Sunday, June 27, 2010

Towards Saskatoon

Saturday 26th June 2010.

Was woken this morning at 0500 with the rumble of thunder and pattering of rain on the tent. At 0700 was woken again with the sound of softballs coming over the wall and landing around us. The skies are big in Saskatoon and things seem to fall out of them, but first I will tell you how we got here.

We ended up spending 4 nights at the Pukaskwa National Park and what a beautiful place it was. Walking along trails over the headlands and beaches covered with trees washed up on the shore either because their roots have been undermined by water, or they were products of logging; tree trunks cut to 8ft lengths which used to be transported by river, often fell in to the lake, as a result there must be thousands of them which have been floating around for decades, and just get washed up. It was a ghostly sight which looked like a mass of bleached dinosaur bones, smoothed by gentle pumicing of the water, and randomly piled on top of one another. We thought we would become beach dwellers for a while, and on coming upon a small dwelling, just a few feet from the mesmeric lapping of waves, and styled from the flotsam and jetsam, of the beach, instantly fell in love with it and moved in. Robinson Crusoe eat your heart out!
It was great to be able to stretch our legs and give our poor behinds a rest from sitting for long hours on the bike. The weather was great, rained at night and the days were sunny but not too hot. Experienced our first 'Lake Superior storm' which can come up very quickly, with thunder, lightning and torrential ran but they don't seem to last that long. The camp hosts Lucy and Frank Spence were very helpful and let us use their satellite internet connection, which enabled us to do some work on the blog. If you want to know what it's like to live full time in a RV you could check out their blog at for an insight. The camp sites so far provide a picnic table and fire pit, logs so we can light a fire, and cook over a naked flame, and bagged ice,and keep fresh foods cool. The picnic table is brill 'cos we don't have to scrabble around on the floor coking etc. Although there is ample wood in the parks, it is illegal to forage for it, you have to buy a small bundle which lasts about a night for around $7-8. So far we haven't really bothered apart from at our first camp site where wood was free, and Sioux Narrows where we treated ourselves. The ice is a good idea, but we have no means of storage so have to put up with melted sweaty cheese, limp warm lettuce and milk powder (it's hard on the road). The money raised by selling wood or ice, goes to wards the 'friends of the park' who volunteer to keep it running. So it is a worthwhile cause.

Buying food is tricky all round not least because of storage on the bike, and keeping it fresh, but also because everything in the supermarkets is 'supersized'. It is virtually impossible to buy small anything; a small fresh orange juice, or a single small let alone plain yoghurt (they like things sweet here), a small slice of cheese, a small bag of lettuce (aka almost any UK supermarket which charges a small fortune for a few leaves), a small packet of tofu; indeed anything that is not prepared to feed a small army during a long siege. Some places sell pieces of fresh veg which is great, but whatever we buy, there is just too much. Nevertheless we wade our way through it determined not to waste anything, and in the hope that any mouldy bits (which usually appear after a day or so in this heat) strengthen our immunity. On top of that my 1 ring wonders, are more a triumph of simplicity over largesse. I sense that I have to learn to let go of my inner foodie on this trip and see meals as a means to and end and not an end in itself.

David here. Not really too sure what our relationship with the blog and in fact even our travels are at present. We drive all day, not really stopping much because they isn't much to stop for in this part of the world. Camp, cook and move on next day to get to somewhere we are going to stop for a while. But we don't get round to doing the blog and then it builds up to be a manmouth task. We have a week to catch up with now, sitting in the shade of the tent in the overflow site of the Gordon Howe Campsite in Saskatoon and it feels a pressure rather than a joy. It's something I really want to do, keep a journal of our travels and to share it with those that are interested is an added bonus, but how we are doing it isn't proving to be easy. Spent 2 hours at Starbucks in Winnipeg downloading the photos of the last entry, but that was a joy as we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes on the camp site.

