Ontario by bicycle: “I WAS BORN IN ONTARIO”

Ontario by bicycle. about us

Michael’s write up of crossing Ontario by bicycle during our 7000km cycle trip across Canada in Sept 2016.  Click here to read Kelly’s write up of cycling Ontario to Thunder Bay, cycling Lake Superior and cycling to Ottawa.

No I in fact was not born in Ontario, but as soon we entered this freaking huge province Neil Young’s ‘born in Ontario’ was playing on repeat in my head. This became our theme song for our epic 32 day stint crossing this huge beautiful beast! I spent the next month exploring Ontario by bicycle, annoying Kelly by constantly singing, humming and playing this song on my speakers. Sorry about that!

To get from Manitoba to Ontario we had to dip into the good ‘ol U.S.A (just the way the road was) for a quick 60km detour through Minnesota and directly into the path of a huge storm that apparently blew some trucks off the road into a ditch. As we were on bikes, and not quiet as heavy and stable as trucks, we took shelter in a bar to dry ourselves off. This is where I ordered the most disappointing snack of my life! Never order cheesy chips in the states. It will crush your soul. Not an actual potato in sight, merely some weird shitty circular corn chips with poisonous orange cheese whizz spunked on top. Saddest day of my life.

I recovered from my shit chip experience and we hopped the border back into Canada to begin penetrating the moist mass that is Ontario!

Emo, Ontario by bicycle

We passed through friendly little towns including the hilariously named (I thought so at the time) ‘Emo’ in which I took a picture of pretty every street sign and advertisement with ‘Emo’ written on it.

We managed to bump into our German friends Jacque and Luisa again! Had fun camping in Fort Francis at a weird massive public park that also doubled up as a campsite next to the train tracks and river. We had a few beers to relax and catch up with our friends in the third province we’d seen them in!

Fort Francis was the point we had to decide if we wanted to cycle the southern side of lake superior in the U.S.A or stick to Canada and take the northern route. After much debate we finally settled on sticking to the Canadian side seeing as the whole trip was supposed to be about cycling the whole way across Canada! It meant we wouldn’t get to visit my friend in Minneapolis, but that was going to be a pretty massive detour and eat up a fair amount of our time, so it was back to cycling as a group again! Jacque and Luisa were heading the same direction so we had some travel buddies for a few days.

On to Thunder Bay

Over the next few days we rode some beautiful but isolated stretches of road together. We slept by lakes, in parks, outside a friendly ice cream van, saw the amazing Kakabeka waterfalls and swam in the freezing water at the end of the day and continued our constant battle with the asshole mosquitoes.

One night we decided to try riding down a long dirt path to see if we could camp near the water on the Seine River First Nations reserve. The super kind people welcomed us is in and let us set up camp at the Pow Wow grounds. They even unlocked the community centre for us so we could have a shower! Cool experience and one of the most scenic spots we camped at in the province.

Finally rolled into Thunder Bay for a few days off the bikes and stayed with the amazing Frank from Warmshowers. Despite being busy organizing a group cycle trip and dealing with a leaky basement and renovations, this champion not only let the four of us stay in his place but also another German cyclist called Mike. 5 people at once in the one house is a pretty generous move!

Camping at the First Nations reserve
Camping at the First Nations reserve

Rest days when on tour

We had a great time together though and spent a few days preparing group feasts, sipping beers and rum, exploring the town and brutally savaging a Japanese buffet to within inches of it’s life!

I had a few bike maintenance things to take care of so we ended up spending an extra night with Frank. Our German buddies left to get a bus for a section of lake superior as they had to meet some friends.

Storms, road works and Lake Superior

We were recharged and ready to rock through the rest of this beast of a province! Just outside Thunder Bay I randomly spotted a brand new IPhone on the side of the road, which started ringing as soon as I put it on charge when we stopped in a park for lunch. I managed to score a $60 reward for returning the phone to the owner! Bonus! Felt nice earning some cash instead of watching it hemorrhage out of my account for a change.

Had some rough days dealing with construction work and torrential rain around Nippigon and didn’t feel particularly safe riding some sections with the lack of hard shoulder, but the scenery definitely made up for it.

Our first glimpses of lake superior left us awestruck and glad we had chosen the mighty northern route. It was hard to believe that was a lake and not a friggin ocean! We spent night after night in spectacular camping spots on the beaches and in the woods around the lake and fell in love with the area. It is a very nice feeling knowing at the end of the day you’re going to have crystal clear fresh water to swim in and clean yourself up after a sweaty day climbing hills on the bikes.  

