North Bay to Sault, and finding myself near the end of Chapter 1 here.

Whew, pardon me if I’m a little fuzzy on the details this far back… it’s been forever since I got to use a computer! I do take some notes, but it’s been tough getting all this together.

May 13: “waterfront properties” / nonexistent downtowns

The Dinner Bell Motel & Restaurant was described as “the only place in town” by a friendly middle-aged couple I met when I was checking in the night before. It seemed likely true the next morning, when I woke up and found their diner full of Bonfield people having Mother’s Day brunch there. In fact, the same couple was there again (despite living nearby – they weren’t staying at the motel), and kindly bought me my breakfast!

It was a beautiful day, hot and sunny, although the shoulder was pretty sandy and there was a lot of traffic to North Bay. I arrived in the afternoon, not sure what to expect, and North Bay turned out to be another interesting highway-strip situation. The main drag, Lakeshore Drive, just followed the contours of Lake Nipissing for miles, completely depriving the landscape of any possible beauty or use as a public recreation area. It seems like there’s this weird irony of land use: waterfront property is desirable because it theoretically increases commercial value, but then it destroys the potential that land had to provide the people who actually live there with some sort of aesthetic or recreational satisfaction. I find that a little sad.

But at first I was in downtown North Bay, which, like “downtown Pembroke,” was a bit of a joke. I really got a weird vibe there: it seemed shady and not too friendly. However, that wasn’t the case when I stopped for lunch at Greco’s pizza. Had an awesome broccoli/spinach pizza all to myself with two pints of Steam Whistle pilsner and a piece of cake, and I think the waitress deliberately undercharged me because I just ordered so much food. I didn’t realize I was going to be eating another meal only an hour or two later when I arrived at Lindsay Furlong’s house (mother of my friend Byrne, from the McGill English dep’t): when I made it there, we had cheeseburgers and corn on the cob. But the truth is, it’s pretty much impossible for me to overeat. I had, strangely, just missed Byrne by a couple of hours, since she’d been up in North Bay from Toronto for Mother’s Day – too bad. I’m afraid I spent most of that evening concocting my last gigantic blog post, though I left this day out.

Good meal at Greco’s, North Bay.

May 14: making new friends chez Jean-Guy Rubberboots / practical applications of running

Yet another hot and sunny day on the road, but not a very long run to Sturgeon Falls. I was sustained on the road by this recurring dream-image: a shaded terrace where I might be served inexpensive but very cold lager while eating onion rings. This is usually an unrealistic expectation, and I know it, but I somehow got lucky today, spotting this pub called “Jean-Guy Rubberboots” right off the highway, complete with fenced-in shaded terrace, populated pretty much exclusively by old men speaking a mixture of English and really weird French. And their house draft lager was something like $3.50 a pint. So I was relaxing here for a while, getting refreshed and reading Murakami again (“Pinball, 1973”) on my kindle, when eventually I got sucked into a conversation with some of these characters: namely, Bill, Tim, and “The Squirrel.” “The Squirrel” went on and on about his previous employment as a safecracker, including unlikely stories of scaling four-storey buildings and cracking 24 safes without ever being caught. Bill was more plausible, a really gregarious guy retired from naval work, with a few stories to tell about hitchhiking across Canada in the late 60s. When I was first meeting these guys, Tim kept the most quiet of the three, but I would later come to know him the best, as he volunteered a place for me to sleep that night.

I got pretty lucky meeting a guy like Tim at a random pub – he was truly kind, offering to take me home for the night and even feed me dinner (fried chicken & poutine). Tim lived with his wife and their two tiny dogs (Sandy [Pomeranian] and Rusty [intact and highly energetic male Lhasa Apso]) in this really nice house pretty close to Jean-Guy’s, a renovation he’d done entirely on his own over the past couple decades. He’d had a pretty radical/experimental gastric bypass surgery a couple years before, which means he’s currently living semi-retired, but also several hundred pounds lighter and a lot healthier than before. I’m happy for him to have made such a dramatic recovery and hope he never gets complacent about his newfound good health.

Tim & his wife standing on the deck which he built for his house in Sturgeon Falls.

