The We Work For Food Construction Company VIII - From Calais to Palermo!

Petersen Lake

Although we have made the same drive for eight consecutive years, we have never given much thought to the actual distance we travel to and from the cabin.

Until now that is.

Lou, who is fond of pointing out that he has “many good qualities,” - patience not being one of them - is not allowed to touch any of the buttons on my vehicle while riding in the passengers seat, and therefor needs something to keep him occupied during the trip, otherwise trouble will likely ensue.

Fortunately, we found an outlet for all of his pent up energy, by encouraging him to surf the net in order to dig up information on various topics and/or points of interest that we thought of or otherwise encountered en route, and it worked like a charm when we had service - thereby making the 200km’s between Hearst and Longlac the most challenging part of the trip.

The scope of his inquiries were extremely wide and varied, and included such topics as current events, music, history and geography, to name just a few.

For example, we learned all about the Ressor Siding Incident, that the prison currently located in Monteith, Ontario was once a German, Prisoner of War Camp and, that the distance we travel to and from the cabin is equivalent to driving from the Port of Calais in France, to Palermo, Sicily.

Who says that a twelve to fourteen hour drive (twenty four to twenty eight both ways) has to be boring and uninformative?

Day 1

But I Just Got to Sleep!

Water levels were going to dictate our mode of travel into the lake this year

Because the water was unusually low, it was unlikely we could get the boat, our little barge, and all of our gear and building materials through the channel from the river into the lake, without a great deal of carrying, dragging and cursing.

Therefor, when all else fails – you fly – and while that may appear to be simple enough, like all things there are various rules and conditions that come into play before the floats even leave the water.

Our carrier of choice is Nakina Air Services, who operate out of – wait for it – the town of Nakina (duh), which is located approximately seventy km’s north of Geraldton, Ontario.

When booking the flight, I was told that the only way we could guarantee getting into the cabin that same day, was if we were at the float base no later than 5pm., which given the distance to be travelled, was going to present something of a challenge.

The reason for this 5 pm deadline, was that the air service had a very busy day lined up, and the pilots are only allowed to fly so many hours in a day, so if we wanted to go, we had better be there on time.

In addition, given the hour when the sun sets, by the time we loaded the aircraft, flew to the lake and then unloaded, the pilot would not have much in the way of daylight to work with in order to get back to base if we left much later.

With this in mind we planned our trip with military precision.

Under normal circumstances, we would leave my home at 4:30 am, stop for a leisurely breakfast and top up the tank in New Liskard, and then make at least three additional stops en route for fuel, ice cream and to pick up all the things we forgot to bring along, which would usually put us at the boat launch around 6 pm.

This year, there would be no lolly gaging around, or sleeping in until 4:00 am.

Taking into consideration that we would likely encounter delays due to road construction along Hwy. 11, we hit the deck running at 2:15 am – well I did – and were on the road by 2:30.

Our stops along the way were confined to fuel and a coffee to go in New Liskard, a very quick stop in Cochrane for plumbing parts, and fuel and a sandwich to go in Hearst.

So despite the road construction, we arrived at the float base raring to go at 4 pm – not too shabby to say the least.

The only problem was, there was not a floatplane to be seen.

As it turned out, because of some very heavy, slow moving fog in the Nakina area, they could not get the planes in air until 2 pm, so needless to say, they were behind schedule.

Although I was somewhat concerned that we might get bumped to the next day, these concerns were unfounded.

The folks at Nakina Air Services are not in the habit of letting their clients down, and we were advised by Tracy, the air services expediter, that our ride was on it’s way back to base, and we would be heading out shortly.

After loading our gear Bruce, who was at the controls of Otter CF-MIQ, treated us to a smooth ride to the lake, where we unloaded and then opened the camp.

A pre - construction meeting was subsequently held over cocktails, followed by dinner featuring 16 oz. dry aged New York sirloins, and a blue cheese, sweet onion and field tomato salad.

Our repast was nicely complimented by a 2005, Crawford “Kilt Lifter” California Zinfandel.

