June 12: "Northern Ontario"

June 12: "Northern Ontario"

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on June 12, 2005]

I made it to Michigan! I've got a lot to tell -- it's been almost two weeks, after all -- so I'll put the travelogue in this message and some more general observations in the following message.

On Wednesday, June 1st, still in Ottawa, I went to the Canadian Museum of Nature, which is less than a block from Leela's apartment. More than half the exhibits are closed for reconstruction right now, but I enjoyed what I got to see; it's like a museum of natural history that focuses on Canada. They had a few exotic species in the "creepy crawlers" exhibit, but everything else was native. I particularly enjoyed the exhibit on medicinal plants, where the plants in question were growing all over the room.

The next morning Leela and I went for a bike ride up to the "hogsback" waterfall. It was her first time on a bike in many years; I'm glad I could provide the inspiration to get back on the saddle again. That afternoon I went to the Museum of Civilization (across the river in Hull, Quebec), which I expected would be a lot like the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian because it looks like it -- both began with the same architect -- but it's more of an anthropological history museum. The whole bottom floor is devoted to the First Nations, but the upper two floors are all white history. In both cases the emphasis is on artifacts, from individual beads to entire buildings and boats. Unlike the American Indian museum, the plaques were all written by the omniscient third person, and they were written in English, French, and sometimes Inuit! I got overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of stuff in the museum, and by the mobs of schoolchildren running around ostensibly on a scavenger hunt, so I left and went for another, longer bike ride up into Quebec.

The Ottawa metro area claims a larger network of bike paths -- 170 km -- than any other city in North America. I was glad for a chance to get away from the city for a while. In the evening, Leela let me tag along to the gathering at her church to mark the end of her internship. (It actually ends today, June 12, after which she's serving the church on the other side of town for a year.) The congregants read poems and sang songs to her and basically testified to how great she's been for them. I was glad I could be there to see it.

After rush hour subsided on Friday the 3rd, I followed bike trails all the way out of the city and was able to stay off main highways most of the way to Fitzroy Provincial Park. I was stunned by how quickly French disappeared from signs as I left the metro area... Fitzroy is no farther from Quebec than Parliament Hill is [which is to say, across the river], but only one of eight signs in the campground was translated!

Saturday was opressively hot and humid, and because of an oversight on my part I had to ride some 105 kilometers instead of my target 80 to make it to my destination. I went through 5 liters of water plus a liter of other drinks -- that's more than I drank in a day while hiking the Grand Canyon in the peak of the summer!

I joined Trans-Canada Highway 17 -- my companion for the remainder of my time in Canada -- outside Petawawa. I stopped for a rest and watched a backpacker approach the city limit. When he got there, he put down his pack, got out a sign that read "ALBERTA," and put the pack back on in preparation for walking down the highway. The very first car to come along stopped for him! He hadn't had that sign out of the pack more than 30 seconds!

I stayed the night with members of Leela's congregation who live in Deep River, a planned community whose road map looks like a profile of a plate of spaghetti. Kit is a retired forester, originally from Australia, and Norma is a retired nurse. They've traveled all over the world.

Sunday night the heat wave broke in a brief but enthusiastic thunderstorm, complete with hail and very close lightning. I thought I had chosen a campsite on high ground, but when I opened my door, I found a lake! Fortunately the rain only lasted a few minutes, and I was able to move my tent to higher ground. I didn't notice when the "hydro" (which we Yanks would call "electricity") went out; I only noticed when the campground lights came back on at 3 AM! Next day I heard there had been funnel clouds not far away.

Monday night I stopped at a campground whose owner kept telling me I'd want to swim in the tea-colored lake, even though I was reluctant because my back still hadn't healed from the scrape I got in Montreal. Finally I thought to ask if there were showers... "No!" he said, "That's why I'm saying you'll want a swim!" The biting flies there were just awful. I thought I'd encountered them in Michigan last August, but those were different. These are smaller, they bite holes larger than their heads, and they don't turn off the tap when they're done, so you get a little drop of blood that either smudges on your clothing or dries in place as a painful scab. And they're much better at getting into a tent than mosquitos are. Fortunately they're also easier to smush. They haven't been as bad anyplace since then, thank goodness.

