I love reading about other people’s adventures. Sometimes they are dangerously spectacular. Like the guy who got trapped while canyoneering and, after 127 hours, had to cut his forearm off with a dull knife. Or the guy who was traveling through South America by motorcycle and was taken prisoner in Colombia. While I thoroughly enjoy those extreme stories, the everyday, ordinary adventures that many of us experience, are no less special. There is one common thread in all exploits; no one comes back the same person.
When I was just a kid, maybe 10 or so, my family took its first “adventure” vacation. We got so hooked that it became a yearly event for the next 10+ years. No, we didn’t climb Everest. Nothing so spectacular as that, yet every bit as amazing to me. Our destination was a fishing camp on Big Pine Lake, located in a little town called Nestor Falls, Ontario. The lake was about 5 miles in length, connected to town by a healthy river that doubled as the local runway for seaplanes. The camp consisted of a few camping spots and about 9 log cabins of various size and design. While they were no Hilton Inn, they had all the amenities necessary, especially for a 10-year old kid who didn’t really care how dirty he got. One of the things my cousin Tom and I found the most interesting about the accommodations was the two-seater outhouse in the camping area. I mean, really, who shares an outhouse with another person?
Now, the truth is, there were so many fun adventures that took place there over the years that I could probably write a book. I don’t want to bore you with all that here, so consider this a highlight of my most memorable childhood adventure.
If you didn’t like to fish, you would have been bored out of your mind here. There was no TV to watch. The Internet did not exist and Nestor Falls was a tiny little town with a couple gas stations, a grocery, a fish locker plant and a restaurant and gift shop named Hillard’s…home of the high dollar hamburger, according to my father. My mother was not really into fishing, but she was a good sport about it all. Many times we coordinated our trip with Dad’s brother Clyde (who was married to Mom’s sister Peggy…got that? No, it’s legal…I think), so there was a crew of us there. Mom and Peggy, who was probably the best fisherman in the family, were also the cooks, and let me tell you, the food they prepared was phenomenal. Guess what we had to eat? Yep, fish! Not just any fish though; I’m talking Walleye. More Walleye than you could shake a stick at. In fact, for all those glorious years, I was blessed with the opportunity to enjoy what I still consider today as one of the finest meals money can buy; a fresh Walleye sandwich. Dipped in cornmeal, not some heavy batter, fried just right, placed on a soft bun, slathered with tarter sauce, lettuce and a sweet Vidalia onion. just describing it makes my mouth water! My poor cousin Tom, who did not like fish, was stuck eating hot dogs…plain!
There might not be much adventure in eating fish sandwiches, but there sure was adventure in catching them. Every morning we would get up, gear up and head out on the lake in our boat. Because we were fishing for Walleye, Northern Pike and Musky, all of which have razor sharp teeth and grow quite large, we used wire leaders. When you would catch one, in order to remove the hook you had to put your fingers in its eye sockets and use a pair needle nose pliers. Otherwise, you just might have an adventure you’d rather not experience, especially considering the fact that I have no idea where the nearest hospital was located. We fished literally all day. We caught so many fish that we became selective on how large of a fish to keep. And they were indeed spectacular to catch. I remember one year in particular we were using surface buzz baits. When a larger Northern Pike surfaced to attack that bait, there was no thrill greater.
But the real adventures came when we travelled to the neighboring lakes. One lake, Pike, required about a mile long walk through the woods, carrying all your gear…motor, gasoline, tackle, everything. Imagine being a 10-year old kid, climbing out of your boat at about 6:30 in the morning, packing up all the gear you can carry, then stepping into a pre-dawn, Canadian wooded trail, only to look down at a large, fresh set of bear tracks! “Uh, Dad, did you see that?” “Ah, don’t worry about it Jamie. Just keep an eye out for Moose, they are the mean ones!” Geez, thanks. Once we got to Pike lake, there would be a boat chained up for us to use. We would spend the entire day fishing in this remote lake, the only people for miles. It was fantastic!
The other lake we travelled to was Wigwam. This was the Musky lake. It was deep, clear and pristine. I can’t tell you how many times I dipped a cup in that cold water and drank it. Never got sick once. Of course, I also baited hooks with leaches, worms and suckers, took off fish, then pulled a bologna sandwich out of the cooler and ate it….without ever washing my hands!
Instead of walking to Wigwam, we traversed down an ever-narrowing “river” (more like a creek at some points!) to the lake. There were two sets of impassable water falls along the way, so we portaged our boat twice. If you’ve never done that before, let me just say, it’s a lot of work! Basically, logs were cut and laid across the ground around the water fall in railroad track style. You pulled, pushed, slipped, fell, cussed and finally willed your boat over the portage to the other side of the falls. There were often large rocks just under the water surface and even a small rapids area that we had to traverse. I aways got the job of point man, sitting on the bow of the boat and directing Dad where to go to keep from shearing a pin on the motor. Made me feel important.
I was 21 years old the last time we went to Nestor Falls. That was 1981. Those years made up the memories of my childhood. They were special. They were adventurous. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. And now you know why Nestor Falls, Ontario is on my bike bucket list…I’ve got to go back one more time.