Despite Environment Canada’s dire predictions regarding the weather, there was not a cloud in the sky, and we enjoyed our traditional campfire, Cognac and Monte Cristo’s under a star filled sky.

Day 2

So How Long Do I Have to Wait to Get a Hot Shower Around Here?

Answer: At least three years.

While I will go into it in more detail at the end of this narrative, we had some uninvited guests between the middle of August and now, with the result that there would be no hot shower’s for anyone this year, despite the work we planned to do on the water system.

In the event you read last years account, you will know that we experienced catastrophic pump failure, thereby putting our normally reliable water system out of service.

Undaunted, I acquired two new 12 volt pumps, one of which I planned to hook up early this year, with the expectation that the system would then be up and running, including plenty of hot water for the shower.

High expectations notwithstanding, both pumps failed to deliver, so it was back to the drawing board.

After much consideration and consternation, the WWFFCC concluded that our best bet would be to go with a more traditional electric jet pump and pressure tank that we could plug into our portable generator.

In addition, the formally abandoned gravity feed tank was going to be put back into service, in that the new pump had plenty of power to fill it, therefore the tank water could be used in those instances where hot water was not required, without the need to fire up the pump every time.

Because there weren’t all that many jobs on our “to do” list, we had a bit of a lie in, and after breaking our fast at 9 am on Cumbrae Farms Berkshire Pork Sausage, eggs to order, orange segments and freshly perked Bolivian coffee, the boys got down to it.

The plan was to plumb in the new pump, and build a pumping station enclosure on the old outdoor shower platform, so the first order of business was to finish up the work on the platform that had been started the evening before.

Once the platform was completed, hoses were then moved, connected, and in some cases reconnected, thereby reducing our once prodigious supply of clamps to a mere handful.

Unlike the 12-volt pump, which was essentially self-priming, the new unit had to manually primed, and although something of a pain, if it delivered as promised, the system was about to undergo a significant upgrade in terms of both overall efficiency and water pressure.

Needless to say, given last years fiasco it got awful quiet, and there was a high level of nervous anticipation once the line was primed and the pump finally engaged.

Given the noise produced by the generator, it was hard to tell if the pump was actually running, because there was no water flowing through the system.

Not again!

Once it was determined that the pump was in fact running, we just stared at one another with blank expressions on our faces, that is until Roman remembered that in his excitement to fire things up, he had neglected to prime the pump itself.

Once that was taken care of, within a few anxious moments the water began to flow, and even though the area around the pump looked a lot like the Trevi Fountain, with water squirting out of various connections in all directions, we could not have been happier.

We shut the pump down, tightened all of the leaky connections, then took a well-deserved break, and enjoyed a sandwich and cold beverage on the beach in a state of pure contentment.

After our break the system was tested and retested, and the WWFFCC then set about the task of finishing up the enclosure where the pump and generator would reside when in use.

While at first blush the job itself did not seem overly complex and time consuming, by the time all was said and done, we had been hard at it for 9 ½ hours – so it was obviously time for a cocktail - or two.

Although we had no hot water, Roman decided he would be the first to finally road test the shower that he and Lou had installed the previous year, and while the water was on the cool side, there was plenty of pressure, and he was able to lather up and rinse off in no time at all, with very little frost damage to any of his more important extremities.

For dinner we enjoyed a mess of smoked back ribs bathed in a spicy habanero BBQ sauce, together with a side of warm potato salad with roasted red/yellow peppers and bacon, which was tossed in an olive oil, balsamic and Dijon dressing.

The evening’s cellar selection was a Malivoire “Lady Bug” Rosé, which held up surprisingly well, the smokiness of the ribs and heat generated by habanero BBQ sauce notwithstanding.

Although a few showers had moved through the area during the day, the evening was warm and clear, so we were able to enjoy our espresso, cranberry/pistachio biscotti, brandy and cigars before a roaring campfire.

It had been a really, really good day.

Day 3

I Can See Clearly Now…

Today’s tasks promised to be what the WWFFCC refer to as a “beer & cigar” work.

On the “to do” list was:

• Install new, custom made windows in the “old” cabin.

• Cut up some logs for firewood.

