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The Great Canadian Bike Trek Commentary
March 28 - April 6

 

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28/3 Since arriving in Ontario, almost all of the locals had been warning me about the road around Lake Superior and its hills which are "as big as the Rockies","some go straight up for 10 kilometres!", and so on.

The worst stretch of all was supposedly the leg that I conquered today, Terrace Bay to Marathon, which I was only 10km short of reaching.

Yes, the scenery was similar to the Rockies, with its many rock faces and cliffs, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, creeks and trees - it was spectacular wilderness, but its hills were just that, mere foothills compared to the majestic range a couple of thousand clicks west.

No uphills lasted longer than 15 minutes, with an accompanying, thrilling downhill to help you forget the climb. The road with its ups, downs and arounds was a pleasure to ride.


29/3 Rule #1 when camping on the side of the highway: Never camp near a hill!

It wasn't that the site was unlevel, because it was. The site that I had to clamber down over rocks and trees looked great, it was flat and one of few places I saw not covered in snow. But being right next to a hill means you hear trucks crunching through the gears with high revs trying to get up, and trucks going the other way, using their engines to slow down.

I didn't have the best night's sleep, but an early lunch quickly made that irrelevant. The diner which served exceptional desserts, was also the same place I got talking to Pete, who sells Toshiba equipment to the mills in Manitoba and Northern Ontario. A great guy who seemed to have it together, offered me a place to stay in Sadbury, between Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto, if I was there on a weekend, as he is on the road during the week.

I left Marathon and the shores of Lake Superior and headed inland. Although I couldn't see the great lake, there were still plenty of littler lakes to keep things visually pleasing.

For the last 10kms of the day's ride, the trees on both sides of the road had been burnt to a crisp, with just the remains of charcoaled trunks standing. It was kind of airy that for as far as the eye could see, just about everything was dead.

I found an excellent, dry camping site, away from the burnt wood, in an oasis with trees that had obviously been spared by the fire.

As the night was so mild and the winds had died down, I sat outside for dinner for a change, while I hung the tent, bed roll, sleeping bag, etc out to dry, as they had been put away wet for the last few days.

It was nice to feel like the great outdoors, even with a little camp fire, burning my dinner packets, to make me smell like camping.


30/3 The 20 kilometres before White River was the same as the ride had ended yesterday, with the burnt tree corpses standing where lush, green vegetation once stood.

I am told that the fire started last May when sparks from a railway worker's welder caught alight. The fire burned solidly for a month covering 35,000 acres. The only reason White River wasn't burnt to a crisp was because the winds had been favourable, but the town did loose power for three days during the ordeal due to power poles lost in the inferno, and on other days there was only enough power to run essential things like fridges and freezers. Even the Trans Canada highway was shut down with traffic backed up for 8 miles. But what the local who was telling me this seemed most upset about was that the fishing season had started a month later, in June.

White River's claim to fame, other than the fire, was the fact that in the 1930's, the temperature dropped to -72°F, a strange thing to be proud of, but there was a large thermometer commemorating this.

I was lucky that I had eaten such a hearty lunch in the town because there was nowhere to buy food for another 80km. Although a chocy bar would have been a nice break in the day, the weather more than made up for the lack of feasting facilities. It was such a picture-perfect day, I even bared my chest for the good part of it, in a cause to get rid of the farmer's tan that I am now sporting and ended up getting shoulders that were a little sun burnt.


31/3 It was only a short ride to the turnoff for Wawa, but it took a while as the bearings in my trailor were shot, which made the wheel rub against the guard causing the tyre to puncture. Putting it simply, I was towing a trailor with a flat tyre on a wheel that didn't go around properly, pretty much a sack of bricks.

The only store that sold bikes in town was the hardware store. It wasn't hard to find, on the main drag opposite the post office. I was directed to the 'bike guy', who took me downstairs to the workshop, where he fumbled around for about two hours, still without a fix. In the end, when he left me to talk to some customers, I made a makeshift solution with some of his parts, that would easily get me to Sault Ste. Marie, and set off not wanting to waste any more of the beautiful day outside.

Wawa seemed like a friendly town, one drunken local on his way to the pub offered me a hand and another guy on his bike stopped me for a chat as he was interesting in doing some touring.

I left the town past the large, fake goose, and headed for Lake Superior Provincial Park.

The park seemed so much less disturbed that the previous spots in Ontario, with the only sign of humans being the smooth road winding its way through the tremendous scenery.

I pulled over early in order to find a good campsite where I planned to take my camping to the next level and make a big fire and roast some sausages on sticks.

I'm not a terrific firemaker at the best of times, but with the damp wood, I didn't have a chance, so I had to resort to another night of using the pot and butane cooker.

Dinner did turn out very good though, better than the usual lineup of Kraft dinner with a bit of tuna for flavour, I had a 3-course meal of truly international standards. It was Italian styled tomatoes to start followed by Polish sausages in Texas cut bread smothered in thick, red ketchup made in French Canada, with Hunts Swirls Pudding, of which I am not sure of its origin as its packet was one of the few things that did burn in pile of wet sticks in front of me.



1/4 Most of day was spent riding through the provincial park which braced both sides of the Trans Canada Highway for 83km.

The majority of the park took me through rugged forested terrain past small lakes and over rivers, but every now and then the road would venture out to the shoreline of the great Lake Superior for panoramic views of its golden sandy beaches, often dotted with keen anglers, spending their weekends hoping to fill their buckets with fish of the fresh-water variety.

