Day 43 – Owen Sound to the GTA (Caledon East) – Total distance traveled 4804kms

I don’t know if the folks in Southern Ontario are more friendly than the rest of the country or whether I’m getting more friendly. I think it’s the latter. When you enter a restaurant with a big, authentic smile on your face and say “hi” it instantly breaks through the barriers people put up.

Such was my experience this morning when I entered the restaurant for breakfast. I entered at the same time as another couple who asked me where I came from and where I was heading. “Toronto” I answered “and I started in Vancouver and this is the last day of a 6 week cycling trip across Canada”.

Soon everyone in the restaurant was talking to me, but not only to me but to each other. One gentleman was hiking the Niagara Escarpment hiking trial. It turned out that another man was one of the trail blazers. Another family was on their way to Wonderland for the day, their kids so excited they could hardly sit still. The server, who was the most talkative of them all, rang up my bill for french toast, orange juice, two eggs, ham and coffee. She only summed the first tw

o items and proclaimed “oh, close enough”.

It was a great start to my last day. The weather was great and I got out early. Only 130kms and I would be in the GTA.

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Only 185kms to Toronto. That doesn’t seem so bad.

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Southern Ontario towns are so pretty

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Flesherton

One surprise was climbing over 350m to the top of the Grey Highlands. That’s as high as the highest pass I climbed in the mountains in Northern Ontario.

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Windmill farm on the Grey Highlands

As I approached Toronto towns like Shelbourne and Primrose were very familiar. “People commute to Toronto from here” I thought. We used to camp in Primrose. I recalled every bend in the highway.

I ended my journey in Caledon East which is within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). My family was waiting for me at the bottom of the hill and crowned me with a laurel wreath.

When my family passed me in the van with 4-way flashers all I could think of was that I had to keep going. It was really weird. I was rolling down a hill and I just thought, well, you can’t waste a good hill. “Keep going” I yelled as I passed the van. But at the bottom, once I held Vicki in my arms, I knew that I’d come far enough, I was done. It was all very surreal, and still is.

In Sault Ste. Marie I honestly thought there was little hope of making Toronto by Saturday. But Vicki urged me on. “Go for it” she told me over the phone. Four days, and 650kms later, here I am.

I’m thrilled to be back. Although I passed through some amazing places and met fantastic people, as they say “there’s no place like home”.

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My Canada does not end in Toronto

Although the title of this blog is Cycling Across Canada I must end this journey in Toronto. There’s only so much you can do in 6 weeks and I miss my family. Besides, even though it was a long time ago, I’ve already cycled from Toronto to Halifax.

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Jim and I and the end of our Toronto-Halifax cycling trip (quite a few years earlier)

If anyone is interested in continuing this blog all the way to the East Coast please let me know, I would be happy to have another contributor. You can contact me at chrisjschmitt[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Stats
Distance traveled today – 130 kms
Moving time – 6 hours and 31 minutes
Moving avg – 20.9 kms/hour
Elevation – 550m (highest elevation on the Grey Highlands)

Giving

I am raising money for the United Way of Toronto. The United Way is about helping others in our community to have a better life. I hope that my journey will serve as inspiration for others, that if you sent your goals big and overcome challenges you can do great things. The United Way gives people in our community the support they need to overcome their challenges.

If you’ve enjoyed my blog and found the information useful for planning your own cross Canada cycling trip please consider making a donation here. FYI, all the donations are collected through an organization called CanadaHelps through a feature called GivingPages, which enables people to raise money online for the charities they support, such as the United Way of Toronto.

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Day 42 – South Baymouth to Owen Sound – Total distance traveled 4674kms

There were many highlights today: our Tiki breakfast in the country, being greeted by Dave after getting off the ferry, the Magic Beer Fridge and getting chased by a dog. Out-cycling the dog was a personal victory. I saw the dog running down the driveway, thirsty for blood. I put on a little steam. Then I heard the dog behind me panting. Panting hard. I put on a little more steam. I hope I didn’t give the poor dog a heart attack. No more fear of dogs. Cheetahs perhaps, but not dogs.

The Magic Beer Fridge event occurred upon arrival at my hotel in Owen Sound. After checking in I enquired about a place to get a cold beer. “There’s a Chinese restaurant down the road that’s licensed. But how many do you need?” asked the gentleman behind the counter. “Only a couple. I’d like to celebrate making it this far”. “Oh, in that case for you I have a Magic Beer Fridge. Follow me”. I followed him to the back and picked out a couple of cold ones. You see, people leave beer behind when they leave, and that’s the Magic Beer Fridge.

More later. The Greater Toronto Area, likely Caledon, is my objective today. Time to go.

For now, here are some pics from the day:

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Stats
Distance traveled today – 174 kms (40kms on the ferry)
Moving time – 8 hours and 14 minutes
Moving avg – 21.1 kms/hour
Elevation – 240m

Day 41 – Blind River to near South Baymouth – Total distance traveled – 4500kms

I had an epic ride today: 198kms and I hit the 4500kms mark. The wind, the roads and the cycling gods were in my favour. I also caught up with Matt outside of Little Current. We camped at Gordon’s Park in Tehkmmah which is just 14kms from the ferry.

