I am writing this post from a bluff overlooking Lake Erie, in a campground operated by the Haldiman Conservation Area, in Nanticoke, Ontario. The lake is completely placid today, in contrast to the two previous days when very strong winds (24-30 mph) were blowing from the west, churning up the lake and creating crashing waves. Several ocean-going freighters are in view, a reminder that the Great Lakes are connected all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Ohio is somewhere out of sight immediately south of us.
The final two days of cycling in Michigan were not especially exciting. One of them, from Otter Lake to St. Clair, included a serious thunderstorm that forced me to hole up under a tree next to a road with no shoulder and cars rolling past at 60 mph. The day also included a lunch stop for Wendy and me at a great microbrewery, Tilted Axis Brewing, in Lapeer, thirteen country miles from Otter Lake.
After the thunderstorm passed, I cycled onward through the town of Imlay City, where I stopped at a gas station to ask directions around a road closure. I should know by now not to ever let my helmet get separated from my bike, but – long story short – I left my helmet at the gas station. I didn’t realize this until I was 12 miles down the road. You’re probably asking, “How can someone ride 12 miles without a helmet and not realize it?” The answer is that I also wear a cycling cap while riding, and with the cap on, I’m usually not aware of the helmet. I realize that’s a lame excuse. In any case, I phoned Wendy to swing by the gas station to pick up the helmet. But… no helmet. Hopefully, it has a new life in the hands of someone who needs a good helmet. I cycled the remaining 30 miles to St Clair without any head protection, which is something I’m determined not to do again.
The next morning, I drove up to a bike shop in Port Huron (12 miles north) and bought a new helmet.
We left camp around 11:00 AM for the final miles into Marine City, on the banks of the St. Clair River. This is the preferred cyclists’ crossing into Canada, and recommended by my Michigan cycling guru, Mark. The ferry across the river was a hoot – funky and informal, water splashing up onto the exposed deck, sign posted with a warning: “high water – use at your own risk.”
O Canada – what a lovely country! It must be true that it’s illegal here to be impolite because people are, indeed, very friendly and polite – too polite, in fact, to bring up their horror at Trump and his actions. But once we let it be known that we’re not Trump fans, the floodgates open up. Of the dozens of people we have spoken with since we arrived in Canada, without exception each has expressed the shock and disbelief that Trump could actually be President of the United States. All admired Barack Obama, and noted the contrast in his style, integrity, intelligence, and dignity to Trump. No one we’ve spoken with can understand why we’re having the health care debates we are in the United States.
The Canadians we spoke with say that they like the Canadian national health system, and that they are fine paying the high taxes they do (much higher than in the US) to get the government services they enjoy. Several people have mentioned the influx of Haitian refugees fleeing the United States and entering Canada in the wake of Trump’s latest immigration proposals. This has created the need for emergency housing at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. To the Canadians we spoke with, this represents Canada having to clean up a problem created by Trump. Our sample size is limited, and therefore our conclusions can be considered suspect, but there seems to be a very different notion of community here than in the US.
Back to the trip … after crossing into Canada, we cycled southeast to Rondeau Provincial Park, located on a peninsula in Lake Erie, directly north of Cleveland, and directly east of Detroit. In fact, we were almost exactly equidistant (around 50 miles) from both cities.
On the way, we had another navigation issue with my Strava routing program.
Occasionally, Strava will route us onto obscure dirt roads when a perfect paved route is the actual way to go. Still, without a Strava error, we never would have seen memorably-named Whitebread Line Road.
Lake Erie has not been nearly as inviting as Lake Michigan, perhaps because it is experiencing storms and turbulence, and the skies are cloudy.
Wind turbines are scattered along much of the Lake Erie coastal area, with some solar arrays also found in places. Not everyone is in favor of wind generation, but it seems to be generally supported. Someone told us that because of wind and solar power production, Ontario has closed all of its coal-fired power plants. Today, at Nanticote, we can see one of those plants just a few miles to the west.
From Rondeau, we continued eastward along the signed Waterfront Trail (which is mostly not on the water and is on roads, generally without a shoulder) toward Port Burwell. Some of the roads are alongside the lake, however, and many are very lightly traveled. We stopped for a lunch of asparagus soup (the asparagus was harvested just across the road) in an old converted barn. The remainder of the route was on quiet farm roads. The farm fields are surrounded by forests of predominantly maple trees. Like central Michigan, this is an area of maple syrup production.At one point, I cycled on Uncle Tom’s Road, named to commemorate a settlement formed in the 1850’s and 1860’s by slaves who had traveled north on the Underground Railroad to reach Canada and safety.
