Time Zone, Canada - Polarsteps

We got our first taste of the notorious intermittent Ontario Highway 17 shoulder, which we'll be contending with more often than not until Sault Ste Marie, where we'll be getting onto the Waterfront Trail (not necessarily always a trail; sometimes a gravel road and sometimes a section of the highway again, but on those sections there's a double-wide shoulder). This stretch looms over every cross-Canada bike trip; you're always aware that it's coming, there's a lot of discussion of how to get through it, and it's a major reason Crabby Guy was so crabby. It's sort of good to finally be on it, getting it done. We're finding it's about as safe as the way you choose to ride it. Sometime in these first few days, some speedy cyclists on an organized tour passed us (no gear, it's all in a van)-- not wearing anything high-vis, and riding the highway like a city street, passing us by dodging in front of a truck without warning and forcing it to pull out towards oncoming traffic at the last moment. We're doing... not that. We're tackling it with high-vis, colours, pool noodles, flashing lights, and tires that are knobbly enough to dodge off the pavement onto the gravel and usually ride it as long as we need to; we watch everything happening in our rear-view mirrors, and in every questionable passing situation we take ourselves out of the equation by getting onto the gravel. It's slow-going, but the highway is low-traffic out here; we're taking a patient approach, counting progress forward as progress forward, still making decent time, and keeping our safety as much in our control as possible, not trusting it to drivers-- who, 99% of the time, are amazing, but the odd time that one isn't, we're ready for them. This was also the day that 'Onterrible' yielded wild blueberries and raspberries at the side of the road. We got some snacks from a sweet store owner at the general store in Upsala, the tiniest town with nothing but forest for a long way in both directions. Past Upsala, a wall of dark storm clouds started advancing on us; we pedalled the last hilly 15km of the day as quickly as possible, heading for the rest area at the time change marker (recommended as a spot to camp by our trucker friend Rossanne, who's been texting us tips since we met her at the Manitoba border; she and her boyfriend, also a trucker, have an extremely detailed combined knowledge of these routes). We got to the picnic shelter at the time zone marker just before the thunder and heavy rain started. We joined someone who was already there; Jackie had come from St Thomas, walking all over the GTA and then north on the highway, occasionally catching a ride but mostly travelling on foot, carrying all of her things in a grocery bag. She's walking to raise awareness about abuse, which she's suffered several forms of intensely and repeatedly through her life. She wants people to know that judgment is also a form of abuse, and one that she's dealing with daily on her walk; she's had a hard life and was experiencing homelessness for a while before she started, and the general public doesn't tend to be kind to her. We shared some dinner, a lot of laughter, and before-bed coffee-- one of Jackie's family's traditions-- and set up our tent next to where she was sleeping in the picnic shelter. She'd been dismayed at how far it still was to Upsala-- the longer distances between towns in the northern part of the province are really significant for someone travelling without wheels-- and managed to catch a ride there with a truck driver first thing the next morning. There's a lot that I could say about Jackie and the brief intersection of our journeys, but I'll leave it at: She's a sweet, hilarious, tenacious person, doing something many times harder than we are. She deserves all the applause and kindess that we're experiencing as we cycle through the world, and the random chance of privilege and life experience means that we're met with those things almost daily and she nearly never is. Having nice camping gear doesn't just mean the difference between sleeping warm and sheltered at night vs on a concrete pad in the open air at a truck stop during mosquito season; it also puts people at ease and implies enough money to make us approachable. Jackie's walk is clear in its reason, to cope with and talk about the hardest, worst things that have happened to her, and how they're part of a broader social epidemic. Our meandering, for-fun bike ride doesn't have that singularity of purpose, except in this moment the opportunity to make the smallest offerings: witnessing what someone needs seen. Shared time and brief camradery. Dinner and coffee, twenty bucks and a warm blanket for the night. Hoping that somewhere down her road there's a soft landing. -Sara
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