A new tent
It was Monday, August 17, back to school announcements flooded the radio as I drove to Gear Exchange in Burlington, right on Church Street. My brother would have frowned upon me for using the parking garage and paying $4.24 to park for less than two hours, but who cares. I had to get a replacement bedroll and buy a 1-person tent for Leo. He had been asking for weeks to have his own ‘space’, which I totally get, our four bedrolls fill a 3 person tent the none traditional way: feet and head between the two side doors. I’m grateful for the space we have at Charlotte’s feet because she has a 3/4 length bedroll, so we throw a bag or two there or clothes, maps, laptop, you name it. Heck, we need space, so when Leo started throwing the idea about moving out, I jumped on it full throttle. I began searching for 1-person tents that don’t weigh much. Forget that. If you’re into the sub 2 pound, minimalist market and want to drop close to four hundred dollars, then go for it. I just couldn’t see it happening. I was pleased to find a Marmot Pulsar that weighed less than 4 pounds. He was pumped when he came home from a pool visit to see it set up in my sister’s backyard. Flash forward: Leo has really taken to setting it up and breaking it down without any prompting. In fact, it has had another positive affect on our team; Charlotte has started to put our tent up without help. I help with the stakes.
Return to the east
Our 13-hour drive back to Vermont from Spanish, Ontario, was made possible because a 77-year young man, Don Mitchell, loaned us his truck. A few weeks ago, we left the bicycling comfort (wide shoulders, minimal traffic) of the Manitoulin Islands and started pedaling on HWY 17, or more commonly known as the two-lane ‘Trans Canadian’. Once we set wheel on it we knew we wouldn’t like it. Cars blazed past at 70+ mph with less than a foot of shoulder (paved).
Sure, you could ride the 10-foot soft shoulder, but you’d have to be equipped with 2″ wide tires and probably be skilled at maneuvering through deep sand, and the occasion road debris that one might find on a major highway. We quickly applied our ‘high density traffic, no shoulder’ formation: Chris up front, followed by Leo and Julie. Julie wears a helmet mirror and shouts ‘Van’ when an oversized truck is coming up behind her. We then switch gears and pedal/coast in the soft shoulder. Horrible images plague my mind sending me off the shoulder and into the gravel bed, each time I say to myself, “could’ve been worse” even though, it was harmless. Ideas like these have me playing it safe.
We located the Mitchell campground in Spanish (60km) earlier that morning and made it our destination for the night. No phone call ahead, taking our chances that there would be availability or that someone might take pity on us if there weren’t sites. We started our morning ride with a bagel and Nutella, the latter becoming a major staple in our diet, and made quick time to Tim Horton’s for coffee and hot chocolate. We accessed the free wifi, double checked with the map application on our phone and were soon on the Lee Valley road. This alternate route (avoiding Hwy 17) took us over flat ground, along farmland. We barely saw another car. We were able to ride three wide, sharing one portable speaker amplifying Leo’s pop songs. About 25 km later, we arrived at an intersection, basically cross the bridge (Spanish River) and take Government Road to River Road or get onto Hwy 17. Faced with this decision we decided to choose the River Road option. Twenty-five miles into our ride and we now had five miles of loose gravel, steep climbs, and temperature in the high 80’s. We were tired, hungry and cranky. This is usually a recipe for a melt down. To counter the melt down, we pull out the collapsible green chair, open the insulated thermos containing ice-cold water, and give that person some space to chill. More often than not it’s Leo. When it’s me, I can’t be bothered to pull the chair out and set it up. I mostly just collapse to the ground and ask for space. After an hour or so, we finally arrived at the infamous route 17 and when we turned onto it, we were both surprised to see a 10-foot wide paved shoulder. “We can do this,” we both thought, until it slimmed down to less than a foot wide and gave way to the gravel, loose sandy shoulder. I’ll save you from the thoughts that went through my mind, but needless to say, they forced me off the shoulder onto the soft sand, ‘just in case’. Fortunately for us, we only had five or so miles to do and make it to Spanish, Ontario without a problem. It was around six in the evening when we pulled in front of a restaurant to locate a grocery store to get our stuff for dinner, and breakfast/lunch for the following day until we could get to another town and restock. A quick side note, breakfast is often something that doesn’t require the stove; regretfully that also includes coffee. So, we usually eat bagels or bread with copious amounts of Nutella, or peanut butter, bananas, and honey. Lunch is hummus with tortillas, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, apples, and cheese. We tried packaged salami, but the kids weren’t too keen on eating that. We also scrapped tuna, though I can see that making a come back. Oh, and for a time we were eating refried beans and cheese, but that got old too. That might make a comeback too.
Inside the grocery/convenience/gas station there wasn’t much to choose from. None of us were interested in eating our breakfast meal on hot dog buns. We still had a bagel or two left for the next morning, which I was willing to let the kids and Julie have until we found either coffee or a breakfast joint to stop in.
In fact, it was a good thing that we stopped in front of the restaurant because we ended up eating there and not cooking dinner. French is widely spoken in this area of Ontario so we were quickly greeted en langue. Seeing that we had come in on bicycles and were sweating quite a bit, the waitress placed a fan in our direction and went to get menus. In the meantime, an older gentleman came over assisted by his wheeled walker, speaking French, he grabbed our kids from us and took them out back to see some puppies. The meal was nothing to write home about. Julie’s pasta alfredo was a soup. It’s tough being a vegetarian and finding decent meals on the road. Bellies satiated, we biked toward the sign posted Mitchell’s campground.
