What you should expect from a long bicycle journey
Bicycle touring for a sustained period of time is a…
338 – 346: Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, ON
As each day goes on, it’s more and more obvious that the jaws of a harsh Canadian heavy winter are approaching, snapping away and closing in quickly. Holy smokes it’s getting cold and the prospect of a snowfall that lasts increase daily. It’s one of the first times where I’ve felt like this project has come full circle, with the days now being similar to those first few setting off from New York during 2012’s Nor’Easter snow. Speaking of which, I looked at the remaining route on the map closely for the first time in a while yesterday, and it was a bit of a milestone. There’s less than 1000 miles left, which is kind of insane to think about. Suddenly the scale is more akin to a small island like the UK than a hefty continent like North America.
The last ten days have been intense. Spent a few of them in Thunder Bay, and managed to get a tune up from the folks at Rollin’ Thunder as the gears had been playing up and as everyone knows front derailleurs can only be fixed with dark magic. The results were amazing – the bike ran like new again and suddenly there was a range of new gears to ride in which had been previously forgotten about.
Leaving Thunder Bay, you pretty much instantly hit hills. Brutal hills. Not as lengthy as some of the previous mountain sections but much more intense, on a par with Big Sur in terms of steep climbs, fast descents, more steep climbs. It’s not a bad thing, if anything it was quite refreshing, but it definitely took some getting used to after so long on the flats. Much more physically demanding than the prairies. These hills take you around the edge of Lake Superior, which provides an amazing setting when the dense trees open up and other than the fresh water the scale of the lake makes it hard to tell the difference between it and an ocean.
Something that was unexpected setting off on this trip, was the occasional curse of public holidays, and it was Canadian Thanksgiving the day after leaving Thunder Bay. It’s not a day we celebrate back in ‘blighty, so it wasn’t a big deal really, but when you’re camping rough in a rest stop whilst it’s literally freezing outside, and your main company is the peanut butter sandwich you’ve just made, it’s easy for the sighs to begin and flashes of depression to reach your mind when you know that close-knit groups nearby are celebrating with a kickass Turkey dinner. Of course there are small perks to these days – it’s super quiet on the roads, there’s no distractions etc, but still it’s a part of road life that I doubt will be missed much when it’s done.
Nearly got attacked by a dog which hasn’t happened for a long time. Casually riding through the woods with the familiar, almost-getting-annoying sound of overplayed hip hop in my headphones, and in the corner of my eye there’s a blurry four legged creature coming in FAST from a wood cutting yard across the road. Is it a horse? A moose? No it’s the mother-of-all big dogs, not sure what kind but one of the frightening ones that you don’t want to mess with. It was kind of a sketchy situation in that the dog ran straight across the road and three cars had to stop suddenly, and it was soon resolved when the owner was honked repeatedly by the held up traffic, but nevertheless that minute-or-so provided that days adrenaline kick (maybe too much because a few hours later a chainring snapped in half).
Reading other cycling blogs, there’s a lot of talk about the Algoma Central Railway linking up nicely with the sparse section between Wawa and Sault St Marie. It’s a railway line that goes through Agowa Canyon, and is mainly used for hunters and summer tourists to take them to log cabins nestled in the depths of the Shield where roads don’t go. The train or a floatplane are the main options. It’s not a frequent on-the-hour deal – it runs 3 days per week, but it happened to be running in the right direction on the right day so I jumped on at Hawk Junction after an intense down-to-the-wire burst from Wawa town. It’s a fairly short trip, covering 155 miles and shaving off two days, and knowing that this trip means you don’t get the reward of a huge downhill is tough, but like the reports suggested it was a great mini-journey well worth taking if you end up in the area.
Being winter the train was deserted. In fact that goes for general road life at the moment too – people are inside now the temperatures have dropped so it’s mainly a quiet and isolated existence. Occasionally a hunter would jump onto the carriage and soon jump off at a lone cabin (once carrying a moose’s head), but other than that it was a quiet, slow journey through some amazing territory under rainy skies. After 6 hours (told you it was slow), the train pulled into Sault Ste. Marie station around 7pm – the transition from heated carriage to bitter city air briefly shocking – and that was another section of the journey ticked off.
It’s a race against the clock now because of flights, and whilst relatively speaking this trip is nearly over, there’s a lot that can happen in 20 days, especially at this time of year. Here’s hoping the heavy snow holds off a while longer.