DAY ONE: Woodstock/Waterloo-Bracebridge
We lit out just after 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday. I had barely slept not just Tuesday night, but Monday night as well: excitement. This trip has been on the docket for months. I thought Road Trek day would never arrive.
Kathy and Ken roadtrips are special for many reasons. One of them is our shared love of backroads. No 401 for us. Yes, it can add to the time on the road. (Can: doesn't always. Get caught in a jam in Mississauga and the timelines can even out in a hurry, sometimes even tilting in favour of the scenic route.) But it hugely detracts from the stress. As a perpetual passenger, minimizing driver stress is of paramount importance to me.
So we took our time, meandering northeast, Gertie the Google GPS lady taking care not to route us on freeways. Roads and specifically alternate routes get scarcer and scarcer the further north you go, and so it was we found ourselves approaching Highway 11, maybe a bit more than half an hour south of Bracebridge...and Gertie told us we still had an hour and a half of driving to do! Screw it, on to the highway we went.
Highway 11 is unique in Ontario. It's kind of a three-quarters-assed freeway. The speed limit is the standard 100 km/h (62 mph). There are two lanes each way, and they are divided...almost, but not quite, completely so. But there are no cloverleafs. That means there are cross streets. Most of them only intersect with one side of the highway, such that you have to go south to the next turnaround to come back north, or vice versa. A few of them actually cross the whole highway...which means you have to jackrabbit across northbound lanes, come to a stop in the median, and then floor it to go south. Sport Mode got a workout.
OMG Weber Burger!
For some reason I thought this place was well south of us but (whoop) there it is! Weber's is an Ontario institution. I've only been here a couple of times (and tried to get Eva here: in the days before Google, we drove three hours out of our way only to find it had closed for the season the day before.
It opens at 10:30 a.m. and there's a line to buy burgers right at open. They're thinner than they used to be, but still delicious.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a highway to Haliburton direct off Highway 11. That's an area Kathy and I have talked about exploring, but I thought you pretty much had to go through Toronto to get there, and who wants to start their vacation with that? This offers an alternative -- again, it'll take longer, but time we've got. (Ken, stop thinking about future trips and enjoy this one!) (I am!)
We arrived at the Wellington Inn several hours before check-in, but they let us into our room anyway. Accommodation for this trip was planned carefully to minimize two things: expense, and possible exposure to bedbugs, cockroaches, and the like. No frills, but clean and somewhat comfortable was the idea. With the exception of the cement mattress, the Wellington Inn fit the bill. The room was a notch bigger than a standard hotel room, with lots of space to move around. This next sentence is kind of a kick in the teeth, but true: $120/night represents a pretty good value nowadays. Especially in Muskoka in the summer.
For those of my readers who do not live in Ontario (and hell, for those who do)...you need to see this area. The tourism slogan is "once discovered, never forgotten" and that's not hyperbole. This is Canadian (or Precambrian) Shield territory: the oldest rock on the planet. Glaciers shaped this land coming and going, and today it's a vast territory (covering half of Canada!) stocked to overflowing with rocks, trees and lakes.
It's waterfalls that have drawn us to Bracebridge, a place Kathy has been to but I have only passed through. First up: Bracebridge Falls, right downtown.
Then to High Falls, which is taller than this picture makes it look:
We can just watch and listen to these all day. They're somehow both peaceful and powerful.
Waterfalls of Ontario lists Wilson's Falls as "moderate difficulty" to access. From prior experience we know that this is an understatement: "moderate", at least in the case of Mystery Falls, means very steep, muddy slopes; wildly uneven terrain, and a much longer walking time than they estimate, at least for the likes of us. Wilson's was therefore on the "maybe" list, and when we got there and found a sign warning access was "DIFFICULT" (no "moderate" here!), "maybe" became "nope". Luckily, Potts and Port Sydney Falls were not far away: