Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 24 - Thursday June 24 - Wawa to east of Sault Ste. Marie (241 km)

"What Goes Up Must Come Down"
Started off the day with another foggy morning, but at least it wasn't raining! It'd poured in the middle of the night, and we were ecstatic that it'd let up. I was on the road around 7:10, ahead of Dad again, although he followed shortly after. The car wouldn't start (again!), but he'd purposefully parked on a hill in case he needed to start it by turning the key, coasting, and letting the clutch out (pretty cool!). Lake Superior Provincial Park is just over 80 km long, and it was an absolutely beautiful ride. Dad rode with me for a while and we stopped at the visitor centre at Agawa Bay to see the sights. The day went from foggy to sunny off and on, with large accompanying temperature changes, making for many stops to add or take off layers. Coming around Batchawana Bay was absolutely incredible; we took a walk break at the beach, and Dad discovered some quicksand by stepping in it! I know I overuse the word "beautiful" in describing the scenery of this trip, but really there's no other way to say it - sometimes I feel the overwhelming vastness and greatness and beauty of this country so acutely that it makes me want to cry (or maybe that's just the delirium from overexposure to the elements). I'm glad that I decided to take Hwy 17 instead of the more-direct Hwy 11 as it's certainly living up to its reputation: hilly, but gorgeous! Some of the hill-climbing is pretty intense, but the ups are matched by downs that lend themselves to wicked-fast speeds (so fun!). I think part of the reason our butts were so sore in the prairies was because there was never an occasion to need to get out of the saddle. Mid-day, Dad went ahead to Sault Ste. Marie and went to a Volkswagen dealer to get a new battery for the car (so lucky they have one here!) and he brought back some cookies and milk for a snack. Coming into Sault Ste. Marie the sun came out and a nice tailwind blew in, so we decided to take advantage of the conditions and ride a bit past the city. We're staying with my fabulous friend and undergrad-housemate Laura in the Sault tonight, so we just circled back by car and will start up again where we left off. We arrived at Laura's around 8,and it's really great to see her stomping grounds; Laura went to college here after undergrad, and recently moved back for work. We had wings and beer (Dad's treat because tomorrow is a Rest Day!!!), and we've stayed up late getting caught up (though Laura has to work tomorrow and I'm pretty wiped!). An all-around awesome day, and I'm looking forward to resting tomorrow!

Day 23 - Wednesday June 23 - west of Marathon to south of Wawa (240 km)

"Mosquitoes and Black Flies and Sand Flies, Oh My!"
We are officially in the buggy part of the country - mosquitoes, black flies and sandflies in the morning and evening at camp, and horse and deer flies during the day at our roadside stops. Apparently this isn't too bad a year for them, so I can only imagine what it must be like! It had rained pretty hard in the night, but let up by the time we got up this morning. It was foggy again, and cooler, and as I biked I got covered with a fine layer of mist (each hair outlined, and my tights looked grey instead of black). The car wouldn't start again for Dad, but Tammy, the proprietor of "Neys Lunch & Campground", was happy to give him a boost. I met some older gentlemen on the road this morning, both of whom had started in Vancouver and were heading east. I was glad J and I hadn't left earlier when I heard they'd been through some snow storms! We also met another rider, Robin, who has been on the road for nine months! She started in Seattle, went across the southern US, crossed at Niagara Falls, and was heading west towards home through Canada. Such a long time to be on the road alone, but she seemed very independent. We stopped for lunch today before White River across from a place where there had been a huge forest fire in 1999 (36,000 hectare). A lot of greenery has grown back, but sticks are still all that remain of the trees that were once there. There are signs all along the highway warning people to make sure they put their fires out and not to burn if it's windy. Land is really cheap up here as well, I guess because it's so remote; Dad saw a 140 acre plot of land for sale for $20,000! He also saw a fox and a bear today and got some great pictures. There are some entertaining names up here, with "Deadhorse Road" and "Desolate Lake" (not at all desolate) being some of my favourites. Tonight we're camping in Lake Superior Provincial Park on Rabbit Blanket Lake and we've got a fantastic site - right on the water, lined with cedar chips, and surrounded by trees. We had a great dinner (veggie stir fry with meatballs, cheese bread, chocolate milk and brownies) and went for a walk around the park. The wind has completely died down and the lake is like glass.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 22 - Tuesday June 22 - Nipigon to west of Marathon (166 km)

