Tag Archives | Friendships

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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What’s in New Jersey?

“What’s in New Jersey?”

That is almost always the immediate response when I tell people I’m headed to New Jersey. Once associated mainly with Atlantic City and its casinos and boardwalk, the mention of this northeastern state now provokes loud images and soundbites from “Jersey Shore”, the MTV reality TV show that followed several housemates spending their summer in the borough of Seaside Heights, which sits around the halfway mark on the coastal stretch known as the Jersey shore.

“I’m going to visit friends. They live by the water… the town has a really chilled and relaxed vibe,” I reply. 

“By the water…” The pondering begins. Silence follows. “You mean, the Jersey shore…???”

Sigh. No more needs to be said. Unbidden visions of JWoww and Snooki are suddenly bursting before our minds’ eye.  Locals are quick to counter that all that went down in Seaside, far south of Highlands and Monmouth Beach where I spend my time.

So… why a 3-week stay in New Jersey?

My friend, K, and her husband, S.

I met K almost 7 years ago in Tibet. She was traveling around Asia; I was taking a circuitous route back to Toronto from Auckland, my ‘home away from home’ for (almost) two glorious years. We met on a G Adventures tour (GAP Adventures at the time) that started in Beijing, took us on a 48-hour train journey to Lhasa, continued overland via jeeps through several smaller towns in Tibet, before ending the trip in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Point-and-Shoot Photos from Tibet, 2007

Lhasa – Circling the Potala Palace

Lhasa – Spotting the Moon

On the Road To Gyantse

On the Road To Gyantse

Desert Road, To Gyantse

Prayer Flags at Everest

Prayer Flags at Everest

Although we tried to keep in touch during the first few years after returning to our respective homes, life got in the way as it often does and contact became sparse and then more or less trailed off. In 2012, I had some time off and decided that it was about time to reconnect.

By this time, K and S had moved in together. While K was thrilled that we would be meeting up again, S was a little more wary. He’d never heard mention of me and the details of our friendship hardly allayed his concerns: we met halfway across the world 5 years before and the sum total of our interaction since was a few emails. And now I was coming to stay with them? To say he was concerned about his physical safety is not an exaggeration… he’s from Queens, NYC.

His reaction was understandable. Friendships are normally developed over months and years, not a week to 10 days. But there’s an intensity to travel and to the bonds that are formed during it: you begin to rely on one another, to look out for each other and to admit truths that you might be loathe to express to those who you see day in and day out. Your ‘travel friends’ are getting to know the you that’s coming into being, the one that changes and grows because of the travel, at the same time that you yourself are. And the longer you’ve been roaming, the more you look for those true connections, what with all your old and familiar friendships feeling so very far away.

Fast forward to today and I’ve met the families of both K and S, stayed in relatives’ homes near and far and had the privilege of attending their wedding.

When they think of me, they now also think of food.  Generally meat. Often on a spit. Did I mention I was invited to their Greek Easter celebration last year?

Greek Easter 2013

Adding skordalia to the beet filling for the pantzaropita

Adding skordalia to the beet filling for the pantzaropita

Homemade Dessert

Homemade Dessert

Food, Food and More Food

Food, Food and More Food

Lamb and Kokoretsi on Spits

Lamb and Kokoretsi on Spits

Lamb Close-Up

Lamb Close-Up

So it all seemed very natural that my stay ended up being dominated by food. Poor K now had to put up with two large appetites, her husband’s and mine! She would wake up thinking: What are we going to eat today?

Ingredients

Ingredients

I watched as K’s practiced hands made pita after pita after pita for one of the 4 or 5 savoury veggie pies (her own variation of spanakopita) we consumed during my stay. She’d layer the bottom of a cast iron pan with one pita before adding the filling (a combination of various veggies she’d grown in her garden, onion, garlic scapes and feta cooked down in a pot) then covering it with another layer of pita, folding over the edges of the bottom layer to seal everything in, then adding a generous topping of extra virgin olive oil. I very quickly understood why they purchased their olive oil in one gallon cans: it is used in a huge amount of Greek dishes from sauces, to appetizers, marinades and mains.

Rolling Out the Bottom Layer

Rolling Out the Bottom Layer

K's Garden Veggies for the Pita Filling

K’s Garden Veggies for the Pita Filling

One Gallon of Olive Oil... Disappears in No Time Flat

One Gallon of Olive Oil… Disappears in No Time Flat

Finished Product: Veggie Filled Pita

Finished Product: Veggie Filled Pita

 I learned how to make proper tzatiki, draining the cucumbers of excess water with a sieve and salt. Unsurprisingly, the larger the container of greek yogurt the happier everyone is. The tzatiki is topped off with a few whirls of extra virgin olive oil.

More Yogurt = More Tzatiki

More Yogurt = More Tzatiki

K showed me how to cut up the tomatoes properly for the Greek salad: take a small knife and make a scooping motion to carve out a section that includes a good chunk of the “meat”. If you do it well, you should be left with just the top of the tomato in your hand. I, however, did not do it well and was left with, instead, a tomato that looked like it had been cored. I hid my tomatoes under hers.

Finished Product: Greek Salad

Finished Product: Greek Salad

And, ah yes, last but not least, the meat! The marinade is a basic combination of oregano, salt, pepper, lemon juice and, of course, extra virgin olive oil, but man, is it ever A-MAZING! Grilled on a bbq or skewered on a spit and roasted, the combination of the sour bite of the lemon juice and the slight bitterness of the oregano with the salt and flavour of the meat (usually pork, but chicken occasionally) was drool-inducing.

Prepping the Pork for the BBQ

Prepping the Pork for the BBQ

Chicken and Pork on Spits

Chicken and Pork on Spits

Finished Product: Roasted Pork

Finished Product: Roasted Pork

My three weeks in New Jersey were food-filled, rather than activity-filled. I wanted the opportunity to hang out with K and S, something we’d never really had an opportunity to do given how we met. I wanted the chance to get to know them in their space, doing nothing special, the way you do with friends who live in the same city and the goal is just to spend time together.

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