More later. We packing up and we’re mighty hungry for breakfast.

Later

There are a lot of things in common between British Columbia and Northern Ontario: the rugged landscape; beautiful lakes and rivers; fishing; mining; and, logging. The same goes for Manitoba and Southern Ontario but with acres of farms, Mennonite Communities and towns with tree-lined streets.

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Northern Ontario Logging Memorial

At a rest area on Serpent River I met a group of youths from the area learning white water canoeing (Moving Water 1 certification). Ryan and I did our certification a few years ago and it was a blast. You have to learn how to handle a one-person canoe in white water which takes a lot of skill.

White water canoeing is a lot like mogul skiing. You basically learn how to safely maneuver through a set of hazards “downhill”, except you probably have less of a chance of drowning when you’re skiing.

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Serpent River

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World’s largest ice cream cone

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This is Dave with his Harley and he’s on his way to Montana (just to show you I don’t have anything against Harley riders 🙂

By Massey the traffic was starting to get to me so I took an alternative route to Espanola: Lee Valley Rd. It was very scenic and traffic free but I don’t think I’ve ever ridden on a road with so many potholes. Even the potholes had potholes.

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Lee Valley Road

Highway 6 from Espanola to Little Current and on Manitoulin Island is fantastic. There’s a wide paved shoulder and the drivers slow down to pass you.There are hills though, and lakes, lakes everywhere. This is where the Group of Seven painted many of the scenes of Northern Ontario.

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The only thing missing here is mountain goats and texas gates

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Lakes around every bend

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I think we need a lineman out here, and quick!

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Little Current has a one-lane swing bridge

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Manitoulan Island!

At the, um, beer store in Little Current I met a couple on a Harley who said they just saw another cyclist with red hair head out for the ferry. That had to be Dave, the fellow I camped with at Adawa Bay. I planned to grab something to eat in Little Current but upon hearing that news I decided to try to catch up to Dave, which I did.

It’s nice to have someone to cycle with; someone to compare memories with, and someone who “gets” cycle touring. We continued on together to see how close we could get to South Baymouth where the Chi-Chimaun ferry leaves for Tobermorey. At this time of year there’s only two ferry trips per day and we both wanted to be on the first one.

About 12 kms before South Baymouth we spotted Gordon’s Camp and decided to stop. What a find! Gordon’s Camp has everything: a pool, nature walks, a section of property kept dark for star gazing, eco showers, a nature centre with just about every stuffed bird, fish and animal local to the area that you could imagine and a display of fossils from the area. The Gordon’s are super nice people too.

By-the-way am eco shower is a thick black plastic bag that you fill with hot water, raise up on a winch, and then open the nozzle. It uses about 5 gallons of water vs 18 gallons for a regular shower. I filled up the bag completely because I was afraid of running out before I was done, but I ended up have about 1/3 of the water left over, so I used the rest for tea (just kidding about that last part).

I was really happy to get one last night to camp. The ferry is not until 11:10am tomorrow so we have lots of time to pack up and have a nice breakfast somewhere.

I also happened to have beer to celebrate an amazing day (now you understand the Beer Store part, right?). I only imagined in my wildest dreams that I would get this far today. I didn’t stop for lunch or dinner and made good time. Now I have a good shot at making it to the GTA by Saturday.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 198 kms
Moving time – 9 hours and 46 minutes
Moving avg – 20.2 kms/hour
Elevation – 236kms

Giving

Don’t forget that I am raising money for the United Way of Toronto. I’ve raised $1200 so far which is awesome but I’m still pretty far from my goal of $1 for every kilometre cycled, or $4500.

The United Way is about helping others in our community to have a better life. I hope that my journey will serve as inspiration for others, that if you sent your goals big and overcome challenges you can do great things. The United Way gives people in our community the support they need to overcome their challenges.

Please consider making a donation here. FYI, all the donations are collected through an organization called CanadaHelps through a feature called GivingPages, which enables people to raise money online for the charities they support, such as the United Way of Toronto.

If you prefer to give to a United way in your community, that’s fine too, just let me know how much you contributed and I’ll add it to the total.

Day 40 – Sault Ste. Marie to Blind River – Total distance traveled – 4302kms

I’m sitting on a bench outside of Velorution Ski amd Bike Shop waiting for my bike to be repaired. Velorution is a cyclist’s paradise. They have posters and signs everywhere that says things like “Thank you for not driving”, “Cycling: low on gas and easy on the wallet”. They provide free camping, restroom and wifi for touring cyclists. In return they say that gifts of barley beverages are welcome. My kind of people!

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He said my bike would be ready sometime today. I think he noticed the disappointment on my face because he asked where I was headed – I told him I’m trying to get to Toronto for the weekend – and then he said he’d try and see what he could do to rush it. He just happened to mention that there’s a beer store down the road.

Ninety minutes and one six pack later (and no, I didn’t drink the six pack), my wheel was fixed and after getting some road advice I was back on the road by noon. The cycling was splendid; busy but the drivers were very courteous. They seem to be use to seeing cyclists on this section of the road.

