Day 2 – Richards Landing to Thunder Bay 750 km
I woke at 6 am, and hit the road early. The landlady had told me by text (I never met her in person) of a truck stop near ‘the Sault’. I rolled through the sleeping town, and over the bridge, barely disturbing three deer browsing beside the road. Half an hour later I filled my belly at the Husky Restaurant, a chain of truck stops across northern Ontario.
It took quite a while to get through Sault St Marie on my way north to Thunder Bay. I had 750 km to cover, so I was anxious to make time. After some very moosey looking stretches through typical northern Ontario forest, the road began to rise and fall. Some of the hills stretched on forever, and combined with sweeping curves. I started to catch glimpses of Lake Superior here and there. It’s hard to believe it’s a freshwater lake – the scale of it is tremendous. In some of the dips the road came close to the lake, nearly at water level. At other times, I was 500 to 1000 feet above the lake, looking over the vast expanse of blue water and islands. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road. After about 2 hours, I reached the south end of Lake Superior Provincial Park. I stopped at a couple of scenic lookouts to take pictures, but the fact is, the entire road is a scenic lookout, and I soon passed by several more lookouts. I did regret not stopping at a couple, recognizing some great missed photo opportunities. But I had a long way to go, and the construction zones were still plentiful. I didn’t want to ride in the dark.
I stopped for French fries and gas in White River, and then rose up into a beautiful series of long curves in some foggy mountain terrain as I neared the north section of the lake. I reached the beautiful town of Terrace Bay and stopped for a coffee and a butt break. At a coffee shop in a little mall overlooking the lake, I had my first of several interesting encounters.
“Where are ya heading?” said a middle aged man behind me in line. I guess it was obvious from my bike outside that the answer wasn’t ‘across town’.
“British Columbia”, I said.
“Oh, so are we”, he said, indicating his wife was coming too.
“Where are ya coming from?”, he said.
“Pembroke”, I said, “It’s a little town about 100 miles north west of Ottawa.”
“I lived in Pembroke for a few years, back in the mid 70s”, he said. “I taught at the local high school. Champlain High”.
“Oh, I went to Champlain High in the mid 70s.” I had this feeling he looked familiar, though I don’t think I’d taken his class.
“Wow, small world.”
“Yeah, really”, I said. “I’m actually going to Comox, on Vancouver Island. My daughter and grandkids are there. My son-in-law is in the military and got posted there”.
“We’re heading to Comox too! Meeting some friends there and touring the island.”
And so it goes. A couple of questions – where ya heading?, where ya coming from?, and next thing you’re talking to an old high school teacher, or somebody who knows somebody who used to live near you, or has a cousin from there. It made me realize, that Canada is huge, and Canada is small. Great distances, but only a handful of people, relatively speaking, so we all know somebody who knows somebody who knows you.
People were often astounded when I told them I was going on this trip alone. It was like they felt sorry for me, instead of excited at the prospect. But travelling solo doesn’t mean travelling alone. It doesn’t mean days on end not speaking a word to anyone, unless you’re crossing Antarctica. And also, if you really didn't talk to anybody for a couple of days - would it really be that bad? That’s what motorcycling is about. As much as the riding, it’s a chance to clear your head.
About four in the afternoon, I pulled into another Timmies about 100 miles from Thunder Bay for coffee and WiFi. I intended to find a campsite but checked BnB prices just in case. Amazingly, a couple calling themselves “bikers” were offering a room to other “bikers” passing through – for $22. I wasn’t sure if I was actually a “biker”, considering myself more of a ‘motorcyclist’, since “biker” conjures up images of leather vests, burly arms and tattoos, of which I have none. I booked it, and got on the bike.
Near Thunder Bay, I stopped at another scenic lookout, really high above the lake, and exceptionally spectacular. Then I blew past the Terry Fox memorial, instantly regretting it, because I consider him a real Canadian hero. Hell, a world class hero. Some chow at a McDonald’s in Thunder bay staved off impending hunger, and I picked up a couple of beers.
Well, the “bikers” turned out to be “motorcyclists” after all and actually my kind of motorcyclist – Dave with a Goldwing, and Karen with a middleweight Suzuki. They were full of stories of the road. I spent four interesting hours talking with them, with Vivi sheltered safely in their garage, then hit the hay for another early morning start. That night, it rained like hell while I slept, the only rain I got on the entire trip!