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Thursday, 12 March 2015 06:00

A great ride along the greatest of the Great Lakes

the greatest of the Great LakesSAULT STE. MARIE -- On a plaque overlooking spectacularly beautiful Agawa Bay, it says Lake Superior is so large and deep and dangerous, it makes its own weather! 

After a couple of days and nearly 800 kilometers of riding through some very odd conditions, I can attest it does! From Thunder Bay, I covered a fair amount of the Pre-Cambrian Shield, all of it coloured by some weird weather that could only be generated by the greatest of the Great Lakes.

This inland sea is so large, it could hold all the water of the other four Great Lakes and still not be full! It’s so deep, only the upper saucer-shaped deck of Toronto’s CN Tower would be visible above the deepest point of its steely grey waters. 

It’s said the lake has claimed at least 350 ships since European habitation and the lives of countless sailors, including the 29-member crew of the tragic Edmund Fitzgerald

The strangest phenomenon I encountered was a kind of frigid mist that rolls in and soaks the road and the riders on it as it runs along Superior’s northern and eastern coasts. Imagine riding along in relatively warm temperatures in the low-20s and clear blue skies only to have the mist roll in and the bottom drop out of the Bike-a-Lounger's onboard thermometer, mercury dropping to low teens -- and once to single digits -- in a matter of only a kilometer or two. 

As soon as the twisting, bending road rose above the shoreline, the temperatures rose almost as quickly, leaving me wondering just what the hell was going on! Freaky!

the greatest of the Great LakesAt the Agawa Bay overlook, I was speaking with a couple of 20-something kids who were slowly making their way to British Columbia from Guelph, ON. We both pointed go the bank of low clouds or mist that slowly but surely engulfed the islands that dot the bay. 

I said it was like something out of an British horror film. I'm not sure they've ever seen a British horror film. Like The Fog, I suggested. This they got!

The run from Thunder Bay began at the Terry Fox memorial, marking the end of his Marathon of Hope. Quite rightly, that stretch of ON Hwy. 17 is known as the Courage Highway. 

I don’t know anyone who could stand at that high point overlooking the city and the Sleeping Giantbeyond and not be moved by what a 22-year-old kid who had lost a leg to cancer had accomplished before the disease cut short his cross-Canada run.

He is quoted on the statue's granite pedestal: "Dreams are made if people only try. I believe I miracles. I have to because somewhere the hurting must stop." That's true courage in action. 

the greatest of the Great LakesI don’t want to compare myself and my ride to Terry and his brave run, but just a reminder my trans-Canada ride is a fundraiser for the Ride for Sight. To date, you and I have raised have raised $1,355 toward my goal of $5,000. 

Thank you to those who have contributed so generously. Here’s the link to the secure online donation page

The rain of the past few days had let up, at least temporarily, and I made good time on well-maintained regional highways 11/17 that put Alberta‘s to shame! Why can’t the richest province in Confederation have nice things, I wondered. 

I was thrilled to be riding in sunshine once again and without the wind and rain of the past couple of days, I made good time to Red Rock, named for the iron-rich stone the Hwy. 11/17 is carved through. It reminded me of a drive Mindy and I took from Scottsdale, AZ up to the New Age wonderland of Sedona! 

I only rolled through town to see the birthplace of my friend Jim from Victoria. It must have been a great place to grow up in during the ‘50s and ‘60s in the days before television and the Internet. A kid could really let his imagination run wild here as evidenced by some of Jim’s tales and pictures from his boyhood. 

I stopped for a quick bite in Nipigon. A couple in the diner told me to try the Chinese café in Marathon, where I planned to spend the night. I should have filled up with high-octane gas at the Husky, but didn’t. 

Unconcerned -- yet -- I pulled in to see the rushing roar of the Aguasabon Falls. My pix can't do it justice so here's a quick video!

There was no premium available in Terrace Bay, where a lighthouse beckoned me off 17. D’oh! (Remove helmet, apply hand forcefully to forehead!)


I was on my last few litres by the time I hit Marathon and filled up with some of he most expensive fuel yet -- $1.66.9 a litre! More expensive than the same litre of gas on Vancouver Island. (At least I wasn't hoping for diesel, apparently there's yet another shortage!)