The rest was a whirl wind tour of the Huron North Shore. Let me walk you through it:

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Sault Ste. Marie (I know I showed this yesterday but this pretty much all I saw of The Soo

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Lake George

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Bruce Mines

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Near Thessalon

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Thessalon

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Iron Bridge (of course it’s an iron bridge but the town is called Iron Bridge, got it?)

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The town’s also called Talley-Ho but that’s another story

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I made it!!! No, wait…

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Blind River

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The view for my $69 hotel room (The Mill)

After that I went to the Iron Bridge Horse Tavern for a cold Okanogan Pale Ale (which is actually amber) and met some very fine and friendly people. Wayne, a self-proclaimed chubby smoker, had cycled from Vancouver to Blind River with his 14 year old son. At the time Wayne’s son had no previous cycling experience. Now 17, his son cycles competitively all over Canada. I’m going to look for him in the Olympics.

You never know who you’re going to meet on this long and fascinating journey.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 150 kms
Moving time – 7 hours and 1 minute
Moving avg – 21.3 kms/hour

Elevation – 198m

Day 39 – Agawa Bay to Sault Ste. Marie – Total distance travelled 4152kms

I’ve met quite a few other cyclists lately: Hiro day before yesterday, Brian and Matt yesterday (Matt and I camped together last night). I stopped to greet a cyclist going the other way but he just kept going! I guess he was late for an important meeting or something.

I met Ingrid this morning at Montreal River at the only store in the last 100kms. Ingrid lives in Spain and has put over 10,000 kms on her bike. She had nothing but great things to say about Canada.

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Me and Ingrid – Cold and having a bad hair day

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Montreal River

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Brakes, don’t fail me now!

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There are views like this at every bend in the road

I stopped for lunch at Batchewana Bay at a great place called Voyageur Lodge. It was like a switch turned on: civilization! That meant lots of traffic for the next 65 kms and some pretty poor roads. Around a bend, past the last of Lake Superior, one last “climb worthy” hill and I was in Sault Ste. Marie.

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Goodbye Lake Superior

In one way it feels great to be back in “civilization” again. By that I mean a hearty selection of nice hotels and restaurants. At the same time, the server in the restaurant seemed a little too programmed, contrasted with the folks I met along Superior who always seemed surprised and happy to have someone enter their store. One owner I spoke to at Montreal River told me they used to have a restaurant but now she can’t find anyone to work there.

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Hello Sault Ste. Marie!

Lots of things “interfere” with the best laid plans. Like today when I unloaded my bike and realized I have another broken spoke so tomorrow morning it’s back to the bike shop for repairs. But than again, how lucky is it that I’m in a city large enough to have a bike shop?

I planned to hit the road early this morning but the bike shop doesn’t open until 10am. I think this latest mechanical problem is fate telling me to slow down a little. Now I can sleep in, have a nice breakfast, get organized…

I desperately want to be home to spend the day with my family on Father’s Day. Vicki and the kids are coming to Toronto to bring me back to Ottawa. I did some quick calculations and there’s no way I’ll be able to make it to Toronto by Saturday. But spending Sunday with Vicki and the kids and Vicki’s mom is what’s keeping me going right now. My plan is to go as far as I can and meet Vicki somewhere along the way Saturday afternoon, somewhere between Tobermorey and Mississauga.

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed, which is really stupid, and I know it. I’ll have cycled well over 4500kms by Saturday, seen and experienced so much of Canada and its people, and my little Norco has proved to be one tough bike.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 136 kms
Moving time – 7 hours and 17 minutes
Moving avg – 18.7 kms/hour
Elevation – 242m

Day 38 – Wawa to Agawa Bay, Lake Superior Provincial Park – Total distance traveled 4016kms

I’m listening to the sound of the surf pushing a million round pebbles up the beach, only to have them roll back down again as the water retreats. I’m walking down a beach that never seems to end. A cool wind coming off of Lake Superior alternates with a warm breeze from the south. Now I’m watching a sunset with ever changing skies that’s lasted nearly two hours.

This is Agawa Bay on Lake Superior.

My post today was going to start with the usual: I battled against a 25km headwind blah, blah, blah. The heat was exhausting blah, blah, blah. The hills were long and never ended, and so on.

All of that was washed away with a walk along the beach, letting the cool water swirl around my toes, and watching the sun go down.

Now I’m laying in my tent listening to the surf. It’s so peaceful that I’m struggling to stay awake.

And I got here on my own power. No car, no gas, and no smelly exhaust fumes.

This is cycle touring at it’s finest.

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Camping on the beach

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Pebbles in the sand

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Sunset

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Never ending sunset…

Stats
Distance traveled today – 94.2 kms
Moving time -5 hours and 53 minutes
Moving avg – 16.0 kms/hour
Elevation – 184m

Giving

The United Way is about helping others in our community to have a better life. I hope that my journey will serve as inspiration for others, that if you sent your goals big and overcome challenges you can do amazing things. The United Way gives people in our community the support they need to overcome their challenges.

