My eyes first opened around 06h30 to hear the sounds of people stirring about in the campfire/stove area our group had taken. I changed into fresh clothes and meandered up to find our amazing cooks had heated up the homemade egg, cheese, and sausage sandwiches they had prepared for breakfast. Finishing my sandwich, I went back to break down our tent as Dani ate. Packing up the gear into their respective Pelican-brand cases in the back of the Jeep, I tightened the ratchet straps to secure the cases to the rear storage deck that I built for this purpose exactly. As other families packed up as well I put the Mavic Pro drone up in the air, flying it around and recording video of the surrounding farmlands and our campsite to pass time until we departed for the Canadian border.
Turning onto NY-37, we cruised past a half-dozen Amish horse and carriages as we made our way towards the town of Ogdenburg where we would take the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge to Canada. We made pit-stops at the local Wal-Mart and a gas station, making sure that everyone had full tanks of gas and all the supplies they needed before we left the country. We crossed over the St. Lawrence River at 10h30 and promptly found ourselves in front of the Canadian customs/immigration gates. There was a long line of cars and tractor-trailers in front of us, and our radio-talk turned to that of taking a group photo in front of the Welcome to Canada sign. We hopped out quickly and arranged ourselves as I set my tripod up, snapping a single photo and getting back into the car right about the time that border patrol officers approached me and threatened us with arrest for exiting our cars. Thankfully all went well, and after 10 minutes and a quick apology, we were at the starting coordinates for our QB-5 route.
We rolled off of pavement and onto a narrow dirt road that seemed to stretch forever. I’m unsure if this was once a railroad track, but in the United States it easily would have been converted to a bicycle path. We drove along at a comfortable pace, splashing through large puddles of water some twenty feet long. The sun shone down and everyone was in great moods as the journey began. We followed the GPS route with Dani and I leading, passing by bogs, crossing narrow bridges over gorgeous blue rivers, and through thick forests. I took advantage of a great moment and flew my Mavic drone up over the line of vehicles, capturing some photos and video footage of the scenery from an otherwise unattainable angle. After an hour or so we turned onto a string of lose gravel roads, making better time on our way to Merrickville, Ontario where we would stop for lunch.
Realizing we were a bit behind and had a lot of driving left to do to make it to our campsite, we made lunch a short 45-minute endeavor, meeting back at the rigs and debating our next move. After referencing the maps and some discussion with Bob we decided to take Canada’s route 7 and 43, part of the Trans-Canada Highway, and cut out a part of our off-roading for the day. The roads were well paved and hilly, winding through the countryside and passing by many small towns with barns and silos surrounded by acres of fields. After an hour or so of 50 km/h driving we took a right turn that planted us back on our original trail route, arriving just a few minutes later at the Ompah General Store where fuel was available from three above ground tanks. The group took the opportunity to use the bathroom, then headed onward down dirt trails over power-lines and through heavily wooded forests, crossing into Ontario’s Frontenac Wilderness. This 20+ mile stretch would have us driving at varied speeds, sometimes as slow as 3 or 4 miles per hour. There were some more difficult sections which truly required 4-wheel drive to be engaged, but the majority was common and enjoyable worn out dirt roads that required some intricate negotiation of the vehicles through the woods.
Around 18h30 we passed Granite Lake campground, the location we initially were going to spend the night before finding out they wouldn’t have room for a group of our size. At this point there was some tension in the group – we had been driving for the better part of 10 hours and people just wanted to be at our destination and set up camp for the night. The time following our departure from Granite Lake was much different from the driving prior; the trip took on a sort of “Rally-X” feeling, with us driving the dirt roads at 25+ km/h, using our off-roading experience to judge the terrain in front of us and navigate the road accordingly. This went phenomenally well until I slammed on my brakes upon seeing a hazard sign placed in the middle of the road. As it turns out, a small bridge had collapsed and hadn’t yet been replaced; to continue on with the trail we had to get each vehicle truck down a steep embankment, across a 2’ deep and actively flowing river, then back up the bank on the other side. I went first, and despite looks on Dani’s face, was thrilled to see that the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk performed exactly as I had hoped and expected.
We arrived at the Black Donald Mines campground shortly after 20h00, turning countless heads as our convoy of mud-covered Jeeps and the Toyota pulled into the parking lot to sign in. Jenny and I had done the legwork to get the sleeping arrangements set for the trip, so we knew already that we had campsites #40-41 at Black Donald. The two sites made up one large open field with two fire pits, plenty to park 7 vehicles and set up two trailers with roof-mounted tents. It took a few tries to figure out how we would arrange ourselves, but once we were set tents went up seamlessly and dinner was practically finished being cooked. We had “Taco Tuesday” (despite it being a Friday night) and everyone was thoroughly full by the time we started washing dishes.
A campfire was blazing as the sunlight disappeared, the sky above losing its blue hue to the darkness of the night. Ciders, homebrews, craft beers, and whiskey were passed around as everyone talked and told stories. We laughed as Jenny tried to get Shaun to dance with her, Rod Stewart playing on someone’s iPhone as a tribute to them celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary that night. A few of us made use of the campground’s hot showers before bed, with the rest of the group planning to do so the next morning before we departed.
The last thing we did that night was decide to have a “driver’s meeting” the next morning where the driver of each vehicle got together and talked about the days itinerary; this was likely something that we should have done each morning, but I think will absolutely be a staple in our adventures going forward. There had been an inadvertent lack of communication during the day that put us behind schedule and late to camp that we were going to try and avoid going forward, so we would test this out and see if improvements were made as a whole.
All in all, day two wasn’t a failure by any means; as a group we reached our destination, faced some challenges to overcome throughout the drive from Theresa, NY, and still ended the day with smiles on our faces and warm food in our stomachs. There was a lot of anticipation for the next day to see how things would improve, and everyone slept soundly under a vastly starry sky.