Have you ever driven on a road where you hit every single red light? And some of them seem as though they will never turn green. That is the road we have been travelling these past two months.
Life's like a road that you travel on When there's one day here and the next one gone Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand Sometimes you turn your back to the wind There's a world outside every darkened door Where blues won't haunt you anymore Where the brave are free and lovers soar Come ride with me to the distant shore Life is a highway (We) want to ride it all night long – Tom Cochrane
By June 29th, we had made it almost to Wawa, Ontario, when we received a scheduled phone call from our family doctor. We sat on a rock at Katherine Cove overlooking Lake Superior on a warm, sunny afternoon. We had been expecting a report of improved blood test results related to decreased prescribed medication. Instead, the doctor said, ‘your results are consistent with Multiple Myeloma.’ We then asked, ‘what is Multiple Myeloma?’ It turns out it’s a blood cancer. He then suggested that we shouldn’t continue west as planned and wanted Christian to get some particular blood work, etcetera, done asap. We squeaked into Sault Ste Marie, before the blood lab closed on the Thursday of the Canada Day long weekend but had to wait around to deliver an additional test to the lab on Monday morning. And that was our first period of waiting during this month-long period. We decided to dedicate this series of postcards to murals we’ve encountered during stationary periods of waiting this past month.
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
We have visited the Soo before, but this was our first deep dive as visitors with time to spare. We spent time at the locks, explored the downtown and even enjoyed a few meals at the local hot spots. The downtown may be sleepy, but the murals are colourful, and some tell stories of early history. Our fancy dinner out was at a restaurant called Peace. We had a somewhat difficult time finding it since all of the signage was inside the restaurant, which made us feel like insiders and that we were in on the big culinary secret of Sault Ste. Marie.
If you invite us to visit, we may show up. Our friends Lise and Steve did just that, and so did we. They have a cottage on Manitoulin, and our timing was perfect. We met them at a marina in Little Current and jumped out of the van and into their boat. Despite being gray and rainy, the lake was calm, perfect for touring the North Channel. Lise and Steve showed us around the island, took us on a beautiful but secret hike (we’ve sworn to secrecy!), and shared excellent meals. We stayed on the island after they left for five more days. We camped at Providence Bay on the south shore, where we found several of the murals in this particular series of postcards. Our departure coincided with another scheduled phone call with our doctor. This call confirmed the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma. He wanted Christian to get more blood tests and x-rays done in the nearest city, so we headed back to the mainland towards Sudbury.
We left Manitoulin through the beautiful rock cutouts and made our way to Fairbanks Provincial Park, northwest of Sudbury, on Sunday night. The road to the park was like a long, bumpy slalom course. Not only was there no signage for the park there was zero phone reception. We fully expected something to fall off the van. The problem was we hadn’t determined blood lab and x-ray locations for the following morning. In the end, our intuitive GPS saved the day. Going on a hike is one of the first things we do when we arrive at a park after setting up camp. We followed a trail to a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding forest below. Having just received the confirmed diagnoses that morning, we appreciated the bright yellow arrows reminding us to continue moving forward. The following day we were able to explore yet another sleepy downtown in another Northern Ontario city. We parked in a lot below this bold message, Heart of Gold. We had to drive to a clinic in another part of the city for x-rays. After about an hour, I decided to check in to see if Christian had the x-rays done yet. As I entered the clinic, a couple of women thanked him for his assistance and wished him a wonderful afternoon, and the receptionist offered him a job after he stood in for her while she was on a break! We camped at Grundy Lake that night and hiked around Swan Lake before leaving the following morning. We didn’t see a single swan.
