Back in August I was feeling trapped, and realized that I hadn't left Essex County/Southeastern Michigan in almost two years. So I looked online for places I could visit in Ontario that would take six hours or fewer to reach, and ended up excited about visiting the Scenic Caves in Collingwood. The drive would take about six hours, so I planned to leave on Tuesday afternoon when I was finished work, and to come back on Thursday evening before my shift on Friday.
I like going places, but also like being cheap, so I planned to find a low-cost Airbnb to crash in for a few nights, pack a cooler full of food, and just do my thing for a couple of days. I told a few people of my plans and invited them to come along if they felt like it, but was fully prepared to go alone.
My mom ended up deciding to come, which was totally fine with me. She's got a thing with driving and preferred to take her mini, and was more interested in staying somewhere nice than a random person's house, so she booked us a room at The Blue Mountain Inn, part of the most popular resort in the region.
We left from my mom's place in Harrow around 3 pm on Tuesday afternoon, and wanted to take the scenic route to avoid the construction on the 401. We were doing it medium-school with a Google Maps printout and figured we were all set to go. We stopped for coffee in Essex and had a great time chatting away while I told her where to turn. Until eventually we're looking for a road that "should" be three kilometers from our last turn, but we just can't seem to find. So we backtrack a while, and eventually find it. About 600 meters from our last turn. Okay, thanks for the poor distance info Google, we'll keep it in mind that our instructions may not be spot on.
It's also worth mentioning at this point that Mom and I are both with Freedom Mobile, formerly Wind. This means that unless we're in a major city centre we don't have any service aside from fairly expensive roaming. In hindsight, I should have downloaded an offline map with the directions, but figured the printout would be the same thing and that we'd be fine. Turns out this was a big, big mistake.
After driving for two hours we're finally in Tilbury. A trip that normally takes about forty-five minutes. We're starting to get a little irritated, so we decide to just get on the 401. Except then we can no longer follow our printout, and there's that whole thing with expensive data. As we're contemplating exactly how to proceed, I see a sign for an exit that will bring us to a road on our instructions, win!
But things are never that easy. As we come up to the exit we see that it's actually closed because of that construction we mentioned earlier. Fuck.
Alright, we decide. Let's just get to the On Route (401 rest stop) in Dutton, get on their wifi, and get our lives figured out.
I could go on for ages just with the drive up there, so here's a quick breakdown of the remainder of the drive:
- On Route's wifi isn't working
- I say screw it, use my data to get directions from where we are, which I write out
- After another hour or so we're back to issues with the distances on the instructions and what we're actually seeing not lining up
- I'm cranky, hungry, and we should be there by now, but instead we're lost in the middle of nowhere, so I decide the roaming charges are worth it and we GPS it the rest of the way
- About twenty minutes from the hotel we're in the mountains, it's super dark, and we have an unfortunate encounter with a raccoon, and he doesn't come out of it looking well
Finally, it's 11:30 pm and we're getting into the hotel parking lot, hurray! Just then the car overheats and shuts off. Mom manages to restart it just long enough to coast into a parking space. It's frustrating and worrying, but we've been driving all day for a five-hour trip, and we just need to sleep. So we get inside, walk up to the desk, and give our info to check into our pre-paid reservation.
Only to find out that there was a mixup somewhere, and the reservation is for next week.
"And the hotel is completely booked," says the bald desk attendant.
Our hearts sink, and the guy behind the counter is no help. He was kind of a dick throughout the whole process of us asking for recommendations of somewhere else to stay, basically taking up the attitude that our problems are none of his concern and we're wasting his time. Until eventually he miraculously finds us a room! Then immediately starts taking care of another guest for some reason. Okay, sure. So we sit down nearby and wait for him to be free again.
Twenty minutes later he asks if he should look for a room for us. Major eye rolls from us, and we ask what happened to the room he already said he found? We're both beyond frustrated by this point and just go with it as he books us into a pricey room at a nearby hotel that's still part of The Blue Mountain Resort.
