Mark Tanner Home


The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
March 18 - March 27


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18/3 It was gloriously sunny and warm, the first day in the positives for a while and the first day my water bottle wasn't frozen.

I was less than an hour into the days riding, enjoying a light tail wind and blue skies, when I thought I better pull over and put some air into my tyre, as the weight of my luggage in addition to my mass was damaging the rubber.

I stopped in a nice spot by a lake and decided as it was so warm, I might as well fix my tyre properly, and swap the damaged back tyre with the near-new front tyre, and while I was doing that, I bent the rear forks back so the derailer ran straight. I also changed the brake pads and greased the chain. It was nice to sit out in the sunshine in a pretty setting.

After the two hour running-repair job, I left on the smooth King's Highway with not a worry in the world. Just as I was starting to feel hungry, I saw a restaurant, which around here is rare, especially ones that are open this time of the year.

After a few more hours of rocks, lakes and forests, the scenery changed slightly to rolling hills, cleared fo farming, it reminded me of parts of the North Island back home, especially the town of Minnitaki, which almost sounded like a Maori name and also housed Emlo's wool and sheepskin shop, complete with a large sheep statue out front.

The blue above started to dissappear as the skies clouded over, giving a fantastic sky show, complete with very dark black and royal blue clouds, and after it started to rain, the full arc of a vivid rainbow. To complete the extravagnza, when the sun went down, it tinted the remaining cloud hovering over the eastern horizon a bright pink, creating a scene that looked like something out of a 70's Mars movie.

I rolled into Dryden, found a cheap motel to wash and clean my clothes and then ate at the motel's restaurant, where I was served by the lovely, yet no BS, Elvira.

19/3 It was so sunny and warm outside, that I decided to share my strapping figure with the world, and ride with no top on. It was a great sensation to feel the warm air against my bare skin after having warn so many layers for the past month.

By late morning the winds picked up and it got a little chilly to be bare-backed, but the feeling of my near-nude experience kept a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

After a truck stop for lunch, it was road construction in progress all the way to Ignace, 75km away. As it was Sunday, there were no workers leaning on spades, holding stop/go signs and steering large machinery, yet there were no shoulders, as there never seems to be in construction areas, which did get a little hairy when there were two large semis going either direction trying to share the roadway with a loaded cyclist.

After a delicious dinner in Ignace, another small town by a lake, I pitched the tent right in the middle of some pine trees where the sweet pine scent was as strong as I had ever smelt.

20/3 I left my bumpy campsite, thinking I could have an early lunch, as my breakfast hadn't quite filled me up, and I always seem to ride better on a full stomach.

But an early lunch I did not have. I rode almost four and a half hours into headwinds before I saw my first restaurant. It is amazing how tired I became having only seen forests, a few lakes and rocks and a closed holiday camp all day. But I was given a new lease of life when I saw the tall, proud sign for the English River Motel and Restaurant, and rolled in one happy man.

The nice thing about travelling in the off season is that the people are relaxed and laid back. The lady in the restaurant was no exception, a friendly gal who had just baked a fresh batch of raison pie and butter tarts, both of which I had to sample and was thoroughly impressed.

The day's headwinds and anticipation for a restaurant had taken it out of me, so I rode a little further before finding a nice sie to pitch the tent.

21/3 It was bound to happen sooner or later - all of the unhealthy food I have been consuming in addition to the pounding that my body has taken, sometimes in fairly frosty conditions. One minute before midnight I awoke with a churning stomach and an ailing feeling that made me get outside as quick as I could as I knew I would soon have less bodily fluids inside of me than before.

The procedure was repeated all night, the frantic unzipping of the sleeping bag, the tent and fly doors, putting on my sneakers and rushing outside.

By morning, I was all cleaned out, but in no shape to ride, so I just lay in the tent feeling sorry for myself. I would have been happy lying there all day, watching the pine trees sway in the wind through the flapping tent entrance, listening to the strange sounds of the forest birds as they communicated with one another, but I had to get to Upsala, the next town up the road, to phone Mrs. Speak in Thunder Bay, to let her know I was arriving.

