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Michelle's Journal

Ontario 1

Day Date Entry
32 Tue, Aug 3

The Manitoba Trans-Canada highway
  Another stressful day on Manitoba's bumpy, cracked, poorly maintained roads without shoulders. While white-lining on the narrow highway, a car driver honked loudly just as I jolted over a tumultuous surface that had crumbled to scree, making me yelp. Then a huge truck barrelled past, blaring its horrendously loud horn, and I screamed in shock. If I were older I probably would have had a heart attack. Not kidding. Both episodes dampened my spirit for a while.

We were pursued and surrounded by swarms of stinging bees/wasps/hornets and large horseflies, sometimes a dozen at a time circling our heads and shoulders for long stretches. Fending off the attackers without swerving into traffic presented additional challenges. Bill is talking about cycling cross-Canada again. I would only do it again if we skipped Manitoba and went through the States instead, as this is not my idea of a good time.

I was very happy to reach Ontario. The roads improved immediately. Since they're decent, people actually use them - we've seen joggers, cyclists and walkers out on the Ontario highway. The geography here includes big rocks, more trees and bushes, and rolling hills instead of flat surfaces. About 30K west of Kenora, we had our first experience free camping in the bush. No bears visited us!  

33 Wed, Aug 4 We put in about a third of a cycling day, climbing and descending rolling hills. We'll take a partial rest day in Kenora, staying at the historic Kenricia Hotel. Towns are some distance apart here and there will be nothing for a while after Kenora. Kenora is pretty, bordering a lake, and well maintained, with attractive flower gardens. I like it here. Nice to have a bit of a rest!

34 Thu, Aug 5 The roads were excellent all day, with wide paved shoulders. The deep blue lakes surrounded by pine trees are lovely. It's nice to see blue water again, after green water in mineral-rich B.C. and Alberta and brown water in Manitoba, as in the Whitemud River that we crossed over half a dozen times. All along the way we saw inukshuks (rock piles in place of people) on top of the rocks on both sides of the road. I find their presence comforting. We free camped in the bush.

35 Fri, Aug 6 Today the shoulder was narrower, one to three feet wide, and occasionally covered with gravel. Instead of inukshuks, roadside communications were mainly in the form of painted graffiti. We saw a cyclist going west who did not look happy. This was a long climbing day and I became quite sore and exhausted. I felt out of balance from so much cycling and so little of everything else. In my exhaustion, I drifted along in an altered state. I felt separated into three parts. I was a spectator with eyes watching the "open road show" (I was leading), while my mind was actively running around thinking intensely of all kinds of things, and some distant part of me in the background kept pedaling on the white line and changing gears. I felt quite disassociated from the "me" that was actively doing the work of cycling, and occasionally I worried that I would forget that I was controlling the bike and fail to respond as required. Early in our trip someone told us about a cyclist who got serious "road rash" (scraped up) from falling asleep while cycling, and on this day I saw how that was possible. We found a motel and I lay immobile for a long time. When I finally took a bath, the bath water was brown and smelled bad. That's all there was, so it had to suffice. I'm grateful that I live in a city where the bath water isn't brown.
36 Sat, Aug 7

Bill and Justin

First thing in the morning, crossing the street to check out a bakery, we met a cyclist also going east. We shared some cookies and enjoyed a chat with Justin Millichap, 27, from Sheffield, England. He has been cycling all over the world since July 2002, and intends to cycle for another two years. He said the Czech cyclist we saw yesterday was not enjoying his trip in Canada. The Czech cyclist had left a town (maybe Hearst) going west on highway 11 with only half a litre of water, not realizing there were no towns for 200 km and Ontario stream water is not drinkable. European cyclists seek "good roads" or "choice of roads," meaning roads without heavy traffic, and don't like the traffic, while we Canadians take the traffic for granted, so to us "good road" means smooth with a shoulder. Since Justin averages 170K a day and often does over 200K, we said bye, went on our way, and saw him briefly when he passed us after 29K. Later, in the town of English River, we spotted him resting outside a convenience store at the same moment that we and a cyclist going west arrived there. Martin from the Netherlands had also cycled in many countries. His bike looked interesting, with a contraption over his front wheel that held two large water bottles and a plastic encased map on his handlebars.

Martin's bike

We all chatted for a while, then Bill and I continued on. It was a pleasant cycling day with less climbing and smooth roads. We ate an excellent supper at the Esso restaurant in Upsala. A French-speaking man there who was interested in our trip told us about a campground a few kilometres past the town. We arrived there, found it quiet and empty but nice, and set up camp. I made a duct tape sign on the road's shoulder for Justin with arrows pointing toward our campsite. The same helpful man from the restaurant was riding about on a recumbent bike and took an interest in what I was doing, so I told him about Justin. It turns out Justin didn't see the sign, but a bit later, the recumbent guy came by our campsite to tell us he'd just seen a cyclist go by. Both Bill on his unweighted bike and the recumbent guy in a car sped after him. Justin joined us at our campsite. We made a campfire, the first one on both our trips, and enjoyed sitting by it and chatting into the evening.

37 Sun, Aug 8 As Justin is travelling on $10 a day, always free camping, cooking pasta and eating only groceries, we treated him to breakfast back at the Esso restaurant. It was as tasty as supper. The three of us rode together about 80K to Shabaqua Corners. The pace was faster than I would have chosen, riding into strong wind, but it was a fun new challenge to ride in a group of three and keep up. I focused on maintaining the 8" space between my front wheel and the wheel in front of me. Justin has a different attitude toward cycling than is customary in Canada. He rides without a helmet, as in his view wearing a helmet enables vehicle drivers to speed and kill cyclists. He rides in the car lane to make vehicles have to slow down, staking out his territory on the road, as in his experience not doing that results in close calls and being forced off the road, even when going downhill at 50 KPH in Australia. He was a bit shaken from a very close call with a truck zooming by about 2-3" away shortly after passing us this morning. I said that in Canada, vehicle drivers respond better and give you room if you stay on the right, and may be p****d off if you force them to slow down. Bill said it's a cultural thing. Justin said he was surprised that in Canada, cars will come close to hitting other cars to avoid hitting a cyclist, because in his experience in other countries they usually come closer to the cyclist. While we cycled together, he moved over to the white line and shoulder with us, so we could all draft off each other. At Shabaqua Corners, we rested and ate snacks. As it was threatening to rain, we decided to make it a shorter day, cycled another 15K and free camped in a field with saskatoon berry and raspberry bushes and lots of mosquitoes.

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