Please consider making a donation here. FYI, all the donations are collected through an organization called CanadaHelps through a feature called GivingPages, which enables people to raise money online for the charities they support, such as the United Way of Toronto.

Day 37 – White River Provincial Park to Wawa – 3922kms

This was one of the hardest days cycling yet. 31C temperatures and a strong, gusty headwind. Plus I can’t find a draught beer in sight. But I finally made it to Wawa Ontario.

When I become Prime Minister the first law I’m going to pass is mandatory draught beer in every licensed restaurant, pub, lounge, tavern and bar. It’s environmentally friendly right?

Right now I need sleep. An interesting and challenging day to look forward to tomorrow.

More on that later.

Seven hours later…

Ok now that I’m had some sleep I can include some pics from the day.

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White Lake from the bridge

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White River – where Winnie got his start

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Meet Hiro from Japan cycling from Toronto to Kamloops

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Watch out for moose and… cross country skiers?

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Wawa Ontario

There’s a very inspiring story about how Trans-Canada Highway 17 got extended to Wawa. Originally the TC only went as far as Sault Ste Marie. The towns people lobbied hard for the highway to be extended to this remote mining community. Politicians made promises but none delivered.

Finally, in 1951 four gentleman from Wawa decided to prove a point: if they could walk the last 60kms of rugged coastline into Wawa then surely a highway could be built. And that’s exactly what they did. It was a difficult journey but they made it. It was called Project Michipicoten. The highway was finally completed in 1960.

What a great source of inspiration: Four men, with a town backing them, who refused to believe it was impossible, and changed the course of history for this small town.

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Project Michipicoten

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The typical northern town

Stats
Distance traveled today – 132 kms
Moving time – 6 hours and 56 minutes
Moving avg – 19.0 kms/hour
Elevation – 304m

Giving

Please consider making a donation to the United Way of Toronto here. FYI, all the donations are collected through an organization called CanadaHelps through a feature called GivingPages, which enables people to raise money online for the charities they support, such as the United Way of Toronto.

Sidebar: Letters from home

One of my biggest fears when I embarked upon this journey was that I would be lonely. But there have been very few times that I’ve had that feeling of loneliness. I’ve met really interesting people along the way and I’ve always felt that I’m in close touch with my friends and loved ones. With cell phones, Facetime, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and my blog there are many ways to stay in touch.

Most people are shy about leaving comments on a blog. Don’t be shy. It’s the interactive aspect of blogs that make them so popular.

I’ve also received a lot of emails and they’re really appreciated.

I’ve received emails from my brother out West letting me know that his family reads my blog every day and he keeps me updated on his family. Perry sent me the lovely art work from my neice Hannah. She’s so talented.

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Artist: Hannah Schmitt (use only with permission)

My brother Cliff in Pickering sends me notes of encouragement and promised to cook Bison for me (he’s a great cook.

I’ve received emails from our friends Ray and Elaine, and Cecile and Brian telling me how much they are enjoying my blog and encouraging me to continue. Vicki forwarded me a message from my cousin Brigitte in Germany informing us that her niece Sandra won a gold medal in the special Olympics. Fantastic!

I also received many emails from colleagues at work. Viviane’s mom offered me a place to stay over night in Ignace. Anthony gave me great recommendations on places to stay. Donna told me about Fort William in Thunder Bay. And there are many more.

But my favourite emails are from my Vicki, love letters really, telling me about her experiences while she was on a cruise with her mom in the Mediterranean. There was a pretty massive 10 hour time difference between us. I would fire off an email in the evening and I couldn’t wait to wake up to her reply early the next morning.

Vicki would regale me with the sights and sounds of such places as Santorini and Mykonos. Meanwhile I would tell her about climbing the Rogers Pass, Revelstoke, Golden and the fantasticaly interesting people I’ve met along the way. One thing we always had in common wasn’t the water or the rocks or the trees or the historic buildings but rather the amazing people we met along the way.

When I get back I plan to pull out everyone of those letters because they keep me pedalling day after day and they have come to form the colour and fabric of this journey.

Day 35 – Nipigon to Terrace Bay – Total distance traveled – 3647kms

I started off my day slow today. Breakfast at Tim’s. Blogging while I waited for my clothes to dry in the sun (I washed them in the sink the night before). Once I was fed and bike was packed I moseyed on down to Nipigon (pronounced Ni-pi-gin by the locals, not Ni-pi-gone the way I was pronouncing it).

My first impression of Nipigon last night wasn’t very good. The first thing I wanted to do was find a nice place to eat and have a cold beer. I cycled “downtown” to the Nipigon Cafe which advertised it was licensed by the LCBO. I sat down and ordered and was informed it was no longer licensed.

I think the server had a bad day or something. She took forever to bring me water (imagine how thirsty I was), even longer to take my order, never refilled my glass even though I drained it in 20 seconds. The restaurant owner gave free dessert to the table next to me but ignored me completely. The food was excellent but the experience was terrible.

Anyway, enough about the restaurant. I only mention it because first impressions can be wrong, very wrong.

This morning, after searching relentlessly on the Nipigon website I finally found out where everything was, including the marina and the “Paddle to the Sea” park. As I arrived I was greeted by a gentleman sitting at a picnic table. Friendly people here I thought.

