Waking up Wednesday morning to fog and relatively mild temperatures, I forgoed coffee and breakfast and hit the road, determined to leave myself some extra time for sightseeing. My destination was another provincial park called Chutes Park, which would have a beautiful waterfall and would ultimately put me near where I would catch a ferry across Lake Huron towards Toronto the following day. The itinerary for today included another 400 mile ride, which would snake through Lake Superior Provincial Park, hopefully getting some great photos as well as exploring Sault Ste. Marie (Pronounced “Soo”), a city famous for the canal between Canada and Michigan, USA. I would have to be careful to keep an eye on my gas gauge (which is pretty accurate on the tiger) as there would be a fair amount of stretches that had no fill-up stations – this was especially true going through Lake Superior Park.
So I set off towards Sault Ste. Marie, 265 miles away and with only one road to take, the Trans-Canada Highway, my bread and butter for this trip. The beginning of the day was for the most part uneventful but had amazing views of Lake Superior, with the rising and falling of the highway making way to many scenic overlooks. Along the way I made sure to get some video of the scenery as well as set up some pretty cool flyby shots. These make some neat video, but they can be pretty tedious to take, since you have to set it up, make a u-turn and another u-turn for the pass, then another two u-turns to get you back to the camera. Before entering Lake Superior Provincial Park, I made sure to stop in the town of Wawa, ON to top off my fuel tank. Being from Philadelphia, Wawa has an entirely different meaning to me – Hoagies (aka subs, sandwiches, heros, etc.), so I was curious to visit the namesake. Although the town is offset from the highway, it is only about a half a mile from the turn-off, making it a convenient place to stop. Coming around the bend I was immediately met by a giant sculpture of a Goose, which for those unaware, the Native American term for Goose is Wawa; also why the logo for Wawa the convenience store is of Canadian geese. I topped off my fuel, and then made my way to Canadas answer to Dunkin Donuts, the infamous Tim Hortons. I mean, that’s not really a fair comparison, since Tim Hortons is better in almost every way, but they are as ubiquitous for sure. I ordered a egg mcmuffin style sandwich and coffee, carefully stored them in the motorcycle, and road back to the goose statue, deciding that it would make a good breakfast companion. After finishing up, I set off for about an hours drive through Lake Superior National Park, with more sweeping views of the lake and many many scenic overlooks and beaches. Once I emerged from the park, I stopped in a very kitschy gift, restaurant, fuel area called Agawa Crafts to stretch my legs and took a look around as well as get some post cards to send back home. The staff inside were very helpful, offering free cups of coffee and water as well as assistance in both purchasing the correct postage and mailing my post cards, so if you ever find yourself in the area, take a walk around and i’m sure you won’t be disappointed. At the time, I didn’t need any fuel and figured I could make it through Sault Ste. Marie and fill up sometime after there.
Arriving in Sault Ste. Marie, I realized that this would be the first “major” town since thunder bay, so getting used to all the traffic took more than a couple of minutes. To say I immediately missed the open stretches of road that I had just come from would be an understatement. Although there were a lot of things that I would like to see in the future, I decided to pick the canal as my one site-seeing destination, since it seemed appropriate.
One problem with traveling alone on a motorcycle is leaving your motorcycle out of eyesight for more than 5 minutes at a time. You have all your gear exposed in an area that is often frequented mostly by tourists, making it easy prey for any would be thieves. I’m not saying that this area had high crime or that Canada is running rampant with thieves (although, when I was younger our family car was stolen in Montreal, so there’s that), just that being alone makes you add an extra layer of caution at all times; even stopping for food or drink, I would make sure to take a window seat with a view of the bike. Plus, as a born a bred Philadelphian who has been parking his motorcycle on the streets for years, most of the time your stuff was fine, so long as nothing was easily removable. But in this case, I had a giant duffle bag, filled with what essentially amounted to my home away from home and could be easily removed with two slashes of a knife and a strong back, as well as a tank bag that was just two zips from freedom, so to be pessimistic about life right at this moment wasn’t a terrible way to be.
This made trying to walk around Canal Park not super enjoyable and I was constantly worried about my motorcycle. After grabbing a few pictures and witness a small motorboat navigate through the lock, I was back on the motorcycle with my final destination of the day in sight, Chutes Provincial Park. About a half a mile to the park, I filled up with fuel so that I could be prepared for the following morning to drive right to the ferry port with no
delays. With a full tank, I checked in at the campground, made my way to camp and performed my usual routine. I even got there early enough for some pictures of the falls with decent lighting. Before going to bed, I made sure all of my gear was put away and only the essentials like my contact lenses and motorcycle gear were ready to go for the morning, since it would have to be a fast getaway.
There were technically two ways I could go to get from Chutes to my next destination, Presqu’ile Provincial Park, a park situated on Lake Ontario about 100 miles west of Toronto. There was a land based route continuing along the trans-Canada highway and there was the way I had chosen, which turned off of the highway, and passed through the Manitoulin Islands to a ferry terminal in South Baymouth. I would catch the 9am ferry, crossing Lake Huron for a 30 mile trip, dock at Tobermory at 10am and go through Toronto and along route 401 to get to the next campground for a total trip of 385 miles. The hardest part would be waking up early enough to get to the ferry terminal an hour before the ferry left. With the ferry terminal about an hour and a half drive away, that meant I would have to be packed and moving by 6:30am at the latest.
