We had a midnight flight from Perth with Cathay Pacific, with the first leg to Hong Kong (7.5 hours) and then the 15 hour monster to Toronto. The extra leg room in the purchased exit row seats almost made it bearable, but the last 5 hours were tough to take. Only one cup of coffee served; more could really have made a difference!
Arriving in Toronto was the usual world-wide customs chaos, with the queue a mile long. Helpers screaming USA passports this way, Canadian passports/residents that way, etc, etc. Anyway, we made it to the front of the queue and the friendly customs officers asked the reason for entering. On telling him our cycling plans to Anchorage, he was somewhat surprised at our response and said that that's "a fair way". Canada has similar quarintine restrictions to Australia and as we had the extra weight available to us, we had packed coffee, sugar and powdered milk to avoid having to shop straight away in a strange country. Well, the milk was a big no-no (we should have expected it), so into the bin it went! You can work around almost anything but panic ensues without a readily available cup of coffee on tour. It was only 7 degrees on arrival but blue skies.
Coincedentially, I did not have to adjust my analogue watch once since leaving Perth: Hong Kong is in the same time zone as Perth so all very convenient, and Toronto time is exactly 12 hours behind Perth. So arriving at 2:00 pm was 2:00 am the next day in Perth which made no difference to my watch!
We chose an airport hotel for our three nights in Toronto and were in bed without supper shortly after arriving at the Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel, but were first in line for breakfast what with all the jet lag. We had decided to stay here as it was easy to catch the UP Express Train into the city which only takes 25 minutes, and there was also a convenient shuttle service between the airport and our hotel. It worked well and we would recommend this.
So on our first tourist day, we purchased a "7 hour layover return ticket" which can be used even if you are not on a layover. This basically provides the return journey for free so it's good value. Temperature was only 5 degrees, but blue skies. Toronto is big, the buildings are impressive and the roads are very quiet. The city seemed very calm and quiet, most commuters must use the PATH (a massive network of underground or undercover walk through malls) to navigate the city.
We took a walk to the harbour/ferry terminal on Lake Ontario. We noticed the water level seemed very high which we put down to the recent heavy rains. Spring has arrived although everyone is still rugged up, clusters of tulips are blooming in tubs and garden beds, and the trees on the sidewalks are sprouting blossoms. We collected our online order from MEC, an outdoor store. Two bear containers, bear spray, bear horn and 2 new compression sacks. We were exhausted again and returned to our hotel to sleep, getting up for the complimentary fish and chip dinner at 5:30 pm. We then sorted out some packing; got to find a home for the bear containers!
Not much to say about 9 May. We had planned another trip into the city but ended up instead succumbing to jetlag and I, a sore throat. We had always booked the two days in Toronto anticipating that some recovery time would be required, but not quite like this. We organised our packing a bit better and are pleased to find that the bear containers are going to make life easier when packing food etc. This was a suprise.
We left the hotel at about 9:00 am on 10 May to return to the airport and collect our bikes which we had stored there. We then set about putting them together, and getting them set up. We then set off from the airport on our Canadian adventure. A wobble or two (the loaded bikes are always so ungainly until you get used to them again) and we were off, under crisp blue skies. We were soon riding through the beautiful Centenial Park and would later pass through Missassuaga on a wonderful cycleway. We were impressed with the day's ride. Canada is different. The roads are wide, the buildings big and yet the place seems very relaxed and unbusy.
We arrived in farmland after only about 20 km and then followed a series of cycle trails collectively called Burnhamthorpe. The road crossed high over rushing rivers. The gardens are all blooming with tulips in myriad colours.
The day had unfolded at it's own pace, which means that it took us way too long to arrive at our destination. The first day is always like this - figuring stuff out, getting used to the roads and the pedestrian crossings. One strange road rule to watch out for in Canada: if you are turning right even at a red traffic light and there is no approaching traffic, you can proceed. It's a bit rattling when you are a cyclist and crossing at a green pedestrian light.
We ended up arriving at our campsite at Bronte Provincial Park just before 5pm to find the office was closed but we could pick from a list of sites. It was cold and we just wanted a warm shower and to hop into our sleeping bags in our homely tent which is where I am writing this from!
We had a cold night but our new equipment stood up well. We had a relaxed start to the day and noticed all the birdlife and especially such brightly coloured birds. We eventually got going at 10:00 am and our route hugged Lake Ontario for most of the day and is a dedicated cycle route called the Waterfront Trail. We had cold, bracing winds all day which kept the temperatures very low. Stopping for a warm drink or something to eat quickly saw one's body temperature plummet. The winds whipped up quite big waves on the lake and again we noted that the water level was very high. The route unfolded and passed through lakeside suburbs and along the lake edge itself. Perhaps the route we have followed yesterday and today only moves through the more affluent part of town, but we have not seen an unkempt property. In fact, most looked as if they have just stepped of the pages of a gardening magazine. All the cold weather blooms are on display in all their rich hues.
We were hungry by about 1:00 pm and of course all the food stores had been passed and it was now slim pickings. Suddenly we came across a small centre with deli and pizza store. We ordered a jumbo pizza and at first had misgivings about being able to eat it all but it was no contest. Some of the route ran along a secondary road next to a busy expressway called QEB. These bits were not very interesting but they were broken up with moving back to the lake.
We ended up arriving at our campsite at 4:00 pm. Another long day but lots to see. The piping hot shower at the campsite was very much appreciated. Unfortunately due to very heavy rain that the Niagara Peninsula has received in the last week, the large camping field was closed and so we were allocated a site amongst the vans. This meant that the toilets and showers were far away, but we are lucky to have missed all that bad weather. We expect rain tomorrow for Niagara Falls.
Like everything that you haven't done for a while, the routine of camping comes back to you and so this morning we were on the road at 8:00 am. Last night we heard coyotes howling and I spoke with a camper this morning who said that there are many about and also that we should be aware of racoons who can even open zips of tents! The bear containers are working well and we are packing almost all our food in them so that helps with the critters!
Jordan Valley is a farming community and fruit farms abound. It is part of the 20 Valleys Route and so we started the day with a little climb out of the valley. We then navigated straight east directly towards the river and falls rather than travelling back up to the Waterfront Trail which would take us along Lake Ontario and then down along the river to the falls. Rain threatened today and we wanted to make the most of the Falls. The route took us through St Catherine's which was busy, with a massive aerial highway flying off towards the USA. St Catherine's seemed quite industrial.
We took the turn off to Lock 3 on the Welland Canal. Most people have heard of Niagara Falls of course but this canal that runs adjacent is very interesting. It connects Lake Ontario to Lake Erie and is a major shipping channel (part of the St Lawrence Seaway). The ships navigate it via a series of locks to drop the ships down (or up) from one lake to another. It was interesting to see a ship engaged in this process while we were there. We were looking at the cycle map showing the Greenbelt Trail when a group of three lady riders gave us some pointers. We ended up taking Queenston Rd as per the Greenbelt Route right through to the Falls. The end of this pretty route drew us up a dedicated path through the forest to Queenston Heights Park. From here we followed the pretty Niagara Parkway through to the falls. It really was beautiful; even the weather warmed up and the sun peeked out! The whole place is well laid out. There is even a horticultural college up there and you can move freely through the grounds to look at, yes you guessed it, TULIPS. You can only be in love with the vitality of these blooms. Everything is well manicured and finished off. We were able to stop a few times to admire the gorge and river and then passed through the "eclectic" collection of buildings which signal the Falls approaching. From far off you could see the billowing cloud of water vapour. It was a great experience. We had wonderful weather and standing on the pavement overlooking the falls the misty spray just falls all over you. It was a good time of year too as the crowds were small. We spent quite a bit of time there admiring it all and then set off for our campsite.
It was so interesting to see firstly the angry, choppy waters lurching along towards the falls and how quickly it just settles down to peaceful tranquility as we cycled up it. Again we had a cycleway all along to our campsite. We stopped on the way for food supplies. The campsite was right on Niagara Falls Parkway. The rain came at night which was convenient!
The rain was gone by morning, but threatening, but we still had a slightly later start. We were on the road before 9:00 am and it was a quiet Saturdasy morning on the streets of Niagara Falls. We were headed towards Lake Erie now and reached it and the impressive Friendship War Memorial. The entry to the USA is over the Friendship Bridge with much border control.
After a short distance on quiet roads we arrived at the Friendship Trail which is absolutely flat, absolutely straight, and runs parallel to the lake shore for about 25 km. It runs through light forest and is tarred and fabulous. We would definitely recommend it. Along the way we came across a wonderful farmers market right on the trail. We had a chat and bought four salami's (which we can't wait to sample), delicious chocolate biscuits and lentil samoosas (yum). We actually stopped thinking that we would be able to buy pancakes with maple syrup which surely we must be able to sample? There were none. On that note however it seems that maple trees have much smaller leaves than we expected them to.
The Friendship Trail ended in a small town on the Welland Canal again, where we could buy some supplies. The remaining 30 km passed prettily along Lake Erie's shores and through farmland. It feels as if the place is getting ready for holidasys to come. We have even seen our first goslings! Spring is here; today the weather was so much warmer and the sun came out once or twice.
Rock Point Provincial Park is on the shores of Lake Erie also and very prettily set amongst the trees.
It was a great night last night in the Provincial Park; very quiet and peaceful. No racoons unzipping the tent. We set off around 8:30 am. There are a variety of routes that you can pick to cycle up from Haldimand County to Brant and we picked the Transcanada Trail for most of the way. The route ran close or in sight of the Grand River which is aptly named.
