Monday, 18 July 2011

Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie

Distance travelled over last 8 days: 802.7 km
Total distance: 4546 km

After day upon day of rolling Ontario hills, and the need to run errands around town, I took a half-day off in Thunder Bay. It was here that I got the aforementioned (previous blog entry) camera battery replaced; then I started looking for a barber shop. I went from shop to shop, but for some reason they were all closed on this Monday afternoon. Then, as luck would have it, at one closed shop, the barber arrived coincidentally. He explained that I would not be able to get my haircut, as the barbershop association had legislated closure on Sunday and Monday! Go figure... I left town with a mop still sitting on my head.

A few kilometers out of town is a monument to Terry Fox. It is in Thunder Bay that Terry prematurely ended his Marathon of Hope due to resurgent cancer. This local stretch of Highway 17 is named the Courage Highway in memorial of Terry.

Terry Fox monument outside Thunder Bay
From this same vantage point, one can look across Lake Superior and view the Sleeping Giant jutting out into the water. With a bit of imagination, you can see the giant's head at the left, his arms folded across his chest, and his feet at the right.

The sleeping giant
I didn't plan to travel very far over the course of my half-day out of Thunder Bay. My destination was less than 30 km out of the city, at Thunder Bay International Hostel. I was anticipating an opportunity to meet a very interesting character - more about that in a moment. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at this hostel. For a very affordable rate, I found the place to be peacefully quiet, secluded and full of charm and character! The elderly owners are very friendly and hospitable.

Which way to Vanoucver, again? (Taken outside the hostel)
Shortly after nine in the evening, the guest of the evening arrived. Meet Jean Beliveau, world traveller and true gentleman. Jean set off to walk around the world eleven years ago from his hometown of Montreal, Quebec. Since then, he has walked through the US & Mexico, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, and he is now less than 100 days away from finishing right back where he started! Along with all the supplies he pushes along in a stroller, Jean carries a binder, which includes a map of his travels, and pictures from meetings with figures such as Nelson Mandella and various world presidents and leaders.

A quick footnote in Jean's 11 year journey!
The next day was a quiet ride through Nipigon, to a stealth campsite that offered a great view of Lake Superior. Although the weather was overcast all day, I managed to stay dry the whole time, which on the whole made for pleasant riding conditions.

The next morning, I awoke to a beautiful pastel-red, orange and blue sunrise over Lake Superior. The sound of the bird-calls echoing through the woods was quite spectacular, and continued into my ride. In Ontario, the bird-calls sound like the native Indian songs they surely inspired; much better than the squawking red-winged blackbirds of the prairies.

Morning light shines across the sky above Lake Superior
The terrain through this part of Ontario has reminded me of British Columbia, but miniaturized. On this particular day, instead of spending a whole day tackling a BC mountain pass, I attacked four steep hills, each gaining and then relinquishing roughly 200 m of elevation. The first valley landed me in the Indian Reserve of Pays Plat, which I sped through; the second valley brought me to Rossport, where I took in the beautiful lake and boat launch.

A view of the beautiful lake and dockside at Rossport.
After leaving Rossport, it wasn't far to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, and I decided I had to stop and take a look - I'm glad I did! A beautiful, pristine lake fed the successive falls, which flowed over pink granite rock.

The peaceful lake that feeds Rainbow Falls
The third valley of the day was in Schreiber, where I visited Aguasabon falls. These falls were easily more spectacular than those at Rainbow Falls, just due to the sheer elevation drop and power of the water. Even from my vantage point way up above the water, I could feel the mist landing on my face and arms.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable day of cycling, with lots of towns and exciting stops along the way. The descents were some of the quickest of my entire journey, reaching speeds of 68 km/h. In the evening I camped at Neys, where I used the wifi to catch up on emails - cellular service in Northern Ontario is atrocious!

Aguasabon Falls roaring in the background
Day 42 of my trip took me from Neys to White River. This town's claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Winnie the Pooh et al. The visitor center at White River allows free tenting on their lawn, which was conveniently close to a gas station and an A&W.

White River - where it all began!
I was expecting an easy ride out of White River to Wawa, but I was wrong! Strong headwinds made progress slow and frustrating. After a brief snack, I crossed paths with another adventurer, who was riding a 4-wheel bicycle to Vancouver. Well, he had been riding: moments before, one of his axles snapped, forcing him to push his vehicle along the roadside, hoping to meet someone with a welding kit. Unfortunately, I couldn't be of much help to him... I hope he managed ok!

On this day, I passed the marker designating 1000 km of Trans-Canada highway riding since the Manitoba border. A little further, and I reached Wawa, where I was finally able to get the haircut I had so long desired! Wawa gets its name from the native word "wewe" for bird - or geese - or something like that. At any rate, there are several large geese sculptures around town, and many smaller geese statues and ornaments.

Big Geese at Wawa
On the barber's advice, I headed a little south to Michipicoten. I trekked 5 km of tricky terrain to get to Sandy Beach, which was on the shore of Lake Superior, and very secluded. I pitched my tent on the beachfront with the sun still high in the sky, and as I headed for bed, I was serenaded to sleep by the lapping of the waves.

Picture-perfect at Sandy Beach in Michipicoten
I left Sandy Beach the next morning, and entered Lake Superior Provincial Park - the Ontario analogue of Kootenay National Park in the Rocky Mountains. There are numerous beautiful bay views here: Old Woman Bay with 300 ft cliffs and Katherine Cove were a couple of highlights. I made it out of the park in time to reach the more affordable Twilight Campground, saving me from having to shell out for one of the expensive provincial camps. I was treated to a scenic sunset over the lake shortly after 9 pm.

Sunset at Twilight Campground
The weather from Wawa to Sault Ste. Marie was very challenging. Southerly winds brought elevated temperatures and high humidity into the area, which sapped the strength and energy from my legs. The humidity felt jungle-like, and stopping for rests made cycling further feel like a daunting task. I found, however, that the best strategy was to keep on going, as once I was pedalling, the airflow helped to regulate my body temperature and keep a fresh supply of air into my lungs.

As I entered into Sault Ste. Marie, I passed a marker that supposedly commemorates the Trans-Canada Highway at the midway point. The plaque, however, appeared to be missing! (Vandalism?! Maintenance?) After the brief respite and self-congratulation, I hurdled one more big hill into the Soo, where I reached the home of Brian and Margaret. The evening brought heavy thunderstorms and a brief power outage. Needless to say, I was very glad I had a roof over my head and a comfortable bed to sleep in.

The marker with the missing plaque!
Today, I took a rest day in the Soo, where I visited the boardwalk and canal. I had planned to replace the chain and cassette on my bicycle due to all the wear and stretch that has accumulated along the journey, but the local bicycle technicians were occupied for the day, and advised that I could delay the maintenance for a little while longer.

When I depart from the Soo tomorrow, I will be hoping for more tolerable temperatures and humidity!

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