I spared myself from the harsh lights of the 24 hour Walmart, the campsite that rests behind it in Sault Ste. Marie for cyclists doesn’t get a visit from me it seems. Nearly everyone I spoke to since Thunder Bay told me of the upcoming climbs and hills and it started to have a little effect on me. I started dreading it, anticipating the worst, and soon realized that’s not how I wanted to do my riding for the upcoming days. I continued down Highway 17, which I’ve been riding now for close to 2 weeks, opting for a detour after crossing into a town called Wawa, with a couple of huge Canada goose statues towering above any of the buildings in the city. I stopped and picked up groceries, and thought about what I could do next – 180km to Sault Ste. Marie, or 332km, bypassing the city and putting me into territory that’s rife with bear, cougar, moose, and elk. It looked as if it would be a moderately easier ride with a gradual incline of elevation rather than the sharp stabs continuing onto the 17 so I went for it.
I hung out at the taverm in the afternoon sipping coffee and talking to some children and locals who were pretty impressed I made it this far, before putting in 30km from 5:30 onwards and seeing where I would end up – I knew I’d have enough water to last, and my food pannier was plentiful. I found an area beside the road with some power lines, ate a quick meal. reading my book by 8:30 and sleeping soundly by 9:30.
The next morning I was up early – cold and chilly with cloud cover so I was anxious to get moving. Brewed up a pot of coffee and slugged my way along before stopping at one of the few hunters lodges that were on the side of the road. There were a few people milling about, owners and equipment tinkerers, and I chuckled a few times as they all seemed to be deaf and ended up shouting at each other the whole time. I wrote my previous post while they were causing all this racket and felt fairly distracted. The coffee was on the house, and I thanked them before moving forward down the desolate road. 30 cars passed by perhaps in the span of the time I was riding this route, 2 of them scaring a bear at the side of the road making it run across – the look on their faces as they passed me was hilarious – sheer terror likely thinking the bear was going to eat me. I giggled and kept on riding. Climbs were plentiful, I ascended 814m all in all with a decent temperature and the sun coming out for the afternoon.
I stopped for an hour and a half and reloaded my MP3 player – as in a full on wipe of all music and picked from my library to see what I wanted to listen to for the next week or so. I loaded it with about 6GB of music of varying styles and tastes, including recommendations from people who have sent me USB keys loaded with things they think I’d like to hear. The speakers continue to be a dominant factor in giving me the good feelings while riding, and I’m still able to get a lot of thinking done, based on the mood that the music is making me feel. I crossed my third continental divide – this time streams heading east draining into the atlantic, and the streams heading west heading up to the Arctic Ocean – cool!
I stopped for an ice cream at the next hunters lodge, met a few people who were having dinner that lived 300km away from where I was. They had passed me a few times in the day coming back and forth and gave me a tip on how to get through their town bypassing 40km of extra work so I took notes for the next few days. I have to say, I’ve been feeling real comfortable the past few days in the middle of nowhere, working out some things in my head, planning some ideas for the future and laughing at things that have happened in the past before riding. I’ve noticed I’ve started my ‘grin sheepishly at all cars passing’ routine again, getting some waves from the passer-by’s. Being away from the beaten path has also allowed me to find some pretty interesting road junk along the way, some I kept, some I left – the ones I kept will go to people as gifts in the mail shortly.
It was about 13km north from 101 where I ended up in the quaint town of Chapleau. I read the local newspaper on the way there and had my first non-alcoholic beer ever in my life while riding – it was pretty terrible. Chapleau has a fairly large french speaking contingent in this town of 3,900 – with a pretty neat pedestrian overpass, a bunch of churches, float plane base, and a beautiful street known as Veretans Drive, where the Legion sits, with some artifacts from the Great War.
Jovial, I stopped at Hongr’s Chinese/Canadian food restaurant (Sign outside enticed me in: If you don’t eat here we both starve!) and ordered myself a Kung Pao chicken dish and had a glass of scotch for something different, talked with the owner and hopped onto his wifi – It looks as if Chapleau has seen better days – 3 paper mills have shut down over the past 10 years, and while gold and ore is starting to become a commodity in the area, many people are scrambling for work – real estate prices for a 4000sqft house are at the $100,000 mark – Partly due to the fact that people are leaving, and CP Rail no longer has the presence it once had in the area as this was a hub for maintenance of cars at one stage. When I left, I talked to a few locals and met 2 young girls who pointed me to an area where I could camp safely for the night without anyone bothering me – They said it was “Grade 9 initiation night” – whatever that means, and I could hear all sorts of youths yelling and having a good time at various points on the way there – Hope initiation didn’t mean a huge hangover in the morning!
