Back to Ontario Part 2

Ontario - Part 3

This page covers the bike trip from Sault Ste. Marie to Elmvale.

Total Days: 7
Pedaling Days: 5
Total Distance: 647 km
Total Vertical: 3,275m
Average Speed: 28.5 km/h

Route summary: Highway 17 east of Sault Ste. Marie to Espanola, then south on Hwy 6 across Manitoulin Island.  Ferry to the Bruce Penninsula, then Hwy 6 down the penninsula to Hwy 26.  Followed that to Collingwood, and then cut over on backroads (Hwy 92) to Elmvale, aiming to go north around Lake Simcoe.
Click on a day below, or scroll down to go through day by day.  Click on any image below to get a larger view.  Click here to go back to the trip index.

  1. Ontario Part 3: July 7 - 13
    1. Thursday, July 7
      1. July 7 – Pancake Bay to Sault Ste. Marie
      2. Bridges to the USA
      3. Beaver Dams
      4. Along the river in Sault Ste. Marie
      5. Soo Locks
      6. Evening light in the hotel room
    2. Saturday, July 9
      1. July 8,9 - Rest days in Sault Ste. Marie
      2. Hot sun at last
    3. Sunday, July 10
      1. July 10 – Sault Ste. Marie to Spragge
      2. Close neighbours
      3. Farms again
    4. Monday, July 11
      1. July 11 – Spragge to Sheguiandah
      2. View of Georgian Bay
      3. Crossing onto Manitoulin Island
      4. Batman's Beach
    5. Tuesday, July 12
      1. July 12 –Sheguiandah to Lion’s Head
      2. Cruising on the Chi-cheemaun
      3. Cheryl on board, the wind felt great
      4. Cliffs and great moves
      5. Cheryl with flowers
    6. Wednesday, July 13
      1. July 13 –Lion’s Head to Elmvale (near Orillia)
      2. Me, Nancy, Rob, Lorna, and Roger

Ontario Part 3: July 7 - 13

Thursday, July 7

Bike log: 78.9km, 650m of vertical, avg. speed 29.0 km/h

July 7 – Pancake Bay to Sault Ste. Marie

A really enjoyable, fairly short ride today – to be followed by a full 2 days of rest! We are planning on spending 2 days in Sault Ste. Marie because Cheryl needs to do her online registration for university this Saturday, and since we’ve had bad luck getting internet access in many places, we figured to be safe we would stay here in the city. There are also a number of small things we need to do once again - a bit of bike maintenance, make like Voyageurs and pick up some supplies, etc.

The ride continued to be a bit hilly, with 2 good ones as you get close to the city. The shoulder was rough in places, but not a problem to ride on. Wind was not much of a factor today. We got a few last glimpses of beautiful Lake Superior – more beaches, coves, and island views. We have really enjoyed the scenery on this last part of the trip and are looking forward to seeing more of it on the way back. From here, we head east along Lake Huron’s north shore, and then cut across Manitoulin island and down into southern Ontario.

Bridges to the USA

The US version of Sault Ste. Marie is very close – there are car and train bridges to both. I think this is one of the rare (only?) instances of a border town where the Canadian side town is much larger than the US – about 4 or 5 times the size. We chatted with a guy who was zipping around along the trails along the river with his 4 kids, and he said this is the highest he’s seen the St. Mary's river – last year it was dry enough to walk across this part.

Beaver Dams

With the short ride today we were able to spend almost the whole afternoon exploring the city. We hiked along the waterfront – the St. Mary’s river. It is nicely preserved, or probably restored! It is a big industrial town, with power generation, steel, and pulp & paper being the big ones. But along the water there is a nature preserve which even has beavers! We saw evidence of them – dams. I have seen quite a few dams along the road, but never in a city.

