A peaceful, idyllic trip planned to an abandoned railway line.
A group of enthusiastic young homeschoolers, eager for a romp through nature, exploring and seeking out fun and interesting geocaches.
Moms and tots, Dad and preteens, sunny skies and (relatively) few flies.
The entire group of us either trotting briskly with dignity or running screaming from the tunnel as a lumbering behemoth approaches.
How did we get here? It all began over one hundred years ago as the Grand Trunk Railroad grew eager to take advantage of the budding Canadian identity’s requirement to be linked coast to coast. Content at first to build up a network of rail lines around the Great Lakes, they realized that the Canadian Pacific’s westward expansion was turning into a bigger deal than they had expected. As such, they planned their own line linking Fort William with Winnipeg. Unfortunately, as they worked their way westward, creating alphabetically organized nodes, Alba, Baird, Crest, Dorval (?), Ellis, they reached a barrier at “F”lett – a rock formation that couldn’t be avoided on their way to Griff.
Wait, that’s too far back. How about just four months ago?
That’s when the Music Workshop School decided to book the Waverley Library Auditorium for their end of year recitals – thus overriding the “tech club” and our usual Thursday afternoon booking for two consecutive weeks in June.
We bumped our bookings to the local Gameshelf/Bookshelf, but then there was further discussion of maybe mixing things up a bit.
Kenny and I had long discussed visiting this tunnel that we had read about in some local hiking blogs. Once again, we hoisted the flag of Flett tunnel, and saw a couple of fellow homeschoolers willing to trust us to lead them to a new adventure – in the real world! What a radical notion!
We met at the Emerald Greens Golf Course promptly at 1:20 – amazingly for homeschooling families of various sizes and ages, we were all there not just on time, but early – Kenny could hardly believe it, but I had had faith.
I reiterated our directions – head west on Dawson Road/102 until Sistonen’s Corners, then follow the highway to the right and onto the 11/17/Trans Canada Highway. Follow that until Finmark Road and then turn right there. Follow that until we either turn onto Flett Road, or it becomes Flett Road (conflicting maps and directions made it hard to say for certain – as it turns out, it bears to the left a bit more significantly than to the right, and there is a sign marked “Flett Road” pointing straight through at that spot).
Continue a bit further, until you’re certain that the road will soon peter out, and then if you’re lucky, your Google Maps GPS will tell you to turn hard left onto the old rail bed – it’s perfectly driveable for most any vehicle. Kenny and I were in our 2WD Ranger, followed by three other crossover type vehicles, and the going was just fine.
Eventually the rail bed started to get a little more… potholy? And then the look of the trees up ahead became distinctly dark. The GPS announced we had arrived, although there wasn’t much to see other than an inky shadow on the road ahead. I pulled off a bit to the side, shut off the engine, and hopped out of the truck. Ahead on the road lay the maw of the tunnel – it was at once surreal, exciting, beautiful and, dare I say, cool!
|So uhm, is that it? Or just a really overgrown part of the rail bed?|
|Puddles are never NOT interesting!|
We examined our surroundings, collected the various children and gear we wanted to carry, and proceeded the remaining few metres to the tunnel entrance.
Large pools of water awaited at the mouth of the tunnel, but along the sides were wide, dry sections of crushed gravel that made it very, very accessible. No need to get my slippers wet here!
The bugs, even at this time of year, were either not too bad, or else the wonder and interest of the place made them entirely forgettable.
We headed straight through the tunnel for our first run. The children were already completely at ease, and had reached the far end of the 300 metre tunnel just as the grown ups were entering it. I give them credit – it was very dark in the centre area, but the light at each end made it quite tolerable and comfortable to be in. No sense of being closed in in the least.
|I’m just approaching it, the kids are already at the far end!|
|Who knows what they are plotting?
Graffiti was not nearly as bad as it could have been, and the garbage wasn’t terribly offensive. There were a few plastic bottles, a few cans, and only one glass bottle – intact. We planned on gathering it up before we left – but then, due to the incident… Well, I get ahead of myself.
|Emma, Stu, I hope your love is as strong as this rock. 💘💘💘💘💘|
N! joked privately with me about how fun it would be to make a loud train sound and to see the reactions of everyone there – I knew that Kenny had an authentic train whistle somewhere – but of course, we never thought to bring it.
|N!, clearly contemplating something dark, disturbing and nefarious.
…or else thinking of Calvin and Hobbes, it could go either way.
At the far end, I walked a short distance beyond the tunnel and discovered a marked trail off to the left that clearly circled back to the top of the cave. I wasn’t interested in mentioning that to the group – I would not have enjoyed the notion of all those kids running rampant up around the unprotected roof-edge of the tunnel.
|Teenage me – wicked cool cliff!
Adult me – keep those kids away from there!
Am I… Old?
The TeamKim family opened up their geocaching app and proceeded to tell us that there was a cache hidden somewhere in the tunnel! I returned to the truck and retrieved my phone, and there were at least three of us with our phone flashlights on, picking our way along the sides of the tunnel, seeking out a small “treasure-box”.
|Everyone was in on the search!|
Luckily, I overheard the matriarch of their team remark that the cache was hidden close to the “Jeep” – I knew where that was! I had taken a photo of it not five minutes earlier!
|Jeep? What Jeep? (True confession – at first I thought it said “BEER”)|
Rushing down, we quickly found the small box behind a rock. S! opened it up while everyone gathered around. C! and M! enumerated the contents as we all basked in the sense of discovery, adventure and satisfaction at having found a modern-day buried treasure.
Suddenly, in a scene reminiscent of Stand By Me (props to LA! for posting this clip to the group within the hour), shouts of “Truck!” reverberated down the tunnel – a fully laden logging truck was barreling down the abandoned rail line – directly towards us!
|I’ll take “Things you don’t expect to find in an abandoned train tunnel for $1000 Alex”.|
|Ice? In June? Only in Thunder Bay!|
|Donna spotted a king’s face in this picture – pareidolia at work?|