We seem to be rushing our travels too. We have been gone 7 weeks and I feel very tied never quite recharging when we stop. We both thought it would be great to go to the BMWOA rally in Redmond on the 15th July but that seems to be driving us on in an unconscious way that isn't letting us rest. Why are we travelling? Is it just to cross Canada and then head south? The experience has been amazing. Being in the vast spaces has been a real pleasure but it is now time to re-valuate as I feel rather burnt out by it all. Travellers talk about the people that makes travelling worthwhile, and we have met some very kind and helpful ones on our journey so far, but the interactions seem quite superficial. Maybe that is the Psychotherapist bit of me that I haven't been able to let go yet. Just some thoughts.

We left Pukaskwa and carried on the 17 Trans Canadian highway towards Thunder Bay . We stopped at Terrace Bay to see a rather dissappointing waterfall
before travelling onto Rossport for some lunch. The local hot spot for eating offered Lake Trout as the special which we both feel upon eagerly, but it turned out to be fried in batter which seemed to have destroyed what flavour it might have had.

The Terry Fox Scenic Lookout was our next stop. He inspired Canada and rightly so with his strength and determination. He ran 26 miles a day (a marathon) on a wooden leg from St John's in Newfoundland until he was unable to carry on due to his cancer in Thunder Bay. We camped that night at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park and after another '1 ring wonder' and a walk to the falls we slept well and uneventfully.

Dawn broke long before we were awake, but once up and packed we traversed a time Zone and gained an hour on our way along the 11 towards Fort Frances . Stopped in Atikokan for some lunch materials. At the shop we met someone from South Shield who wanted to tell us what it was like to live in England and the shop assistant who had just come back from spending 3 weeks with a friend in Tyneside. We introduced them to each other as they had only lived in the same town for the last 40 years. As with Wawa mining was a major sorce of wealth for these small towns, but no longer. They all have a feel of having seen better days,taking up a large footprint on the earth because they can, and most things looking unfinished. Having filled up with petrol at around a dollar a litre and a coffee at a dollar fifty for about half that quantity we set off to Fort Frances which is the smelliest town we have yet come across with a big wood paper factory. Most of the other paper factories we have come across have been closed so I suppose having employment in the town was worth the smell.

Passing through quickly we headed up the 71 to Sioux Narrows Provincial Park . We wanted to go paddling while in the lakes and were told that we could rent a canoe at the park. We had looked at various outfitters, they are people that will equip you for a trip into the back country ,supply everything from canoe to a plane to get you into the middle of no where, but they had seem rather expensive for just a day trip. Nothing too adventurous for us the first time out. Our luck was in and Bev the manager furnished us with a fine aluminium example that only leaked slightly . We were also given life jackets and an emergency pack containing a bailer, whistle with rope, light but no batteries to power it and paddles. We had a beautiful pitch down by the 'Lake of the Woods', and the next morning we rose with excitement for our paddling adventure. We followed the shore line going west towards the village of Sioux Narrows. Our dragon boat training we had in Montreal was paying off. Jill paddled hard at the front and I was able to take it easy at the back all done in perfect time. Got some provisions, had the most expensive sweetened french fries ever and met Bob at the liquor store while buying Coors light (fizzy piss so Jill says). Have to go back some day as Bob has offered us a ride in his boat. We paddled back into the lake and beached on a small island for lunch. Things started to look a bit gray and before long it was raining. Undeterred we stroked off at full speed back to the camp to take shelter and rest after so much activity. Later once the rain had passed we ventured out again and explored eastward. A great day was had on the inky black waters of the 'Lake of the Woods', with more contact with the wild life.

The next day we travelled on through Kenora having rejoined the 17 into Manitoba. Not wanting to go in a straight line on a dual carriageway we decided to take the 44 to the north of Winnipeg where we were going to stay in the Birds Hill Provincial Park . The first thing we noticed on arrival was the mosquitoes, the second thing the mosquitoes and the third thing, well yes the mosquitoes. There were millions. Donning our bee keepers nets that we had brought for occasions like this, we placed the tent in the dries place we could find. Just after we had finished pitching the wind got up and before long it was thundering and lightening like only seems to happen over here. Huge drops of rain were bouncing off the ground with an occasional stronger ping on the tent roof. Rain gave way to Hail the biggest being about 1” in dia and all the others not being much smaller. We were getting a bit concerned as the water level was rising around and under the tent. Getting dressed up in our waterproof biking stuff, ready to put on our crash helmet to prevent brain damage we stoically hung in there until it all stopped as quickly as it had started. Venturing out into a white landscape we came across, yes you guessed it, even more mosquitoes. A truly unpleasant experience. 2 things learnt from this . 1; Mosquitoes can bite through clothes and 2; Deet ,even 100% , doesn't work 100%.Jill looks like she has chicken pox poor thing.

