Going the Distance: Days 34 to 41 (Thunder Bay to Cochrane, ON)

June 14, 2010: Thunder Bay to Nipigon, 114 km

The day greeted me with sun and a few clouds in the sky. I took Lakeshore Road out of Thunder Bay. It was about 10 km of quiet car-free easy riding. One of the houses I passed had four homemade directional sign posts. Each one had about a dozen signs pointed to various destinations around the world made by visitors passing through.

Gas stations are usually boring. There was one that I passed that captivated my interest. The outside of the building has a mural illustrating the great outdoors. Wolves on one side and postcard style illustrations on the other of bears, fishermen and a hillside.

I met another cyclist while camping in Nipigon. Bruce was from Port Perry, Ontario and happened to be celebrating his 70th birthday. He was a tall, fit man with short white hair who looked like he could have been 60. His wife Judy was with him driving their van and camping trailer. A green canoe was fastened atop of the van. Bruce’s goal was to bike 1400 km back home and take some time to fish and camp. Their dog kept alert for bears and other wild animals. Our mutually destined route was Hwy 11. The flatter roads would be easier on our knees. I could have accompanied Bruce on the next day’s ride but I preferred to sleep in that morning. 🙂

June 15, 2010: Nipigon to Geraldton, 163 km

To my surprise this route did have some nice scenery and some hills. Riding around Helen Lake provided some quiet tranquil moments. There were few cars and trucks on the road to interrupt the morning part of the ride. And peaking out on a hillside was a small waterfall.

I caught up to Bruce 88 km into my ride, just shy of Beardmore. He had called it a day and was with Judy at a rest area. They were going to camp out for the night and continue the next day to Geraldton. I wished them a safe journey and rode on to Geraldton, MacLeod Provincial Park.

June 16, 2010: Geraldton to Klotz Lake, 83 km

This was a short ride of 80 km. I took a break in the town of Longlac, 30 km east of Geraldton. Longlac is at the north end of Long Lake and was used as a trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1814. The people there are very nice and helpful, especially the ones working at the post office. I had to triple check that there was indeed a campground at Klotz lake. It is a long ride to Hearst and Klotz Lake would provide a slightly shorter distance.

Off I went to Klotz Lake Campground. It is a fishing and hunting resort complete with rustic cabins and camp sites. Klotz Lake is popular for fishing. It’s 16 km long and about 2 km wide with small islands that add to its beauty. This trip is about luck and being at the right place at the wrong time. I stayed at Klotz Lake campground the same time a whole bunch of fishermen from Michigan did their annual trip. That night I enjoyed a pot luck dinner with beer battered deep fried fish, fresh from the days catch, soup, pasta, lemon cake, a wine cooler and venison (or it might have been bear meat, not sure). I wasn’t able to supply any real food of my own. Unless you consider eating granola bars and trail mix a better choice of food that what was enjoyed that night.

June 17, 2010: Klotz Lake to Hearst, 167 km

This is the day I have been thinking about since Thunder Bay. A 160 km ride with nothing but trees. It was a hot day to start off and I needed to be focused. Along the way I could see a few closed down motels, boarded up for reasons unknown. The heat brought out plenty of bugs. I could see them circling around me trying to find a good landing spot.

When I ride I prefer to have my hands on the lower part of my bike’s drop bars. It’s the most comfortable position for me. But today was the first time I could feel pain in my wrists and arms. A few times I had to change hand positions and shake out my arms to alleviate the pain. It wasn’t until later on in the ride that I popped some pain killers.

I made sure I had plenty of water with me. I’ve done longer rides before but riding in the heat is a new element for me. I was used to the wet weather that marked that last couple weeks of the trip. Today’s ride was one of the few psychologically challenging ones I’ve endured to date. There was no escaping the lack of scenery, the blazing sun, the bugs and the long distance until I reached my destination.

Bienvenue Hearst, a town who’s primary language spoken is French. Pourquois? Turns out many people from Quebec migrate to Northern Ontario for work. They have settled in Hearst, Kapuskasing and Cochrane.

June 18, 2010: Hearst to Moonbeam, 120 km

It was an easy ride to the town of Moonbeam made famous for a UFO sighting. Oh wait…I was just informed by some men in black that it was actually a weather balloon. I stand corrected. I stayed at Twin Lakes Campground. This trailer park has two man-made lakes in its centre with sandy beaches and a 225 foot slide that drops into the lake for kids. Even though there were thunderstorms that night it was sunny the next morning.

