Friday, 30 July 2010

Glad to get off the TCH

30th July: Blind River to Espanola

Odometer: 101 km, Start: 8.30am, Finish: 3.30pm, Avg: 20.8 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, Temp: 15-24°C
Mosquito Bites: 80, Hills walked: 0, Days too many on the TCH: 2
Road Conditions: #17, variable width paved shoulder 0.5-1.5m, mostly 0.75m, smooth surface. Traffic was moderate by mid-morning. I thought this was a borderline unsafe road (in good weather). Regular enough food stops. Ascent: 350m/320m. 

I was apprehensive this morning about another ride on the TCH #17. I considered setting off at first light to beat the traffic, but decided against it because I’d be travelling due east and therefore riding directly into the rising sun. I’d be hard to see.

Serpent River

I don’t mind risk. Risk can be fun. In fact risk should be fun. Unfortunately, this sort of risk is excessive, depressing and uncontrollable. Can you guess yet whether I enjoyed my 2nd day on the TCH in Ontario?

Serpent River (other side of bridge)

I met another cyclist on the road after Spanish. (I also caught up with him yesterday at a gas station). By this time I was pretty frazzled and upset. I’d even been crying a little earlier. I said I was about to get off this highway at Massey and take the Lee Valley country road to Espanola. He declined to join me just in case there were any gravel sections (after I said I was reasonably sure the route was paved). A strange sense of priorities?

River at Massey (once off the TCH)
A community of Mennonites live and farm around this part of Ontario

The Lee Valley country road was a bumpy, jarring, pot-holed road. It had several years worth of crazy patchwork. Multiple shades of tarmac, layer over layer over layer. It was very quiet though and went past some nice farming land. I savoured this road, stopping many times along it’s 20km length. It was a nice road to de-stress on.

Wild berries against the summer sky

I'm in Espanola this evening and still a bit upset about what I’ve just put myself through. I don’t think I’m prone to sensationalism. This is my personal opinion of this stretch of the TCH: The route from Sault to Espanola is not stupidly dangerous but I think it presents an overly excessive risk. The bit towards Bruce Mines especially so. (Note this section can be avoided by taking the #638 from Echo Bay). Bare in mind I rode in good weather, it would’ve been a lot worse in bad weather. I haven’t encountered this level of risk before this point on my trip and hopefully won’t encounter it after this point either.

A new Flower of the Day

Dicing with the Trans-Canada Highway

29th July: Sault Ste. Marie to Blind River

Odometer: 139 km, Start: 9.15am, Finish: 5.30pm, Avg: 23.4 km/h,
Weather: Mostly sunny, Temp: 15-23°C
Mosquito Bites: 80, Hills walked: 0, Very close encounters with RVs: 1
Road Conditions: #17B, 2m paved shoulder, good surface, very light traffic. #17 (from Desbarats, see below) variable paved shoulder 0.3-2m, worse before Bruce Mines, better between Bruce Mines and Thessalon, better still after Thessalon. Traffic was moderate until Bruce Mines lighter after that. I thought the section to Bruce Mines was dangerous. The rest was borderline unsafe (in good weather). Regular enough food stops. Ascent: 420m/420m.

I was not looking forward to today. I was due to join the Trans-Canada Highway #17. From all I’ve read this is not a nice road to cycle on. Unfortunately the 200km section between Sault Ste. Marie and Espanola can’t be completely avoided, as there’s not really any easy alternative. So I rolled out this morning to dice with the TCH.

Water tower at Echo Bay on the #17B

Things started out OK, I used the Vélorution recommended route away from Sault. This involved using the #17B through Garden River (First Nation) and Echo Bay and then some excellent country roads to Desbarats where I joined the TCH.

On Government Rd, part of the Vélorution recommended route

The section of the #17 from there to Bruce Mines was very bad. I’ve cycled in traffic a lot, but this stretch scared the excrement out of me. A narrow, cracked shoulder about 30-50cm wide, deep unrideable gravel beyond that, moderate traffic both ways on quite narrow highway and big-rigs and large RVs squeezing between me and oncoming traffic. It was bloody dangerous. (In hindsight, I think the #638 from Echo Bay, which was my original intended route may have been better than the bike shop route. The #638 brings you out at Bruce Mines and avoids the misery above).

I’ve mentioned the big-rigs and there were a lot of them, but in truth most were very considerate drivers. They’d consistently give the most room, more than often squeezing opposing traffic by riding the centre line. I felt safer being passed by 50 tonne lorries than most of the other vehicles along this highway.

