Monday, August 19, 2013

Hard Road

“I have a vision in my mind of a life that I've left behind
Yeah, can't you see that lost souls can't swim
You know you'll sink, but you still jump in
And it's alright to get caught stealing back what you've lost.”

Before I started on this trip, I had a drink with a friend who asked me what I wanted to get out of it. I said I wanted to get something back, but I don't think I clearly articulated what it was. It's an intangible feeling, akin to placing an ear on a part of the world to hear its heartbeat for yourself; of being grateful for the good in it more than begrudging of the bad; of deriving energy from the experience and regaining the willingness to return it. Whatever it is, I got what I wanted — there is not a single day of this adventure that I regret.

I had stayed in Sudbury's western suburb and I was glad it was a Sunday morning with very light traffic to get across the city's gritty industrial core. Sudbury is far from cycle-friendly, a place that seems to have grown haphazardly around the mines and smelters. I rode up the hill to its famous landmark, the Big Nickel before riding away from its towering smokestacks.

Sudbury still looks like it needs a bath

My obnoxious orange vest at the Big Nickel

With the phasing out of the penny, soon to be Canada's smallest coin

I stopped at the first community just east of the city and found a food truck. The owner, Robert, asked me where I was riding from, and after told him how far I had come, he refused to take my money and gave me a free lunch. I just dropped a few bucks in his tip jar anyway. He sat down and ate with me for a bit, swapping stories, and I told him people like him made travelling so rewarding.

I stayed in North Bay, which sits on the fuzzy line between Northern and Eastern Ontario. Some people here refer to driving to Ottawa as "going south on Highway 17" when it actually lies directly east. It's a pretty little town with good "bones".

Downtown North Bay

Ontario has such rugged beauty — sometimes the monotony of trees and rocks lull you to the point of boredom, but then a grand vista or a small detail snaps you back to attention. Sometimes a pocket of the landscape can seem so deliberately artful, like a bonsai arrangement. In a car, you'll see the same scenery behind the windows, but on a bicycle you are in it and free to pause anytime to take in the subtleties. 

The state of the Trans Canada Highway is sometimes embarrassing, and stressful on a bike.

Once in a while, cyclists are thrown a bone, like shoulders on the climbs

At Mattawa, I officially enter the Ottawa Valley. Even up here the river seems familiar to me in how it cuts its banks, and the sweet peaty smell of its water. I had a picnic lunch by the statue of big Joe Mufferaw, the Canadian version of Paul Bunyan. Kind of neat that I had ridden through Bemidji MN then to here. However, Joe Mufferaw, or Joseph Montferrand, was at least a real guy whose feats of strength were magnified in folk tales. Paul Bunyan is purely fictional.

Some of the climbs here are steep, as steep as the ones through the big mountains in the beginning of this trip, and on far worse roads and ruder truckers. By 8 pm I'm tuckered out and 20 km short of my goal of Deep River, so I pull into the first and only motel for miles

One of the neat things about cycling back home from far away is getting to the point where things start to feel everyday, like turning on the TV in the motel room and getting your local channel or seeing mailboxes with your city's newspaper. I'm now within a day's long ride away from home and I'm definitely feeling Ottawa's gravitational pull.

“And you try to find a love that'll see you through your darkest days,
And her soft brown hair is as long as the Canadian highway
When the sun dies until it's reborn
But there's no road that ain't a hard road to travel on.”

No comments:

Post a Comment