Coldwater River, Canada - Polarsteps

We spent a lot of the morning on the visitors' centre wifi researching places to stay along the next stretch, then headed into Wawa for groceries and found not only the original Wawa goose, but also a third goose on the roof of a hotel. Coming back to Lake Superior, we had a snack break at a populated beach at Old Woman Bay, next to tall bluffs towering over the water, then kept going to Coldwater River, a quiet back-country campsite on the beach; we met the two other campers there, a couple of women who were hiking the coastal trail, went for a swim in the lake, and discovered the camp toilet that wins our top prize on this trip so far (see last photo. Ventilation: 10/10, economy of design: 10/10). It's a good thing that a) cyling west-east across Canada puts Northern Ontario a few thousand kms in, when you have a handle on your riding/camping set-up and have built your hill-climbing legs on the mountains, and b) that it's possible to end every day free-camping on the lake; the quiet beaches, cool swims, and stunning sunsets are an amazing parallel world to the one that exists out on the highway. This was our Northern Ontario survival strategy: -Hi-viz everything, blinking lights on a grey day. -Knobbly tires on the bikes, so that we could dodge onto varying grades of gravel/sand road shoulders without completely skidding out. If we were lucky, we could ride the gravel for a while. More often, it was far too loose for that. -Watching our mirrors and dodging onto the soft shoulder if a car was coming up behind us and a) a car was also coming toward us (the road was too narrow for two vehicles + us to all pass each other safely), b) we were coming up to a blind curve, c) we were coming up to a blind hill, or d) any of the vehicles was a transport truck. On a winding, hilly, narrow road, this meant dodging over more often than not. -Pool noodles sticking out to the left of the bikes for the times a car did have clearance to pass us, to remind them that we needed more room than the six-inch road shoulder afforded us. -While hawk-eyeing our mirrors, being constantly wary of any run of vehicles coming toward us, because at any given moment buddy at the back might decide it's time to pass six other cars around a blind corner on a double solid line, and the only thing that's going to prevent a collision is us dodging off the road (we've chosen shaking our heads and giving a double thumbs-down as a shaming strategy; unclear whether this has caused anyone to re-evaluate their terrible decisions). -Watching for the parts where whatever small shoulder we were already riding on was cracking and crumbling away. -Towards Sault Ste Marie, being aware of the line of rubber stripping running invisibly under the painted white line, which causes a bike tire to fishtail when it hits it. This showed up when the shoulder narrowed to almost nothing, leaving us the choice of riding on the road, or riding a few inches of pavement with loose gravel to the right and fishtail-line to the left. -Navigating all of the above all day while climbing long, very steep hills (though mercifully, the times when the road would suddenly and briefly have a good, safe shoulder to ride on tended to be on the uphills). -Gradually numbing ourselves to the swarms of mosquitoes in the evenings; just accepting getting bitten hundreds of times. -The extra work of bear-aware camping, and keeping an eye out for them at the sides of the road. We never did see a bear in Ontario, but we saw enough bear scat to confirm that they were all around us. -Remembering to do tick checks every night before we went to sleep; we're in a zone where they can carry Lyme disease, and part of preventing that is catching a bite early. -Strategic food and water carrying for a 220km stretch where you can't stock up on either (except by filtering water from the lake, which we did). There's a proposed stretch of the Waterfront Trail that would cover this route (whether that would mean building an actual trail, or properly shouldering the road for cyclists). It would be a game-changer; there was a lot to love about our time on Lake Superior, but I wouldn't ride Highway 17 again and I don't think I'd recommend it to anyone else, either. There's apparently a safer southern route along the U.S. side, and if we were doing this again we wouldn't hesitate to choose it. One of the small saving graces on the stretch we rode was that the traffic wasn't very heavy; we largely cycled it in the gaps between passing vehicles and still made decent time getting through. Our route after Sault Ste Marie took us onto the Waterfront Trail and then down across Manitoulin Island. Taking the quicker route towards Quebec, cyclists will sometimes stay on Highway 17 through Sudbury, where they deal with all of the above but with heavy traffic and less redeeming scenery; not for us, and we spent our time on this road counting down the kilometres to the Soo, where we could leave it behind and never ride it again.
  1. derailed
  2. 🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
  3. Coldwater River