The Paddle to the Sea park is absolutely brilliant. It’s a retelling of the story in the form of a playground. It should win an award if it hasn’t already.

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Paddle to the Sea Park

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While I was there a gentleman rode in on his bicycle and started talking to everyone. His name was Jim McCulla and spoke about Nipigon and how he and the gentleman sitting at the picnic table, Howie Chavoyer, had cut the walking trails in the area.

I spent the next hour talking to these gentleman about Nipigon. How tourism used to be much bigger, how the pickerel were depleted by a landslide, how the gold mine that should hoave lasted 20 years only lasted 15 because someone found a quicker way to extract the gold, how they “chased” trains for days to see where they were headed and what cargo they were carrying.
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Howie and Jim

Later I cycled down to the marina where then Paddle to the Sea park continues right down to the end of the story. It used to be a busy place but there were now visitors that day.

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That’s me!

Nipigon has such a vibrant history and it’s and outdoors enthusiasts paradise. I wish there was something I could do to help bring more people to this place.

The ride
I climbed some nasty hills today but I also experienced some spectacular views. I particularly liked the one in the middle. I didn’t know I was supposed to bring my climbing gear with me. I may get as far as Terrace Bay.

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This is where the highway splits – trucks to the left, to the left

There seems to be a bit of rivalry between the North of Superior cyclists and the BC cyclists when it come to who has the bigger hills. The Ontarians claim that the BC hills are long but not steep, and that the Lake Superior hills are shorter but the steepest. Boys will be boys. 😉

I’m starting to think that a hill is a hill and it’s meant to be conquered. And besides, nothing could be worse than Heartless hill, or the 4.5km climb to Chateau Lake Louise, or the Big Hill outside of Cochrane. One thing I will say for sure: if you can climb the North of Superior hills you can climb the Rockies, and vice versa.

I quickly point out however, it’s not the hills that kill you, it’s the prairies when it’s cold and there’s a headwind. That will turn any avid cyclist into a heap of smoldering goo. Give me a steep hill anytime. At least you know there’s a reward at the top and on the other side when you cruise down.

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Looks inviting doesn’t it?

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The road just ends and you go for a swim

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A lake cradled in the arms of the mountains

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Reflections

I arrived in Terrace Bay by 5:30. I could have gone on, but there are storms coming, and Terrace Bay looks like another place I want to explore.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 109 kms
Moving time – 6 hours and 5 minutes
Moving avg – 17.9 kms/hour
Elevation – 410m at the highest point

Day 34 – Thunder Bay to Nipigon – Total distance covered 3538kms

This morning was the lowest point on my journey. It’s my son Andrew’s graduation from Carleton today. He’s graduating with a Bachelor of Information Technology degree from the prestigious and challenging Interactive Media and Design program. I’m so proud of him.

Last night I was less than 5kms from the Thunder Bay airport. Every time I saw Porter aircraft take off I thought I should be on it. But flying to Ottawa would put me seriously behind schedule. It’s really difficult to know what’s right sometimes. There are sacrifices you make and it’s hard to tell at the time if it’s worth it.

But what helped me feel better last night was Andrew who said “Dad, what you’re doing is awesome”.

Well Andrew, what you’ve done is even more awesome. Four years of incredibly hard work and sacrifices. I’m so proud of you. And I’m also proud of Eric who graduated from OttawaU and now holds an important role with Scouts Canada, and Ryan who’s going to make a great lawyer, and Vicki for completing her Queens Executive MBA.

I never finished my degree. I started working at CNCP when I was 18. I went back to university for a few courses but didn’t finish. I’ve done alright for myself but I always wonder if I should have completed my degree. Maybe I still will some day.

Here’s to you Andrew on your special day. Way to go and I love you.

Dad.

About Nipigon
The one reason I wanted to see Nipigon was because of the short film “Paddle to the Sea”. Based on Holling C. Holling’s book of the same name, Paddle to the Sea is Bill Mason’s film adaptation of the classic tale. I would have been pretty young when I first saw this film, but it had a life long impression on me. Maybe it’s what gave me my sense of adventure? Watch it and if you have kids show it to them too. It’s available from the National Film Board’s website.

About great people
The other thing that happened today was I met some great folks from Fresh Air Experience in Thunder Bay. I was almost out of Thunder Bay when I noticed a wobble in my rear wheel. I flipped the bike over and checked it out: a broken spoke. It’s something that has to be fixed, so, back to Thunder Bay. I knew there was a Fresh Air in TB so I looked them up. Eight kilometres across the other side of the city. By the time I got there my bike was functioning pretty poorly. I was worried about how long it would take me to get this fixed.

It only took one look from the gentleman behind the counter to know I had a problem as I wheeled my bike into the store. “Bring it to the back” he said. No questions asked. I explained to Jordan what had happened and he dropped everything he was doing.

I love watching professionals work. He had the wheel off, the spoke replaced and the rim trued up in about 15 mins. Then he said “do you want me to give your bike a bath? It’ll run a lot better.” Absolutely, I replied. While Jordan was cleaning my bike I spoke to several gentleman about my experiences so far and they gave me advice on the what to expect over the next few days.

