The journey of a lifetime
My husband, Bill & I dreamed of a camping getaway at Ojibway Provincial Park, but multiple events transpired that could have ruined it. Instead, the kindness of strangers transformed a potential disaster into an extraordinary experience of a lifetime. Here’s how it happened.
At the beginning of August, we started having issues with the headlights on our truck. We needed a new module for the lighting system, and it was out of stock until October. We were scheduled to leave on August 10, 2022, and return on August 27th. Our truck would tell us the headlights were out, but they would be on or tell us the headlights were on when they were off. Ojibway Provincial Park is 1,855 km – 19 hours from our home. We planned out a 2 1/2 day drive, no night or dusk hours. We did encounter fog, and with a black truck and silver trailer, that was a very stressful 2 hours!
Bill’s brother Bob was diagnosed with bowel cancer in the summer. He had surgery and was doing okay but 2 weeks before we were to leave, he developed pneumonia and was put into hospital. While in hospital, they discovered nodes on the lungs and cancer in the bloodstream. At noon on August 9th Bill’s nieces called to say Bob was moving to palliative care, but before they took away the oxygen and sedated Bob for the pain, he wanted to see Bill.
We were ready to call off the trip and stay home. We spent 7 hours at the hospital, shared some memories, some laughs, and some tears. Bob told us to get in the truck and drive. He knew he would be gone in the next 24 hours, and he said, ‘I won’t have a service but please take me fishing….’
When we got home from the hospital, our truck lights were working.
In the morning, we checked in with the hospital and Bob’s daughters. It wouldn’t be much longer for Bob and his daughters just want to be alone with their dad. We finished packing and headed out. We had just passed the turnoff on the highway for the hospital when we got the call he had passed. Bob was on the road again, this time for the trip of a lifetime.
The next day, Aug 11th, our truck started throwing a new code… A different module was done, and unless we found a Dodge dealer our engine would shut down to 6 km per hour. The NOX Sensor (Nitrogen Oxide Sensor) had failed. Going through the rocky region of Northern Ontario at 6 km per hour pulling a 25′ trailer would not be safe. We needed to find a Dodge dealer to fix the issue. We traveled as far as we could looking for a safe place to pull over. In the small town of Schreiber, Ontario, we found an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) station. We were 6 hours short of Ojibway Provincial Park. With the permission of the OPP, we boon-docked at the local cemetery and were waiting for the morning for the tow truck to arrive.
I took the dog for a walk and told the neighbours what was happening and that we would be gone in the morning. It was one of the neighbours that told me there was a full-service campground just outside of town, ironically called ‘Stop Along the Way’. The owners, Erica and Connor, are an amazing couple that helped us so much.
The next morning, we were up early and moved the trailer to the campground. Bill went with the truck for the 210 km tow to Thunder Bay, and I stayed in Schreiber with the dog. The dealer knew we were coming and why, but sent Bill away when he got there, saying they couldn’t fix it and didn’t have the module. Bill had arrived at the worst-rated Dodge dealership in Ontario. 3 stops later, Bill finally found a garage that had the module and could fix the truck, but it would end up taking 6 days for the repair. Bill was now in Thunder Bay, and I was in Schreiber – 2 hours away. There were no hotels or rental cars available due to a large event in town.
It is now that the kindness of complete strangers changed our trip and will make an impression on me, I will never forget.
Norm at Lakeside Injection had the parts we needed to fix the truck, but it would be Monday afternoon before he could start the job. It was now 3:30 on Friday afternoon. Bill, with only his wallet and an almost dead cell phone, had to get back to Schreiber. He was going to hitch hike back, but Norm wouldn’t have that. Norm invited Bill to stay overnight in his Bunkie on the shores of Lake Superior, and then he drove him back to Schreiber on Saturday morning. That is a 4.5-hour round trip.
The couple that owns the campsite checked in on us daily to ensure we had all we needed. Then Connor comes by on Monday afternoon to say to Bill, ‘my wife tells me I need to take you fishing’. We had never told them what had happened before we left. Bill and Connor spent a great day on Lake Superior fishing, and yes, Connor got some fish and Bill had a great story about the one that got away and how he broke his fishing rod. A few days later, Erica drove us into Thunder Bay and waited a couple of hours while we went back into the dealership to get the dealer code cleared. It took 6 hours to complete the trip. Erica is a gem.