I was very unhappy when I reached Bruce Mines for food. I’d just been run off the road (literally) by a large RV that passed well within a metre. The shock and the RV’s draft put me in the gravel. It was one of the nearest encounters that I’ve ever had (and I’ve had many).

Marina at Bruce Mines (Lake Huron North Channel)

Luckily after Bruce Mines the highway improved a bit. I still didn’t like it at all, but the shoulder was marginally wider (mostly 75cm, sometimes 1.5m) and smooth. The traffic seemed to decrease a little as well. (Roads like this are only really an issue when traffic volumes are high. If there’s nothing coming the other way, virtually all drivers will give a very wide birth, much more so than in the UK).

Lake Huron (North Channel) at Thessalon

Approaching Blind River the highway improved again. I had a consistent 1m shoulder now and the road was often 3 or 4 lanes, which helped traffic flow and improved passing distances. The road ran alongside the Mississagi River for quite a few kilometres and was quite picturesque. I relaxed a little along this stretch, the first time since joining the TCH.

TCH #17 (a good part) and the Mississagi River

I have 60km left to do tomorrow. At Massey I can turn off and a take country roads to Espanola and from there, head south to Manitoulin Island.

If any of this section of the #17 is representative of other parts of the #17, I have no idea why cyclists would ride more than the bare minimum along this road. It’s too much of a risk in my honest opinion…

Mississagi River

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Back in Canada

28th July: Newberry to Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Odometer: 121 km, Start: 9.00am, Finish: 5.00pm, Avg: 22.5 km/h,
Weather: Cloudy then Sunny, Temp: 16-24°C
Mosquito Bites: 80, Hills walked: 0, Bridges nearly fallen off: 1
Road Conditions: #28, 0.75-1.5m shoulder, very good surface, less so after 65km. Light traffic (not sure why different from yesterday?). Small store at Strongs (40km), gas station at 70km. Ascent: 400m/400m.

Well I'm back in Canada this evening! Thank you America for providing a pretty safe route around Lake Superior. I’m a bit sad I had to straight line this leg of my trip to save a little time as I would’ve liked to explore this part of the States properly, especially the Upper Peninsular in Michigan.

The International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie

It was slightly fresher today after a few storms during the night, but it was still humid in the morning when I took to the road. (I looked up some data. Around here mornings typically have around a 85% humidity index, afternoons around 65%).

Old Thresher Engine

I was rolling along the #28 again with a strong west wind that made me smile a lot. Services were a little scarce on the road. I made use of the colourful general store at Strongs, after passing their restaurant that was closed because of a recent fire.

General store at Strongs

One wildlife encounter today. I met a turtle on the shoulder about to cross the #28. I rated it’s chances as reasonable, as the traffic was lighter than yesterday for some reason. (There were no major towns en route and no major junctions either, so I don’t know where yesterday’s traffic went).

Turtle (resting) before attempting the crossing of the #28...

Approaching Sault Ste. Marie, MI, I had to navigate across town to the International Bridge to cross back into Canada. At the toll bridge entrance, it’s initially confusing as there’s a sign saying “Motorised Vehicles Only”, even though bikes are allowed to cross. I ignored the sign and had to pay $1.50 at the toll booth.

Toll booth at the International Bridge. I had to pay $1.50

Once on the bridge, the cross wind was extremely blustery. I was having trouble steering a straight line. At one point I had to take up the entire single lane to avoid being blown by gusts into the side barriers. Luckily I had an understanding driver behind, who could obviously see I was having problems. He patiently sat behind me all the way across the bridge. It was no hardship, because there was a 15 min queue to cross the customs point on the exit ramp. He probably knew this.

Welcome to Sault Ste. Marie, ON!

So I’ve made it back to Canada. I had one thing to do in Sault Ste. Marie, ON and that was to visit the Vélorution bike shop. This shop, owned by André Riopel, is well known to Trans-Canada cyclists as a welcoming place. They offer free camping to all touring cyclists, as well as quick repairs. I just went in for a chat with André. He was very interested in the Rohloff hub and S&S Couplings on the Nomad. I was a bit sorry I couldn’t put any custom his way. My bike doesn’t have anything wrong with it at the moment!

At the Vélorution cycle shop

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Closing in on the Soo

27th July: Munising to Newberry

Odometer: 95 km, Start: 9.15am, Finish: 4.00pm, Avg: 21.7 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, quite humid, Temp: 18-29°C
Mosquito Bites: 80, Hills walked: 0
Road Conditions: #28, 0.75-1m shoulder, good surface, sometimes moderate traffic (more than I expected) with big-rigs. Regular gas stations. Ascent: 400m/300m.