Along the river in Sault Ste. Marie

It was really great today to have the energy to go for a hike with Cheryl. Most days, I am too whacked at the end of the ride to accompany her as she does her standard two hour after dinner exploration. It is interesting how we have had different views of the country on this trip. I see more things along the road, being on a bicycle as opposed to zipping by in a vehicle and not being able to take your eyes of the road. But Cheryl usually sees a lot more at our campsites and rest stops.

Soo Locks

The Soo locks were pretty impressive – although the ones on the US side are much larger, being able to accommodate the massive lake freighters. We saw some lakers moving through today - the lake freighters are longer than ocean freighters, since they do not have to withstand such huge storms. Along those lines, we passed a viewpoint the other day where you could view the spot where the Edmund Fitzgerald went down nearly 30 years ago. And yes, I have had the song stuck in my head ever since. Oh well, it has finally displaced "Helpless" by Neil Young (you know the first line? "There is a town in north Ontario...")

Evening light in the hotel room

On the rest days, we have gotten used to checking into a hotel for a nice rest and a real change of pace. We get a room with two beds – one for the bike! Cheryl looks concerned in this photo not because she is squinting into the sunset, but because she was concerned by this weirdo waving at her from outside our window – and we were on the 7th floor! It may have been another sighting of the rare Canadian Jackass - Cheryl claims to have had numerous sightings though I am yet to see one myself.


Saturday, July 9

July 8,9 - Rest days in Sault Ste. Marie

I am glad we stayed in the hotel we did – Holiday Inn, down on the waterfront. I had to do a number of things on the days off and so I got to see a bit of the town. There are some nice parts, and some not-so-nice parts! As with so many cities, it looks like all the new development is largely in the form of strip malls. These stretch for miles along the highway. Driving through it gives you the weird sense that you are not going anywhere. However, the older neighbourhoods were quite nice – lots of older buildings, very reminiscent of many towns I have been in in Ontario. The stretch of river near our hotel is nicely kept up, and there are lots of people out (Friday and Saturday nights). We have a great view of it from our hotel window, where these photos were taken. 

Note the flame erupting from the stack just to the right of the bridge, visible by day and night!

We went to see “War of the Worlds” tonight in the theatre. Not recommended – more of a horror/thriller movie than a sci-fi adventure.

We have not had 2 consecutive rest days for the whole trip, and I am very much looking forward to hitting the road!

Hot sun at last

Hi, it's me! The weather in Sault Ste. Marie is gorgeous, which is funny because it seems to be raining everywhere else, including Victoria. But on the eastern shores of Lake Superior they have had a very dry summer so far. The city is not bad--nicer than Thunder Bay, but still very industrial. Smokestacks line the horizon, creating an L.A.-style smog over the city, and giving a 19th-century England feel to the place. To think that is still legal! Not sustainable at all. As I cross this country, I can't help but notice evidence of Canada's colonial past--and present. Many towns celebrate the first white explorers and heroes of industry, while relegating Canada's native past to a mere detail about "the Indians," who are never named or celebrated as individuals and never recognized for their healthy stewardship of most of the regions they occupied. You only have to imagine for a moment that you are looking at it all through native eyes, and you can see how insulting this is. But of course, every town has other faces besides the one promoted by the local chamber of commerce. The population is much more diverse here than in the prairies, where Chris and I finally realized why the local grocery stores felt different--"Every single person in here is white! Weird." But I have also been surprised by the consistent friendliness of the people we meet. I haven't felt threatened once, anywhere. If a man approaches me when I'm out walking or pulled over, it is always to ask if I am having car problems or need help. It's kind of funny--maybe I should call it "the Volkswagen van effect"! That could come under the heading, "How to find a husband in Saskatchewan in under 30 minutes"!

Altogether there have been no bears or weirdos (other than Winnie the Pooh and Chris, of course), and no nasty flies (just the fishing variety). The most dangerous thing I've encountered on my journey into Canada's Heart of Darkness has been a bad-tempered poodle. And perhaps a little complacency. And some really bad beer. But that's it!

