Misery in Northern Ontario

Its funny how you sometimes picture a place you have never been to and imagine what it would be like. Then when you get there you find out the reality is totally different. I wanted to ride the trans-Canada highway because it went quite far north through only a handful of small towns with long stretches of wildness in between. I thought this would be a great “Canada” experience. To camp out in the northern wilderness with nothing north of me except forest until Hudson Bay. Of course there would be some vehicles, but I imagined only 1 or 2 every 10 minutes or so.

So I was shocked and dismayed when I left North Bay and finally got on the TransCanada highway, ON-11. Rather than a vehicle every ten minutes, there was one passing me every 10 seconds. Big 18 wheelers, too. There was a skinny little 12 inch shoulder to the right of the white lines, and it was a two lane road, so vehicles passing me had to cross over into the oncoming lane to give me space, which most of them did. But when a vehicle was approaching from the other direction, they had to stay in their lane, whizzing by me within inches of my left pannier at 70 mph.

This required total concentration on my part. I had to pedal and control the bike, stay in my little 12 inch lane (not easy to do going up hill sometimes), and check my rear view mirror constantly to see if anyone was approaching. If a vehicle came towards me from the other direction I had to make sure there was no semi coming from behind, because if so, I would pull over on to the gravel shoulder and stop because it would be too dangerous to stay on the road. See pic of road.

Needless to say, this was not fun. This is not what bicycle touring is about for me. So after one day I started considering alternatives. Checking Google maps, I found a route that took me first on some provincial highways, then through the forest on logging roads that would take me north and cut out about 200 miles of the TransCanada highway. People told me in the northern part there was far less traffic so this seemed like a good alternative. Wrong.

I did have some fine provincial roads at first, even a great one for 25 miles, where there were very few vehicles, a great flat road, warm sunny weather, and a tailwind. It was great.

But when I got to where I was supposed to go on the logging roads things started to get bad, then worse, then terrible, then just a pile of misery. The road was too rocky and hilly to ride on at first, then came the water. There were wetlands all around, and many times they spilled over the road, so I had to step through muddy pools of water from 3-12 inches deep. I camped out by the road after crossing over several fallen trees. It was obvious no vehicle had passed by recently. I saw bear tracks and scat on the road so I was thinking of that scene in the Revenant and had to talk out loud, sing, bark like a dog and otherwise alert any bears around that I was in the area. I felt like a lunatic.

The next morning it rained for 6 hours. I sat in my tent, bored to tears. But finally it stopped and I walked my bike for 4 hours before it got dark again. The next day, June 18 was the most miserable day I’ve had biking. It was not the most strenuous, since I was mostly walking my bike. But the obstacles made it so frustrating. I had to wade through several pools of water, sometimes ferrying my things because the water was so deep. Then there were the fallen trees across the road which forced me to portage everything through incredibly thick brush and forest. Then I broke a spoke and spent an hour fixing that. Meanwhile it was raining or drizzling the whole time and of course the ever present black flies and mosquitos. I struggled from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm before I came across a section of road that was too flooded to cross. It was at least waist deep and probably more, so incredulous and with a sinking heart I realized I had to backtrack and return the way I came–about 12 miles. More rain followed so that when I set up camp at 8:00 pm I was soaked, filthy and exhausted. I did have some dry clothes and sleeping bag, though, so the night was dry and warm in my tent. It rained again the next morning, and I found a shorter way out of the bush but it was the most miserable 4 days of my biking career. Here is a short video of the experience:


So besides setting me back about a week, this debacle forced me to rethink my Canada plan. I decided to forego the northern trans Canada highway, and simply head for Sault Saint Marie. I will enjoy a leisurely ride across the UP of Michigan. Below is my revised route. It seems to get shorter every time ha-ha.

7 thoughts on “Misery in Northern Ontario

  1. Capt. don Sr. June 20, 2017 / 8:34 pm

    I’ll bet you have pleasant memories of China about now. I think I see the dilemma: good roads bring cars and trucks and no concern for bicycles; bad roads bring mud, water, bugs, and fallen trees. Choose your poison.

    The good news is that the air is smog-less. Oh I forgot about the diesel smoke and particulates.

    See you in July. Be sure to head up to Grand Marais and across the UP from there to Munising.

    • Kevin Koski June 24, 2017 / 5:32 pm

      Don, yes that’s always the trick: to find a nice road with few vehicles. It can be done but it is hit and miss. I am currently on some nice provincial roads with very few cars.

  2. Jim Kilpela June 23, 2017 / 9:13 am

    What misery Kevie…I don’t know how you continue to have such a positive attitude.

    The good news is that the bug suit seems to be keeping most of the bugs at bay.

    • Kevin Koski June 24, 2017 / 5:40 pm

      Well with bike touring you always have the bad and the good. You make adjustments to keep it as good as you can. The bug suit saved me. I would have been totally eaten alive without it.

  3. Katrina June 27, 2017 / 12:17 pm

    Amazing and awful entry….can’t believe what you went through! I think I may have googled the closest airport and flown home!

  4. Suzanne Kilpela June 27, 2017 / 3:12 pm

    Hi Kev; I admire your perseverance and dedication to ride. I don’t know about timing and when you’d be at the Soo, but here’s the website of the June 30 events for the Engineer’s day for the Soo locks. If you’re in the neighborhood, it sounds exciting and historical/educational.
    Stay safe!

    • Kevin Koski June 29, 2017 / 10:29 am

      As it happens I will be in the Soo on June 30 so I plan on attending this event. Thanks.

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