Northern Bruce Peninsula, Canada - Polarsteps
Getting south from Manitoulin meant riding the Chi-Cheemaun, which we were starting to imagine as the cutest, tiniest ferry; every time we'd mentioned to someone that we were taking that route, a fond smile would spread over their face and they'd say, "Oh, you're taking our Chi-Cheemaun!" In a car, it's not really the fastest, easiest, or cheapest way to get most places; it just seems to be locally beloved as an enjoyable option.
We started the day with the ride to the ferry, on long roads with mostly forest on both sides. We arrived in the rain with loads of time to spare and bought some hot cocoas before wandering across the street to the terminal.
lt was comically unlike the BC ferries that we're used to; we thought 45 minutes before departure time was generously early to show up with bicycles, but when we got to the ticket booth we were asked if we had a reservation, then told that they would "try to squeeze us on" and that it "wasn't a space issue, but a time issue" because they'd need to "do the check-in process" and then we'd have to pedal as fast as we could to the front of the line and ask to be let on the boat. In the end we were fine, and made it on when the other cyclists were loaded (which was good; the next sailing was hours later and would have had us arriving in Tobermory close to nightfall). It wasn't the cute, small Gulf Island-style ferry we'd been envisioning based on everyone's sweet adoration of it, but a large one packed with trucks that were crammed on so close to the front that when we docked on the other side and they asked the cyclists and walk-ons to unload first, everyone else had to squeeze themselves and their bikes through the narrow gap between a truck and the wall, and we immediately knew our wide-load bikes weren't going to make it and had to be the last ones waiting at the side for the moment when every vehicle had left the deck. The boat also docked a full 45 minutes ahead of its scheduled arrival time, which was great for our cycling day, but the whole thing had the feeling of something put together by people who had never experienced a functional ferry service before.
We had a rainy ride down the Bruce Peninsula and landed right in the middle of cottage country. We'd looked at the map for somewhere to camp and chosen a beach spot that didn't seem to have much around it, knowing that wild camping was going to get more challenging and then risky/impossible as we got further into population-dense southern Ontario.
The beach was closer to a community of lakeside cottages than we'd hoped, and there was unambiguous signage prohibiting camping and giving residents a number to call if they saw anyone in violation. We were low on options and could see some low bushes and woods further down the beach; we figured we could set up right at dark and probably be fine, so we stayed and cooked our ramen/vegetables/peanut sauce dinner at a picnic table.
Instead of camping on the beach, we ended up on the side-adventure that is getting taken home by a stranger. Jenny came by and talked with us at length; she was bubbly and energetic, and deeply loves baseball and Jesus. She pointed out the no camping/no dogs off-leash/no fires sign and mentioned that she "really believes in playing by the rules," told us that people had been heavily fined the previous week for camping in the parking lot, then asked us where we were sleeping that night. There had been a sign for a campground somewhere back up the road, so we fudged something about how we were heading there, and then she offered us her 'bunkie' for the night. We didn't know what that was, but camping on the beach wasn't sounding great and the campground was definitely going to be $50, so we took a chance on saying yes.
She was incredibly lovely to us; the whole thing was such a random act of kindness. She set us up in the little bunkhouse (the bunkie) in her backyard, lent us fluffy towels and good shampoo so we could use the beautiful outdoor shower her husband had built out of cedar planks, and fed us coffee and toast in the morning.
This also wasn't an easy one for us; we were communicating across a strong social divide, and there were a lot of conversational landmines, made apparent because Jenny was happy to put it all out there, and as the grateful receivers of her generosity, drinking coffee in her kitchen, we couldn't be equally candid; it wasn't a time and place to get into a debate. It was a complicated encounter, on one hand exceptionally warm, and on the other hand requiring so much carefullness. We let it be everything that it was, and said goodbye with big hugs and heartfelt thanks, but didn't exchange contact information.
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲
Northern Bruce Peninsula