Weakened from my activities, I left the campsite, freshly decorated with my outputs.

I arrived in Upsala, a small town which wasn't much more than a stop on the highway. I ate a light dinner as my apetite still wasn't back to its noble self, and then tried to phone Mrs. Speak. Unfortunately the phone was busy. After the same result later on, I accepted defeat, found a grassy verge to pitch the tent on and went to bed.

22/3 Country music certainly is alive and strong in these parts. All three little spots I stopped at today had the tunes blasting.

Still not feeling 100%, I got a good day's ride in under clear, blue skies. I got in touch with Mrs. Speak, which made me feel better as I knew she was expecting a call from me.

Shortly after the time zone change plaque, as it was so warm, I stopped for some icecream at a small cafe along the way and was informed tha there was a Maori family from New Zealand living 20km down the road on the way to Thunder Bay. Lynn, the lady at the cafe, phoned ahead to let them know that I would be popping in, but unfortunately, when I arrived noone was home, just two dogs barking feverishly at me.

A little dissappointed, I pedalled on through the scenery that had improved as the day progressed, with rivers, hilly backdrops and old barns now commonplace.

Like most nights, I found an isolated spot to pitch the tent as the sun went down, but this time, I was confronted by a lady walking her toy-dog. I think she was a bit shocked at first, because I had a feeling I may have been unknowingly on the outskirts of her land, but after a bit of chit chat, she came around, and went on her with her walk.

23/3 It was a gradual downhill almost the whole way to Thunder Bay. From the top of the hill, I could see he sleeping giant, a landmark in the area, as it resembles a big man lying down, kind of watching over the city.

I missed a turn somewhere and had a little detour past the paper mill, but after phonecall to clarify directions, I arrived as the Sylvia and Ron Speaks', Aunty and Uncle of Shelly Hulko, lawyer/sports commentator extrordineer. My timing was right on to catch the tail end of the girls from the church meeting organising the fashion show fundraiser.

Mrs. Speak cooked a sensational dinner, a fine cut of roast beef with all the trimmings, and an equally superb Irish surprise dessert to match.

We spent the final hours of the day's sunlight having a look around Thunder Bay, down past the huge elevators on the lake front, where a lot of the grain from the prairies is railed to, and then through the downtowns of the two areas that make up Thunder Bay, Fort William and Port Arthur, down by the city's pretty man-made lake and park, university and a few other spots.

24/3 I was one happy man that I wasn't riding today as the heavens had opened and it was raining solidly all day.

Today was dedicated to do all those things that have been waiting to be done for a while. It was down to the bike shop first, to give the little blue racer a long overdue tune. The talkative Iranian bike mechanic, a purist who took a bike care fairly seriously, freaked when he looked at my my bike, and spent a few minutes talking about all of the parts of the bike that could do with a little or a lot of work. The only thing giving me any real grief has been my gears which have been slipping and jumping everywhere, and getting worse over the past few days, so they were the only thing I had fixed.

The mechanic worked, as he yacked, with the precision of a brain surgeon, obviously hurting as he looked at the poor bike, covered in salt and road muck. The finished product was a brand new rear derailer, new front and rear chain rings, cables, shifter, cranks and straightened things that used to be bent. Almost everything was shiny and new, and I had gained 3 extra speeds. The bike was now purring like a cat, and I was looking forward to test it out on a big hill.

A short walk down the road in the rain took me to the hospital, where I thought that I would pay a visit as one of the ladies organising the fashion show yesterday had been talking about some old lady she knew who had stubbed her toe, and was too stubborn to do anything about it, and ended up getting gangrene and needed her leg amputated. My fingers had been a little numb for a few weeks, and although they weren't bothering me much, I didn't want to fall into the same trap as the old lady, and have frostbite, and end up getting my arms cut off.

After the usual waits at the clinic, I had my inspection, covered by BC Medical, where a knowledgeable doctor originally from Quebec let me know that the numbness was due to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or RSI, from gripping onto the handle bars for so long. It gave me peace of mind, and was nice to know that the chances of having all of my fingers in St. Johns were still good.

