27 May, 2014

Great Lakes, but Not-So-Great Roads

For the past two weeks, we have been cycling the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Huron on a portion of the Trans-Canada Highway from Thunder Bay to Sudbury, Ontario. We have been surrounded by beautiful scenery, even if the weather and road surface have been much less than perfect.

While the population along the Trans-Canada Highway is generally sparse, the number of Provincial Parks is not. There is generally a Provincial park every 50-60 kilometers (30-36 miles), whereas towns are not quite so frequent. Unfortunately, this didn’t help us much as many were closed, soaked with snowmelt, or charge up to $40 just to pitch a tent. We even spent 83 km (52 miles) cycling through Lake Superior Provincial Park. Beyond the Provincial Parks, there are many private campgrounds providing bathrooms, hot showers, and often laundry facilities. These amenities are nice, but it was a shock the first time we had to pay $30-40 to pitch a tent. That said, everything in Canada has cost 30-50% more than in the US even with the favorable exchange rate of $1.09 CAD per $1 USD. That was unexpected.

The Terry Fox Memorial honoring the inspiration and unity he gave to Canada. Despite the statue being about a man who attempted to run across Canada, there is no legal way to access the memorial by foot or bike. We had to break the law for a couple of km to see this.

The Terry Fox Memorial honoring the inspiration and unity he gave to Canada. Despite the statue being about a man who attempted to run across Canada, there is no legal way to access the memorial by foot or bike. We had to break the law for a couple of km to see this.

Another surprise, though this one pleasant, are the great waterfalls and boardwalks with railings leading to them. Some of these paths are over a mile long and all in great condition. The most beautiful waterfall was Aguasabon Gorge with plenty of remaining snow and ice creating a truly unique view.

Aguasabon Gorge is just a quick detour off highway 17 and was well worth the stop. Kristin particularly enjoyed the walkway.

Aguasabon Gorge is just a quick detour off highway 17 and was well worth the stop. Kristin particularly enjoyed the walkway.

Until a few weeks ago, when I thought about cycling the shores of a lake, I was expecting flat terrain. From Thunder Bay to Nipigon was fairly flat with just a few rollers; however, as we left Nipigon, we started riding above Lake Superior and climbed and descended most of the day. We had a few days of nearly 3000 feet of climbing. These were the biggest hills that we saw since the east slopes of Glacier National Park. Our climbing legs hadn’t been exercised in weeks, but suddenly we needed them again.

While we are now using our climbing legs again, we have yet to need our shorts yet. Doug mentioned in his last post, that I was convinced that we were chasing winter. My thoughts on the matter remain unchanged. On May 16th, we spent an extra night at the Rossport Inn in Rossport, ON, to allow a few inches of snow along our next day’s ride to pass. Unbelievable! That said, we really enjoyed our “day off” helping Ned, the owner, build a chicken tractor-coop (a mobile chicken coop that can be dragged to a new location as needed) and sharing stories with him and his brother, including the day Ned punched out Bob Seger for being obnoxious in his restaurant. Ned made us cocktails on both evenings we were there and even invited us to stay for a dinner party with some of his friends two days later. However, there was dry weather on the horizon, so we politely declined and continued on. Just a few days later, after the dry weather passed, we cycled through a thunderstorm, hail, and three torrential downpours, all in a single day. Finally on May 23rd, we got a full day of sun and temperatures in the middle 60s and the next day, temperatures reached the 70s. We were finally able to break out our cycling shorts for the first time since March 23rd when we departed Seattle. We think spring/summer is finally on its way!

We spent a day off at Rossport Inn and helped the owners build a tractor-coop for their chickens in exchange for some gin martinis.

We spent a day off at Rossport Inn and helped the owners build a tractor-coop for their chickens in exchange for some gin martinis.

As we approached Canada and in our early days in Canada we kept hearing that Route 17 (Trans-Canada Highway) has a narrow shoulder and the drivers were not very accommodating for cyclists. One gentleman went to the extent of saying he had lived in Thunder Bay his whole life and is ashamed that Route 17 remains as poor a cycling road as it is, especially after several cyclists have lost their lives on this road over the years. Well, all the warnings were appropriate as the road had a narrow paved shoulder, rarely more than a foot wide for most of the way and often as little as six inches. To the right of the shoulder was soft dirt. Most of the drivers moved over a few feet to give us a little extra space as they passed, but several large 18-wheelers chose not to or didn’t have that choice as traffic was coming towards them. Thank goodness we had our mirrors and could see these situations develop. We would yell “Ditch!” or “Truck!” and carefully move onto the soft shoulder, swerving around in the sandy soil waiting for the danger to pass. I had one spill in the dirt, but no damage to me or the bike, just a few bruises and additional frustration for the crappy road conditions on a route that many cyclists use every year to traverse Canada.

Thankful we're not riding roads with so little shoulder all the way across the continent.

Thankful we’re not riding roads with so little paved shoulder all the way across the continent.

Overall, we really enjoyed the scenery and we would highly recommend the northern shore of Lake Superior as a road trip (by car) for anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path, especially if you bring your own canoe and fishing tackle. There are gorgeous views and lots of hiking and picnic areas along the way as well as campgrounds accommodating tents or RVs and motels. We even saw a moose on our way into camp one night and a river otter in camp that same night, on the Magpie River. Definitely drive west to east (clockwise around the lake) for better views and wait for the middle of June or later in the summer to have a better chance for nicer weather. But bring your bug spray.

Doug grabbed this photo of a moose while biking to the campground outside of Wawa, ON.

Doug grabbed this photo of a moose while biking to the campground outside of Wawa, ON.

Rolling past some of the oldest rocks on earth. The Canadian Shield is comprised of rocks from 4.5 Billion years ago.

Rolling past some of the oldest rocks on earth. The Canadian Shield is comprised of rocks from 4.5 Billion years ago.