The Capital, Cold War, Car Troubles and Parks

We arrived in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, early on a bright Sunday morning and went straight to ByWard Market to pick up some fresh bread, cheese and hummus for a picnic. The perfect spot for it turned out to be Major’s Hill Park, with a view over the Rideau Canal and Ottawa Locks. It was a beautiful park with impressive architecture surrounding it. Once we were done eating and enjoying the people watching, we continued toward Parliament Hill, surrounded by hundreds of bright tulips. Of course, Leika did the honors by taking a poop in the middle of the busy field in front of the parliament building. We then continued back toward the Rideau Canal, which we walked along for several kilometers. Ottawa surprised us as a very pleasant city (instead of a bureaucrat capital) – aside from the perfect weather we found it to be a beautiful city, with nice space for walking/cycling, active and friendly people, great food, very clean and parks and forests to be very accessible. We were there the weekend of Queen Victoria’s Birthday (a National holiday) and therefore had plenty of tourists but we still didn’t get a very touristy feel, unlike say mid-town New York City.

Late afternoon, we drove 15 minutes out of the city to Park Gatineau, home to over 120km of hiking trail and over 90km of mountain biking trails. Since we’ve started the trip we’ve been mostly mountain biking pretty technical single track and bringing Leika along. In this park, the trails were all gravel and shared with hikers so we decided to leave Leika behind and do a longer distance ride but at a faster pace. The ride definitely turned out to be longer than what we’ve been doing, but I wouldn’t say faster – at least not on the monster uphills this trail had. It was a great, wide path and while not at all technical, it was great strength training for both of us. There were a few beautiful lookouts over Ottawa and the park, further proof of our first impression of the city. Back at the parking lot we started packing up our bikes when a few people approached us asking about the van and curious to take a look inside. It’s been really fun seeing how many people are interested in the van and we’ve really enjoyed hearing people’s questions, thoughts and showing them around our home.

We drove to the other side of the park to where the campground was. Rather than paying $40 a night for camping, we simply parked in one of the trail head parking lots, which happened to be near a nice lake. After walking around for a little and throwing Leika into the water to see if she could swim (yes, she could, and she can also somehow pull herself out of the water onto the dock), we biked over to the campground to shower. We made some soup for dinner, had a glass of scotch, talked, read together and called it a night.

We got up early the next morning to go for another mountain bike ride. Leika came along and we were again incredibly impressed with her. It was about 10 miles long, and the girl just keeps on sprinting. She likes to stay behind the person who’s biking in front and doesn’t get distracted by other hikers or bikers. We passed by a few beautiful lakes, letting Leika get some water and giving us a chance to rest our legs which were sore from the day before. Overall, the park had a great network of trails with beautiful lakes and outlooks. It wasn’t overly crowded and everything seemed well maintained and clean. We would have loved to stay longer to spend some more time trail running or hiking but we desperately need to get some laundry done and wanted to get to the Diefenbunker Museum.

The Diefenbunker Museum was really interesting. Unfortunately we were a little rushed in it before it closed, but we were able to explore and read most of the exhibits. It was an intimidating feeling walking into the dark tunnel leading to the bunker, the light from outside disappearing quickly and the temperature dropping nearly 15 degrees from outside. For both of us, seeing this massive structure commissioned out of fear of a nuclear war put the Cold War and its emotions into context. The facility was made to house 500 people, mostly government officials, and none were permitted to bring family along in the case of a nuclear event; not even the Prime Minister. This to me was really tough to think about as I don’t think I’d go into the Bunker without my family. I guess that’s a good thing that I’m not the Prime Minister…

Once we were kicked out and the museum closed, we started on our way to Bon Echo Provincial Park. Leika was fast asleep, exhausted from the bike trip that morning. We were only 30 minutes away from Diefenbunker, when I started to hear a strange rattling noise. At first we thought it may have been something loose in the trunk, but after a minute of investigating and closer listening, we pulled over and looked under the car… there it was – our tail pipe hanging only inches from the ground! It had rusted through, detached from the muffler and was resting on the rear axle. The good news, the tail pipe isn’t a critically important component to running the car safely. The bad news, we’d still need to get it fixed but it was a holiday and the closest muffler shop was an hour away. So, we set up camp for the night (pulled over into a parking lot), made dinner, walked around for a while, played some cards and went to sleep. The next morning we drove an hour back to a muffler shop in Ottawa where after a few hours of waiting, they cut the rust off the tail pipe, put a sleeve on and then clamped it all together – and we were on our way again! All in all, we were lucky the pipe came off while we were still near a city and that the end that rusted didn’t catch hit the ground and catapult the pipe into the underside of the car, potentially damaging other things.

With the tail pipe fixed up, we were ready to continue on to Bon Echo Provincial Park. The park is famous for its rock face that juts out of Mazinaw Lake and features the largest visible collection of aboriginal pictographs in all of Canada. As we drove closer to the park, the noise on our windshield sounded as if it was raining but we quickly realized that we were hitting mosquitoes. When we arrived at the park, the bugs only got worse. Even Leika was irritated by them and kept snapping at them. We spent some time exploring the beautiful park but unfortunately, the bugs just made it too unpleasant to spend a lot of time outside. After spending the night we decided to continue on to Algonquin Provincial Park.

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