I'm back, baby!
say it's the coldest summer we 'ever had. But I just call it
the warmest winter."
- Man in front of the general store in Sioux
Narrows on a chilly day at the end of June
Pine needles and creosote. The smell hit me shortly
after arriving to Ontario, while bicycling south on Highway
71 between Kenora and Fort Frances. A brisk morning wind rushed
over the treetops and into my face, a wind carrying something
familar and comforting. To call it a smell doesn't really do
it justice. Almost a spirit, really. Something that rushes past
the olefactories and goes right to a hidden corner of the brain
where long forgotten memories are stored. Ah, Pine needles
It may only
be the middle of June, but the sun is strong enough to warm
the forest floor and lift a breath of warm air through the white
pines. It blows over the lake, around the smooth granite rocks
and over old railway tracks - or perhaps past a telephone pole
or two - and there you have it, an invisible spirit that carries
the scent of summer. To any Ontario kid that spent months looking
out at the bitter cold from the windows of a stuffy classroom
- or perhaps a full grown adult in an office - this is the smell
of freedom and happiness.
Last Town of Manitoba
Rennie tells it like it is
combination of the natural and the downright carcinogenic, it's
a smell that conjures up images of camping and canoeing, bug
bites and outhouses, bannock bread and campfire smores. It was
the first thing you would smell when you stepped off the bus
to summer camp, and it's still the last thing you smell before
hopping into the car to drive back to the city after a long
weekend in the great outdoors. Every time I smell it, I remember
the summer our family rented a cottage up north in Canadian
Shield country. I must have been 5 years old. I think there
were some stairs made from old rail ties in the basement - hence
the creosote - and the pines surrounded the lake. I remember
curling up in a hammock next to Dad, the pine needles scattered
on the ground around us. We spent the days roaring around the
lake in a motorboat or hurling lawn darts at eachother, but
these memories are fuzzy at best. The smell, however, is as
vivid in my memory as though it were just last summer.
the essence of Ontario. Without it the province just wouldn't
be the same. Yes, I may be on my bike 1300 kilometres from where
I grew up, but I'm home. Some cultures may have the smell of
Momma's tomato sauce to make them nostalgic, but in this case,
my home cooking is from Mother Nature... and petroleum distillates.
The first lake of many
I'm taking a beeline across the top of Northern Ontario, this
is still a 1600 kilometre journey between the prairies and the
border of Quebec. This is Canada's most populous province, but
you'd never guess it - for the next 12 days or so, I encountered
only one city with a population larger than 100,000 (Thunder
Bay) and rode my bicycle for stretches between 50 to 100 kilometres
without encountering services or supplies - and at one point
about 1000 kilometres between bike shops.
destiny in your hands and pedals under your feet, there is little
to do but push onward, relying on the most complicated piece
of macheriny you'll ever own - your body - to power you across
the great green ocean of Ontario. In fact, this part of the
journey reminds me of being at sea. The road rolls like massive
waves, stretched to the horizon between you and your faraway
destination. Painfully slow ascents are followed by frustratingly
short downhill coasting. Then it's up once again, and the top
of the next hill reveals another one waiting beyond. No flying
fish here however - just an entourage of horseflies buzzing
around your head, waiting for a chance to swoop in and take
a nibble. Like the ocean, there is no giving up out here; where
exactly would you go if you did?
Typical "wild camping" site, which is how
I camp about 50% of the time. Wish List: A camo-coloured
is the first time in my journey that I have seen other touring
cyclists on the road since leaving BC. I have met about 8 in
total, all riding along the Trans Canada Highway. Only a few
of them are traveling from coast to coast, and even fewer were
alone. One thing strikes me about all of us; we're all a little
nerdy. There aren't too many 'cool cats' out here getting dirty
and greasy. In all my travels, there has always been a wide
variety of demographics, but it seems this time - women or men,
old or young, clean shaven or yeti-like - we all have a slight
aura of nerd about us. Could it be the hours of spent in quiet
contemplation, staring at maps, sewing our underwear and degreasing
our chains for fun? Or are we simply the type of people content
to leave behind a summer of drinking and partying in exchange
for the opportunity to visit towns whose claims to fames are
giant fibreglass fish and monsterous Muskoka chairs by the highway?
I tend to think if you weren't a nerd going in, you'll certainly
be one coming out.
do it while you're young!"
Some person in some town which shall remain nameless
old adage that you all know I loath ("Do it while you're
young") might be at least a little true in this form
of travel. Though strangely, people are saying it less often
to me this time around!
you don't necessarily need to have the knees of a 20 year old,
it certainly helps to have the "discomfort tolerance"
of one. Along the way, you're bound to get cold and wet. You're
bound to go hungry and you're bound to be bitten by a thousand
nasty insects. Your sleeping bag is going to be soaked all the
way through at some point, and your sandwich is going to end
up tasting like chain grease somehow. As I get older, I find
my patience for such things is getting shorter, even though
after 6 weeks I've come to accept many of these hardships as
a rite of passage. The adage should be Do it while you're
young at heart. If you can accept that the only thing
to eat within 100 kilometres is greasy fries and chocolate milk
and that awful smell is in fact you, then age becomes
hon, you can camp out in the parking lot. Just try not
to get run over by the bus."
Walmart Customer Service, Timmins Ontario
over 5000 kilometres complete since leaving Victoria in early
May, I am now entering Northern Quebec, ready to bike south
towards Montreal and reconnect with the Trans Canada Trail.
See you on the trail!