One funny incident to relate. Around dinnertime, I opened the door to go out for a minute, and Rusty the Lhasa Apso ran outside. And didn’t stop running. It pretty much looked like he was just bolting for as far away as he could get, inexplicably, so I figured, well, if anybody around here is going to catch this guy it better be me. Actually I was sort of panicking, because, like, what if I lost the favorite little dog of this nice guy who gave me a place to sleep? So, barefoot and with several developing blisters, I just went for it. I gave chase for a few blocks, scooped the little bugger up and carried him all the way back home. It just goes to show… sure, you run 40 or 50 kilometers, but it’s no good if you don’t leave that last little bit in the tank. You never know when you might need it! And, the ability to run can be useful!

We went back to Jean-Guy Rubberboots after dinner. I said I really didn’t want to be up late that night, but it was obviously Tim’s scene / social circle, and besides, I really liked the place, so I was game. Tim and Rick (the Franco-Ontarien barkeep) are probably the best pool players I’ve ever seen in action. Gosh, this was the kind of all-around great night that kind of resists being summarized (and I’m on a time limit here). Obviously I’m pretty solitary on this run, spending huge amounts of time alone with my thoughts, doing weird things that set me apart from other human beings – therefore, it’s enormously refreshing to actually engage with other people, especially in a totally unexpected/uncharacteristic kind of social situation, like drinking with a bunch of retired guys in Sturgeon Falls.

Jean-Guy Rubberboots’ pub in downtown Sturgeon Falls.

Spare room for a lone wolf at Tim’s place.

May 15: new shoes / giant hogweed / first bear sighting

This was at least the third hot sunny day in a row. The weather around here has really seemed to be either “on” or “off”, and when it’s “off,” it’s really cold! Like, when it’s hot and sunny, I find the temperature hovers around 25 C all day long, but if it’s overcast and cool, it can be around 10, tops. So another hot one, and with my blisters I wasn’t feeling too great. After a few kilometers of sluggish walking to “warm up,” I decided maybe my shoes were the problem, because they were feeling a bit tight. Switching to my next-largest shoes, Brooks Pureflow in size 12.5, I felt WAY better, and the feeling has lasted for quite some time now. I worry that, although the size 12s I started in felt good at the beginning, I may not be able to go back to them until after Vancouver, and if that’s the case then they’re dead weight with me. Whatever. The point is, my feet felt GREAT after that switch, and it enabled me to start running longer intervals. That day I started doing 10 or 11k intervals with just a 2 or 3k walk break, and I’ve stuck to that since then. Now I try to do 12k runs with walk breaks or just all-out rest breaks in an en-route town, so I can maximize the distance that I actually run.

Stopping for refreshment in Warren, I got laughed at asking if there was a supermarket nearby: “In Warren!? The nearest grocery store is in Sudbury!” I don’t get it, because that just can’t possibly be true, but I know this person wasn’t trying to be unfriendly. And where do people get their food around here anyway? You can get live bait 24 hours a day every few kilometers, but fruits and vegetables are virtually impossible to find? Sudbury was like 50-60 km away from that town. Whatever. So I stopped at the diner and took the recommendation proffered to me by the cook’s sassy daughter (“Try the pogos, they’re awesome”), also downing some “Amazing Grass” dissolved in a bottle of lemonade. Amazing Grass, like Greens+, is a powder-form green superfood concentrate, so I try to take a scoop of that every day. Sometimes it feels like it’s all I can do to offset the inevitable diet changes I’ve been going through… way less fruits & veggies, because I just need all the calories I can get. I’m eating a lot of nuts and dried fruit, but also a lot of poutine, root beer floats, gummy worms, etc.

Around 7 pm, there were storm clouds coming out on the horizon, and I passed a picnic area with no signs saying explicitly that I couldn’t camp there, so I was considering pitching the tent (in spite of the warning signs about giant hogweed and other poisonous plants in the area). I saw this guy out on his porch across the road from the picnic area, so I went over to ask him if he thought it was more or less legal to camp there – just as much to ensure that my de facto neighbor wouldn’t call the cops on me as to ensure that the cops themselves wouldn’t take issue. He didn’t think it would be a problem, so I went back across the road to set up camp. As soon as I was across, he yelled “Hey!” and motioned for me to come back.

You could do worse than camping across the highway from here, but can you spot the bear?

