With all the planning behind us at last, we are on our way. It’s been over a year since the idea of returning to paint the coast crossed my mind. Painting for a month in such a beautiful, rich landscape is fine enough in it’s own right. Knowing that this is just the first of four one-month trips over the next year to the region leaves me short for words. It is truly a privilege, made even better by the fact that my family is coming with me.
Now, what was once just a dream, is now just a long drive away. Due to several delays, we leave a few days later than originally anticipated. In the big picture, it really makes little difference. With everything packed, we head our truck north, and look forward to the vistas and explorations that lie ahead.
First stop is near Wawa, at Naturally Superior Adventures. They are an outfitting company that specializes in kayak excursions on Lake Superior, and are located in a gorgeous secluded spot right on the water.
They also offer the Arts in the Wild program, which takes people into the outdoors to pursue their creative side with workshops run by artists, and photographers. As I will be leading one of these workshops next summer, I wanted to meet Dave Wells, the owner and discuss some ideas. They are also helping us out on parts of our trips. You can make the trip safer by having someone who knows the area well along with you. This is especially true in the fall when conditions can change quickly and when you have to consider the two young children you have onboard.
It was late in the afternoon when we arrived, so we stayed the night there. Before turning in we received some instruction on the tandem kayak that we will be using for parts of the trip. I have never claimed to be an expert explorer, just a guy who loves to paint and will to whatever lengths required to get the image, so the lessons were appreciated. Most of my water travel on my painting trips has been by canoe, and the biggest challenge I discovered during the practice will be trying not to bump my daughter Andie’s head while paddling (she will be sitting in the hatch directly in front of me).
NEYS PROVINCIAL PARK
The next morning, we got our gear together, sorted out some last minute details (good thing they have technical support for these satellite phones!), and proceeded for another three hours to Neys Provincial Park. Here we tented in one of the parks main campsites, which was very quiet at this time of year, and sorted out our needs for this first little journey.
This first trip was going to break us in, and so it was only planned to be about three days or so. Of course, much of this depends on the weather.
At this time of year, wind and waves can quickly change your trip plans. Luckily, we were blessed to have fine paddling weather as we headed out, fully loaded. And I mean fully loaded!
We chose to use the canoe for this trip, because it would allow me to take larger canvases than with the kayak. From the lay of the land, it also looked as though we would have opportunity to get out of the wind more often than on other parts of our trip. Well, it’s a good thing that were paddling a big canoe, because otherwise I think we would have had to leave one of the kids behind on the shore.
In addition to all the camping gear (tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, stoves, food, etc.), we had to bring clothes for four of us including cold weather garments (frost has already hit in some parts up here), my painting gear (easel, paints, thinners, brushes, painting boxes), cameras (digital, 35mm and video camera), laptop, two 12-volt gel batteries, power inverter, adapters, satellite phone, and on and on. Let’s just say there was no room to pick up hitchhikers along the way.
The 18 foot Swift handled everything really well, and we did manage to carve out a spot for both our children Andie and Sydney. As a matter of fact, once Sydney (the two-and-a-half year-old) had her fill of slowing us down with her fine paddling strokes, she fell into a good sleep tucked up in the bow.
Neys is a large peninsula and rather squarish in shape. Pic Island, also part of the park, graces it’s southern extremity, the closest point coming within about 800 meters of the mainland. About halfway down the west side of the park we got our first taste of the beautiful submerged rocks that can be found among many stretches of the Lake Superior coast. Through the greenish-blue waters, the rounded shapes of multi-coloured rocks create a mesmerizing view as you hang your head over the side of the canoe. Just don’t do it all on the same side at the same time!
The shore itself is a mixture of many all varieties of rock, from water-smoothed gentle-sloping stretches to incredibly rugged sections, where one can get a good sense of just how wild this lake can get. There are also beaches every now and then – some sandy, others mostly cobble – all seeming to have their own families of driftwood.
I was often tempted to start a painting along the way, but as we had good paddling weather, and not knowing for just how long, we thought it wise to cover some ground and set up camp over on Pic Island, where I would have plenty to keep me busy.
After about two and a half hours, we arrived at our destination; a small cove, complete with a perfect size beach to set up camp in, surrounded by trees and a high hill to our back, made famous by Lawren Harris in his painting of Pic Island years ago.
We were met by caribou tracks along the water’s edge as we landed the canoe. After dinner, I paddled to the islands that faced us and found a couple of locations for the next day’s painting.
Wednesday morning, at the crack of dawn, I at last am able to wet my first canvas with oils as I float in my canoe just around the corner from our campsite. It feels good, and I can’t help but be thankful for places like this, and the opportunity to be in them.