Love, Cheryl


Sunday, July 10

Bike log: 172.4 km, 657m of vertical, avg speed 30.6 km/h

July 10 – Sault Ste. Marie to Spragge

The theme for today was – heat! It got up to 32C, pretty near 90F! It was pretty humid too, sort of felt like it could be thunderstorm weather, but that held off. Tomorrow is supposed to warm up a few more degrees as well! Pretty hot for biking, I couldn’t tell you how much water I drank. The hottest part is on the hills, when you don’t have much of a breeze to cool things down, and the sun is really cooking the old black pavement. On days like this, I am really glad I have a camelback, with a drinking tube hanging on my shoulder, rather than having to reach down for the water bottle every minute.

One of our rest stops today was at a town called Iron Bridge, and Cheryl managed to find a place we could get into the river there. It was great! I had just done a 50km stretch from 12:30 to about 2PM, pretty much the hottest part of the day. Did it feel great to take a break and get in the water! At the next rest stop, I didn’t really have the time (nor was there a place) to swim, so I settled for a towel soaked in ice water and then stuck on my head!

Tomorrow’s ride should be shorter (jinx!) as we get onto Manitoulin Island, but I wanted to cover as much distance as possible today. Mostly this was because today is Sunday, and this road, which connects Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, gets very busy with truck traffic through the week. I’ve only got about 65km or so to go before the turnoff for Manitoulin.

Close neighbours

We are staying in a KOA tonight. We have not stayed in one before. They sure pack them in! However, everything is clean and well kept up, and there was a pool which we hit to cool down. We were lucky to get a spot with a bit of shade, it must have been cooking inside some of those trailers!

Farms again

Although we are now travelling along “The North Shore”, as this area along Lake Huron is called, we only got a few short glimpses of the lake itself as the road winds its way along some distance from the lake. We started passing through farmland today, which is something we have not seen in a long time. There was a little bit of farmland around Thunder Bay, and some just north of Sault Ste. Marie, but otherwise that has been all since leaving Manitoba. The shoulder was pretty good for the most part, except for some overzealous application of the rumble strip in a few places. The wind was a mix of head, tail, and cross as the route was far from a straight line. Also, the hills have more or less stopped. I miss them already!

I passed 2 cyclists going my way early in the day, as well as seeing 4 others heading the opposite way. I did not see anyone I knew from before, not surprising since we took 2 full days off in the Soo.


Monday, July 11

Bike log: 135.0km, 699m of vertical, average speed 27.5km/h

July 11 – Spragge to Sheguiandah

Today’s ride was indeed a bit shorter than yesterday’s, but as usual I “misunderestimated” (to quote President Bush) the difficulty. Largely this was due to the heat and humidity. Wow, was it hot today! It was 34 degrees in the campground when we showed up at 5PM, and it had already noticeably cooled down a little bit from earlier in the afternoon. I think it was probably the hottest weather we’ve had so far on the whole trip. Fortunately, we were able to swim in a little river about midway through the day.

View of Georgian Bay

The first half of the ride, completing our trip along the North Shore, was pretty uneventful – fairly straight, flat, and just a few small towns. For the second half, we headed south along highway 6 towards Manitoulin Island. The road got interesting there, lots of ups and downs, as well as really terrible pavement for a lot of it! Not much traffic, which was good because there was no shoulder, and the road was pretty badly broken up in many places. Painful to ride on! You know those little stretches that go "bu-dump...bu-dump...bu-dump" as you drive along? After 100km sitting on a bike seat, it's like getting kicked repeatedly in the pants! The hills also started up a bit too – nothing big, but continuous up and down. And as usual, there was a headwind. I was glad I got so much training battling the wind on the prairies, it was hard enough to concentrate on riding with the intense heat and bad pavement.. Still a pretty enjoyable ride though, lots of great views of Lake Huron from the hilltops, as well as small lakes here and there.

Passed through the town of Espanola today. It was just down the road from Spanish. One of those towns is full of “splitters,” I am sure. It had a fairly massive Domtar plant, as well as a dam on the Spanish river that you could see from the highway.