Lee was one of those guys you could tell at a glance was into old-school metal. I’m not really even sure how, it was just sort of stamped into him. A kind of gaunt backcountry Ontarian rocker dude covered in paint (he paints houses for a living). Lee wanted to offer me a place to sleep for the night, in a trailer in his yard that belonged to a buddy of his living out in Alberta. I wouldn’t have turned it down even if there weren’t storm clouds, giant hogweed, and bears across the road! He opened it up, and obviously nobody had been inside in a while. For one thing, it was filled with stereo equipment, which it turns out was extra, second-best stuff Lee didn’t need in the house anymore. I had to ask him what kind of music he was into, and he responded with the ubiquitous, friendly, yet always differently-shaded “everything!” When Jessie (his seriously cute bespectacled 8 or 9 year-old daughter) was born, he “played a lot of Mozart” in the house in deference to the popular wisdom that it’ll make your kid smarter, but he also mentioned Black Label Society, Motorhead, Judas Priest, etc. So we cleaned up this messy trailer a bit and made a little space for me to sleep. Lee found a partially-packed bowl of pot in the midst of this detritus and said, “Not sure where this came from. Do you smoke?” (“Nope, not really” was my response, parents.)  Later, as I was relaxing in the trailer and reading a little before the lights went out, Lee came out to smoke a cigarette and knocked on the door of the trailer with a big cup filled with ice and a can of Pepsi, just a spontaneous nice gesture. We hung out talking for a while and he casually pointed out a bear across the road: “Oh, look, she’s always up there with her cubs this time of night.” This was the first time I’d ever seen a bear in the wild! And for him it was just commonplace. “Oh, we get moose in the yard!” Sadly, I didn’t see one, but you can’t have everything… sometimes a cold Pepsi, some bear neighbors, and your own dilapidated decades-old trailer for the night is more than enough. I didn’t even mention their adorable sharpei. Everybody keeps telling me that the further west I go, people will just keep getting nicer and nicer. It could be that I’m also opening up more to the people I meet on the road – losing a bit of my introverted, impossibly different ego-baggage, and letting myself embrace these random situations I’m getting into. Are people getting nicer as I go west, or am I getting nicer as I go west? Moot point / hopefully both.

Trailer in Lee’s yard, my suite for the night.

This feels like the Ritz when you thought you were going to have to get out a tent in the impending thunderstorm.

I had “Parting Friends” (Sacred Harp) stuck in my head all day, and was playing around with some canonic possibilities as I ran. I’m travelin’ through the wilderness.

May 16: rocking out / chipotle banana ketchup

The terrain changed visibly on the run into Sudbury. Rocks started sticking out of the grass, and it just got rockier. Sudbury is a rock town, a nickel mine. Lee said he generally partied in Coniston, along the 17 into Sudbury, and I tried to figure out where exactly this partying would happen as I ate at the Subway in Wahnapitae. But I liked the feeling of the area, it had a realness to it that I’m sure comes from having a mining town in the middle of nowhere – not a lot is going to change. Sudbury was built on top of a mine, and the mine is in a giant crater formed a long time ago, but the topography is all uneven, with rocks sticking out every which way. I liked it. The railroad goes right through the middle of town and there’s a whole bunch of ugly rusty tracks splitting one side from the other.

At rush hour, as I was coming into Sudbury on the 55, I passed literally hundreds of cars stalled in traffic that didn’t even look like it was anything too out of the ordinary. At the time I didn’t really notice, but apparently being a cyclist in Sudbury is enough to get you dirty looks and even spat on, and plenty of close scrapes in terms of accidents. It’s really that out of the ordinary, I’m told. At least with the chariot, when people see me, it is not as an expression of some cultural trend that they like or dislike… the good and the bad thing about it is I just appear to be that one crazy guy, which perhaps makes me more tolerated in a situation like this. Whatever the case, it was cool passing all those cars.

Ben Flight hooked me up with a host in Sudbury, his friend Chelsea who I may or may not have met briefly once before in Montreal. She’s part of the McGill Law crowd that includes Ben, Meara, Krista, etc. This was yet another case of my staying with a random connection / friend-of-a-friend who gave me the impression that we should have already been friends. Chelsea was such a warm and welcoming person to stay with, and all her roommates, too. She and I and her roommate Frank went out to a kind of out-of-place watering hole called the Happy Buddha which could have been transplanted from the Montreal Plateau – incredible beer menu, chipotle banana ketchup with your fries, you know. Wellington Imperial Stout is probably the best beer I’ve had since leaving Montreal.