• Repair the step into the “old” cabin.

• Manufacture some log furniture.

• Continue to watch, and fuss over the new water system.

• Take the canoe for a paddle.

• Keep a very close eye on Lou so as to prevent him from banging in nails around the inside of his bunk so he could hang “things” up – we had no idea what these “things” actually were , and

• Relax.

Following yet another late breakfast, featuring thick cut, grilled back bacon and field tomato sandwiches, the windows were designated as the first order of business.

The windows in the “old,” or original cabin had reached the point where they were being held together with duct tape, and were comprised of more silicon caulking than glass, so needless to say it was time to upgrade.

Lou, who as noted above has “many good qualities,” knew “a guy” who built custom windows, and he came up with some very nice, reasonably priced aluminum windows with integrated screens and locks.

The old windows came out easily, and fortunately I didn’t screw up the measurements, because the new ones fit like a glove.

I have to say; when the WWFFCC gets down to it they go about their business with single-minded determination and laser like focus, because the entire job was completed in about one hour.

The step repair took no time at all, and then it was on to log cutting. The chainsaw was sharpened, the fuel mixed and in about ten minuets time, a rather impressive pile of firewood was stacked beside the cabin.

So now what?

Lunch of course.

After finishing our Minestrone soup, grilled Emmental cheese sandwiches, and ice cold Keith’s, Roman and I decided to take the canoe for a paddle, leaving Lou with strict instructions to lay off the nails.

We strongly suggested that his time could be more productively spent by firing up the chainsaw, and manufacturing some log furniture – something he had been threatening to do for several years now.

Our plan was to paddle downstream on the river to the first set of rapids, which were located about 1 km from the inlet to the lake, but unfortunately the water had continued to drop even further since out last visit in August, to the point where in order to get the canoe into the river, we would have to drag it through the channel.


Following a leisurely paddle around the lake, having heard no chain saw activity, we dug in on the paddles and slid into shore, anxious to see what Lou had been up to.

He was found puttering around in back of the “new” cabin, and when asked regarding the whereabouts of our log furniture, we received a somewhat less than polite reply.

After checking to see if any nails had suddenly appeared around the perimeter of his bunk – fortunately they had not – we began gathering up wood for the evening’s campfire.

Not content with gathering mere twigs, Roman sparked up the chainsaw, and cut up enough wood for several campfires.

Earlier, while we were sitting on the beach relaxing after lunch - see above “to do” list - someone suggested that it would be nice to have small wooden side tables to hold our drinks and plates.

Unfortunately Lou did not take the hint, with the result that the task of manufacturing the tables then fell to Roman. In that he already had the chainsaw primed, he began scouring the shoreline for some suitable wood.

In fairness Lou, who as you know has “many good qualities,” decided to lend a hand, but confined his efforts to helping search for, and approving the type of wood that would be used in the manufacturing process.

Roman did a fine job in producing three cedar side tables that were put to good use while enjoying our pre-dinner cocktails, smoked salmon, and rosemary/sea salt crostini.

Once the dinner hour rolled around, I served up heaping plates of fusilli with homemade pesto, grilled chicken and hot peppers.

To compliment the meal, our resident Sommelier chose a 2012, Robert Biale, “Royal Punishers” Petit Syrah.

The stars strutted their stuff yet again, and we partook of our usual evening libations and cigars beside the campfire under a bright celestial canopy.

Day 4

Say it Ain’t So!

All good things must come to end – well almost.

While the work around camp had been fairly light to this point, we were about to embark on a flight to Esnagami Wilderness Lodge, where we would be engaged in the reconstruction of one of the lodge’s guest cabins.

After a leisurely breakfast consisting of dry aged Chateaubriand – we’re not Philistines ya know – eggs any style and freshly perked coffee, we slowly began to close up camp.

As our flight was not scheduled to arrive until 1 pm - or so I thought - we had plenty of time to drain the water lines and pump, winterize the plumbing, pack things away, and otherwise secure the cabins for the coming winter.

We were ready and waiting with all of our gear stacked up on the beach by 1 pm, but our flight was nowhere to be seen.