June 19, 2010: Moonbeam to Cochrane, 104 km

I was going to take a day off in Moonbeam but the sky was cloudy and the wind was to my favour. I didn’t leave until lunchtime. I had opted to relax a bit in the morning. It’s only a 100 km ride to Cochrane (again, two months ago I would never used the words “only” and “100 km” in one sentence, lol)

My first stop in Cochrane was Canadian Tire. Not the most exciting stop but I was looking to pick up some supplies. A man shopping there saw my touring bike and was interested in knowing more about my trip. Steven, a local resident, did his own tour of France when he was younger. On his tour Steven received the hospitality of people he met on the road often staying in their homes. He wanted to pay it forward by offering me a place to crash for the night and share a few stories from both our travels. I didn’t stay the night but did stop by to enjoy dinner with his wife Heather and two daughters Jennifer and Michelle. Jennifer is in senior kindergarten and Michelle is just 14 months old. Jennifer took a curious liking to me but since I just finished my ride and had yet to shower I told her I had “cooties”. That word must be ingrained at a DNA level. She didn’t know what it meant but instantly backed off and started building a fort with blankets and pillowcases to protect herself in the living room, lol.

Steven talked about his own trip. He knows bikes and did a lot of racing in his younger years. I was surprised and envious to hear that his average speed was 35 km/hr on his French tour.  He had thinner wheels with 110 psi max. I have thicker wheels at 85 psi max.

While at his home I took the opportunity to weigh myself with Steven’s bathroom scale. I’ve lost 17 lbs since the start of my trip. And its not for a lack of eating.

June 20, 2010: Cochrane – Day off.

Time to relax and rest my legs. I visited some stores in town and inside a gift store-trading post they had three vintage Bombardier snowmobiles on display. One was the first sold in Ontario in 1951 for $991. Even though a sign said ‘no photography’, I took some quick discreet photos of the machines when staff wasn’t looking.

Total distance traveled: 4200 km

Total donations received: $2700

More Photos from Days 34 to 41

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Going the Distance: Days 28 to 33 (Winnipeg, MB to Thunder Bay, ON)

People I’ve talked to along my journey are surprised when I tell them that mental illness touches 1 in every 5 Canadians.

Awareness and early identification are often the first steps to effective treatment for children and youth with mental health disorders.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • getting significantly lower marks in school
  • avoiding friends and family
  • having frequent outbursts of anger and rage
  • losing his or her appetite
  • drinking a lot and/or using drugs
  • damaging other people’s property
  • worrying constantly
  • frequent mood swings
  • lacking energy or motivation
  • attempting to injure him or her self

To date, we’ve raised $2,000 for Griffin Centre so they can provide programs and services for vulnerable youth and adults. Thank you to all those who have donated. We are getting closer to our fundraising goal.

June 8, 2010: Winnipeg to West Hawk Lake.
Thank you all for the birthday wishes. I almost finished a whole cheesecake. So close!

Feeling refreshed from my previous day off I made a solid 160 km trip to West Hawk Lake, just shy of the Ontario border. It was raining as usual. Not a downpour, more of a light drizzle. I was traveling on a nicely paved highway with a gravel shoulder. This meant I had to be more alert of vehicles coming up from behind me.

When I arrived at West Hawk Lake I biked through the small town to see what was around. Two inns, two campgrounds, two gas stations and a bar with only one food item on the menu, pizza. I stopped at one of the gas stations that was closed for the day to take a break and drink some water. A big black suburban truck drove up, circled around me and stopped. I noticed the metal cage in the back hiding behind the dark tinted windows. It was easy to figure out that was a law enforcement vehicle. The driver came out and was enthusiastically asking questions about where I came from. He was excited to hear about my journey so far. We introduced ourselves and chatted for a bit. I got the impression that in his line of work he doesn’t get much time off and wants to do a tour of his own. So I informed him that if he worked for Toronto Police he could get a year sabbatical after a certain number of years or take occasional unpaid leave in border services, lol.

I biked into a three season trailer park to see if I can camp there for the night. I didn’t see any office or anyone else for that matter, even though there were lights on at some of the trailer sites. Were they all in hiding? ‘Olly olly oxen free’ I said in amusement. What I saw next wasn’t a person rather a deer. Then another one. They were curious as to who this person was biking through the camp. Their camp? I kept biking and found a trailer with someone cleaning up outside. I asked her about camping at the park and she said it’s trailers only here. No worries. Seeing me with my bike she offered me a sandwich and a drink. Yummy, a Bacardi Breezer. Not the best choice after a day of biking but I won’t turn down that type of ‘muscle relaxant’. The woman’s name was Roslyn and she was with her husband and brother fishing. She showed me photos of large fish that she caught the other day. Very nice. I hung out for a while keeping a close eye on the darkening sky. About a half hour later I said goodbye and headed to the other campground. There were only two other campers there. I called it a night.