A stained glass wind chime greeted us as we pushed open the office door. Standing there for a few minutes we wondered if we should try another door. Seconds later a man in his seventies opened another door and in a very soft-spoken voice apologized for the delay because he was in the shower. Don, had me sit across from him at the reception desk to fill in the necessary information. It’s times like these where you get to see if the owner has a sense of humor or not because there’s a section of the form for ‘make and model’ of your vehicle. We had a good belly laugh over his reference to our mode of transportation. Julie left the office with Charlotte to set up the tent, inspecting the stained glass piece on her way out (for those of you who don’t know, Julie’s a stained glass artist).
Don, Leo, and I chatted for a while. At one point Don inquired about how we managed to bicycle on route 17 with all the heavy trucks and long lines of RV’s queuing up to get to their next destination. I ran him through some of the physical aspects, and briefly touched on emotional ones of having a child bicycle on this road. To this latter point, Don spurts out, “well, I’ll drive you to Sault Ste. Marie. It’ll be safer.” It wasn’t his words that made my head jerk towards his gaze, but Leo’s reaction. He had been sitting there for quite some time, contributing to the conversation when it involved him. Since the discussion was on the emotional aspects of bicycling with a child on a highly trafficked road, I was looking at Leo.
I was hoping he wasn’t listening. You know, false hope’n all. Words came out of his mouth before I had the chance to look at Don. “I’m going to tell maman,” shot out of his mouth as he ran out the door. Glass pieces danced in joy as the door closed. Don and I worked out different scenarios of how this could possibly work. In a few days, Don would have cataract surgery and I doubted he would be able to make the four hour round trip to the Sault and back in one day. I reminded him of this and he grumbled, admitting that it probably wasn’t the best thing to do. After a long silence, he raised his eyebrows, and with a grin said, “I’ll get someone to drive you.” Now, to give you some perspective of the parameters of our situation, I’ll break it down for you. Our original plan was to get to the Sault on the August 19th or better (if we pushed it; very unlikely), spend the night at Velorution (more about them later), leave our bikes for some overdue maintenance (and a secure place to leave them), rent a car and drive back (according to google: 10 hours) to Bromont, Quebec for Julie’s sister’s wedding on the 22nd. I immediately perked up at that point, and added, “well then, why don’t I drive your pickup? We’ll load our bikes tomorrow morning (Friday, August 14), drive up to the Sault, drop off the bikes, pick up the rental car (if a car is available), and drive back here to drop off your truck, spend the night, and leave the next morning. How does that sound?” “Well, that sounds mighty fine with me. As long as your safe,” said Don. At that point Leo had returned long enough to hear that Don was letting us borrow his truck. He darted through the door to tell Julie the news of our great fortune.
With the opportunity to arrive sooner rather than later, we decided to drive directly to Jericho, Vermont where my sister lives. We would also be there to celebrate my mom’s birthday. So, we took the car up to the Sault dropped the bikes off at Velorution a hub for trans Canadian cyclists allowing them to camp for free in their wooded backyard. The best part of all that was the proximity to the rental agency. We feared that it would be across town making it difficult to get back to Velorution after returning the car a week later (public transit, bring a bike, walk, hitch, etc. Turns out, Budget rental was a five minute walk from the bike shop! In a city of 75,000, all but five minutes separated the two. Couldn’t believe it.
When we got back to Spanish, ten days later, we were talking to Mary, Don’s wife, who had just returned from Ottawa. As we were looking over the Google Texas map, they winter on the border with Mexico (McAllen), a local fisherman walked over to Don with four freshly caught Walleye, or Pickerall (if you’re Canadian). After chatting a bit, Peter offered us the fish. We gladly accepted. He skinned them back and filleted them up. During this period of about ten minutes, Don had ushered the kids to his shed to get them lifejackets for the twilight boat tour he was going to give us. We couldn’t believe what was happening to us. Every new opportunity to do something seemed hard to believe. Mouth agape, head on a swivel from all the action, I found myself carting buckets of frozen fish guts down to the landing to be thrown into the Spanish River.
A half hour later we were back on land preparing the fish. Mary delivered the orders, working in unison with Don who wheeled Leo away with him to prep the outdoor deep fryer. I was on breading duty in Mary’s kitchen with Charlotte and Julie: Corn meal, and pancake flour batter. Mary cut up the fish to their desired size, “Don likes them this size so they’re easier to flip and eat. This batter isn’t the one you’ll find in the restaurants. It’s lighter. You can actually taste the fish,” Mary proudly stated. Seconds later they were dropped into the fryer. Charlotte and Leo each took turns dropping, flipping, and removing the fish. They burst open with eat chew, scolding our tongues. But, dang, they were fresh and tasty!
The following morning we stashed away a few of our bags, packed the rental car and were on the road by 9:30, tying our earliest departure time of the trip thus far.
Latest news: August 30, 2015
- We just spent two days at the Indian Lake State Park in Michigan’s upper peninsula. We haven’t come up with an exact route yet but we will be heading to Saint Paul, MN and expect to be there within the next two weeks.
- Check out the pictures that I posted to our Flickr account. You can access them by clicking on an image at the bottom of the home page.