The lunch I bought in North Bay on Tuesday didn't even hold me until I got out of town, so I stopped at a convenience store that advertised burgers and such. The young clerk told me they only run the grill on weekends, and I must have looked disappointed (and tired), because he pushed an armload of "energy food" [empty carbs] on me for free. It wasn't what I would have chosen, but I was glad to have it.

On Wednesday I stopped to talk to another bike tourist, a young man named Joe who left Victoria, BC a month ago and is headed for the "maritimes" (the east-coast provinces). We commiserated about having to ride highway 17, and he said he was really worried about getting into Ottawa and Montreal, since his Ontario map showed the highways becoming freeways. So I pulled out my local maps and showed him how to ride the bike paths all the way into and out of each city. I had been planning to keep those maps as souvenirs, but he can make better use of them. He, in return, warned me that there's noplace to camp in Sudbury, and motel rooms are scarce due to seasonal labor. I counted myself lucky to find a nonsmoking suite for $95. By US standards that's a steal ($60), but I stayed three nights in Montreal for less!

I boned up on Canadian news and politics by watching the Comedy Network for hours. Thursday morning I went to Dynamic Planet, a museum of mining funded largely by INCO (the International Nickel Corporation), hoping it would mention the industry's efforts to lessen or remediate the environmental damage done by mining. On the way into Sudbury I had passed a sign demonstrating the progress that's been made in foresting some of INCO's monumental slag piles. The museum and mine tour didn't mention either the problems or the solutions, but I did learn a lot about mining.

I was going to see how far I could get that afternoon, but weather forecasts were screaming about severe storms and possible tornadoes before sunset. A policeman at a rest stop strongly encouraged me to get off the road ASAP, and he suggested some places I could go. There aren't a lot of people I'll take travel advice from, but cops are among them. The storm never showed up, but I had a nice rest.

On Friday I met several other bicyclists on the road. There was a young couple from Niagara Falls [Ontario] on their way to the west coast, pulling a heavy trailer. I suggested they travel through the US instead for better roads, but they said they'd never get through customs... turned out they were selling hemp jewelry to pay for their trip! They were sitting out the heat of the day in a restaurant... what a concept! I should try that sometime... except the heat of the day lasts until about 5:00 these days. The next bunch were three Mennonites with bushy beards, dark blue long-sleeved shirts (in the baking sun), and straw hats. Then there was a pair of young men from Ottawa on their way home from Calgary. All agreed that the Trans-Canada Highway was rotten for riding, but it was the only road, so they were resigned to it.

I stopped Friday night just short of Blind River. I had planned to stop for groceries first, but this place had a restaurant... and a lake to swim in... so I treated myself to a refreshing dip and a big dinner. There was a man at the restaurant who was very proud of the fishing trip he'd taken his kids on, and kept ordering more strawberry shortcake: "Just keep it coming!" The lone waitress/cook finally lost her temper and said he should just order the food he wanted so she could make it all at once. She also had to school him on how deviled eggs are made, because he didn't understand why she couldn't just whip those up for him and his kids. It was pretty entertaining.

When I got to Bruce Mines around 4:00 on Saturday (yesterday), an ominous thunderstorm was moving in. The town's municipal campground was closed, and folks in town referred me to an island offshore (in Lake Huron) where there are cottages for rent. Such places often allow tent camping as well, so I rode out to the island. They didn't allow camping, but the price was reasonable and the rain was starting, so I got a cottage. Naturally the storm passed within the hour, but that just gave me more of a chance to explore the place. The cottages were all wood construction with no insulation; they close for the winter. Running water was direct from the lake, so I had to buy a jug of ozonated water for drinking. I took a canoe out for a spin -- quite a challenge with just one person and some waves coming off the lake! Good upper-body exercise for a change!

