This post is a compilation of my daily field notes on Facebook. If you would like to see them daily, you can follow me here.
Day 48 – June 7 – Walk Across Canada
It’ll give you a little scenario and you tell me what you would do. It’s just before sunset and you’ve finished your walking distance for the day and there are plenty of spots to camp. But in front of you is a ginormous uphill. Will you walk to the top of the hill before looking for a campsite, or take one of the sites already available to you? Climb the hill before bedtime, or save it for the morning? (I’m sure this has some kind a deep psychological meaning). I’ll tell you what I did at the end.
It’s the little things that make a walk across Canada so different from a drive across Canada (insert black-fly joke here). Yesterday, as I was nearing Marathon, Ontario, I heard an unfamiliar sound. It was the cheep of a baby bird, but a large baby bird, something I don’t think I’d heard before. At the time, I was walking past a large cliff that had been cut out during the building of the highway. I looked up. Nestled on a ledge right under a rock overhang was a large nest. I couldn’t see the baby bird inside, even from a few different angles, but I could hear it. It’s that time of the year that the babies will start to take wing. Wish I could have seen him, whatever he was.
And today, walking along, I heard the joyful sound of a tiny waterfall. Just to my left, trickling down over the rock cliff was a tiny waterfall no bigger than a pencil. And yet it was beautiful and the sound was lovely.
These are not things we would notice from a car, or maybe even from a bicycle. So I treasure them all the more.
I heard some branches breaking in the woods down to my left. I stopped to look, hoping to see a moose. But no. It was just a big black bear. How disappointing. Hehe.
Well, it’s the first bear I’ve seen on this trip, and since he stopped and looked my way, I didn’t linger. As I walked past, I said softly, “Easy, Bear, easy; just passing through. Don’t look at me. Look at those nice berries.”
I ate some food at a lookout point with a picnic table. There, I noticed someone had written down a website, www [dot] acrossmycountry [dot] com.
Was it a message from a fellow cross-Canada traveler? I checked the website and sure enough it was. In 2015, a woman rode her bike across Canada while her parents and seven-year-old son followed in a vehicle. Just goes to show you that no matter what your life situation is, you can make your dreams come true.
My pace slowed to 6 kms/hr today. So it took a full 10 hours, instead of 9:25, to complete 60 kms. This is because of the hills. I walked up and down hills. All. Day. Long.
Long hills, short hills, steep hills, curvy hills, some with paved shoulders, some without. For the first time, I can say I feel like I’ve had a solid workout. I’ve been eating frequently throughout the day, but it’s hard to say if I’ve replaced all the calories I’ve burned. Al isn’t any worse for wear. He still weighs the same as when we started. He’s got a steady metabolism.
I’m sitting on a rock on the side of the highway eating some peanut butter sandwiches. Here’s how I eat them: pick up sandwich, lift bug net, insert sandwich in mouth, take bite, remove sandwich, replace bug net, chew sandwich and any black flies that attached themselves to it. It’s a good system, really.
Ok, I’m in Terrace Bay now at Subway. Trying to get some healthy calories in me. 69 kms so far and I still need to get out of town. Until tomorrow.
To answer the opening question, last night, I opted to climb the hill, hoping to camp with a view of Lake Superior. No luck. I walked for another 4 kms before I found a suitable spot. Sigh.
Day 49 – June 8 – Walk Across Canada
My favourite time of day for walking right now is the first two hours, from about 6:00 – 8:00 am. The weather is cool, the traffic is light, my feet are fresh, the sun is starting to peak out over the hills, and the bugs are virtually non-existent.
Almost like clockwork, the first black flies catch up to me at 8:00. So I put on my sunglasses to prevent them from doing the suicide dive into my eyes. It’s not always easy removing black-fly carcasses from my eyes. I don’t have a mirror, as you can tell when you see my hair, so I end up gouging my eyes in desperation to find the bits and pieces of of the carcass. So it’s best just to try to keep them out. Glasses work because the blinking reflex isn’t fast enough to stop a suicidal black fly without them. If they have to try to get behind the lens, then the blinking reflex can keep them out of the tear pool.
By 8:05, the black flies become bothersome, so I put on my hat. That works for a few minutes, but by 8:10, I’ve dug into my back pocket for the bug net.
So the first two hours of the day are best. And this morning, the first two hours went by like a breeze. Almost on the two-hour mark, I arrived in the town of Schreiber, famous for being home to boxer Domenic “Hollywood” Filane, 10-time Canadian champion and 2-time Olympian. The time went by so quickly, I only just finished my 20th rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “Swinging on a Star” before I got there. I always forget the words to the verse about the mule so I make them up.
“A mule is an animal with long funny ears,
He likes to drink a lot of beers…”. That sort of thing.
I didn’t mention this yesterday, but because I saw the same today, here you go. I passed three highway workers sitting in a truck doing nothing. Later, when I was taking a break near a bridge, they edged up to the bridge on the other side, sat in the truck for fifteen minutes, and then reluctantly dragged themselves from the vehicle. All three were about my age, two with beer bellies. Two grabbed shovels and one grabbed a broom. “This should be interesting,” I thought. One guy, the guy without the beer belly, started shoveling the dirt along the edge of the bridge. Slow, deliberate work. The guy with the broom pretended to sweep a bit, then just stood there doing nothing, leaning on the broom. The other guy with the shovel threw two scoops of dirt over the side, then wandered to my side of the bridge to watch the waterfalls, then lit up a cigarette and sat on the side of the highway. Finally the guy who was shoveling just stopped and leaned in his shovel.