May 17: longing for a green highway

This morning I slept in good and late, then did something I’d been putting off for a while: I wanted to put in some serious time researching trail alternatives to the Trans-Canadian Highway. Where are they available, and are they actually viable? The Trans-Canada Trail (tctrail.ca) is an amazing project, but after looking into it pretty thoroughly, I can’t say it provides the kind of alternative that I could use. The thing is, these trails aren’t designed as a utilitarian passage from point A to point B, east-to-west: they’re more for recreational use, so they meander all over the place. They’re also, generally speaking, hilly and rocky. I’ve used bits and pieces of the Trans-Canada Trail when I see them popping up alongside the highway, but I almost always regret having done so. If I didn’t have the very significant encumbrance of the chariot to worry about, it would be different: those wheels get bogged down in sandy gravel surfaces, although I personally don’t mind that surface as far as running goes. All the same, that rules out huge portions of the trail for a trans-Canada run (even if you didn’t have a chariot, you’d presumably have a vehicular support crew – if you were going to do the tctrail the whole way, I guess that would have to be ATVs!) I think in the future, a cross-country run on the tctrail network will be possible – gaps will be filled in, certain parts will become paved, and, ultimately, I’m still pulling for the total coast-to-coast conversion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad into paved bicycle paths. That would be incredible, and would essentially serve the purpose of a “green highway.”

CPR trains are an increasingly rare and anachronistic sight. What are they carrying, anyway?

As a little digression, I really need to mention the OFSC, the volunteer group that organizes snowmobile trails across Ontario. The trans-Ontario Provincial Touring Trail is an extremely impressive/ambitious venture, and I only wish there was such a thing for cyclists. There’s basically this network of trails all over Ontario – and not just north/south and east/west, but a complex network joining diverse parts of the province like roads. Sure, they’re not all in amazing condition, but many are good enough that for a trail runner unencumbered by gear, they’d do fine. The infrastructure impressed me and got me wondering: why don’t cyclists and runners have a thing like this? There are probably more of us than there are snowmobile enthusiasts. But owning a snowmobile – or a car! – is such a big financial investment that maybe people feel they should take it more seriously and invest in a network of routes exclusively for it. Imagine if Canadian cyclists pooled their resources and energy in a similar way, to work on a project like that. I guess the 20 km hub trail here in Sault Ste. Marie is a good example of that in action, but it is rare.

But for now, anybody who wants to run or bike across Canada has got to suck it up and deal with the Trans-Canadian Highway. This does have its benefits, because you’re following a path that has relevance to a huge number of Canadians’ lives; when you follow the highway, you’re getting to know Canada as the majority of its citizens know it. Furthermore, the road is generally in decent condition and doesn’t have too many huge or steep ups and downs. It’s just a really funny feeling to be using it to do something it was never intended for, and to see car culture through an outsider’s perspective. I never thought I would spend so much time thinking about green space, land usage, and car culture on this trip, but it’s proven kind of inevitable.

I only hit the road to Nairn at 1:30 in the afternoon, and it was another hot one. I took the 55 out of town, rather than the Trans-Canadian Highway, but what I didn’t know was that the TCH had become a parkway since I was last on it (divided by a median), so it actually wouldn’t have been legal for me on there. I found this out when I got sick of the 55 and tried to switch to the 17 at some point: a costly detour, when I saw the no cycling sign and had to turn around. The 55 was congested and unpleasant, and ran parallel to a portion of the Trans-Canada Trail that was extremely sandy/dusty, so I really couldn’t use it. After trying to do so for a while, anyway, I got so hot and tired out that I had to stop for a ginger ale and some ice cream. I’m afraid I’ve begun to find soda and ice cream really potent fuels for running, and they always get me going. It’s weird, the sugar rush I can get from them is far more effective than natural sugars (fruits, fruit juices, etc.)

As it was getting dark, I started looking for a little nest off the TCH. Yet again, I was tipped off by a trail that looked neglected, with a lot of weeds and small trees growing out of it. Climbing this hill with the chariot was a little ungainly (reminded me of the opening scene of Herzog’s “Aguirre,” or perhaps the rope bridge truck-driving scene in “Sorcerer”), but at the top I found a clearing that looked pretty abandoned. Pitched the tent, finished “Pinball, 1973,” started “Norwegian Wood,” lights out.

