I always love visiting Thunder Bay and will try to visit as often as possible. But, crazily enough, I would visit more when I lived half the continent in Texas than I do now in Wisconsin. Obviously, many things have changed since I moved back to Wisconsin almost three years ago. First, the pandemic closed the border. Then came the birth of my son Austin in February of this year.
We’ve finally got to the point where I can take two-night overnight trips. Austin is sleep-trained well enough that my being gone over a weekend is fine. With that being said, I’m only shooting to travel once a month or less.
The biggest thing for getting to Thunder Bay is getting there before winter. Last year, I visited in November, and it was snowing on my way back. The drive from the Madison area to Thunder Bay takes 8-9 hours in normal conditions. This means you’ll spend the good part of two days driving back and forth. When you throw snow or any winter weather into the mix, it will slow you down substantially and take much longer.
That said, I wanted to visit Thunder Bay at least once this year. I decided to visit counties for my September trip since the days would be longer. It would also be warmer outside. Daylight didn’t matter as much for visiting Thunder Bay. I was planning on hanging out with friends and not trying to visit as many counties as possible.
I figured a trip in October would still be fine in terms of winter weather. However, the closer I got to my planned date, the less it looked like that would be the case.
I decided to take Friday off and hit the road right after I fed Austin and Victoria left to drop him off at daycare. I’d also walk Maya. That Thursday, I decided to get gas and was pelted with a bunch of ice at the gas station and at home.
The following day, on that Friday, I woke up, and the radar didn’t look good.
I went about my regular morning routine of feeding Austin and getting him ready for daycare. Victoria then took him to daycare on her way to work. I then walked Maya and put her in her crate.
To minimize stopping, I also purchased some food for the way.
I hit the road and tried to make the best time I could.
When I got close to Eau Claire, the weather turned nasty. First, it started snowing kind of hard, and eventually, the snow began to stick.
The drive to Thunder Bay is pretty much a straight shot on only a few roads. You first get to I-94, and then it’s a long drive to Superior.
You then get on MN-61, and it’s a long drive up that road to the Canadian border and, ultimately, Thunder Bay.
The drive up MN-61 can be obnoxious with the sheer amount of slow drivers. Much of the way has a 60mph speed limit, but it’s not uncommon for people to be doing 45-50mph. In addition, the road is very windy, and much of it is a no-passing zone. So you and a bunch of cars get stuck behind a slowpoke doing well under the speed limit.
I don’t know how many slow pokes I passed in the rare passing zones, but I finally got close to the Canadian border.
Since gas is much cheaper in the USA, I filled up at Ryden’s before crossing.
The border crossing was pretty fast, and I was soon on ON-61.
The interesting thing is the tides turned in terms of driving. Traffic was pretty light, but I was the one being passed this time. I made it to Thunder Bay and went straight to the ATM to get some local currency.
I then went to Canada’s original sub chain, Mr. Sub.
I got their famous Assorted Sub with some all dressed chips and a cookie.
I then dropped by my friend Daniel’s house. He lives next to the high school football stadium. We watched the Westgate vs. Hammarskjold game from his deck. Daniel coaches the junior Westgate team, so he was cheering on the senior team that was playing. They were victorious while playing in some early winter weather.
Daniel tagged along with me to meet my friend Ryan and Matt at Neebing Roadhouse.
Of course, they had a hockey game playing while we were there.
I hit the water hard to stay hydrated and had a good time visiting with everyone.
I was starting to check out hotels and noticed they had doubled in price since last year.
It was around 1 AM when we left. Since I was meeting Ryan at 8:30 to do some exploring, I wasn’t about to pay around $30 CAD an hour for a hotel room. So I dropped Ryan off at home and then figured I’d catch some shuteye in the parking lot near Boulevard Lake.
Just about the time I was starting to doze off, a truck pulled up next to me. It was a security guard telling me I couldn’t be there. I then left and drove a bit out of town. I found a road near a nature preserve and was able to sleep the rest of the night. When I woke up, I went back into Thunder Bay. I got Tim Horton’s for breakfast. I got the B.E.L.T. This was like a BLT, but with egg on an everything bagel.
I picked up Ryan, and we hit the road for Nipigon.
