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 opressivey 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.