It seems that the weather behaves the same each day; you wake up to cloudy skies which soon burn off to blue skies with clumpy friendly clouds. Today it was quite warm in fact. This made me very happy as those first few days and the cold wind doesn't even bear remembering. Unfortunately today we had a fierce-ish headwind which did not make me happy at all.
The route was mainly farmland and gently undulating. However a headwind changes gentle undulations to a bit of a challenge. We had a bit of a break at Cayaga where we bought lunch. Having chosen our internet provider for the trip and loaded up ample credit in Toronto, we have had 5 frustrating days with trying to access it. This brought us to the point of sitting outside the closed public library in Cayaga from where we could access their free internet to finally upload about 6 days of the website and pics. More about this later.
After lunch things continued more or less the same. The road was quite busy with no shoulder however our experience up to now is that Canadian drivers are generous when passing and will give you plenty of room. Even though their cars/utes/trucks are crazy big.
We stopped to shop again in Caledonia at a large supermarket. Shopping is interesting here. Some things have suprised us, eg. the cost of milk. It ranges from $3 to $4 per litre. Also cheese is very expensive although locally produced. Either Canadian dairy farmers are very well looked after or Australian dairy farmers drew the short straw (Perth milk goes for $1 per litre).
After this it was only about 15 km to our campsite and now we cycled along the Grand River again. We stopped to watch people fishing at a large wier which was called a fishing platform. It was huge and clearly the salmon (we imagine) will be jumping up it and onto someone's dinner plate. The road was flatter now as we drew near to our campsite.
As we left Haldimand to enter Brant County we crossed Onondaga Townline Rd into Six Nations and Free Credit. We haven't done any research about this but we assume this is land managed by the First Nations people. All of a sudden you pass about 10 stores on the side of the road all offering great deals on cigarettes, tobacco and fireworks! We did not stock up.
Chiefswood Campsite looked perfect: rolling lawns and quite empty. As we drew up to the entrance it all looked closed but we saw a man in his car looking as if he was about to leave and he agreed we could camp there. There were many forms to complete (including medical history? Not sure they can ask for this, but we just put "no problems") and then we were told that the toilet block were locked at 6:00 pm and we could then use the portaloo. When I went to shower at around 5:00 pm it was locked. The manager came to unlock the ladies but found that he didn't have the key. As Mike and I have the entire campsite to ourselves, I said it would be fine to share the men's. He left it open for us anyway as he didn't have the key to lock it. It is a lovely spot and we are very happy to be camping here. We are even happier when we sorted out our internet issues and are now back on the wide wide world of web. So no more poaching outside public buildings.
Our peaceful sleep was interrupted last night with, yes you guessed it, our first visit by a family of curious racoons. We heard a low chortle and then a thump as one dropped out of a tree onto the ground somewhere nearby. Mike sprang into action and grabbed a head torch, poking his head out the tent door. He saw four racoons, all sort of holding on to each other, dangling from a ridiculously thin branch above our picnic table. They were clearly overcome by curiosity. Of course given their precarious perch, one fell off and they all disappeared. Mike then put our bear containers (which we store all our food in) away from the tent under a tree. This was to prevent a potential unzipping incident that we had been warned of! Anyway, after they had scarpered we weren't bothered again.
As the campsite was exactly our cup of tea and as we were due a day off, we chose a rest day at what we found out was called Ohsweken. The Chiefswood Park site is managed by the local council and the Six Nations is exactly what it says; 6 Iroquois nations which agreed to a peace and existed together in a narrow strip along the Grand River.
We visited the local tourism centre which was interesting and there were all sorts of suprises in this area. Although it seemed at first glance that only tobacco and fireworks were for sale, there were many convenience stores and takeaway places/ restaurants. Also very interesting historical sites and a walking trail with info boards explaining the history of the area. Although there are many First Nation sites throughout Canada this is the only one where all Six Nations are represented.
The weather was absolutely perfect today. A perfectly sunny day and the wind dropped as well. We hope to have a tailwind tomorrow!
Unfortunately we woke to cloudy skies which turned to rain quite early. We were undeterred however as we had a bit of a mission today to sort out our navigation system. We are touring with smart phones for the first time and whilst we love the large screen and brilliant maps, they are draining too much power for the dynamo. We had purchased Tigra boxes with secondary batteries and we also had the B&M e-Werks and dynamos which we have used on other tours with Garmin GPS. The plan was that the e-Werk battery would keep the secondary battery topped up and in turn charge the phone. However we soon found out that the secondary battery would not charge through (i.e. when it was charging it would not in turn charge the phone) so we had been bypassing it. The phone output outruns the dynamo input so we have been discussing whether to go back to Garmin GPS (which we've hadad experiences with previously) or buy smartphones with smaller screens. Our plan was to stop in Brandt at the Telus shop to buy a smaller phone to trial.
We stopped at a petrol station close to the campsite and filled up our fuel bottle. We had started by buying white gas but it was ten times the price of petrol and not very efficient. At 78c this would not have been their biggest sale of the day!
Our route took us along some dirt farm roads which formed part of the Grand Valley Trail. This developed into a great little route into Brandt - Brock Way. We stopped in Brandt for breakfast and also to shop for the phone (first to Telus and then Walmart) and also did some general shopping for supplies. After Brandt we had to don full wet weather gear for a few kilometers as it got very wet. We then hit a fabulous rail trail which would take us all the way to our campsite for the night.
The weather fined up and the sun came out as we continued along the trail which followed the river course. As we neared our overnight stop we passed a sign offering a dozen free range eggs for $3.50 and stopped to pick up a box.
Pinehurst Lake is a beautiful spot with many campsites and a lovely swimming lake. Not quite swimming weather yet! Mike set up the new phone which we will trial tomorrow to see if it less of a power drain. We ended up going to bed after dark which is unusual! As I write the frog chorus is deafening!
The day dawned clear and beautiful as expected. We had been warned that the max temp today would be 29 degrees, so we set off in shorts sleeves and bare legged. We set off for Galt and the route from Galt to Kitchener was easily covered on rail trails. We were still in the Grande River Conservancy. At Kitchener we did shopping: new leg warmers for Mike and a new smartphone for me as the one that Mike had been trialling was drawing much less power as we had hoped. The trips to Walmart etc. used up a big chunk of time and when we sat down for lunch at a local park it was 1:00 pm and we were only halfway through the day. It was very warm and we were feeling the heat.
After Kitchener we continued on a rail trail - The Iron Horse Trail and also the Laurel trail which thankfully drew us out of the city. City's just absorb time. Then things started to get interesting. It was a combination of things really; a headwind or crosswind dominated, the well situated rail trails gave way to dirt farm roads, and we started to get hot. Anyhow, those last 40 km really dragged by.
Whilst navigating one farm road we spotted a lady working in the fields wearing what we would describe as "Amish". We also saw a man ploughing his fields with 5 horses and a manual plough. As we turned the corner a sign in front of a house advertised cans of Pop (fizzy drinks like Coke) for 75c each or 3 for $2. There was a esky on the driveway filled with icepacks and lovely cool drinks. It was such a wonderful idea and we had delicious cold drinks on the side of the road. The community was called Wallestein and we stopped at the local General Store which was probably the best store we have been to yet. You could buy everything, from bonnets and handmade leather shoes, to braces and all kinds of food, baked goods, homemade icecream. It was wonderful. We did some food shopping and continued on our way. The road was a busy one, heavy truck traffic, but there were signs warnings motorists of cyclists and horse drawn buggy's. We saw a buggy being driven by two young men. We also saw groups of children coming home from school, dressed traditionally.
We arrived at our campsite at 5:00 pm so it was a long day and still very hot. The sunburn is not too bad as we covered ourselves with cream but the tent does feel rather warm!
Once again we had a sneaky visitor last night. We are using our bear containers as we should just so we are in the habit of doing so. We leave them quite close to the tent, but when in bear country the rule of thumb is 50 m. But honestly, it seems that they are attracting animals and if they weren't out in the open, you'd probably find that there wouldn't be ant interest in them. Last night Mike thought it was a racoon, but quite a bit bigger; certainly bigger than the containers. Also we have seen a number of dead racoons on the road so they are in the forefront of the mind. When he shone the torch it dashed off but only after it had tipped over both containers and tried to roll them away. Today I remembered a lady I met a few days ago who said that the black bears here are small "in fact most people mistake them for dogs". Anyhow, we will live in blissful ignorance as to the true identity of our visitor.
The other thing about our campsite was that we pitched our tent right next to a spruce tree which proceeded to release explosions of pollen continuously. So much so that everything left out was completely covered on the fine dust. A thunderstorm with some rain came through at dawn and so now the green tent looks as if it has had the camouflage treatment with yellow dust mottled all over.
We were really tired this morning after yesterday's heat but got going just after 9:00 am. This was more to try to miss the heat of the day. The initial 10 km were easy going, rolling hills, raging tailwind. Shortly after setting off we crossed a dam wall and to the right far below were parked a few horse drawn buggies with traditionally dressed men fishing. The roads were mainly forest but we soon hit the farming area again and as we headed west we had strong sidewind, on a busy road with truck traffic and no shoulder. We were pleased to turn off onto a quieter road. The roads which run east-west seem to be very busy and the north-south ones are not.
We had a tailwind for most of the rest of the day and cycled speedily through farmlands. Maple syrup was advertised for sale at many farmhouses, but as it is sold by the gallon we did not really have room to buy.
