The big lake they call “Gitche Gumee”

Half Way on the Trans Canada Highway
Really? Looks more than half way to me!

Cycle Day #40 Thunder Bay to Nipigon. 118 kms

Cycle Day #41 Nipigon to Terrace Bay 108 kms

Cycle Day #42 Terrace Bay to Marathon 82 kms

Cycle Day #43 Marathon to White River 94 kms

Cycle Day #44 White River to WaWa 101 kms

Cycle Day #45 WaWa to Montreal River Harbour 101 kms

Cycle Day #46 Montreal River Harbour to Batchawana 52 kms

Cycle Day #47 Batchawana to Sault Ste Marie. 70 kms

Total to Date: over 4300 KMS

Lots of ups and downs on the north shore of Superior – literally and figuratively

The north shore of Lake Superior – this is spectacular country. It is pristine and remote. The water tastes brilliant straight out of a tap; anyone’s tap. The crisp air blowing off the lake is cold – cold enough to make you shiver while climbing one of the MANY hills – but it is fresh and fantastic. The trees lining the road are dense and we imagine the fall colours here are astounding. And in our short time along her shoreline, we have seen many moods of The Big Lake. We were astounded by the crystal clarity of the water.

Lake Superior holds 3 quadrillion gallons of freshwater, 10% of the Earth’s fresh water – enough to fill all the other Great Lakes plus three more Lake Erie’s (or so the sign said). Amazing stone beaches, steep rocky cliffs and unexpectedly, spectacular sand beaches have been part of every day!

Any example of what our days on the North Shore have looked like.

But Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie is the only part of this entire adventure I actually dreaded because we had to ride the Trans Canada Hwy. Fortunately, we have cleverly managed to time our travel on this busy section during the July long weekend.

We are keeping our days reasonably short, mostly dictated by the location of motels and our tolerance for the traffic. So we are visiting towns few would typically wander into, some with good reason. In general, our observation is that the local diet changes from chicken wings and fried anything in the north, with some suspiciously exotic dishes on the menu. In fact, completely unverifiable, but taste tested conspiracy theory states that local restaurants sell fresh local pickerel as ocean perch so Americans will order it. Its not perch. That’s all we’re saying. But the further east you go, the diet changes somewhat to verifiable local dishes like genuine walleye and white fish. A voyageur theme also becomes prominent as you get closer to Sault Ste Marie. As far as drink goes, as long as you are happy with OV, Bud or Blue, you are golden. Amazing what a day of cycling – and a glass of ginger ale – will do for a Budweiser.

Marathon is a town of 3300 people, “Built upon pulp and laced with gold”. The homes are two story box like structures, all with unkempt lawns. No one seems that interested in yard maintenance, but very interested in wing night at the local restaurants – the special at both restaurants the night we were there.

The road into Marathon is a steep down hill. I was keen to avoid retracing the 8kms back uphill to the highway in the morning and my friend Google Maps said there was a back exit coming out further east to meet up with the highway. For the record, Jay was hesitant, but not vociferous in his objections. “GAIA shows only a thin grey line, that is not usually good” he mentioned. So off we went, one of us enthusiastically. It started off promising enough, just long enough so there was no turning back, as these navigation mishaps tend to go. We ended up pushing our bikes for 7 kilometers through mosquito infested sand and bog. Didn’t take many pictures as it was not that funny and we were getting low on blood. Lesson – when GAIA App shows thin grey line, don’t go there.

“Jay wait! I have an idea.”

Rossport is a cute little harbour town that grew up on a now extinct fishing industry. They have a wonderful cafe named Serendipity – I couldn’t pass it by – so we detoured (down) into town. Great fresh, local trout AND a back exit so we didn’t have to retrace our ride and climb out to the highway.

White River is located right on the highway, inland from the big lake.  The White River Marketing Department should get an award for the most desperate connection in creating a tourist attraction. After significant and perhaps dubious research done in the 1960’s, it is believed that Lieutenant Harry Colebourn bought a black bear cub for $20 during a 4 hour train stop in White River in 1914. Riding on the coat tails of the famous bear, they have pictures of him on all three of the town’s light posts, souvenirs are sold in the empty grocery store, a beautiful statue on the highway and of course there is the famous Winnie the Pooh festival the third week every August.

The town of WaWa still debates the meaning of their memorable name, but the goose definition was the one they ran with. I believe they may be overly enthusiastic with their claim that their goose is the “most photographed landmark in North America”, but at 4 tons their most recent (third version) goose is imposing and impressive. The goal is to get people to flock (!) into their town from the highway which bypasses them – worked for us!!!

