#316 Turn left at the old white store

It’s a classic case of misdirection as Nancy scouts the trail to a nearly forgotten cottage in the woods.

Devil’s Four Mile Road. Now who names a road that? There’s usually a church on Church Street, a cemetery on Cemetery Road. What the Devil is on that Four Mile Road? I had to find out!
It started with an opportunity to rent a cottage on short notice. My friend inherited the family cottage but hasn’t been using it, and it wasn’t the kind of place friends were invited to when the parents were alive. It was a respectable family place—only blood or marriage could get you in. I certainly was never invited. And the place had fallen into neglect in recent years when no one was using it. The time had come to break the mold.
It was also time to pay the taxes: $3,000 a year for the waterfront with no winter use. Those who live locally, in town or on farmland pay significantly less. Make the rich cottagers pay! Add $150 every bill to Ontario Hydro, without even using it. If you add a mortgage the size of a house to that you can see why a cottage is a rich person’s sport.
And so it was that opportunity knocked, and I had an opportunity to invite my friends to join me at this cottage I’d never seen. I had no idea what we would find, or how many it would truly hold. But the August 1st long weekend was coming, and so were eight of us.
I booked a few days off work to make it a really long weekend, and went up the afternoon before so I could see for myself, and call friends to ask for last minute things—like a coffee pot. For some reason the 71-year-old owner believes that instant coffee is good enough for all. I tried to explain that times have changed, that every hotel and motel I’ve rented in years have drip coffee pots in the room. “This isn’t a hotel.” Right.
It was also my job to see how rideable the fire road into the lake was. So my enduro bike went in first, to see if a cruiser could make it. Finding the cottage turned out to be a challenge. Directions were memorable. Take 46 north from Havelock. Turn left onto the fire road just past the old white store. For those who don’t know, all the little cottage roads have been renamed “fire roads.” The cottages are all numbered in a way that a firefighter will be able to easily find it. There are little green signs with reflective white numbers on them. You see these numbers driving along small country roads where there’s no visible residence.
There were few buildings on the marginally farmable country road, so when I saw a white house that could have perhaps been a country store I slowed and looked left. Sure enough, I had to make a U-turn but there I was. That was the first bit of information I would change for those who followed me. The white house hadn’t been a store in over 20 years! But when you’ve been going there since you were 10, it is forever the “old white store.”
I noticed something else in fine print as I was passing by. All I caught was the word Devil on the road sign. Fire Road 65. But we were to take 65B. Hmm. The road turned to single lane of nice, hard packed grey stone screenings. I saw 65A but missed the B. There were no landmarks given. I continued a ways until I saw some nice cottages and realized the numbers weren’t right. I backtracked and saw where I’d missed. Good thing I wasn’t arriving in the dark like some of my friends would be.
Now on 65B I continued on. There was a sign warning of a stop sign and then a gate—all things you’d think someone giving directions to strangers would note. But no strangers were ever allowed so directions were sketchy.
A little map I’d been given showed that at one point the road came close to the lake. That helped. One landmark. I was thrilled when I saw the water. Beautiful. But was it the hairpin turn of note? My road dead-ended at three cottages, with three driveways. I wonder how often those people get asked for help. Turned out the hairpin turn was there, and the last driveway included the continuing road. My goodness I had news for my friends who followed!
The granite rocks protruding from the road we were told about weren’t worth mentioning. But the good news was that the road was perfectly rideable for any bike. Come on down!
The cottage turned out to be beautiful. An enclosed sunroom with many screened windows that opened provided a relaxed bug free zone to sit and watch forest and the lake. We swam in the water, paddled a canoe all round, and some even fished. At night we built a fire and had a marvelous time enjoying what so many miss, which is the magnificent north. We spoke of people who fly to the tropics for vacations but never make it two or three hours outside of Toronto for a holiday in territory people travel from Europe to see.
We’ve rented the cottage three weekends so far. But the last time I deviated. There was this sign: Devils Four Mile Road. I found it on a backroad map, and had to see for myself. So in I went, solo. None of my friends would know if I never arrived. But adventure is a lure.
The road began with that same grey crush and continued that way for most of the ride. But there were places where water had carved little rivulets into the hills and I had to pick my route up or down, just like dirt biking, never knowing if it would get better or if I’d get myself into trouble. When I found the first cabin I was surprised—and chased off by a barking dog nipping at my heels. I found some kind of camp school—vacant. And I found a house that looked part of a small farm. Only once did I find asphalt, and it scared me because it started half way up a hill, indicating the need. I bet that one washed out big time. A sharp turn at the top set me on course for a place called Vansickle that didn’t seem to exist once my road hit a T. I decided to turn round and make my way back, enjoying the challenges of those hills in the opposite direction, now assured that I could make it just fine. But I wasn’t inviting any cruisers.
I took that road again on my way home. And I’ve found other roads on the map that look equally interesting, narrow, twisty and fun. And I found two ghost towns to see: Millbridge and Glanmire. Perhaps next time, which will be soon. I’ve never been so happy to pay someone else’s taxes!