What a jolly good show this was! Reality television at its best. People making good wages pretending to work. Sorry, but did I say “pretending to work”? I meant to say “not even pretending to work”. They wouldn’t even make an effort for a watching bystander. Lordy, what entertainment! Much better than making shadow animals to amuse myself.
Finally, I had my fill and walked on. Later, their truck stopped at a garbage pull-out a half-kilometer ahead. No one left the vehicle. I guess it was their time for a break.
Don’t confuse these three stooges with the contractor guys working on widening the highways. Those contract guys were working their butts off.
At a picnic spot just outside Rossport, I saw three young people sit down at a picnic table with some food, immediately start waving their hands in front of their faces, and then grab their food and run back to their car. Yep, welcome to Northern Ontario in June.
I stopped for bread at a First Nations gas station. I asked the woman working there how her day was going so far.
Me: Your day is itchy?
Woman: Yes, from the black flies.
Me: Oh, I see. When does the black-fly season end?
Woman: Oh, they’ll be around for a while. But then come the sand flies. They’re worse.
Me: Sand flies? 😳
Woman: Yes. But the mosquitoes are the itchiest by far
After I left, I thought that, no, poison ivy is the itchiest by far.
I just climbed another massive hill, one of many again today. Another 6 kms/hr day. I haven’t had a signal since Schreiber, but when I got to the top of this hill, there was a radio tower. So I better take advantage and post this.
Make it a great day, my friends.
Day 50 – June 9 – Walk Across Canada
Wow. Day 50. Where has the time gone?
Everywhere I stop, people are talking about the black flies and mosquitoes. “Worst crop I’ve seen in two decades”, I heard one guy say. The four guys sitting at the table at Dunkn Donuts were talking about the bugs, and the four guys that replaced them were talking about the bugs. When I stopped at a lodge for supper, the first thing the proprietor said was, “The bugs are pretty bad.” Uh, yeah. Got they right, brother.
So far, I think I’ve been lucky, especially because of the bug net. But last night, the black flies were the worst ever, even attacking my arms and legs. I put insect repellent on, but that only deterred them for ten minutes. Reapply, and then after another ten minutes, they were back. There was just no escaping them. I even started feeling phantom bites inside my bug screen until I realized I had a hole in it and was actually being bitten. I patched the hole along the seam with a piece of tape for now. I hope it holds until I can replace it in Thunder Bay.
I spent my high school years in Northern Ontario, and I remember having fun times in the summer without bugs. So there should be an end to this eventually. Right now, there’s no fun to be had anywhere outdoors. You can’t have a picnic; you can’t sit on the beach and enjoy the view; you can’t even get out of your vehicle at a view point for more than 30 seconds before you are inundated by these bugs. Everywhere I look at these rest stops, people are waving their hands in front of their faces. Same with the highway workers.
Last night, I found a camping spot and had a rough time getting the tent up because of the attack of the bugs. And I had just applied mosquito repellent prior to setting up the tent. These bugs are ferocious. Yes, FEROCIOUS. When I got inside the tent and prepared the air mattress, I just collapsed on it. Then I started killing the dozen or so black flies that managed to come
inside with me. Darn flies. I probably won’t be able to donate blood for another two months now after last night’s attack.
Al just laughs at me because the bugs don’t bother him. So now I’m in a restaurant and I parked Kitty right outside my window. Whenever I take a bite of something, I first show the forkful to Al so he can see what he’s missing. He likes cheese omelets, so I let those forkfuls linger longer. Haha. Sucker. Just wait until I order ice cream.
I have a feeling that one day Al will annoy me just a little too much, and then I’ll go too far and tell him he’s made out of plastic. Ouch. That’ll be crossing the line. Hehe.
There were highs and lows today (insert joke about hills here). On the one hand, I met some great people, and on the other hand, two more vehicles whipped past my right shoulder as they passed vehicles behind me. Grrr.
I met a couple, Earl and Bea, in their thirties, who are cycling from Victoria to Saint John’s. They told me that there is another cross-country walker heading east who they passed in Saskatchewan. He’s carrying a pack. Hope I meet him. They also said the ticks are really bad in Manitoba.
About twenty minutes later, I met Jerry Gill, who is cycling from Calgary to Prince Edward Island. He had received a tick bite to the neck, so he went for blood work in Kenora. No antibiotics needed, thankfully. I like Jerry. He’s got the least expensive kit that money can buy, and it takes up a lot of space on his bike. But he’s such a happy guy. Nothing bothers him, not even the black flies that were buzzing all around him while I chatted with him through my bug net. I told him about the problem with vehicles passing other vehicles behind me. He said it’s no different for a cyclist. It happens so quickly, you don’t have time to react because you aren’t expecting it. But, whatever, life is still great. Nothing will undermine Jerry’s enthusiasm. What a great guy.
It’s so awesome to meet other members of the cross-Canada tribe. They really lift my spirits, kind of a “we’re all in this together” attitude. It’s lovely.
I’m in Nipigon. A billboard said it’s home to the smallest Canadian Tire in Canada. It’s motto: We may be small, but we can get it all. I thought I might buy another couple of bug nets there, but I can’t find it. Perhaps it’s very, very small indeed.
Time to psych up. I’m off to brave the bugs for another three hours before I can hide from them in my tent.