Friday 27th June saw me departing Wawa heading in the direction of Thunder Bay on the shores of Lake Superior. The evening before Gord had been busy on Advrider.com and had found a fellow adventurer in Thunder Bay that offered to put me up for my stay in Thunder Bay, all I had to do was get there. The day started with 100km on logging roads of varying quality followed by about 450 km on proper highway. Initially it looked like I may have a long detour as a bridge on the north side of Lake Superior had been closed for emergency repairs but the opened it again before I left Wawa – the detour would have been another three or four hundred kilometres!
The logging roads looked like they hadn’t been used for some time although there was the occasional caravan that had been left in the woods for camping. At one point there was a very small washout hidden in the shade of a tree, it was only a few inches deep and a foot or two wide but I didn’t see it and hit it at full speed. Unfortunately the impact broke two of my screen supports, luckily that was the only damage and I was able to bodge it back together with a couple of cable ties and I was on the move again.
Getting on they highway I was making good time. When I stopped for lunch I met and got chatting with a group of Harley riders. They were from the USA and riding around the great lakes. I’d noticed that I was well and truly in Harley country. Further along the road I stopped at a scenic view-point and my first sighting of Lake Superior, moments later another Harley rider, Joe Wittwer, pulled in. We got talking and took each others pictures with the lake in the background. It turns out that Joe was nearly at the end of a ride that had taken him around the outside of the lower 48 states of the USA in two months. Still further down the road I met a couple on BMW 650GSs, they were having problems with a damaged throttle cable and BMW Canada didn’t have one in the country so were trying to make do with a shoelace – is amazing what fixes you can come up with on the road!
With all these stops I was running behind schedule. I’m not normally known for my ability to strike up conversation with strangers but today I was on a roll. Finally I made it to Thunder Bay and to Ron & Sonya who were going to be hosting me and the first evening they did a midst excellent job of it, starting with beer and BBQ steak for dinner followed by a trip to the Madhouse to meet Feliz, another ADV forum member followed by a stop off to meet Mike, a third ADV rider in Thunder Bay. My plan had been to stay with Ron & Sonya for only one night and then get back on the road but after a few beers I got talked into staying in Thunder Bay for another day so I could go to a pre-Canada Day party at Mike’s house… although I swear the drinking of beers had nothing to do with the decision.
Saturday morning dawned and Ron & Sonya very kindly took me out for Finnish pancakes for breakfast. Apparently Thunder Bay has the largest population of Finnish people outside of Finland! The pancakes were very good but at three pancakes with cream and berries, plus a side of maple bacon, I was feeling a little stuffed. Back at Ron & Sonya’s we prepared for the party by Sonya giving myself and Ron new haircuts. I tried to persuade Sonya to cut my hair without the plastic grade guide on the clippers but she was too worried she might cut me, so I got a grade 1 instead… as did Ron by mistake, instead of his usual grade 3.
The party on Saturday afternoon was most excellent. The were about 15 people at Mikes, all sat out on his deck in the sun with a fantastic view over Lake Superior and the Sleeping Giant emerging from the fog. The afternoon was spent consuming many vodka jelly-shots, tequila Kool-Aid slushies and beer along with singing karaoke (yes, I did join in!) and eating far too much. Being a somewhat random addition to the party and English, I did have to field a fair few questions… mostly from Mike but I think I passed the test The afternoon was fantastic and I’m really glad that Gord put me in touch with the Thunder Bay ADV Rider crowd, otherwise I would have simply passed through and not really had a local connection to the place.
During the time that I was staying with Ron he made it abundantly clear how remote an area I was entering on my last leg of the TCAT in Ontario. However, I couldn’t help feel that it was really as devoid of humans as he made out… after all, I’d made it through some pretty remote areas of New Foundland, Quebec and parts of Ontario already. Still, it did worry me slightly with his tales of washouts and other such issues on the trails. Sunday morning dawned and with a thick head from the party the day before I set off on my way to Sioux Lookout. The day started out on some nice easy well-maintained gravel roads, through an area that is pretty populated with weekend cabins. Although that was all too quickly over and after a quick stint on the highway I was back on logging roads. This was when Ron’s tales of remoteness started playing on my mind, especially as the rain clouds were building overhead. As I carried on the track was deteriorating and becoming soft and sandy until I eventually came to a section that had been flooded by a beavers dam. At this stage I was about 50 or 60 kilometers into the forest, and only a couple of kilometers to go to a disused rail-bed. After wading through the water I figured I’d make it through, which was a better option in my mind than back-tracking the way I’d come. Thankfully I made it and soon discovered fresh 4×4 tracks, which I use a gauge of the condition of the track ahead – if a truck can make it so can I!
Thankfully, the rain didn’t materialise and once I got on the rail-bed I passed some cottages with people outside, which lifted my spirits. I was back in the civilized world. On the rail-bed I was also able to wind open the throttle and quickly get some serious speed up but it wasn’t long before I saw the tell-tale sign of luminous pink ribbon fluttering in the distance. People using the back-roads in Canada put out luminous ribbon to indicate hazards on the trails, this can be anything from a fallen tree, to a big pot-hole, to a ten foot washout. Ignore a ribbon should be left to people wanting to claim a Darwin Award! This time the hazard was a washout and would have quite happily swallowed my bike! So time to backtrack and find an alternative way around. The people in one of the cottages were very helpful in guiding me to a quick and easy to follow route to the highway. The TCAT route was going to be going back on the highway shortly anyway so it wasn’t a big problem.
Before long I was back on the gravel and would be getting back on the disused rail-bed for the last stint of gravel before Sioux Lookout. I was worried it might have washouts but before I got to the rail-bed a couple in an 4×4 stopped me for a chat. It turns out that they have a cabin along the rail-bed. They were a little confused as to why someone would want to be riding along there for fun but after explaining the whole trip they seemed suitably impressed. They also had good news for me, they had driven the way I was about to go the day before to go to the shop and confirmed that the track was in good condition (relatively speaking). Unfortunately, the rain clouds that had been threatening me earlier finally decided to unleash their fury on me but I wasn’t going to be stopped by anything and so I reached Silver Dollar, the last village/building before Sioux Lookout in good time.
The are many towns on Canadian maps that simply don’t exist in reality. Silver Dollar is simple a fuel station/cafe/general store that serves the and loggers in a 40km radius. After I’d filled up with fuel and bought a piece of pie and a coffee I got chatting with the woman in the store. It turns out I got lucky with the fuel as they’d only just got their new tank as the old one had been condemned and they hadn’t had fuel all year until the day before I got there. She also gave me valuable advice on securing me bike in Sioux Lookout and put my mind at rest a bit about the situation there.
The final leg into Sioux Lookout was paved road. The original TCAT route went via the rail-bed but the logging company that owned it has dug out sections of it to stop people driving along it. Arriving in Sioux Lookout I followed my GPS to a motel – yes, I’m a fair weather camper! – only to end up in a residential cul-de-sac. After a lot of driving around in circles getting lost I finally figured out that the road with the motel on was not a continuous road and the section I wanted was a separate section of road to that which the GPS had taken me to. With that problem solved and after checking into a motel, I headed out to find something to eat. One restaurant was closed on Sundays, another was on the verge of being flooded due to be below the level of the very full lake next to it, so I went to the restaurant next to the float-plane airport. Whilst eating we were treated to another torrential down-pour and lightning show – I’m so glad I decided to stay in a motel instead of camping!