Fort Frances to the Soo... Bogs, creeks, forests, and Lake Superior's grueling northern shoreline!
29.06.2008 - 13.07.2008
Wowwwww. So first I have to apologize for not updating this blog since Fort Frances, but technology is hard to come by in northern Ontario - and our only day near a computer was in Thunder bay, where we had about a zillion things to accomplish before the sun went down!! I have to also apologize for the lack of pictures lately but my camera is having trouble hooking into this computer, so I can't upload anything at the moment.
So, here's a quick summary of where we went:
June 29 - from Fort Frances to the Seine River (96.9 km)
June 30 - to Hillcrest Cabins, about 40 km after Atikokan (98.75)
July 1 - to Shabaqua (107.4)
July 2 - to Thunder Bay (74.1)
July 3 - errands in Thunder Bay (24)
July 4 - to Nipigon (105.6)
July 5 - to Rossport (79.16)
July 6 - to Ney's Provincial Park (90)
July 7 - to White Lake Provinvial Park (87)
July 8 - to just short of Obatanga Provinvial Park (53), where we got picked up to go to crazy boy's fishing camp
July 9 - at crazy boy's fishing camp (details to follow)
July 10 - from Wawa to Rabbit Blanket camp in Lake Superior National park (30.86)
July 11 - to Pancake Bay Provincial Park (124), in insane headwind!
July 12 - to Sault Ste. Marie (80).
There are too many stories to tell from this long period of time, so I'll pick some of the best and leave the rest for later, maybe when I can actually talk to some of you lovely people that read this blog!!
The day's ride to the Seine River was gorgeous - at lunch time we ate next to a big meadow with a stream running through it and saw a mother deer lead her fawn to drink at the stream! The mother would walk a few steps, then the little fawn would BOUND BOUND BOUND right up to meet her - the grass was too tall for him to walk properly. Sooo cute. The day was beautiful but we knew we would have to camp somewhere totally random because there is nothing really right between Fort Frances and our Inn we planned to stay at past Atikokan. So we saw this massive Bridge over the Seine River and thought it would be perfect - no one would see us and we'd be close to water (well, scary fast water but water nonetheless). It was a STEEP climb down to the area underneath the bridge though - so we actually decided to lower all of our gear down on ropes. I know, we are crazy. Sliding our bikes along this very steep embankment and hiding them in the trees at the top, and then going through several attempts to lower our paniers down ("ERICA LOOK OUT!!!! uhmm... guess we'll make the knot stronger next time..."). As we worked to move our stuff we realized this was the buggiest place either of us had ever been. Ever. Instead of cooking dinner, which would have meant certain death by mosquito and black fly, we ended up eating our stolen bagels from the continental breakfast and our emergency canned beans, underneath the tiny tarp, in all of our rain gear, in about 30 degree weather - we pretty much were melting into the ground but it was better than being eaten alive. And I mean eaten. We had blood all over our bodies from the bites and our ears were swollen to about twice their normal size all around the cartilage, and blood caked into our hair. For the next two days our ears burned and were numb at the same time, and we felt like we'd been in a great terrible fight or something. It was so horrible that we couldn't even stand the idea of camping again and ended up spending the next two nights in a cabin, then in a shady little motel. It was worth our sanity. Anyways it makes a good story now, and makes me think twice about wanting a job outside!!
The next day in Atikokan we heard about the two bikers just inside Manitoba who were killed by a car from behind - mom told me on a payphone and after I hung up and told Mary Anne about it I cried to think about those people who were so much like us - full of hope and determination and just biking. What a terrible tragedy. We are always careful but these roads often have very little shoulder and the best you can do is just get off if there are two transports coming in opposite directions, we do have little rearview mirrors which are a great help - and we picked up safety reflective straps in thunder bay to increase our visibility.
On Canada day we biked to the town of Shabaqua, which consists of about 4 houses and a motel, and met 5 other bike tourers biking varying long distances. On our trip that day I saw a moose jogging away into a bog - she was the exact color of the black spruce in the bog - and a bunch of turkey vultures circling around our heads - I said to Mary Anne, "I didn't think we looked THAT bad!!"
