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Nagochee (Na-go-che-e)

Days when you just don’t feel like hiking 26km, there are lots of other, shorter and just as beautiful hikes in Sleeping Giant. One of the most manageable is the Sea Lion trail, just over a kilometre out from the Kabeyun Trailhead parking lot.

The Sea Lion is a rock formation meant to look like a lion but it lost its head sometime in the last century, so now it looks more like a sea horse.

There is, of course, a version of an Ojibway legend to explain the shape of the formation. Since the pre-contact Ojibway wouldn’t have seen lions, it must have been some other beast. It is supposed to be Nagochee, a beast with the wings of an eagle and the feet of a duck who could swim faster than any fish. One day, Nanabijou, the spirit of the lake, went on a journey and took Nagochee with him but left his Thunder Bird behind. Jealous, when the bird saw them returning, she caused a huge storm, which broke one of Nagochee’s wings and hurled Nanabijou into the water. Furious, blaming Nagochee, he turned the beast to stone. Now, it sits by the shore, guarded by Nanabijou's stone form, the Sleeping Giant, in the background.

The Lion was formed from what’s called a “diabase dike.” Sedimentary rock formed along the shores of the lake, and then about a billion years ago, magma or molten rock pushed up through the layers and formed horizontal “sills” and vertical “dikes”. The hard, black igneous (rock formed by fire) rock is called “diabase.” As the sedimentary rock eroded away, the harder diabase was left, forming shapes like the Sea Lion. Eventually, the “Lion” will probably turn into a column when the bridge collapses.

The rock is covered with orange lichen, which contrasts beautifully with the many shades of turquoise in the water. It’s gorgeous.

When we went, someone had just proposed marriage, complete with a drift of non-biodegradable, red polyester hearts and punctuated with a gold cigarette filter. They’d carved their initials, badly, into a little birch tree overlooking the inlet as well. Good luck, guys….

Strangely, this hike seems to attract vandalism. There is a collection of rocks piled on the beach beside the trail where people have painted their names and dates. In fact, we were shocked to see rocks on other Lake Superior beaches, including the beautiful Old Woman Bay, defaced by graffiti.

After our week in Sleeping Giant, camping on site 149, which is one of the best in the park, we moved to Beyond the Giant Nature Retreat, a lovely log cabin on the shore of Lake Superior. Beyond the Giant is owned by Bruce and Brenda Wing, who bought the 150 acres nearly thirty years ago but only built the cabins seven or eight years ago. Bruce is a good guy (he rides a Harley!) who certainly works hard to make sure his guests are comfortable. While we were there, torrential rains dumped 123mm on the area in one night, leaving a huge lake in the road leading to the other two cabins. Next day, Bruce and his buddy were there with a backhoe, dredging a channel between the road and the lake to drain the water.

The driveway into Beyond the Giant is an adventure: go slow and watch out for Spike, the local wildlife. Spike is a young buck whose antlers are just starting to grow and the forest makes him nervous…. He prefers to travel by road and we startled each other one morning.

The retreat’s three cabins, Cedar, Mystic, and Eagles Nest, are really lovely: high ceilinged log structures with sleeping lofts with private balconies, decks with gorgeous lake views, and wood stoves. They’re equipped with a composting toilet and solar panels and a water pump, but the plugs are 12V, so no charging phones and computers! This wasn’t a problem for us: we have a Sherpa portable solar panel charger, which works beautifully rain or shine.

Our cabin, Cedar, was right on the water, with a private little beach and a firepit. The bed was really comfortable and the sound of the rocks tumbling in the waves lulls you to sleep. We usually camp, but our stay was a birthday present from Bizz, my girlfriend’s generous mum.

The Wings host music performances on their land and they have an historic old tugboat floating near the shore that Bruce hopes one day to bring back to life as a tour boat for guests.

The drive back to Toronto took us two days, ten hours each day, and it is a long journey. But, we stopped for many, many photo breaks, especially down the east side of Lake Superior, through Algoma. Our first stop was in Nipigon, where they have a whole park dedicated to the Canadian children’s classic book, Paddle-to-the-Sea! Kids can do an adventure circuit with each activity inspired by events in the story. Really fun….Next to the park is the local combination liquor store and laundromat: possibly unique in the province!

We stumbled on some places by accident, such as Agawa Bay, near the pictographs. Others, like Old Woman Bay, were marked on the map as particularly beautiful, and they were…. The mist rising from the lake makes every view somewhat otherworldly, and as it comes and goes it changes the landscape dramatically.

Algoma was a favourite painting spot for the Group of Seven and its beauty is world famous but images can only convey so much: physically being there is breathtaking.

And, speaking of images, I am thrilled to announce that my long-awaited photo exhibition, in the works for more than a year, is coming up! For the month of October, I’m showing new, never before seen, work at Glad Day Bookshop, 598 Yonge St in Toronto. I’ll have a date for the private view soon, so stay tuned!

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