Crossing onto Manitoulin Island

Manitoulin Island is connected by a one lane swing bridge to the north (shown in photo above). It is the largest freshwater island in the world – something like 130km long and 50 km wide. I spent some time here nearly 30 years ago, I have vague memories of many parts of it. I know there is a store in a town nearby where you can get Cream Soda, for instance. It is very nice here, lots of farms and rolling hills. As is common with island life, it seems to be a bit more laid back here as well. Not so much traffic, not so many speeders.

Batman's Campground

The campsite (Batman’s – we choose it because we liked the name) is also really nice, one of the best kept ones we’ve been in, and the sites are almost as big and separated as a provincial park. They have a beach here as well, which we used immediately upon arrival. (This one was kind of weedy, but you could easily walk out past the weeds on the sandy bottom.  The photo above of Cheryl was at the nicer, sandier beach). The water is pretty warm, much warmer than I expected for this big lake. Still, complete submersion for about 5 minutes did a pretty good job of cooling us down…although we were hot again with a half hour. We are going down the east side of the island, and therefore we are looking out onto Georgian Bay. Tomorrow, we will be catching a ferry (our 3rd of 5 for the trip) off the island and heading down into "southern Ontario." Or is it central Ontario? I am not sure where the official boundaries are. It does not have anything to do with linear distances, as we are already well into the most southern corner, but I feel safe in saying that we will no longer be in Northern Ontario once we get off the ferry!


Tuesday, July 12

Bike log: 100.5km, 642m of vertical, avg. speed 31.8km/h

July 12 –Sheguiandah to Lion’s Head

Plenty hot today, although not as bad as yesterday. Also not too long of a ride, due to the fact that we had a ride on the Ferry (Cheechimaun) in the middle of the day. We waited for about 2 hours for the ferry, and the ride itself was nearly 2 hours.

Cruising on the Chi-cheemaun

A beautiful trip, though. Unlike BC ferries, the workers on the vessel seemed to be happy and friendly. The food was actually fairly decent as well. And there was a person there who told the cars to keep moving up until they were within inches of the one in front of them. I bet if BC Ferries had that, we would not have missed the ferry on the first day of our trip!

On the ferry, we met another 2 cyclists. They were going from Vancouver to Montreal. These guys had a pretty deluxe setup as well – one guy’s wife was driving a truck pulling a huge trailer. They had come through the US route, south of Lake Superior, and had met one of the other cyclists I ran into on the prairies (a 64 year old man from Holland). Small world if you’re on a bike!

Cheryl on board, the wind felt great

The ride across Manitoulin this morning was great. Lots of little rolling hills, and farmland everywhere. Somewhat reminiscent of Vancouver Island. It’s the closest thing I’ve felt to homesick since leaving – although still a long way from actually feeling that way! The Bruce peninsula, as this stretch of land which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron is called, is also very nice.

The road here (highway 6) is not great – the pavement is quite broken up. There is no paved shoulder, but the traffic is light so it is not a problem. Still, the difference in traffic volume between here and Manitoulin is noticeable. I am looking forward to getting clear of the southern Ontario congestion before the weekend! We are hoping to meet up with my aunt, uncle and/or cousins tomorrow in Collingwood. I have not been able to call them to warn them that I am coming since the cell coverage is so bad! I saw someone at the next campsite over using their phone, I think maybe Roger’s doesn’t have such great coverage here in the east. I guess you should not expect much from a cable company…


While I was enjoying the beach, Cheryl spotted and photographed what appears to be a subspecies of the Canadian Jackass, which is the Dancing Canadian Jackass.  

Our campground is right on a beach which looks out to some really interesting cliffs – similar to the ones we saw up in Thunder Bay. They make you want to dance! We hit the water as soon as we got into the campground this evening (around 6). I was just about melting, it is very humid here. The water was very refreshing – cooler than yesterday but not so bad that you couldn’t stay in for 5 or 10 minutes. That did the trick!