"Wildlife and the Wild Life"
Today was a high-on-life kind of day. We slept in until 7 since we didn't get to bed until around 12:30, and the rain had stopped so we enjoyed breakfast by the stream. We put some laundry on, and I hit the road ahead of Dad around 9am. There was construction, and about 7km of graded pavement (which makes for rough riding), but after that the roads improved markedly. I got chatting with one of the construction workers, and she told me that she was 60 years old. I'd have sworn she was 40, and she told me that the secret was "keeping active... and eating well, of course" - amen sista! I caught up with Debbie (the fellow rider from our campsite) and we rode together for an hour and shared our stories - so fun. By this point it had started to rain again and it was quite foggy, but it was relatively warm (compared to how it's been when it's rained), and as long as I kept moving I didn't need extra layers or rain pants. The fog sort of obscured the view of Lake Superior, but this served to bring the immediate roadside details into sharper focus: the rusty red rock faces (cut away to make room for the road), wild strawberry plants, and sprinklings of wildflowers in vibrant yellow, orange, purple, and white. I met another cyclist, Brett, on the road around 11:00. Brett is my age, is from the US, and is doing a large bicycle tour including parts of both countries. His love of travel, cycling, and family were immediately apparent, and his excitement and enthusiasm were so contagious. Parting ways (he was heading west) he dinged his bell and whooped as he rode down the hill. It's so exciting and inspiring to meet others on the road! Shortly thereafter I met my Dad for lunch. He'd had quite the morning - the battery in the car was dead (from leaving the cooler plugged in and having plugged in the computer last night to update the blog - whoops!). Luckily, the owner of the campsite had a charger, and he was soon on the road again (after folding the laundry and putting away the tents that is!). After lunch we rode together for a while, and then Dad backtracked to get the car while I continued on. At times, visibility was less than 100 feet with the fog, but it seemed to change a lot throughout the day (this may have been due to us going up and down into and out of it rather than it actually clearing or thickening). We saw lots of wildlife today too - a deer, a bunny, a heron, and... I was about 20 km from camp (Dad had gone ahead to check in) when I came around the bend at the top of a particularly twisty hill and came face to face with a bear! Ok, well, maybe not face to face with it - it was about 20 feet away across the ditch - but it was most definitely too close for comfort. I hesitated for a moment and almost reached for my camera, but survival instinct won and I booked it, hoping that it was more interested in the plant it was eating and/or didn't see me. Safely away... that was SO COOL to see! We arrived at our campsite around 7, got cleaned up and made dinner. Now we're just relaxing in the restaurant/general store at this campsite to use the internet, and are looking forward to going to bed at a decent hour!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 21 - Monday June 21 - Kakabeka Falls to Nipigon (146 km)

"Fixing Foxy"
Today had a rough start - I woke up feeling woozy, but felt better after eating breakfast (I actually don't think the approx 6,000 calories I consumed yesterday were enough - unreal!). Dad and I went down to check out the falls again and to walk around and enjoy the park a bit - beautiful. I left ahead of Dad around 9:00 to ride to the cyclepath (bike store) in Thunder Bay. It was a beautiful morning for a ride, and I stopped to take some pictures en route. At the bike shop, Foxy had quite the make-over. ("Foxy" is my bike, aptly named by my older sister Amanda, because: 1. foxes are fast, 2. "foxy" is sexy, and my bike is pretty good lookin', and 3. Terry Fox ran across Canada - Amanda is the queen of naming things!). Anyway, almost $400 later, I walked out with new pedals, a new tire, new derailleur components, straightened handlebars, and with the rack removed! It is Fabulous to have functional pedals again and to not have to worry about that back tire! We stopped at the Terry Fox memorial and lookout just outside of Thunder Bay - so Dad rode with me for about 15 km after that, and it sure is nice to have company on the road. Got chatting with some guys riding motorcycles from Quebec to Vancouver (super friendly) and Dad surprised me with a Big Mac meal (third time having McDonalds on this trip, and a nice change from the usual lunch of bagel with pb). We arrived at our campsite (Stillwater Valley) at around 6:30, and chatted with another touring cyclist camping here (she retired last year and is fulfilling a life-long dream). It's so neat to talk to people who are doing similar trips and to hear their stories. After showering, we hopped in the car to head back to Thunder Bay for dinner. My Dad went to this restaurant called "The Prospector" last summer when he was driving through and has been talking about it ever since, so he really wanted for us to be able to go there. The drive was nice, and we saw a bear cub by the side of the highway! The Prospector definitely lived up to its reputation (prime rib never tasted so good, and they sent us home with a bag of 18 homemade buns on the house!). The casino is just down the street, so we went in to check it out (I got ID'd.. but Dad was good). It was raining by this point, and we drove back to our campsite around 11. There's a creek running right behind our tents and it's very picturesque and a nice sound change from train tracks. Just taking advantage of the internet at this campground, and then bed!

Day 20 - Sunday June 20 - Wabigoon to Kakabeka Falls (309 km)