Jordan brought out my bicycle, now gleaming like new and the chain freshly lubed. “How much?” I asked, quite willing to pay anything at this point I was so happy. “$9.28” was the reply. “We don’t charge labour for emergency repairs”. What a great bunch of people. And the folks at Fresh Air experience in Ottawa are the same. They got my bike ready for me before I embarked on this journey.

The rest of the ride to Nipigon was great. A nice tail wind and good roads got me there in less than 5 hours.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 157 kms
Moving time – 7 hours and 36 minutes
Moving avg – 20.6 kms/hour
Elevation – 262m

Day 33 – Shabaqua to Thunder Bay – Total distance traveled 3380kms

The two cyclists I met outside of Fort Frances told me that there was a great place for breakfast in TB. All they knew was that it was on Algoma St. I figured there was a fat chance of me finding the place, but it’s worth a try. “You mean the Hoito” responded one stranger when I asked. So there I went.

Hoito means “care” in Finnish. When in the city young Finnish bushworkers had difficulty finding a decent meal at a fair price. I had an excellent eggs, pancakes and bacon breakfast with coffee for under $10.

I spent the rest of the day at Historic Fort William. Hotel rooms were in short supply because of the flooding (the Super 8 was completely shut down) and Donna have me a strong recommendation to see Fort York and I noticed they have camping. But a great way to spend the day.

So I cycled the extra 15kms and set up camp. It turned out that I was the only one there. For the entire night. It was a little lonely, but very peaceful. I woke up the next morning to geese outside my tent and a deer within a 100′ of my tent.

Fort William is fantastic. You’re give a tour by actors in period costume. Fort William was a Northwest Company trading post. Each year a 1000 or more voyageurs come from all around for the “rendezvous”. We were a little early but none the less we were greeted by Kenneth McKenzie, a cousin of the famous explorer, and wife gave us a tour if the facilities.

The two most interesting buildings were the apothecary and the canoe shed. With regard to the apothecary, apparently my black feet indicated foot rot and they would likely need to be amputated. But at least I didn’t have a toothache. They device they use to do a root canal looked particularily evil and they waste costing pain killers on such a simple operation.

At the canoe shed they construct birch bark canoes. They had two under construction and several hanging from the rafters. These are massive canoes, enough for 12 voyageurs and goodness knows how much cargo. Each voyageur was responsible for two 90lb packs of fur amd if they lost one it came out of their salary.

The food is really good there too. I had an early dinner – beef stew with fresh baked bread – so they I wouldn’t have to cook. I should also mention they served Rickard’s Red.

The thing that impressed me most about Fort William is the authenticity. They actually make 90lb packs of fur, they make the canoes from birch bark and use spruce root for twine. Everything is real.

By the way, if you have something against furs you should skip this place. There are hundreds of furs: beaver pelts, seal skin, timber wolf, wolverines, skirls, muskrat, fox, mink and on and on. The photo below of Kenneth’s wife beside a fur is a timber wolf. It’s bigger that she is. It would be very scary to meet one of these animals.

I’ll talk briefly about my ride into TB this morning. I woke up at 6am, hit that busy stretch of the Trans-Canada, and took that awful detour on 102. There’s no point in talking anymore about it other than there were some outstanding views coming into TB, and I got another flat. The cause of this one was easy to find: a big staple stuck in my tire.

I need to be on my way so I’m just going to attach some pics and you can figure out where they belong. I’ll probably sort it out later.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 84 kms
Moving time -4 hours and 28 minutes
Moving avg – 18.7 kms/hour
Elevation – 190m

Update: I was very excited to learn that the NorthWest Company is still alive and doing very well.

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Day 32 – Atikokan to Shabaqua – Total distanced traveled – 3297kms

Folks, first I have a confession to make, and it’s not easy for me to say this, but I’ve lost sight of why I’m doing this. It wasn’t supposed to be a race, buy lately it feels like one. I’m pushing hard to complete this journey within the 6 weeks I allotted for this trip. But I’ve been pushing so hard I’ve forgotten to smell the roses.

And what roses they’ve been! Today I pedaled through incredible wilderness, shining blue lakes around every bend, eagles flying overhead. Fresh moose tracks on the shoulder.

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I’m glad to get to the top of that hill. It’s at least 50kms of plateau afterwards.

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Lakes like this one around every corner

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Ontario really knows how to do a rest area. I sun tanned at this one.

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Something really neat happened today too, besides entering the Eastern Standard Time Zone, I reached the Atlantic Watershed. That means that all waterways from here on in flow to the Atlantic Ocean. So in a way it’s all downhill from here.

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The Atlantic Watershed

So where does the water flow to the west of that point? Believe it or not, to the Arctic Ocean, via Hudson’s Bay, everywhere this side of the Rockies that is. When the Hudson’s Bay Company claimed “all lands which drain into the Hudson’s Bay” they really knew what they were doing.

On the other hand, you could say the French grabbed all the best parts first: The St. Lawrence River, The Great Lakes, and all the waters that flow into the Atlantic. They also grabbed the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, but that’s a story for another day.