More friendly people

We met plenty of awesome people who helped us out. A couple from Germany with a holiday home let us set up camp in the front yard near Jackfish lake. Lloyd, a couchsurfer in Marathon who took us in and gave us a spare room for the night. The tourist information in Winnie the Pooh’s hometown of White river let us sleep outside the centre. And, probably the best of all was a legendary Hungarian Canadian guy called Zoltan and his beautiful family who we met outside a supermarket in Wawa and offered to let us camp on his front lawn.

When we followed him home he then decided to set up his camper trailer for us to sleep in! So we had a nice comfy bed, shelter from the mosquitoes and even got to wash our clothes and have a shower! Meeting kind and generous people like this make the trip so much more memorable and make me thankful we have the chance to travel like this and meet so many cool characters!

ontario by bicycle
Zoltan from Wawa

One night on Batchawana bay we were even invited in to the Wild Rose RV park and given a place to camp for free by the owner. He had noticed us eyeing up the beach for potential spots to pitch the tent as he knew the police would definitely move us on like the smelly bums we are, so he just let us come in and stay for free! Generosity runs deep in Canadians!

 Sault Ste Marie and more awesome people

We were finally pulling away from Lake superior and rolled into Sault Ste Marie where we spent two nights with awesome warmshowers hosts Jeff and Juanita. We ate excellent home cooked meals, tried many kick ass local craft beers and got to try out Jeff’s Recumbent bike. Definitely not for me but I could see the appeal of sitting back like that and cruising along with a beer in each paw.

We decided to spend a night outside the local bike shop Velorution as they have set up a free campsite specifically for cycle tourists! Cool experience and a wicked idea, they had fire pits, furniture that guests had made from old pallets and a box of free gear other cyclists had donated. We even raided the massive stack of old bike parts outside the shop to use a rim and spokes as a grill for our zucchinis! Not a sentence I ever thought I’d be writing!

Hitting the road again

From Sault St Marie we passed through Many Amish communities where we’d stop and buy fresh veg and homemade cookies. We camped outside information centres and in the old fairground at Spanish where the harbor master let us pitch a tent and take a shower in the marina office. In the morning we woke up to see a porcupine climbing a tree next to our tent! Still no moose sighting, but I was pretty happy seeing this spiky fellow doing his thing!

The roads in Ontario were generally in pretty decent condition, but hard shoulders seemed to disappear for stretches. Instead of Ontario by bicycle, it could have been Ontario by pot hole. Road works were constant with crazy fast drivers flying past us and leaving us a little rattled at times. We had a particularly rough day with the roads on one occasion when an amazing lady called Patti saw us looking fed up and broken on the side of the road. She pulled over and offered to let us stay at her place. The only catch was we were shattered and ready to find the nearest park to sleep in. Her place in Sudbury was still 30km away and would have been dark by the time we arrived.

Patti was also a cyclist and had a bike rack on her car, but it could only fit one bike. She wasn’t going to let that stop her though! This amazing person gave up the next couple of hours of her life taking Kelly and her bike back to her home. Unloading her gear then returning to pick me up and take me back to spend the night in her house!! That’s a pretty crazy generous thing to do, make a round trip of 60km just help a couple of tired aussie bike bums out!

Trying the local brews

Even though we’d left Lake Superior, other lakes were still around making the cycling still pretty scenic and enjoyable. The rain not so much. After a very wet muddy day it was nice to meet Warmshowers hosts Mike and Danielle and spend the evening getting tips about cycling in Ottawa and Quebec, having an amazing veggie curry dinner and drinking far too many of Mike’s local beers leaving me with a bit of sore head for the ride next day! I regret nothing. Beer is life.

We were finally approaching the capital of this incredible country, Ottawa! Most times approaching a capital city it can be a bit stressful dealing with the traffic and navigating through the chaos. Not in Ottawa! Mike and Danielle had given us a hot tip about a cycle route that led right into the heart of this beautiful gem of a city so we spent most of the day winding along old rail trails and through the cities’ parks and river front cycle paths before meeting our next Warmshowers host. The crazy bike man of Ottawa, Richard!

Ottawa
Ottawa!

The Crazy, bike man!

Richard had an incredible and utterly ridiculous collection of bicycles. Most of which were homemade crazy contraptions such as tall bikes and a convertible tandem recumbent that he had custom built with segments that can be added so his wife and kids can all ride together! He’d even built a custom rack to carry his full sized wooden canoe over his head for short tours!