May 18: experiencing impermanence / campground as alternate-reality suburb

Cold and cloudy, and not an easy hike to Espanola. The road was very high-traffic today because of the forthcoming long weekend, when a lot of Canadians seem to have a tradition of getting out and going camping somewhere a couple hours away from where they live. Seeing all these RVs passing me, I couldn’t help thinking a bit about this. The first time I went camping, the night after I left Deep River, I was really shocked at the appearance of the campground. Mine was the only tent, but there were about 50 RVs and mobile homes parked in neat rectangular lots in orderly rows. The appearance of the whole campground was, frankly, a lot like a suburb. So I chewed on that irony for a while, pondering why it would be desirable to move from one suburb to another. The thing is, most of the people in this area don’t live in a suburb: they live in beautiful rural locations, usually a cleared area of coniferous forest not far from a lake. Then they pack up and go vacation in a different coniferous forest near a lake. It struck me that perhaps, whereas I had previously thought people went camping to escape the boxed-in suburban society in which they usually live, maybe around here they go camping to be in closer proximity to other people? I mean, everybody seems to live on these vast pieces of land with “no trespassing signs” stretching for miles, so maybe they don’t see their neighbors very often. Not the case when you’re parked a stone’s throw from another RV in another cute rectangular lot. Interesting stuff.

But back to my journey. The impression that stuck out from my run on this day was that I might actually be starting to process impermanence every day on an experiential level, which was one of my reasons for taking this whole trip. Conditions on the road changed a lot that day: precip / no precip, cloud cover / sun, condition of shoulder, hilliness, fluctuations in density of traffic. It was one of those days where you can’t escape the basic truth that everything is just arising and passing, so you better not get too attached. Things like this, you can say them to yourself as often as you like, but unless you’re experiencing them firsthand, it’s not going to stick and it won’t have an impact on the attitude with which you approach everyday life.

All the same, I just couldn’t get warm and dry, all day, and I couldn’t imagine camping again (and didn’t know where to once I got to Espanola), so I did end up in a motel again. Espanola’s Clear Lake Inn, up on a hill and a little bit out of town, was by far the nicest yet, and only $50. This really meticulous 1960s décor, but actually really tasteful, and comfortable. Cool place.

Clear Lake Inn, Espanola = tasteful 60s aesthetic.

May 19: public land, only $40 a night to camp on it!

Despite another hot and sunny day, I woke up feeling well-rested and ready to really run. I applied sunscreen pretty copiously, went shirtless, and ran a totally uninterrupted 25k to Massey. Getting in such a long, uninterrupted run felt GREAT, and I’m sure a lot of it had to do with how much more comfortable it is to run without a shirt. Of course, you will invariably encounter some attitude when you do what feels best, like the young lad who yelled at me as I passed through Webbwood: “Hey, mister! I think you lost your shirt!” Seriously? Young people have such cheek these days. So I stopped for five seconds and said, “You try running from Montreal to Vancouver in the summer, and keep your shirt on the whole way.” I mean, give me a break! Why are people so uncomfortable with even partial nudity like that? On the other hand, a lot of bikers on the highway waved or nodded at me as they saw me running by shirtless, maybe just because of how hardcore I looked. In general, on the highway, it was around this time, though not just this day, that I started getting a lot more casual recognition from passing motorists of all stripes. Their reactions have stopped being like, “what the hell is that crazy man doing?” to “hey, look at that guy running across Canada.” I’m guessing that it’s because I’m now in land where, if a guy is running on the highway, it’s pretty obvious he’s coming from a long ways away. I doubt these people all saw the article in the Cobden Sun. Even I haven’t!

When I arrived in Massey, my first priority was to get out of the sun and get something cold and refreshing to drink, preferably a beer. A local directed me to the local Legion Hall, which was certainly a bastion of realness. In the basement there were only two people, a big guy with a moustache named Wes, and his wife, who was sitting around doing crosswords. I had a beer, talked with them a bit, and read a lot of “Norwegian Wood.” (Gosh, I’m really absorbed in Murakami lately.) Eventually, they ordered a pizza, and offered me some. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter not just decent, but excellent pizza in a tiny town in Ontario. And again, excellent people as well. Wes told me I should check out Chutes Provincial Park, just up the road, for camping purposes, and I did. He told me, things I’d read had told me, and it generally made sense that camping in a provincial park should be free and legal. However, when I got there I saw they were expecting $37.50 or $42.50 a night, depending on whether you use electricity or not. Outrageous! So I asked a ranger I saw walking around, just to clarify that that’s what it would cost for one guy with a tiny tent, and she confirmed that yes, officially, that’s the deal. But when I explained what I was doing and asked if there was any way I could possibly camp without paying so much, just for the night, she told me to get back into this blocked-off section of the campground, pick one of the plots in the back, and try to get out as early as possible in the morning. And that’s just what I did… thank you, Officer Steinke. Still, it was a disappointment to have that feeling of being a transgressor, in a situation where I really didn’t think I should be feeling that burden.

