We left Ignace for Mishkeegogamang (formerly known as New Osnaburgh) after lunch on Sunday, August 3rd.
We had been traveling along Highway 17 until that point; part of the Trans-Canada Highway, but now we branched off onto Ontario Highway 599, which Wikipedia describes as a "long and isolated road in Northwestern Ontario," which travels through the dense forests and hills of the Kenora district, and ends in Pickle Lake.
The day was grey and dull and threatening rain, and our small, loosely held together convoy, bumped along the rough and bumpy road, slowly. The 263 km drive was estimated at 4.5 hours and it felt as though we were crossing the border into a different land.
Sharp stones pinged the body of my brave black Honda Fit. Inside, Joyce kept a close watch on Rebecca and I; whoever was driving, to make sure we switched when we got tired. Rebecca had put together a great selection of road trip music on her iPhone that kept me entertained for the long drive.
Jamie was far ahead on his motorbike; Susan, Christy, Eliana and Sharon were ahead of us in her SUV, and far behind us all was the rented Budget truck driven by Paul and A.J.
The forest was indeed dense on either side of the dusty road; Wikipedia describes it well. Suddenly there was movement alongside our vehicle and to the right of the car, running along in the ditch between us and the forest was a young moose, shaggy, chocolate brown, eyeing us warily. We had seen the "moose at night" warning signs for hundreds of miles but this was our first sight of one, and we slowed down in case it suddenly got spooked and changed directions.
We safely passed the moose and had not gone much further when Susan's vehicle stopped and she got out to examine her back window. As we pulled up behind her we saw that there was a large gaping hole, almost the size of a football in the top right corner, and the rest of the window was shattered. She said she had heard a loud "crack." We wondered if someone in the woods had taken a shot at the moose and hit the window. The truck pulled up soon, as we were gingerly picking the glass out of the trunk with the surgical gloves I keep in my trunk in case of accidents.
When we were finished, Susan taped a large green garbage bag over the empty space where the window had been. That was not going to withstand the journey, so she got out her roll of silver duct tape and strip by strip, covered the garbage bag and window space. I have never owned a roll of duct tape, but needed it later in our trip for a patch up job on my own vehicle. I think I need to keep some on hand!
Grateful that we had the tools to cover the gaping window, we continued on our way again and in late afternoon, just as we were all feeling very tired from the last long leg of the journey, we saw a sign saying, "Mishkeegogamang."
Our energy suddenly surged! We stopped, hopped out of the vehicles and climbed up through the undergrowth to the sign to take group photos. Jamie, Paul and A.J. were either ahead of or behind us somewhere.
We carried on, passing the small settlement of Ten Houses, where Chief Connie Gray-McKay lives, as well as Mervin, the pastor with whom Paul has become good friends. Finally, several kilometers down the road, we were in the village of Mish. Joyce pointed out the police station and the nurses station and Rebecca commented on the difference she could see in the community since her last trip in 2012. We stopped and waited as Paul got out and tried to find someone with keys to the teachers' residences where he had arranged for us to stay. Outside the car windows the air was alive with more small flies than I thought possible. "Is it like this all the time?" I asked Susan, and she laughed. I took that to mean, "Yes!"
It turned out that the arrangements for accommodation didn't go as planned; one of the teachers' residences was filled with construction workers and the other with two students from Queens University running a literacy program, but we were prepared that plans were flexible and fluid. Paul tracked down a couple of the community leaders and we were given permission to stay in Missabay Community School, at the end of a 4.2 kilometer climb along Sandy Road, which could not be driven faster than 40 km an hour.
Within minutes of getting out of the car at the school, two bugs flew into my eye. Our cans of Muskol insect repellent became our body spray of choice and best friend! But we had somewhere to stay and were grateful! It was the eve of Canada's Civic Holiday, and we were about to celebrate it with some of Canada's first citizens. We had arrived.