After a ½ hour wait, I began to become a bit concerned, in that one of the many things Nakina Air Services is noted for is their on time service. My plan was to wait until 2 pm, and if they still had not arrived, send them an email via my inReach satellite communicator.

There was no need to worry because a couple of minutes after 2, in came the Turbo Otter with chief pilot/owner Greg at the controls.

He was told that pick up was 2 pm, so as usual they were right on time. In fact Greg, who I have know for years, quipped that if he had known I was the one being picked up, it may have slipped his mind entirely.

We had a pleasant ride to the Lodge, and after unpacking and getting settled in Cabin #2 – the one we had helped rebuild two years ago – we inspected the job site together with lodge owner Eric Lund.

Dinner was then served, consisting of a salad featuring mixed greens, dried cranberries and pears, tossed in a homemade vinaigrette, several different styles of pizza, and some tasty Italian red wine.

For dessert we were treated to perhaps the best chocolate cheesecake that I have ever tasted, courtesy of Cory, the lodges breakfast cook, baker and chocolatier.

“Cheech” and Mort, who hail from Michigan, were also in camp, and earlier that day had finished framing the addition to Cabin #5, which we would be continuing to work on over the next three days.

They went out to do some fishing after dinner, and brought in some Walleye that one of the guides kindly fried up for a very tasty midnight snack.

As an added attraction we had a bear in camp overnight, which as you can see from the picture below, enjoyed snacking on the contents of the garbage bags that were stored down by the main dock.

Day’s Last

Over the next several days, we combined hard work together with some of the best Walleye fishing the Province of Ontario has to offer.

On our last night in camp, Eric and his staff prepared a fantastic fish dinner, featuring seasoned Pike nuggets, Lemon Wine Walleye (my fav.), beans, and a warm potato salad. It was like having shore lunch without the smoke, rocks and bugs!

After touching down in Nakina the next morning, we drove as far as Kapuskasing, and then headed for home first thing the following morning.

Just outside of Smooth Rock Falls, I asked the boys if they had remembered to transfer the fish they were brining home from the freezer at the Motel to the cooler.

Roman let out groan, thereby making it clear, that unlike the fish I had in my freezer, he had not transferred his. Lou – the guy with “many good qualities” - immediately announced that the fish in the cooler were clearly all his.

What a guy!

Say Goodnight Gracie…

On a positive note, this year’s trip was no less than fantastic.

The WWFFCC worked they’re magic yet again, and the week was filled with plenty of laughs, good food and drink, and most importantly – fellowship of a kind that does not come along too often – if ever.

Thanks guys, you’re the best!

Post Script

Now You See it – Now You…

While I’m not all that enamored with having to end this narrative on a sour note, the uninvited guests I referred to earlier have left me with little choice.

When we first arrived in camp, everything looked to be in order, the locks were in place, windows closed etc., that is until I went behind the “old” cabin to retrieve a propane cylinder.

Not only was I short one cylinder, the stand that once held the water heater was leaning up against a tree just outside the back window. Odd.

I tracked down Lou and Roman and asked if they had removed the heater and put the stand out back of the cabin - and unfortunately they had not.

Making a closer examination of the cabin’s interior, once again everything appeared to be in order. The blind on the back window was in tact, and even the window latch was by and large in place – what the hell?

One thing I will say for the thief or thieves, they were damn slick, and fortunately did no property damage.

The degree of neatness notwithstanding, they had made off with our heater, a half empty propane tank (they left the full one), my tackle bag, and as we found out later, my screw driver set – which they obviously needed to remove the heater from the stand.

My fear is that, but for the fact they could not get their boat into the lake because of the low water, and had to carry the items some distance, they may have taken even more.

I have no idea why people do things like this, and while the heater and tank were of little relative value, much of what was in my tackle bag can never be replaced.

I sincerely hope you enjoy your plunder, and are proud of the fact that you have managed to take much of the enjoyment out of owning a property of this kind, because from this point forward we will constantly worry about what we will find – or more particularly won’t find – each time we visit our camp.

Thanks very much…

Last modified onMonday, 26 September 2016 14:39
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