Day 36 – Thunder Bay to Nipigon. It felt great to be back on the bike today, particularly after getting some work done at the bike shop opposite, and the weather was great, sunny and very warm all day. The terrain was beautiful, just as Naheer had predicted, I felt well rested, and best of all I felt inspired by the thought of the donation made this morning by Beechwood Park School pupils to my cause.
- Today’s Distance (miles/km): 69/111
- Time in saddle: 5h
- Max/min temp (°c): 34°/20°
- Climb/descend (feet) : 1717 / 1676
- Calories used:
- Cafe time: 1h 37
I had breakfast again with the Calgary Two after videoing a short thank-you song for Beechwood in my room, and we arranged to meet up later at the same campground in Nipigon, down by the river. I had to hang around in town to see if the bike shop (Rollin’ Thunder Bike & Ski) would open at 10am, which they did. I met Dan, the only guy working there this morning, who sorted me out with a new chain, and since I generally change the cassette at the same time we did that, and he thought my middle chainring was pretty worn, so that went too! When I thought about the amount of work these drive-chain parts have been doing over the last few weeks, pulling all my heavy pack and me over mountains and across prairies, I’m amazed there isn’t more that needs doing. He did a great job, we chatted for a while, then some regular customers appeared and we all watched the Tour de France for a while longer, stopping with 25km still to go so that they wouldn’t know the result before seeing the highlights this evening. This delay was the first of several very welcome distractions throughout the day. Everyone I spoke with had a story to tell and I was happy to take the time to hear it.
First up was a chap fishing off the narrow footbridge I was crossing to head out of town on the local cycle network, which at this point was also the Trans-Canada Trail, of which more another time. He asked about my heavily-laden bike and within a few minutes was telling me about a song he’s written and videoed for YouTube called “It’s Our Canada”, which I said I’d check out as soon as possible. (As promised Richard, I’m including a link here to your song)
The road out of Thunder Bay was green and very nice nice for cycling, and as the houses thinned out it became clear that this was country cottage territory. It’s hard to say what the signs are, but the garden and its furniture are a clue. Also the immaculate condition of paintwork. In the air was one of the nicest smells you can encounter anywhere in the world – the smell of freshly cut grass. I think someone woke up very early this morning and cut his lawn, then word spread like wildfire to all the neighbours until the whole of the north shore of Lake Superior had decided that this was the day to do it. The smell was outrageously rich and welcome in the warm morning air.
I felt a coffee coming on, and was attracted to my first stop by the modest little motor parked outside:
(Shame, can’t upload this one – imagine a shocking pink old Cadillac, roof down, waiting for a road-trip)
Here I talked for some time to the owner about his family who had run this gas station and shop for three generations. When his grandfather started out there was no Trans-Canada Highway, just dirt tracks and potholes, impassable in winter and not great the rest of the time. His story was fascinating, as they’d watch the road, the traffic and their business grow, counting their blessings, up until a bigger, wider new highway was built north of their road, and all their (mainly trucker) business stopped overnight. He had adapted and seen tourists keen to get off the main highway, and certainly cyclists like me, keep things ticking over. As I’ve found so often in this most sociable of countries, he just made time in his business day to talk, and picked up where he left off when I said goodbye.
I didn’t get far. Out at my bike I had the good fortune to meet Dan, a resident of Thunder Bay who had a cottage out here and was picking up his critical India Pale Ale supply. We talked bikes for a bit, as he had cycled extensively around the area and knew my upcoming route, and as ever things drifted to other subjects. He mentioned some extensive cycle trips in Europe he’d done when younger, from Genoa to Barcelona. He said he’d been to the UK a few times, and when I asked where the first place he mentioned was “Crystal, crystal, something..”. “Palace?” It turned out that he had gone there to compete in track races. “What level did you get to with that?” I asked. “I ran for Canada in the Olympics” he said casually, giving my arm a friendly thwack before going on to tell me his amazing story. “I was the only white guy in the 4×440 yard relay in the late 60s. They don’t run that distance anymore, but back then it was pretty serious. You know who I competed against once? OJ Simpson. I have a photo back home I could show you of me running for the Commonwealth team vs the US. There’s me, and there’s OJ running the same leg.” His name was Don Domansky, and I’m going to do a bit of background work because I love a story like this (doing it now! They finished just outside the medals in 1976). I really regretted not having more time to hear about his sporting life, but we said goodbye and I set off again.
1967 US vs Commonwealth
I had a nice surprise whilst passing a Backpacking Hostel with homemade distance-marker signs outside:
Canadians who visit garden centres in the UK must find it funny how much we’re prepared to spend on a pot of Lupins. They’re so ubiquitous here, growimg by the roadside at every possible opportunity, that it would be like us going in and asking for a nice £7.99 pot of dandelions.
Just don’t eat them as you pick – we’re watching!
And I know a few people in Souris, Manitoba, home of Canada’s longest swinging bridge (as we know), who might have a word or two to say about this sign:
Getting off the highway and riding into Nipigon was definitely one of those “I like this town” moments. A bit like spotting the holiday homes, it’s hard to say why. It’s probably circumstantial in part, the beautiful early evening sunshine and that sort of thing, the LCBO (the official beer store, strictly regulated in Ontario) still being open, the wide streets with lots of independent stores without a Tim Hortons (the biggest Canadian coffee chain) to be seen, this house greeting you on the hill down to Main Street
…..and a great evening in the open air comparing notes on our day/week/month on the road with Kaitlin and Nadeer