Champlain, Canada - Polarsteps
We took the Prescott-Russell Trail a lot of the way from Ottawa to Montreal; it wasn't particularly scenic, but it was easy riding, dotted with covered picnic pavillions, and it got us there safely. The whole first day was misty rain, the kind that gradually soaks everything. We connected with another cyclist, Greg, while we were cooking lunch (hi Greg!), and tried to push far enough to meet him at the campsite he'd booked that night, but at our lumbering pace we fell short and ended up tucking into a little grove of trees just off the trail and setting up in the rain and the near-dark-- our first night actually camping again in about a month.
Okay, so Ontario....
What a mixed bag this 2200km of this landscape has been; going from the somewhat remote stretch of Northern Ontario on Highway 17 suddenly into the densely populated Southern Ontario (basically Toronto and its incorporated surrounding cities) was striking. When crossing the provincial line into Ontario I was excited but also knew it was going to be a long, trying stretch; when that is the case I kind of put my mind into a zone where it breaks things down into smaller segments. I don't try to think of the enormity of something. To be honest, that is how I hold this entire trip in my mind for the most part; it is day by day and about being present in it. This province has the worst updated provincial slogan thanks to Doug Ford, "Open for Business"; a crude fall from "Yours to Discover". Then there is Highway 17, the TransCanada through Ontario, which has been dubbed "A National Disgrace" and I can absolutely understand why and, unfortunately, completely agree. This highway is not constructed or properly maintained for the amount of traffic it sees in the summer months; for the most part there isn't a proper shoulder, it is single lane going each direction and there isn't a white line (and when there was it was soft so you would mini-fishtail if you rode on it) to mark the edge of said road. There is usually a quick transition from pavement to deep sand (quicksand!) that we found ourselves pulling onto pretty often because people do not know how to share this narrow road with other cars, let alone cyclists. However, the key to dealing with roads like this is just taking your time, being immensely visible (hi-vis for the win!), paying attention and getting some pool noodles to act as a visual gauge for cars passing by. This all works like a charm and as frustrating as it was to navigate certain segments of this road it was far from impossible to do. Just be smart and patient about it. The saving grace from being on this stretch was that we got to camp and swim by/on Lake Superior almost every night. We met some memorable people along this segment; Jackie and Athena. Sara talked about Jackie already; she left such a huge impression on me. I felt like she was like a wise, little monk of sorts. It was clear she had not had a gentle go at life but she still felt compelled to make a difference and get out into the world. To speak her truth and, frankly, the truth of the dark underbelly in which our world functions and subsists. There was no pretense with her or who she thought you were; sharing with her I am a non-binary, transgender person was easy as I knew there wouldn't be invasive follow up questions or having to "prove" or explain things to her.
Meeting her was a huge contrast to meeting people who had an immense amount of wealth or live in a bubble of unexamined privilege. Or perhaps haven't had experiences where you put yourself into the world where there isn't a barrier between you and others. Or get back to being in touch with the very basics and how important/not a given such things actually are. On this trip I have learned the art of taking myself out of conversations with such people after about 5 minutes; there is nothing to glean here and frankly these conversations become one-sided and begin to feel like they're solely for the other person's consumption. There isn't an exchange of giving, just taking. It's sad, there is an entire depth to life that to me feels like it is being missed. Disconnect. It's like speaking a completely different language or being from another planet. We come from very different worlds and understandings of things if you ask if I am concerned about a gap in my resume.
Athena was a trans woman we met between Wawa and Pancake Bay on Highway 17. She was cycling from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay to raise money for a children's hospital. She had started out with a group but was at this point about a day ahead distance-wise. She was slaying it. It would have been nice if we had criss-crossed a little bit earlier because Sara and I had a great spot picked out for the night and neither Athena nor us wanted to backtrack at all. We exchanged numbers to keep in touch and I jokingly said, "I swear asking for someone's number on the side of a highway isn't my pickup line." She laughed and said, "Just so you know I am trans." I said, "Me too," and she was all like, "Sweet!" and smiled. It was such a wonderful, unlikely exchange to happen in the middle of remote Ontario. I have been meaning to text and see how her trip went.
We were so lucky to have so many people to visit in this portion of the trip! Seriously, we seem to know so many people in the interior of BC and throughout Southern Ontario. It makes for extra special, relaxing times :).
🚲 Bike Jaunt 🚲