Our campground at Port Burwell was filled with groups enjoying the 3-day Civic Holiday weekend. We camped next to a group of very fun-loving women from Woodstock, Ontario, who have camping together annually for years at the same campground on the same weekend. Fishing for walleye, perch and pickerel (not sure what that fish is) is the big activity here, and we tried unsuccessfully to buy a fish to grill for dinner. So we had to settle for our sausages and Greek salad.
Yesterday, we rode the west winds 57.5 miles to our current campsite. We saw a family of German cycle tourists doing a 2-week tour of Ontario. I hooked up with a couple who were completing a weekend cycling trip back to Port Dover. I had lunch with this couple, Joanna and Armin, and had a long and interesting conversation about American politics, which they cannot understand. We rode together in a pace line for 15 miles to their destination. Both of them are very strong cyclists, much stronger than I am, and we flew down the road averaging close to 20 mph. I rode the final 14 miles to Nanticote at a much more sustainable (for me) pace, but still averaged over 16 mph for the day.
In Evert, Wisconsin, we really enjoyed a fairly lengthy conversation with three adults (and very briefly their children) at a snack stop (the best frozen blended chai!). One of the men is a pastor (in green shirt in photo below). Once again, we found that these people who voted for Trump do not like Trump – they voted Republican for the issues that matter to them. The pastor said that a number of his friends who have thought that Trump is great are now rethinking this. He shared that there is a growing sense that our country would be better served with a President Pence (with Trump being impeached). In the town of Evert, of those students who graduate from high school, only about 10% go to college – and many of those don’t complete college. The pastor was rightly very proud that his son is heading off to University of Michigan to study engineering. He also said that there is 50% unemployment in Evert, so many of those who do not go to college have nothing to do. As has been true with virtually everyone we have met on this trip, we also found these people extremely warm and friendly. They and we agreed that we have much more in common than we have differences.
It’s been fun to see the “barn quilts” that have been common throughout Michigan and in Canada.
I hit heavy rain on the way back to the van on the wonderful rail trail. Thankfully I had bought high-visibility waterproof shoe covers in Minneapolis, so I was ready! The rainstorm brought a welcome drop in the temperature (it has really been hot and humid for a number of days) – and had ended so that I could load my bike into the van without rain.
I experienced the scariest sky of the trip as I drove the van from Otter Lake Campground. It definitely made me think twice about going forward. Thankfully, no tornado – just heavy rain with some hail (small hailstones fortunately, so no damage).
Fun to be in Canada – we are definitely with “our people” here politically.
As Howard said, the border crossing was quite the experience. It was also amazing to see the United States on one side of the Saint Clair River and Canada on the other. It didn’t seem very secure.
Yesterday the terrain has become even more interesting – in addition to crops, orchards, and forests, we now have some gentle hills again. We also cycled past asparagus fields and orchards with cherries. Farm stands are very common here where we can buy gorgeous produce from the source.
Recycling is back in a bigger way than in California, including bins for small used propane tanks.
I have also found the renewable energy that is so evident in Ontario exciting to see.
At our second campground in Canada where we camped under weeping willow trees, we loved meeting the Woodstock Girls! As we did not have electricity at our site, one of “the girls” helped us charge my bike battery at their site. When our conversation shifted to politics – and I made it clear that I am not a Trump supporter, one of the Woodstock Girls said, “You sure won’t find any Trump supporters here.” Like many of the Canadians we’ve talked to, they said that they (like us) can’t stop themselves from tuning in each day to see what crazy thing Trump has said or tweeted – or who has been fired next. People here cannot believe that he is the President of the United States.
Sadly we missed the fireworks (my guilty pleasure!) over Lake Erie in this 3 day holiday weekend.
A few thanks are in order:
Thanks to Reed and Amanda who introduced us to chia bowl breakfasts when they were traveling with us earlier in the trip. Chia bowls have been our go-to breakfast for each morning except layover days. For those of you who don’t know what that is, we soak chia seeds with almond milk overnight. Then top with varied toppings: fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, granola, yogurt, milk. Quick in the morning, nutritious, refreshing, and absolutely delicious!
And thank you, Al. We have greatly improved showers – both Howard’s occasional outdoor showers at our trailer and my showers in the campground restrooms – with the shower pallet that our good friend, Al Rosen, built for our trip.
With Maine just a few weeks away, I’m really getting excited about lobster – so much so that we bought some lobster tails at the grocery store today for dinner tonight (so much cheaper than in California!). Yum!