Arrowhead Provincial Park, Huntsville, Ontario
Though we’ve remained almost exclusively in our home province since leaving Amherstburg at the beginning of June, we have tried to mostly camp in new places such as Arrowhead. Arrowhead is a massive park with a lake, great trails, a waterfall, large gorgeous campsites surrounded by vegetation and lovely sunsets. We ended up staying here for just shy of a week. We noticed that our van was leaking coolant on the second day at the park. As has been the case with our European outfitted campervan, the parts are sometimes rare or hard to come by. It was Thursday, and a replacement hose would not arrive in Huntsville until Monday. The mechanic gave us a coolant container and instructions to top it up as required but to remain at our campsite until Monday morning. Luckily we could get a few more nights at this popular park thanks to a cancellation. Our stay here also coincided with a scheduled phone appointment with a Hematologist at Toronto General Hospital on Monday morning. Sometimes taking calls is tricky in remote parks, and the only place we were able to get phone reception that morning was by the Dump Station. The garage installed the new hose that afternoon which meant we could visit a laundromat (in the knick(ers) of time) in Huntsville without fear of overheating or frying our engine. The laundromat and neighbouring brewery are where we took all of the mural photos. The staff at the laundromat were so excited that we were taking pictures of their murals that they invited us into the inner sanctum where only the staff usually are privy.
We’ve collected a few new stickers from a few of the parks and places we love.
Algonquin Park / Barry’s Bay, Ontario
Algonquin Park is not only one of the most popular places to camp in Ontario, but it is also the first provincial park in Canada, established in 1893. And this was our first time camping here! Our first stop on our way into the park was Tom Thomson’s first campsite. We enjoyed some incredible and sometimes challenging hikes and a crazy thunder and lightning storm. We even learned about the logging industry. On our way east, we stopped in Barry’s Bay, where we took a photo of a mural detailing the early days of logging.
Our friend Mike invited us to stay at his cottage on Lake Kamanisteg, which gave us time to plot a route. We had been informed while in Algonquin Park that we needed to return to Toronto for a bone biopsy on August 2nd, which meant we had roughly ten days. We decided to return to one of our happiest places and a dose of salt water.
Fleuve St-Laurent, Québec
We have returned to the St. Lawrence River in Québec again and again. We love the landscape, the food culture, the cider and the whales. Our first campsite was at a cidery in Rougemont overlooking an orchard, the expansive valley below and distant mountains. We spent time on the south shore before taking a ferry from Riviere-du-Loup to Ste-Simeon on the north shore. We love the wild nature of the north shore. The two days spent at Camping Levesque were probably our most relaxed in the last two months. We hiked, combed for rocks on the beach, watched the sunrise and counted whales. After that, we stayed with our friends Felicity, Katie and Sara just down the road in La Malbaie. La Malbaie is special to us because that is where Christian’s parents met, and there would be no Christian without La Malbaie or, as the Anglos call it, Murray Bay. We spent our last night in Québec in Montreal, where we visited new van friends we met last winter in Florida. Again, if you invite us, we may show up! We’d have happily stayed longer in Québec, but that bone biopsy wasn’t going to wait.
Toronto, the place we used to call home
We haven’t truly lived in Toronto since 2014. The one constant is our family doctor, and while he’s a buzz kill, we appreciate his efforts to keep us alive. It’s strange receiving a Cancer diagnosis when 1. your home is a van 2. when you worked so hard to downsize your life so that you could finally travel without worrying about a home, a family member or commitments. It is overwhelming when so many friends and acquaintances offer accommodations in the city where treatments may take place. We are grateful for every single offer of accommodations, meals, meetups and all the kind messages of support and love. We take up a lot of psychic space now, and our friend Deb generously offered up her home while travelling in France, making this period of remaining stationary bearable.
We took several mural photos while exploring the shows at the Art Gallery of Ontario, others on Queen Street West and more on Bloor Street West. We continue to wait for the bone biopsy results and have yet to talk to an oncologist. These results will determine whether treatment is imminent or deferred. We hope the latter! We have been unable to plan more than a day in the past two months, and we’ve tried not to travel further than three hours from Toronto in the past month, except for Québec. Until we know what our immediate future might look like, we will remain in Toronto. We hope that will be in the days ahead. Our feet remain itchy, and we’re anxious to know what the next month will hold.
There ain't no load that (we) can't hold Road so rough, this (we) know (We'll) be there when the light comes in Just tell 'em we're survivors