923km Cedar to Garson
We’ve heard a lot of bad things about the Trans-Canada Highway through Northern Ontario. Wild truckers. Plenty of traffic. No shoulders. “They’re all true,” says one cyclist we meet in Michigan. “I stuck a hacksaw out the side of my bike to make the cars give me more room. You should try it!”
We appreciate the advice but it makes us wonder: if we need a saw – a saw??!? – to survive this treacherous stretch of road, should we just get the bus? Of course not. So close to finishing our trip from west to east across North America, we’re not going to give up that easily.
Armed with nerves of steel, we hit the highway but it’s only a few miles later when we start thinking that a saw is sounding like a mighty fine idea. After being cut off, cut up and just generally annoyed by a few hundred cars, the final straw comes when a trucker races up from behind and honks aggressively at us to get out of the way. There’s oncoming traffic. We’re already trying to cycle on a shoulder that’s less than 6 inches wide and crumbling and frankly, we don’t see why we should have to dive onto the soft gravel shoulder every time a truck comes along. Is it really too much for the truck to slow down momentarily until the road is clear?
We don’t think so but in the ensuing few seconds Friedel swerves into the dirt anyway, scared silly by the thought of ending her life on the wrong end of a Mack truck. Andrew’s nerves hold longer, just long enough to vent his frustrations using a bit of international sign language before he also jumps off the road.
The trucker passes us, then brakes and pulls off to the side just a few meters further on, proving that his brakes do work and that he’s even capable of stopping when he wants to. “Did you just give me the….” he yells out the window as we cycle by. His words fade into the wind and we don’t even stop to acknowledge him. Yes. Yes we did. And you deserved it, we both think.
The Trans-Canada Highway isn’t bringing out the best in us and it’s all a far cry from the blissful few days we spent cycling through Michigan’s Upper Penninsula on a network of mostly quiet back roads. We met no end of friendly folks and even get adopted twice during our short time in Michigan. First comes Jack, who brings us beers and lets us tent outside his lakeside cottage and then Pete and Mary, a couple who we find a lot in common with as we chat over dinner in their log cabin.
“This is the best road yet in North America,” we shout with joy one day as we glide side by side through a thick forest and down to the shores of Lake Superior, where we race across the sandy beach to take a dip in the clear waters of the world’s largest lake. During this wonderful part of our trip, we pedal like we’ve never pedalled before. From head to toe, every inch of our bodies seems tuned into cycling. Our brains tell us that it’s fun to ride from dawn to dusk. Our stomachs fail to raise the habitual 5pm supper alarm. Our knees go round and round without complaint. Our daily average ticks up over 100km a day.
These memories of better days keep us going as we plod along the 300km of highway between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury. It’s exhausting work, not so much for the terrain of gently rolling hills but more because we can’t let our guard down. Our eyes rotate constantly between our rearview mirrors and the road ahead, trying to anticipate the next tight squeeze. We get run off the road at least twice each day and have countless too-close-for-comfort moments.
Like a well written play, the tension rises to a high point just outside Sudbury as we’re approaching our next visit with relatives. The traffic gets heavier and more impatient. The shoulders disappear altogether. A big sign banning bicycles appears on the road, with no suggestions for an alternative route. And then a thunderstorm blows through. We’re soaked within seconds, we can barely see through our rain-dotted sunglasses when a lightening bolt shoots from the sky and hits the ground only meters away. Seriously. This is the closest we’ve ever come to being hit by lightening and we hope to heavens we’re never anywhere near that close again. We’re momentarily blinded. Friedel screams. We both think we’re going to die and then we realise that the fact we can still think this means we must be okay.
By the time we fight our way through another 20km of hairy urban cycling to our home for the next few days, we collapse into a heap on the doorstep and wait for our relatives to return from work. We cross our fingers and pray that the rest of our time in Ontario will be far less frenzied than our initial introduction.