We spent several days hanging out with Richard and met a group of local bike nuts from the ‘HPVOO’ (human powered vehicles of Ottawa) group for dinner and picnicked with another group from a local bike organization that provides a free space and tools for people to come and work on their bikes. Also did all the touristy things around town, checked out a street party festival and followed Richard around town on his ridiculous gigantic tall bike. Checked out the markets and used our mouths to investigate many local hop filled beverages.

Awesome Bike Stores and more Awesome People

After my piece of shit EVO low rider rack died way back in Manitoba it had been held together with hose clamps and zip ties, but had suffered a final fatal break several days before Ottawa so I was in desperate need of a decent front rack before we could continue. I rode around town in search of a half decent low-rider rack in vain, only finding either the same rack or something very similar and equally as crappily made.

I got talking to a guy called Rodd working at the Cyclery bike shop. This utter rock star of a human being offered to give me his old Blackburn low-rider rack for free! The shop didn’t have anything suitable, but he had exactly what I was after at his house so gave me his address and I swung by and picked it up rom him! What a cool thing to do! Helped me out so much and this rack will be coming with for the rest of the trip as a new member of the cycle trekkers team!!

ontario by bicycle
Pretty obvious… exploring Ontario by bicycle!

Chau Ontatio!

Our time exploring Ontario by bicycle was finally drawing to an end after over a month of pedal powered fun times through this monster province, but we were excited for what was to come. Quebec! Every single Canadian cycle tourist we had met was from Quebec. That has to be a sign that it’s gonna be a sweet place to ride! Thank you Ontario for being so cool and being filled with such helpful generous kind hearted people willing to help two crazy biking fools out! I hope you enjoyed Ontario by bicycle! Now bring on the cheese, wine and maple syrup in Quebec!

Cycling Ontario: Onwards to Ottawa

onwards to ottawa

Kelly’s write up of cycling to Ottawa, during our coast to coast Canada cycle trip. Her other Ontario blog posts are cycling to Thunder Bay and Cycling Lake Superior. Click here to read Michael’s write up of cycling in Ontario.

We still had 850km to cycle to reach the country’s capital, Ottawa. After some discussion, we decided to take the most direct route to get there. This would mean we could meet my brother in Montreal on 14th September, and also have a few rest days before then.

Discovering Amish Country

After all the steep inclines around Lake Superior, we finally got to enjoy a relatively flat road. The cycle from Sault St Marie to Sudbury also took us through Amish country. To our delight fruit stalls and bakeries started to appear along the road. We also spotted a few horse and carriages on the highway and horse powered plowes in the fields.

September Long Weekend

Cycling into Sudbury on the Friday before a long weekend was definitely not a smart choice. In fact, it was horrible and very dangerous! Not only did we have to put up with road works, a terrible or non-existent hard shoulder and soft gravel, plus a cross wind, we also had constant RVs and trucks to keep an eye out for.

After a very long, scary day, we pulled off the highway onto a quieter road, just as we were coming into Sudbury. We had decided to try and avoid the highway as much as possible. It was getting late in the afternoon, and we decided to start looking for a campsite, just as a car pulled off just in front of us (this is one of Michael’s pet hates).

“Friendly-cycling-enthusiast” to the rescue

Out of the car popped, Patti! A keen and very enthusiastic cyclist, who insisted we make it to her house that night, to shower, do laundry and sleep in a proper bed. The only problem was, Patti lived at least another 30km away (we discovered later it was more like 40km). There was no way we were going to push on another 30km. We were done for the day and felt completely defeated. Patti then offered to drive the bikes and us to her place. Usually, I would consider this cheating and decline the offer, however after spending the day on the busy highway, fearing for my life, we decided, screw it, lets do it! Cycle touring is about the experiences you have and the people you meet, not about cycling on dangerous, busy roads.

Picnic sites make ideal camping spots

After spending the night at Patti’s we woke early, feeling rested and in good spirit. The weather was good, so we decided to try and smash out the kilometres, getting as close to North Bay as possible. North Bay is where we had planned to take a rest day off the bikes. Having a long day would mean a short cycle day into North Bay and a bonus afternoon off the bikes.

The cycle day was great! We managed to find a camping spot at the picnic site about 20km west of North Bay. We camped behind the drop toilets at the picnic site, which was also an amazing viewpoint and sunset, looking out over Nipissing Lake. It would have been an amazing camp spot if it weren’t for the smell of the toilets.

