Sunday, June 27, 2010

Endless Ontario

So, for those of you not familiar with Canadian geography, Ontario is an enormous province. In the 17 days I've been in Ontario, I've ridden around 1700 km (~1000 mi) and still have another 500 km to go before reaching Manitoba. Things are just plain big and remote, which I really like. It's also continued to be a very social experience. With only one road choice in parts of the province, and being full-on touring season, I'm seeing other riders every day. The majority are riding from west to east in hopes of having the advantage of prevailing winds (though most I've talked with said they had headwinds all through the prairies). There are a few of us tough riders heading west, and I've had the pleasure to spend a little time with two this past week.

From my last post in Parry Sound, ON I had a nice ride up to the east side of Lake Huron. Nothing too exciting; I saw two black bears one evening (I assume) munching on the wild strawberries that lined the roadside. I rode a mere 5 feet from one before I noticed, it, but it never took notice of me. Turning west again I faced a few days of strong headwinds and hot weather. I've always tried to ride as many side roads as possible, but here in Ontario nearly every side road has turned to gravel at some point. Although most have still been decent riding, others have been pretty bad, you think I'd learn. I've also had to get used to the remote riding once again. For so long I've had multiple places to fill my water every day, so never worried about running out. However, here I may only pass one place a day and it took me a few days of running out before I got back into the habit of carrying extra water (I haven't had to do that since the SW).

Before Sault Ste Marie, I debated going back into Michigan to get away from the traffic and lack of shoulders in Ontario. I met Rob, riding from Vancouver to Saint John's, Newfoundland; he was helpful in giving me advice about what was ahead and helped convince me to stay in Ontario. Preparing for a very remote ride around Lake Superior, I stocked up on a weeks food (I'd only meant to get 4 days but always have too much). My panniers were much heavier then they'd been in a long time. Stopping at a bike shop on the way out of town, I met Jon, who was riding west as well. We decided to ride together for awhile, it was nice having the good company. Jon's crossing Canada from his home in Halifax to Vancouver, riding to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.


My camping spot on the solstice. I was excited that there were few mosquitoes so tried sleeping without my tent. At 1030 the bugs were horrible, I tried sleeping with my head net on, only to give up at midnight and set up my tent.

Jon and I had a great first night on a beautiful sandy beach of Lake Superior, going for a swim after riding. The water was extremely clear and clean, perfect sand, just wonderful. From there we got into the beginning of the hills I'd been warned about, some good climbs and fun descents. The next few days Jon and I met up and lost each other a few times, camping together when we found each other. The hills of Lake Superior were great; with the beautiful scenery the climbs didn't bother me at all. Each day was riding through lakes, meadows, cliffs, the occasional view of the big lake and maybe some islands. I loved the remoteness of it, only passing the rare town, mainly just in nature. The traffic also wasn't as bad as I'd imagined, although a shoulder was still rare.

Swimming Beach

Old Woman Bay, Lk Superior

The goose at Wawa, celebrating the building of the trans-Canada hwy


Lake Superior

A few of the other riders I met that made a strong impression on me were Richard and Armando. I let Richard riding east. He'd hoped to cross the country in 30 days. Unfortunately he pushed so hard the first few over the Rockies that he put himself in the hospital. However, he got back on and is ridding like crazy, often 200 k a day (124 mi). He says this trip isn't for enjoyment, "it's for punishment." I didn't ask what he was punishing himself from.

Then the other day, I met Armando, an Italian living in Germany. He's riding west so we rode together for the afternoon, my struggling to keep up. Next year he'll reach one million km of touring all over the world. He rides no less them 150 k a day and up to 220 k. I was very impressed, especially since he rides 'till 3am many nights, only sleeping from 3-8am. I can surely day that is no t for me, I like my sleep (I've even been sleeping in a lot lately!). In broken English, he told me how great Australia is for touring-the second rider to encourage me to go there.