My objective today was to reach Thunder Bay, or if not Thunder Bay than at least Kakabuka Falls. But I didn’t make it. I’m in Shabaqua, 60kms from TB, exhausted. I’ve cycled 143kms today over many hills and in hot weather. After over 100kms of no where to buy a bottle of water, or get an ice cream, I’ve never been so happy to see the Timberland Hotel and Restaurant (with an LCBO to boot). Note: there is an outfitters 40km east of Atikokan that sells basic groceries.

In front of me from Shabaqua are 20kms of the busiest stretch of highway in Canada, and then due to the highway being washed out by heavy rains last week, I’ll likely have another 30kms over a crumby highway 102.

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All highways from the east and from the west converge over this 20km stretch of highway

I’ve always wanted to see Thunder Bay. For me there’s always been something alluring about it. So far from the eastern Ontario where I live, but amazingly in the same province. Nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, Thunder Bay has a Finnish heritage. Even Porter flies to Thunder Bay.

But back to the purpose of this trip: it’s to see this Canada it in slow motion, by bicycle, and to meet the interesting people that make this country so diverse and so special.

So I’m going to slow down a little bit. If I make it I make it. If not, who cares? I’ll be close, that’s for sure. But right now I want to explore all the towns I’m about to go through, take a swim in Lake Superior, see some sights and meet some people. I still plan to avoid the bears, but I digress.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 143 kms
Moving time – 7 hours and 33 minutes
Moving avg – 19.0 kms/hour
Elevation – 510kms at highest point

Giving

Don’t forget that I am raising money for the United Way of Toronto. I’m still a long ways off from my goal of $1 for every kilometre cycled, or $4500.

The United Way is about helping others in our community to have a better life. I hope that my journey will serve as inspiration for others, that if you sent your goals big and overcome challenges you can do great things. The United Way gives people in our community the support they need to overcome their challenges.

Please consider making a donation here. FYI, all the donations are collected through an organization called CanadaHelps through a feature called GivingPages, which enables people to raise money online for the charities they support, such as the United Way of Toronto.

Day 31 – Fort Frances to Atikokan – Total distance traveled 3154kms

First I have some explaining to. I thought I would be cycling through Quetico Provincial Park for the next two days. I’m not sure what led me to believe that but it has something to do with not having an Ontario road map. Quetico actually lies to the south of Highway 11 and doesn’t have any roads through it.

Nevertheless, it’s still a very unpopulated area and I cycled through at least 140kms of nothing but rocks, lakes and trees. Very beautiful rocks, lakes and trees, but quite uninhabited all the same.

The good thing about all of this is that approximately half way there is a town called Atikokan and that’s where I got wifi access from, and beer.

On the way out of town I learned a little about the history of the area and a lot of things came together for me. The lakes and waterways in this area were used by the voyageurs, and before that the coureur de bois, and before that by French Canadian explorers searching for the Western Sea and to establish the fur trade. Now I understand how the French ended up in what is now Minnesota and Manitoba and went on to explore the Mississippi all the way south to what is now Louisianna.

Ussually the would “water walker” refers to canoeists. But this morning I felt like a water walker as I threaded my way through Rainy Lake over bridges and causeways.

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Crossing Rainy Lake

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I particularly like the Dragon Fly (there were many)

Not far out of town I met two cyclists heading west: Mario and Maxime from Montreal. They are on a world tour on their bikes and once they get to BC they plan to head south, way south, to Argentina, and then east to Brazil, and from there across the Atlantic to God knows where. They’ve got quite a trip ahead of them. They also told me a lot about what to expect for the rest of my trip.

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Maxime and Mario

The ride for the next 120kms was excellent with great roads, light traffic and lots of scenery. I also had my first bear sighting. Up ahead on the road I noticed a car that just passed me stop on the highway and then I saw this big black animal moving along the side of the road. That made me slow down a little. It looked like the driver of the car waited for the bear to move away. The bear eventually left the road and I continued on, at a very fast clip, and on the left side of the road. I didn’t stop to check out the bear.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. I’m glad I brought a lot of water through. I consumed more than 3 litres by the time I got to Atikokan. I had actually planned to go further today. Thunder Bay is still 200kms off. I’d planned to stay at a rest area another 60kms up the road. But by the time I’d reached Atikokan I’d altready cycled 160kms.

But what cinched it is that Atikokan hails itself as “Canoeing Capital of Canada”. The town has a lot of potential with Quetico at it’s doorstep, two canoe manufactures, a paddle manufacturer, and it promotes itself very actively. Maybe this town could be the “Revelstoke” of Ontario one day.

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Atikokan has an incredible number of athletes for such a small town

Here’s my route from Fort Frances to Thunder Bay:
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I’ve now crossed the 3000km mark. It’s hard to believe. Tomorrow I plan to take my time and enjoy the great roads and the beautiful scenery because I don’t know when I’ll return next to this historic area. If I make it to Thunder Bay tomorrow great, if not, then it’ll be the next day.

