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Elliot Lake: A Little Outdoor Adventure

Early on this year, I made the decision to take the summer months and spend them with friends whom I didn’t get to see often and/or for significant periods of time. K and her husband, S, are in New Jersey (click here to read more about my time in NJ) and D and her husband, M, were in Northern Ontario, Elliot Lake to be exact. K and D are both teachers so they would both be on summer vacation. Rather than rushed long weekends or a single meal during which we’d try and catch up on everything that had happened since the last gathering, this summer would provide us with an opportunity to just hang out, to do nothing particularly special, besides the very special activity of spending time with each other.

Elliot Lake is located roughly 6 hours northwest of Toronto and is surrounded by so many lakes that many of them don’t have names, just numbers (take a look at this Google map view).

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Pull Off the Road & Find Yourself a Lake….

My friends moved to Elliot Lake 6 or 7 years ago and I’d been up to visit a few times but never in summer and was looking forward to taking advantage of the seasonal offerings. The city is an incredibly attractive spot for those who like/love the outdoors: ATV and hiking trails; more lakes than you could ever imagine for boating, fishing and swimming; Mississagi Provincial Park with its designation as a natural environment class park (both a recreational park and a natural reserve); its offering of, and close proximity to, campsites (some free of charge and without the need to reserve); and its prime location in the heart of the Deer Trail for motorcyclists.

While I enjoy a good trail walk, I cannot in good conscience describe myself as a full-fledged outdoor lover: I can be talked into a multi-day “hardcore” camping trip  – defined by me as having no bathroom facilities but a realistic chance of coming upon a bear (or a bear coming upon us) – for the “experience” but only by someone who has 1) completed many of these camping trips; and 2) has a story of successfully avoiding a bear encounter. But, to say that I would eagerly seek out this trip is a gross exaggeration.

Having said all that, I still love visiting Elliot Lake, despite the signs warning you that “You are in Bear Country”. One night during my stay, I missed all the excitement: my friend, D, woke and noticed that the motion detector light in the backyard was on. She parted the curtains and noticed a baby bear meandering.

I am a city girl, there is no denying it. I was born and raised in one and I would very definitely miss the variety on offer. On occasion, though… okay, maybe more frequently than ‘on occasion’ if truth be told, I feel the pull to get away, to go somewhere with more breathing room, greenery and peace and quiet. For me, Elliot Lake fits that bill.

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View from One of the Many Hiking Trails

On the first weekend, Serpent River (a nearby town) First Nation were holding their 24th Annual Powwow. The grounds were right off of Highway 17 with different coloured flags waving, attracting both those looking to attend the venue and, I would imagine, curious travellers. I’d never been to a powwow before and wasn’t sure what to expect. Dancing and music dominated the event: the former activity displayed a number of different styles and regalia – incredibly colourful, with feathers, shawls, beadwork and ribbons, while the latter consisted of drumming groups taking the lead during different parts of the event. I wish I’d known more about the history of First Nations in Canada, and particularly in Ontario, going in. Personally, the event highlighted for me how little I know about a very significant part of the historical landscape in Canada, one with such richness and complexity.

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Dancers at the 24th Annual Genaabajing Powwow

My friend, D’s, husband, M, loves motorized vehicles. I write this statement without having checked with him for accuracy but I’m fairly certain he’ll agree with me. He’s the son of a mechanic and rebuilt his own Mustang years ago. He rebuilt a bike for him and D, a VTX 1800 that I can declare, from personal experience, as being super comfy for a passenger, a boat (which he let me drive!) and an ATV (which I chose not to drive… if you’d seen our first trail you’d understand).

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On the Deer Trail: Visitor’s Tour on the VTX 1800…

Having said this, nothing about that collection of vehicles I’ve mentioned is unusual in Elliot Lake. It is the only place I’ve been where no one looks up when a motorcycle goes by… and many do!

Given his love for all things motorized, experience working on engines, love of classic cars (a love I share) and the utter bliss he experiences riding a motorcycle, it was no surprise to me when he announced his intention to open up a shop restoring classic bikes.