I was able to ride back roads more than half the way today. Sunday morning traffic was so light I didn't really have to avoid it, but it was nice to sample the quiet and countryside. I saw a lot of fields, but none appeared to be cultivated. When I got to Sault Ste. Marie on the Canadian side, I was so excited that I didn't stop until I got to the bridge... one look at it told me that I needed to rest first! It's long and tall, two lanes with no sidewalk or shoulder. Pedestrians are not allowed, and bicycles, as I learned, are only grudgingly tolerated. I stopped in at the duty-free shop and bought a T-shirt with my remaining Canadian money, since my white shirts have worn out from constant use. The view from the bridge is fantastic, but I couldn't stop to take pictures, so you'll just have to see it yourselves!

The border guard was so suspicious of me I thought he was going to search me... I hadn't thought ahead to what questions he might ask, and my off-the-cuff answers were too vague. Traffic got all backed up behind me, while drivers in the other lane were waved by with barely a glance at their IDs! But he did let me through.

So now I'm in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! I enjoyed my time in Canada, but it's good to be back in the land of More Than One Road.

Ben Sun, 06/12/2005 - 11:43

Museum of Nature

Museum of Nature

This afternoon I biked out to the Museum of Civilization, but I forgot my wallet and so had to come back to Leela's.  I walked to the nearby Museum of Nature instead.

The Canadian Museum of Nature is under reconstruction right now, so more than half the exhibits are closed, but I enjoyed what I got to see; it's like a museum of natural history that focuses on Canada.  They had a few exotic species in the "creepy crawlers" exhibit, but everything else was native.  I particularly enjoyed the exhibit on medicinal plants.

Ben Wed, 06/01/2005 - 11:22

Civilization, Leela's Farewell

Civilization, Leela's Farewell

This morning Leela and I went for a bike ride up to the "hogsback" waterfall.  It was her first time on a bike in many years.

After lunch I returned to the Museum of Civilization, which I expected would be a lot like the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian because it looked like it -- both began with the same architect -- but it's more of an anthropological history museum.  The whole bottom floor is devoted to the First Nations, but the upper two floors are all white history.  In both cases the emphasis is on artifacts, ranging in size from individual beads to entire buildings and boats.  Unlike the American Indian museum, the plaques here were all written by the omnipotent third person, but they were written in English, French, and sometimes Inuit!

I got overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of stuff in the museum, and by the schoolchildren running around doing a scavenger hunt, so I left and went for another, longer bike ride up into Quebec.  The Ottawa metro area claims a larger network of bike paths -- 170 km -- than any other city in North America.  I was glad for a chance to explore.

In the evening, Leela let me tag along to the gathering at her church to mark the end of her internship.  The congregants read poems and sang songs to her and basically testified to how great she's been for them.  I'm pretty sure she's the only intern in her class who's been serenaded on a musical saw!

Ben Thu, 06/02/2005 - 11:58

To Fitzroy Provincial Park, ON

To Fitzroy Provincial Park, ON

I took my time leaving Leela's place this morning, waiting for rush hour to end.  I followed bike trails all the way out of the city and was able to stay off main highways most of the way to Fitzroy Provincial Park.  I could have gone farther, but I would have had to rest and refill my water bottles, and the park was the closest place to do either, so I just stopped for the night.  It'll mean a long day tomorrow.

Ben Fri, 06/03/2005 - 11:59

to Deep River, ON

to Deep River, ON

I should have gone farther yesterday... as it was I had to ride 13 hours today, some 105 kilometers instead of my target 80.  And it was a really hot, humid day.  I went through 5 liters of water plus a liter of other drinks -- that's more than I drank in a day while hiking the Grand Canyon in the peak of the summer!  At least the roads were flat; I hear tomorrow I won't be so lucky in that regard.

I stopped for lunch (poutine!) and ate it outdoors so I could dry my camping gear, so that i wouldn't have to worry about it tonight.