Stats
Distance traveled today – 161kms
Moving time – 7 hours and 53 minutes
Moving avg – 20.5 kms/hour
Elevation – 420m at highest point

Day 30 – Warroad MN to Fort Francis ON – Total distance traveled – 2902kms

I’m back in Ontario again! My plan was to stop in International falls, MN. But the beer sucks in the US so I decided it was worth the extra push to cross the Rainy River into Fort Frances, Ontario.

Oh, what a delight! Look, a TD bank! And there’s an LCBO! And finally, a Super 8 with a Boston Pizza next door! Oh my God, I’m in heaven.

Don’t get me wrong: Minnesota is awesome. There’s all kinds of things to do. Way more than I realized. Fishing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, skiing even. There are more cycling trails in MN than in any other state in the US. The cycling was fantastic, the people were friendly, the drivers were incredibly considerate.

So why am I so glad to be back in Canada? I have no idea. I guess is just a familiarity. I know I can use my cell phone without ridiculous roaming charges. I know I can use Canadian cash. I know what to expect from a Tim Hortons. The music they’re playing in BP is exactly what I want to hear. Elton John, the Beatles, James Taylor, the Eagles.

And then there’s the beer. The restaurant last night didn’t serve alcohol,. Nether did the one in Steinbach. Bible thumping country? I don’t know if that’s the reason on not. But I need my beer, for medicinal reasons of course. You know, carbs and all that stuff.

Aside from all of that, I feel good about getting across the border. I’ll have another big day tomorrow and I need supplies which I have to get on the Canadian side.

Speaking about crossing the border, it was another interesting conversation with the customs agent. This one Canadian. Keep in mind that I’m in the car lane:

Customs Officer (CO): Where do you live?
Me: Ottawa, Canada.
CO: Where are you coming from?
Me: Vancouver, via Warroad yesterday.
CO: Um, where are you headed?
Me: Toronto.
CO: How long are you going to be in Canada?
Me: Actually, I’m Canadian.
CO: You’re on a bicycle?
Me: Yes.
CO: What’s you profession sir?
Me: I work at MTS Allstream.
CO: How did you get to Vancouver?
Me: I flew, with my bike.
CO: How long is it going to take you to get from Vancouver to Toronto?
Me: 6 weeks.
CO: And why are you doing this?
Me: It’s a life long dream and I’m raising money for the United Way.
CO: Well ok, I guess you’re good to go. I just never heard of anything like that before.
Me: Surely a lot of cyclists come through here in the summer?
CO: Yes, but they usually go through the pedestrian walkway.
Me: Oops, sorry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How was the day? Awesome, awesome, awesome. Roads as smooth was glass. A tail wind (yes, really). Places to stop and look around.

I awoke to a beautiful sunrise in Warroad. I clambered out of my tent to use the washroom and perched on a dead tree above me was a Bald Eagle. As usual, by the time I pulled my camera out it was gone, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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Sunrise on Lake of the Woods

On the way out of town I found out why this town is called “Warroad”. It lterally comes from an Indian word meaning “war road” but the “road” is a river, not a road. The Sioux would come down the river to war with the Chipawa for control over the rice fields. This went on for a long time, and the name stuck.

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Where the name Warroad came from

There are all sorts of old rusting equipment along the side of the road. But they’re displayed, not just abandoned. I’m not sure if they’re for sale, or it’s some kind of display of old machinery.
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Please choose a car from our line of gently used vehicles

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Wally the Walleye in Baudette, MN

The ride along highway 12 was pretty uneventful, accept for one section that turned out to be a workout, just after Baudette I faced the dreaded “Road Closed, Detour” sign. For a driver in a car this may not be a big deal, but for a cyclists: how long is the detour and can I get through anyway? I took the detour for a short stretch and it looked like it was going to be long so I re-joined the highway a little further up. Grooved road turned into dirt road which turned into soft sand, a cyclists nightmare. I stopped a driver who confirmed that I could get through and the that the sand/gravel only continued for another 2 miles. So I stuck with it and soon enough I was back on grooved road, and a couple more miles later back on pavement. The rest of the ride was extremely quite (most of the cars were on the detour).

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Cycling along the Rainy River

I reached International Falls by about 5pm, stopped to take a snap of Smokey the Bear, and kept going.

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Smokey the Bear – International Falls MN

After circling around Fort Frances for a few kilometres I finally found the Super 8, checked in, and had a long hot shower.

Now, where’s that beer?

Stats
Distance traveled today – 179kms
Moving time – 7 hours and 55 mins
Moving avg – 22.6kms/hour
Elevation – 358m

Giving

If you’re enjoying my blog please consider making a donation to the United Way here. The United Way of Toronto is about helping others in our community to have a better life. I hope that my journey will serve as inspiration for others, that if you sent your goals big and overcome challenges you can do amazing things. The United Way gives people in our community the support they need to overcome their challenges.

FYI, all the donations are collected through an organization called CanadaHelps through a feature called GivingPages, which enables people to raise money online for the charities they support, such as the United Way of Toronto.

Thank you all for the donations so far. They helped a lot to bring me closer to my goal of raising $1 for every kilometre cycled, or $4500, but I’ve still got a long way to go.