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Hutchinson Motorcycles & the VTX 1800

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Close up of the VTX 1800

 

M is working on rebuilding a 1963 Honda Benly for D….

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Speedometer for the 1963 Honda Benly for D

 

While, personally, I’m in love with this bad girl (we all know bikes are female, right?), a 1973 Honda CB350F.

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1973 Honda CB350F Before Shot

 

Needless to say, when I go for a visit, I’m getting different views of the city and its environs from multiple perspectives, including the ‘deep in the woods’ view:

Me & the ATV

Yes, That Really is the Size of the ATV and Yes, I Really am That Excited

If you ever have some time to head up to Elliot Lake, I really do recommend it. Hit the Deer Trail, in a car, ATV or motorcycle, whatever you have… it is breathtaking. It’s more… untouched – raw, I suppose, is the best word I can think of – than any place I’ve been in Ontario so far.

I got to complete my stay in the best way possible: my friends were looking after a friend’s cottage the last week I was there. We cooked, we ate, we read, we swam and we sat by the lake. I took in the sunset on the dock and the starlight on the balcony.

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Sunset on the Dock

I hope everyone had a great summer!

 

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Photos from my Opening Reception – I Did It!

Firstly, a BIG thank you to everyone who stopped by the Opening Reception!!! And a second BIG thank you to Michelle and Shawn of Moniker Gallery who helped make the night a success!

I won’t lie – I was quite nervous leading up to the 7pm start, but having my family and my best friend there completely calmed me. As a steady flow of visitors entered the gallery – former and current colleagues, friends and friends of friends/family, people who’d walked by and those who’d come because of the listing in CONTACT , my main goal was for everyone – including me – to have fun.

Second truth of the post: it was great to see many faces I hadn’t seen in months and, in some cases, years, and to meet a number of new and wonderfully friendly people, but I spent so much energy worrying about whether people were having a good time that by the end of the night, I was exhausted! I’m sure the mental and emotional lead-up, organizing, and then actually bringing off the night also played a part, but for anyone who’s hosted an event, been a bride (as my best friend pointed out), or been in a similar role, as much as you want to enjoy the evening, you also want to be sure everyone else is enjoying it too! In far too many cases, I only managed to have a few minutes conversation before excusing myself to welcome a new guest or checking that another was enjoying him/herself.

Happily, I think everyone had a good time and liked the images! Any tiredness I felt was well worth it!

For more photos from the evening, please click here.

My guide through all this, a Toronto photographer (and teacher) named Rob Davidson who has more than 30 years of experience, had told me that having this exhibition and seeing the reactions of others would change the way I saw my own work. He was completely right.

The moment I hung the final image and stepped back to take it all in – that these were my images, my work on display – I felt… well, overwhelmed. There’s been such doubt in my mind and, far more often than I’d like, in my heart, about whether I was good enough to continue down this road, to call myself a photographer. I’ve always known that the biggest hurdle for me would be to get over the fear of rejection and to show my work publicly, come what may. Whatever the reaction would be, I’ve always known that putting my photography out into the world would wipe away that fear: once you take a step forward, the fear disappears.

There are other fears and there always will be because I’m continually in search of the next challenge, the next opportunity for growth. I’m still searching for the right fit and, in my case, that can involve multiple facets, but I won’t give up. Sometimes it takes (way) longer than I’d like to get over the self doubt, but with experience (and, undeniably, age) comes the knowledge that I’ll get there eventually; something deep down will slowly but surely nudge, prod and, finally, drive me forward.

I’ve learned so much during these months and there’s still a ways to go, but I can proudly say that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do and, in the process, come to see that I am a photographer.

Next post… Peru!

P.S. If you’re in the Toronto area, please drop by the Moniker Gallery this Wednesday, May the 14th at 7pm for the show’s Closing Reception. Spread the word!

P.P.S. Images from the show will be uploaded to my website after the 14th. If you’re interested in receiving this link, please contact me with your email address. 

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