I would have liked to have stayed around Munising for a day to see the sights. There’s a very well known boat trip out to the Pictured Rocks that would’ve been nice, but I’m still on a mission to claw back some time, so I was back on the #28 for another dose of pine trees and flat, straight roads…

A rare hill today
A rare bend in the road today
A rare bit of open land today

It was hot and humid (for a Brit. anyway) for the third day running. My clothes were soaked through within 1/2 hour and I didn’t dry out at any point during the day. It was definitely a day to keep chugging down the water. My arms are now a bit burnt (I’m fair skinned), my factor 50 sun cream keeps washing away with the sweat!

Hot and dry at the moment

I didn’t really enjoy today’s road conditions much. The traffic levels were a bit higher than I was expecting and there were quite a few big-rigs on the road. Although saying that, I’m actually more afraid of the large RV’s (the one’s the size of a bus and normally TOWING A LARGE 4x4) and the trucks towing wide boats! Fortunately the road had a central rumble strip so at least I could gauge whether the vehicle behind had at least moved over a bit and I could relax a touch. (I also listen for a change in engine note for the same reason).


I’m in Newberry this evening, rehydrating. There are supposed to be some thunderstorms, possibly severe, overnight. Maybe that will cool the air a touch. I’ve got one more day on the #28 and I should have a strong west wind again so it might not take too long! Hopefully, I’ll reach Sault Ste. Marie tomorrow and return to Canada.

Nearly back into Canada (just above the R in Superior)

Monday, 26 July 2010

Along the shoreline to Munising

26th July: Champion to Munising

Odometer: 115 km, Start: 8.45am, Finish: 4.15pm, Avg: 23.1 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, Temp: 18-32°C
Mosquito Bites: 79, Hills walked: 0, Dead wolves: 1
Road Conditions: #28/US#41, 2m shoulder, good surface, moderate traffic, becomes fast 4 lane at Ishpeming. #28 Business / CR480, 1-2m shoulder, good surface, light traffic. #28 to Munising, 2m shoulder, good surface, moderate traffic (mostly other direction). Regular gas stations until #28 to Munising (48km) then nothing. Ascent: 325m/625m.

After a rough day yesterday, I wasn’t expecting to feel much like riding today. I think this low expectation level actually helps, because most days the riding is good once you get going. It’s just the “getting going” that takes some effort. After a very slow start, once I was on the road I felt much better. Technically, it was hotter today, but I coped well. The anticipated nice scenery in the afternoon also helped with motivation!

Marquette Bay, Lake Superior

The #28 had merged with the US #41 and soon became a four lane highway full of big-rigs. I had to find a different route: “GPS, I’m a cyclist. Get me out of here”!

Nice river view

I went into Ishpeming and picked up the County Road 480. I think this was the original highway #28 by it’s direction and endpoint. It kindly took me south of Marquette and joined up with the #28 going to Munising. I avoided having to go into and out of Marquette (a large town) entirely! Useful and I also saved about 10km.

Deer Lake

From then onwards, the #28 mostly ran alongside Lake Superior. Unfortunately, a lot of the time trees obscured the view and there was also a lot of private lakeside property between the road and the water. Several times, though, there wasn’t and that left stunning panoramas of the lake and it’s golden beaches. It was really beautiful in the sunshine. I sat on a couple of beaches during the afternoon and rested, watching and listening to the very gentle waves lapping ashore. It was just like being at the seaside, except the water here is fresh not salty if you cared to taste it!

Au Train Bay (looking west)
Au Train Bay (looking east)
Photographing shadows

Sun and pine trees. Lots of both.

25th July: Bergland to Champion

Odometer: 142 km, Start: 8.45am, Finish: 6.15pm, Avg: 22.0 km/h,
Weather: Sunny, Temp: 16-28°C
Mosquito Bites: 79, Hills walked: 0
Road Conditions: #28, 0.75-1m shoulder, good surface all day, light traffic. Regular (very small) towns. Ascent: 375m/375m.

The sun shone down on me all day. It wasn’t that hot or particularly humid, but my sweat system seemed to be in overdrive. It was easily able to dump out the 8 or 9 litres of fluid I drank during today’s ride. I found the ride quite draining.

A lot of this on the #28...

The road didn’t help. Pine forests are nice to be around, but despite the greenery, they don’t make for interesting viewing for some reason. In fact they’re rather monotonous. The #28 spent most of today in pine forests and by the end of the day it was becoming a trial.