Yesterday I made it into Thunder Bay, the first big town in a week. I'd ridden two hard weeks without a day off and was in need of a rest. Fortunately, I got in contact with Frank and have my first Warmshowers host since way back in North Carolina. Strangely enough, my dad actually met Frank back at the Olympics and had told him about my ride, so I'm really glad this has worked out. I'm taking the day off today, being cold and rainy it's a good day to be off the road.

Last night I got a wonderful surprise as I was invited out to a barbecue at Ken and Lissa's camp on a lake outside of town. We had a traditional Finnish sauna which was incredible! It was great food and fabulous company. Ken and Liisa are strong, admirable athletes, Frank has toured around the world, and Louise also rides all over. Currently, Frank is also training for a cross Atlantic row, trying to break the record on a 14 person team. Later in the evening, Frank brought out his harmonicas and Ken his guitar for some fun music. (Frank even played happy birthday to my mom for her 60th birthday that evening). What a treat!

With Frank, Louise, Liisa, and Ken

In the morning I take off and have a few more days of riding to get to Winnipeg. There I'll meet my mom, get off the bike, and go on a little canoe trip. I'm really looking forward to seeing my mom and switching it up for a little while!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

NY to Ontario

My stay in Oswego, NY was fabulous, just what I needed before heading into Canada. I'll admit, I was a bit down saying goodbye to the Schaefer's and riding off, anticipating an incredibly long and lonely stretch through Canada.

Bob and Kim Schaefer

After a day of rolling hills along Lake Ontario, I met up with the Erie Canal for some long flat stretches. The trail was mostly gavel, so although flat, not very fast and was actually a bit boring doing that for ~70 miles. It was nice and quiet though obviously with no cars and very few people.

Dodging the hissing geese on along the Erie Canal

I then made it to Niagara Falls, arriving late at night and camping on an island in the park. I arose bright and early to have the place to myself. The amount of water is incredible and it really is a beautiful place. I'd always heard you should see the Falls from the Canadian side, but I wanted to see all angles, and I'm glad that I did.

View at Niagara Falls from the US side

I ran around enjoying my last bit of the US before I crossed the bridge to Canada. At the boarder I was asked a lot more questions then I'm used to getting into Canada, but I guess that was expected. The woman was not thrilled that I 1)wasn't sure if my health care was good in Canada, and 2) that it runs out in a month and I'll be uninsured. She also thought I needed to be checking in with someone everyday, not 1-2 times a week as I do, but that may have been the mother in her. Anyhow, she let me in.

It was afternoon by the time I crossed, so the viewing spots were packed with people. I enjoyed the views but didn't linger too long before riding south to follow Lake Erie for a ways (I did a long round about way to avoid Toronto and all of the suburbs).

American Falls from Canadian side

Horseshoe Falls from Canada

On my second day riding through Ontario, I was stopped alongside the road for a break when Kevin rode up to me and asked if I needed a place to camp. He has done many tours so knows the gig well. He worked on a nearby organic farm, they were having a party that evening with a few bands. A few minutes later, Rodrigo (one of the farm owners who has also bike toured all over and now wants to hang glide to Chili) drove by and invited me to the same place. That surely settled it, I rode to Plan B Organics. I set up my tent in the field then set out to see the farm and met some of the 18 or so folks working it. I wandered into the peas and weeded with Kate for awhile, it felt great to get my hands in to dirt again! That evening three bands played and it was a fun, low-key party with some home-brew and a movie projected into the barn.

The beginning of the music on Plan B

I decided to stay the weekend on the farm, working in the fields in the mornings then relaxing and hanging out in the afternoons. There are around a dozen interns working the farm, most from the Toronto area, but others from all over the world. It was a great group of diverse folks and such a wonderful surprise to be invited to the farm. Although I felt like I could stay for weeks, I know it's not the time to stop for too long or I could get stuck and never finish this ride. So I took off once again through the rolling hills towards Barrie.