The trouble with getting on a bit and camping is that quite often you have to get up in the middle of the night to get rid of what your body refused to let go of when it should have just before you tucked yourself up for the night. This can be an inconvenience at the best of times but when faced with a low drone just the other side of the mosquitoes net, it can bring you out in a cold sweat at the thoughts of what might happen to those more vulnerable parts.

The next day, fighting off even more mosquitoes (the word had got around and distant relations had been invited to the feast) we sped off on Nancy to spend some time in Winnipeg, well Starbucks actually as mentioned earlier.
We couldn't face going back to cook so we had a very pleasant Chinese before a walk around the 'Forks' area of Winnipeg. The next day, with far less mosquitoes blurring ones vision, we bid a hasty retreat towards Saskatchewan.Canada is having one of it wettest summers on record and the Trans Canadian Highway around Medicine Hat had been washed away so we decided to go the northern route to via Saskatoon. The change in landscape from the rocky outcrops of Northern Ontario to the flat planes of Manitoba and Saskatchewan is very marked and happens quite quickly. One minute you are riding on a nice windey road the next there isn't a bend for the next 30 miles. The drive along the 16 'Yellowhead route was very uneventful and we pulled into Russell 16kms short of the boarder as dark thunder clouds were forming. Having checked out the local motels and found them rather expensive, we drove around town looking for a B&B and were taken to the 'Boulton Manor' where we procured lodgings for the night with DIY breakfast thrown in.
We had some damp problems with the ground sheet of the tent. It wasn't leaking but clothes felt damp if left on the ground overnight. We brought some silicon spray and while at 'Boulton Manor' managed to use their porch to spray the inside and outside of the groundsheet. Seems to have worked. We have been through some intense rain and the top is holding out well so we are now ready for anything. Watched a bit of the Denmark vs Japan football match on television. Couple of good goals by Japan but I don't really understand 'football fever'. Wont mention the mosquitoes.

Carried on the 16 the next day. Stopped at the Tourist information at the border and for some reason rang up a camp sight to book a place in Saskatoon. We were told that they were flooded out. Rang another and they were full, third time lucky, they had space in there overflow lot so booked a place. From empty camp sites, this was one of the busiest weekends in Saskatoon as there is a Jazz festival on for the week and 4000 Jehovah's Witnesses were in town for a convention. It's strange how things happen and I don't know why we rang looking for a site but glad we did.

The drive was uneventful, listening to Agatha Christie on the ipod, with straight roads and the sky opening out all around you. There seem to be layers of clouds here that look very different to England. Why the sky should look bigger I have no idea but it does.

We Arrived at the Gordon Howe camp ground at around 1800 and set up camp, ate another '1 ring wonder' and fell into sleep to be woken in the morning by thunder and softballs!

Bye for now.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Montreal to Lake Superior