Camping illegally, but in a semi-officially-sanctioned way, in Chutes Provincial Park, Massey.

May 20: procession of wizards / a cooling stream at hand / private bog suite

This was a day for which I’d been storing up my energy, for a few days in advance. The way to Blind River was listed in my itinerary as 78 km, but turned out to be only 70. Regardless, I’d like to see you run 70 km on the hottest and sunniest day yet, with temperatures easily in the low 30s. I’m glad I got an early start, but even at 8 am the sun was really beating down on me. Fortunately, I was feeling pretty high-energy, and I ran the whole way from Massey to the town of Spanish (only the first part).

I had an interesting encounter on the road to Spanish. This guy passed me on a bicycle, but it wasn’t just any guy, nor was it any old bicycle. It was a guy who looked about my age, wearing a dress shirt with suspenders and a fedora hat (remember how I said this was a really hot day?), riding a recumbent bicycle. And this at a time when virtually no one else was on the highway. I caught up with him and said hi, and asked him where he was off to, thinking he was some sort of rural steampunk wizard/oddball. It didn’t occur to me until later, when I saw the first horse-drawn carriages, that maybe I was in Amish country, but this guy didn’t exactly help me out with his vague comments. He was really friendly, but just said he was going “just over there”, whatever that meant. I think he was on his way to church, actually, and ditto the horse-drawn carriages I saw later. But before I realized it was Sunday morning, I had no clue what I’d stumbled into and couldn’t help but think of J.K. Rowling’s descriptions of wizards trying to fit into the muggle world, or just appreciating the kind of steampunk-looking aesthetic these people had going on. When I caught up with that guy and asked him questions, I assumed there was nothing politically-incorrect about that, because it was one human-powered weirdo on the highway to another, just shooting the breeze, comparing notes. In retrospect I felt bad, because what I thought was a pointedly unusual individual may have been just an exponent of a whole culture, and I wouldn’t want to draw attention to that and make him feel out of place if he wasn’t trying to in the first place. It’s possible I was the only weirdo out there. But then again, perhaps he was a little different – most of the Amish folks were in horse-drawn carriages, and I have some respect for a guy who declines to exploit another animal in favor of bicycling in his suspenders.

Unique meeting of form & function.

Horses, cars – in the 21st century, what’s the difference? You’re either pulling your own weight or you’re making somebody else do the work.

In Spanish, I refreshed myself with a milkshake, a “Big Turk” bar, a coke, amazing grass, and – a first for me, just something I wanted to try – one of those “5-Hour Energy” things. How’s that for a breakfast of champions?

At first it worked pretty well, and I think I ran for another hour after Spanish before I had to take my first walk break of the day. The heat was really getting to me, and I pulled over to the side of the road to dry off and sit in the shade for a couple minutes. About an hour later, I came to a beautiful picnic area on the Serpent River, and fulfilled one of the sub-fantasies of my whole running-across-Canada dream. In the middle of the day, I stripped down to my shorts and just jumped right in. Honestly, it was on par with the best and most memorable sensory experiences of my entire life. The water was so cold and clear, and just for my feet to be out of shoes was an incredible feeling. After some hesitation, I dove the whole way in and immersed my whole body. I lingered at the Serpent River for quite some time, getting wet and then enjoying the hot sun. A family that had passed me driving on the highway showed up and recognized me, and we talked for a while. They were coming from Ottawa, and their kids actually liked it better out near Serpent River than they did in Ottawa.

Serpent River swim break. I feel like I haven’t lost much weight so far, and that’s great!

After Serpent River, it was a long, slow road to my final destination. Even at the end of the day, I was a few kilometers short of Blind River, but I did find an amazing and possibly even legal campsite at Little Lake Bog. This was a public nature trail – totally deserted, though – with no signs that said anything about the legality of camping or whatever. I followed it all the way to its end, where there was a nice wooden deck looking out over the eponymous little lake. Right next to this was a large, soft, flat patch of moss upon which I pitched my tent for a pretty luxurious sleeping experience. I watched the sun set over the lake on my private deck, settled down on the moss, and finished “Norwegian Wood,” a really great read. It had been a long day.