We needed to do a spot of food shopping which entailed a detour through Durham and then we headed off to the campsite. We managed to arrive quite early at 2:15 pm which gave us a long afternoon. We picked a site on the river which is pretty, but unfortunately sandflies abound. We wanted to rest so stayed in the tent for most of the afternoon. The heat over the past two days has been sudden and unexpected and we really want a break from the sun. We'll get our wish tomorrow as the forecast maximum is 13 degrees! Crazy weather.
The heat disappeared overnight as did the sandflies. We woke to 5 degrees Celsius. How can it be that for the past two days we have been smearing on the sun cream and downing liquid by the litre, and today we are putting on the winter woollies again? I ended up riding in two woollen jackets and a rain jacket (it didn't rain) and three pairs of gloves. And a balaclava. Mike was similarly dressed. The temperature hoverred around 4.8 degrees for most of the ride, but rose to 10 degrees by the time we reached the campground.
As with the weather, the road was completely different too. No more farmlands now. We followed a forest road (gravel but very good) and although gently undulately, it was lovely to have it mostly to ourselves. It feels like touring when you are not having to concentrate so hard on traffic.
The last 20 km followed a rail trail into the town of Owen Sound and then we followed the loop down to the campsite. The campsite itself was wonderful. We were mindful of the fact that this is a long weekend with a public holiday on Monday. Ontario really gears up for this one and there is a total alcohol ban at all campsites for about a week before. We expected that the campsites would be busy over the weekend. Up to now we had been the only campers at every site bar one! When we arrived we were offered a hiker-biker rate (no other site has had this) and could camp in the overflow field. This means we are seperate from the car based camping which is really great. We are now in the world of the "megavan" - massive demountable's which are dragged about attached to the back of large utes/trucks. These are serious campervans (or fifth-wheelers as they called).
Another excellent aspect of this campsite are the burgers; flame grilled steak burgers. With the heat we had suffered from lack of appetite, me more so than Mike. Couldn't stomach breakfast this morning. So we tucked into burgers, onion rings and chips with glee on our arrival. And then repeated the burgers for supper!
The campsite is very pretty and set in picturesque parkland with a bubbling river running through and around. As we arrived by 1:00 pm what with the short day and all, we could relax and and enjoy the surroundings and even take a walk. Watching the numerous eagles in the sky is mesmorising. It was a great afternoon!
Although the weather was good, it was such a lovely park that we decided to spend the day. We did some washing, which we hung up to dry inside the tent to avoid the pollen explosions which would coat it in fine dust. The campsite was a short ride from town along a pretty little track and we did some shopping and picked up an Amazon order which we had had delivered to the local post office. It was a battery which large capacity to support our phones. Mike had set up the smaller phone for me and so hopefully our days of energy deficit are over.
We popped into the visitor's center and chatted to some nice ladies who worked there and offered some advice on our route. The area of Grey County is on the Bruce Peninsula and is a tourism hotspot. It sits on the Niagara Escarpment, a World Biodiversity Area. Of course we had already entered the escarpment when we arrived in Niagara and left it later and now re-entered. We were warned of how much colder the towns were up north as the sound is deepest there. We also chatted to the man who ran the adjacent museum who came from Toowoomba, Queensland originally. He was a cyclist so also offered advice about the area. As we were leaving he came rushing outside with a young man who said although he was born in Canada, both his parents are from South Africa and even asked if we could speak Afrikaans, as he could. He lived locally. Unfortunately, the old adage "if you don't use it you lose it" applied to my Afrikaans as well. We said "Good onya" and moved on.
The rain came in overnight and got heavier and heavier towards morning. The good thing was it washed the yellow muck (pollen) off our tent. The bad thing was we were going to have cycle into it. Actually, there was another good thing: when it rains the wind stops. Understandably we did not bound out of bed, and by the time we got going at 9:00 am, after getting ready and packing up in the rain, it had stopped. A few kilometres down the road we took off all our rain gear and were lucky enough to have no rain at all until we arrived at our destination Lion's Head!
The start of the day took us along the Bruce Trail. This is a walking trail that runs from Tobermorey in the north (where we are headed tomorrow) to Niagara, a distance of 890 km. It is quite renowned. It was a great start to the day. After that we were on quiet forest roads and farm roads, all very pretty. None of the starkness that we saw around Kitchener a few days ago in the heat. At the halfway mark we arrived in Wiarton and as we were warned, we FROZE. The tempersature dropped 10 degrees in the space of a few 100 metres, just like climbing into a fridge. After the town we rode along the coast a bit and stopped at a lookout to see a group of people board a boat on what appeared to be a diving expedition. Rather them than us! This is the deepest part of the sound and this is why it is so cold. The body of water cools the whole place down.
It was only about 30 km further to Lion's Head and as cold there again! As we set up the tent it started to rain and then a mist rolled in so you couldn't see anything. The campsite is on the marina and a very pretty bay with views of the lighthouse and cliffs.
Last night was interesting. It is a public holiday Monday today - Victoria Day. So last night the campsite got a bit rowdy. It was a very nice campsite; great showers, a pretty spot on the bay and Foodland within spitting distance. The neighbouring campers were not so well behaved though. Radio playing 'til late at night; noisy heating system (aircon) in the overlarge campervan next door. Then the fireworks began and shot off a few hundred metres from the campsite which just seemed like an event that could make the news; "tents burnt to the ground by wayward fireworks". Anyway, we lived to tell the tale.
The ferry from Tobermory to Manitoulin Island left at 1:30 pm and we had 50 km to do first. One never likes to end up rushing for a ferry, so we had a early-ish 8:30 am start. The route was straightforward and we had a slight tailwind for some of it. The area up the top of the Bruce Peninsula is very pretty, light forests and some farmland. It was still overcast and cold so we didn't stop once on the way, just kept moving. Just before Tobermory we detoured through the Canada Parks Visitors Centre which was great. This is the start of the Bruce Trail and the place was very informative. We learnt that the birds we thought were eagles were actually turkey vultures which explains whey the circled in such big groups. They are often spotted doing this over dumpsites or where there is roadkill. We also so our first black bear, happily stuffed.
We were in plenty of time for the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry and bought our tickets. We were told to wait in lane 4 at 1:00 pm but the ferry would be running a bit late. We waited in the ferry terminal which was quite nice. The ferry runs twice a day at this time of the year, three times today due to it being a holiday. In the end the ferry was an hour late due to problems with the hatch; it wouldn't open in South Bay (Manitoulin). Anyway, we set off on it at 2:30 pm and arrived at 4:30 pm on the island. We had 14 km to ride to our campsite.
All the cars left the ferry quickly and by the time we set off the road was empty. It was a great ride to our destination. We had a good shoulder all day today in fact. We had been warned that the island can be much colder than the mainland and this proved true. We were back in gloves, balaclava, windstopper, etc. Manitoulin is the largest freshwater island in the world and a destination in itself for cycle tourists and kayakers. It is joined to the mainland by road in the north but only accessible by ferry from the south. The lake that it is situated in is Lake Huron (we had been trevelling along the coast of this lake all the way up the Bruce Peninsula).
Gordan Campsite is brilliant. It is so prettily laid out; tent sites in small forest areas and also there are tipi's and small cabins. There is a proper campers kitchen as well - our first in Canada. Of the other 10 campsites we have used thus far only Harrison's had so much as a sink for campers to use to wash dishes. All the others just had stern notices saying "No dishwashing here". We used our Sea to Summit kitchen sink, filled up with warm water from the washbasins at these places and our washing up is limited, but still you have to throw the used water somewhere (under a tree usually). I guess most campers are in those huge monstrosities on wheels which apparently even have granite benchtops and surround sound if desired. Anyway, kudos to Gordan Ecopark for having a proper campers kitchen. We cooked dinner there! They also have a fantastic Nature Hall with all manner of things relating to the area, from stuffed bears and wolves to fossils and information about the night sky. Apparently you can see the Northern Lights from here and they even have a Northern Lights weekend THIS weekend. We were suprised about this as it is only on the 45th parallel so not that far north. We were also suprised to see the sky clear at 8.30 pm and hope for a clear day tomorrow.
It was COLD last night. It was also DARK and QUIET. It would have been the darkest and quietest night we have had. No street noise at all. There were two other campers, motorcycle tourists, who walked passed our tent around midnight. The skies had cleared and were great for stargazing. Mike peeked out at around 3:00 am but rightly judged it too cold to go out.
We had a great start to the day on the island. We stopped to shop and then had a rest at High Falls. The road was great, a wide shoulder almost all the day long. We then stopped to admire the wonderful view at Ten Mile Lookout and checked out the craft shop. Wonderful indigenous crafts, mainly all from the Six Nations Area where we had camped a week or so ago. I bought a pair of red leather ballet moccasin slippers. The views were the best we have seen so far.
After this there was quite a steep drop downhill and then a bit of up's and downs through a First Nations Area called Whitefish Falls. Not long after we came to Little Current and a swing bridge which closed on the hour for 15 min. Fortunately it was 1:20 pm and so it was just open again. The causeway took us onto the mainland and the views were very pretty with quiet lakes rimmed with fir trees. This made us feel very at home as it was like Scanadanavia.
We had a climb or two through landscape filled with orange coloured boulders until we arrived at Widgawa Lodge Campsite. The campsite is mainly for kayakers who canoe and portage along the river over a three night course. There were a few cabins. A man came out to greet us and said that someone would be back later to take payment, he was going to work on a boat on the river. It was a very buggy place and we had to cover up well to avoid bites. Showers here were in addition to the camping charge and were $5 a pop!
At about 6:30 pm an older man came walking along. I thought he was there to take payment but it turned out he and his wife were also staying at the lodge. He had rented a cabin to take boat trips on the river. He said he was in his 70's, from London, Ontario and had last visited Widgawa 30 years ago! He was relieved that it all looked the same. He was SO grateful to see us as he was very worried that no one appeared to be at the lodge. I walked with him to their car and his wife was there but she complained about the bugs and hopped back into the car saying that they were told to be there by 6:00 pm and she was hungry so if no one was there they should go. Anyway, not sure what they were worrying about as their cabin was unlocked and all they had to do was move in, relax and enjoy! He said it was the same cabin they had used 30 years ago. Eventually I was able to pay for our campsite at 7:30 pm and we were in bed shortly thereafter. It was a very quiet night.
Mike had planned a short day today in order for camping to be available over the next few days. We weren't unhappy about this especially as we woke to rain. Once again we were happy not to have any rain on the bike though and set off towards Espanola, the main centre in these parts. We had a few more climbs as we left the La Cloche foothills. The hills behind us yesterday are the highest in Ontario. We stopped for shopping in Espanola. Our list included a tin of Raid insect spray so we can stun the buggers before they come close enough to bite. Our repellant cream and spray alone are not enough. Nor are our bug-nets and waterproof socks. When Mike paid for the spray the cashier said "Welcome to Northern Ontario!".
The road flattened out and it was a pretty ride on a quiet road parallel to the Trans-Canada Highway. We were back on the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and the Trans-Canada Trail also. We saw another horse buggy with mum, dad and child dressed traditionally and also a group of men building a barn in the Lee Valley. This brings the on-road buggy count to two! The Chutes Provincial Park is lovely and the sites are set in tree lined pockets. We have opted to camp in the radio free area right above the Chutes which are loud and amazing! So much water gushing over the rocks! One of the park attendants warned us about bears which visit the campsite. They have a number of sites with food bins that can be locked so as not to attract the bears. This is the first time we have been warned about bears. Our bear containers are safely in the bush away from our tent.
We had rain in the early morning and it let up a little as we got going, but then set in and we rode in the rain all day. Two exciting things happened though: we met another cycle tourist going in our direction, also across Canada, and we hit the Trans Canadian highway!
Shortly after leaving our campsite we passed a fellow tourist heading off in our direction! He is Canadian and setting off from Ottowa to Vancouver. It is great to know that someone else is doing a similar thing! The first 20 km were along a quiet rode which was again the Trans-Canada Trail or the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail. Then we took the turn west and joined the Trans Canadian Highway; Route 17 in this case.
The highway was wet, busy with trucks and fast! We made great time as result. You do need to concentrate more on a highway but the shoulder varied from very narrow to very wide and there was often an additional vehicle lane so we had a bit of room. The oncoming trucks were full logging trucks and most of those passing us were empty. We stopped by a waterfall picnic area for a rest and then again just before our campsite at Blind River for a meal. We had water views of surrounding lakes. It was raining quite heavily by the time we arrived but we made good time.
When we arrived we saw that the tourist we had met earlier had just arrived also. We spoke about the insects of which there are many. Here there are many mosquitos and no sandflies. We happily sprayed Raid in great clouds around our tent. Apparently the weather will be better tomorrow.
It rained quite heavily all night but there was only a bit of cloud about this morning. Our campsite was right on Highway 17 and the trucks did not stop all night. We had taken the opportunity of charging the Goal Zero battery in the ablution block as we haven't had much sunlight in the last few days. We are going much better with power having our new battery pack to bump up our GPS mobiles (these are the smaller ones we bought). They use much less power although for the last few days we have had our lights on a lot (which also use the dynamo) and my e-werk particularly seems so have been drained which has led to my phone losing quite a lot of power. Anyway, it is good to have the new battery pack for the GPS phones when needed.
Just before leaving we chatted again to the other tourist. His name is Xavier and he is headed for Vancouver. He plans to do this in 2 months. It has long been a dream of his to do this trip and this is his first long distance trip. Once again as always, we are filled with admiration for the solo tourist! He had not planned the trip solo but his touring buddy dropped out so he decided to do it anyway. Good on him! He was planned to go all the way to Sault Ste. Marie today which is a hefty 130 km.
We hit the road at 9:00 am which is our usual start time nowadays it seems. Our route stuck to Highway 17 for the first 12 km along the Blind River which was a beautiful ride. The trees here are amazing as they are all different colours, from spring green to deep red. The maple trees come in so many colours and leaf sizes; reminds me of our own eucalypts at home. We left the highway, crossing the river at a steel bridge opened in 1908. There was a lovely billboard size photo of the crowd at the opening. It's a lovely idea.
It is always a tricky decision: do we take the easy, albeit more stressful highway route or do we take the "road less travelled"? On the highway the pace is quick but you have to concentrate hard and you don't see much. On the "road less travelled" you see a lot, but it can be slow going and the surface is unreliable. We were SO pleased with our choice today! It took us through a variety of forested areas and farmland. We were still in Mennonite country and saw young men working the field and the inevitable buggy tracks. We like the buggy tracks and it is good to see that people are still prepared to choose a more challenging way of life! The start of the route had a few steep hills and plagues of sandflies! The massed in huge swarms over any shallow pool in the road and of course on the steep climbs when your speed hit 5-6 km per hour they were all over us! But it sooned evened out and was a lovely ride.
Another two exciting things happened today: we clocked over 1000 km and we saw FRESH BEAR PAW PRINTS ON THE ROAD! The second was more exciting. You don't get that on the highway! They were very clear all along the centre of the road and then disappeared into the bush after about a kilometre. It was exciting for us. We rejoined the highway for a bit and reached Thessalon where we did some shopping. Shortly afterwards we were back on a quieter road and had some more hills before reaching our lovely campsite, Otterhead Cabins and Campground, where we will have a rest day. It is exactly our cup of tea. So neat and small, right on the river and Ottertail Lake. It reminds us of mini-camping in the Netherlands as it is in the back of a farm and the couple were busy mowing the field when we arrived. They left in the evening as their daughter was having a baby in Sault St Marie and they were so excited. They were such friendly people and so surprised to get a couple of cycle tourists to stay. The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and the Trans-Canadian Trail run quite close here (we were on them on the dirt roads earlier), but this campsite is neatly tucked away and not many people know about it. It hasn't any facilities bar very neat pit toilets and water collected from a spring. The people who come to stay in their caravans come for the season. There are also cabins. Most are fishermen. We had our first river swim! We look forward to the rest day!
The people who run the campsite, Bill and Denise Booth were so welcoming and the place has a really nice feeling about it. They had gone off to "the Soo" (as locals call Sault Ste Marie) the previous evening as their daughter was expecting a baby. There were not many campers but all wished them well. We had a lazy start to the day which dawned over a misty river and lake.
An older couple, Ken and Donna who camp here in their trailer from May to September, invited us for mid morning coffee and we sat with them and another lady who comes with her tiny caravan every weekend in summer for a couple of hours. It was interesting talking about all things Canadian. They were interested in our progress and we had such a nice time visiting with them. Donna told us alot about the Mennonites as she grew up in a farming community and knew a lot about them as a group. They leave their trailer at the lake for the winter; apparently the wind blows so hard that it blows the snow right off it and it doesn't accumulate. Even the Booth's only live on the property during the summer.
We had a few swims as the day was warm and were warned about the "snapping turtles" in the river. A bit later two little kids came over to show us a baby turtle which they had caught in a bucket. The bugs were very kind to us all day as well. In the evening we saw something swimming in the river. At first we thought it was a dog, but then thought it an otter. The locals told us it was a beaver; our first sighting of the trip.
An interesting thing was that there was a group of Americans staying in a cabin and Ken and Donna told us that they had shot a bear. We assumed that bears weren't for shooting, however due to the prevalence of nuisance bears they can be hunted for two weeks each May and each September; only the males. The hunters will eat the bear meat.
We woke to cloud but a warm day. Donna came to say goodbye and we got a reasonably early start for us - 8:30 am. We had a bit of dirt road again before we joined highway 17B (which later joins the main Highway 17 - Trans-Canada). It was a lovely quiet start to the day and almost before we knew it, we had completed 50 km and were at Sault Ste. Marie!
Today we spotted some deer in a field and also a fox. We did some shopping just on the outskirts of town to prepare for our bushcamp tonight. After this we decided against going into the town proper as the weather looked to be turning and headed straight for our campsite. We had planned to bushcamp along Old Gauloise Rd but had mixed reports as to the condition of the road (it could be anything from rocky but reasonable loose surface to unpassable). We would end up having only 6 km on it today and then perhaps 20 km tomorrow but with rain on the way who knew what those 20 km could become? We were undecided. We had a couple of steep hills and then stopped to consider our options. As it was only 1:00 pm we opted to camp at the large KOA campsite which was about 4 km from the bushcamp. We had looked forward to camping wild but honestly the thought of being tent bound all afternoon was not appealling. The bugs would be bad in the bush, especially in the rain. We crossed the highway to KOA and were pleased we did. We even got an upgrade to a deluxe tent site complete with outdoor light and firepit and grid! It rained for much of the afternoon. The site is a good one.
The Trans-Canada Highway opened before us in all it's glory today. After 1100 km of riding, it finally feels like the open road has begun! We spent the day on it and for the most part (except for the start being so close to the town) it was lightly trafficed and quite relaxed. There were the inevitable trucks but it was nothing like that day to Blind River. We are optimistic about using it over the next 10 days to Thunder Bay, which is our next main centre. The signs en route showed Thunder Bay in about 640 km from our days' end today.
So we had no left or right turns today, just straight ahead. We expected more in the way of rest areas and were excited to see a massive rest area sign after about 25 km, but the sign also said it was 40 km further on, which was almost the end of our day! We had a fabulous, steep downhill sweep onto the Lake Superior Coastal Plain and after this only some small hills. We stopped for hot chocolate at a small village on the lake and stopped again at a beautiful river. Our interest was continually piqued today by roadside billboards. After weeks of empty billboards begging for trade, suddenly everyone is advertising; motels, restaurants, shops. We passed a couple of trading stores but signs for Agawa Craft Village/Campers Grocery etc. started about 40 km from the days end. "Legendary service" they said and smiles were promised too. As with all things, the more hype surrounding a place, the bigger the anti-climax will be. Agawa Village was 1 km before Pancake Bay Provincial Park and we stopped for supplies. One of the billboards must have led us to believe there would be warm meals also, or maybe we made that bit up in our imaginings, after all what can "Legendary Service with a Smile" mean other than a hot meal? Anyway, the two craft/souvenier stores were huge but not great. A lot of the stuff was not well crafted. I am pleased that I bought those red moccasins when I did, and thinking back to the stock in the store at Ten Mile Lookout, it was far superior. That's a tip for anyone travelling on Manatoulin Island!
As we were leaving a man came to chat and said "Oh, you've been to my country" looking at our mudguard stickers. Mike said "Which one?" - it was Finland! We love Finland. He was from Rovaniemi, which is in Finnish Lapland and we visited Rovaniemi a few years ago. He spoke highly of Dawson Creek, Alaska and the beautiful road there. We were pleased to hear it.
The campsite is lovely and we are camped right on the shores of Lake Superior. A thunderstorm brought a lot of rain through in the early afternoon but that is over now.
MOOSE and BEAR!!
We cycled through the whole of Norway just wishing to see a moose and never did. Today while racing downhill in Lake Superior Provincial Park on the Trans-Canada highway, there were two standing by the side of the road as relaxed as you like! Mike spotted them first (on our side of the road) and I screeched "MOOOOOOOOOOOSE!" as we came to a stop. The sad-eyed creature just stared at us for quite a while and then turned to follow his/her mate into the bush. What a thrill!
Shortly thereafter, after going into the visitor's centre, we saw two cars pulled over and some people standing by the roadside. "Another moose?" we wondered as we slowed down and stopped. No - A BEAR! Just under the trees about 50 m from us. It looked just the way you would expect a black bear to look, probably too cute and cuddly for our own good. As one of the people took a few steps forward for photo's, the bear started a mock charge and we decided it was time to leave.
After all that excitement, what more could be said about the day? It was quite cold and we had beautiful scenery, mainly of Lake Superior which we can attest to is the "Superior" of the four Great Lakes we have seen. For the rest we had the typical Canadian scenery; rushing rivers, fir trees and large boulders. Lichen grows everywhere, blanketting the earth. We had 4 climbs today, all managable and they were followed by steep descents back to the water.
We had planned to camp near a picnic area on the Sand River (this would be a bush camp). For the first time today we had a never ending supply of suitable bushcamps; gone are the "No Trespassing" and "No Camping Signs". When we stopped at the visitor's centre for Lake Superior Provincial Park, we looked at the large map of the immediate park; it is a large park stretching along the lakeshore. They do offer "back country camping" which means that there are designated camping areas and you pay about $20 for a permit and permission to camp at one. Two which looked promising were one at Crazy Creek and another at Coldstream. We were told that the Crazy Creek ones were the best; there were three and they were particularly nice. I asked how we would recognise them as campsites and we were told that there is always a firepit and sometimes benches and so on. Obviously no toilets or showers, this is bushcamping with permission! We were warned that a camper had been mock charged by a bear a week ago at Coldstream and they were unsure if the bear was still in that vacinity. It was a short ride to Crazy Creek and we confidently left the road at a vehicle pull off and walked our bikes down to the river. Nothing struck us as a camping area though and we left the bikes and walked up along the coastal hiking trail. Eventually, not finding any campsite we chose to abandon the plan and have a look at the Sand River picnic area and then go on to Coldstream. The picnic area is at a big waterfall and we were looking at the map when a local came over to us to give us tips about camping in the area. She knew about the bear at Coldstream too. She said that we could walk our bikes to the lake side of the highway and camp on the sandy beach there. It wasn't a designated "backcountry campsite" but the permit does say that if you are unable to reach your chosen site, you may camp anywhere suitable as long as you don't light a fire.
We did as she said and had a swim in the lake (which has an average surface temperature of only 4.4 degC!) and are now camping on the beach. It is very beautiful. We had a meal from our stash and spent some time outside as there are no bugs! It turned cool though and as we got into the tent a family of geese and goslings came up out of the lake to find their place for the night.
Another moose sighting today = GREAT EXCITEMENT!
Last night we had a bit of thunder and there was a big storm out over the lake. As evening drew near, over a hundred geese came in to land and then took refuge on the shore. They sat and preened themselves and some had a snooze. As it grew dark they set off again.
Somewhere in the middle of a very dark night the wind picked up and the tent started to flap a bit. We have no concerns about our tent but it makes you wonder, the wind. What is going to happen next? Well, we found out at 6:00 am when the rain started drumming lightly on the tent. Let me say here that we have been very lucky with the weather up to now. No complaints. By 7:00 am the rain had set in and when you looked outside, sand, lake and sky were full of it. We decided to pack up, carry our panniers to the where the path met the beach (it was too difficult to push our laden bikes along the soft sand, we found out yesterday) and the go to the picnic site over the road to make breakfast under a small shelter. It is convenient to have a bushcamp near a picnic site as they will have toilets and sometimes a shelter and bench. The rain had stopped by the time we had to leave the tent and pack it up. One of the great advantages of our Hilleberg Staika tent is that you can sit inside it and completely roll back the inner skin and then have all the room you like to pack properly, only taking on the rain when you are quite ready to.
The rain started up again at breakfast, but we were still on the bikes by 8:30 am which suprised us. We set off into a combination of rain and mist, to ride 75 km along the Trans-Canada Highway once again. Visibility was not good, but we have our lights which are well visible from a long way off and again the trucks and campervans were generous. We found out from a fellow camper at Pancake Bay that it is now law to leave 1 m when passing a cyclist, but you get the feeling that particularly the truck drivers have always driven this way. We had a couple fo climbs today, one which was long and gradual and two others. It was still very beautiful being in the provincial park and we kept an eye out for wildlife. After about 40 km we stopped at the park office and picnic area to have our hot chocolate. By this time the rain had pretty much stopped but it was still misty off and on. It was a very cold day; the temperature did not rise above 7 degrees, starting off at 5 degrees and ending up the same. This is cold on a bicycle, particularly when it's raining. We were in full wet weather gear of course and wore our heavy duty rubber gardening gloves for the first time which worked perfectly. To think we had spent $90 on gortex gloves years ago which is what you think you would need, and a cheaper and more effective solution is available and easily replaceable!
We were sailing downhill again when we saw the moose; again sad-eyed staring out of a wet stretch of bushland. His antlers were showing steady growth. Again we yelled "MOOSE!" and he turned and disappeared into the bush. We've got to stop yelling the animal name out loud, but you want to know that the other person has seen it. Maybe it will be better when we spot one along the flat.
With about 20 km to go to Wawa a "road under construction" sign appeared. The sign said that the road ahead for 30 km was being repaired or whatever. The work started in May 2016 and was due for completion in September 2017!!! Still, I guess they only have 6 months a year to do anything. So the last 25 km of the day's ride was along "scarified" bitumen, meaning it was all bumpy and pitted. Anyhoo..... we made it to Wawa and went to Subway to eat and try to warm up and then shopped for supplies. Then it was back on the highway to our campsite, which is very nice. Especially the HOT shower. It has continued to rain all afternoon and the temperature remains low. They say it should clear tomorrow.
The weather was good today, good enough to do two loads of washing and for it to dry, so a rest day was in order! We enjoyed the peaceful campsite and also took a ride back into town. Wawa is a small place but the people are friendly.
WOW - COLD this morning. The thermometer reading at 7:00 am was -0.2 degrees Celsius. This is as cold as it gets in Perth! But the skies were blue and there was no wind. Also a big advantage of cold weather: no bugs. We set off at 8:15 am for our bushcamp destination. It was a great riding day. The road still had it's usual trucks ploughing up and down but the weather was so good you could only be happy. We were cycling through natural forest and were on the look out for moose. An oncoming motorist slowed to tell us they had just past three moose, which was very nice of them. So we paid close attention for the next few kilometres, but they must have moved on by then as we didn't see them. The road climbed a bit today, but no steep climbs. There were no shops en route, but we did pass a motel which offered groceries, at about 45 km.
Our bushcamp was a 100 m or so before a picnic area which we like as you can use the toilets at the picnic area and also throw your rubbish away in their bear proof bins. The picnic area was on a river and very nice with many tables dotted around. Also interestingly, no "no camping signs".Our bushcamp was a nicely cleared area on the other side of the road with easy access via an informal boat ramp to a lake for swimming. We are being bear safe and ensuring all our food is locked away.
It was another cold morning, but at least above zero degrees. Mike woke feeling a bit unwell. After dressing and packing we moved to the picnic site over the road and had breakfast. We had a short day planned but it depended on how the day went. As we were heading for a bushcamp it's best to get there later or else you sit with bugs for the afternoon.
Our first stop was about 15 km down the road; White River. We stopped for supplies at the grocery store. This is the town where the Winnie-the-Pooh story began. It is a tiny town; population 1000. Google White River/Winnie-the-Pooh. The story will suprise you, it is worth the read. All the streetname signs have a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh on them. I bought a shopping bag with Winnie-the-Pooh on it. I hope all the bears we meet are as philosophical. Mike was starting to feel a better and we were enjoying the day.
We past two German cycle tourists in White River and one just outside. A girl on her own. The riding was easy today and again, lots of green forest and lakes. We stopped at a First Nations store for some colddrink, and before long reached our proposed bushcamp. It was at a boat ramp and we decided to continue to Rouse Lake where it looked like we could camp. When we got there and took the track turn off it took us past a house and we asked the couple who were working in their garden about camping but it wasn't really an option as we couldn't use the lake. About 10 km further on we could see from our GPS map that there was a small lake to the right and took a chance going down a track towards it. It was quite rough and muddy and opened up into a good camping spot. From there it was a walk along a faint track and then a bit of a bushbash to the lake. We filtered water into both water bags and came back to our campspot to set up camp and shower. The bugs here are very bad but we escaped our showers almost unscathed. By shower I mean hanging the Ortlieb water bag up in the tree with shower attachment and standing on a groundsheet.
When we went down to filter the water we came across our first beaver workshop. We could not believe the size of the trees that these things can fell using their teeth (like 70 cm diameter trunks and massive woodchips all round)! It is amazing. The weird thing is that the trees just lie there, I don't know enough about beavers to know exactly how they operate. Maybe they need to wait until the wood dries out. There was one pine tree with a massive base, all chewed around the outside. Maybe they wait until it is chewed enough to fall over into the lake? As we left the lake we heard a HUGE splash as something heavy hit the water some distance away. Beaver "TIMBER!!!"? Shades of things that fall into a Finnish lake from our 2015 tour!
Practicing our bear safe procedures, our food is either locked in the bear containers located some distance from the tent, or hanging from a tree. Snacking is not an option, as either the black flies will get you, or you may end up falling out of a tree!
We had ridden further than planned yesterday so had only a short ride to Neys Provincial Park today. We would really recommend these parks as we have stayed at quite a few and they are great. They all have lovely camp site settings in natural bush and the same reliable hot showers.
We had heavy rain overnight as forecast and were up early with the bugs. No night time visitors at all. The track back to the highway was quite muddy. It was an overcast day and the road undulated. After a few days away from the Lake we caught a glimpse of it about halfway. We had picked up some extra supplies at White River yesterday which proved fortunate as there were no stores en route today. We did see a campsite advertised just before Marathon; the billboard said it was 23 km away and had meals, etc. but we assumed it was off our route. We had not gone into Marathon as it is a few kilometres off Highway 17 but I suppose many tourists do.
Imagine our excitement when, just before the turn off to Neys Provincial Park, we passed the same billboard saying that meals, camping, hunting, etc. were all available just 1 km away! Within that 1 km we had quickly decided what we were going to order to eat, after which we would have a speedy 3 kilometre downhill run to our camp spot, easily done on a full stomach. We happily turned into the parking area for Neys LUNCH and Campground and went into the little office as instructed. They had the usual collection of tinned goodies, bug repellant and potato chips. No lunch room/restaurant was in evidence. We went back outside and looked around the corner. Nope, nothing. We went back into the shop and asked where meals could be purchased. The manager lady replied "No, we closed that a year ago". I almost replied "Time to change your sign then". Hungry cycle tourists are not to be trifled with! We unenthusiastically picked up an extra tin of peas and carrots, a bag or marshmallows and some sweets. When I saw the photo gallery behind the cashiers desk of hunters posed with the bear prey, I decided to keep my opinions to myself.
As we sailed downhill inside the provincial park towards the Lake famous for having it's own climate, the temperature instantly dropped 8 degrees. At the self-registration kiosk we met a motorcyclist and his wife who had just driven down from Thunder Bay today. It's amazing for us as Thunder Bay is quite an important milestone and nearly 300 km or 3 days away and they left there and got here in a few hours. The Lake was very misty when we arrived and picked our site which is on the shore. The park has 4 camping areas catering for everything from tents to massive 5th Wheelers (some of them are even called .....Lite??). The cold temperature meant few bugs and we anjoyed cooking outside and going for some walks. It is an interesting park as it was a POW camp in WW2 for Germans. Apparently they liked it so much and were so well treated that many stayed on! Who could blame them?
A northerly was forecast for today which would sort of help us if it wasn't a crosswind. It rose to quite strong during the night, but we woke to clear blue skies and it wasn't even freezing cold on the shores of Lake Superior. We had an early start and the first thing was to climb back up to the highway; the 4 km that we dropped down last night. Back up on the highway the wind did not seem that bad. Crazy Lake that creates it's weather. An interesting thing about the campsite was that it was so close to the railway line and you have to ride over the rails to enter and leave. During the night and this morning we had heard a few trains toot as they passed; TransCanada train! We would really recommend this park as the forest and moods of the Lake are beautiful.
It was a brilliant day's riding today. The hills proved easier, the sky was blue from end to end and the views of the Lake magnificent. Also there was the added bonus of a SUPER WIDE shoulder most of the way which meant that we had our own lane. The road seemed quieter too.
After 60 km we reached Terrace Bay, just in time for lunch which we ate at Subway. Also we did some general stocking up of supplies. Terrace Bay is a pretty place. Not long after Terrace Bay we passed through Schreiber which was not so pretty and then it was a few kilometres further to the provincial park. We did have three stop/goes due to road construction but the weather was great and all you could do was smile.
We turned off the highway to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park where inevitably the gatehouse was closed and self-registration was required via payment in an envelope deposited in the box. As I was writing up our envelop, Mike looked over my shoulder and said "It's a bear!". And it was, sniffing around a patch of grass a couple of hundred metres away inside the park, just on the roadside. A black bear. It then just flopped down for a rest. A park's service vehicle came by and hooted which cuased the bear to take off and they shouted out to us "Bear!". By this time I'd had to rewrite our envelope as in all the excitement of trying to get the exact change $36.15 (of course), I'd mucked up the sealing of it. Bear siting had not helped. We hopped on our bikes, bear now gone, to ride into to the park and pick a site. As we passed a smaller road the bear was just there and turned around to look at us. Unclipping from our pedals gave him a little scare. Mike was able to take some pics. Later I went to shower and could see the bear wandering about just about the turn off to the shower block. We are not afraid of the bear. But just goes to show, it's no good waiting for Calgary to buy bear containers. You need them from the start!
We have a lovely site overlooking the lake but the bugs are very bad here so have retreated to our tent in the shade. It's unfortunate, but you can't be outside for long before they get you. The bugs that is, not the bears! We can hear a wood pecker from our tent.
Two memorable things about today; one, the scenery and in particular the views of the Lake were the best we have seen, and two, we were PLAGUED by black flies. Starting with the former, the scenery had been getting progressively better over the last two days and today was spectacular. The Lake was a mirror and reflections abounded. As for the latter, we were super pleased to be on the bike as the flies were swarming at the campsite. We smothered ourselves with bug spray and cream and breathed a sigh of relief once we were on the open road. No sign of bear either. However, we soon noticed that there were also bugs around us as we rode, and on our first uphill stretch they were unbearable, a large cloud of the hovering around our heads and torso's. Anyway, nothing a downhill can't cure.
We stopped at a First Nation's store to buy something for tea/lunch on the road and then had a construction stop-go. The bugs were just unbelievable. Even a couple of construction workers commented on how bad they were. The day soon warmed up and we had the bugs, the heat, some hills and the beauty of Lake Superior. It was bitter sweet. We stopped at Gravel for our tea/lunch break and I went into the coffee shop to buy a drink and when I came out the bugs had found Mike again. Gravel had cool distance markers; from "Lake Superior 1000 baby steps" to " Australia - start digging" and an arrow pointing downwards. Also a sign saying "Gravel - best coffee shop in town". And the only one...
After this the day continued to unfold as before. We arrived in Nipigon at 2:00 pm and stopped at a grocery store for food. We then had lunch at the info centre picnic area. It was then only a kilometre to our campsite. It was very different from a provincial park, right on the Highway and laid out basically. The showers were sparkling clean and hot and there was a laundry sink to wash clothes. It was a great place for us to cool off and relax AND NO BLACK FLIES. How do they manage it? Thunder Bay tomorrow which is 100 km so we aim for an early start to try to beat the heat.
Our neighbours tonight are two South Korean cycle tourists heading to Vancouver.
We woke at 5:30 am but it looked like the sun was only just rising and we thought it was too early. We chatted a bit about the late sunrise and as we are about to cross to a new timezone in a couple of days where they are an hour behind, we realised that this was a contributing factor. Our 5:30 am was their 4:30 am. Anyway, we got up shortly afterwards and made it on to the road by 7:00 am which was our aim. Travelling west has some advantages, including no sun blindness for early starts, so safer for us. We had a longish stop-go for roadside contruction. Long enough for the bugs to find us. The bugs were MUCH better today in general though.
Overall the day was coolish until the end, mostly flat and fast along the highway. The road was busy and the shoulder often narrow. We stopped at about half-way for a snack. I kept my long-sleeved wool top and leggings on today as my arms got quite badly sunburnt yesterday. It had been too hard to layer on bug cream and sun cream. Along our route today we passed numerous road signs saying "Terry Fox Courage Highway". We didn't know the stroy of Terry Fox until we met a camper at Lake Superior Provincial Park who told us that he was stopping at the Terry Fox Memorial at Thunder Bay on their way to Calgary. Look up his name online describes an inspirational story. Kinda makes you stop wingeing about the hills/bugs/weather. Terry had to stop his run just short of Thunder Bay.
It was a wonderful suprise at about 40 km to go when the road divided and we had dual carriageway and our own lane for riding in (the wide shoulder). Great views too; the landscape just opened up to sky and Lake and distant flat-topped hills. After about 10 km on the dual carriageway, our route turned off left and we were tempted to stay on the highway, but a sign advised "No bicycles" so we stuck to our plan. This was Lakeshore Drive which took us along the water and we stopped for food and fuel (for the stove) at a convenience store.
After this I felt a little low in energy and had a roadside snack. As we pulled into the suburbs Mike stopped to pick up an Amazon order from the post office (new Keen sandals). Then it was just 3 km UP-hill to the campsite. We met another tourist coming down the hill who had started in Calgary on 12 April (brrrrr) and was headed to Prince Edward Island (Nova Scotia). The campsite is big with a large undercover area which is great and we have a nice tent site. We will have a rest day here tomorrow. The laundry is already done and hanging up to dry.
The campsite was a little weird, as is often the go with municipal sites. Many people came and went all night, mostly kids clearly up to no good. No one bothered us but there were a few slow drive bys in clapped out cars. It seemed as if this was the local hang out. I guess the "Blacklist" with "Lifetime Bans" in reception, naming and shaming various culprits should have been a dead give away; "Dale Edwards: stole firewood and trashed campsite: lifetime ban. Dorothy Simpson threatened violence to campsite staff: lifetime ban". Names have been changed for legal reasons.
Still, it was a nice place for a rest day as we were able to sit in the undercover area and use the power available. We went to the shops a few kilometres down the road and things got even better once we stocked up on mosquito coils and battery operated repellants that you clip to your clothing. We got the coil burning and sat happily in a cloud of poison smoke for the rest of the day. The bugs left us alone almost 100%.
Thunder Bay has been an important point for us on the trip as at this point we are heading away from the popular tourist routes and off towards Manitoba. We are happy to move on tomorrow.
We had an early start and the first 10 km were within Thunder Bay itself. There were a couple of route changes as it ended up that cyclists were still not permitted on Highway 17/11. As Mike put it "It's been good enough for how many 100's of kilometers and now it isn't?"
The day was sunny and an easy ride. Gentle gradients. We are cycling through an area where there is a large Finnish community and this is evident in the place names. Apparently many Finns who left their homeland settled here as it reminded them of home. It reminded us of Finland too; even the farm houses and other buildings.
We stopped at a convenience store at about 10:00 am. I had a strawberry milkshake which was delicious and Mike had a hamburger. About 8 km before our end point we passed the sign which alerted us to a change in time zone. We are now an hour ahead of schedule without even trying. Another advantage of travelling west! Shortly after this an older cycle tourist on his own came over to our side of the road to chit-chat. We don't like just stopping on the road without getting right away from vehicles. It is dangerous. Anyway, he had started in Calgary so was doing well. He had an electronic bike and was carrying 4 batteries. I felt a bit jealous. Just goes to show you that there is help out there when you are old.
Of course, 3 km before our end point, it started to rain. We had been steadily travelling towards a big storm for about an hour. When the first drops began to fall we took cover under our plastic sheeting that we lay under the tent. After a while the rain eased and the bugs came out so we jumped back on the bikes. We arrived at our campsite at Shebandowan noting that it looked more like a run-down trailer park. We had checked out their facebook page and it seemed they were open for the season. We asked the guy in the office for a tent site and he replied "We don't really do tents. We have two aggressive bears that come here and basically destroy tents". Enough said! We were ready to move on. This would not be the fault of the bears though, it just means that the site does not practice proper bear safe hygenic procedures and who wants to hang around a place like that anyway?
The issue for us was that there were no other options for camping in the area. We had ridden 85 km by this stage so would be on the look out for a bushcamp. We stopped at one pull off down to a lake and two cars came in after us. We would need to look for somewhere that only bicycles could reach. After some more kilometers we realised that the next campsite for us to aim for would actually be tomorrow's end point. It was a provincial park campground so we knew it would be available. It would mean 160 km ride today and then another rest day tomorrow. We both sort of thought we could ride 160 km but it is a long way. While we were still going in the right direction, the best thing is just to keep pedalling and look out for a bushcamp.
The scenery was now very similar to Finland. Small lakes, flat road curving out before us and beautiful forest. Imagine our excitement when two moose crossed the road in front of us? Very cool. We also passed a gap in the woods and saw a deer staring back at us; it almost looked like a cartoon creature.
Soon after the moose we came across a fabulous area for bushcamping. The lake lay below the road and we could spot a flat embankment running along the edge. It was quite easy to get the bikes down there and we are well set up. The outdoor shower was great and there are NO bugs at all. We think this is due to the dragon fly population explosion which has obviously occurred. They are so numerous that they are even sitting on us! We will have a peaceful night without a security van doing laps!
We had a very peaceful night until about midnight when a storm moved in and it rained quite heavily for the rest of the night. We had strung up some extra food that did not fit in the bear containers as well as our garbage in a tree a little way from the tent and then could not sleep worrying about our bread becoming waterlogged. The worst fate imaginable for cycle tourists, food being ruined! The good thing was that by the time we got up to have breakfast and pack, the rain was almost over. We saw two goods trains on the railway just on the other side of the lake.
It was a warm, somewhat humid day. We pushed the bikes up the little hill to the road. They don't really want to go up hills like this, it's a case of me pushing from the front and Mike from the back, so each bike goes up seperately. We had a little nesting bird to avoid who had built her nest on the ground and Mike gave her a heart attack yesterday when we came down, causing her to flap away in a panic, leaving three beautiful speckled eggs behind. Thankfully we didn't trample on them. She sort of gave us the beady eyeball this morning as we had to steamroller past about 30 cm from her again, but seemed resigned to it and did not panic.
The road was pretty remote today, beautiful vistas of forest, lake and sky once again. We seemed to be travelling towards a very dark thunderstorm for much of it but luckily it shifted off and we escaped a drenching. We had three moose sightings, one lone moose who stared at us over it's shoulder and seemed undecided before vanishing into the forest, one cow and calf which was very cute and another lone moose. This was great for us. Also, a terrapin (turtle?)crossed the road in front of us.
We passed the Arctic Watershed. From this point on all rivers and streams run north to the Arctic Ocean. So all downhill from now on for us then?
We arrived at the Quetico Provincial Park which is a large wilderness area of interlinking lakes between the Great Lakes and Manitoba. It is a very popular canoe route with many portages. They had a good information centre and camp store (not for food but many useful items). Fortunately we have a grocery store early tomorrow morning before we turn off Highway 11 to a quieter road. It has been very windy, humid and stormy this afternoon.
Today had high points and low points. The highest was the delicious cooked breakfast we enjoyed at Sapawe Corner Diner. The lowest was returning to pass by the Diner two hours afterwards after our route ended up in a swamp and we had to backtrack and make a detour. The story follows..., but firstly, yesterday we passed the 2,000 km mark.
Well, for a start the windy conditions yesterday were severe enough to cause a TORNADO warning for the area (unbenownst to us!). The morning dawned much improved however, which we were glad about. It worked out well having that shorter day yesterday and arriving at the campsite at 12:00 pm. Clearly a tornado warning suggests cycling is not a good option. The campsite advertised both Quetico North store and restaurant (about 5 km along the road) and also Sapawe Corner Diner (10 km along the road). The store opened at 8:00 am and the Diner at 6:00 am. We would stop first at the store and hit the diner for breakfast. We packed and skipped brekky and hit the road in high spirits.
At Quetico North we were able to pick up some tinned food for the next two nights as we would be bushcamping and would not pass another store. We also got some other foodstuffs. No powdered milk though, a little disappointing. They were more about souveniers than groceries. We then set off for the brekky stop which we expected 10 km down the same road. Well, by the 15 km mark and still no diner we started feeling nervous. It would have been impossible to miss, there were hardly any buildings on the road. Suddenly right at our turn off after 19 km, there it was. Great views of the lake, nice looking motel and very neat diner. A welcoming lady cook gave us coffee and even made Mike a "Mikey Burger" (yes, it was called that on the menu) even though it was only 10:00 am. I had a delicious omelette. Coffee was good. We wish we could eat like this everyday! Off we went at about 11:00 am to take the 623 route north. We turned off it after a few kilometres onto a small dirt road which would allow us to join the 622 later on, bypassing Atikonan. The road conditions soon deteriorated as it dived into the forest and became a forest track, muddy in parts with the trees closing right in. Further on we came to the railway line which we lifted our bikes over and continued on the other side until bam! we ran into a swamp. Of course you can imagine while all this was going on we were covered from head to toe in mosquitoes sucking blood from wherever they could. Something told me to wear leggings this morning even though it was warm. Anyway, they don't help against mozzies really, but they do against ticks. Mike had to stop a few times to pluck the dreaded deer tick from his socks. Luckily they are big and easy to spot.
