Writing this on Thursday 30 June. Rest Day. Rain, Wind and Cold.
The previous four days have been cold. Nights hovering a few degrees above freezing. Days never getting past the low teens. I have a “three seasons” sleeping bag designed for 5° and above. I sleep in my warmest clothes with my socks on and I am still cold. Where is summer?
This morning I stay in the tent until the sun is fully up. I grab the two front panniers off my bike - the ones with food and cooking gear - and hurry to the beach and sunshine. A lazy mist is hanging over the surface of Lake Superior. I set up my little alcohol stove and boil water for coffee.
My bike and tiny tent are the source of some interest every time I visit a provincial campground. It’s mostly RVs around here. If there are tents, they are usually tall enough that you can stand upright.
“Where are you coming from? How far are you going? Good luck!”
A few times I have met athletic looking young men who ask how old I am. Perhaps they are gauging what may still be possible in their futures.
I have more “wild camping” or “stealth camping” ahead of me. But these provincial campgrounds have toilets and showers and potable water. Comparative luxury.
The next leg is 83 km of hill country to Rainbow Falls. I had been on a plateau for a while but since just before Marathon it has been mostly tough climbs and descents. Some climbs I can manage in my “granny gear” (lowest gear) but some are not worth the effort and I just dismount and walk when it becomes evident that walking will be as fast as riding and half the effort. I no longer feel defeated. Just different muscles. A change of pace.
Approaching the summit of each hill there is usually a corridor blasted through sheer rock. The first I encounter today is restrained by a taut metal mesh to capture falling rocks. A jagged cliff shrouded in a funeral veil. These rock cuts can be compellingly beautiful. Some are like black/blue molten steel; others are rust or copper; sometimes streaks of creamy green like jade; pink granite.
The shape of the land can be deceptive. An approaching hill looks insurmountable but then you roll over it easily. The highway appears to descend but your legs tell you that you’re fighting gravity. If I can get a steady cadence on a hill I resist looking up. Seeing the distance to the summit always seems to make it impossible. Focusing on the few metres in front of me presents a small challenge that I can face until I feel the bike begin the next descent. Occasionally a car will honk encouragement.
For sometime the railway has been meandering near the highway. I catch glimpses of trains through the trees in the distance. Or hear them like roaring phantoms at night. I can’t help but envy the shallow gradients afforded the railway. But ride the highway at a bicycle pace and you witness close at hand the near unimaginable labour that created it. A part of me feels churlish and ungrateful. What are my hardships compared to those who built these passages?
A car stops at the bottom of the hill I am descending. Two men clamber out. At first I think they are admiring the view of the lake. But they stand in the gravel for a moment and pee. Then immediately set off again.
Yesterday I passed a man walking east. Chad Kennedy. He had a blue Gatorade in one hand. A support vehicle following him at a crawl. Sea to Sea for PTSD. A man with a cause I can get behind. Chad looks late forties, maybe fifty. The day before I passed a teenage boy walking west. He was pushing all his gear in a baby carriage.
Another bike approaches from the west. He crosses the highway to greet me. His name is Jasper. He might be thirty with a red beard that maybe he has been growing since leaving Vancouver. We chat a bit about what is coming up. The sections that have no food or water or other amenities available. It is not really the cycling that is hard. It is the other logistics. If I knew there was food, water and a bed waiting to greet me at the end of everyday...
Jasper tells me to keep an eye out for a guy riding a recumbent this way and towing his dog in a trailer. Ten minutes later, sure enough. His bike rides as low as a fairground go-cart. A little orange flag flaps above him. We wave.
Part of me is glad that the day is cold. I am comfortable so long as I keep moving but not constantly thirsty the way I am on hot days.
I get cell service in Terrace Bay. I check the weather. Cold. Rainy. Windy. Tonight and tomorrow. I ride to Schreiber, the next little town, and check into a ramshackle motel for not much more than the cost of a provincial campground. I’ll ride again Friday. Canada Day. It will be sunny. Sunny and cold.
From here: Thunder Bay 200 km. Kenora 700 km. Winnipeg 900 km. Then the wide prairie with nothing to slow the west wind. A fresh struggle.