Thursday night we were invited to dine with Judee's friends Shorty and Ken, very generous people with big hearts. Having trimmed the wisteria and got the blog up to date and fixed the bike (fuse blown and carb tune), Judee drove us to her cottage on Lake Bowker for the weekend. It's about 100 miles East of Montreal just short of Sherbrooke . Really beautiful place set in a time warp. Managed to go on a short paddle with Judee on Saturday afternoon before the rain set in. Woke Sunday morning to heavy rain and strong winds. Put on our waterproof biking gear and went for a walk looking at the new developments around the lake. JG, who rents the cottage next door, joined us and got his 3rd pair of pants wet that morning. Arrived back soaked and cold but inspired by the beauty. On the return journey when to Magog to look at the lake and stopped at a great Patisserie for provisions.
Monday saw us drive into Montreal to visit the 'mountain', more a hill really but has a great view over the city. Stopped off on the way back for Jill to buy another essential bit of clothing, before visiting the Parc de Rapide on our way to a goodbye Chinese meal with Shorty,Ken and their daughter Kelly. It was good as was the company.
Dawn, well late morning, saw us all packed up and having said our deepest thanks to Judee for looking after us so well we headed off to Ottawa . Stopped at the Ontario Tourist office for a map and some lunch when the skies opened and we found ourselves huddled under the umbrella waiting for the deluge to pass. Made it to the Rideau Heights camp site and after another '1 ring wonder' from Jillie we headed into Ottawa to have a look around. The evening is a great time to visit a city , as it's easy to park and it's not too busy. Walked up to the Parliament building, which looks like a Gothic Big Ben, to be told that they were doing a press showing of a new 'sight and sound' show using the Parliament building as the screen and that it would start at 9.15 but keep it quiet as it hadn't been publicised. We wondered around taking photos, looking at the Rideau canal
and getting a Starbucks coffee before taking our places on the lawn in front of the building at 9.15. Lights flashed up and were focused and the sky got darker and at 9.45 the most amazing show started charting the history of Canada called Mosaik. It went on for 45 mins and will have nightly shows from 8th July. Felt very privileged to see the show on the 8th June. It was like they put it on just for our short stay in the Capital!

Next day we set off towards Niagara. We had decided to go via the US rather than having to retrace our footsteps round Toronto, so set a course for the 1000 Islands. It started to rain, I took and wrong turn and we ended up in Kingston having missed the shore road and the islands. Jumped on the free ferry to Wolfe island and onto another for $7 that took us into the US. At customs the bike was checked, fingerprints were taken and forms were filled before we were relieved of $12 and free to go. We set off from Cape Vincent into very damp grey weather looking for some shelter to have lunch. Half hour later I pulled up in a old barn were the owner must have just gone for afternoon tea leaving his dog behind. For some reason Jill was not impressed with this lunch spot and we headed back to Cape Vincent to order a veggie burger that was 'off today' so fish and french fries it was.
Setting off into more rain and even greyer skies (and we were told the sun alway shone in the US) we drove to the Maplegrove B&B at Sterling ( where Gisela, and a variety of dogs, gave us a very warm welcome, inviting us out of the cold and damp conditions. A pot of tea and a delicious and ample slice of quiche with all manner of dead livestock contained therein (may all beings be happy) was promptly produced and may I say, devoured hungrily! OK so we are trying to be non-meat eaters!
As we glanced around the kitchen we saw shelves of home made preserves, bottles of various shapes and sizes containing plump fruits wallowing in something syrupy, and wool spinning. It seems Gisela is a very busy woman. Before retiring to bed, Gisela enquired about our breakfast preference. David's request for cereal caused Gisela to turn up her nose, so we figured this was not an option. We decided to just see how we felt in the morning. After a warm and comfortable nights sleep we were treated to another culinary treat by Gisela. We delivered ourselves into the kitchen for breakfast to find Walter, Gisela's husband reading the local paper. We exchanged greetings and were treated to a somewhat robust exposition of Republicanism: aka George W Bush-shoot first cos they're bound to be hiding W of MD, and an interesting philosophy for a Lutheran Minister. Gisela on the other hand is a Democrat and thinks Barrack Obama is the best thing since sliced bread-which must provoke some lively dinner party talk.
As we seated ourselves at the kitchen table and a dainty bowl of grapes each (well enough to feed a small family!), and a couple of toasted baps, we glanced at one another-things were looking good. Then with only a small flourish Gisela who had been beavering away in the kitchen, presented a veritable work of art: an omelette the size of a small whale. We did our best but only managed to make a dent in 2 small slices. Not deterred, Gisela, then produced toasted brioche and home made preserves. A truly wonderful feast and definitely a very good reason for choosing a B&B over a dingy Motel.

