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Climbing



Thierry smells the smoke before I do.


“Dat gotta be de campground for sure!”


It’s been a short day. Only 62 kilometres today. We got a late start. For about three hours last night, at Pancake Bay, there was an intense thunder storm. Near constant lightening flashes. The rain came down in hard, successive waves. There was no sleeping through it. And it took much of the morning to dry the tent.


But tonight we are in Agawa Bay Campground. No rain in the forecast. It is dinner time and most of the campers, here, have a fire going. Not to keep warm. They mostly have RV’s for that. Just for the pleasure of watching the flames dance, I suppose.


“So dat hill were preddy crazy, hein?”


Thierry is referring to the long steep climb just past Montreal River. Since leaving the Soo, yesterday, Highway 17 offered some long gradual climbs and descents. I never had to dismount and walk. Good steady cadence.


But today I walked plenty. The longest, steepest gradient I’ve seen on any highway anywhere. Thierry perched on the handlebars watching for traffic behind us. In fact, he has been serving as a sort of ersatz rear view mirror all day. On this ascent, it is not really an issue. The transports are all crawling up with their red lights flashing.


“Tiens! L’accotement is preddy lousy. ‘Ow you say dat in English?”


“We just call it the shoulder, Thierry.”


“Shoulder? More like all neck if you ask me!”


Highway 17 seems to have no consistent standard. Sometimes the paved shoulder is about two feet wide. Barely adequate for a bike. Sometimes only one foot between the white line and the sandy gravel. Sometimes the shoulder disappears altogether or survives only as a crumbled edge - as if something has been nibbling at it.


“Dun look at me, brudder! Maybe I nibble a cookie sometime, but I got nutin’ to do with dis crazy highway.”


Traffic is not really heavy. We occasionally have the highway to ourselves. And, in general, truckers in transports give us a wide berth. But sometimes I see a truck coming toward us and Thierry spots one approaching from behind. That’s when we have to slow down and get outside the white line. And if there is no shoulder, we stop in the gravel and wait.


And no shade anywhere on the road. At the top of hills we are sweating. Descend and the cold breeze blowing off Lake Superior feels like air conditioning. Five - maybe six- kilometres of walking up this impossible gradient and my shirt is soaked. Our reward is the long, swift descent; the coolness from a lake the size of a sea; the smell of smoke and the warmth of our tent on a clear night.

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