When I think of my ride around the lake, what I will have the fondest memories of is hooning down the smooth, fast hills, while lying in front of me, a fantastic vista of tall, abrupt, granite cliffs and sandy horse shoe bays arising from the saphire-blue lake.

Within 10kms of leaving the park, the relief became gentler and the road started to hug the coastline. The wind had gone and most of the clouds were gone.

The smaller lakes and creeks off to the side of the road lay perfectly still, giving an immaculate inverted reflection of the trees framing them and the white, puffy clouds above.

I rode until the sun sunk into Lake Superior to the west, and used the little light that dusk had left to pitch the tent in a sandy clearing.



2/4 The road continued along the shore side. With the sun beating down, the sandy beaches and the smell of smoke from cottage owners with bon fires burning winter growth made the place feel very summery.

It was fairly flat with only one big hill before Sault Ste. Marie, where I followed directions to Bob Shea's sister and brother inlaw, the Chaput's, lovely family home in a ring road with oak trees growing in a park at its centre and kids running around, looking just like a neighbourhood from TV. As I had been sleeping in a tent for over a week, I hadn't had the luxury of a shower or shave, the longest spell I've ever had since before puberty, and I don't think the daily soaking of aftershave and deoderant to nuetralize the smell helped too much.

My hosts were very friendly and Audrey cooked up a superb roast beef of the barbi, followed by dessert, a deliciously rich family recipe from Gerry. Gerry was an engineer on Ontario's roads, so knew the routes like the back of his hand and gave me a helpful run-down about the province's remaining roads, routes and towns.


3/4 I rose early to drop Gerry off at the airport to fly to Thunder Bay for work. It was a convenient trip because waiting for me at the terminal was a slick sign that Les had kindly had made for me to tie to the side of my trailor to promote my web site.

Gerry and Audrey had generously let me borrow their car for the day and it was a nice change from pedalling along at 20km/h with a hard lump of plastic between the legs.

The Buick proved to be very helpful, and I buzzed around town, first to the bike store to fix the trailor wheel that couldn't be fixed in Wawa. The next stop was the supermarket who had a fine selection of gourmet rations that would keep me from starving until Toronto.

I drove around to orientate myself with the city, down to the revamped waterfront, which for a section provided a nice area with parks, a large open tent for concerts and farmer's markets in the summertime, and an old boat full of character, all with views to the other side of the river which was the USA, another city called Sault Ste. Marie, linked by a bridge.

I found an Internet cafe to update my web site and reply to emails and then returned the car back to its rightful owners, the Chaputs.


4/4 I was in no hurry to rise from the exceptionally comfortable bed that I had slept in for the last couple of nights, which had been a far cry from the usual self-inflating bed roll with a rubbish bag full of clothes for a pillow.

I had breakfast, repacked my clean laundry, and said all the good-byes and photographs, before setting off east in the blustery winds.

Sault Ste. Marie is the most eastern part of Lake Superior, and after that is a new great lake, Lake Huron. Because the city is on a river which is the axis point between the two great lakes, there are locks where anything from huge freighters to personal speedboats can go from level of water to the other.

It is still hard for me, a small New Zealand boy, to contemplate that I didn't even ride half way around Lake Superior, but the distance that I did travel is further than the trip from Wellington to Auckland.


5/4 It felt like it was going to a good day of riding today, right from the first pedal rotation. Clear, blue skies and a brisk wind pushing me along made riding a pleasure, while I dreamt away.

The scenery was nothing to write home about, but one good thing was the frequency of towns, now seeming to be about every 10km.


6/4 I thought that I had warn the snowboots for the last time and was getting quite used to showing off my bare legs in shorts, but when I woke up at first light, I discovered that there had been a big dumping of snow overnight and it was still coming down.

The gauntlet of branches around the tent now all looked very pretty with a topping of snow, looking like icing on cake. The scenery in general was given a new lease of life with the fresh white snow.

I tuned into the local radio station that I had seen advertised on the highway to listen what the weather was doing and heard that there had been four separate accidents in an hour near where I was, and to stay off the road unless it was completely necessary.

I rode on to the town of Massey with no problems, and stopped for a bite, with the snowfall having stopped by the time I had finished.

Because the shoulders on the roads around Northern Ontario can often be pretty thin or even non-existent, I have my little yellow flag flapping in the wind at about a 45° angle, about half a metre from the bike to ensure other vehicles give me plenty of space. It was a good thing today because on my 2-month anniversary of sitting on my wool-covered bike seat pedalling east, I came the closest to being run off the road by a passing motorist since leaving. A large truck carrying beef burger patties, without any traffic coming the other way, thought he or she would test their judgement and passed so close to me that they whipped the flag, giving me a pretty good view of the underside of the trailor, a bit of a shock to the system, which I felt warranted my first birdie flipped to another vehicle.

It wasn't much longer until I could see the two huge, rather felic, stacks from Sadbury's nickel mines pumping pollution high above the city. Apparently the bigger of the two is the tallest in the world.

As my timing was out to stay with the guy that I met in Marathon, I rode past the turnoff for the city, looking for a good campsite, but I noticed that just about all of the trees in the area were very short and bare - very unhelpful when trying to discretely camp. But I did find a grouping of evergreens to camp amongst, which required a little trudging through the snow, but it was well worth it when I reached the spot.


 

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