I’m a cyclist, get me outta here!

923km Cedar to Garson

Andrew finds a fellow riderWe’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.

Pathway to heavenThe 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.

Every cool cyclist wears waterproof socks.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.


  1. Amaya Williams
    23rd August 2009 at 5:54 am #

    I can certainly relate to that tale. Some of my scariest moments on the road have been two-lane highways in Missouri.
    Watch out with those international hand signals–there are plenty of card carrying members of the NRA plying the roads.

    Stay safe!

  2. Conny
    24th August 2009 at 2:28 am #

    Hmmm, you’ve just reminded me why my bikes are collecting dust in the corner and why I have taken up trail running again…

  3. frank
    24th August 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    hi from OZ the pics bring back memories of riding with you both what legends you are i got ya postcard on Friday thank you just so ya know when you go to the Amazon the mossies are that big and 4 can carry you away .

    i am on count down for my trip 69 days till blast off yeh start from Kunming then head towards Laos but who knows where the road will lead take care hugs from OZ xx keep smiling

  4. Jon M
    24th August 2009 at 5:01 am #

    Inconsiderate drivers can really ruin your day. Discretion and valor,– take the lane when necessary, but be safe!

    Drivers are often deeply out of touch with the real world. As Colin Fletcher’s Law of Inverse Appreciation says, “The less there is between you and the environment, the more you appreciate the environment.” And being behind the wheel of a large and powerful machine, surrounded by steel and glass with air bags and air conditioning seems to bring out the worst in some people.

    You’ve seen the best in people, too, though.

    Thanks for all of the pictures and stories. Far from making me want to abandon my bikes to the dust bunnies, you make me dream of a long tour of my own…

  5. David Piper
    29th August 2009 at 9:34 am #

    Nothing like a bad road and no alternative to put you off cycling! I’ve found that an aggressive stance right out in the lane works, that way they have to slow down and wait to pass, but I’m always ready to dive for cover at the last minute if necessary. I get lots of abuse but at least they see me! Funny how they dont stop to talk it over (I’m 6’3″ and weigh 200lbs)…

    Keep enjoying the ride and keep up your wonderful adventures

  6. Nancy Barnes
    6th September 2009 at 6:43 am #

    Jack enjoyed his time with you as well! It seems like the UP was just what the “bicycle doctor” ordered before you received the assault of the atrocious highway manners further down the road. I hope that you stop at the cottage again on your next travel through Upper Michigan. I would love to meet you both! Best regards,

  7. Scott Thalacker
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    Thanks for the cool website! I’m planning a tour around Lake Superior. Any ideas what the roads are like between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay? This post is making me rethink the route!

    • friedel
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      Scott, we didn’t ride that section but I can point you to a couple people who did:

      1) Our friends Scott & Becky
      2) Steve, who’s put a lot of info on the Canada by Bicycle site

      Happy riding!

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