I’ve been on the road for one month. Well, one month and one day if you’re sticky with the numbers. I’ve been lucky – or maybe unlucky depending on how you look at it – to have almost zero rain. There was a brief thunderstorm in Alberta about three weeks ago and two nights with rain overnight while I was already camped out in the safety of my dry tent. I made up for that drought today.
Last night, everyone was talking disappointedly about rain. Things like “you know it’s going to rain tomorrow, again” and “I guess summer is over.” It was like doomsday had arrived. Summer had just started after a long, wet spring and, now, their fortunes were being reversed. I guess I’m not carrying a ridge of high pressure with me after all. The weather forecast agreed and there were some aggressive radar maps for the area. I had hoped to wake up early to get going before the skies opened up. I looked out of my tent windows. Clear from the east and south, but the clouds did not look friendly from the north and west. Taking my opportunity to remain dry, I packed up camp within 20 minutes and sped off from the campground.
My target was the Chi-Cheemaun ferry in South Baymouth, about 90 km south on Manitoulin Island. There are four crossings daily during the summer. The 9 am ferry seemed lofty, so I aimed for the 1:30 pm crossing instead. Five hours to cover that distance seemed generous. It was a ride that I was really looking forward to since I’ve heard that the island is beautiful. My preview last night suggested that those rumours were true.
The island isn’t heavy populated or developed. There are towns every 30 km or so, but not much in between. The first stop was Little Current. I passed the swinging bridge into town. Every hour, it closes to traffic to allow boat traffic through. I was hoping to see it lift, but I had just missed it. With black clouds approaching on the horizon, I continued to its downtown area and stopped for breakfast. While I was putting back eggs Benedict and home fries, the first thunderstorm rolled through and delivered rain – a lot. I extended my pause by ordering carrot cake for dessert to allow time for the storm system to move on.
I managed to escape that one, but the forecast called for more, especially on the south island. I returned to Highway 6, a very nice alternative to the horrors of Highway 17. There wasn’t much traffic and there was a paved shoulder. The road was mostly smooth except for a 10 km stretch of horizontal cracks in Little Current and beyond. After that, it was back to skating on pavement. Looking west, there was another approaching thunderstorm. I raced to reach far enough south that I would bypass the storm or find shelter. The truth is you can’t really out cycle clouds. The storm plowed through and dumped more rain over 15 minutes. It made a mess, but it was refreshing and cooled the temperature. Secretly, I kind of liked it. Was this what I have been missing for the last month?
It eventually dried off. I eventually dried off. I pulled into Manitowaning, a small bayside town about 30 km south of Little Current. It was cute and probably worth exploring, but the next wave of dark clouds rolled in. The clock was approaching noon and I needed to finish the last 30 km leg to the ferry. I rejoined the highway when it first started spitting. No big deal – I’m from Vancouver where it’s spitting at least 80% of the time. Then it started full on raining. Then it was monsoon rains with thunder and lightning. My safety threshold is lightning, so it was time to pause. Miraculously, I found a Home Hardware on the outskirts of town and hid in their wood shed. I waited out the lightning (see mom, I’m a safe rider), but the clock was still ticking. I returned to the rain and continued to the ferry. Everything would have to go perfectly to make the ferry with a 15-minute buffer time. I actually thought: “This would be the worst time to get a flat.” Please don’t get a flat. Please don’t get a flat.
And that’s when I heard the gush of air. A piece of glass had broken through the front tire and pierced the tube. I couldn’t believe it. There was a short explosion of swears before I made the second fastest tube change in my life. I was just over 10 km from the ferry, frantically changing the tube by the side of the highway in the rain. Okay, go! The clock pushed past 1 pm and I had 13 km to cover. Google promised almost all downhills, but I didn’t seem to find any of them. I pedalled and pedalled as fast as I could, keeping my speed above 30 kph. I didn’t want to be stuck in South Baymouth for four hours. When I finally pulled in about 20 minutes later, there was still a line of cars. There was still hope. The traffic controller asked: “do you have a ticket for the bike?” My inner monologue said: “Of course not. I just raced through a thunderstorm here. Can’t you see I’m a sweaty monster?” Almost breathless, I, instead, asked him where I could find one and if I would make the ferry. He reassured me that I was fine for the 1:30 ferry and directed me to the ticket booth. Breathe.
I wish I could tell you more about the ferry and the scenery, but the best descriptors would be “grey” and “moist”. There was little worth photographing because it would have looked like an ultrasound image. Overall there are few pictures today because the conditions were so crummy. I tried to warm myself and dry off in what must have been the coldest air conditioned boat of all time.
By the time we pulled into Tobermory – almost two hours later – the skies were clearing. I grabbed a quick lunch and then wandered around town. It was now a low-stress day. No ferries to catch or deadlines to make. I was planning to cycle 10 km down the road to the National Campground at Cyprus Lake. So Canada 150 of me! I also decided that I was going to take it easy after the morning chaos. When I arrived, a friendly Parks Canada worker dropped the bad news – the campground was full. I was surprised. I mean, it was a Wednesday afternoon! I pedalled along, figuring that I would easily find something else.
I discovered a few things.
Number 1: the Bruce Peninsula is a very busy place every day of the week.
Number 2: Ontario campsites are ridiculously expensive, like at least $35 for a piece of grass for one night. Most were in the $45-55 range.
Number 3: there is a no tent policy in this part of the peninsula.
After finding nothing for 30 km, I called just about everything within a 20 km radius. I faced almost unanimous rejection, especially the suggestion of me setting up a tent on their property. Oh no. Oh my word, no. One nice B&B owner reluctantly offered an unfinished attic space. In a last ditch effort before resigning to stealth camping, I called the Northwind Motel further along Highway 6 and they had just had a cancellation. They had me at “queen size bed”. I made the final 10 km distance and spent the night on a real bed under a proper roof.
There, I can now say that I experienced rain on this trip. It took one month, but it caught up with me. I liked the cooling effect, but the thunderstorms really stalled my progress. Tomorrow, I’m aiming for somewhere on the way to London to see Alex’s mom, but I think 260 km might be crazy for one day…
Start time: 07:30
Finish time: 18:32
Riding time: 5 hours, 23 minutes (+ 1 hour, 45 minutes for ferry)
Distance: 143.36 km (+ 44 km ferry ride)
Total distance: 4289.43 km
Elevation gain: 877 meters (my computer was wonky so I don’t know if this is true!)
Total elevation: 20,237 meters
Average speed: 26.6 km per hour
Number of thunderstorms: 4 – I was only drenched by 2