I’m afraid, the next 4 days is going to destroy my sanity, physical endurance, and more of my bike components – Northern Ontario, is one of the most scenic parts of the entire trip so far, sort of a cross of Vancouver Island meets Alaskan Highway in terms of views, amount of vehicle traffic, and weather. Except they aren’t as big as the Northern Rockies, but rival them in every possible way – climbs of 250metres in 5km are frequent, sapping one’s energy, adding frustration, fatigue and demoralization each km . Take a peek at this elevation chart and see what I mean. I’m at the 300km mark, so today is going to be an “OK” day for riding, but what comes next is surely going to kick my ass hard. I’ve been wondering why when reading other peoples tour journals that when they get to Thunder Bay they head south into the USA until Sault Ste. Marie – but now I know why. However – My Canada does not include Minnesota, nor does it include Wisconsin, nor Michigan whatsoever, so I’m going to ride through this and feel like a champ at the end.
Riding away from Dryden was a welcome change, I found I didn’t have too good of a time in town and pedaled east down the Trans Canada Highway – Route 17 – Northern Ontario Route. Riding was slow and I found a park to have a little nap on a picnic bench. Tree Stumpers were in the area and woke me up about 30 minutes later and I found myself remarkably recharged and headed off before running into a young man named Ian pedaling the other way towards the west. We chatted for a while, and I found that he had the same sort of problems I did on my first tour, so I offered to help fix his bike up a bit, gave him a few pointers on routes to take to stay off the major highway and shared a couple laughs.
I ended up staying in a small town named Ignace, fairly uneventful but with a lot of warmth as opposed to the cold Dryden area. Cellular service has been becoming spotty along the way, and I typically will go for days without getting any bars on the phone, and have to rely on an unsecured wireless network in the vicinity to get on, grab email, talk to friends/family, and check weather reports. Luckily I checked the weather in Ignace, it prepared me for the upcoming storms.
60mm of rain was forecast for the upcoming morning, with another 40 in the afternoon and yet another 40 in the evening – surely something to change my thoughts about riding for the day. The weather report was right for the first time in a while, and it dumped down on me for a good 4 hours before lightening up giving me a chance to meet my 100km target into Upsala. I was soaked and managed to have the people who owned the Shell Gas station allow me to setup my tent behind their building in exchange for dinner and breakfast purchases and enjoyed my campsite alongside one of their other residents – a groundhog! This little guy was friendly, only appeared this year on their property and allowed me to get close to pet it, although I have no pictures to document such thing as this stage. Even better is when I woke up in the morning (early – I had crossed into Eastern Time Zone) is that all my food bag was still intact with no bite marks on it!
The rain again was forecasted for another 60mm and I caved a bit, catching a ride with a friend down the road to get me out of the mess. It helped, and sure was nice to talk with someone I hadn’t really had a good solid conversation with in a bit more than 6 years, catching up on news and events. We ended up hunting down a buffet at the Slovak Legion in Thunder Bay where we gorged on perogies, sausages, meatballs, and spaghetti for the low price of $10. What a deal. The break also gave me a chance to get some laundry done as things were starting to get a bit sideways, especially the shorts I had been wearing for _7_ days.
Afterwards I headed up a huge hill in Thunder Bay over to my host Melissa’s house – a medical librarian who was nice enough to answer the call of help from a friend in Yellowknife to let me hole up for a few days, recharge, and rest my muscles. I stayed for 2 days, checked out a farmers market, went for beer before noon, and tried finnish pancakes for the first time – tasty! The evenings were spent enjoying tasty food, sampling various wines and beers (and 10 year old gin!), and sharing alot of laughs. Melissa had an Apple IPad, and I fiddled and fudged around on it trying to see if it would be suitable for a bicycle tourist – At this stage, I’d say no. Bring on the laser keyboard, ability to upload photos from an SD card, and a bit more application support and I’ll think otherwise – however I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
Leaving Thunder Bay, I stopped at the beautiful Terry Fox memorial which overlooked the city of Thunder Bay, and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. If you remember, I spoke of Terry Fox just outside of Valemont, BC 3.5 months ago. Terry had to stop his journey of running across Canada from Newfoundland due to sickness, never to complete his dream. I found it nice to see that the province had renamed a 150km stretch of the Trans Canada Highway to the “Highway of Courage”.
Ontario has been wonderful in terms of roads – wide shoulders and very smooth surfaces to ride on, signage – clear and concise letting you know where you need to be, alerting you of potential dangers, and numerous preventative signs for forest fires, fatigue, and alertness. If only all provinces could take Ontario’s lead, however with the population being 12 million with our overall 30 million population of the entire country it makes sense why things would be in better shape due to a higher tax base. One comment I’ve heard replayed over and over in the Northwest is that they should be a part of Manitoba, and would likely have their votes heard a bit better. Northwestern Ontario contains under 1 million people, so votes typically don’t count too much, and a feeling of isolation is regularly felt. I’m not sure if merging with Manitoba is the right thing to do on this one…
I’ve been riding along side one of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior which has offered beautiful views, and a wonderful wind to cool you down, providing its sunny of course – The weather shifts at a regular basis, and the typical 5 day forecast is only good for 1. I had one good sunny day heading into Nipigon, before being flagged down by a bunch of baseball players celebrating during the long weekend. They alerted me of a live band and fireworks down by the Marina, so I took it upon myself to head there, find a spot in the bush and setup for a free camp site – which worked out well. I had a chuckle as I’ve never heard renditions of AC/DC’s ‘Shook me all night long’, and Elvis Presley’s ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ the way I did through the thin walls of my tent. I skipped the fireworks and cozied up to a book.
Following that, was a day of climbs into Terrace Bay, (think the 100-200km mark on that elevation chart) destroying me in the hot sun, but giving me the reward of 66.4km top speeds heading back downhill, but certainly made me tired by the time I arrived in the “Lounge” to have a few beers, charge my laptop up, and converse with the locals – I met a man named Scott who invited me back to his place to have a sleep on his couch which I graciously accepted, shared a few stories with him and headed off to sleep. Scott gave me a new pair of waterproof gloves for riding as my SealSkinz that I ordered more than a month ago still haven’t arrived. I left early in the morning before saying goodbye to him and waged war in the crazy winds and rain that stuck with me for 6 hours of the day. This has to be the worst riding I’ve ever done, on someones sick idea of an asphalt roller coaster. Constant climbs giving me problems all day long. Drained, I only made it 77km into Marathon, Ontario before calling it a day, panicking a bit on a hard deadline that I have to be in Quebec City for October 2nd.
stopped at the restaurant, met a man sitting across from me named Simon Walls, who I had heard about from another cycling couple from Texas who has been walking across Canada since mid April. He’s going to make it to Montreal before he stops rides out the winter and continues forward again to St. John’s Newfoundland. He’s a younger guy, has lots of stories as I do and a great attitude. It sounds as if he’s burning the same amount of calories as well, but going through much more pairs of shoes. The mid 50’s couple from Texas told me I’d run into him in the next few days, also giving me advice on a free campsite in Sault Ste. Marie, and providing insight on trails on the eastern seaboard of the USA – something which has been running through my mind as of late that I’d like to check out before heading off this continent. More information on that as things develop I assume?
Pardon the braindump in this post, but if I didn’t get it out today, I’d forget about things… I hit the 5 month mark yesterday of riding – It just seems like yesterday that I left….