We are starting to see more cyclists on the road now – a lot of them heading west and enjoying the non prevalent east winds that continue to blow. Ning from Edmonton left Vancouver late May and expects to arrive in Newfoundland in early August. Her bike weighs about 100 pounds, likely more than her and she is blasting along the number 1 highway. Just something on her bucket list that she wants to check off while she is between jobs, but wants to get back to apply for work. We left before her and picked up the pace considerably so she wouldn’t pass us in the first kilometre. Biiit….

Keith is from New Zealand and was cycling in Europe in 40 degree Celsius weather, and was looking for a place where it would not be so warm, and Canada came to mind. “A tourist who cycles” he calls himself.

The road condition itself is variable, that is, it varies from bad to worse. But I will let Jay rant a bit on roads in general: We cycled mostly off paved roads in BC, Alberta and Sask but had enough time on paved highways to make the general observation that the highways in BC, Alberta and Sask are pretty good for cyclists – well maintained with paved shoulders.   But the moment we rolled over the border to Manitoba the roads were in poor repair with nary a paved shoulder to be found.  The gravel shoulders are loose and shrewdly convex.  The highways so far in Ontario aren’t much better than in Manitoba, though there are at least some paved shoulders.  But here’s the thing.  The shoulders on the Trans Canada Highway (no less) appear and disappear in an astonishingly random fashion.  It’s like the entire department of highways got on a bus and toured the Trans Canada Highway while playing black jack and every time someone got a black jack they would lay down 100m of paved shoulder. And then to make it even more bizarre, the paved shoulder varies from nothing at all to 6 cms to 1m to 3m at intervals that make no sense.  So when we’re smoking down a hill at 60kmh and the paved shoulder goes from 3 meters to 3 centimeters and there’s a semi truck hot on your tail things get a bit sporty. Except for the road, we loved this stretch they call The North Shore of Superior. We’d do it again, but next time in a motor vehicle.

Happy Belated Canada Day, and in honour of White River a quote:

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” Winnie the Pooh

14 thoughts on “The big lake they call “Gitche Gumee”

  1. David Street

    Looked at Google. Says Victoria to Halifax is 3,671 miles. Victoria to SSM is 2,245 miles and SSM to Halifax is 1,388. That math puts you at 62% complete. They might need to move the sign about 410 miles to the west. Great accomplishment Deb and Jay.


  2. Heather

    Love your writing! Jason and I were scared on a few of those hills and that was in a car. … but the scenery is amazing! Glad you are safe on the other side.
    Xoxoxo H


  3. Larry Todd

    Great blog post. Found the character of this stretch. Jay’s going to wear out that Marks Warehouse shirt. Shall I FedEx you another…maybe red??
    Happy Trails guys!!


  4. Terry

    What song will you play as you ride through Blind River? Great phot of you walking your bike up that thin grey line, Deb. Definitely to be avoided. Agree that the scenery is spectacular. We’ve had many lunches over looking Lake Superior where we could have easily stayed for 3-4 more hours. Enjoy.


  5. Linda Malcolmson

    Glad to hear you two are keeping things “sporty”. I think Winnie the Pooh is my new hero. After I read each of your blogs, I, like Winnie, never “underestimate the value of doing nothing”. Keep safe dear friends.


  6. Keith Gilbert

    Ahhhh yes …… the ‘North Shore’. It is indeed absolutely incredible scenery isn’t it! Spent a number of times camping on Superior and hiking the Casque Isles Hiking Trail out of Schreiber. Wonderful photos; wonderful story you’re writing; wonderful adventure you’re on!
    Safe travels my friends and look forward to the next installment. 🙂


  7. Marianne and Gary

    That north shore goes on and on and on! We drove through it in extreme fog and hardly saw the giant lake itself. Glad you are safe on the other side and into warmer lake country! Love the smiling happy pic, must have been before the mosquito bog? We love reading about your adventures and the “sporty” life!


  8. Gord Otto

    I love that a Trans-Canada highway plaque mostly celebrates the drawing together of widely separated regions of Ontario… our Confederation in a nutshell.

    Adventure on, voyageurs.
    I am enjoying learning via your close encounters with this land of ours.


  9. Janet Kuijt

    Ahhhhh….. the shores of the Gitche Gumee!
    Your photos portray its greatness – the vistas of my childhood!
    (the retelling of the ‘thin grey line’ side-trip…. starts to make me scatch even though there are no mosquitoes in Fernie – haha!)
    Thanks! Impressive!


  10. Sandy

    Ohhhhh…the people you meet , the places you travel, the WAY you travel, the things you do…all fabulous! Love it through your eyes! Thanks for sharing….


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