Perfect campsite at Little Lake Bog, complete with private deck.

May 21: various time warps

I did pay the price for spending that kind of energy in that kind of heat. From Blind River to Iron Bridge – a pretty short leg of the journey, really – I felt very sluggish and tired. Not a lot to report from that run/walk, although I did see some cool old abandoned houses along the highway. I thought it was neat that there was no fence, and although some placards had been posted with information about the houses as heritage sites, there were no dire warnings about trespassing, etc. Obvious liability issues, but left to common sense, and the desire of a passerby to check the places out. I did go into the Daigle House just to have a look.

I thought about sleeping in this place, but I was still a few kilometres short of Iron Bridge and didn’t want to fall behind on an easy day.

In Iron Bridge, I was beat. Just didn’t know what to do with myself, and was tired and hungry as hell. I was told there was a really cheap motel in town, so I asked around, and sure enough, this place that looked like it had been in a time warp from 45 years ago was charging only $45 a night, tax included. Imagine my surprise when the guy who owned the place, a really gregarious middle-aged guy who seemed thrilled to see me, told me I was their first ever customer. It turns out they’d just purchased the motel and were trying to re-make it into a viable business. Honestly, it was pretty rough around the edges, but the time-warp style was kind of cool for a night.

I don’t think this is stylistically on the same level as the also-retro Clear Lake Inn in Espanola. But the price was right. They put me in #6. I am not a number, I am a free man.

Ditto my dinner at 3 Aces Chinese & Canadian Food. This place has been in business as a Chinese restaurant for over 60 years, in Iron Bridge! That’s incredible! This is a town of 900 people in the middle of nowhere. So I had pork egg foo young and a banana split… mmm. (Though I will say the latter was better than the former.)

May 22: the proverbial can of whoopass is opened

Not a bad day. I did walk the first 15 km (rather than the first 10, which would be normal), but after stopping for ice cream and an energy drink, I realized maybe all I needed was some calories, and, more specifically, some sugar. Amused by the fact that there actually is an energy drink called “Whoopass,” I opened a can of it, both literally and metaphorically, and then I was really flying to Thessalon. I have to say, I think it was more the sugar and the cold refreshment of the drink than any of its B-vitamin complexes and so forth, but whatever it was, I’m grateful for that second wind (or first wind?) And it stuck, even after Thessalon, where I took a break for an hour or two and used a computer in the library. But perhaps the next chunk of running, from Thessalon to Bruce Mines, was fueled more by the root beer float and soft pretzel I had there.

Breaking open a can of whoopass.

Bruce Mines was one of the nicest small towns I’ve stayed in for the whole trip. It’s hard to say what about it won me over so much, but besides just being really cute, it had a public campground owned by the town. It was an honor system to pay their modest fees ($12/night for tenting), and I actually did that, maybe because I was so charmed by their offering that to passersby. If I had more money, maybe I would have checked out the tavern at the “Bavarian Inn” in town, but I was broke and beat, so it was raisins, bread & peanut butter, a nip of whisky from the flask, and Murakami for me before drifting off to sleep.

May 23: etudes in physiological blackjack / deciduous interlude

Every once in a while, you have to have one of those bad days by which all other bad days are measured. A day so low-energy, and so dismal, that it sets the standard. Today was that day for me, despite all my best efforts. I think that, really, my exhaustion had become cumulative, ever since that big hot day of running to Blind River, and it was starting to show. The weather was – you guessed it – very hot and sunny, and I tried to skip the morning doldrums by hanging out in Bruce Mines until the afternoon and loading up on lots of calories and sugar. My strategy was a disaster. At least I got some grocery shopping done and a little computer time at the library, but when I left at 1:30 in the afternoon I still felt like I’d just gotten up. Worse still, I decided it would be nice to take the back roads to Echo Bay, because they’d have less traffic (both routes were 40 km).

It was true that there was less traffic on the back roads, but they were a disaster. Huge hills, constantly going up and down, and the surface of the road was often a very sandy/dusty gravel one. If a car ever did pass by, I’d hide my face in my arm to avoid the dust, and the surface and the topography combined with my pushing the chariot meant that I was really slowed down considerably. Frankly, I never felt up to running, the entire day. The best I could do was walk doggedly forward, pushing the chariot up monster hills and holding it back as I descended them (except for the one time I deliberately let it go on its own downhill to catch it at the bottom – I didn’t aim well enough to consider its tendency to lean right, and it crashed off into the ditch and into a tree. Fortunately, no damage.) It went on like this all day, and I only got to Echo Bay around 9 pm. It was ridiculously slow going.

