Kenora, Canada - Polarsteps
We started this day with coffee up by the gas station general store in Vermilion Bay; we were set to get an early start, but got stalled by Crabby Guy (already named by other cyclists, and we never got his actual name; more on that in a sec)-- he's a figure that's loomed large over our time in Ontario, and a week later we still reference him daily and periodically try to figure out what his deal was.
I spotted him outside the general store with his loaded bike, a middle-aged quebecois guy smoking a cigarette and having an animated phone conversation. It's been really exciting to come across other touring cyclists on this trip; I know there are many of us crossing Canada from hearsay on the road and some online info-sharing groups, but the length of the country spreads us out and we've only seen the tiniest handful and gotten to talk with even fewer; we're most likely to run into the east-west trekkers in the moment that we pass each other on opposite sides of the road (the custom is lots of waving and loud cheering when this happens). Ontario seems to be the place where we're all funnelled into one narrow route; we're finally meeting other people doing the same or similar trips. Crabby Guy was the first, and I didn't immediately pick up on the profound depths of his crabbiness, so I hoped he might come over and talk with us when he was done his phone call, and he did.
He was heading west, and I asked him out of the gate if he was having a good ride (usually an innocuous question; people don't tend to ride across an entire country unless they kind of enjoy that sort of thing), and he kind of exploded. He was having a terrible ride through "fucking Onterrible," and maybe the worst time of his life. He hated the hills. He hated the shoulderless highways. He hated the bugs. He found it to be "infested" with bears. He hated the people; he found them wholly unkind, and I had to wonder how many small-town store clerks he had dumped all his Ontario hatred onto and found them to not be endlessly sweet and receptive. He was still seething about a bad driver from 500km ago. He'd somehow ended up with five broken spokes and, unprepared to fix a wheel on one of the most remote stretches of his route and unable to hitch a ride at the side of the highway on a stretch that's notoriously hard to hitchhike (in hitchhiking circles, "Don't get stuck in Wawa" is common wisdom; people wait weeks there trying to find a lift), he said that he'd walked his bike 100km-- a distance we question, a pretty bad experience regardless, but it hadn't become a story yet; he was still spiralling hard about it.
Still not sure why Crabby Guy was on a cycling trip; he was headed for Vancouver, which meant he had prairie winds coming (could come from any direction, but more often than not they'll be a fierce headwind for him), and then the mountains. We thought we must have been the first cyclists he'd seen in a long time and that he was just dumping all of his pent-up fury onto us, but later in Dryden we ran into Joey, a solo cross-Canada cyclist from Utah (who's loving his Ontario experience so far), and when we started describing the guy in Vermilion Bay he said, "Oh yeah, Crabby Guy. So crabby." It turned out another cyclist, ahead of all of us, had met him, too; he was unloading his terrible bike trip onto anyone along the way who would listen.
It took a while to extract ourselves, and then longer to come down from this kind of report from down the road. We continued our beautiful ride through lake country, eventually stopping at the Walmart in Dryden for a second pool noodle and a few groceries, and ended up cooking our early dinner in the parking lot. We ended the day at a spot on iOverlander, a big public-land pasture where a few travellers with dogs were sleeping in their vans on the road nearby; loons called on the adjacent lake late into the night, and we saw fireflies for the first time in years.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