"Going for the Goal"
One of my goals for this trip was to have one day where I rode 300 km. We'd (J and I) hoped to take advantage of the flatness of the prairies for this, but the opportunity never arose, and I was starting to think I'd missed my chance. But last night we checked the weather from our campsite, and the forecast looked promising: winds coming from the west (5 km/hr), high of 24 degrees, and sunny with cloudy periods. I thought it might be a good day to try for 300 km, and decided to play it by ear. We got up at 4:30 am to jump-start the day, and I was on the road by 5:45 while Dad took down the tents and washed our oatmeal dishes (talk about spoiled right!). The first 20 kms were absolutely beautiful - last remaining wisps of a pink sunrise, mist rising off of the lakes disappearing as the sun peeked through, and cool but comfortable. By 20 kms, I was committed: today was going to be the 300 km day. The style of riding in bicycle touring is much different from biking at home. For example, at home when there is a hill, I usually like to attack it: pick up speed, out of the saddle, riding aggressively and downshifting only as necessary. Breathless at the top? Good - keep going through it - it's a great training stimulus! It's different on trip though, because you have to ride all day - avoiding that breathless lactate threshold is key to being able to maintain a steady pace all day. Today however, I knew I'd need to ride like I was at home (slow and steady probably wouldn't do the trick). So, I set small goals as I went: 100 km before 10am, 150 km before noon, and then smaller goals as the day wore on (15 km before next snack). The day was beautiful, and though the tailwind was slight I was grateful for it. Dad rode for 50 km today on his mountain bike and we road together for part of that which was nice. I had one flat tire (not TOO bad for a Canadian Tire tire I suppose!), but the two of us changed it and we were on the road again in no time. A girl on the back of a motorcycle gave me a "WOO-OOO!" and a fist-pump; Dad brought me an ice-cream bar mid-day; and we sat on actual lawn chairs at lunch (a most definite improvement over the gravel shoulder!). The last 80 km of the day were very hilly, and I must admit I was tiring, but I was buoyed by the thought that I was going to reach the goal. Dad drove ahead of me to Kakabeka Falls and met me in the parking lot with a high five and a grin when I rode in around 7pm (or I guess, technically, 8pm as we crossed the time zone line today!). What an awesome feeling - glowing satisfaction. [By special request (Mom) the trip stats were: 309.06 km, 10 hrs 41 mins, 28.92 km/hr]. We got cleaned up and then walked around the falls (pretty spectacular). We went to town to get groceries for dinner (by car) and are heading to bed around 11. Where do the days go?! I'm feeling very content, and glad I can check that one off the list!

Day 19 - Saturday June 19 - Kenora to Wabigoon (162 km)

"Hills, Flat Tires, and... Dad?!?!"
It took an enormous amount of willpower to drag myself from the cozy bedcovers and mountains of pillows when the alarm went off this morning at 5:30am, but as usual I wanted to start out at a decent hour and I needed to re-pack all of the gear that I'd hung up to dry. I had breakfast at the hotel (complimentary), and then typed out last night's blog entry with the free WiFi (although I later found out that it didn't send!). Checking out of the hotel I got chatting with a man who'd done a bike trip across Western Canada years ago, although he did it the "hard way" from east to west (I had a private chuckle and managed to refrain from mentioning the fact that we'd had one decent tailwind in 18 days). The roads out of Kenora were pretty brutal - lots of potholes and gravel places where I had to get off and walk, so the going was slow. Around 10:00, something felt off, so I got off to check my tires. The back was a little too soft, but the front seemed low too, so I thought/hoped that maybe they both just needed air and I pumped them up with the hand pump. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and about 5 km down the road the back tire was back to the same degree of softness, and I grimly accepted the fact that I had my first flat. I unloaded the tent and poles, paniers, handlebar bag and watter bottles, and turned my bike upside down, when a car pulled up ... it was my Dad!!! I knew he was coming, but I wasn't expecting him until late in the evening or early the next day (he left home on Friday around 11:30am, and it's a >20 hour drive!). SO EXCITING!!!! He'd driven pretty much straight through, with only two short naps - crazy! After a rib-creaking hug, and a few minutes of excited-interrupting talking, we loaded all of my stuff in the car and changed the tire together (talk about timing!). We got back on the road shortly thereafter, and my Dad rode his mountain bike as well to stretch out from the drive. We met a few other touring cyclists from Quebec, and played leapfrog with them a bit today. My Dad (henceforth "Dad" as opposed to "my Dad") brought a 12 V cooler to plug in to the car, stocked with deliciousness (Ivanhoe cheese, chocolate milk, cherries, yogurt etc), and my little sister Abbie sent delicious baking (lemon poppyseed muffins and oatmeal chocolate cranberry cookies..mmm - thanks Abbie!), so we ate well today! I had a second flat tire mid-day; the back tire was completely worn down to the threads on the side where the rack has been rubbing, so it doesn't take much. This time, Dad went ahead to Dryden to buy a tube and tire (no bike shop, so $15 Canadian Tire tire it is!). If I'd been on my own... it probably would've been another hitchhike day as that was my last tube! Eeeps! While he was gone, I walked on with my bike, and a middle-aged man with twinkly blue eyes stopped to see if I was ok ("I saw you walkin' and thought you might be tired o' ridin'"). So kind. We arrived at our campsite around 6:30, set up, showered, and made hamburgers for dinner (delish!). Went for a short walk to explore the area, and checked the weather for tomorrow (lookin' good!). Getting ready for bed now, and I'm feeling very pampered as Dad brought me a pillow and my full-length Thermarest (no more of this sleeping-pad-that-reaches-from-shoulders-to-knees-nonsense). Can't get enough hugs. Isn't family awesome!??!?!