Thursday, August 23, 2012

Days 68 and 69: Oh, Canada!

Well, a lot has happened in the past two days.

First, we crossed back into Canada on Wednesday (Day 68). This time by taking about a 5 minute ferry across the St. Croix River, from Marine City, Michigan, to Sombra, Ontario. One dollar fare for bicyclists. We got to the ferry by a very pleasant, about 15 mile ride, from our lodgings at the St. Clair Inn, along bike paths and roads that, at various points, hugged the river.

Once across the river and through customs (where Bob narrowly avoided having his Swiss Army Knife confiscated), we encountered similarly pleasant riding conditions, mostly following the St. Clair Parkway (there's a St. Clair in both Michigan and Ontario) along the river, into our destination for the night, Wallaceburg, Ontario. We started late, meandered and took our time because our total mileage for the day was short for us -- about 26 miles (although, by taking detours and a few wrong turns, I ended up doing about 32 for the day).

The mileage was short because we didn't want to go past Wallaceburg. Why not, you ask? Well, that is where Bob and I were parting ways, after more than two months, and taking different routes for the rest of this trip. Neither of us was particularly happy about it, but it made sense for each of us. I would head due East from Wallaceburg, across the North edge of Lake Erie, to Fort Erie and Niagara Falls, Ontario, then into Western New York State and back home to Manhattan. Bob would head due South, to grab a ferry across Lake Erie to Huron, Ohio, and, from there, to Cleveland to visit a friend, and then to Pittsburgh, where his wife, Rachael, will meet him (with bicycle!) and ride with him for the 6 days or so to get back to their home in Washington, DC.

So that was the second big thing that happened. I don't think I'm going out on a limb here by saying that Bob and I really enjoyed each other's company and will miss each other. I know I will, particularly in the afternoon and evening, after our day's ride, when we would hang out, laugh a lot (we both have warped senses of humor), swap stories of the day, talk with our wives (and with the other's as well, since a lot of our conversations were on speaker, over either FaceTime or Skype), complain about the incessant, self-imposed demands of blogging daily (although it never seemed to slow either of us down much), struggle with the next day's always-present routing and lodging choices and dilemmas, and then conclude the day by having dinner (usually scouted out by Bob in his explorations of our day's destination) and sharing a bottle of wine (inevitably procured by Bob during those same explorations).

Bob and I have commented to each other that, in your mid-50s, it's not always easy to make new, good friends -- but we feel that we have done that over these past two-plus months. For those readers not aware of it, Bob and I only met a little over a year ago, last May, when we both participated in the 300 mile Climate Ride bike ride from New York to Washington, D.C. (Rachael was on the trip too). We hit it off for a number of reasons, but perhaps cemented the incipient bond over our mutual willingness to sneak Pennsylvania-brewed wine in a box into a dry campground (it was the only thing available - good preparation, unfortunately, for long segments of this current trip, where Sutter Home in airplane-size bottles often was the gold standard for many towns -- Eastern Montana, I'm talking to you!). And, between that ride, and starting this one, we had managed to see each other, I think, 3 or 4 times, when one or the other of us visited the other's city. So, getting along as well as we did on this trip -- and, more than that, really enjoying each other's company -- was not a sure thing.

OK, have I overdone it with the sentiment? Here, I'll try for some balance. One of the things that doesn't worry me about the separation is riding solo. Yes, it's arguably slightly more dangerous if something goes wrong (but if we were thinking about all the possible dangers of this trip in the first place we would never have undertaken it!). The truth is that Bob and I have very different riding styles and, so, often ended up riding apart during the day anyway. I like to stop, take pictures, stretch, have a snack, explore side roads, etc. Left to his own devices, Bob is a bit relentless, enjoying the physicality and zen of riding hard and fast, and might stop only once or twice in the course of a 50 mile day. So we struggled at times to mesh styles and figure out the best way to try to ride together during the day. We both tried to be accommodating. Bob would be more patient and take more breaks than he really preferred, and I would pass up photo opportunities, rests or detours that I might have wanted to take.

So each of us being able to ride his own ride guilt-free and unapologetically is, I think, a silver lining in our taking separate routes.

By contrast, and somewhat ironically, we stayed at a Days Inn in Wallaceburg where an ACA-led group (Adventure Cycling Association), on its own cross country bike trip, also was staying (we had already met some of the riders on the road over the past few days as our paths crossed). Their trip is van-supported for luggage, but is organized around camping and group cooking. The group has 9 riders and two leaders, and rotates shopping and cooking duties in pairs each night. The Days Inn stay was one of only 10 budgeted motel days for the duration. And, just from hanging with them for one evening, there were some readily apparent fissures in the group dynamics. So, I can unequivocally say, that is not how I would choose to ride my ride!

Bob and I enjoyed a lovely last dinner together last night -- Bob had bought a good bottle of cabernet in Lapeer for the occasion and carried it, unknown to me, for the past two days of riding (tucked safely into his REI multi-mat, naturally). And, this morning, we went our separate ways. Bob, of course, leaving significantly earlier than myself! Safe rides and good winds, Bob, you'll be missed.

My ride today (Day 69), again, was a relatively short one, stopping in Ridgetown, Ontario, after 36 miles. It was either that, or crunching out a 77 mile day to St. Thomas, Ontario. Instead, I decided to go with getting to St. Thomas with two days of more leisurely riding.

I'm glad I did, as it gave me more leeway to explore. I started out on, and quickly ditched, the ACA route to the first town on today's route, Dresden (yes, named after the same town in Germany), which was on a fast, relatively busy, two-lane road with no shoulder (what gives, ACA?). With the aid of my Garmin unit, I quickly found alternative back roads that turned out to be more scenic (lots of corn fields) and completely empty of cars. Yes, some of them were unpaved -- but they were very rideable unpaved roads, with hard dirt and minimal gravel mostly pushed to the side. And I continued doing this type of alternative routing after Dresden, pretty much all the way to Ridgetown (where I'm now ensconced in a lovely B&B). It was a really nice day of riding, with pretty perfect weather. My only concession was to skip one scenic road where -- according to the local shopkeeper in Kent Bridge (another small town on the route) -- a particularly vicious dog lives (it had chased her on her motorcycle -- and she's never gone back!)

Here is yesterday's route:

And here is today's:

Photos are a mix of both days.



  1. kat 1514:58 PM

    Ohhh, Canada...
    Well, so far your trip has been amazing---I know you'll miss Bob, but, as you say, you each can do a little more of your own 'thing.'
    Roberto and I have so enjoyed your trip---your commentary is informative and witty, and the photos are superb. Really the next best thing to being there (well, maybe with some advantages, like no aching muscles, etc)
    Well, I might just give you a call tomorrow night now that you're on your own, not that you won't be meeting and mixing with the locals if I know you!
    Anyway, have a fine day of riding tomorrow (free of the vicious dog!!)
    love, Kat

  2. What a nice tribute to Bob. If he's half as interesting as his blog posts, I can see why you will miss him.
    A particularly nice set of photos from the last two days.
    Man, you're really in the home stretch now. We should start thinking about how to celebrate your return, en famille.