The tip about the Chinese café was spot on. Wok with Chow’s food was every bit as fresh and tasty as the couple in Nipigon had promised. 


A family was celebrating a birthday and as he was leaving, the oldest member of the group who looked to be in his 70s or 80s, pulled a weather-beaten ball cap out of his back pocket. It said Superior Riders

“Keep your knees to the breeze!” he said and gave my shoulder a hard squeeze. First time I've heard that!

Other than the food, the town didn’t offer much to interest me and I headed out early next morning after a much-needed good night’s sleep. 

the greatest of the Great LakesI was barely out of town when I came upon the Yellow Brick Road sign, running to the Barrickmines, a reminder that in addition to pulp-and-paper mills, the area is a rich gold-mining region. It was worth doubling back a few kilometers to get the pic!

I stopped for breakfast in White River and solved a riddle that has confounded me for ages. In the restaurant of the Continental Motel, the ham, peppers and onion omelette on toast is called a toasted Western. Only a few miles back up the road in  Marathon, it’s known as a Denver sandwich. Talk about the Continental divide! 

After a breakfast -- that did not include a toasted Western -- I dropped a line in White Lake, more to kill time and digest my bacon and eggs than anything else. I didn’t get a nibble, but as any fisherman will tell you, that’s secondary to the exercise. 

The mosquitoes I’d mercifully escaped in Winnipeg finally drove me back to the bike.

the greatest of the Great LakesI was soon uncomfortably hot in my lined riding suit -- even though I’d shed my sweatshirt in White River. When I got to Wawa, I was greeted by the big Canada goose statue that commemorates the area's Ojibway roots and the steel and iron ore industry of the Algoma region.

After talking to a group of American riders heading into The Soo, I took a chance on pulling the liners, hopefully for a few weeks. I know the windswept coastal regions of the Maritimes will require me to re-install them, but for now, I’m pretending it’s summer! 

The ride North of Superior is beautiful, no matter what my Edmonton radio friend John says about the monotony of the rocks and trees and lakes of his native region. But even more breath-taking is the scenery on Superior’s eastern shore. 

From Wawa, Hwy. 17 ascends and descends and twists and turns as it skirts Pukaskwa National Park and winds its way through Ontario’s Lake Superior Provincial Park. It has earned its place as one of Canada's msot scenic routes.

the greatest of the Great LakesThe sweet smell of pine and tamarack filled my nostrils. So nice. And the misty vistas of the vast lake should be well-known to Canadians as the subject of many of the Group of Seven’s iconic artwork. Lawren Harris's Lake Superior is a good example.

Maybe I was looking too closely at the scenery and keeping a watch out for wildlife, especially moose. The bugs are getting bad and it won’t be long before the massive beasts are driven out of their boggy habitat to stand on the highway, challenging anything but the biggest rigs to move them from the middle of the road.

I didn’t see anything but a few hoof prints at a roadside stop to stretch my legs, but I did see a skinny mama black bear and two teddy-bear cubs scoot across the road ahead of me! I also didn’t see the turn-off for Montreal River Harbour where I had hoped to refuel the Beemer. 

The onboard computer told me I had enough fuel for 120 clicks, but this was no place to test the accuracy of the gas guage. I finally had to put a half-tank of regular gas in it at a busy Aboriginal crafts and camper supply store just outside Batchawana Bay. I hope the Bike-a-Lounger will forgive me. 

By the time I got to The Soo, I was feeling the effects of the past couple of days of hard charging. I’m spending two nights here, before heading on to Little Current on Manitoulin Island. 

For reasons that escape me to this day, my dad took me up there for a week in September when I was 9. A landscape contractor, he was sodding the roadsides of a new highway from the causeway and he and his men were living in a motley collection of trailers in the bush outside Little Current. 

I’ll never forget the huge bearskin nailed to the wall of the local log-cabin bakery and the trip we made to Copper Cliff, Espanola and on to the Big Nickel in Sudbury. I’m not sure if any of my five brothers were ever treated to such an adventure and it’s a rare memory of just me and my dad I treasure to this day and always will.

Gotta go do some laundry. My duffel bag is starting to offend even me. 

FOR MORE Postcards from a Lone Rider

Last modified on Friday, 13 March 2015 04:21

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