Well rested and fed we set off (10th June 2010) into grey looking skies, but luckily no rain heading west. But not before Gisela informed us that she grows her own fruit and some veg; used to have a variety of sheep and lamas, but now buys her meat from a local supplier, and makes her own dog food. I cast my mind back to the quiche and the omelette stuffed full of meaty bits.
The drive was very pleasant along good roads just set back from Lake Ontario Link. Stopped for lunch in a New York state park with miles of cut grass fronting the lake. Nothing seems to happen in the parks until the kids break up at the end of June so we have found the parks empty which has been very pleasant. You are supposed to pay entrance but there hasn't been anybody around to pay. Shame that! The Sun was coming out and we carried on West stopping at another park for tea and a nap. We arrived at Camping Niagara to be told it would cost us $35 for a very small pitch, no where to wash dishes in hot water, situated in a triangle boarded by a main road (4 lanes), a railway and an airport. RV's were stacked with only room for a picnic table space between them, (all the private campsites (it seems) are near main roads and railways) but the Chinese owners kept it very clean.
The Next morning in sunshine we set off to the falls. Wanting $10 to park the bike at the state park site we decided to pull up beside some Harley's,whose owners were a bit of an unfriendly lot. I probably judge them harshly as they well might have been deaf and vibrated to mush having travelled quite a way from Minnesota.
We spent the next 5 hours doing the tourist thing. It's mind blowing how much water goes over the falls. I can't remember the exact amount but it's something like 1\2 million gallons a second. Both the Americans and the Canadians have taken off a lot of water for Hydro so like most things, 'It aint what it used to be'. Went down to the 'Cave of the Winds' which is under the American falls Link and got very wet despite our yellow plastic ponchos. In the $11 entry they give you a poncho and a pair of sandals. They had given out about 10,000 by the time we went down! It was unclear how they were recycled if at all.
Walking through the park gave us time to dry off before we embarked on the 'Maid of the Mist' in our blue ponchos. Our boat was 'Maid of the Mist 5' and we got even wetter underneath the roaring Horseshoe Falls.

The observation tower, which houses the lift that takes you to boat level gives you great views and a slight sense of vertigo.
Headed back to the Camp site were Jill concocted another 'One-ring wonder' (book to follow), before travelling back to the falls for the light show and fire works that happens on Friday night . Waiting for the crowds to clear to take in the peace of the night we eventually retreated back to the camp site happy bunnies.

The next day we broke camp having had breakfast and a shower and headed back to Canada for a look at the falls from that side
before heading north, into what we had been told was the wilderness of North Ontario (well after you get a long way past Toronto that is).
Travelled through light rain on 10 lane highways past Toronto, which despite having one of the Tallest building in the world, we couldn't see. At around 6 we started to look for places to rest our heads. We have kind of made an spoken decision that if it is raining and wet we will get a B&B or Motel and if dry we will camp. It was still wet so we were on the hunt for a roof but by the time we got to Washago on the 11 we hadn't found an inn or even a stable! Wild camping it would have to be, but we had found that it was very difficult to find places that you could get access from the road. Looking at every possibility as we travelled northward we eventual came to the Hillbilly camp site south of Gravenhurst. A friendly place run by Dutch people with a good diner just up the road that served and very good omelette and home fries. The Camp site had a country 'n western dance that night, but it seemed you had to wear a Stetson and we were tired so we declined the offer.

Waking unrefreshed as we seem to do quite a lot while camping, with aching bones and puffy eyes, and even more mossie bites (don't want you all to think it all wonderful here) we headed off north along the 169 to join the Trans Canadian Highway towards Greater Sudbury. To our eventual stopping place for the night of the Windy Lake Provincial Park. The place was very empty with I think only one other set of campers and despite it's name was very still.