I just can't get over first what a treat it is to simply talk to other people, and second how great it is to talk to other bike tourers. Comparing gear and cooking styles and routes is so much fun, and hearing horror stories, legends ("this one guy past thunder bay was chased by a pack of wolves for half an hour on his bike and just managed to get away!!") and stories about the kindness of strangers. Two of the people we met were our age and it was just SO GOOD to share stories with them.
The ride into Thunder bay was gorgeously downhill. We've gotten to the point now where we are too lazy to really go off the road too much to find a place to pee, and I remember squatting in the ditch at one point that day and thinking, "yes hello there Mr. Trucker... I'm jus' lookin' at you watchin' me pee... Yep... allllrighty then... seeya." What are they going to do, stop and ask you to please find a toilet?
We were supposed to stay with a friend of mine who is living in Thunder Bay now, but I couldn't get a hold of him and we ended up staying with Brad and Melissa, friends of Mary Anne's boyfriend. They were just so great - made us dinner twice and Brad even drove us to get groceries at the end of our long day biking around to do errands - it was fantastic. I fought all day with the cell phone gods. My cell phone had broken down before Fort Frances and evidently Telus doesn't sell any phones - NOTHING telus compatible - within about 700 km East of Thunder bay so I couldn't get one. Mom had to sell her soul to the devil (ie, darken the doors of Wal-mart in bridgewater) and COURIER a phone to me, which didn't get to any of the places in time that they said it would, and the phone ended up chasing me across (well, chasing is a strong word for what hapenned) northern ontario until I finally got it in Wawa, a loooong way from Thunder Bay. On a Sunday as we were biking I saw a Purolator truck go by and cursed at it for being on the road on sunday and not giving me my phone!!!
After our rest day in Thunder bay, we pushed on to Nipigon. On the trip we met Rameesh, who is HAND biking across Canada and visiting all capital cities on the way - 7300 km - for polio research. He was a friend of a friend of Mary Anne's, and we were both glad to meet another inspiring individual who is really dedicated to making a difference. Rameesh was doing presentations as he went and was accompanied by two vehicles, one behind and one ahead - we felt very safe cycling with him!
The next day's ride to Rossport was killer. Back in mountain country, and a headwind that stayed with us most days until Sault Ste. Marie, with varying strength. We climbed and climbed and CLIMBED. We saw a bear right next to the road - I said, "Mary Anne. I am going to stop biking now because there is a bear in the ditch. Hmm". I got out the bearspray just in case, but we ended out just biking on the other side of the highway and TALKING VERY LOUDLY until it saw us, got up slowly, looked at us a bit, then turned around and trundled back into the woods. WHAT a gorgeous creature - shiny and black and curious, looked like something you'd want to cuddle but... maybe not. In any case, it was less of a threat than the pack of red ants that attacked me later on that day as we tried to find a suitable spot to eat. I felt a tingling on my ankle and didn't think anything of it until it started to HURT and realized... the tingling was actually the feeling of an entire hill of ants swarming around my ankle. I think I'd rather the bear.
That night we stayed with - let me get this straight - the sister in law of Mary Anne's boss 4 years ago - probably our most random connection so far, but she fed us a delicious prime rib dinner and we got to sleep in a bed again. As we were eating I realized that normally when you eat, you eat until you're full. But when you are bike touring, you just eat until you're tired of chewing. Sigh.
On the way to Ney's Provincial Park the next day we went through more huge hills, and I have never been happier about the existence of dynamite, which shaved off the steepest bits of the hills near the top.
The distances we were biking kept getting shorter in this stretch but each day was harder, as our legs got more and more tired from fighting the hills and headwinds. The day to White Lake provincial park was one of the top 4 hardest days so far for me I think - we woke up at 6 to the sound of a headwind just ripping through our camp, and you know it's going to be bad when the wind wakes you up in the morning. That day we pedaled down all but the steepest downhills, thanks to the wind making it impossible to coast.