June 9, 2010: West Hawk Lake to Willard Lake, 137 km.

Welcome to Ontario

Welcome to Ontario

Hello Ontario! My home province. It’s an odd feeling. Even though I am far from Toronto I feel like I am just taking a ride around the neighborhood. Riding through Kenora was nice. They have a number of shops along their main street that are visually inviting. And I took in the scenery of the Lake of the Woods. I continued on to Willard Lake where I called it a day. I stayed at a motel that had hand crafted tables and a Tiki bar in its restaurant. The staff, Michael and Tonya, were really friendly. Tonya had told me that just the day before she had four guys riding a tandem bike as guests. I had read about them in the newspaper two months ago. They too are bicycling across Canada and I was only a day behind them. Could I catch up? I also heard about a guy roller blading and skateboarding across Canada. Interesting.

June 10, 2010: Willard Lake to Wabigoon.

Oliver, originally from France, is biking from Toronto to Vancouver

Oliver, originally from France, is biking from Toronto to Vancouver

I took my time today with a short 84 km trip to Wabigoon. During today’s ride I spotted a touring cyclist coming from the East. I crossed the road to say hello to the fellow traveler. Oliver is originally from France and came to Toronto this past year. He’s biking from Toronto to Vancouver to raise awareness for his cause, Save the Children. We chatted, took photos and exchanged emails.

Constantine, from Germany, biking from Montreal, QC to Dawson City, YT

Constantine, from Germany, biking from Montreal, QC to Dawson City, YT

As Oliver and I were chatting, another cyclist came up behind us, again from the East. I didn’t think he was touring but oddly when he got closer I saw a sleeping bag and one pannier. Hmm? Turns out Constantine is biking from Montreal to Dawson City. He’s originally from Germany and quit his job back home to tour Canada. Wow! I couldn’t take my eyes off his bike. He bought a towny-type bike, has a 2L pop bottle taped to the front and some sort of milk carton duct taped to the frame, possibly for storage. I called it the McGyver bike and I believe 100% that he will complete his journey. Good luck to both of you.

June 11, 2010: Wabigoon to English River, 144 km.
I have gotten used to the constant drizzle of rain. In fact, I am usually in good spirits as I go throughout my biking day. Not sure how I’ll feel when I get a day of sun. Some day I’ll find out. With the exception of the forest scenery, this day was a routine bike ride.

June 12, 2010: English River to Thunder Bay, 180 km.

Art Burns riding to Burnaby BC on his E-bike

Art Burns riding to Burnaby BC on his E-bike

Just before passing through Upsala I saw something unusual riding towards me. Someone was riding one of those electric scooters with bike pedals. Out here along a barren road!? Ahhhh, I see it. There was a small portable generator on the back that recharged the battery. The rider’s name was Art Burns. He is traveling to Burnaby, BC from Stratford, ON. He is probably the first person to do the trip on an electric scooter. Art has a good setup. iPhone for tunes with mini speakers and small digital camera on the front powered by the generator. He’s using You Tube to record his journey. Since he has an iPhone I mentioned that he should get Google maps and latitude so his friends can track his position. Art then told me he saw the tandem bike the other day before but there was only one guy riding the bike. I wonder what happened and I felt the desire to catch up.

I had other questions to ask Art. Does he have a spare tube if he gets a flat? Does he think the 500 watt motor will survive the BC hills and not burn out? Does he know the vehicle regulations in the other provinces (Ontario’s roads allow for electric scooters/bikes)? But I choose not to. I didn’t want to jinx his trip. Good luck Art.

Hue, from Montreal, QC

Hue, from Montreal, QC, is skateboarding across Canada

Between Upsala and Raith I saw a lone individual on the side of a road having a smoke. It looked like a hitchhiker waiting for a ride. Then I saw the skateboard (longboard). It was the guy I heard about a couple days ago. Hue is from Montreal and started out roller blading across the country from BC. He switched up the blades and now’s he is longboarding. I asked about the tandem bike team and Hue said he saw them the other day. He said the bike is broken and they are taking turns riding it. The team should be in Thunder Bay and are having it fixed. I’m getting closer.

My plan was to end my day at Shabaque Corner 60 km west of Thunder Bay. And the next day I would do a short trip to Thunder Bay. Instead I went all the way to earn myself a full day off.  Exhausted and out of water I ate some trail mix to get a little more energy for the last 20 km push into Thunder Bay. Things then started going downhill from there. No, literally the road went on a decline, 🙂 and I pretty much coasted into the city.

