Quebec and Ontario shared a unique status on my Bike Trek: They were huge— two to three times the size of Texas. Each took over a week to bicycle across and each had a lot of no-where miles, long distances between towns. Northern Quebec won the prize, however, for being the most remote. As I bicycled south and picked up Quebec Route 117, larger towns reappeared at more frequent intervals. Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda were close to being small cities.
Crossing into Ontario, smaller communities were the rule. Ten thousand people constituted a major metropolis. Larder Lake, the first community I biked through in Ontario, had a population of around 1000 in 1989. It had dropped to 700 when Peggy and I drove through in May. I was reminded of West Texas, where most of the towns seemed to be losing population. Once upon a time, Larder Lake was considered to have a golden future. A mining investment company ran an ad in the 1907 Ottawa Citizen claiming:
“The Larder Lake district is believed to be the richest gold country ever known, and it is just now being opened up. Soon will commence the most tremendous outpouring of gold known to civilization.”
If you could get past the English, how could you not invest? The person who wrote the ad copy likely had a great future as a time-share salesman. Eventually a little gold was found, but it was more like a trickle than a “tremendous outpouring.” Today, the town is better known for fish. Peggy and I found a large one beside the road. It was leaping out of the ‘water.’
I am in love with the large, often outlandish sculptures, that so many Canadian towns adopt to encourage tourism, or maybe because the residents have a warped sense of humor. Peggy and I first became aware of the phenomena when we were driving into British Columbia in 1999 on Highway 97 out of Washington and came upon the “World’s Largest Golf Ball” and the “World’s Largest Beehive.” Here are some that we found as we made our way across Ontario on Trans-Canada Highway 11.
My bicycle trip across Ontario in 1989 was something of a blur. One thing I do remember was a gradual change from French to English. It wasn’t like I arrived at the border and the language changed. Local loyalties seemed to depend on culture rather than the provincial boundary. I was reminded of my experience in West Africa where loyalty was to the family first, the tribe second, and the country third. Peggy and I still noticed remnants of these emotions in Ontario 26 years later. A house might be painted in tri-color French, warning off potential Anglophiles. Or British lions would be proudly displayed as lawn ornaments, prepared to pounce on someone who spoke French.
Towns became more frequent, which meant there were more excuses to stop. I could start with breakfast and eat my way through the day. I had given up on cooking for myself by now, unless I was desperate. There was mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner to look forward to, not to mention coffee breaks. My hundred-mile a day bicycling body demanded constant fueling. Plus I liked the companionship. Bicycling by myself for 8-10 hours was lonely business. On occasion, I would even stay at a motel, just so I could turn the TV on and hear people talk. The downside of this was that I ran through my trip budget more quickly than I had planned. When I arrived in Thunder Bay, I called my brother-in-law and had him transfer some money he owed me into my account so I could finish off my journey in the style I had become accustomed to!
The terrain in Ontario wasn’t much different that I had been peddling over in Quebec, more or less flat with rolling hills. I worked my way through forests and farmlands, continuing to pass by numerous lakes and occasional rivers. As I neared Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, however, more mountainous country came into view, and with that more serious uphills and downhills. Following are several photos that Peggy and I took of the countryside.
NEXT BLOG: I cross Minnesota, throw a rock across the Mississippi River, and visit with a babe (as in Babe the Blue Ox).