The last bit of the giant province: Sault Ste. Marie to Ottawa.
From Sault Ste. Marie to Ottawa I felt like I was finally back in the land of semi civilization. (I keep having to erase "we" or "Mary Anne and I" - I don't think of myself in the singular way any more, I have become a unit!!)
We visited some pretty small communities leaving Sault Ste Marie, including Bruce Mines (which had a very nice white gazebo and one picnic table that we claimed for our lunch break) and Thessalon, which was right up against the shores of Lake Huron - a "one of everything you need and that's it" kind of town (my favourite kind). The first community we went through was actually an Ojibway community, and on the railway bridge there was an announcement painted in large white print: "THIS IS INDIAN TERRITORY". We had a tailwind all day and we must have felt rested because we were laughing at everything again.
For example: Mary Anne and I decide that we need to pee. Scanning... scanning... oop, there's a nice deep ditch with lots of tall grasses. Perfect. Mary Anne heads in and when she's ready to come out, she listens for traffic. Traffic from the highway on the left? Nope - check. On the right? Nope, check. Standing annnnd pulling up pants. OHHHH MYYY there is a POSTAL VAN RIGHT THERE from the OTHER road we didn't see in FRONT of her. Woops!!! Oh well, can't win'em all.
The best was trying to get the food into the tree. Always entertaining for Mary Anne (because lately I've been the one throwing the ropes up into the tree), and moreso for the other campers I discovered. I was trying to get the ropes into the tree and it got all tangled up in the branches - almost hopelessly tangled. As I was working it out (involving a lot of re-throwing my water bottle attached to the rope end and vigorously swinging and swatting the other rope end to encourage things to loosen up) an older man asked me, "WHAT are you doing?"
"I'm doing what you do when you don't have a trunk" I replied.
"Do you want help?" he asked.
"No," I said, "I do this almost every night!"
"Oh! Then you must entertain multiple campgrounds, not just this one!" he chuckled.
Even better was when Mary Anne got back and decided to take matters into her own hands and attach the stew and food bags up into the tree herself. She had pulled the bags about halfway up the tree when I cracked a joke and poor Mary Anne dissolved into giggles, and the food started slowly slipping back down the rope towards the ground. It eventually got up the tree, safe from bears and chipmunks and dogs.
Later on that evening we took the time to wander around the shore of Lake Huron - taking pictures, reflecting, watching the Canada geese, and enjoying our rare moments of free time on a biking day!!
The next day riding from Thessalon to Spragge was our 2-month on the road together anniversary. Mary Anne spied a small restaurant on our way out of Thessalon, and since we thought we were going to have a short biking day, she suggested coffee and a hot chocolate, which actually turned into bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, and toast... woops, hellooo second breakfast. Oh well, happy anniversary! Later on that day we actually smelled a field of strawberries and couldn't resist cycling in to check it out. A u-pick - perfect! When the woman selling the strawberries found out what we were up to, and that Mary Anne was from Peterborough (her hometown too) she insisted that we take the berries for free. Yes, please! We ate them later on in Blind River with ice cream. Oh, bike touring.
We found out that there was no campsite in Blind River (oops!) and our short day turned into a medium-sized one - but we weren't too upset because our day had felt so relaxed, it was worth it.
It was actually funny because at the strawberry field a man warned us about two guys hitchiking who had been "attacked by bears and then saved by a man in a transport truck". When we were biking towards the KOA campground in Spragge, I stopped to pee on the side of the road and a man drove up in his truck - great timing Erica - to tell us that there were two bears right on our side of the road at the end of this guardrail!! I got out the bearspray just in case and we did what we usually do - talk loud and bike on the other side of the highway. Another car had stopped in front of the bears to make sure that we made it ok. Strangers are so nice!
The next day was from Spragge to Chutes Provincial Park, another short day. We had decided to do the trip from Sault Ste Marie (an awkward distance of 310 km) in four days instead of three to give ourselves a little break, so we had a bit of extra time. We went through a bunch of construction and as we passed the guy smoothing the pavement, I yelled out, "HEY! ADD A SHOULDER WHILE YOU'RE AT IT!" He gave a great guffaw of laughter and it made me smile too. The roads are VERY narrow, and the shoulders - when present - are rough.
We went swimming when we got to Chutes Park - now this is a place I can highly recommend. Big thick white waterfall, GORGEOUS, with a great big shallow pool at the bottom where everyone swims - sandy bottom, a little bit of gentle rapids, big sandbar with a few trees for shade - it was like stumbling upon paradise and it's only about 1 km from the highway. Amazing! In Chutes we met two older couples also biking across Canada - one couple on a tandem bike!! The two guys came to our campsite and we chatted with them for a bit while making dinner - were they ever nice. We ended up running into them again and again until North Bay, which was really awesome. They shared strawberries and stories with us. It is such a special feeling to be in a city where you know you know NO ONE, and then all of the sudden a bike rolls up and a familiar smiling face appears. We even saw them in their day off clothes - hard to recognize them at first - and had to laugh at our newfound appreciation of each other!
