rubber glove for a broad grain. This time I used a push-broom with stiff bristles and it turned out better, with a finer grain. It’ll pass for hardwood at first and second glance.

What’s inside?

  • Latex gloves, triangle bandages and safety pins.
  • First aid booklet, band-aids and aspirin.
  • Fire starter sticks, tinder, flint and steel.
  • A tiny compass. (Titanium is non-magnetic, so a compass is not affected.)
  • Duct tape and an emergency whistle.
  • Fishing line, hooks and sinkers. Staff can be a crude pole.
  • Water purification tablets. (The empty staff will hold 650mls of water)
  • A space blanket, orange on one side.

With all that inside, and about fifty feet of paracord wrapped around it, it weighs 1.1 kilos, or 2lbs, 8oz. Most people are surprised at how light it feels. Titanium is cool that way.

Update from August 1, 2017. During repacking, I discovered that the latex gloves had compressed into a tight rubber ball that was jammed in so tightly I had to dig them out with a wire hook. In their place, I found room for a small amount of first-aid adhesive tape, and a little pocket knife with a locking blade.

Sandbanks Provincial Park

Today’s weather was nice in Prince Edward County, so our priorities were walking and leaf-peeping. After a lovely breakfast at Brown’s Manor, we drove to Sandbanks Provincial Park for a walk on the beach. The park is winding down for the season, with some areas closed and gated, but we were able to get to the trails and beach on foot.

Sandbanks Provincial Park

Sandbanks Provincial Park

There were some footprints, but we didn’t see another human in over an hour on the beach. The sand is quite firm, so we put in over seven kilometers in hiking boots without trouble. Saw some seagulls, quite a lot of geese, and a dozen or so of whatever these are.

20151027_120829C

Dunno. Vultures?

There are still some fall colours.

Pretty sure these are trees.

Pretty sure these are trees.

That took until lunchtime, so we had Dingbat take us to Wellington and had lunch at the Tall Poppy Cafe. They had two soups on: Caroline had the Curry Lentil, and I had the Roasted Red Pepper Tomato. Lunch is off the blackboard each day, and Caroline chose Chicken Salad on Ciabatta and I picked the Spinach and Swiss Quiche. I know what the book says; I don’t need advice on how to be a Real Man. I can hear my friends muttering, “too late now, anyway.” Lunch was good, and both my quiche and my soup were truly hot.

After lunch, we drove halfway across the county to see the Lake on the Mountain. It’s a geographic oddity, a deep spring-fed lake high above Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte. That took over twenty minutes. When we first planned this visit, we thought of staying in a different B&B each night, then we realized that they were, if not within walking distance of one another, close enough to ride a bicycle to.

After that, back to Brown’s Manor for a rest. For dinner tonight we will walk to the Merril Inn in Picton. Dinner Debriefing later.

The Titanium Hiking Staff Project

I like to hike in the woods. A stick comes in handy on steep sections of trail, and it gives my arms something to do.

At first, I improvised a hiking staff from a five-foot rake handle. I frapped a section with string for a grip, and shoved on a rubber cane tip from the drugstore.

But I wondered- if I had a light metal tube, could I pack it with survival gear and first aid supplies? Aluminum would work, but what I really wanted was titanium. The price was a deterrent, but I finally ordered a five foot length of one inch welded titanium tubing from Online Metals.

While I was waiting for it to come, I started picking up things to put inside: a space blanket, fire starters, a small compass, a tiny roll of duct tape, water purification tablets, a whistle, fishing line and hooks, a first-aid booklet, triangle bandages, surgical gloves, chewable aspirin. Total weight, about 250 grams, or just over eight ounces.

Step One: Paint. The titanium tube arrived with the specs stenciled all over it. I’m not 20150521_115059Csure other hikers want to meet a large man with a metal pipe in his hands, so I primed it with red oxide and applied a faux wood-grain in chocolate acrylic glaze. I used a nubbly rubber glove for the graining, and the overall effect is a dark brown grain like teak. I applied a clear-coat to protect it.

Step Two: Ends. A one-inch rubber cane tip for the foot. These have steel discs inside, so the metal tube does not cut through them. For the head end, I wanted something versatile. I chose to fit the top with a broom-handle thread so that I can attach different tips. I used a lathe to turn down the handle of a SOG Spirit for this purpose, and epoxied it into the tube with the threaded portion sticking out. I found a wooden paint-roller handle that is threaded to take a broom-handle for painting ceilings. I cut it down and rounded it off to make a knob for everyday hiking. It has a decorative metal ring that looks nice on the staff.

Step Three: Frapping. The one-inch tubing is a little small for my grip, and slippery. Paracord would be best, but the closest I could get locally was some polypropylene braided cord with a 200 pound breaking strength. I wound about forty feet of it around the staff at elbow height in two layers. To do this, I mounted the tubing on a dowel spindle so that I could turn it easily. I started at the lower end, wound my way up for about ten inches, then tightly back down again. Then I tied the loose ends with a tight reef knot and fused the ends to the metal with a lighter. The knot is almost invisible. Unwound, the cord could be used in a myriad of ways, from building a shelter to suspending food from a tree.

Step Four: Packing.

Hiking Staff

Contents. I did get the space blanket more compactly rolled after several tries.

The space blanket was the biggest challenge. Although it was folded into a compact rectangle not much bigger than a deck of cards, rolling it into a slim cylinder was harder than I expected. The key was to refold it into a larger flat rectangle of the right length, squeeze all the air out, roll it tightly around a welding-rod spindle, and draw it tight with adhesive tape at regular intervals. The blanket came with an added bonus; it’s bright orange on one side and printed with diagrams showing how to use it for shelter and so on. It went in first, and slid right up to the head end. Next up, all those loose items. I rolled the first-aid booklet up tightly and taped it like the blanket. I packed some of the loose items into little ziploc bags, then I used heavy duty aluminum foil to make a pair of cylindrical torpedoes filled with the odds and ends, and slid them in. That prevents the contents from rattling or shifting and jamming. Plus the aluminum foil can be used to fashion a cup or a reflector. The last items in were the ones I thought I might need in the biggest hurry; the first-aid supplies. Repeated attempts to roll the triangle bandages into a neat cylinder were pathetic. Finally I just used a chopstick to stuff them in, tied together like a magician’s kerchiefs. The safety pins and the tiny scrap of paper with sling and bandage diagrams went in with them. When the staff was nearly packed full, I squeezed in the whistle and the surgical gloves, and left the tail end of the triangle bandage right at the end where I could grab it and pull it all out. Then the rubber cane tip went on.

Empty, the titanium staff is lighter than the wooden rake handle, and would likely float. Fully loaded, it is just over a kilo: 1070 grams (or 2lbs, 6oz). I find it a comfortable weight. You may have noticed that I carry water purification tablets, but not any kind of water container. Emptied of it’s other contents, the titanium staff will hold 650mls of water, about right for one tablet.

A few months after I wrote this post, I reconditioned, repainted, and repacked the staff. You can see an update here.