Ontario's Badlands

So far I have not been impressed with the roads in Canada. It's extremely rare to have any shoulder (many roads don't even have white lines), if there is a shoulder it's gravel, maybe with a few meters of pavement interspersed occasionally. The roads are busy so it hasn't been all that pleasurable to ride. This morning I had my first 25k of nice paved shoulder, but now I'm getting to where there is really only one road so I'm hoping it'll have a shoulder as it will surely be very busy.

Arriving in Barrie, I met Jack riding along the lake. He and his wife, Sue, had just returned from a bike trip around Lake Michigan (they go to Europe or the States to ride because it's so much better then in Canada). We talked awhile and he invited to his house for coffee. Jack and Sue are fabulous, we talked, I used their computer and they cooked me a great lunch!

Jack and Sue

Jack then rode me to a bike shop in town where I picked up a new pair of bike shorts (very exciting!). Riding just a few km out of Barrie, I saw three girls taking lunch. Carmen, Morgan, and Tao had just begun their cross Canada tour, from Barrie to Vancouver. I rode with them to the next town and we camped together that evening on the beach of a provincial park (the parks have showers and it was time I had one). For expecting Canada to be so lonely, this first week had been so social, such a great surprise! I'm hoping that this will continue across the country.

Making dinner out on the beach

I rode off alone yesterday morning on a rainy day. I think I'm getting softer as when it started to rain harder I pulled into a park and waited it out while reading in the bathrooms. I then had a very nice twisty road with no traffic and camped at a picnic area last night.

A sample of the shoulder on Route 11, a main highway.

I'm continuing north to Sudbury, then turn west. Folks keep telling me that northern Ontario is gorgeous, I just hope the roads aren't too bad.

9 Month Inventory:

Miles: 11,801
Flats: 41
Tubes: 15
Tires: 6
Jars of Nut Butter: 30
Nights under a roof: 92 (25 nights these past two months!)
States: 28
Provinces: 1
National Parks, etc: 31
Bike-free days: 39
100+ mile days: 11
Rain: 49
Riding in Rain: 28
Riding with companions: 11
Books: 17
Spontaneous hosts: 3
Ferries: 8

Monday, June 7, 2010

Northern New York

Leaving Vermont, I took the ferry across Lake Champlain into New York. Riding back into the Adirondacks was lovely, a homecoming for sure.

Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks in the background

More Adks

I spent my first night back in NY at the trail head for Giant Mt, as I wanted to get a little hike in. I'd decided to do one of my favorite "slide climbs," friction climbing up an avalanche slide area. Getting an early start, I hiked up the trail, then bushwhacked up a creek to the base of the slide. Of course, it was an overcast morning and as soon as I reached the slide the rain came down. I hesitated, knowing it wasn't a good idea to climb this when wet as it's steep, smooth and lichen-covered, but the thought of a long bushwhack back down the creek was not appealing either. I decided to go for it and hoped for the best. Some spots were alright, others no fun at all. I admit, it was a bad idea, I was very relieved to make it up. Unfortunately, I lost my sunglasses as I crawled through the trees near the summit. Although I attempted to retrace my steps it was hopeless (after losing my second pair of good glasses, I'm sticking to cheap ones from now on). This was not a good way to start off the day. Jogging on the way down felt good though and I pedaled my way to Lake Placid for lunch.

Giant Mt. slide climb

A little bit of a view from the summit

Riding through the High Peaks region of the Adks towards Lake Placid

The ride to Lake Placid was full of cyclists. I figured there must be some event going on, then found out they were all training for the upcoming iron man. In town I ran into a friend from Seattle who'd just graduated from St Lawrence (where I went to college), he gave me some advice on routes which was great. From Placid the riding was gorgeous, mostly on small roads I'd never taken, though wished I'd explored. It was typical North Country, wetlands and lakes that I learned to love while living up there.

