Into Quebec and a change of language
Sault Saint Marie to Ottawa
Solo again after parting with Buck at Sault Saint Marie. Noticeably a bit down without the company. The trans-Canada highway is the only option for this stretch. It is not a bicycle friendly option. Shoulder is non-existent most of the way, traffic is heavy with big trucks centimetres from my elbow. So head down and a couple of 160 km days put that behind.
Brent from my local bike shop had put out the call to relatives in Sudbury - so my two long days ended in comfort with Rochelle and Brent (another one) in Lively just outside Sudbury. Warm comfortable bed and meal was welcome, many thanks. Rochelle's sister Lorraine also arrived to hear my story and provide a generous donation.
My instructions to see the local tourist attraction of the Big Nickel went astray despite turning onto Big Nickel road. Somehow I was out of Sudbury Nickelless. A night beside the Nipissing Lake before North Bay. A kind couple in the camp reimbursed my camp fees to add to the growing list of random donations.
North Bay I found some cycle trails heading south initially bypassing the busy highway 11. A hour or so of peace and quiet in the forest. Highway 11, despite being a major arterial route down to Toronto had the advantage of separated carriage ways for north and south, and a generous shoulder. I reached South River ready for food and rest.
The information sign at South River was misplaced outside a canoe outfitter (as it turned out one of the best manufacturers of Kevlar kayaks and canoes in the region, Swift Kayaks). Bob Stinson the owner greeted me with a larconic "I guess you are looking for information?" No campsites in South River but plenty of space behind his canoe racks. Along with the quirky campsite Bob treated me to breakfast next morning in the local diner, sharing some of his life and passion.
Bob lives for the water wilderness and the long connection of water ways that allow escape for months at a time to his hand built log cabin. The long River connections run all the way to Hudson Bay and polar bear country. He guides an annual group of promising youth for 60 day canoe adventures, a great introduction and test of character.
The bad news Bob left me with was that highway 11 was actually closed to bicycles, but alternate choices at that point were nil. I found something interesting to look at in the forest diverting my attention from the signs at the highway on-ramp. Ignorance would be my defence. It was an anomaly that the only highway with adequate infrastructure for cycling (and the only possible route from North Bay) was closed to cyclists. However I was a little nervous with the truth revealed. The first (and only) police car passed without a second glance, obviously more important crimes on the agenda, I relaxed a little.
I turned east onto highway 60, which would take me through the canoe Mecca of Alonquin Park. Traffic peace and scenery I could breathe again. A night in the park then a short day out to Madawaska River. I was feeling the cumulative effective of many steep hills in the park. The riverside camp was run by a ninety year old woman and her son. Despite the long pauses between sentences the delightful old lady waived the camp fee and perilously drove her ancient Nissan through the camp three times to check up on me.
Next day I passed through Barrie's Bay, as I cycled on and stopped to admire a Catholic Church of elegant Polish architecture. A car pulled up and a reporter from the Barrie's Bay "Valley Gazette" pulled up. Mark Jones, interviewed me on the church steps, and the conversation diverged. I ended up calling into his house where his wife provided a great pie and we talked for an hour or so. I had to decline the invitation to stay as I needed more kilometres to be in striking distance of Ottawa so I could warn friends of my arrival.
The warning never eventuated. In failing light, the only option for the night was a campsite with no internet. Alex, cycling friend from both Africa and New Zealand would have an unexpected arrival land into his busy schedule. All was generously swept aside and I found myself in his classic house overlooking a lake in central Ottawa. Another great rest day location to enjoy.
The ride across the Quebec border (as well as the abrupt change in default language to French) provided some great back country lane cycling into small villages down the Outaquais River along with some gravel and a first need to extract the GPS to check location.
Video update on Cancer Society Everyday Hero page:
Swift Kayaks campsite South River
The town of Huntsville had character - at the turnoff to highway 60
The namesake on my original route
Alonquin Park canoeist Mecca
Evening at Cache Bay Lake Nipissing
Misty morning Madawaska
Morning visitor Cobden campsite
Outaquais River crossing into Quebec
Classic Canadian architecture
Quebec farm scenes
First geographically challenging intersection yesterday
I will start with the black magic first. Buck has an uncanny ability to change the current state with just a casual comment. Some examples will make it quickly clear:
Buck will say "This is a beautiful smooth wide verge we have had most of the way." Within two kilometres the verge degenerates to 25 centimetres of broken Tarmac dropping into rough gravel.
Buck: "The rain has cleared you can take your coat off now." The next corner reveals a indigo black wall of sheet rain racing towards us, complete with thunder and lightning.
The positive magic is in Buck's deep appreciation and love of the natural beauty we are riding through along with a sense of fun. Great to share this section of the ride with someone who can add a local dimension.
Thunder Bay was first destination. It delivered true to name, along with cyclist drenching buckets of water. Buck had arranged for us to stay with a friend, Erin. Erin a dynamo of positive energy would not be home until ten pm, leaving two soggy cyclists searching her house for the clothes drier. Once she did arrive home Erin treated us to great conversation and blue berry waffles with fruit smoothies for breakfast, along with a variety of other treats including freshly cooked salmon for lunch on the road.