The next morning it started raining again right after breakfast - happened in Thessalon and would happen again in Mattawa - very frustrating. It seems like it rains every other day or more, and everyone we meet says, "Oh we've never had such a wet cold summer". Sigh.
We met a girl that afternoon biking for the children's wish foundation - she was a machine! Although she was riding unloaded on a road bike, she actually covered 260 km in ONE DAY in Lake Superior - and that's hilly. Verrrry hilly. I was pretty impressed.
I called my uncle David to confirm our meeting in Sturgeon Falls - he and my aunt Hazel were coming up to treat us to dinner and a HOTEL(!) the next day. They were originally going to motorcycle up but David said that they had changed their minds - "It's alternately going to be sweltering hot and thundershowering" he said. I laughed and said, "sounds like our entire trip!" The campground we stayed at just outside of Sudbury was... weird. That's the only way you can describe a collection of RVs that big. Sitting right beside the busy highway, dirty, crowded. Why would you stay in a place like that if you have a PORTABLE CAMPING SYSTEM???? I'll never understand RVs.
We woke up that night to the sound of thunder BOOOOOMING around us and flashes of white hot lightning illuminating the tent, and then "PSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" of rain streaming down the sides of the tent. Thank god our little tent is waterproof, waterproof, waterproof. I looked at my watch, terrified it was almost morning and breathed a silent thanks when I realized it was only 2 AM. It was still raining in the morning and continued until the early afternoon, but not pouring.
We were SOOO happy to have a night in a hotel thanks to David and Hazel. They brought us delicious fruit and took us out, and we shared breakfast too the next morning.
The next day we visited a beautiful little lakeside park in downtown North Bay for lunch and continued on to Mattawa, where Josh Mohan (a mutual friend from our bike tour last year) was coming up to meet us for our rest day. We had a gorgeous tailwind and the road was fun - gentle hills and beautiful scenery.
This was the day I realized my blue water bottle was feeling a little down. I'll tell you about it.
THE SAD TALES OF THE BLUE WATER BOTTLE.
Every night I use my blue water bottle as a weight to throw the food-hanging rope into the tree, and it is often left hanging there, for hours, until we hang the food. Choked and miserable, coated in sap and dirt (the mementos of several inevitable failed throws), it stares at me moodily, begging to be put back on my bike. However, it being the harder bottle to drink from, it always takes second place on my bike because I use the white one first. The final straw, I'm sure, for poor ol' blue water bottle was when I was taking a drink at the top of the hill on the ride towards Mattawa. Now, usually I take a drink on the way UP the hill because I'm more in control of my bike. But it was REALLY hot so I took a drink at the top. Bad idea. Top of hill turning into downhill at disturbing rate. Water bottle in right hand. Grade increasing. Speed: also increasing. Checking rearview mirror. OH! Observe two large transports heading my way. Checking pavement. Shoulder! Rapidly deteriorating! Shoulder now forming distinct v-shaped rut with large crack in center! Speed, still rapidly increasing! Left hand reaching for brakes! Brain interupting! Front brakes alone = bad idea when cruising downhill. Shite. Eyes: moving to right hand still holding blue water bottle! Ah! Ahhh! AHHHHH!!! THROWING ILL FATED BLUE WATER BOTTLE MADLY INTO DITCH!! BRAKING WITH BOTH HANDS! Speed decreasing... decreasing... stopping.
Looking back at Mary Anne holding my water bottle, I saw one very confused expression.
We met Josh in Mattawa and thus passed a very pleasant day off - swimming, reading, cooking, and WATCHING A MOVIE (a big deal for us - go see WALL-E if you can, a great movie!) It was really nice to be with another mutual friend from Otesha and Josh was excited to get out of the city and do a little camping. Other than the gang of rowdy, loud, cussing teenagers that kept us up late late and woke up at 5:30 to giggle and talk, we had a good time.
The bike from Mattawa to Mackey was... interesting. We had been told by one woman that there was "one big hill" out of Mattawa and then "fairly flat until Ottawa", and that it was "hilly until Deep River" by a biker in North Bay. On about the 5th big, steady, steep climb, I turned to Mary Anne and said, "you know, if this is that woman's idea of flat, I'd looOOOVe to see her idea of hilly". Mind you, she did say it was "all downhill to Mattawa" which is a red light as far as I'm concerned. Bikers. Again. Never trust ANYONE who says, "It's all downhill to _____ (insert any place name here longer than 5 km away from present location). Mary Anne was quiet for a bit and then suddenly remarked, "You know, I've come to a realization. When people say something is going to be scenic, what they really mean is, this part is going to be hard biking.". yeah. agreed.