Since arriving in Ontario, we discovered how great picnic spots are. They are practically free, basic campsites. Sometimes there might be a “no camping” sign; however a lot of the time, there is no sign at all. Some of our best campsites have been at these picnic sites.

Campsite next to the highway on the way to North Bay
“Campsite” next to the highway on the way to North Bay

Rest day in North Bay

We arrived into North Bay early the following day. We had arranged to stay with Liz, a warmshowers’ host from Australia (the first Australian we’ve met since leaving BC). It turned out, she also had a love for beer, worked in a local brewery, and fed us free, tasty and local beer! We definitely scored!

We were in North Bay for September long weekend. After the traffic we experienced heading into Sudbury on the Friday, we decided cycling on the Monday would be hectic, and to take the day off cycling. This meant we got to experience North Bay’s September long weekend festival next to the beach. The town definitely had a great community vibe, and quite a nice beach.

Deep River

The cycle to Deep River was quite pleasant, which meant we were getting used to cycling on the busy Ontario highways, which lacked any decent hard shoulder. The scenery was quite beautiful, and the roads were slightly quieter after the long weekend, which meant we felt quite relaxed. If Ontario roads were cycle friendly and had good hard shoulder, then I’m sure it would have some of Canada’s best cycle routes.

Once we arrived in Deep River, we were fortunate to stay with Mike and Danielle, two warmshowers’ hosts that had toured a lot around the UK. Mike, like Michael, had a interest in fine beers, so we spent most of the evening sampling and learning about beers. It was great! Beer is full of carbs, so it’s great for cycling. They also helped with our route into Ottawa and told us away to avoid all the busy highways.

Goodbye Highway 17!

After Deep River, we finally got off highway 17 and onto some quieter country roads. We had been on highway 17 since Thunder Bay, so more than 1000km on the same, crappy quality road. We were ecstatic to be off it.

The country roads were awesome! On the way into Ottawa we camped out the back of a gas station, for the first time in Canada. On our last cycle trip, camping at gas stations was the norm.

Ottawa
Ottawa!

Onwards to Ottawa

We stayed on the country-roads until we reached the start of the city’s cycle paths, about 20km outside of downtown Ottawa. The cycle path led us right to Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa. It was probably the easiest and most stress free cycle into a capital city we have EVER experienced.

We arrived into Ottawa a day early, so decided to stay 4 nights in Ottawa, to check out the city and rest. After 10 weeks of cycle touring, we were definitely beginning to feel a bit drained.

Our warmshowers’ host, Richard, was awesome! He had loads of interesting stories and loads of interesting bikes to go with it. He showed us a whole world of bicycles and bicycle touring that we didn’t know existed. Ottawa is an awesome city! Super bike friendly, with great markets and a real community feel. It felt more like a big town then Canada’s capital city. We were definitely sad to leave.

There were two options when leaving Ottawa, to get to Montreal in Quebec: the Quebec route or the Ontario route. The Ontario route was 20km shorter, so we decided to take that option. The route led us onto an old railway path that was converted into a very quiet cycle (gravel) cycle route. Though it was on gravel it was great, and a brilliant way to end our trip through Ontario.

Bonjour Quebec!

If you’re planning a trip across Canada you might want to check out our gear list, cycle stats or route notes.

Cycling Lake Superior in Ontario

Ontario by bicycle. about us

Kelly’s write up of cycling Lake Superior! Click here to read Michael’s write up of biking Ontario.

Lake Superior is friggin’ huge!

Cycling Lake Superior was one of the highlights of our cycle trip across Canada. It’s the largest freshwater lake in the world, and has some stunning national and provincial parks, and I’m sure some amazing hiking. We spent 10 days cycling Lake Superior. We cycled 7000km and only covered about a third of the entire route around the lake. To put things in perspective, 700km is like a return trip from London to Paris.

The day we left Thunder Bay and headed north to Nipigon it rained. On top of this we had a terrible head wind, there were construction work for about 60km and there was next to no hard shoulder, which meant we were pretty much cycling in the road of a busy highway. It was not fun! And, it didn’t feel particularly safe. We had our lights on the whole time, but still I’m not sure we were that visible. The issue was, we had nowhere to get off the road, and so we had to keep going. 110km later and we finally rolled into Nipigon at around 8pm. The raining was still not letting up. We decided to screw the camping, and treat ourselves to a motel.

