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!
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!
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!
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!!
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!