We go outside to meet the shuttle that will take us to the proper place, and are met by a surly driver, of course. But soon we're in our fancy apartment suite and looking to hookup to the internet so we can find a mechanic to take the car to in the morning. That's when we learn that even in a $250 room it costs $10 a day for wifi access. Welcome to 2017!
After some much-needed sleep we fill the mini's radiator with some water to bring to a Canadian Tire about ten minutes away to get it looked at. We realize that the car issues are probably thanks to that raccoon incident from the night before, and hope that the damage is nothing major.
We're eating breakfast at a nearby A&W when we get a call from the mechanic telling us that we need a new radiator, it'll be in from Toronto later that afternoon, and the car should be ready to go Thursday morning. Damn.
There's a Comfort Inn across the street where we're lucky enough to find a room. The staff was extremely helpful, and after learning of our predicament even let us into our room prior to the official check-in time. So we haul all our stuff over from Candian Tire, and decide how to deal with the rest of our day.
I was tired, sad, and frustrated, and left to my own devices would have just slept through the day. Mom, on the other hand, was determined that we we're going to the caves and that I was going to zipline down a mountain. So she calls a cab and off we go.
I could not have been happier that she insisted we go. We ended up having a fantastic day, and I loved the caves.
We started off by checking out the suspension bridge that provides a stunning, wobbly view over Collingwood and Georgian Bay, and eventually made our way across the park to the caves.
Here we climbed some steep and slippery stairs a bit further up the mountain and stopped at all the lookout points to enjoy the fantastic view in the oddly cool weather.
The trail then wrapped around to take visitors through various caves during the descent. The maps available throughout the park provide the history of each area, and we learned a lot about how the caves were used by native tribes in centuries passed. There was an ice cave used for food storage, large outcroppings used for meetings, and standing stones that served as speaking platforms.
I made an attempt at the "Fat Man's Misery" passage, which gets to twelve inches wide at its narrowest point. Unfortunately my claustrophobia kicked in as I tried it out, and I had to turn back. By squish yourself when there are perfectly good stairs available anyhow?
We apparently timed our visit very well, and had many of the caves to ourselves, which was a much nicer experience than being surrounded by a bunch of other children and tourists. It was a seriously fantastic experience.
Once we'd finished with the caves Mom went back down to the main park with instructions to meet me at the suspension bridge while I went back up to give it a go on a half-mile zipline down the mountain.
I had previously ziplined as a kid in the rainforests of Costa Rica, and remember it being a blast. That was half a lifetime ago though, and very different than being out in the open air above a mountain slope.
I filled out the paperwork, suited up, and climbed a fifty-foot tower to the takeoff platform. No lies, I was nervous to step off that tower into nothing, held up by a clothesline and some keyrings, but I had gone too far to turn back at that point.
After an initial rush of fear I was thrilled by that insane view of Georgian Bay and the surrounding landscape, and was only slightly bothered by the strong wind of the day pushing me towards the tree branches on my right side. Within forty-five seconds I was at the far end of the line with the workers signalling me to slow down. I totally misjudged my speed and overshot the landing pad, and as I saw the black end of the line tieoff approaching at a terrifying speed I decided to stick my legs out, as I figured they'd take the impact better than my face.
I screamed as I bounced off the end and came to rest by the workers. I was still excited by that trip down the mountain and immediately began gushing about how was it was, followed by an apology for swearing.
"It's okay, I would have sworn too," replied the worker unhooking me from the line. Apparently I wasn't the first one to mess up that landing, but I still managed to to it spectacularly enough to worry the guys on the platform.
Fifteen minutes after leaving my mom at the caves I was back on the suspension bridge for a last look down at Georgian Bay, still tingling from that awesome adventure.
This was a jam-packed trip, and the story isn't over yet! This was a lot of adventure to take place over only three days, so I'm counting it as two weeks of new activities, and dividing it into two blog posts. Stay tuned for the next installment!