It looked like everything was closed downtown, so we headed to the marina.
Since I was running on limited sleep, I stopped by Petro Canada to get an energy drink. I was happy to see they even had EV charging.
We intended to get to Terrace Bay. So we hit the road, and I’d stop for pictures every once in a while.
Ryan made sure to get a few pictures of his own.
Eventually, we made it to Schreiber.
We went downtown and checked it out.
For time’s sake, we decided to head back toward Thunder Bay instead of going to Terrace Bay. We found a wayside with some excellent views.
Before you knew it, we were back in Nipigon. We decided to stop at China Gardens for lunch.
The funny thing is this Chinese restaurant had pizza, so we got that.
After eating, our next stop was the Nipigon General Store. It was only short walk down the street.
Ryan and I said hi to Terry and Ann, the owners of Nipigon General Store. We visited for a while, and Terry had me sign the ceiling tile for guests that visited in 2022.
I’m also always looking to experiment with gadgets to improve my road trips. I found a solar-powered battery bank. The general store truly has everything!
Our final stop in Nipigon was the lookout tower to take in the incredible views.
On the way back to Thunder Bay, we stopped at Crystal Beach Variety to say hi to John. I actually found out John sold the business and retired (if you’re reading this, John, happy retirement!). Some bacon-flavored chips and dried sausage caught my eye.
Ryan and I then went to Compass Foods. This is an entirely plant-based vegan store. I’ve never seen a fully vegan store, so it was cool to check it out.
I bought some vegan jerky to try out.
I dropped Ryan off at home and then drove to the Prince Arthur. I found out they wanted $250 CAD a night for a room. I decided to check out the Courthouse Hotel, and they wanted the same price. While I like the Prince Arthur, you get more bang for your buck at the Courthouse Hotel. I planned to go drinking that night with my friends, so sleeping in the car wasn’t an option. I also wanted to be within walking distance of downtown. So I splurged a bit with the most expensive hotel I’ve stayed at and checked in to the Courthouse Hotel.
To get some white noise going, I set up my USB fan. This is a great travel hack I’ve found that helps a ton sleeping in both a hotel room or in the car.
I fell asleep for a few hours, and it was dark when I woke up.
I was hungry. I went to Alley’s Corner Variety to get some chicken tenders and fries.
I made it back to the hotel and got ready to go downtown. I walked a few blocks to Waterhouse.
I always love to order a Caesar (Canadian Bloody Mary) when I’m in Canada. All my friends arrived in the meantime.
After the Caesar, I switched to beer. I was able to show my friends a little party trick.
After Waterhouse, our next stop was Bar Keep. This is a fancier bar with a laid-back atmosphere.
I had a Lakehead Beer Company light lager. It was really good!
The awesome thing is Lakehead Beer Company was a short walk away. So that was our next stop, and I got to drink some more of their great beer.
I ran into my friend Thomas there. I hadn’t seen him in years, so it was a great coincidence to see him. After talking to him for a while, I rejoined the group. We decided to check out the club since one of Ryan’s friends was there.
It was getting close to bar close, so we got to On Deck and ordered a pitcher immediately so we could visit a little longer.
We then left and headed our separate ways. I walked back to the hotel.
I tried to get as much sleep as I could before heading back. The morning came fast.
I drove to my last stop before the border, Metro, to buy some groceries.
I realized I’d cut it close for gas, so I got a splash of more expensive Canadian gas.
I made it to the border, and there was a bit of a line to cross.
I waited a while, but talking to the border agent was pretty fast, and I was soon back in the USA. So I stopped at Ryden’s again to get a full tank of gas.
I was then headed down the North Shore for the long drive to Duluth.
I was close enough to Wisconsin when the Packer game started, so I was able to listen to it along the way.
The Packers played horribly, and it was miserable to listen to them as I drove the long stretches back.
I eventually made it back to Belleville around 6:30 PM.
I was pretty exhausted when I came back. I was happy that I was able to make it to Thunder Bay, but it was now time to relax. I definitely missed Victoria, Austin, and Maya, so it was good to see them again. Now that winter is closing in, I’m unsure how many more long trips I will take. I’ll probably wait until spring. I’ll definitely make sure to check out local places, and I know the Madison area has a lot to offer.