Sunday, June 15, 2008

June 9 - 12: Leaving Manitoba and heading into Ontario

June 9 - 80km to Lake of the Woods
Today we started off right with a huge breakfast with Pat and Fran at the cabin on Star Lake and then headed onto the road. It was raining and windy from the east, so not the fastest riding, though the rain let up and the wind let up throughout the day - as opposed to prairie weather, which typically gets worse as the day progresses. Very soon after joining the Trans-Canada Highway at West Hawk Lake we were at the Ontario border - 4 down, 6 to go! The TCH traffic was not too bad and the shoulders were generous in Ontario so we had little trouble with the highway, which was good as we were worried about the sections of road where we had to be on the TCH - this stretch is the only stretch of pavement joining eastern and western Canada. The terrain continued to be classic Canadian Shield - rolling, rocky and treed terrain - all the way to Kenora. Kenora is a very stretched-out town as it goes all along the #17 highway for kilometre after kilometre, so we never knew when the heck the downtown would actually appear.
Being on the TCH, whenever we stopped for services (of which there are many, even in northern Ontario) there are lots of other travellers and we talked to many people throughout the day of our trip, heard about other trips (including two motorcyclists we talked to who were very keen to hear about our trip, they were riding from New York to California via cross-Canada), and had many well-wishers.

The downtown core of Kenora is fairly pleasant. We went to the tourist info just east of town to meet up with Charlie again, but, like us he had been stymied by the headwinds and was slower than expected getting into town (it turned out he had been catching up to us all day, after starting from Falcon Lake in MB, and was just behind us), and we found him when I went back into the downtown to mail home the package I had been carrying around for two days of stuff we didn't need (a few clothes, maps and souvenirs of the western provinces, bungie cords I'd picked up from the road). Charlie, on his way into town, had been flagged down by a guy who offered us a cabin to stay in! So after snacking at Tim Hortons we went 10km east of town and down a fire road to the cabin of Carol and Cory, who left a cabin open for us on their property. Thank you Cory and Carol - their generosity really touched us: they weren't even there (they flagged CHarlie down as they were leaving to go to Winnipeg), they just like to invite cyclists to use the cabin (it had three mattresses) on their property, which is right on the Lake of the Woods and has a fantastic dock. We cooked up a fantastic pasta feast with vegetables on lawn furniture on the deck and then all crammed into the cabin to sleep, very comfortably as it turned out.

June 10, 2008: Cabin on Lake of the Woods to Caliper Lake on Highway 71 - The Great River Road
118 km
6:44 in the saddle

After a good sleep in the cabin at Cory and Carol's we got up and hit the road through the Canadian shield. Biking attire for the day: two pair of wool socks, thermal long johns, two jackets, toque, and mitts -- this is spring in south west Ontario! Just a tad on the cool side. However, we had a fine day of riding. The rolling hills were a treat, and highway 71 was not too busy at all.

We stopped at Sioux Narrows for lunch -- great view of Lake of the Woods and absolutely covered with trophy fish. Sport fishing is a real force in these communities, it looks like it brings in lots of dollars to the local economy.

Caliper Lake is an Ontario Provincial Park and was a fine place to stay. We camped on the lakeshore and had a beaver swim right in front of our tent. The evening was cold but no rain and a fine sunset.

Animal highlights, other than the beaver, included a tree frog, mother grouse and babies, a sparrow hawk, ravens, bald eagles (big ones!), and turkey vultures.

ttfn Mary

June 11, 2008: The windy road to Fort Francis
Caliper Lake to Fort Francis
90 km
14.2 average speed

The day started well, with the first 60 km going well -- a bit of up and down, shield rocks, trees and water. But, at km 60 (the town of Emo) we turned due east into Fort Francis and the wind was right in our face. It was a difficult 30 km for me. The winds were from the east, sustained at 20 to 30 km/h with gust at 55. A head wind really buffets the bike and you need a strong upper body to control it -- after a few kilometres one can get a bit tired -- and for me, I get slow. Also, the highway became fairly busy from Emo to Fort Francis, so a bit of semi avoidance needs to be practiced too.

In any event, we all reached Fort Francis and checked into the Rainbow Hotel, then it was out for a huge pizza feed at the Pizza Hut. Everyone turned in for a well-deserved night with a roof over our head (lucky as it turned out -- Fort Francis had a huge rainfall overnight).


June 12, 2008: Mike's birthday
Fort Francis to Mine Centre
77 km
18.7 km/hr average

Overcast skies greeted us as we went out for Mike's birthday breakfast in Fort Francis. The four of us decided to break up for a few days Charlie and Mark decided to make a bee-line for Thunder Bay, covering approx 360 km in 3 days to arrive in Thunderbay on Sunday, June 15th in the morning. Mike and I opted for a slower pace -- possibly arriving on Monday, June 16. We will rendezvous at the house of a friend in Thunderbay on Sunday or Monday.

Charlie and Mark set off while Mike and I head into town to shop for groceries. Then we were off across the Rainy Lake causeway where Mike got flat #9. The day was lovely, and we picked up a west wind. With the wind at our backs, and a fine sunny day, the going was easy. Lakes appeared around almost every turn. Mike and I kept a close look out for moose, but didn't see one.

Since we were taking it easy we kept the kilometres low and stopped at Bliss Campground in the small village of Mine Centre. Our camp was on the shores of Bad Vermillion Lake, and we were there early enough in the day to jump in for a swim. it was a very brief dip -- the lake was amazingly cold! But, we did get some sun and water.

Mike's birthday gift was a bug hat (mesh hanging down from a sun hat). We were able to put it to use after dinner as the mosquitos started to get a little much. We hit the tent fairly early, and were just drifting off when a huge thunderstorm hit. Wind, hail, driving rain, lightning bolts and deafening thunder assailed our little tent. The inside of the tent lit up like the mantle in an old Coleman lantern. But, we were snug and dry because of the fine tarping job Mike did. We stayed in the tent and watched all the "sturm und drang" unfold around us. It took about an hour and a half before things calmed down, but we finally got to sleep with the sounds of loons calling on the lake. A fine birthday for Mike -- I'm sure he won't forget it any time soon!

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