Cycling Across Canada: Northern Ontario’s Provincial Parks are a dream for cycle touring. Having stayed in youth hostels and motels through the Rockies and Prairies, the Provincial Park’s brought a new diversity of people and experiences. This is one part of what makes bike touring so rewarding (see: Random Acts of Kindness).
Northern Ontario brought the opportunity to camp in officially designated Provincial Parks – amazing campgrounds fully equipped with all you need, and camp sites full of families and kids. As I pedalled along the Trans Canada Highway, I met another cycling couple, this time from Switzerland. Once again, the euphoria of travelling with others greeted me as our newly formed threesome cycled to the Kakabeka Provincial Park, west of Thunder Bay. The day to day routine of arrival and tent setup began as we pulled our camping gear off our touring bikes. Before our tents even hit the ground, the woman in the RV across from our campsite came running over – she had seen us ride in and was so excited to meet us. She peppered us with questions about our cycling tour before offering the ultimate gift – 3 heaping plates of fresh pasta – Canadian Italian she said – was something we absolutely had to experience. Our eyes nearly popped out of our heads when we saw the steaming plates of fresh tomato sauce and spaghetti, heaped to overflowing on our plates! The generosity of complete strangers is amazing – and the impact on their random acts of kindness lasts a long time! It is also funny how 3 people, just getting to know each other, could become so quiet – we dug wholeheartedly into our dinners, thrilled with our good fortune.
Lucky for me, my next destination was Thunder Bay, a mere 28 km ride, with a beautiful hotel room waiting for me for my birthday – 2 nights and meals at the Victoria Inn, courtesy of my father. Sadly, that meant the end of the road with my new found Swiss friends. It also meant that I had time to stock up on a few supplies for the bike (new tubes were high on the list), a new therm-a-rest for sleeping and some new shoes and pedals. Welcome to the ultimate in comfort – the SPD Shimano sandal! Perfect for those days touring in the hot summer sun, and for those days when you get caught out in a torrential downpour! When the rain stops, the shoes are dry, unlike my touring shoes which would stay wet for hours!
Living in the lap of luxury at the hotel for 2 nights left me with plenty of time to explore while in Thunder Bay, and that is exactly what I did. I rode over to Fort William, a historical park, recognized as one of the Top Ten Attractions in Canada and one of the world’s most impressive historic sites (as per the Fort William website). I was not disappointed as I toured the historical buildings, sampled bread and learned about the native encampment and their traditions.
My time in Thunder Bay was soon over – I still had many miles to go before reaching Halifax and the East Coast. I learned 2 valuable lessons when leaving Thunder Bay:
- There is a section of the Trans Canada that bikes are not allowed to travel on.
- Unclipping my new shimano sandals would take a little getting used to!
As I was approaching the red light on my way out of town, one of the car drivers rolled down their window to tell me that bikes were not allowed on this stretch of road. Not knowing where else to go, I ignored their warning and continued on. Ironically, a provincial police car passed me by moments later, not even blinking an eye! They must get a few of us cycle tourists passing through who don’t know where to go. No incident here. Happy days. Got to the red light, twisted my foot to release my new quick release SPD pedal and shoe and lesson #2 became clear – if you don’t do the sandal up tight enough, your foot will just shift in the sandal and the pedal will not unclip! Before you knew it, I was on the ground, all the weight of my fully loaded touring bike landing on top of me. Thankfully, it was only a bruised ego! I don’t think I ever lifted the full weight of my bike so fast – I was so incredibly mortified and embarrassed.
On my way out of town, I made a quick detour to the Terry Fox memorial for a few moments of reflection. His story is an impressive tale of hope. Terry Fox became a national hero and his legacy continues in the Terry Fox run, which happens every year, raising valuable cancer research dollars and inspiring millions.