June 13, 2010: Thunder Bay.

Arctic Watershed at 504 metre elevation, West of Thunder Bay

Arctic Watershed at 504 metre elevation, West of Thunder Bay

My day off. It’s raining but that’s the norm for my trip. On the 14th I am heading to Nipigon. It’s there I will need to make my route decision for the next 900 km. Either travel on Hwy 17 through Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury to North Bay OR Hwy 11 over and down directly into North Bay (the truck route). They’re almost the same distance with Hwy 11 being slightly shorter by 50 km. I am told by a few people that Hwy 17 is very scenic and has steep hills. While Hwy 11 is flat and boring. My knees have been feeling the pain and I have been good at not using pain killers; about once every week.

Total distance traveled: 3,350 km
Total donations received: $2,000

More Photos from Days 28 to 33

Going the Distance: Days 20 to 27 (Medicine Hat to Winnipeg)

“Back in my day, I had to bike three days to get a decent latte.” This is something I will tell my kids should I ever grow old, get married and have kids, lol. This coming from a guy who will use his TTC Metropass to go three stops to the nearest Starbucks or Second Cup (I’m an equal opportunity latte drinker).

It’s amazing. Just about a week ago I was saying “Hello Saskatchewan!” Now I will be saying “Hello Ontario!” in less than two days.

Saskatchewan, Naturally

Saskatchewan, Naturally

May 30, 2010: Medicine Hat to Swift Current. All the stories about Saskatchewan being flat are false. There are rolling hills that match the rolling landscape. It doesn’t take any imagination to see that the Prairies is an oversized golf course.  It was a good day for a bike ride. The wind was to my back and the sky was clear so I had to maximize my distance with this ideal weather. Oddly enough, it is usually my brain telling my legs to pedal. However, today I was in a zombie-like trance with my legs just automatically pedaling on their own.  Along the way you see the usual road-side debris expected of highway traveling. Assorted pop and beer cans and bottles, coffee cups and chunks of truck tires from blown wheels. Then something caught my eye. I instantly knew what it was as I was thinking of purchasing it for my trip. A portable solar power charger. I stopped immediately and backed my bike up to where it was, even running over it with my back wheel (oops). Some unfortunate traveler dropped the Solo charger from his/her kit. It has a carabiner clip that must have been unhooked from the person’s bike. This charger retails for $80. A quick test of the device gave the “green light” indicating that it works. Problem is, you need the USB attachments for it to charge cell/pda’s and the like.  Stowing with the rest of my gear I didn’t stop much for breaks from then on. After the day was done I biked 210 km. Outstanding!

Welcome to Swift Current

Welcome to Swift Current

May 31, 2010: Swift Current to Moose Jaw. I am on a roll, ha! Another great day. The winds continued to be at my back and off I went to Moose Jaw, 175 km away. Some days I use my MP3 player to listen to music in my right ear keeping my left ear open to traffic. On these last two days I did not. Each song represents only a specific distance covered based on my speed. I would rather just bike and not be conscious of the time or distance with every passing minute. That is hard to do because with all the biking in the past month I can now determine my speed based on my gear setting and how quickly I am cranking my pedals, not even looking at my speedometre. Combine it with my own sense of time and I can estimate how far I traveled at any given moment. It takes away some of the unpredictability of the ride. 😦

Welcome to Moose Jaw

Welcome to Moose Jaw

June 1, 2010: Moose Jaw to Indian Head. Before I passed through Regina I saw one of those truck weigh stations. I went and humoured myself by riding onto the scale platform. My bike and I weigh 110 kg. The bike with my gear weighs 40 kg. It looked like the scale is not entirely accurate and will round up or down to the nearest 10.

Originally, I had the notion of staying in Regina. Perhaps I could catch a movie later? Instead I opted to move on to Indian Head for a total ride of 150 km.

Indian Head, home of Little Mosque on the Prairie

Indian Head, home of Little Mosque on the Prairie

It is at Indian Head where they shoot the outdoor scenes to Little Mosque on the Prairie. I stayed at the local campground where I met other cross country travelers. Roger and Diane are from Hull, Quebec and are traveling in an RV to visit friends in Alaska. Diane even brought an espresso machine which she put to good use. 🙂 We chatted for a bit and I discovered they have a son who wants to do an extended bike tour. Bonne Chance!