Cheryl with flowers

We are staying in the municipal campground here.  It is very well maintained as they often are.  Nice paths and gardens.  It is situated almost "in town."  Due to getting in late, we ate dinner in a restaurant in town tonight. That was the first time in a long while we did not cook in the van. Nice to have a night off cooking and dishes! 

I knew it would be a short(ish) day today, so I decided to ride it a bit differently than usual. Today was split into 3 sections of about 30-40km apiece (pre-breakfast, post-breakfast, and post-ferry) with a reasonable rest interval inbetween. Normally I try to pace myself for the long haul, but today I decided to go all out for each section, kind of like a time trial in bike racing. It was fun to go fast, although I was paying the price by the end of the day! Hopefully my legs will not be too mad at me tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 13

Bike log: 160.0km, 627m of vertical, avg. speed 25.4km/h

July 13 –Lion’s Head to Elmvale (near Orillia)

As with the wind, or the rain, I will stop making comments about how hot it is, and how it can’t possibly get much hotter! (Anyway, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity that gets you…) Today was a long day! There was big chunk of construction on highway 26 east of Owen Sound that stretched a 45 minute ride into 2 ½ hours – not fun in the sun! At places it was down to 1 lane for about 300m or so, and you had to wait for the flagperson to wave you through. I then had to sprint the distance so I wouldn’t hold traffic up too much going the other way – what a riot! I think most people who looked at me assumed I was crazy (a logical assumption) for being out there, but there were no signs up saying how long the construction went on for, or a suggested detour. There are alternate routes (I later found out) but you kind of need to know where you are going.

Traffic was pretty heavy today past Wiarton, until after Wasaga Beach (except for the backroads which my aunt tipped us off to). Probably the heaviest traffic we’ve had since near Winnipeg. I guess everything around here is under the Toronto influence to some extent – I am anxious to get through it. We are planning to go north of Lake Simcoe and head for eastern Ontario via backroads as much as possible. Probably take a bit longer but it will be much more enjoyable. The shoulder also alternated between excellent and really bad, which was a tough combination to deal with in heavy traffic…but I made it!

Incidentally, Wiarton is know for “Wiarton Willie,” the albino groundhog who forecasts the end (or not) of winter each year. It is apparently quite an event to see! The photo above is of a statue erected in his honour. It's a good 8 feet high!

After getting through the construction zone, we came to the town of Meaford, right on Georgian Bay, and hit the water! What a relief, to just get submerged in the water for 10 minutes. Normally it would probably be fairly uncomfortable, but in this heat it felt so good.

Today I finally met up with the “Family of cyclists.” I had been hearing about these folks since Herbert, Saskatchewan, and got reports every week or so that they had just been through. It is a family who was living in the Okanagan Valley and are moving to Nova Scotia. The parents and kids are all riding their bikes! Now that is an incredible achievement! The mom of the group flagged me down in Owen Sound to ask for directions, and mentioned she got separated from her husband and kids. I said, “Are you the family from BC moving to Nova Scotia?”, she said “Yes!”, and I said “I’ve been following you since Saskatchewan!” It was pretty cool to finally meet them. I really hope that they did not take the same road under construction that I took, I kept wishing I could get a message back to them telling them to go for an alternate route. Oh well, I am sure they figured something out.

Me, Nancy, Rob, Lorna, and Roger

Speaking of family, I stopped in for a visit and awesome dinner with my relatives (Aunt Lorna, Uncle Roger, and my cousin Nancy and her husband Rob) in Collingwood. It has been a long time since I saw them, although we used to see them all the time when I was young. They are still in the same house, it was really great to see them again! It was kind of a brief visit, but after today’s delays due to heat and construction, and the dread of dealing with the traffic around here, we needed to press on and get as many miles in before weekend traffic descends upon us. So we headed out, aiming to get close to Orillia, but we had to stop a bit short when the thunderstorm started up in Elmvale! Fortunately we had just passed a campground about 4km back, so we turned around and called it a night. Good night!