I camped in fairly high grasses next to the lake, a nice spot with a windmill on the other side spinning away. It was dark and it looks like I must have dropped a few things out of my handlebar bag after setting up my tent, specifically my GPS. I don’t rely on the GPS for directions, but it is essential in recording my caloric intake, distance, and ascent during the days. I didn’t notice this until the morning, where I scoured the area, left for breakfast and groceries, went back again this time ripping apart every pannier dumping it out hoping I put it in a strange place for some reason. No such luck. I spent 30 more minutes back at my stealth site digging through grasses and finding lots of poop before catching the GPS out of the corner of my eye – a relief for sure.
I had stayed out a bit late the night before, as I walked over to the legion, the only nightspot left in town, peered at some of the pictures and medals on the wall and met a couple who did the back and forth from Chapleau to Wisconsin – a change in the job market in the USA forced them to be apart for the time being while things get better. We had a good time talking before I ducked out at 11:30 and headed off to bed anxious to finish off the last 30 pages of the book I was reading.
Waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom sure was a sight that is etched in my mind – it was cold – 3 degrees out and there was steam coming off the lake with a clear sky and thousands of stars blanketing me. Light was just coming up in the east and it remains one of my fondest memories of the nighttime for this trip so far. 7:30am brought blue skies however not for long. Since I had to muck about in the grass I wasn’t moving till 10:45am, hoping to make a good run for the day in spite of delays. Clouds came in and the environment turned to grey eventually bringing in some rain as I travelled south on Route 129. The music was blasting away, and I took some pretty good film footage of birds who would fly in front of me, stop about 30 feeet ahead, and then move about 5 feet away and keep on going for a period of 2 minutes. I also had a face to face with a skunk on the side of the road, I obviously crept up on it, and we had a little chat for a minute so I could snap some photos. When I looked back after riding away it was in an offensive stance almost crouching to pounce but all is good and dandy, I still smell like a human.
I opted to put on my rain gear when the rain got a bit more extreme – climbing some good hills before hitting rough road, where my tires started outperforming my expectations. Extreme Stability, and very comfortable to ride over the loose gravel took me another 20km into an area where I spied a few campers parked. It turns out the area is Crown Land, free to camp in, and there were some people who spend their entire summers in the area. A sign was recently ereceted stating that it could be closed without notice if garbage or sewage is left in the area – and from what I can see it certainly isn’t this nice group of people. They said the problems are with people passing through for a night, leaving diaper waste and pop cans lying about, and they do a pretty good job at scouring the area to make sure its clean in order to have their own little private area to come and relax at each weekend. You could tell they took care of the place by the way the outhouses were laid out, custom toilet seats, and plastic coffee tins in place to hold the toilet paper to keep the rodents out and spotless. The area is surrounded by the Wenebegon River, a very scenic stil lake that is home to many fish. One of the residents brought me over a hamburger and a slice of Rhubarb pie, an offer I couldn’t refuse, even after I finished eating my first dinner that I had just made. I wandered around when it became dark taking pictures of some of the mushrooms that were growing on the ground.
I’m sort of finding this weekend to be very therapeutic – sort of like where if I would be working for the entire week and then heading out of town for an adventure – Taking the detour has proved to be very healthy for my mind, my body and giving me a chance to get some me time in before the crowds of people are everywhere as I’m soon to be entering into the heavily populated area of Southern Ontario.
I had a few meltdowns with my tent today while setting it up – I guess when I pulled my tent out this morning to dry it out after my quick packing job the wind went and twisted it around getting some lines wrapped up causing a bit of worry on my end that I’d have a soaking wet tent while trying to untie the knots that had appeared. Not only that, but one of the zippers on my vestibule has been acting up, and today I noticed that the zipper had seperated and no longer held. I’ve repaired it with a bit of careful touch, and will see in the coming days if it is something that repeats itself, as it may call for some repair while in a city – I’m in need of a dry environment inside now that fall is coming – leaves are starting to make a subtle change in the past 2 days, becoming a bit darker, and I’m sure within the next week I’ll start seeing more drastic shifts. Forecast calls for 1 degree tonight, so I’m ready – my sleeping bag has been making me sweat all summer, and now it’ll get its good use again!