So, it was the excited Popsicle and myself and YJ off to the northern hinterlands as a trio, to visit Arrowhead Provincial Park, somewhat to the SW of Algonquin. I hadn't been there before, but through online research I knew that they had some beach there, and that they had lots of trails - many for mountainbikes, actually. We left Saturday afternoon (this was the long weekend for Canuckleheads) and still got caught up in cottage traffic a bit, so it took a bit over three hours to get there. Still, the sun hadn't set, it wasn't raining for once, and we were camping!
The site I had procured through online services was very large, and quite private, which was nice. I always find it a bit of a crapshoot booking a campsite that you haven't been to before . . . there usually aren't enough (usually none) reviews or info on them in general. Anyways, we lucked out, as when I had booked it, it was one of the last ones available, and it was at the end of a staggered line of widely spaced sites - great for privacy.
Initially, I had some negative, foreboding thoughts, as I put up the tent to the blaring hell that is 'new country'. If ever there was a most undesireable music list for me, new country would be right there at the top, and at first we were getting an earful. Despite the privacy and space between our only neighbour, we could see that it was a large group of youth and adults there, and I prepared to go there afterward to see if I could persuade them to turn it down. But, it turned out it wasn't necessary, as twenty minutes past the time my ears started to bleed, a camp ranger drove by, and miraculously the music was turned down to inaudible. Awesome!
After setting up, we had a couple of hours of daylight left, and at the insistence of Popsicle, I drove us to the nice beach we had scouted out previously. It was a nice lakeside beachfront with trucked in sand, and perfect for the not-quite-ready-for-deep-water kiddie we had with us, as it was a long shallow stretch before getting deeper. I jumped in along with Popsicle, and we frolicked and whatnot, quite refreshing after the long ride to get there. Then, Popsicle started finding clams, buried in the sand, some that were even quite large and alive still. After Popsicle three or four more, we both started collecting them, after some discussion with YJ over certain food items we had brought with us.
A plan had formed - we would try eating freshwater clams!
Fairly successful we were at gathering the buggers, as Popsicle would wade around in the shoulder high dark water and say "Found one!", while I would swim over and grope around with my arm or feet and dig up whatever it was. About half the time it was an empty shell or piece of wood, but find good clams we did, and by the end of it we had collected about 15-20 dark-shelled bivalves. Almost getting dark, we walked back up the sharp incline to the nearly empty parking area besides a long huge pile of beach sand. Popsicle was giddy with excitement over the experimental clambake, as we had even hidden our catch in my pockets so as not to create a fuss with a nosy passerby. I unlocked the car doors and . . . I just looked behind me for some reason.
I whispered to Popsicle that she could very slowly approach to say hi.
It was a special little moment, as Popsicle ended up getting quite close to the timid, teenaged deer.
And then we got back to the campsite, where a note had been left for us in our absence. The park rangers had evidently noticed the branches I had stacked under one of the large picnic tables, and had left a note of warning that it was against the rules to be foraging in the forest and pilfering it, even if it was deadwood.
Minutes later, a park truck came by and I flagged him down. I explained to the two young men that I hadn't torn down any trees or branches, and had simply found some of the wood branches and long logs in the cleared area of the campsite (this was basically true). He explained the rules again, inferring that I still should just use wood from the store that they sold, and that I should leave any wood here as it was. Asking if I could use the wood I had already gathered, he grudgingly reiterated that he would prefer me to just use the bagged firewood they sold. I didn't press the issue, and he continued on his way.
They were very strict here, evidently - but I could respect that. They patrolled this place more than any other provincial park that I had visited in recent memory, and it was clean and well run. Well, I thought to myself, I might as well bite the bullet and spend 20 bucks on wood - after all, profits went to a good cause in the end.
I ended up putting back all but the small dry branches, and bought three large bags of good hardwood.
Eventually, after eating some dinner heated up by the little propane campstove I have, we started cooking up the clams. We boiled them for some time in water, and watched in awe (well, Popsicle was very excited by the whole process - nothing beats the wonderment of a child) as they opened up in their death throes. They looked ok, I thought. Then, when I made sure that they were more than done, we took them out of the pot, and cleaned them with water further, to get out the grains of sand. This caused most of them to fall off the shell easily, which was nice . . . until we were left with a small cup full of boiled clams. YJ cooked up a butter and soya sauce dip, and I tried it first, being the head guinea pig of the lot.
Somewhat bland, like a store-bought mussel without the taste . . . but dipping it in the sauce made it quite edible. After waiting a while, it was apparent that it wasn't poisonous, and both YJ and Popsicle tried a bit, although very tentatively. They weren't impressed with the taste, and I ended up finishing it off myself, pouring the sauce all over it. Once thoroughly soaked, they were tasty, especially so since it was free food harvested by us all.
Popsicle loved to play with the shells, and arranged them in ways that she explained, but that I cannot remember.
That night, after a blissfully clear but cool night provided us with a canopy of sparkling stars, we huddled around the campfire while Popsicle insistfully asked question after question. My belly never complained about the exotic meal I had enjoyed.
The next day, we spent a good amount of time at the beach, and of course collected a whole bunch of clams again. We weren't going to, but I happened to step on a virtual colony of them, and they were good-sized, so I stuffed them in the large pockets of my surfer-style swim trunks - underwater, of course. We went on a short trail to a neat waterfall, where Popsicle spotted with amazing observation skills one of the largest 'dock' spiders I had ever seen:
At the foot of the waterfalls, I contemplated children . . . although the picture looks serene and quiet, there were quite a few people about.
Later, Popsicle got to play on the huge sandpile, we sang wacky songs by the campfire, and I ate more clams (really started to like them!). On the Monday, we swam at the beach one last time before heading back, while fully clothed Chinese tourists walked by in a large group to take video of the scene around them. Then we drove back while Popsicle slept . . .
Arrowhead gets a solid A in my book - a very tight ship, well-run, clean, and orderly. And we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.
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