canada

A Month In, and Country Number 6

Well, this is a surprise.  I thought this would be a little retrospective glance at the trip so far (yesterday was the one-calendar month mark since my departure from Greenwich), written from another location somewhere in Southern Ontario.  Instead, I arrived in the seething metropolis of Sandusky, Ohio.  Country number six already, and this one will last for a little while.

I’d intended to head for the big border crossing at Windsor in Ontario, which drops you into Detroit.  I’d built up an impressive collection of shocked facial expressions from the various Canadians regarding this plan.  Responses ranged from “turn left and ride like [insert four-letter-word here]” to “you’re going to ride through Detroit on surface streets?  That’s suicide.”

Now, there may be an element of exaggeration to these reactions.  All the people in Southern Ontario live in a delightful, semi-rural or rural environment with (as far as I could see) very little in the way of crime etc, and no big cities.  So maybe they were overstating things.  I have a standard response to this sort of thing, which is to research.  And a good job too; turns out that the Windsor-Detroit border is very difficult to get a bike through.  The whole place is set up for trucks and cars, and I’d need to bag the bike, put it on a bus, and so on and so on.  Looked like a nightmare.  And the alternative border crossing at Sarnia would take me a few days out of my way to the north.

One final act of Canadian goodwill was to come; a tip-off about the small ferries which run out of Kingsville (the most southerly town in Canada) to Pelee island (the most southerly island in Canada), past Point Pelee (the most southerly point in mainland Canada).  Lots of ‘southerlys’ there, then…  It should then be possible to get another ferry to the US from Pelee Island.  And it worked beautifully; I’m in the USA a few days earlier than expected, having had a nice boat ride, and a very friendly, quick and non-problematic entry to America.  A good route for any bikers heading this way.

IMG_0209The Pelee area of Ontario is quite interesting, by the way, and not just in its role as an important stop for migrating birds, of which I’m sure you’re all aware.  Remember Terry from Brantford?  He’d told me about Point Pelee when we were discussing places to camp, and said that it was so far south that it was level with Northern California.  This seemed extremely unlikely to me, so I checked up.  And it’s actually true; there are tiny bits of Ontario which are to the south of the California / Oregon border.  Who knew?

In any case, I’m getting set for the first day’s ride in the USA; basically I’ll be heading roughly west-south-west for a couple of months.  The plains, the Rockies, the desert and the landmarks of the West (Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon etc) hopefully lie ahead.  Plenty more from the US to come, I’m sure…

Southern Ontario: Easy Riding (mainly)

So, the flight was caught, and I was on my way to North America. Leaving Lisbon an hour late, and with the bike entrusted to the tender mercies of airport baggage handlers, I was really looking forward to being deadline-free in Canada. I was imagining gentle rides around the edge of the sun-kissed Great Lakes, rolling farmland and meeting some friendly Canadians. And I got all of these (lucky boy!) until this afternoon, when the sky decided to drop two-plus inches of rain on my head (and everywhere else).

It didn’t begin that well. I arrived pretty much on time (good), to discover the bike box in the state below (bad). After a bit of frantic checking, it looked like the box had taken all the beating, and the bike was intact – result!

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After a day’s jet-lag recovery, reassuring the bike that nothing so traumatic will ever happen to it again (a bit of a fib, if I’m honest), and some map checking / semi-planning, it was back on the road. A gentle run along the shore of Lake Ontario to Hamilton in the morning, and then the old railway line (now a nicely-surfaced bike path) towards Brantford. I met Terry, who was out on a long ride with some friends. Terry was built like a rugby hooker because that’s exactly what he used to be. And once he heard roughly where I was heading, he invited me back to his place to stay the night, where I was treated to bed and breakfast and many cups of tea by him and his wife Barb. A first taste of the generosity which has characterised all the Canadians I’ve met so far. Even the drivers give you half the road when overtaking – compare and contrast with my comments on Portugal…

Anyway, after breakfast in Brantford, Terry rode out with me to the start of another ex-railway line path which took me all the way to Port Dover on Lake Erie. And I’ve been within a mile or so of the lake ever since. It’s a really big lake.

The next night’s camp was a double-whammy; Long Point provincial park is now both best camping location and most expensive campsite of the trip so far. If Ontario could sort the pricing out, it would be properly brilliant. I ran into a nice family who lent me a hammer (an inexplicable omission from my kit), and then insisted on filling me with (very delicious) chicken wings. I think I might have repaid them by setting their son on the path to bike-touring lunacy, but them’s the breaks…

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And it was all sunshine and easy riding from then on; I’ve met a couple of guys from Chicago who are ‘circumventing’ the lake in a clockwise direction, and a Chilean who’s most of the way across Canada from Vancouver to St John’s (that’s an impressively long jog, by the way). And not a single bear to worry about to date.

Today started much the same. I stopped at the tiny town of Palmyra for some coffee and muffins (very good and cycling-friendly place – a little cafe and shop called the Crazy 8 Barn, who gave me a really good map as well as a bit of a caffeine and sugar rush). As I was leaving, there was a little comment about hoping I’d beat the rain. I’d not seen the forecast, as I was pretty convinced the sun would last forever. Uh-oh.

Made it to Blenheim dry, but with black clouds building. Finished lunch to discover rain bouncing enthusiastically off the pavement and the poor bike. A couple of (Harley-type) bikers showed me the weather forecast, as they finished zipping themselves into their rain gear and chuckling about how wet I was going to get. Not good at all.

I had another cup of coffee. I waited. The rain stopped, but the road was still soaking. Decision time. Go on, or give up for the day and find somewhere for the night. I thought about it. I dithered. I procrastinated (one of my more obvious character flaws). I was brave (read ‘stupid’). I went. I got very, very wet indeed all afternoon. Doh!

Still, all in all, it’s been great here in Southern Ontario so far. Fantastic cycling country, and top people. Hopefully, I can dodge the showers tomorrow, and then it should clear up as I approach the US.

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Incidentally, the observant among you may have noticed that I’m heading in entirely the opposite direction from that stipulated in the so-called plan which I started with. After the rush through Europe, I reckon it’s time to slow down a little and meander a bit more. This way gives me a bit more time in Canada, and a shorter (in miles) stretch across the US; the theory is that there will be more people to meet and places to see, and I don’t want to miss them in a blur as I whiz past. So the plan’s in the bin already. I think that’s the way it should be.