I usually feel like I’m in control of how this trip is going. I can plan the distance, the route, the start time, and even the end time to a certain extent. There are some things that are beyond my control, mainly weather-related things like headwinds and temperatures. I have yet to develop Storm’s mutant super powers, but I wish I had them every time I hit a headwind. It would be tailwinds, every day, all the time.
Today, I was at the mercy of the bike shop schedule. All of the (two) bike shops in Sault Sainte Marie were closed on Sunday, so I had to wait until this morning to sort out my mechanical woes. I noticed a funny sound on that long, long stretch of Highway 28 and found the rear wheel rubbing the brakes in two spots. They were not going to make riding conditions any easier. I have some bike skills and tools, but mostly just survival knowledge and gear. I needed to get my rear wheel trued, which is a cycling term to realign the rim once it has decided to become all distorted.
Both major shops didn’t open until 10 am which permitted an extra long sleep this morning. Jonny and Wes, I will miss that mattress. It was like having a long, soothing hug all night. My inflatable Thermarest and sleeping bag combination is like going back to Windows 95 after having a 2-day trial of Windows 8 (or whatever the Mac equivalent is).
I decided to show up about 15 minutes early and found a whole collection of eager cyclists with their demands. Things like: “Can I get this tightened?” and “I’d these to be loosened” and “I can’t get my gears to turn properly” and “Can you screw this in?” If it you didn’t know it was a cycling shop, it sounded a little sexual. I met a cycling couple from Toronto. They were doing an organized tour (Cycle Canada) with 20 other riders (www.cyclecanada.com). They left a week before me and were taking a rest day in the Sault. We commiserated about the headwind situation in the Prairies and were happy to have more terrain in Ontario. My bike eventually made its way on the shop’s priority list. I was told that it would be done today, but it could have be any time before 6 pm. Saddle bags, tent, and helmet in hand, I lugged my things to the nearest food stop – the ol’ faithful Tim Hortons.
I spent most of my morning and afternoon loitering in the comfortable air conditioned dining area of a merged Tim Hortons and Wendy’s. Yup, I’m classy like that. I found a plug and wifi. I guzzled my chocolate milk. What more could I need? I obsessively checked my phone every five minutes. Have they called yet? How about now? Now? I felt like we had just gone on our first date. While waiting, I noticed another rider wearing the same jersey as me. This Primal red and white maple leaf jersey has been very popular this year. I chatted with Fernando – the Abba song started playing instantly in my head – who was cycling from Vancouver to Toronto. The shop called about one minute after I sat down. Sorry Fernando, gotta go!
My wheel healed, I was finally ready to go. It was already mid-afternoon and sweltering hot. I had missed my window to cover a lot of ground in reasonable temperatures. I was really itching to get going. There was a bike repair station just outside of the shop. I wanted to check the air pressure and inflate my tires before starting the day’s ride. I’m not a size queen, but this pump had the shortest hose I’ve ever seen. It was nearly impossible to attach. When it was all finally secured, the bike fell over and the head on the tube was entirely ripped off. Another flat tire. This one was especially frustrating because it was something that I had done, right outside of a bike shop. I changed out the tube in about 4 minutes flat (ha!), a new record for me. Okay, gotta go for real this time!
I continued on the Hub trail as it passed through the east side of Sault Ste Marie. There was a steep downhill section under a shady canopy of trees. I passed through residential neighbourhoods in the south-east side of the city. I figured that I would spend enough time on the highway and opted for the bike-friendly route along Queen Street. The streets weren’t especially well marked for cycling routes, but I found my way with the use of Google Maps. Jonny recommended that I take Highway 17B, the former Trans-Canada route. It runs along a more scenic route parallel to St. Mary’s River through a place called Garden River in Ojibway territory. The roads and shoulders were adequate enough. The route was quiet compared to the usual Trans-Canada. A cool breeze blew off of the water and moderated the heat. Every now and again, there would be a break in the trees, allowing a glimpse of the river.
About 30 km outside of Sault Sainte Marie, I stopped to rehydrate in Echo Bay. I met another (day) cyclist on a beautiful Cervelo bike. Anthony asked me some questions about my ride. We realized that we were heading in the same direction and he offered to show me the way. I was happy to have company. The last time was with Paul and Nola in Saskatchewan. Anthony knew the backroads perfectly. He has been riding for almost 40 years. As we chatted about cycling, work, and life, he guided me through beautiful rolling hills and farmland on the outskirts of the city. We realized that we had few degrees of separation as he and his wife have both met Jonny and Wes before. Small world. Maybe more like small city. He was good company for the 15 km that we rode together. He eventually dropped me off on Government Road and advised me on how to get to the campground. I rode for at least 20 km on the winding Government Road, constantly turning my head left and right to take it all in. I wanted to stop to snap more photos, but I selfishly was enjoying it too much to pause.
The joy came to a surprising stop just before Debarats, a small town about 65 km from Sault Sainte Marie. Coming over a small hill, the paved road turned into a dreaded stretch of gravel. Not terrible, but certainly not appreciated. After I passed through Debaracts, the road again transformed into gravel. Enough of that. I finally resigned to taking the Trans-Canada (Highway 17). There was a narrow, but manageable shoulder. It wasn’t quite as enjoyable the backcountry roads, but it was paved. One point for Highway 17.
The clock was ticking – 7 pm – and I was getting anxious about riding another 30 km around dusk. I had originally intended to go to Blind River, but that plan was adjusted after the delayed start. It was a toss up between Bruce Mines and Thessalon. I pulled into Bruce Mines, lured by a flashing sign for ice cream. It gets me every time. I downed a waffle cone with three scoops of cherry cheesecake ice cream. Yesterday was national cheesecake day after all; one must honour these important occasions.
I decided that this was the place to be today. Why rush? So I set up camp in the reasonably priced Bruce Mines Campground. The railroad tracks weren’t within earshot for once. I made the short stroll into town for a greasy dinner at Bobbers. Time to get so me sleep. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow to make up for lost ground. I’m itching to get to Manitoulin Island.
Start time: 15:00
Finish time: 18:56
Riding time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Distance: 79.1 km
Total distance: 3948.33
Elevation gain: 426 meters
Total elevation: 18,432 meters
Average speed: 22.6 km per hour
Number of scoops of ice cream: 3