The Great Northern Adventure 2012, Day Four.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont., Can. – Well, folks, our family is firmly entrenched in the vacation spirit at this point. Usually by about day four they have fully adjusted to camper living and cooking. Michelle even got up and went running this morning.

“Yeah, I did,” she nodded. “It wasn’t a long run, owing partly to the extensive biking (and ensuing soreness) from yesterday’s jaunt to Mackinac Island, but it put me back in the swing of things.”

It was a beautiful morning, and after one last view of the Mackinac Bridge, she returned to camp, where Greg hauled himself out of bed to cook breakfast.

“We had exhaustively researched the rules for crossing the U.S. / Canada border with food,” Michelle said. “And, frankly, we just weren’t sure about some of our things but we were pretty sure the Canadians, friendly though they are, would frown on our unlabeled smoked pork and home-laid, also-unlabeled eggs. So we decided they should be eaten in the form of breakfast tacos.”

And friends, that is just what they did.

01-contraband-breakfast

Now folks, how does that look for a contraband breakfast? Not bad, eh?

It didn’t take long to devour that whole pan and, after thoroughly cleaning the camper (which was in desperate need after an abundance of sand was carried in on Ethan’s shoes), took off to the north. After only an hour or so on the road, they pulled into Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where they promptly docked the trailer in the lot for the Soo Lock tours. No problems whatsoever.

“Well, that’s mostly true,” said Greg. “The truth is that the kids bickered the entire way, then got into it enough at the docks that Ethan took off running and fell, thereby skinning his palm and knee and creating a Big Fuss right there on the crowded dock.”

So that was fun.

After he was cleaned up, however, they all boarded the boat heaving sighs of relief and away they went to see the locks.

“Mom, how come we’re going this way? Where are the locks? What is that? How come they are doing it this way? I’m hungry, can I have a snack? Why not?”

Sigh.

Anyway, here’s the first glimpse of Canada our travelers received.

02-Canada-as-seen-from-across-the-St.-Mary's-River

Michelle is always interested in architecture, and was pretty impressed by the brickwork that went into this old hydroelectric powerhouse (which is still in use, by the way). Check out the pylons, shaped like lighthouses!03-Pylons-shaped-like-lighthouses-on-a-hydroelectric-plant

The view approaching the U.S. locks:

04-Approaching-the-U.S.-locks

This rigging is used in case a lock gate needs lifting if it fails for some reason or needs repairs:

05-These-mothers-can-hoist-a-lock-gate

Approaching the lock:

06-Waiting-for-our-gate-to-open

Opening the gates:

07-Opening

Inside the lock. The upper St. Mary’s River (as well as Lake Superior) is a full 21 feet above the lower St. Mary’s, so the boat had to stand at idle for approximately 15 minutes to lock through, while the reservoir filled. Ethan thought this was pretty damned cool. Laurel napped.

08-Waiting-for-the-lock-to-fill

Here the boat is, nearly level with the upper St. Mary’s, just as expected. The locking through
went off without a hitch.

09-Almos-there!

While aboard the boat, our family got a decent view of the International Bridge. If you look closely, you will see the traffic lined up waiting to cross into the United States.

“Yeah, that’ll be a blast,” observed Greg.

10-International-Bridge

This lift bridge, built for the railroad to cross the locks, is not particularly unusual, but it is singularly interesting because its concrete counterweight is so effective only a 40 horsepower motor is required to lift the entire span.

11---This-lift-bridge-was-interesting

Shortly after locking through and passing the International Bridge, the boat took a detour into a steel plant. No, really, it went into the plant. Ethan, once again, was more interested than Laurel. “Why are they doing that? Is that coal? What are they lifting? How come they have all those things? What’s this thing over here?”

“Would you just HUSH and listen to the guide?!” Michelle begged, “They’re answering ALL YOUR QUESTIONS AS YOU ARE ASKING THEM.”

12-Steel-plant-operations

Yep. Fully into the swing of vacation, all right.

As a treat, the boat took the family back through the Canadian side of the locks. Or, well, the one lock.

“They made a special effort to point out how much smaller, how much more inferior Canada’s lock was to the U.S. locks,” Michelle said. “Frankly, I was thrilled because by this time the kids’ clamoring for food had become unbearable and all I wanted was to hurrythehellup and get back to the dock.”

13-cute-little-Canadian-lock14-Dropping-21-feet

And sure enough, dropping down 21 feet on the Canadian side is far, far faster than lifting 21 feet on the U.S. side. After a couple more minutes of narration, our family was tied up at the dock and scurrying off the boat with great haste in order to fill all bellies involved.

15-view-of-powerhouse-with-lighthouse-pylons-from-Canada-side

So. Where does one go when one has four bellies to fill in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan? Why, that’s easy. You go to The Antlers.

16-The-Antlers17-More-of-The-Antlers

What a fascinating place. Where else can you get venison stew, a buffalo reuben, a smoked whitefish dip / gouda grilled cheese sandwich, an olive burger, and a stew canoe? Our family was so hungry they couldn’t hardly decide. Eventually, though, they settled on the reuben and the olive burgers for the grownups, and a hamburger and chicken strips for the kids. Laurel, however, was pretty appalled at the lack of honey mustard for her chicken. The server said she would make some but they didn’t have any honey.

So that was that.

Bellies full, our travelers anxiously prepared for the border crossing. “After researching the websites and visiting forums and all of that rot for hours on end, we came to the conclusion that
it’s all a crapshoot anyway, and we’d probably get searched and they’d probably throw out half our food, but we were game to give it a go anyway,” Michelle noted.

And that’s what they did.

18-Welcome-to-Canada,-y'all

19-St.-Mary's-rapids-viewed-from-the-International-Bridge

They pulled right up to the border agent’s booth. He tersely asked for their license plate number (Greg blanked, but Michelle remembered), what state they were from, if they had firearms, where they were going, for how long, and DID THEY HAVE ANY BEER?

“Yes,” answered Greg.

“How much?!” asked the agent.

Greg looked at Michelle.

“No more than 30 cans between the two of us,” she offered.

“Okay!” the agent replied.

And away they went.

And here they are, in beautiful Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, parked right in the middle of a KOA, doing their laundry.

So how does Canada compare to the U.S.?

“It’s just like the U.S.,” opined Greg. “Only in metric.”

20-Safely-in-Canada