I’m finally in reach of southern Ontario. You see, my dad is leaving for Vancouver on August 11. He’s going to help Alex with apartment renovations while I’m away. Isn’t he a good guy? Aren’t they both good guys? There was some urgency to get to Hamilton before his departure. I would feel pretty guilty about passing through town while he’s installing baseboards in our new place.
Okay, let’s get back to the Bruce Peninsula.
I woke to clear skies with no threat of rain. Everything had cooled down after all of the storms passed through yesterday. I probably should have moved more quickly this morning, but my legs needed time to stretch out after yesterday’s sprint to the ferry and the unexpected addition of 30 km. I spent about 30 minutes tending to debris on the chain and making my bike look more presentable. There wasn’t a lot to see or do in Ferndale. I paused at the Ferndale Drive In for a roast beef sandwich and a Turtle brownie (healthy choices) before getting moving.
I had to decide between bee-lining along Highway 6 or taking the scenic route along Lake Huron and adding extra kilometers. A tourist newspaper suggested a few paved routes off the main road. After weighing the options, I decided to take Highway 6. It was fine. The road conditions were adequate (paved with a decent shoulder). There were some stretches of traffic. I was beaten back by a wall of wind every time a truck would pass, but this was not a new issue. The scenery was, um, a little dull. Empty field, section of trees, another empty field, and yet another. Was I somehow transported back to Saskatchewan overnight? I wasn’t in Wiarton yet, but it was already starting to feel like groundhog day.
About 20 km along Highway 6, I reconsidered my options. I didn’t want to spend a whole day hanging out on the shoulders of highways and staring at wide open spaces. I backtracked about 500 meters to Red Bay Road with the goal of reaching the shore of Lake Huron via Highway 13, appropriately named Huron Road. Sometimes the shortest route is not the fastest. If I had stayed on the highway the whole day, it would have been a long day of head games.
The moment I started on Red Bay Road, I knew it was the right choice. I conquered a stretch of short, steep hills, leaving me with a fun and fast descent on the other side of each climb. Before connecting with Huron Road, I passed by Sky Lake where a family was trying their luck at fishing in the lake. They were the only signs of human life along this whole stretch. I sped along Huron Road into the Provincial Park at Sauble Falls. It was overrun by tourists, so I decided to bypass the falls and continue the lakefront ride into Sauble Beach. Despite a busy beach, the roads hugging Lake Huron were quiet. I remember hearing about Sauble Beach as a child. It was the place to go whenever people were “going to the beach”. I never believed that Ontario had real beaches, but it turns out, they do exist! I wandered down the boardwalk and dragged my bike into an area of white sand and dunes. It was stunning. I had to take a moment to touch Lake Huron. Surprisingly warm, but I guess anything is warm when your comparison is the Pacific Ocean and Lake Superior.
The village around Sauble Beach looked cute, but definitely tourist-heavy, even before peak heat and sun. I opted for lunch in Southampton instead. It was about 15 km south and seemed further off the tourist track. I tracked along a residential area on 2nd Avenue. Every few houses, the shimmering lake would come into view. These houses had a nice setup. 2nd Avenue eventually came to an end, but I wished that it would have gone on indefinitely. I popped back on Huron Road for a short stretch before reaching Southampton.
I’ve noticed how “put together” the towns are in south western Ontario. There’s a lot of old city charm with a bounty of limestone buildings. None of them have neglected their downtown areas. They give a sense that you should stop here and look around. So that’s what I did in Southampton. All of the storefronts seemed to have active businesses – a welcome change from the vacant black windows I saw in the Upper Peninsula. All of the restaurants were highly rated, making it hard to choose my food stop. After studying all of their menus, I decided on the chicken yam curry lunch at Walker’s House. Remember, I will never turn down a bowl of curry. Somehow the bartender and I got to talking about this trip. The helmet and neon clothing were probably the giveaway. He told me that I was “living his life dream”. I tried to convince him to join me for the rest of the trip, but he’s considering doing a similar thing next year.