I was able to stay off the highway most of the day, but I joined Route 17 -- which will be my companion for the remainder of my time in Canada -- outside Petawawa.  I stopped for a rest and watched a backpacker approach the city limit.  When he got there, he put down his pack, got out a sign that read "ALBERTA," and put the pack back on in preparation for walking down the highway.  The very first car to come along stopped for him!  He hadn't had that sign out of the pack longer than 30 seconds!

I stayed the night with members of Leela's congregation in Deep River.  Kit is a retired forester, originally from Australia, and Norma is a retired nurse.  They raised four kids in Deep River, but now two are on the west coast, one is in New York, and one is in Ottawa!

Ben Sat, 06/04/2005 - 00:00

To Deux Rivieres

To Deux Rivieres

I had a leisurely breakfast with Norma & Kit this morning and didn't hit the road until 11:00.  It was another hot day, with lots of steep hills to climb, and I ran out of water about an hour before reaching my destination, but all was well.

After dinner a humdinger of a thunderstorm went over: hail and very close lightning.  I thought I had chosen a campsite on high ground, but when I opened my door, I found a lake!  Fortunately the rain only lasted a few minutes, and I was able to move my tent to higher ground.

Ben Sun, 06/05/2005 - 12:03

To Rutherglen, ON

To Rutherglen, ON

Turns out that storm last night was more severe than I thought, and I might have been wise to take more precautions.  Oh, well!

Today was cooler but so windy that I made very slow progress into Mattawa, where I parted ways with the Ottawa River and ran some errands.  I decided I couldn't make it all the way into North Bay as I had planned and stopped near Talon Lake.  The campground has no showers, but I scrubbed myself off in the lake.

The biting flies are just awful.  I thought I'd encountered them in Michigan last August, but those were a different kind.  These are smaller, their bites are very painful, and they don't turn off the tap when they're done, so you get a little drop of blood that either smudges (e.g. on clothing) or dries in place as a painful scab.  And they're much better at getting into a tent than mosquitos are.  Fortunately they're also easier to smush.

Ben Mon, 06/06/2005 - 12:06

To Cache Bay, ON

To Cache Bay, ON

The geology as far west as North Bay is beautifully folded gneiss, as in the Appalachians.  But just west of there, the hills disappear and you're on the Great Plains!  I saw a field of live soybeans today for the first time since October... I expect I'll see them all the rest of the way to the Twin Cities.

The lunch I bought in North Bay didn't even hold me until I got out of town, so I stopped at a convenience store that advertised burgers and such.  The young clerk told me they only run the grill on weekends, and I must have looked disappointed (and tired), because he pushed an armload of "energy food" on me for free.  It wasn't what I would have chosen, but I was glad to have it.  He said they get a lot of bikers along the highway, but you wouldn't know it from the way some of the motorists treat me.  Maybe they're Americans!

The town of Sturgeon Falls had an informative kiosk for tourists listing all accommodations in nearby towns, so I could see there were no campgrounds between Cache Bay and Sudbury.  The campground in Cache Bay is right on Lake Nipissing (which seems about the size of Lake Minnetonka) and is beautifully quiet.  It's great to get away from the highway for a while!  I'm only halfway done with Route 17... four more days to go.

Ben Tue, 06/07/2005 - 12:25

To Sudbury, ON

To Sudbury, ON

There was a brief rainshower this morning, and I expected it to return all day, but it never did.  I stopped at a restaurant for a second breakfast and was glad I did, since there were no more restaurants when I was ready for lunch.

I stopped to talk to another bike tourist, a young man named Joe who left Victoria, BC a month ago and is headed for the "maritimes" (the east-coast provinces).  We commiserated about having to ride highway 17, and he said he was really worried about getting into Ottawa and Montreal, since his maps showed the highways becoming freeways.  So I pulled out my local maps and showed him how to ride the bike paths all the way into and out of each city.  I had been planning to keep those maps as souvenirs, but he can make better use of them.

He, in return, warned me that there's noplace to camp in Sudbury, and motel rooms are scarce due to seasonal labor.  I counted myself lucky to find a nonsmoking suite for $95.  By US standards that's a steal ($60), but I got three nights in Montreal for the same price!

Ben Wed, 06/08/2005 - 12:27

Past Nairn Centre

Past Nairn Centre

This morning I went to Dynamic Planet, a museum of mining funded largely by INCO, hoping it would mention the environmental damage done by mining and the industry's efforts to lessen it.  On the way into Sudbury I had passed a sign demonstrating the success that's been made since 1979 in foresting some of INCO's slag piles.  The museum and mine tour didn't mention either the problems or the solutions, but it did teach me quite a lot about mining.

I was going to see how far I could get today, but weather forecasts on the radio were warning about severe storms and possible tornadoes before sunset.  A policeman at a rest stop strongly encouraged me to get off the road ASAP, and he told me some places I could go.  There aren't a lot of people I'll take travel advice from, but cops are among them, so I stopped for the night midway between Nairn Centre and McKerrow.  We'll see if this storm shows up.

Ben Thu, 06/09/2005 - 12:29

To Blind River, ON

To Blind River, ON

I had another long, hot day as I tried to get as far as possible.

I met several other bicyclists along the way.  There was a young couple from Niagara Falls on their way to the west coast, pulling a heavy trailer.  I suggested they travel through the US instead for better roads, but they said they'd never get through customs... turned out they were selling hemp jewelry to pay for their trip!  They were sitting out the heat of the day... what a concept!  I should try that sometime.

The next bunch were three Mennonites with full beards, dark blue long-sleeved shirts (in the baking sun), and straw hats.  Then there was a pair of young men from Ottawa on their way home from Calgary.  All agreed that the Trans-Canada Highway was rotten for riding, but it was the only road, so they were resigned to it.

I stopped for the night just short of Blind River.  I had planned to stop for groceries, but this place had a restaurant... and a lake to swim in...

Ben Fri, 06/10/2005 - 12:33

To Bruce Mines, ON

To Bruce Mines, ON

After yesterday's marathon ride, I was glad to take it easy today.  I had brunch in Iron Bridge and planned to turn north at Bruce Mines and camp at Rydal Bank, but when I got to Bruce Mines around 4:00, an ominous thunderstorm was moving in.

The town had a municipal campground, but it was closed, so I asked around and was referred to an island offshore where there are cottages for rent.  Such places often allow tent camping as well, so I rode out to the island (over a bridge).  They didn't allow camping, but the price was reasonable and the rain was starting, so I got a cottage.  Naturally the storm passed within the hour, but I figured it's good to research what these places are like.

The cottages are all wood construction with single-pane glass -- not weatherproofed for winter -- but there's an old lighthouse farther out on the island that's open for rent year-round.  Both hot and cold running water come from the lake, so I had to buy a jug of ozonated water for drinking.  When the weather cleared up, I took a canoe out for a spin -- quite a challenge with just one person and some waves coming off the lake!

Ben Sat, 06/11/2005 - 12:35

To Sault Ste. Marie, MI

To Sault Ste. Marie, MI

I was able to ride back roads more than half the way today.  Sunday morning traffic was so light it wasn't really necessary, but it was nice to sample the quiet and countryside.  I saw a lot of fields, but none appeared to be cultivated.

When I got to Sault Ste. Marie on the Canadian side, I was so excited that I didn't stop until I got to the bridge... one look at it told me that I needed to rest first!  It's long and tall, two lanes with no sidewalk or shoulder.  Pedestrians are not allowed, and bicycles, as I learned, are only grudgingly tolerated.  I stopped in at the duty-free shop and bought a T-shirt with my remaining Canadian money.

The border guard was so suspicious of me I thought he was going to search me... I hadn't thought ahead to what questions he might ask, and my off-the-cuff answers were too vague.  Traffic got all backed up behind me, while drivers in the other lane were waved by with barely a glance at their IDs!  But he did let me through.

I stopped for the night sooner than I could have because I strained my right Achilles tendon and don't want it to get worse.

Ben Sun, 06/12/2005 - 12:37