Dogtooth Lake, Canada - Polarsteps
Getting out of Kenora took a bit; when we'd finally left the motel (hard to do; beds are so good) and eaten breakfast, we had downtown to get through, which looks quaint and lovely and full of old historic brick buildings, but is actually a hellish series of narrow roads that weren't built to handle the bumper-to-bumper vacation traffic that they see in the summer. Biking it was hectic enough, but there also weren't any crosswalks and we saw families of 6 with baby strollers and toddlers in tow running across the roads with RV buses barrelling towards them from both directions. We fought our way through the streets to the grocery store; I went in and stocked us up for the next few days while Kini waited outside with the bikes and was 1) hit on, 2) offered drugs, 3) offered half a sandwich, and 4) out of nowhere, clapped hard on the shoulder by a passing drunk guy. From there we went to Canadian Tire to get camp fuel and a pool noodle-- there's a classic cycling-through-Northern-Ontario play where you hang one off to the left side of your bike to remind drivers to give you enough space on the narrow and shoulderless stretches of road.
We were feeling really done with Kenora by the time we left, and just set out with the goal of getting out of the city. We did an early stop at an empty highway maintenance yard to make dinner and get rained on again (see photo 3, cooking noodles on wet pavement). The early dinner stop is a tactic we're employing as much as possible now, to a) avoid cooking and eating during the Mosquito Witching Hour, a time when it's difficult and uncomfortable to do anything without losing your mind, and b) avoid releasing tasty food smells into the air anywhere near the place we're camping; we're very much in bear country again.
Something we're navigating continuously is the pressure of Canadian prices on the savings that we're hoping will carry us out into the world beyond this continent. Food prices are high in general right now, and we learned through BC that small-town grocery stores and also some of the bigger chains are budget-destroying. Food is our fuel and greatest expense, so back in Lethbridge we sat down and re-strategized, researching and making a list of every No Frills, Superstore, and Walmart in the next 3000km. There tend to be several days between them, so we've taken to buying and carrying big loads of groceries. We've figured out a few cheap meals to keep us going; one that's currently on heavy rotation is instant noodles cooked with a bag of frozen vegetables, with peanut butter and some bottled lime juice mixed in; I've also nailed a good campstove chana masala.
The other thing we're working around is camping costs; we made it through the prairies jumping between the more affordable campgrounds (on average $17-ish, up to $25, rarely $10 for a tent site. The ones we avoided went higher), occasionally wild camping (see also: spending a giant storm under a wooden lookout tower in Morse SK), once in a while showing up later and finding a campground office closed, pitching the tent for the night and leaving early the next morning, or one time having a kind park ranger come by to collect the fee, ask when we were leaving the next morning, and wave us off with "I never even saw ya." Campgrounds are our preference; at the end of a hard cycling day, it's a relief to walk into a spot where we're allowed to be, with the safety of other people around, a picnic table, a bathroom, and often showers.
Crossing into Ontario, an unserviced tent site is immediately $45, or $50, or occasionally $60, not just sometimes but almost always, in every single campground, and access to potable water and showers is not a given. Requests for a smaller bikes-and-tent-sized patch of grass (i.e. not an entire car site) for less don't tend to go anywhere.
Which, crossing our longest province, isn't going to work; one night in a campground is a giant splurge for us here and a really-hard-to-justify cost for a bit of grass to sleep on.
So mainly we're frequenting the quieter network of free campsites in Ontario, aiming to end up at the ones where a few other people are likely to be spending the night. This first one after Kenora was an amazing start. Coming out of town we passed one of the established campgrounds and could see the $50 tent sites squeezed in right next to the highway. We kept going to Dogtooth Lake, to a spot listed on iOverlander (a crowd-sourced app for finding free camping that was recommended to us by Katrina and Ryler in Tompkins SK-- we've since learned that many of the other cyclists on the road are already on it), and turned off to a pull-out with a good tree barrier from the road and several accesses to a beautiful lake. Our neighbours at our unofficial campsite that night were exclusively women travelling solo in vehicles with their dogs; we've found at spots since then that they're a large contingent of iOverlander users, as are young couples in vans, a nice change from being surrounded by RV mega-buses with their generators humming and their residents who, depending on where we are, will often suspiciously side-eye our set-up and not engage with us.
We ended the day swimming in Dogtooth Lake. We were going to chop the pool noodle in half but felt it would be unfair not to let it have one evening as a pool noodle first, so we took it for a spin, realized the only thing better than floating in a lake at the end of a cycling day is doing it with a pool noodle, and it was easier to attach to a bike with its full length anyway, so we decided to leave it intact and pick up a second one down the road in Dryden, a decision we have not regretted.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