Thunder Bay and Nipigon

I went to Madison on Tuesday and my original plan was to relax Wednesday in Marshfield. I’d then hit the road early Thursday for Duluth and ultimately Thunder Bay. Bob, the buddy who went on the first trip to Thunder Bay with me, asked me if I wanted to come up Wednesday night. I decided that it would probably be a good idea since I’d just be going to bed early and if I went up there, there’d be a lot less driving Thursday. I then proceeded to do the 4 hour drive to Duluth. I know I was getting close to Duluth when I could see all the radio towers.

When I got there, Bob said, “Screw it, let’s go up tonight!” It was already around 11:30PM but I decided, what the heck. The Pigeon River crossing is open 24 hours a day anyway. We then left and hit Highway 61. For the whole 150 mile drive up there, I think we came across 2 vehicles. There were no stores open and thankfully I could get gas by paying at the pump of a closed gas station.

When we finally got to the border at about 3am, we could see there were probably only 1 or 2 border agents working at that time. As we pulled up, we saw an agent get up from inside the office and come to the window. We handed him our passport cards and the first question he asked us was, “What are you doing crossing at 3am?” We told him that I had come from a wedding in Wisconsin, had driven to Duluth, and we decided to hit the road tonight versus in the morning. He then asked what we were planning on doing and what was in the car in terms of alcohol or tobacco. I about 9 beers in a cooler so I declared that and then I mentioned how I just wanted to see Thunder Bay and Canada before going back down to Texas.

He then said, “Well there’s a lot of guns in Texas, you have one on you?” I told him no. He then jokingly said, “I thought everyone has a gun in Texas.” I mentioned how there’s more gun rights in Wisconsin and they are just debating allowing open carry in Texas for conceal permit holders whereas that’s legal without a permit in Wisconsin. Basically the stereotype is there but there are other states that have way looser laws. He then asked Bob, “What about you? There are a lot of guns in Minnesota.” Bob then said, “I left my .357 at my apartment.” He then seemed satisfied by those answers. The final question he asked is where we worked. I mentioned I worked for the TABC and Bob said, “railroader.” After that, he handed us our passport cards and let us go on our way.

That border crossing only took a few minutes and unlike most border crossings, this one was very painless. I started driving on the Canadian side of Highway 61. All of a sudden we were coming around a curve and Bob yelled, “Moose.” Now I know everyone jokes around about not hitting a moose while driving in Canada, but if I did not slam on my brakes, I would have actually hit a cow moose. I’m not sure how well the Focus would have held up since that moose was pretty big.

Bob told me not to honk the horn or it’ll view it as a challenge and then charge the car. We tried to get some pictures, but the lighting and timing of the moose going back into the woods did not work well. We finally got to Thunder Bay a little while later. We drove around a bit trying to find somewhere open. At one time, a cop was right on our tail. It must have been suspicious for him that a car with Texas plates was driving around at 4 in the morning in Thunder Bay. After following us a while, he turned off on another road.

We tried going to a Walmart and found they were closed. It seemed like the town was closed until 8-9am. We finally decided to stop at a Walmart and get some sleep and dub it our, “Walmart sleepover.”

We slept about 2 hours and found that town had started awakening or at least Walmart was now open.

We both had to go to the bathroom. At the same time that we got out of the car, another guy got out of his vehicle that was parked a little ways from the Focus. It looks like he was also sleeping in his vehicle and had the same idea as us as he walked to the bathroom (ahem “washroom”).

We walked around the store a bit, and of course, saw some hockey equipment.

I wanted to go to McDonalds to get breakfast just so I’d be able to compare it like I did when I was in Nuevo Laredo. This time, the Canadian McDonald’s breakfast was about the same as the US.

After breakfast, we decided to go to the mall.

You could tell the French Canadian influence by the names of some stores.

Normally you put quarters in the little kid rides, but I guess in Canada you have to put Loonies.

Target closed up all its Canadian stores but here is the area where it used to be in the mall.

Of course, I had to get a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee before leaving the mall.

I decided to drive by the hotel JP and I stayed at on another trip to Thunder Bay. We saw a Shelby Mustang in the parking lot.

I took a picture of the Superior Motel JP and I stayed at.

I also took a picture of the On Deck bar JP and I hung out at.

We then drove down to the pier and checked out the scenery there.

Bob wanted to get some pictures of trains so we drove by the train tracks. There weren’t any trains coming through but there was an old train car sitting there as a display.

We then drove to a park where some rapids where and then explored and took a few pictures there.

We wanted to see a ship yard so we drove up as far as we could to one.

After that, we decided we had seen everything we wanted to see in Thunder Bay. I suggested we check out Nipigon and Bob was up for the adventure. As we started driving up Highway 11, the song, “God Blessed Texas,” by Little Texas came on the radio. I found it kind of funny and ironic that I was driving in Canada with Texas plates and this song came on. On the way there, we saw a couple signs for Canada’s longest suspension bridge and zip line.

We drove down a bunch of back gravel roads to get to it. We definitely got to see parts of rural and remote Canada.

After finding out it was $17 a person, we decided against spending the money just to walk across a bridge. We then retraced our route back and got back onto Highway 11. The interesting thing is I barely used a GPS the whole time I was up there. I guess the previous trips had the lay of the land burned into my memory. On the way there, we saw a semi driver had an interesting accident.

We finally got to Nipigon and checked out the park by the bay.

After spending some time at the park, I saw a Beer Store. Canada controls their alcohol sales a lot more than most US states so it was interesting to check out the selection and prices. I wanted to see if I could get a 12 pack of Fort Gary like I bought on my Winnipeg trip.

As you can tell, Canadians pay a lot more for alcohol.

While the Beer Store was privately owned, the liquor store is owned by the government. We decided to check that out.

I topped off with gas and we headed back to Thunder Bay.

It was getting to be lunch time so we stopped at the same McDonalds and this time got some Poutine.

Next to the McDonalds was a Petro-Canada so I took some pictures. Remember the gas prices are per liter, so multiply that by 3.78 and that is the price per gallon.

We decided to drive around a little more and then checked out the Real Canadian Superstore.

It was basically like walking into a Walmart Supercenter.

They definitely had a lot of Canadian merchandise.

I bought a few bags of ketchup-flavored chips that aren’t sold in the US and then we headed to the mall again. We decided to look around a little more since most of the shops were now open. They definitely have some interesting maple syrup bottles.

After the mall, we hit the road to go back to the border. We ran into some construction on the way and ended up waiting a bit. When we got to the border, we gave the US border agent our passport cards as we did the Canadian border agent. He asked us what time we had come up to Thunder Bay and we said about 3am. He then asked us where we had stayed. You could see he saw the sleeping bags in the back seat so he then chuckled and asked, “Did you sleep in the car?” We just said, “Yep and in the Walmart parking lot.” He laughed and asked us what we did up there and we said just explored. Finally he asked us if we were bringing anything back and I said, “About 6 bags of ketchup chips.” He laughed again and handed us our passport cards and let us go on our way.

It was another painless border crossing and I was happy both crossing and I was happy that both crossings were super easy. Bob and I drove back down Highway 61 to Duluth where I’d spend the night before driving back to Texas.

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