As it turned out, earlier that morning, before the rain started, Michael found an iphone on the side of the road. As luck had it we were able to return the phone to the owner. And, he gave us a $60 reward. That reward would be our cheap motel, which was actually pretty expensive for a motel ($90 – that’s our budget for 3 days), but the owner did give us a huge thermos of coffee and we managed to dry all our gear out.

Cycling Lake Superior
Beautiful (but cold) Lake Superior

We woke the following day to find the rain had stopped and the sun was making an appearance – woohoo!

After we had finally packed up, it was already a late start, but we decided to check out the town and grab a coffee. When we finally started cycling Lake Superior that day it was almost lunch time. The ride from Nipigon to Marathon was supposed to be hilly, but also very scenic. Straight away I realise we underestimated just how hilly this section would be.

The previous day we were shivering in the rain, today we were sweating, climbing up hills in direct sun. The kilometres were slowly clocking up. We had planned to do about 90km that day, but only managed 75km, and by the end of the day we were knackered. That night we camped at a picnic spot, right on the lake. It was one of the best spots we had camped all trip.

We took the following 2 days cycling to Marathon fairly easy. Allowing ourselves time to stop and enjoy the views and also not to burn out. The ride was challenging, but the scenery made the blood, sweat and tears all worth it. For me, cycling this section of Lake Superior was more difficult than cycling in the Rockies. Finally we made it to Marathon, and stayed with a local guy, Lloyd.

From Marathon the cycle got easier – or we got used to cycling steep gradients.

It felt like we flew to White River, and we arrived nice and earlier. Enough time to chill, have a shower, relax and eat a shit load of food. Apparently there had been a lot of bear sightings, so we were on extra alert. I was sure we would see a bear at some point around Lake Superior – we never did.

The next day cycling was just as good, and we arrived at Wawa at a reasonable time. In Wawa we meet a guy, Zoltan, outside the supermarket who invited us to camp in his garden. He actually ended up going the extra mile and setting up his trailer tent for us to stay in. The generosity of people during the cycle trip, never fails to amazing. People are genuinely amazing! Anyone that thinks otherwise should hop on a bike and go on a cycle tour – within a couple of weeks I can guarantee you would have experienced unbelievable hospitality and kindness from strangers.

Cycling Lake Superior Provincial Park

Cycling Lake Superior Provincial Park was one of the highlights of our cycle across Canada. It is definitely up there with Bow Lake and Banff National Park. We took our time cycling through the park to enjoy the beaches and vistas. One night we camped at Sinclair Cove – it looked like we were on a tropical island paradise. It has to be one of my favourite campsites (though I write this while we’re camped at a picnic spot, next to a stinky drop toilet).

I had to keep reminding myself that it was a lake and not an ocean. I love the ocean and often miss it when I’m travelling. What I’ve discovered is how awesome lakes can be – swimming in a lake feels refreshing like a cold bath, you can drink the water, it doesn’t sting your eyes and there are no sharks.

We only had 2 days left of cycling Lake Superior before we reached Sault St Marie, and finally got a rest day off the bikes. I had been told there was a steep incline into Sault. Other than that it should be pretty easy going. We decided to take it easy and set up camp on the beach to enjoy the sunset. We got chatting to some people, and a local told us we would get moved on if we camped on the beach in this area. Complete bumper! Ian, the owner of a local RV park, came to our rescue, and let us camp in his RV park for free. This is just another example of the unbelievable kindness from strangers that we experienced throughout the cycle tour.

Cycling Lake Superior
Chilling out for a couple of hours on one of the beaches on Lake Superior

Sault St Marie

Finally after almost 2 weeks we made it to Sault St Marie, where 2 amazing warmshowers’ hosts, Juanita and Jeff, greeted us. We spent a couple of night exchanging stories, drying out and cleaning our gear and recovering, and eating some amazing meals, with our awesome hosts.

There is a bike store in Sault, called Velorution that has a free campground for cyclists. We decided, we had to spend at least one night at this campground. Unfortunately, there were no other cyclists staying there the same night as us. We’re in the tail-end of cyclists crossing Canada, so we tend to miss most of the cyclists, but it was still an awesome set up, and we were thankful for the extra rest day.

Already it has been over 2 weeks cycling through Ontario, and we still have 850km before we reach Canada’s capital, Ottawa. That means we would have cycled over 2000km in just Ontario. Ontario is just crazy big!

If you’re planning a cycle trip, you might find cycle tourists’ non training plan handy!

onwards to ottawa
Campsite at the bike store in Sault St Marie, Ontario