I had been talking to Sidney, the Park Warden at Ojibway, while we waited for the truck to be fixed. We had canceled off the 1st week of our 2 weeks stay but wanted to extend the trip. The staff at Ojibway moved our reservation to the most amazing campsite we have ever stayed at to date. The site was closed due to downed trees early in the season. Sidney had contacted the province 3 times to get that site back on the booking platform once it was cleaned up, but it was never done. When we realized where we would be camped, we extended our trip till the campground closed on Sept 5. Bill got to do a lot of fishing, and I got to photograph the park at my leisure.
We had great neighbours in the park. One was a teenage astronomer. His knowledge of the night sky helped me locate the stars. The trees that came down in the storm had opened our view of the lake, which made for great shots right at our campsite.
On Aug 31st, I had packed up my camera for the night because it was going to be a cloudy night. The wind picked up, blew the clouds away, and the Milky Way was so clear I had to get my gear back out. I was getting a weird glow/light in the corner of the photos. Bill and I headed down to the dock at our campsite, and there were these greenish/white filmy clouds. I set up my camera and took a shot – it would be the 1st photo I had ever taken of the Aurora Borealis. It was a short show that night, but I was watching the weather and knew what to look for now. Saturday night, Sept 3rd we had the most magnificent Aurora display. It lasted longer than I did. It started at 9:30, and at 12:00 it was still going strong, but I had lost feeling in my hands and toes. Afraid of falling down the lake bank, I went into the trailer. September 4th, the display didn’t start till midnight and was short, but it lit up the sky. I can’t describe the experience, but hopefully you will be able to see it in the photos. Digital cameras, even cell phones, can pick up more colours than our eyes. Watching the Northern Lights unfold through my camera is something I will never forget. When in doubt, take the shot.
On Sept 3rd I was waiting for the Aurora’s to come back, and these were the first 3 images I took, all within 3 minutes of each other!
We still had light sensor issues with the truck on the drive home, but nothing that involved a tow truck. The 2nd day we should have made it back into Sudbury, but hit fog in the morning, so we were going to run out of daylight. I knew the small town of McKerrow was just outside of Sudbury and we would be there by 7:30 pm. When I was working, I would frequently hear from Jack and Jenny at John’s Flowershop, so I gave them a call to see if they knew where we could park overnight. A short conversation later had us staying in their parking lot overnight. When we arrived, they had a bonfire going in the side yard and Jack had a cold beer in Bill’s hand before he could turn off the truck. The next morning, we had a full country breakfast before we headed out for the final leg of the journey.
All of these events had to align for us to see the Northern Lights. A true gift.
I will never forget our trip to Ojibway Provincial Park. We have all experienced small acts of kindness, but I have never had a stranger offer us lodging or offer to take 6 hours of their day to ensure we were safe and sound & together. To see the campsite and know that the 3 ladies that run the park, that is all the staff they have, moved our site, and gave us the best they had was amazing. We had a true Canadian bonfire on the last night with people I had only talked to previously on the phone, and we were served a breakfast fit for kings. The kindness of Erica & Connor, Norm, Sidney & Karen, Jack & Jenny have left both of us humbled.
We never told any of these wonderful people of the days leading up to the trip. You just don’t know what people are going through sometimes, so when in doubt, just be kind. It really can make all the difference. Waldo Emerson said, ‘Life is about the Journey’, this trip was the journey of a lifetime.
Cathy asked for her 1st camera at age 9. At age 11, she received a Kodak 110 camera for her birthday. She would ride her bike to the Fotomat a few blocks away and eagerly await her photo results. By 13 she had saved enough money to buy her 1st SLR film camera – a Praktica L2 which she still has. In 2000 she embraced digital photography and all that new world brought with it. 4 Nikon cameras later, she bought her 1st Olympus camera, the OM-D E-M5II. It was like holding an old friend and renewed her love of photography all over again. She now shoots with the Olympus OM-D E-M1III.