The hair was getting a little shaggy, so I went for a clip and then onto the grocery store to restock on my supply of Kraft dinners and tins.

It was back to the exceptionally hospitable Sylvia and Rons', who after another terrific dinner took me out to see the Terry Fox memorial, just out of town, as I wouldn't be riding past it because I was taking a lakeside ride out of town. Terry Fox is a legend in Canada, and quite rightfully so. When he was in his early 20's, he ran a marathon every day, with one prosthectic leg, across Canada, starting from Newfoundland, to raise money for cancer research. He made it as far as the memorial, before the gastly disease got into his lungs and he could not run any further. He was flown back to Vancouver, where he died shortly after, but the legend still lives on.

25/3 It was a fantastic send off that included a well-cooked bacon and egg breakfast. I left the Speaks with a packed lunch, some new maps and a big smile on my face as it had been such a nice place to stay.

There was a brief breather at a computer shop to update my web site, before leaving Thunder Bay on the road that Ron had recommended as it was more scenic with less traffic than the highway. It was nice, and although it was as wet as a baby's bed, with driving rain almost horizontal due to the Westerly wind, I still got some nice view points of the great Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world.

I got back onto the highway which took me through canyon country, and although the area the Trans Canada went through wasn't quite like the Grand Canyon, it still was pretty.

The thing I love about riding in the rain is that it makes you feel like some brave warrior, unaffected by any conditions and ready to take on anything. The thing that I don't like about the rain is that at the end of the day, you are soaking wet, which is a bit of a nuisense when you're sleeping in a tent, but once everything was up, I got into some dry clothes and was none the worse for it.

26/3 Today was one of those days where the scenery crossed back over the line to spectacular. I was in awe of my surroundings as I rode past some magnificient rock faces, some that stood a couple of hundred metres high, many with waterfalls, given a new lease of life by yesterday's rain, cascading down the rocks.

From atop of some of the hills, there were commanding views of the Lake Superior amd some of her many islands. There was one spot where I could look back and see Thunder Bay, more than a 150km ride away, and the smoking mills and Sleeping Giant.

As beautiful as the scenery was, I'd say the best time of the year to visit this part of Canada would be during Autumn when the many deciduous trees are changing colour before they loose their leaves. Apparently in the summer time the place is overrun with black flies, and these are meant to have gone by fall.

27/3 Today was the kind of day to snuggle up next to a warm fireplace and sink into a good book or movie. Huddling up next to the gas cooker while I cooked my maple syruped baked beans was about as close as I got.

Outside where I had pitched my tent last night in an open field with a sandy surface was now completely covered in a couple of inches of snow, with the only area to still be sand, a 2m x 3m hexagonal shape where my tent once stood.

I packed everything away soaking wet as the perimeter of the tent where most of my luggage was, hadn't been protected by the fly.

The scenery was again magnificent, not really tarnished by the thick, wet snow falling horizontally from the strong winds. It was quite a thrill coasting down the hills between high walls of rock - now with each ledge lit up with snow, with views of lakes and islands in the distance.

I pulled into Rossport, a small town with a pretty little jetty overlooking a scenic harbour and islands. I was hoping to grab a bite to eat, but all but one of the town's restaurants that I had seen billboards on the highway for, were closed until May, and the only one opened in the winter was closed on Mondays.

Weakened by famine, I pushed on till the next the next town, Schrieber. I must have chosen a classy joint to stop for lunch because sitting at the table next to me was Bob Krause, the town's mayor. Bob seemed pretty happy that I had stopped in his town for lunch, and gave me a souvenier pin with a bit history - in a nutshell, the town began as a railway town when the railway was built across Canada in 1885.

I had the standard burger and fries order in addition to a couple of persians for dessert. The sweet bread with icing, best served toasted, can apparently only be bought in Northern Ontario. After a little more riding in the conditions that seemed to be getting even worse, I stopped to set up camp. It must have been the hardest tent pitch I have had since leaving due to the six inches of snow under foot, the fat, moist snow flakes falling from the sky and the 70km/h winds that made the tent more like the sail in a tall ship. But I eventually got it up and got inside where it was relatively dry and warm.


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