Typical North Country views

Reaching Canton and my alma mater I enjoyed riding the familiar back roads. My timing was poor, arriving on Memorial Day weekend and three weeks after classes had finished, things were very quiet. I managed to get into the athletic building for a shower then just walked around campus and town. I was disappointed that the SLU security wouldn't let me set up my tent on campus stating it was a "safety and liability issue," some alumni relations. I was banished to camp in the swampy woods full of mosquitoes.

I'd neglected to call anyone before getting to town, so just rode to people's house hoping to catch them. Fortunately, Glenn, my college advisor, was out working in his yard. It was great to catch up and see him.

Back at SLU, the Environmental Studies building

Out of Canton I took a beautiful and quiet road alongside a river with falls to stop and swim at. It was fabulous until I got to the two mile section of soft dirt, which I had to alternate riding and walking as the bike just dug in in places. The deer flies there happened to be horrendous. My riding consisted of pedal slap, slap, itch, itch , itch, pedal, slap, etc. Mid May through June it is Black Fly season in the Adirondacks and those who know better stay out during that time. What no one told me was the Black Fly season doesn't just have horrible black flies, but also mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, and noseeums. The combination of these left me bloody and deformed from the swelling that some of these insects induced.

I made my way to Arcadia at Massawepie Lake, the site of an off campus semester I did in college. It's a beautiful place, full of good vibes and memories, even when taken apart as it is when not in use. (It's a semester focusing on sustainable living, we live in yurts, learn local history, ecology, etc). Although it was raining and the mosquitoes were terrible, I always love going back to visit that site.

Back dock at Arcadia

Oh, how I do love the bugs. This was necessary to get out of Massawepie as I had to walk my bike a bunch.

The Snapping turtles are out to lay their eggs. I've seen so many; they're huge and scary!

Arriving in at a gas station in Long Lake, I heard: "Robin! What's going on ?" This was a total stranger who said this to me, so I was very confused. It turned out a past instructor that I'd hoped to see but ended up leaving a note for, had driven by me (not knowing it was me until he got home and found my note), had expected I'd stop at that station and told them about me. Calling Michael, he told he was working in the area and would be back through in the morning, so I decided to stick around that night and hang out the next day.

Michael is a woodworking instructor for the Adirondack Semester and does historical restoration. Although he was working on job that day, he brought me his mountain bike to use and gave me a whole list of things to keep me busy. I hiked up a little mountain to a fire tower for a great view. Then rode into Santanoni, one of the Adirondack Great Camps, now a national historical landmark. Michael has been living out there and working on restoring the place for the past 13 years. The place is beautiful, the camp is the only structure on a large lake, surrounded all by state land. It's incredibly peaceful, quiet, and gorgeous. I was able to take a canoe out and paddle the lake, go for a swim, and float and read-so relaxing! After work, Michael came in and made me a great dinner as we sat out on the 280' porch talking until late in the evening. This was a fabulous surprise and so much fun that it worked out.

Fire Tower on Goodnow Mt

View from the top of the Adks

Michael at Santanoni

From Long Lake, I rode through then out of the mountains. It was sad leaving them, knowing it will be a very long time until I reach mountains again.

North Country wetlands

However, I came across another surprise when once again stopping at a gas station to fill up on water I ran into Jody. I haven't seen another tourer for a long time and haven't seen another solo female since Oregon. Jody's is riding the Northern Tier, for now from Maine to Cleveland and them picking up the rest later on. After talking a bit, I invited her to camp with me that night and we rode together most of the next day. It was a lot of fun again having someone to ride/camp with.

Jody and me

Jody, lunch time!

At Lake Ontario

After parting ways, Jody continued on the Northern Tier route, and I rode on into Oswego to spend a few days with Kim and Bob Schaefer. They have been spoiling me rotten as I've enjoyed a few days of rest. It's been rough laying out by the pool reading, eating great food, and hiding from the rain while watching tv.

I'll be leaving here shortly, headed to Niagara Falls and then it'll be into Canada for a long ways.