The alarm went off exactly on time at 5:30am, begrudgingly I left the warmth of my sleeping bag, rolled everything up and threw it in the duffle, tying it down to the motorcycle and slipping into my tuxedo all under cover of darkness. I threw a leg over the saddle, started the engine, it’s soft growl piercing the gentle gurgling of the nearby waterfall and with a quick twist of the throttle, I was off by 6 am. The fog was thicker than anything i’ve driven in, and since it was still morning my biggest worry was my motorcycle making fresh roadkill. However after turning south onto route 6, with no causalties, I made my way through the Manitoulin Islands, the fog soon lifted and I was treated to beautiful sweeping views of endless plains and Lake Huron. I pulled into the ferry terminal around 7:30am and did something I wasn’t really used to, waited around. Luckily, there were various little bodegas and restaurants nearby and I was able to grab a cup of coffee to go with my chocolate powerbar and take in the morning sun. At almost exactly 9:15am, the horn of the ferry was heard, docking with rehearsed precision the motorcycles were the first on, pulling all the way through the cargo hold of the ship and tying down. The boat has openings in the back and front, letting cars in one end and then out the other end and vice versa when it goes the other way. There were copious amounts of rope to tie down the motorcycle, first tying down the front wheel and then continuing it on to fix the kickstand in the down position. I made my way, along with the other bikers, to explore the ship, looking around to see which spots offered the best views. There was also indoor seating throughout the ship along with a large cafeteria, where I enjoyed a cup of coffee and an apple (which was a little mealy if i’m being honest). I sat outside for a bit taking photos and video, as well as briefly catching a nap, I have to say it was nice having someone else do the driving for a little while. The best part of the ferry ride was getting to talk to the other riders who were on board, sharing stories about where we were from and where we were going and just enjoying talking to people who knew what it was like to ride. I think it was also nice because I had been riding solo for a few days and human interaction was a nice reprieve from the solitary confinement of my helmet. About 10 minutes out from our destination, we made our way down to the cargo area, unlashed the bikes, and as the ramp made contact with land, we were off in a tiny parade of motorcycles, followed by all the other passengers.
The only downside to the ferry ride was that I basically only moved about 30 miles in about 3 hours, making my riding day considerably longer than usual, even though I wasn’t technically in the saddle. From the ferry, I had 270 miles to the camp, however that included navigating through Toronto on a Thursday – I would be lucky if I made it through before rush hour. Riding south, the scenery was much like the midwest of the US, which I had experienced only a week ago, very flat with many windmills and farmland. Skirting around Toronto was an absolute mess, not helped by frantic drivers and climbing temperatures. Even after going through Toronto, there was a large amount of outbound traffic, probably eager to get out of the city for an early start to the weekend, though i’m convinced this was just a typical days traffic. About 30 miles west of downtown Toronto, the road opened up and I was able to make quick work of the remaining miles to the campground, with the traffic adding about 45 minutes to an hour in all.
Presqu’ile was a welcome reprieve from the city, with beautiful views of Lake Ontario, and relatively isolated campsites. If I had to use one word to describe the Ontario Provincial Park system, it’s consistency. The shower/bathroom areas were alike, the check-in booths were alike, and getting firewood was the same. I arrived at camp, set up as per my normal routine and decided today I needed to go for a quick run. Man, riding for a week straight does almost nothing for my running, I would really need to train hard when I got home. After my run, I showered and, being in a breakfast kind of mood, I made spam and eggs for dinner, a divergence from my normal dehydrated meals. Well, the spam was in a can but the eggs were technically egg “crystals.” They actually weren’t as bad as you’d think, they looked and tasted just like eggs. After sitting around the fire for awhile and reading some more, I turned in for the night eager to get to my next destination, Quebec City, where a hotel room was waiting for me.
Waking up the next morning, the only thing standing in between me and my hotel room was about 400 miles of open highway and hopefully clear roads, especially around Montreal. Half of the time I would be on route 401, a well maintained highway with plenty of rest areas for easy gas fill ups and Tim Hortons. Crossing over into Quebec, the only things of noticeable difference were the road signs and the fact that I when I got gas, I needed to press the english button for my language choice. One observation I had was that all the signs in Ontario were in both English and in French however in Quebec, they were only in French, which makes me curious if there is something to read into, but anyway.
I passed around Montreal with no problems or traffic at all, having only to pay a small toll for the privilege. At this point you might ask why I didn’t make these cities part of my trip, and it mostly came down to not really having enough time and that i’ve been to them before, Montreal on several occasions, so if I could only make time for so many stops, I would make them in places i’d never been before. After clearing Montreal, I picked up the trans-Canadian Highway (Route Transcanadienne) again, and would follow it all the way to Quebec City. Riding between Montreal and Quebec was dense with traffic, with the right lane seeming to be driving at 10 miles under the speed limit and the left lane going at 20 miles over, requiring constant speed adjustments with fatigue setting in quicker than normal.
Coming into Quebec City over several bridges and meandering through traffic, I was greeted by a brand new building that was the Courtyard Marriott, Quebec City. I sure felt like a farm boy in the big city and probably smelled the part too when I checked in,
but the staff were courteous and nice nonetheless. I parked my bike in the lot, grabbed a trolly and moved all of my stuff into the room. And what a room it was, with a soft comfortable bed, pull out smart flat screen TV, Keurig machine, and all the soaps and shampoos you could ask for. I took a long hot shower, feeling clean for the first time since leaving Iowa, used the keurig to make hot water for my instant coffee, and set about taking out all of my stuff to repack and reorganize. I ordered pizza and sat on the bed and watched TV, gazing out at the city ready to take it on the next morning, falling asleep easily.