June 2, 2010: Indian Head to Whitewood. Given the easy riding so far I have not been getting up as early as I should. I used to leave at 7 am (still not as early as other more regimented cyclists). With the passing days, the constant check of the weather forecast and my increased sense of how much distance I can cover, some days I leave at 8:30 am and others at 10 am. Given that I am no longer in BC and have much flatter roads I get upset with myself if my average speed drops below 20 km/hr. Yet, back in BC I would be lucky if I managed 15 km/hr. I also think my legs are not getting enough of a workout with the lack of hills. Maybe I should bike back to BC? Not a chance! I know Ontario roads will have their ups and downs.

Jamie (top) and Vic (bottom) wait and relax until their spare tire arrives

Jamie (top) and Vic (bottom) wait and relax until their spare tire arrives

On the way to Whitewood I noticed an 18-wheeler pulled over on the side of the road. Its hazard lights on and safety pylons placed around the truck. Hmm, what is going on here? As I rode closer I noticed some guy sun tanning and another playing a guitar. Huh?! I was thinking that these guys must have recently watched the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s” and did not feel like working today. It looked pretty funny. But turns out they blew a tire and were waiting for a replacement. They made the best of a bad situation. Jamie the guitar player hailed from Collingwood, ON and his sun tanning co-driver Vic was from Guelph, ON. These guys had originally driven from Mexico and because they take turns at the wheel they can cover longer distances in shorter time.

Whitewood, SK

Whitewood, SK

June 3, 2010: Whitewood to Moosomin. Good weather cannot stay with me forever. The day was cold, raining heavily and a strong headwind slowed me down physically and mentally. Not a good day to ride. With the amount of distance I covered in the three days prior I decided to call it a short day, a 50 km ride. I was at a restaurant in town when I overheard a senior say to her friend ‘That man is wearing leotards!’ ‘No’, I said smiling and correcting her observations, “They are moisture wicking long johns under my bike shorts.’ I then checked into a motel and stayed warm until the next day.

June 4, 2010: Moosomin, SK to Brandon, MB. Wow, I got through the Prairies relatively unscathed without any consistent headwind. Woohoo! Just before entering Manitoba I was going to sing one of the extended versions of my favourite song. ‘Extended version’ really means the first verse or two and chorus over and over again until by chance I remember the rest of the song. Before I was to begin someone behind me says ‘Hey there’. A touring cyclist rode up behind me. Pavel lives in Oakville and is riding home from Vancouver. To do this trip he carried over and maxed out his vacation days getting a month off work. He left on May 17th and is going at least 160 km/day. Kudos to you, Pavel. I rode with him for an hour or two, posed for some photos, then he got a flat tire. He told me to go ahead and I was sure he would catch up given the pressure he has to complete his trip.

Pavel and Martin at Manitoba border

Pavel and Martin at Manitoba border

When I reached Virden, MB I pulled into a gas station where I saw another touring cyclist getting air for his tires. Turns out Chris is from Sault Ste Marie and is biking west to Vancouver. We exchanged pointers on what to expect on the roads ahead. Unfortunately, he has to bike with headwind. During this conversation, Pavel had biked by the gas station. I was unsuccessful in getting his attention.

The roads are really bad in Manitoba. A few times I could not even ride on the shoulder. The bike would just vibrate apart . . . or my own joints would get a thrashing.

I did enjoy camping in Brandon. It’s good to pick a spot where the morning sun greets you and dries out the tent so it does not pack wet and heavy.

Portage la Prairie

Portage la Prairie

June 5, 2010: Brandon to Portage la Prairie. I actually biked through Portage la Prairie and stayed at a campground 10 km east of the town. The original plan was to stay at a motel in town, bike only 65 km the next day to Winnipeg and then take the subsequent day off on the 7th. My desire to negotiate (haggle) the price is fun but sometimes unsuccessful. Why pay for a room with your credit card when you can pay a lesser rate in cash. I approached one motel proprietor and asked what the room rate was. He said it was $75. I countered “How about if I give you $60 cash?” He left the front office to go check. A few moments later he came back and said there are not any more rooms left. Too funny.

June 6, 2010: Portage la Prairie to Winnipeg. A short 55 km bike ride give me the luxury of sleeping in and taking my time getting ready in the morning. I maintained a good pace despite some slight headwind and choppy roads. I was looking forward to my day off and thinking of ways to enjoy it.

Welcome to Winnipeg

Welcome to Winnipeg

June 7, 2010: Winnipeg. It is a weird feeling biking around the city without the accustomed weight of my panniers. I usually pull hard on my handlebars when riding from town to town. Now with all the weight off it I feel like I can almost lose control of the bike. Activities on this day include bike maintenance, laundry and stocking up on food and supplies for my next few days travel. But more importantly, drinking a frappuccino, eating sushi, cheesecake and drinking a Smirnoff Ice. Yes, I am another year older.

More Photos from Days 20 to 27