Saturday, September 11, 2010

The population may be small but the hearts are big.
Marathon, a small town of 3,800 clinging to the northern lip of mighty Lake Superior, is starting to hunch up its shoulders and turn its collar to the wind as the autumn blows cold, but there was nothing but warmth for us as we limped westward into town.
As we were heading out Thursday morning, our hitherto stalwart Ford Ranger bucked, balked and then refused to go, its clutch torn asunder. Cautiously we hobbled back to Marathon, 60 kilometres back the way we had come, and settled at Canadian Tire, the first repair shop we tried that was able to squeeze us in for a look. The bad news, the clutch was gone. Worse news, no clutch parts til Monday.
The Canadian Tire owner, Jamie Senese, said we could camp in Harley in his parking lot, but five days without services looked a bit grim. Instead we asked about a tow to the town’s campground, at the edge of a small lake.
“Take my truck,” he insisted. “Load up what you need and get set up. Then come on back and I’ll give you a ride back to the campground.”
Stopping for a few groceries on the way, we headed to Penn Lake Lion’s Campground and a lakeside, full-service camping spot, the nicest we have had since setting out. Then it was back to Canadian Tire to return the truck.
“Do you sell firewood?” Ian asked Senese. When the answer was no, Senese palavered with staff and locals about where wood might be available.
“If you just want some for tonight, I have some in my truck,” said a woman customer. “Bring your truck over and we’ll load it.”
Learning why we had no vehicle, she offered to load the wood in Senese’s truck – only to be dismayed when she realized she had the wrong vehicle with her. The wood was in her husband’s truck.
Senese then insisted we stop at his house en route to the campground to load up a supply of firewood, good for the night and more, before letting us off at our campsite and tearing off to make a movie date with his young son. Dinner would be later, he said, shrugging.
As we finished setting up, a vehicle stopped, then backed into our campsite. Suspecting it was a Lion’s Club member or official seeking camping fees, we were stunned to see the customer from Canadian Tire.
“We can’t have you stranded in Marathon and not look after you,” the woman said, laughing, as she and her husband unloaded a pile of firewood.
Not surprisingly, Senese’s Canadian Tire outlet last year won a company competition for good customer service, with the prize being use of a restored 1951 Chev panel van, or hearse, for eight months.
“Go ahead, take it for a spin,” Senese said, so Friday we hiked to the Canadian Tire store (about a 20-minute walk from the campground) and toured the town in grand style, even hauling fold-down bikes and fishing gear from our disabled truck to the campsite. Townspeople waved at us along the way.
Saturday, the weather turned cold and wet, but the town has left such a warm glow, the weather seems irrelevant.

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