I took to the Old Hwy 28 a couple of times to break the ride up a bit. This road crossed the current highway at numerous points. It had mostly been returned to gravel but made a welcome change, nonetheless. Being closer to the trees (the same trees obviously) seemed to change the nature of the landscape. It was much better on the trail than on the road.

One stretch of Old Hwy 28

It wasn’t until nearly the end of the day that the landscape finally changed and I rode past a succession of large and beautiful lakes. By that time, though, I was tired and had had enough for today…

Scenery, finally. Lake at Michigamme
Flower of the day

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Back on the road after short interruption

24th July: Ashland to Bergland, MI

Odometer: 114 km, Start: 9.15am, Finish: 4.30pm, Avg: 21.6 km/h,
Weather: Cloudy then sunny intervals, Temp: 18-23°C
Mosquito Bites: 79, Hills walked: 0, Dead raccoons: 2
Road Conditions: #2, 0.75-1m shoulder, good surface. Light, occasionally moderate traffic. #28, 0.75-1m shoulder, reasonable surface, light traffic. Regular gas stations en route. Services: Iron Wood (60km). Ascent: 400m/300m.

I was back on the road after a short interruption to give my ankle further rest time. I decided to spend an extra day in Ashland to make sure a slight injury didn’t become troublesome. I managed a full day’s riding (taking it reasonably easy) and I don’t seem to have any reactions this evening. Success!

Nice collectables shop just out of Ashland

I was still on the #2 and it was a pretty quiet sort of day, mostly rolling through pine trees. The road went through the Bad River Reservation early on and this was marked by a large and rather out of place casino complex. (Native Americans often have gambling enterprises on their land, it seems).

Flower of the day with guest appearance from a fly

A little while after this I stopped at a signed viewpoint hoping to get a view over Lake Superior. Unfortunately the trees had grown obscuring the indicated view completely! I spoke instead to a couple also at the spot and they were suitably impressed with details of my exploits as they presented me with a still warm pasty they’d bought in a town a while ago! It was tasty and better than the plastic gas station sandwich I was just about to eat.

The major town of the day was Iron Wood and it was just after the state border to Michigan. I’m now in Michigan until I get to Sault Ste. Marie and return into Canada, probably in another 4 days time. I didn’t visit Iron Wood’s business district as it was off the highway, but I passed an unusually large number of budget Motels along the main road. (I counted at least 7). They all seemed to be racing each other to the bottom with the prices at around $30, the cheapest I’ve seen! I thought it was funny for some reason.

Michigan cars don’t have front license plates. So some people make up their own...

At Wakefield (90km), I debated stopping for my ankle but I was still feeling fresh and had no issues, so after sitting by the town’s nice lake to eat some food, I pushed on. The extra day off had allowed me to use the internet to establish exactly what towns had what for the rest of my time in the States, so I knew what was ahead.

Sunday Lake, Wakefield MI
Nee-Gaw-Nee-Gaw-Bow (Leading Man) carving at the lake

I made Bergland my new destination and arrived there again still fresh, but decided not to push it anymore as there’s always a danger of doing too much after a rest day when you’ve got more energy reserves. I’ve also lost another hours recovery time this evening as I’ve crossed over onto Eastern Time.


Close up of head

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Day off in Ashland

Well that’s another 1,000km done! I’m at 4,250km now. Close to half distance. I’m glad of the rest day as I’ve got a slight ankle strain. It began hurting during yesterday’s ride. (And this after I wrote about having arrived at Lake Superior in good condition. Typical!). Not sure how I picked it up but hopefully a day’s rest will be enough. We’ll see.

(Edit: I ended up spending an extra day in Ashland to allow the complete recovery of my slight ankle strain).

I spent most of the morning looking at murals! Ashland has a really cool Mural Walk around the business district. There were around a dozen large scale wall murals to see. It’s a really fantastic (and ongoing) piece of work. It’s the work of two local artists, Kelly Meredith and Susan Prentice Martinsen. I spoke to “Sue” whilst she worked on the latest one entitled “Oredock”. (One of Ashland’s landmarks is the last remaining of 6 former mineral ore transportation docks). A nice lady to talk to and very talented. Some pictures of my favourite two murals follow.  

Sue Martinsen painting this fantastic mural - "Oredock" (less than half is visible here)
Mural detail
Some faces still to be painted…
Storefront Mural (2002)
Mural detail
Mural detail. Just Brilliant.
Further detail from of above shot

A got of couple of other shots as I wandered down Main St, but the murals definitely stole the show today!

Ashland City Hall
Great cafe interior
But is it art?...
Nice cafe sign