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.

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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