The next day we met Matt, Mary Anne's boyfriend, who picked us up halfway through our biking day to whisk us off into the wilds of Northern Ontario. By lucky chance he happened to be near us, but on the other hand, he also happened to be on an all-boys fishing weekend in the middle of nowhere. So we ended up on this tiny island 2 hours off the highway, with about 11 drunken, coarse, and altogether inappropriate men (boys?) for a day and a half. I can't even repeat to you some of the comments that came out of the most rowdy of the bunch, the tamest being, "Wow Matt, look at those BBQ stripes on that zucchini... that is TIGHT!" -(Pointed look at me)-"TIGHT like your ASS!" yeah. yeah. Most of the time we were quietly reading in our little cabin that we shared with some of the boys who were off fishing or partying or trying to burn down the island, and they sort of moved around the island like a half-crazed tornado of hormones and beer and interesting moose-wolf hybrid sounds emanating from their huddle. They would thunder into the cabin, make some noise, do a few crazy things, and then head out again. What a day.
Matt dropped us off in Wawa where I FINALLY got my cell phone, and we did a short trip to our next campsite where we paid 30 dollars for a patch of gravel and a lukewarm shower - I was not impressed. It had kind of been a stressful, tiring week - I forgot to mention that I found out I had completely worn out a tire. During the process of changing my front tire for my back one (b/c the back one gets more weight) and then getting Matt to pick me up a replacement tire, I got two flats. Ugh.
We had 200 km to go to get to Sault Ste. Marie, but there was absolutely nowhere to stay near the 100-km mark, so we ended up pushing 124 km to get to Pancake Bay; not an easy feat considering the amount of hills and the insane headwind that cropped up about mid-afternoon to blow us around the road. But it was worth it. The first time we rounded a bend in Lake Superior Provincial Park and saw the huge downhill, with the massive lake and blue rolling hills in the distance, my breath just caught in my throat... unbelievable scenery. When we were about 15 km from the Park I saw a car pull over ahead of us with a NOVA SCOTIA plate - only the second one I've seen since the beginning of the trip - I started screaming and then my good friends Scott and Josie stepped out - and I just screamed even more, "NO WAY! NOOOOO WAYYY!!" and then started crying, I was so happy to see their familiar faces. They were driving across Canada to live in Nelson for at least a year and decided to camp that night with us in the Park, and it was just amazing to see friends. It had been since Winnipeg that I'd seen anyone I knew, and before that since... Calgary? dear lord.
Our ride to the Soo was pretty hard for me. I think Mary Anne was doing better than me that day, and I just felt like my legs were lead - understandable, but usually it's my crotch and back that bug me - feels like I've been given a good beating in the groin most nights after the bike ride. Yeah I know it sounds bad but it's true! We met another tourer who was doing the trip from Vancouver to Toronto - alone! Pretty amazing. It was, again, really fantastic scenery but I mostly had my head down against the wind and just concentrating on moving my legs, one after the other, pedal stroke by pedal stroke. When we got to the Soo it was like a dream. We stopped at Velorution, the best bike store in the world. They had free camping for bikers and offered us beer and donuts. They fixed our bikes' minor injuries and then refused to take payment. We were staying that night with my prof from Acadia's parents, Reg and Norma, and they came and picked us up to take us to their home - basically paradise - on Lake Superior. We swam in the lake, showered, and then they took us out for a delicious dinner and gave us a narrated (by Norma) tour of the town.
So today we're resting our bones and looking for jobs next year, reading and calling people we love.
It's amazing to realize we are two thirds done, and by the time we get to Ottawa, we'll be just over two weeks away from the end of our trip. It seems like forever since we started off in Vancouver, and it seems normal to wake up every morning knowing we'll get on our bikes and cart our gear bit by bit across the land (sometimes that's what it seems like, just a trip carting our gear around. I am so jealous of all you people at home with your beautiful unloaded bikes and your permanent beds and your roofs and your drawers to put things in and place to put your toothbrush every night and your fridge and oven and computer and ... oh my, where did THAT come from???).
Anyways, I guess the main thing is, I'm still glad to be out here, doing this crazy thing, with Mary Anne, on our wheely machines.
Hope to update again sooner!
Here's to the trip to North Bay - the non-hilly bit. Waaahoooo!