The day after leaving Sault Ste Marie, I meet many motorists warning me about the hills I’m headed toward. I also meet Alex, who turns out to be the only other solo female cycling every province that I’ll meet this trip. She started in BC and is heading east, but she tells me about an awesome secret camping spot on Lake Superior. The free campsite doesn’t disappoint, and warrants a dip in the chilly lake the next morning before I tackle those hills. After many kilometres of climbing I arrive at the Agawa Campground of Lake Superior Provincial Park, and find out that the toughest hills are still ahead.
The north shore of Lake Superior is spectacularly beautiful, and a spectacularly difficult ride. Transport trucks groan up steep grades next to me while the August sun beats down. Services are few and far between, but the people in small towns are friendly. In Wawa, I leave a pizzeria to discover an anonymous stranger has tied a pack of chocolate bars to my pannier. White River offers free camping to travelers in the town park. The park is apparently overrun with bears, but the noise of the town’s Winnie the Pooh Festival seems to keep them away the night I stay. This is lucky because to keep out of the rain I camp tent-free in a gazebo with Josh, who is another cross-country cyclist headed east, and Faez.
Faez and I are joined by Tarek, who cycled from Montreal, for the ride to Marathon. The 98km day ends with a brutal 7km uphill into a strong headwind, in the pouring rain. When we reach town we order a pizza each, and split two large boxes of fries between us.
Day after day I pedal up and down Ontario’s hills. Once, when I’m 50km from any town, I make the mistake of opening my mouth on a downhill, and a hornet flies in and stings me. Luckily, quick work with my first aid kit keeps the swelling to my lips and I can still breathe freely, though I look like a Kardashian for the rest of the day.
The bad always comes with some good. The day of the hornet incident, Faez and I meet Alexis, from France, who is cycling Montreal to Vancouver, and that night in Nipigon the three of us see the northern lights for the first time. Entering Thunder Bay I get the first flat tire of my trip, but then a van pulls over while I patch it and the driver offers cold bottles of water, and a friendly road cyclist changes his training route to guide us tourists into town.
Faez, Alexis and I often ride and camp as a pack, though sometimes the boys go off together and I enjoy my solitude. I cross into the Central Time Zone and the Northern Arctic Watershed. Upsala, Ignace, Dryden, and many many hills are put behind me. I meet Dean, who is riding Toronto to Vancouver, and who wins the award for most gear fit onto a bicycle – his set up even includes scuba flippers!
The province seems to want to leave an impression and keeps up the challenging hills until the end. Overall, I gain more elevation in Ontario than I will in Alberta and BC combined! In Kenora, I reward myself with a pass to the local aquatic centre for swimming, sauna, and a much-needed shower before enjoying some beer and nachos at a brew pub while my clothes visit the laundromat. The next day – at last! – I reach Manitoba!