Yup, my brain is sore. Why you ask? Well, I’ve reached the proverbial end of October I’m burnt out from everything point. No matter how much sleep I get I feel like I constantly need a nap. It is the culmination of two months of sheer insanity and stress. Thank God things are beginning to wind down as I don’t think I can keep this up much longer…but then again I say that every year and I keep taking on too many things. Anyway, enjoy the literary feast as I recount the events of the past week.
So today was the parent meeting for the 2014 Europe trip and it was very well attended. We are cleared to start signing up kids! Although we are still 500 days away from departure, I’m getting pretty excited about the journey. It was great even to describe the trip to the students and parents in attendance. Yes I have visited some of these places before, but I really want to see them in more detail and experience all the new sights as well. I guess I’ll just have to be patient!
Thursday was conclusion of our 2012 SSSAA (Superior Secondary Schools Athletic Association) Junior football regular season as we have a bye this week. We went out on a winning note, defeating the Westgate Tigers 34 to 7, our first victory over them in 3 years. The boys played well after a shaky start. So we finished at a respectable 3 and 1, good enough for second place and a spot in the semi-finals on November 3rd. I am very proud of the team, especially since we had only 8 returners from last year’s squad and more than 50% of the team are Grade 9’s.
Anyway, it was a very hectic week on the railway front again. We are still pushing forward with the Silver Mountain Historical Society; I spent some time looking into the formation of not-for-profit organizations and I thought my head was going to explode. Wow, talk about a lot to digest at one time! It seems very scary on the surface, but I hope that with the collective effort of our group we will work through it.
I did receive a response last week to an email I sent to the regional advisor with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. It was very positive and supportive, and I hope to be able to set up a meeting the near future. This is just a small step, but I am confident it will lead to the preservation of sections of the railway.
On Sunday I had the opportunity to do what will probably be my last hike of the year. I decided that with the leaves down and the bush fairly dry, it would be a good to go back to Mackies on Whitefish Lake. I was last there in June and again in July, but I purposefully avoided the section to the west of where the station had been. I had hiked portions of the railway there back in 1994 and again in 1998, but I really wanted to go over it again.
Mackies Station was located near the northwestern end of Whitefish Lake, approximately 46 miles from Port Arthur (there are two nearby roads named Mile 46 and Mileage 46 respectively). I would start the day’s hike at an unnamed road (sometimes called Tower Mountain Road) which runs north and bi-sects the railway about 100 metres from Highway 588. Immediately west of the road lies the remains of an approximately 250 foot trestle which spanned a small valley, and was burned in a forest fire around 1923.
The fallen leaves made locating and photographing the eastern abutment of the trestle very easy. My biggest concern was going to be crossing the valley and how wet was the ground in that expanse. Thankfully it hasn’t rained a lot in a while (except for the steady rain that has fallen today), so while I to detour a bit, it wasn’t really too bad. As I made my way across, I came across the remains of some of the bridge pilings next to the path of the small creek that flows through the valley. Really neat to see these things, especially after they were driven into the ground 121 years ago.
The slope up to the western abutment is quite sheer, making the climb rather interesting. According to my GPS, the grade sits some 18 feet above the valley, but it sure felt a lot higher than that. Following the railway from that point was fairly easy, as it was grown in but the tall trees eliminated a lot of the difficult underbrush. Really interesting to see how the line was cut into the side of a small hill and how in many spots you could still see the indentations from the ties.
The area was littered with evidence of telegraph poles, but I only found one spot where there might have been the remains of the actual pole. From my experience hiking east of Mackies this summer, I knew exactly how to find them-circular patterns of rock located about 15 feet south of the grade. I recorded 11 locations, but I’m assuming the poles were all cut and destroyed (or salvaged) at some point.
About 550 metres from the trestle is where I made my first significant find, albeit one that has little to do with the railway. I vividly remember this location from a 1998 visit, even videotaping what I found and being amazed to see something like this in such an obscure location. The object in question is an old truck belonging to the Northern Wood Preservers Company. It was probably abandoned in its current location back in the 70’s or 80’s, most likely when that company was logging in the area and the grade was more accessible. I wonder how long before it rusts out completely and turns into just a pile of metal.
The grade continues southwesterly, and then westerly for 650 metres before you arrive at a small rock cut nested in one of the few really overgrown sections in the area. The cut is not high, maybe only 3 feet or so, but it gives an indication of things to come. From there the line alternates through some grown in and relatively clear sections for another 900 metres. At this point the grade opens up completely as the trail becomes part of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs network.
I only followed the railway for another 800 metres in a northwesterly direction as I had to get back home early that day. I was quite a beautiful walk as the grade ascends the slope alongside Sun Hill. With the leaves down and some of the trees harvested, it made for a gorgeous panorama of the surrounding area, especially the mesas of the Canadian Shield. It must have been something to see when the train was puffing through this area.
Cutting my journey short left me about 1.5km shy of my intended end point, which is the beginning of the Gravel Lakes section that I walked back in 2010. I decided that this area is easy to get back to and hike, so I would re-visit it next fall when the leaves were still up and take in the colours as well. Maybe I’ll even venture into the Gravel Lakes again and shoot some HD video of that area (I only recorded it on my still camera and I’m not impressed with the quality).
Anyway, I’ll wrap things up as it has been a long day and wet day. I spent the better part of an hour and a half today soaked and freezing on the football field. I’ve only just finally warmed up. More to say next week-until then…