To make matters worse, when I finally found a campground, past Echo Bay on the 17b towards Sault, the security guy wasn’t there and I had to deal with the conundrum of whether to just set up camp without checking in (like several passersby encouraged me to do) or to call the owner, who had posted his cell number on the door. Being the nice guy that I am, I called him… but he was flaky, wanted $20, and couldn’t accept payment by credit or debit cards. Thus, I actually couldn’t pay him. What a dumb situation to be in! I was going to be gone from this place in about eight hours, and I was being asked for $20 to erect my glorified sleeping bag of a tent on an infinitesimally small piece of land for the small portion of time before the sun rose? Meanwhile, I have to call this flaky-ass campground owner at my expense, using roaming minutes on my cell (which has bad reception here)? So I told him, yeah, whatever you say, see you in the morning and we’ll settle up then. As I set up my tent by headlamp, my neighbors at the campground told me I should just bounce in the morning.

One cool thing about this day: the amount of deciduous forest through which I passed. Ever since I was really little, I’ve had a thing for nice green deciduous forestland. When I was a little kid I wanted to be a “forest man,” similar to Robin Hood, and would often examine forests, considering them as potential living spaces for my future, solitary, sustainable forest man life. I saw a lot of really beautiful forests today that looked pretty different from the dark pine stuff I’d been passing through for weeks. Nice terrain, a deciduous interlude.

May 24: paranoid & on the run from Ojibwa vengeance / unbelievable breakfast

I woke up at 6:20, not even by design so much as by feeling crappy. I packed everything up quickly and quietly, and I took the advice virtually everyone had given me and got the hell out of there. This was by far the most illegal bivouac to date, because it was so explicitly and knowingly against the wishes of the landowner. I felt terrible, but what are you going to do, when everybody is making it so hard to camp legally? So after this horrible low-energy day, hardly any recovery food and a subpar sleep, I found myself running immediately after rolling out of bed – not because I felt great, but because I wanted to get the hell out of the Garden River first nation area before some Ojibwa vengeance got me. I knew I was being paranoid and the owner of the campground probably didn’t even care, but I was feeling uneasy.

As if I wasn’t aware.

Everything changed when I pulled over some 10k later for breakfast at a roadside establishment called “Chi-Pete’s” (say it out loud). I was expecting your regular roadside diner thing, but the moment I entered I could tell the place was special. For one thing, it looked brand spanking new, and I was later informed that it was – the grand opening had been that weekend. Pete was a soft-spoken but amiable guy from Sault (non-native) who lived on the reservation and had just started up his own little restaurant here. I ordered the biggest breakfast on the menu, and, looking back, I think I’d have to say it was, hands-down, the best breakfast of my life. The toast was his own homemade brown bread, slathered with butter. Three eggs done to perfection (over-medium). Three pieces of fried ham that made me feel like I actually like ham. The homemade Italian sausage patty must have been some kind of family recipe, so incredibly flavorful and possessed of a nice spicy kick. Add some tasty mashbrowns, and the sum of it all is a really large and really excellent breakfast. I tipped generously and reflected on how, for $11, I’d been given something ten times more valuable, and even more personal, than the privilege of putting up my tent on some crappy corner of a guy’s vast campground.

After that, it was smooth sailing into the Sault, and I was pretty much already there. I have a lot to say about my stay in Sault, and I want to give a general update about how I’m doing physically, and the long road ahead through the wilderness, but I can’t do all that right now.

“naturally gifted”

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~ by edmundmilly on May 25, 2012.

3 Responses to “North Bay to Sault, and finding myself near the end of Chapter 1 here.”

  1. Bill from sturgeon was wondering if you were alive….glad to hear you ARE 🙂

    • Hey Bill! Glad you’re following! It’s tough finding time to write these long updates, but on the other hand, I see and experience so much every day that I feel kind of obligated to. Cool to meet you in Sturgeon Falls, keep in touch!

  2. Hey Edmund…we can’t wait to feed you dinner, beer, hot tub, etc. here in Steinbach. Steinbach is about another 25 kms from St. Anne. We would happily pick you up in Ste. Anne. (204)782-0442 (doug) or (204)392-5604 (leona) are our cell numbers for texting. I, Leona, am working till 3:30. Doug is off all day. Keep in touch.

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