It was starting to look like another Elle Woods perfect day, but that’s when my fortune started to change. I was excited to use the Saugeen Rail Trail. Many communities have transformed these paths into great access points to the outdoors. Google Maps put me on the trail, so it must be okay, right? Wrong. It started out with an adequate, shaded, packed stone surface that wound through city streets and country roads until I reached Port Elgin. I crossed a bridge and began travelling south east of Port Elgin when it all fell apart. The packed surface turned into a mix of sand and loose gravel. The bush was overgrown with thorny stems and branches hitting various parts of my body. Then the centre transformed into a weed garden before the trail almost entirely vanished, aside from some thin strips of loose ground. Appropriate for ATVs, maybe. Appropriate for cycling, definitely not. I suffered through a few kilometers of those conditions before I hit a paved road. I happily jumped off of the trail to the road and wound my way through country roads to Paisley.
The roads were initially pleasant and traffic-free, but I linked up with Highway 3. It was no Trans-Canada Highway, but busy for a back-road highway. Let me just make a note about drivers in south western Ontario. They were giving Manitoba drivers strong competition for worst drivers in Canada. There was a lot of close following, limited clearance when passing, and, my favourite, oncoming traffic inappropriately passing into my lane on single-lane highways. Can you not wait 5 seconds to let me get by before you pass? And then they would give me the stink eye as if to say “get off of my road.”
I stopped for a quick drink of water and to answer the important question “Should I stop for an ice cream now or later?” I decided to bypass the Paisley ice cream option and power on. It was getting close to 4 pm and I still had about 70 km to cover before my destination. As soon as I crossed through Paisley, though, I saw all the signs of an approaching thunderstorm. The winds started whipping in all directions. The skies went from light blue to menacing charcoal. Within one minute, a few drops of rain became a downpour. There wasn’t much shelter on the outskirts of Paisley. Initially, I hid my bike and myself under a tree. When the lightening started flaring, I sprinted across the street and hid under a tiny recessed area of a garage door until the cracking and popping stopped.
By the time everything settled down and I emerged from my hiding place, I had lost an hour of cycling time. I hit the road again knowing that there was still a long road ahead. I powered on for one hour before I realized that I was hungry, tired, and I didn’t want to go another 50 km before rest. I made a snap decision to stop in Walkerton instead. You may remember this place from the Walkerton Water Crisis in 2000. The water supply was contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the strain of bacteria that can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (translation: bad news for your kidneys and blood). I tried to forget that story as I rehydrated myself.
I was lucky to find the charming Silver Creek B&B in downtown Walkerton. My past experience is that you can never call a B&B on the day of your arrival and expect to find an empty room. Today, however, this place was totally available. The owners are a retired couple who should win the award for sweetest hosts ever. It was like staying with family. When they found out that I had come by bike, they knocked $5 off of the already reasonable price. In the end, I spent $65 for a comfortable, fully serviced room and a huge breakfast the next morning. It made me wonder who is using those $55/night campgrounds.
I explored Walkerton’s downtown area and had my pick of restaurants. I ordered a 12-inch buffalo chicken pizza. It may have been thin crust, but it was top-heavy with ingredients. I would say this size of pizza would have been appropriate for two people with maybe one piece for leftovers. To the horror of any observers, I ate the entire thing in one sitting and when that was done, I went to Dairy Queen to wash it down with a Blizzard.
I foolishly checked the weather forecast for tomorrow. More thunderstorms. No big deal, we’ve gotten to know each other well over the last two days. The wind forecast, though, looks dismal. I’m hoping to make it to London if I don’t get blown off of the road first. I’ve moved on to a new show – 13 Reasons Why, a sort of disturbing fictional story about suicide. So it’s not the most uplifting show… but it will keep me from thinking about fighting headwinds tomorrow. Good night!
Start time: 10:08
Finish time: 18:21
Riding time: 4 hours, 52 minutes
Distance: 117.87 km
Total distance: 4407.63 km
Elevation gain: 416 meters
Total elevation: 20,653 meters
Average speed: 24.2 km per hour