Heading on along the 144 we turned left onto the Sultan Industrial road, a private gravel track open to public access. This road stretches for 80Km before joining the tarmac again at Sultan. It was an interesting ride at times over loose sand and corrugations that made your teeth chatter, but Nancy held up well. Saw a large Black bear walking across the road in front of us. Didn't seem to want to eat Jillie which she is convinced bears want to do. We came to a stop by the railway line ( they have some strange trains here) just before the end of the track in some deep sand and dropped the bike. We weren't moving at the time, so no damage to us or the bike, but have scored our first down!

Onto Chapleau, the gateway to the largest game reserve in the world, for some provisions. The park looked inviting but the camping was another 80 kms down a dirt track so I made a drivers decision that 80 kms of dirt driving was enough for a day and headed for the Shoals provincial park. On the 101 (Biking heaven). The camp site was again completely empty apart from a couple of caravans that had seasonal pitches and were left there through out the summer. Peace, tranquillity and the wildlife

Wednesday 16th June 2010 saw us setting off Towards the Pukaskwa National Park where we thought we would hang out for a few days. (This travels stuff is exhausting). Carried on the 101 listening to Pink Floyd through mile after mile of trees, on beautiful smooth tarmac with very little traffic (nothing over took us and only 4 cars the other way in 100 Kms). The sense of space is amazing and I love it. Pulled into Wawa were we stopped for a Subway coffee. Subway seem to be everywhere in Canada along with Tim Horton. As we were finishing our drinks the Mayor, Howard Whent introduces himself and spends the next ½ hour telling us about the town. Went to see some of the sights he recommended The Goose, Michipicoten Marina and
The Silver falls, which were down stream and not as large as the High falls that we didn't get too. While having lunch in the marina area we met the owner who gave a very different picture of life in Wawa. The river was down 3 or 4 feet as the water had been redirected by the hydro company,so that boats couldn't get into the marina. This had cut off the salmon migration and the fishing. The mines had all closed down and logging was in recession due to the US putting an import tax on timber to save there own industry. A rather depressing outlook for the future of small towns that have been built up on some industry that is now no longer viable.
We travelled on past White River where Winnie the Poo came from (not many people know that) to Marathon with a population of 3700 to buy provisions for the next 3 days camping in the Pukaskwa National Park. The bike ended up looking like a 'bag lady' with things hanging of it for the final 30 Kms drive through Pic River to the camp ground 4500 miles after leaving Plymouth.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Hi David here,

Arrived at Judee's and haven't been made more welcome since I was born. Had a beautiful ride down the southern shore of the St.Lawrence. Jill has decided that camping isn't for her so we have been looking at up grades. I love riding the bike so we are looking at compromises.
The bike fully loaded handles a bit like a shopping trolley at slow speeds but with this upgrade it was more like a grand piano on a 1 in 4 hill!!. oh well maybe we will have to stick to the tent.

Sunday was Judee's daughters 21st birthday party which was a great way to meet some really lovely people. Meet Judee our most generous host, Linny whose birthday it was
and some of the lovely people of Montreal who have made our stay so special . Jill got into the swing of things and a very good night was had by all..

Having done all our washing and gone through our bags for the 20th time trying to see what we didn't need, we headed off to explore Montreal. Doesn't have the old world charm of Quebec but is a thriving modern city with 30 Kms of underground shopping! The Cathedral was very highly painted .

The French are known for their culinary taste but somehow the only true bi-lingual nation that claims deep French connection has missed the point with it local delicacy of poutine, chips, curd cheese and gravy, Mmmmmmmm!

The next day we started writing this blog up in earnest. We were 2 weeks behind. as you can see it was a thrilling time for us both.

The next day went shopping and filled our bags up with much more useful stuff than the large parcel we are sending home (Purple really is my colour so I couldn't resist!) Went Dragon boat paddling which was great fun on the lake. Beautiful sunset that has been enhanced by all the smoke in the air from the forest fires in Northern Quebec.

Had a very scrumptious meal at Ken and Shorty's (see party picture) Her special cookies are much sought after, and Shorty promised Jill her recipe for her goat cheese preserve, a taste bud extravaganza.

Off to Judee's cottage about an hour and a half away near Sherbrooke for the weekend. Jill has another sort throat which is laying her under poor thing.