Friday, 30 July 2010

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

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