Northern Ontario

Winnipeg was a great spot to take a day off. The hostel was a little odd and could have certainly done with a clean out, but it did the job of putting a roof over my head and giving me a bed in the city for a couple of nights. I had a few jobs that I needed to get done in the city and supplies to pick up. I also was able to have a very long and relaxed brunch and wandered through the city watching the Winnipeg Gay Pride event. I left Winnipeg and had about 200 km into Northern Ontario and the true end of the Prairies. I had the wind behind me and soon crossed the Longitudinal Centre of Canada. It felt like a big achievement to be more than halfway across this huge country. Gradually, throughout the day, trees began to line the road and break up the scenery. It was still quite flat but even this began to change towards the end of the day. After 144 km I made it to Falcon Beach where I was happy to grab a milkshake and get set up at the Provincial Park, just on the edge of the lake. I fixed camp and made dinner before heading to the one small bar in town to watch the Stanley Cup final and have a couple of beers.  

 From Falcon Beach it was a short day into Kenora, which would be the last sizeable town for a few days. I had a very relaxed morning drinking coffee and eating breakfast, while chatting to some very cool people living and working in the town for the summer. I headed out around midday and soon found myself with hills to climb and stunning views over numerous lakes. The change as I rolled into Ontario was amazing. Suddenly there was character to the landscape again. Kenora is a nice old town set on the seemingly endless Lake of the Woods. The whole area is dotted with thousands of lakes but this one is huge, with a lot of inlets and islands. While I paused in town to check directions to the nearest campground, I was assisted by Don, who promptly offered me a spot to camp in his garden. I was in the heart of the town, right on the lake and totally free. Yet another act of amazing generosity. He would be out for the evening, but a further bit of kindness by a doctor, lead to me being offered the use of a shower and bathroom in the neighbouring surgery. I really have been lucky on this trip at times. I spent the evening in town, at the Lake of the Woods Brewing Company, sampling a few beers and treating myself to dinner. I retired to my tent contented and happy. I slept well but was woken during the night by a deer passing through the garden. The country was about to get increasingly wild. I was also back into bear territory. 

     For the rest of my trip, I would have a pretty relaxed schedule. I had pushed hard through the Prairies to make sure I could enjoy the last few thousand kilometres. I decided to aim for about 100 km on leaving Kenora and head for the town of Vermillion Bay. The cycling was wonderful. There were plenty of short climbs but nothing too taxing. Best of all, there were spectacular views over the lakes and seemingly endless forests. Coming from the UK it is hard to contemplate woodlands on this scale. I made Vermillion Bay in the late afternoon and began to ask around for a place to stay. There was no campground in town but a few people had recommended a spot by Eagle Lake where they thought it would be ok to sleep. I would have preferred somewhere a little less remote and more sheltered but after spending a bit more time weighing up my options, this seemed like the best choice. I found the road down to the lake and then the picnic and boat launch area. It seemed ok but I was nervous about my first night camping wild again in bear country. I started cooking dinner, intending to wait until dusk to set up my tent to avoid any questions if someone came down. Unfortunately, the wind began to pick up and it was clear that there was a huge storm front rolling in across the lake. I ate whilst setting up my tent and swiftly packed everything away. I sat reading for a short time before the storm hit. I rechecked that everything was under cover and tied down tightly then zipped myself in for the night. The wind and rain were fierce, battering my tent. But everything held firm. The water was kept out and by morning the storm had passed. Nevertheless it was a fairly tough, lonely night. I always find nights camping with no company difficult and at this spot I didn’t even have phone signal. It is nice to be able to send messages and especially to talk in the evenings and it is very noticeable when I can’t.  

   I was up and away early, planning to give myself a short day. I covered the 45 km into Dryden by about 9 am and had a late breakfast. I spent most of the day in the library. They have wifi and comfy places to sit so I was very content, catching up with friends and family and allowing myself to just switch off. After the lonely night before it was just what I needed. I rolled out in the early evening sunshine to reach the Aaron Provincial Park on Thunder Lake. It was a stunning evening. I ate well and enjoyed a spectacular sunset in the company of Simon, another cyclist crossing Canada for the summer. We cycled 90 km together the next day into the town of Ignace. I had no need to push on any further with my schedule so we parted ways. He wanted to get across a lot quicker than I intended to but it had been a good morning cycling with him. I found myself a spot at the campground in Ignace and spent the evening relaxing in their gazebo, sheltered from mosquitos and the pounding rain that came through that evening. I headed for my tent to go to bed but found the whole area around it flooding. It wouldn’t be long before my tent and all my stuff would be under water. I took the snap decision to move everything into the gazebo. I figured the campground might not the too impressed with me sleeping there but I honestly didn’t care. It would be a disaster if my tent flooded and all my stuff got soaked and this way it was guaranteed to stay dry. As it turned out, I don’t think anybody even noticed.  

   I left Ignace with 100 km to cover to get to Uppsala. When I have described distances between places in Northern Ontario where there has literally been nothing between those towns. There were perhaps two petrol stations at junctions with other roads, but aside from this, there was just nothing else. The scenery was beautiful, but it did make for some pretty tiring days with nowhere to pause easily on route. Uppsala was a tiny town. It did at least have a small grocery store to pick up supplies. I headed out towards a campground that I had been told about at Savanne River. I just hadn’t felt like sleeping wild for the past few nights. I never slept as well when I was worried about where I was and what wildlife might be around. On arrival at Savanne River, I was confronted by a no vacancy sign and informed that they were having a traditional First Nations’ Pow Wow that evening. Thankfully, the campground owner said he would find me a place to stay and invited me to come and witness the celebrations. As I was a guest he wouldn’t even charge me! It was a cool evening watching and listening to traditional song and dance with some really spectacular costumes on display. I was grateful yet again for the hospitality and generosity. 

 I left Savane River heading for Thunder Bay and my first glimpse of Lake Superior. It was a hot day with plenty of undulations. By the time I hit the city, I was delighted to check into my hostel for a couple of nights. The weather was pretty atrocious so I didn’t get to explore that much. As usual however, I did find time to sample the local craft beer and have a superb burger. I have eaten a lot of burgers on this trip, and this one was right up there with the best! After a day off in Thunder Bay, I headed 100 km up the road to the small town of Nipigon. I would be staying with my friend Claire, who I had met in Byron Bay in Australia. It was awesome to arrive there and settle in. I planned to spend a few days there and take a decent break. My legs had been pushed pretty hard since Calgary and I was ready to completely recover. The first stretch of Northern Ontario was done. It had been pretty remote and very wild in places. But it was also beautiful. It is hard to describe just how many lakes there are and how extensive the forests are. Next up was my trip around the great lakes and these would prove to be just as wonderful!

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