So anyway, we then had to carry the bikes back across the railway line and backtrack all the way to the 623 to pick a different turnoff. All the way we were covered head to toe with the blood suckers and of course talking loudly and dinging our bike bells in case we suprised any bears. As we got to the bitumen, we sat down and checked all over for ticks. I found only one on my sock but Mike had found about 8 in total. None had latched on. A few kilometres down the road we came to another turnoff but it was restricted access at a mill so then we had to make the gut wrenching choice to go all the way back to the Corner Diner and back onto Highway 11 and then ride to Atikonan and onto the 622. Atikonan was about 25 km away but the road was easy riding and we sat down to delicious fruit smoothies and muffins at Robin's when we got there. We also bought 4 more muffins for the road. At $1.50 each who could resist? It was then onto the 622 which was quite hilly but pretty. We passed Finlayson Campground and wanted to get about 25 km further down the road. However, Mike knew about a bushcamp at a lake where there was a jetty so we stopped there to check it out. It was perfect! We chatted to a couple from Atikonan who were just off in their boat to a lakeside cabin. There were quite a few cars with boat trailers parked at the jetty and the guy said that they would be campers from Finlayson's out fishing who would return shortly. We had a wonderful cold swim which is the best thing to soothe all those bites. Camping is allowed here, just not at the jetty. After a good meal, we have strung up our garbage in a tree and are in the tent for an early night.
I should mention that we have had a change to the fly and bug situation. Since Quetico we have had fewer black flies and more teeny sandflies which can barely be seen but still bite, as well as a larger fly, bigger than a housefly - it's a type of horsefly I suppose. Terrible bite. So as you get one fly situation under control another develops!
Mike worked out while leaving the campsite that of the four bushcamp options available to us today, the third would equal a 80 km day which leaves us with 100 km to Dryden tomorrow. That worked out well. We had a headwind all day today and would spend the whole day on route 622 which is a very quiet road, really only logging trucks passing. The road surface was quite large aggregate so a bit slow, but generally good.
About 2 km after leaving the campsite, I spotted a bear on the side of the road, foraging about 200 m ahead of us. It did not see us. It was a large bear, brown in colour, so not a black bear. We stopped riding and waited for it to cross the road. After it crossed it started coming up the hill towards us, so we dinged our bike bells. It stopped and lifted it's ears. Then it turned back and disappeared into the bush. As we passed the spot where it had vanished, you would never have known there was a bear there.
About halfway along the route we stopped for a snack. Sometime after this we suddenly heard a huffing sound while riding along the road and Mike looked back to see a GROUSE running after us, tail and wing feathers all puffed out, clearly defending a nest. He was stomping his feet and actually huffing at us! We would take a chasing grouse rather than a chasing bear though!
We arrived at our camp spot at about 1:30 pm which was early. The day's ride had been quite pretty with the forest all around as usual, but our legs are were tired from battling the headwind. We would however really recommend this route to cycle tourists. Most tourists stay on Highway 17 from Thunder Bay to Dryden, but when we think back to all the moose that we saw and the bear today, it made this detour really worthwhile. We spent the night on the Trans-Canadian Trail. It is mainly a canoe route in these parts and there looked to be a portage over the road from lake to lake. It is a bush campsite just off the road. Quite a few ticks once again but we are careful. Quite a few of the teeny sandflies too!
We ended up pitching the tent on a big flat rock which was a better choice than in the grassy clearing, judging by the number of ticks that got onto anything left for long on the ground. We are being very careful about ticks as we understand the dangers. Yesterday I was sitting on a large groundsheet and took off one boot, my foot did not even touch the grass, but by the time I put it on again, there was a tick burrowing into my sock. This reminded Mike to check his legs, and there was a tick that had latched onto his leg. I got our trusty tick remover and he had it off very quickly. We found what looked like moose hair on the ground and surmise that this clearing might be frequented by moose which would explain why there are so many ticks about. Anyway, we chose the rock for our site and had a great night's sleep. I am amazed at how one can sleep without worrying about bears, etc. Our garbage bags (now two of them) were again secure in a tree away from the tent and the bear containers are much emptier now!
It was a perfect morning, clear skies and a breeze that would help us later. We set off for the last 20 km along the 622. They passed uneventfully. We were quite excited to reach Highway 17 again and take the westerly turn onto it. Shortly thereafter we remembered why most cycle tourists sit on the 17 from Thunder Bay - SPEED!!! So quick on a highway, surface is smooth and grades are even. Also we had the tailwind. We stopped at a couple of picnic sites, beautifully laid out with toilets and lots of tables. Even BINS on the highway! No need to carry your garbage for 100 km! No bins on the 622. We reached Wabigoon after 54 km. Our plan was now not to go to Dryden, but to camp 15 km short at Aaron Provincial Park. This would enable us to spend a rest day there. To make this work, we were relying on Wabigoon for supplies and hopefully a cooked meal. There was a very small grocery store where we could buy most of what we needed and the helpful lady who worked there said that just 2-3 km after Aaron was a diner called Twin Towers where we could get a meal. We bought a few things and set off, passing the park and sure anough 2.5 km later were sitting down to fabulous food. After chatting to the cook and other diners, we stumbled out an hour later with bulging stomaches, relieved we only had to ride 2.5 km back to the campsite!
When we arrived the office was open and the friendly lady on duty said that she had booked us into her favourite site. Normally we like to choose our own site, but when we got to the one she had picked it appeared to be two sites in one! Enormous! And just our little tent and two bikes to fill it. The washing is done and hanging up to dry. We will have a rest day here tomorrow because rain is coming; also we deserve it!
We had a lot of rain overnight. Luckily all the washing was dry and packed away when we went to bed. We lazed about all morning and went up at 1:00 pm to book in for another night. There was some issue with the computor booking system so we were asked to come back later. I trundled back on my own at about 3:00 pm, it being only a formality after all, only to be told that our site was reserved which is why it could not be re-entered into the system earlier and we would have to move. Grrrrr..... So we ended up at a really cute walk-in site at the bottom of a steep path along the river. There were plenty of sites to choose from but we thought that one would work the best. Thunder storms were predicted for tonight so we were thinking of the rain and some of the available sites were already waterlogged.
The storm hit at about 7:00 pm. We were prepared for it and had packed everything away and were in the tent. Wow - very dark, very loud thunder and A LOT of rain. Tent stood up to it as expected, just some pooling of water at the edges of the vestibules which drained away when the rain stopped, which it did by about 9:00 pm.
We were SO EXCITED to have a REAL TOWN en route today that we skipped breakfast and coffee and hit the road at 7:00 am. Dryden was only 15 km away and first stop was Tim Horton's for coffee. We had seen these coffee shops everywhere, and the drive-through queues that go with them, but had not used one. Turns out this is a Canadian institution. Tim Horton was a ice hockey player for Toronto Maple Leaves in the '60s and started a donut shop. I imagine he is pleased he did, as the place must be a goldmine. We weren't sure what size coffee to choose (they come in 4 sizes). We asked to see the size of a large. It looked like my fluid requirements for a day. We ordered two mediums and also white and red velvet muffins, suitably patriotic! Anyway, we could have made do with small coffees. Leaving the very busy store we chatted to two locals interested about our trip and our tent! The drive through business for these coffee shops must rake in the dollars. Everytime you pass one there are long queues of cars.
After coffee, we hit Walmart where we shopped up a storm and as always were amazed at how much stuff there was and how it neatly packed itself away into our Stumpies (this is what we've named our bear containers) and on the backs of bikes. We rode a few kilometres and stopped at a picnic site where we ate our way through half a box of cornflakes and a litre of milk.
We had left the highway and rode most of the day on route 594 towards Eagle River. It was hillier than the highway but more interesting as smaller roads are. We had quite a stiff headwind all day and rain was threatening so were quite pleased to get back on the highway for the last 25 km. We cycled through Vermilion Bay, which looked quite interesting albeit too touristy for us, but did not stop as the rain was very close. It drizzled a little but stopped as we reached our campsite. Crystal Lake Camping is great, we have all the luxuries; a bin on site, which we have NEVER had in our lives, as well as a table of course and the very nice toilets are almost en suite for us.
There was a bit of drizzle in the early morning but the day dawned fine, just overcast. So it was a bit of suprise when it started raining after about an hour on the bike at 9:00 am and rained most of the morning.
There wasn't much to see today on the road. We were on Highway 17 again and it was mostly the same as usual. A bit hillier than we thought it would be and now with rumble strips which were tricky in parts when the shoulder narrowed. This was only when there was an overtaking lane however, so you could ride in the road safely.
We stopped at a picnic area in the rain to have a snack after about 30 km. There was a historic sign as this was where the final spike was laid for the railway connection to the prairies in 1872. It was one of those extraordinary efforts, the rail connection from East Ontario to the west.
The day felt like quite a slog, probably a combination of rain (it did not last all day), slight headwind and general tiredness. Also, we did not have a decent rest stop due to the rain. Highway 17 turned south into Kenora and we followed it into Tim Hortons for smoothies and muffins. We then picked up some other supplies at Walmart which was on the same road as the campsite. We had planned to go hunt down a good meal but it just seemed too much effort and we wanted to get to the campsite. We picked a lakeviw site and these are well laid out with raised gravel pads and nicely grassed on Lake of the Woods. There is quite a bit of boat traffic. There are no other campers in this section as cars need to be parked up the hill away from the camping area. A nice spot!