In spite of (because of?) the rain that morning, it was a stunning ride. Here's my attempt at an artistic description: The clouds were low - resting with their vague tiptoes on far sides of wetlands, creeping over a dip in the road, hovering flat and long over the opposite shore of the Ottawa river. The white water littles were ALL in bloom, and they coat the surface of many bogs. We saw one bog blanketed with white water lilies, with a midnight blue path around several large dead trees and leading to a massive beaver house; in the background a lazy white fog cloud rested on dark evergreens. I breathed a sigh - OaaahHHHHHHH - half awe, half a moan of regret that it was raining and I couldn't risk a picture.
The next day - the day of the nice and AGGRESSIVELY NICE people:
- Alex, from Quebec who is cycling around his province with so much gear! Really nice guy, and we had a good chat with him on the road.
- Guy in bistro in Deep River giving us advice on routes whether we wanted it or not.
- Guy asking Mary Anne in campsite whether we were lost - "I'm a local! I can help!"
- Woman in bathroom who offered us chili and wanted to take our picture and add us to facebook?
- Newfoundlander. The worst of the aggressively nice people, a dirty old man with a little black dog who came over to our picnic table on the pretense of introducing his dog to us. Upon finding out I was from Nova Scotia, he announced that he HAD to give me a hug - and when I refused, ("No thank you, I'm eating" - code for, "You're nasty and I don't feel AT ALL comfortable touching you") he actually came up and hugged me from behind. Then he had the audacity to warn us about creepy people in campgrounds in Quebec. I wanted to scream, "YOU'RE THE CREEPIEST PERSON WE'VE MET so GO AWAY!!!"
Anywhoo. We did have a good day, we stopped in the very nice town of Deep River to make Carnivorous Chili (the first time we've cooked with meat) and swam in the Ottawa River in our campsite in Pembroke, the warmest water we've experienced so far. We did some mutant synchronized swimming and generally had a pretty fun time.
We discovered some lovely secondary roads on the way to Fitzroy Provincial Park the next day. It was the day of colour and texture - sagey green soft fields with little yellow sprigs throughout, soft tufts of rich burnt yellow fronds of grain with braided core, curly deep fresh green herbs, muted grey barns with creeping ivy, and all the while the Ottawa River on our left. Mmmmmm! I loved Beachburg, another "one of everything and that's it" kind of town. We passed through some very obviously Scottish-founded communities "McNab and Braeside" and had a fun time listing every Scottish last name that we could think of and sounding them all out with a Scottish burr. Our favourite was the next town's name, Arnprior. Arrrrrnprior. Arrrrrrrnprrrrrrior. Arrrrrrrrprrrrrriorrrrrrrrrrrrr. At one point I stopped being able to breathe I was laughing so hard, realized with some part of my rational brain I couldn't possibly bike any more without oxygen, started laughing harder, and had to throw myself off of my bike so I could breathe again and take some giant gasps of air to feed the laughter that was pouring out of me in screams and tears!
The next day although we woke up to rain, we were sheltered by a large tree. Unfortunately it didn't stop raining and just got worse... and worse... and worse... until it was a giant thunderstorm and we were biking in a warm, pounding waterfall that was the heaviest rain I think I've ever biked in so far (having escaped under a canopy in Penticton in similar - colder - circumstances). "You know what!" Mary Anne shot at me over the dull roar of the water. "What!" I yelled back. "WE'RE HARDCORE!!!!!!" She volleyed back. Ohhhhh, yeahhhhh. It was dripping off of my eyelashes, sluicing into my contacts and rendering it near impossible to see - I was wiping my eyes so often and only really seeing through a crack in my right eye which was somehow missing most of the drops. Water screaming down my back and arms, little streams from all points of my body onto the wet road. Oop, and now that's water raging down my back down into my bum. Shiver. We found a gas station and huddled under the awning for about half an hour until I realized my tire was flat (thanks, life) and got rid of another tire which had worn out, changed the tube, started biking in more rain (the lightning having stopped by now), tire flat again, sighiiiiing.
When we finally did get to Ottawa, I was so impressed by the bike paths! Mary Anne's brother picked us up on his bike and I biked to Emily and Julien's, good friends from Acadia. I'm here now, using Em's computer, and basking in how good it feels to be with people I really love in a real home under a real roof, with a real towel and a fridge and comforter and different PJs (thank you Emily) and different food and good conversation. AHhhhhhhh.
Here's to making it out of this giant province in one piece, and to only 3 WEEKS left on the road!!!! WAHOOOOOO!