The Great Lakes
I had a very enjoyable and relaxing week off the bike in Nipigon. I had been feeling increasingly exhausted travelling through Northern Ontario so to have a roof over my head and a bed for a few nights was very beneficial. It was great to spend some time with Claire and it was awesome to get out for some good hiking and to meet her friends in the town. By the time I was ready to leave, I had been caught up by Rob, a guy I had met back in Golden, BC. We had gone in different directions from that point but it was cool to meet again and to have some company for what would be another reasonably remote and challenging stretch.
Immediately leaving Nipigon, the road along the north shore of Lake Superior had some serious undulations. The coastline is dominated by towering cliffs and bays that result from the erosion of the Canadian Shield during a series of ice ages. This meant a battling day for Rob and myself as we made for Terrace Bay but we were also rewarded by some spectacular scenery. The scale of Lake Superior really is something to behold. There wasn’t anywhere official to camp but we headed down to the beach in Terrace Bay. It was a wonderful spot to pitch our tents on the beach for the night. The sunset over the water was beautiful. We surely had one of the best camping spots in all of Canada, and it was free. It was staggeringly cold overnight though! We woke up to a glorious morning on the beach and set off for Marathon, where we hoped to enjoy some Canada Day festivities. The hills continued, but so too did the scenery and by mid-afternoon Rob had caught up with me in the centre of the town, where we were joined by another cyclist. We bought food supplies for the evening but unfortunately all the liquor stores were closed so we were unable to buy any beers. On hearing our plight, a lady proceeded to drive home and bring us six iced beers. Canadians continuing to prove themselves some of the nicest people in the world. We camped in the park where the fireworks would be set off and enjoyed an evening of pizza and a couple of beers.
We carried on the next day, fortunate to avoid the many heavy storms in the area, and stopped in White River for the night. The town’s main claim to fame is being the home of the black bear called “Winnie” which would later go on to be the inspiration behind Winnie the Pooh The tourist information centre let us know that we were allowed to camp in the park in the middle of town for free. A very handy place to stay. The next town on the way round Lake Superior was Wawa, about 90 km to the east. It was another fairly uneventful day aside from meeting two other cyclists on the road. The first of these was Mathieu, a French cyclist crossing Canada to complete his round the world trip. Remarkably, I had first met him cycling down the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. I had heard he was on the same stretch of road as me but it was great to run into each other. I also met Scott. He was doing the trans-Canada during his summer holidays from university in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We would spend a lot of the next few days cycling together, but first we had to get through the Lake Superior Provincial Park. Rob and I headed to a campground while Mathieu and Scott looked for a free spot. There were some pretty huge hills, especially at the end of a long day. The views in the park in the evening sunshine were worth it though, with the downhill ride to Old Woman Bay being a particular highlight.
We then had a short day through the park to another campground. It was a beautiful, warm morning but as we headed over one ridge, we suddenly descended into very thick fog. The temperature dropped an incredible amount and once set up at the campground for the afternoon, we proceeded to sit wrapped in almost all our clothes and sleeping bags trying to keep warm for most of the afternoon. Thankfully, a kind couple took pity on us and let us share their fire and gave us tea as night fell. Again, Mathieu and Scott had chosen to hide in the bushes and avoid having to pay for a camping spot. The following morning we soon met up on the road with them. We shelved our ambitions to make Sault Ste Marie that day due to high humidity and headwinds. We had a good stop in the afternoon for ice cream and then set out to find a good spot to camp for the night. We pushed through some trees and onto the beach for yet another glorious free camping spot. We went swimming, sat around and chatted and built a huge fire from driftwood on the beach. It was pretty fantastic. Unfortunately, as is often the case in Ontario, the mosquitos decided to ruin it. As night fell, the beach turned from heaven, to an insect riddled nightmare. In the short time it took us to put out the fire and scramble to our tents, I had been bitten all over my arms legs and face. It was just horrible.
We were left with a short but challenging day into Sault Ste Marie. Here we would leave Lake Superior behind us and head east along the north shore of Lake Huron. Scott and Mathieu had a warmshowers host for a couple of nights but myself and Rob camped outside a bike shop called Velorution, that allows tourers to use their facilities and sleep for free. We had a day off catching up on jobs but were soon ready to hit the road again. I woke to find Rob packed up and ready to go very early. He was never one to be up and away quickly so I was instantly suspicious. I then realised that Lindsey, another tourer staying at Velorution, wanted to leave early. Suddenly it all made sense! Cheers Rob! That was the last I would see of him.
I set out on my own but knew Scott and Mathieu would be following me out of the city to stay with the same Warmshowers host. The road levelled off; a welcome relief from the long steep hills around Lake Superior. I made it to the charming town of Thessalon and then found the house where we would be staying, just a little further east. I lay in the sun in the garden waiting for our host. In addition to Scott and Mathieu, there were two other cyclists staying there so we ended up with 5 cyclists camping in this guy’s garden. It was yet another fun evening. We kept pushing east and the next night, found ourselves a glorious camping spot next to the Serpent River. It was a wonderful place to camp with fast clean water, perfect for paddling in. It had been a fairly relaxed day and Scott and I had even had time to stop and gorge ourselves on freshly picked Strawberries at a farm. We had just two days left until we would be getting the ferry to Southern Ontario and going our separate ways. The first of this started in very easy fashion, with 65 km into Espanola. Here we would turn south, heading for Manitoulin Island. We would all be staying with a Warmshowers host in the tiny village of Whitefish Falls. The 25 km to get there from Espanola were very challenging. It was very hot and there were numerous steep hills. Thankfully, on arrival, it was as though we had stepped into heaven. Our host David had a beautiful house with a garden leading down to Lake Huron. We were able to swim and drink beer in the sun, before we were cooked a glorious dinner by David’s wife, Sheila. It really was a true pleasure to stay with them.
Our final day cycling together, would take myself, Mathieu and Scott the full length on Manitoulin Island. We had lunch together in Little Current and then took different routes to make it to South Baymouth. I stuck to the main highway but the traffic was light, the shoulders wide and I was rewarded by wonderful views of the Georgian Bay. I made it to South Baymouth before the others and treated myself to fish and chips while I waited. We would be up early in the morning to catch the ferry to Tobermory. From there we would go separate ways as I headed south towards Niagara Falls and the USA and they went east towards Toronto. It had been a great stretch of cycling. It had been very challenging in places, and extremely remote with long, empty stretches between towns. Overall however, the scenery had been glorious and it had been fantastic to have company for a couple of weeks. It helped turn the wilderness into an advantage as we were able to find a few wonderful wild camping spots, which would have been miserable on my own. It had to come to an end though, and with it the last remote stretch had been completed. Southern Ontario and New York State would be much more populated. Life would certainly be easier in some ways, but I would truly miss the beauty and freedom of the wild.