Nipigon was our next camp, back to tents. The site was scenic, overlooking the water. Our camp table was known by locals as the "bullshit" table. The reason became obvious as Howie strolled along to capture our dwindling attention with endless stories. Buck finally escaped to his tent leaving me trying to find Howie's off button. I finally diverted Howie, and the second of the bullshit brigade arrived on his bicycle. More fending off the same stories before I finally escaped to my tent.
Next day delivered great scenes and a quality lunch at Serendipity Cafe. The day ended in Terrace Bay. Rain set in next morning, foggy glasses obscuring view of countless small lakes. A bid to reach White River was thwarted by an increasing head wind and heavy rain. We bush camped beside Rous Lake in what would have been a pleasant spot with sunshine. Rain continued along with continuous rolling to steep climbs. The town of Marathon diverted us down a steep long drop for lunch next day. Strange town with little heart, slowly dying we suspected.
On the southern turn down the lake, we were treated to bays, beaches and little jewels of smaller lakes, now reflecting a warm sun that had returned. We camped on a beautiful beach at Agawa Bay after a long day of hills.
The eight days with Buck ended this morning in Sault Saint Marie. We know there is a ride somewhere in the world that will be waiting for us to team up again.
Naniboujou Lodge outside Grand Marais (dining room below)
Fish Houses Lake Superior just before Canadian border
View from Buck's friend Rick's B&B
Buck at the bullshit table Nipigon camp
On the road (loved the forest and rock of the section after Nipigon)
Misty morning at Fungus Creek
Many small jewels of lakes along the way
General store Wawa
Agawa Bay camp
Lake Superior coast south of Agawa
Terraced river feeding into Lake Superior
Finally I twigged on seeing the ten thousandth Harley Davidson rider passing me on the road. The Harley factory produces bike and riders on parallel production lines. The riders come off with standard 100 kilograms, red faces and white beards. Most select the free option of an extra 20 kilograms around the beer region. Decals are optional but rock band tee shirts and bandanas are mandatory.
Last report from Weyburn in Saskatewan. Ten days of riding since, first two with young French Canadian students, Claudia and Gael. Claudia a marathon runner, insisted on finishing the days with a run. Left them behind in a beautiful camp in Leleau, they were not equiped for the cold rain that set in that day. Thanks to publican in Ninette who dried my clothes as I ate some food.
Thanks also to the unknown lady next morning in Baldur who paid for my giant catch-up-calorie breakfast.
Across the border into Manitoba the road quality dropped instantly with unrideable gravel verges. Plains scenery dominated by "nodding donkey" oil pumps and wind turbines.
Arrived in the small town of Somerset, and was greeted by adventure backpacker, Ghislaine Grenier (GG) who owned a small restaurant in the town. A five minute conversation made a connection and I took up her offer of open house at her restaurant, everything I could eat and anything I could take away. Humbling generosity, and a further connection when I noticed a photo from her travels of Gunlom Pool in Kakadu in Australia. Barb and I sat in the same pool.
Really touched as every day some act of random generosity cheers me.
Crossed the USA border on a small country road. Somewhat surprised to have an easy passage, friendly official, no search and food supplies intact. Into Minnesota, manicured lawns, neat houses and US flags flying. Down to Thief River Falls in time to catch a music festival at the camp, dwarfed by the huge RV in the next camp spot.
My route through Minnesota was in the far north, from Thief River, remoteness kicked in quickly. Few cars, tiny towns. Red Lake had a hard human edge which had me on edge all night despite being given the keys to the beautiful Catholic Church (for shelter should I need it). I was greeted by two aggressive dogs, a pitball cross and a timber wolf, a sly pair which I had to fend off from the bike. Next morning the same two invited themselves to breakfast at the church grounds camp. They took some uninviting, I was ready with the bear spray.
The night was broken by loud speakers from the two prisons the town is wedged between. Female voice "Buddy you are the light of my life, I adore you". Male voice "Roger that, my searchlight is focused on you". That of course was the diversionary interpretation, I was sure the real message was "Dangerous crim escaped heading towards the Catholic Church". Four lots of screaming police sirens punctuated the remainder of the night. Drugs and ethnic anger can create a lot of fear.
Next night outside Effie I was hosted on Tim and Sheri's front lawn under a beautiful shady Willow tree, a much more comfortable night and some good conversation. Next night, more generosity with Hoodoo Camp providing a free site beside Vermillion Lake. A big push next day chased by wet thunderstorms to take shelter and warm up in a cabin in Finland. The ride through the pretty town of Ely was interrupted by Jim, who shouted me a coffee and introduced me to the reporter on the local paper, Tom Coombe. An interview over coffee, and hopefully some bonus charity impact in a great part of Minnesota.
Now I am based for a few days in Grand Marais, catching up with cycling friends Buck Benson, Lee and Scott Bergstrom. Buck's hospitality has been extraordinary with great food, a view from some of his favourite spots on the Islands in Lake Superior and some much needed rest.
Thanks also to Chris from Quest bike trailers who sent me a replacement suspension Spring for the trailer to meet me here.
Farewell to Claudia and Gael
Manitoba - oil pumps and wind turbines
Minnesota manicured lawns and US flags
...and big tractors
Dwarfed by my neighbour at Thief River Falls
Thief River Falls
Safe camp beside the presbetory in Red Lake
On the highway along the wilderness "edge" Minnesota north
Arrived on the shores of Lake Superior
First view of Grand Marais
Buck shows me one of his favourite spots Top of the World Spar Island Lake Superior
Spar Island fungi