I was hoping to cycle 240 km to get to Batman Campground, about midway down Manitoulin Island. What was I thinking? I was mostly drawn to the name to say “guess where I stayed…Batman Campground!” What I had anticipated as another day of work really turned out to be a day of human connection.
I tried to tap into my old ways and get an eager, early start. I did pretty well, waking at 6:30 am and having everything packed up by 7:30 am. Not a person best, but better than any start in the last few weeks. I got distracted, however, by my camping neighbours. Distracted in a good way. Elko introduced himself and his family – they’re one of those cool car-free families living in downtown Toronto. He told me about his cycle touring experiences from when he had lived in Europe. He sold riding in France well and encouraged me to include a portion there after Alex and I take the trans-Atlantic cruise in September. His family was at the end of a week-long camping trip and offered their leftover dehydrated meals. As if that wasn’t enough, he then prepared breakfast for me. It was a really sweet gesture and saved me time from backtracking into Bruce Mines. Later that morning, they passed me about 40 km down Highway 17 and gave a supportive thumbs up and honk.
I started rolling just after 8:30 am. I could already feel the heat and sun. My god, that heat. I had experienced a short stretch of Highway 17 last night. We reconnected today. I was counting down the kilometres until Espanola to get off of this frightening road. It wasn’t unlike Highway 28, but the shoulder was narrower – or absent – and there was more traffic. This was the only way east or west. I could often feel the cars and trucks creeping behind. I was excited to see another branch of 17B into Thessalon. I wandered through this cute town and hoped 17B would carry on to Espanola. It wasn’t meant to be. Immediately after Thessalon, I was back on the regular highway.There were lots of areas of construction, but I was less annoyed with them than my time in the UP. For one thing, the traffic controllers seemed to know what to do with me and didn’t send traffic head-on. And it was a blessing to have traffic held back for 10-15 minutes. Once I got through some harrowing stretches of construction, it translated into chunks of time without vehicles lurking behind.
The route took me through a collection of small towns – Iron Bridge, Blind River, Algoma Falls, Serpent River, Spragge, Spanish, and Espanola. I usually rolled through unless there was something special. Ironically, I took a pause from the intense heat at the Nothing Special Restaurant in Serpent River. I liked the name – they didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously – and I liked how much fun the chef and server were having at work. It was a fun show to watch while snacking on an open-faced chilli burger. I didn’t want to leave the comfort of their air conditioning and their comedy.I left Serpent River and sped along, hoping to cover more ground. In the distance, there were more riders straddling the skimpy shoulder. I eventually caught Liz and Jan. They are now semi-retired from health care. They left Victoria at the beginning of June to fulfill Liz’s dream of biking across the country. We had short snippets of conversation in the few breaks in traffic. I really liked them, so I suggested that we ride together until Massey. I would describe Liz as an Energizer-Bunny-type-of-rider. I think Jan would agree… Even with more gear and fatter tires, she was fast, constantly pedalling, and could carry on for hours at a time. Liz encouraged me to pedal ahead if they were going too slow. In truth, Jan and I were struggling to keep up with her. When we arrived in Massey, I promised them an option off of Highway 17 that would take them to Espanola. I checked Google Maps and it promised a cycling route along Lee Valley Road. I was waiting for it to transform into gravel, but it was a perfect, paved stretch carrying us all the way. The route was just like what Anthony showed me yesterday – beautiful landscapes on country road. It was the kind of riding that all three of us love. We ended in Espanola and decided to have dinner together. Espanola had limited options for restaurants that don’t serve food in a box. We stopped at Cortina’s for a pasta-filled carb infusion. We discovered that we’ve been taking almost the same route the entire way. I’m so glad that I found them or that they found me, however you look at it. We had such a great conversation. I didn’t want to leave, but our paths were separating here. I planned to continue further onto Manitoulin Island while they made the smart choice to stop at a hotel in Espanola. Jan generously paid for the meal and he sent me on my way to make my campground before dusk.
I rolled out of Espanola beelining for Manitoulin Island. The hills started almost immediately. I collected about 300 meters of elevation over 20 km with some very steep hills. At least I was rewarded with steep descents achieving speeds well above 50 kph. There was a steep 90-meter descent, giving me what I refer to as a “free kilometre”. You know, the kind that you don’t need to pedal and you cover at least one kilometre. If it weren’t close to sunset, I would have snapped so many pictures. I was surrounded by rocky terrain overlooking forest, bays, and lakes. I passed the the gushing Whitefish Falls for which this place is named.I was worried that the campground office would be closed, but I managed to secure a site. Well, I’m actually the only camper at the Hilly Acres Campground. As I set up camp, I met a couple who had recently moved from Ottawa. They introduced themselves to me and told me to come knock on their door if I needed anything. “You can’t miss it – it’s the house with the blue door.” I thought it was sweet. I’ve been lucky to meet such interesting, open, and generous people today. It’s a reminder about how much good and kindness there still is in the world. I covered almost 200 km, but the people and connections stand out to me today.
Start time: 08:36
Finish time: 20:16
Riding time: 7 hours, 39 minutes
Distance: 197.62 km
Total distance: 4146.06 km
Elevation gain: 928 meters
Total elevation: 19,360 meters
Average speed: 25.8 km per hour
Number of new friends: 2