You wake and discover that, overnight, your bicycle has been gilded with pollen. The morning is golden. Boil water for coffee. Fry up some bannock. This will be the best part of the day.
Yesterday you left behind that little enclave of tourist shops: Camper’s Grocery Store. The Canadian Carver. Agawa Crafts. All anchored by the Esso Station which cautions: Next Gas 150 Kilometres.
For now, it is all Lake Superior Provincial Park. Two hours tops in a vehicle. On your loaded bike - with these hills - two days minimum. This is your second day.
Here, for anyone on wheels, Trans Canada Highway 17 is your only route. Once you are on, there is no way off until Wawa. And no commercial services save the two provincial campgrounds: the one you are departing now and the one you will pass late afternoon.
Gone are the No Trespassing signs. Gone the long driveways and manicured lawns. Gone the failed enterprises and the gutted remnants of their buildings. The scrawled graffiti. Abandoned cars. Gone the service stations and those family owned grocery stores. The convenient washrooms. A bench to sit on and to rest with a chilled soft drink. A dog to pet.
There is no place to sit. Every ten kilometres there is turnaround for the snowplows. There is a place for garbage. And a sign warning $500 fines for anything but vehicle litter. You can lean your bike against the sturdy metal garbage container. But there is no bench. Not even a grassy spot to recline.
You remember the two benches early this morning at a lookout point. There are other lookout points, later, but no benches. There are those little gravel parking lots at the entrance to those nature walks. But, apart from the outhouse toilet, no place to sit.
You are on the highway. It is hot. The climbs are long and challenging. The descents are fast and brief. For long stretches you cannot get off of the highway. Steep ravines. Blasted rock face. At best, a manageable slope leading to a stream where you can find and filter some drinking water.
But the only place to sit is the saddle on your bike. For that, you must keep moving. And you must keep your wits about you. It is not the sort of sitting that relaxes.
Look up and everywhere is beautiful. The trees growing tightly together on the hills as crowded as giant florets on a cauliflower. The stone cliffs as high as a hundred Egyptian Sphinxes. The sapphire lakes. Butterflies. Yellow and black or orange and black - bouncing on the humid air. A turtle as big as a man’s hand that has somehow survived crossing three lanes.
Listen. The gossiping of tiny streams. The black fly briefly trapped in the vents of your helmet. Hawks silently soaring or the incessant chatterboxes in the foliage. The whoosh of the big transports passing. The rumbling blasts from motorcycles. If you dismount to walk a steep stretch, the mosquitoes appear like politicians searching for microphones.
Look down. The trash tossed from vehicles. Pop cans. Bottles of urine. An empty jug of windshield washer fluid. A plastic sandal. So many water bottles on their sluggish way to some stream and then out into the world’s largest lake. Even here, devoid of businesses, there isn’t wilderness enough to hide our transgressions.
Finally, the billboards appear and you know you’ve exited Lake Superior Provincial Park. There is a part of you that is relieved. Soon the big Esso sign looms. You buy a Coke and a Snickers because you haven’t tasted sugar for two days and you want that instant rush.
Here are proper receptacles for waste and recycling. You know you have left no litter on the route. But the virtue you want to feel cannot gild you with quite the sort of golden pollen that dusted your bicycle this morning.
Yes, you rode that narrow ribbon through the wilderness. But the route is a river of commerce. Yes, you shed your plastic into the correct bins. Even birds drop feathers and bears snag a branch and leave tufts of fur.
Your footprint is small, certainly. But there is a part of you that accepts... what? That somehow a little trail of debris follows you everywhere. You are on a highway that seems to offer no escape. And no place to sit.