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Published: June 13th 2018
I spent the winter preparing for the ride east by "bulking up" - the all important procedure of adding about 50 lbs of
blubber in order to make it harder to ride up hills so as to strengthen my leg muscles. This extra fat would also come
in handy in case Michele and I lost track of each other: I would have the physical reserves to survive at least one day
without my lunch (granted an unhappy day).
So on June 1, thus conditioned, I set off from SI to Nipigon. I had done a few pre-rides of 100 km each to prove I could
still go that far and also to prove that I could surmount the 10% hill where highway 587 meets the TC. I could... albeit
just barely and with much huffing and puffing. Of course the wind was in my face all day and it was threatening rain, though
only a little fell. Michele caught up somewhere after Pearl and we had our usual highway side lunch. She went on to Nip-
igon to get a campsite at the Marina. As I prepared to go, a guy
on a recumbent bike pulled up and we shook hands. Sid
was his name and he was 45 days out of California. He was headed to Michigan via Sarnia. Michele was all set up at the Marina
in one of their "eco-camping" sites. She said the eco part was that she wasn't allowed to drive the car on the road that
went right up to our site, but instead had to lug all our stuff about 100 yards from the parking lot. She was not pleased.
It was a beautiful spot. We looked at the pelicans and cormorants with the big telescope they have there. Later we went
up the hill and took pictures of each other in the paddle-to-the-sea canoe.
The next day dawned clear and sunny. A beautiful day for a bike ride, though I was a bit nervous about the big hills I knew
were coming up. I got an early start and headed for Rainbow falls provincial park, our goal for the day. The hills were
challenging but the stunning views of Nipigon bay and islands made the climbs less painful. Michele met me for lunch
just past the Gravel River. She showed me a photo she had taken minutes before of a moose standing in the ditch next to
the road. "You didn't see it, did you," she said, knowing of my bad habit of looking at the road in front of my tire in-
stead of around me. I arrived at Rainbow falls to find Michele had a beautiful beach site. After supper we walked on the
beach looking for interesting rocks and waded in the numbingly cold lake. During the night I was awakened by the sound
of the rising surf and the gusting wind. It was blowing so hard that our tent was almost collapsing on us. Sleep was difficult,
for at any moment a wind gust would push the tent in so far it touched our faces. Then at some wee hour, the rain started
lashing the tent as well.
At first light the rain slackened, so I stuck my head out of the tent to the disturbing sight of heavy-laden clouds.
I figured I had better get while the gettin' was good, so after gulping some coffee and putting
on my rain jacket and what-
ever else I could fit under it for insulation against the chill wind, I set off up the first hill of the day. By the time I
reached the crest, the rain started again. I kept hoping it would stop, hoping for some miraculous change, but it just got
heavier. By the time I reached Schreiber, I was soaked through. I stood under an overhang of some boarded up place by the
highway and dripped and felt sorry for myself. The rain got heavier and then the fog started to move in. I texted Michele
that I was heading to Terrace Bay and that if the weather hadn't improved by then, I was packing it in for the day. When I
got there nothing had changed except I was wetter, the rain was heavier and the fog was turning into a pea-souper. I holed
up in the Tourist Information place which, remarkably, was open fairly early on a Sunday morning. The nice girls there said
they didn't mind if I waited. Poor Michele had to do a rapid pack up in the rain by herself. Meanwhile,
I made pleasant
chit-chat with the tourist information girls and dried off. Over lunch at the local hotel, Michele and I decided that we
would drive to Marathon and I would have to ride that distance on the way back. So we did.
We stayed at the Airport Inn on the highway by the turnoff to Marathon. We took a rather depressing tour of the soggy
and socked-in town when we arrived. The motel on the highway seemed as good as any. The weather hadn't changed the next
morning so we took the decision to drive till it turned nice - or at least not so bad. That's how we ended up in the Soo
that night. Through the fog and rain I got to preview all the highway in that stretch, all the big hills up and down, all
the magnificent views that were out there beyond the fog and rain. We stopped at Old Woman Bay and watched the rollers at
the opposite end of our big lake. Lake Superior is majestic no matter what end you look at.
We stayed in the Holiday Motel
in the Soo. We found our way down to the St. Mary's River and gazed at that country to the south of
us and watched a ship glide by. In the morning the skies had cleared and so I was off. It was nice and flat for a
change - and the gentle farmland showed us a more civilized side of Northern Ontario. It wasn't till Bruce Mines that we
got a peek at the next big lake - Huron. I rode by an Amish man plowing his field with horses. I waved and he held up
his hand in response. Two boys stood in the middle of the plowed field trying to teach their dog to jump through
their hooped arms. Michele met me just before Thessalon and we had lunch. After she left I met a westbound cyclist, Dale
Walker, who had been on the road for two years and had cycled through 8 countries in that time. He is on a spiritual
journey and you can read about his quest if you look up "Peaceful Valley Walker".
I arrived at the Yellow Butterfly campground in Iron Bridge
where Michele had got us a site. Victoria and Ken own and operate
the place, which includes a shop that Michele enjoyed because of the excellent imported women's clothing sold there. Vic
toria and Michele appreciated each other's fashion sense, and they traded jewelry for clothing. I bought an ice cream cone
from Ken at his snack hut and while we were talking a young Amish man pulled up in his horse and buggy. Ken quietly warned me
that the Amish did not like having their pictures taken and then introduced me to Eli when he got down from the buggy.
The horse shifted around a bit but when Eli turned and said one word, he instantly became still. Eli was there to do some
work for Ken. When Ken asked if it would be okay if I photographed the horse and carriage, Eli allowed it, as long as he wasn't
in the picture. The next morning I pedaled through a long section of construction. The highway ran beside the beautiful and
gentle Mississagi River which looked to me like it belonged in the English countryside more than Northern Ontario. Near the
turn off to Elliot Lake I met fellow cyclist Francois from the eastern townships in Quebec. He had ridden from Winnipeg, a cont-
inuation of his tour from Vancouver last year. He gave me his email address should I need help when we reached Quebec. I rolled on
through Blind River, Algoma Mills, Spragge, Serpent River, Spanish - the list sounds like a line from a Stompin Tom Connors song.
Summer cottages abounded along the shore and I assume also on the islands in the bay. With the downturn in mining and forestry,
it clear that many of these small communities depend heavily on the summer tourist and cottage trade.
Chutes Provincial Park in the town of Massey was our home that night. I, of course, rode right by it and had to backtrack several
kilometres. Michele just shook her head in disgust. The park is beautifully treed with large pines and maples. It is based
around a set of falls and rapids on the River aux Sables. Back in the early days of logging, when rivers were used to float
timber to mills, wooden chutes were constructed to
bypass the falls and rapids. There was a place to swim in the river, but
the water was cold, the bottom a bit mucky and Michele did not think it measured up. She wasn't sure she approved of swimming
in rivers rather than lakes. Traffic past Massey got heavier and heavier and I was hoping it might ease up past Espanola, the turn
off to Manitoulin Island. If anything, it got worse. The highway sometimes had good shoulders, once or twice even with a painted
centre line like a real bike lane, but this did not last, and with traffic getting heavier, I was riding the white line
and much of the time, the crumbling white line. I found this to be a tremendous mental strain - I was continuously switching my focus
between traffic threats from the rear and upcoming road hazards. At any moment I was prepared to bail off on to the soft and treacherous
gravel shoulder. Of the five provinces in which I have pedaled, Ontario has by far the worst highways for bike riding. Thankfully,
as sections are being repaved, better shoulders are being added.
That's it for now, friends. Next time the beautiful weather continues, Mike starts finding wallets again and Michele dreams of
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