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This will be the Lite versions of this account. No items coming from other sources, such as maps, will not be included. At this time only a short summary of the trip has been completed, first published over several editions of the Newsletter of Saint-Ansgar's Lutheran Church
This would be the third of three bike rides taken during the Summer. I left my wife at a week-long retreat near the shores of Georgian Bay and rode across the neck of the Bruce Peninsula to the Lake Huron Shore. Thence I rode down the shoreline of Lake Huron to Sarnia, down the Saint-Claire river and around Lake Saint-Claire to Windsor, down the Detroit River to its mouth at Amherstburg, and finally east along the Lake Erie shore to Leamington and Point-Pelée. All this over a span of eight days.
My Lord Jesus Christ, receive my thanks for his constant companionship, help, guidance, and protection, without which I would never have been able to accomplish what I did.
|00 Monday, July 11, 2005||
I had already been extremely thankful during the Spring & Summer of 2005, in having had the opportunity to make two successful long distance bike journeys. My wife's attendance at a week-long, intensive course north of Toronto would now provide me with a third such opportunity: To ride down the 'West Coast' of Ontario. I would ride from Thornbury, on Georgian Bay; over to Lake Huron and down the entire shoreline to Sarnia; along the Saint-Claire River; around Lake Saint-Claire; done the Detroit River; and finally around to the coastline of Lake Erie. I was free to go as far as I could within my eight-day window. At the end of that time, my wife would join me with our vehicle.
The trip started with an all-day drive down to Toronto and up to Thornbury, on the shores of Georgian Bay. We arrived at the 'retreat' where Sheryl would be studying early enough to enjoy a nice dinner together by the old water wheel in Thornbury. Then I was allowed to pitch my tent on the lawn of the retreat. (My wife's shared lodging, unfortunately, did not include room for spouses.)
|02 Tuesday, July 12, 2005||
She was up with me bright and early the next morning at 05:00, as I rolled up my tent and sleeping bag and packed all my gear onto the bike. With kisses and photos, I set off down the high gravel road for the town of Thornbury, 13km away at the shore. I would have breakfast in town, at around 07:00.
I was pleased to discover a bicycle trail running along the shoreline of Georgian Bay, from Collingwood to Meaford. Its path along the shoreline gave me several magnificent views of Georgian Bay, which was silent and still as a mirror in the early morning grey. I could hardly distinguish the horizon. As with many of these biking trails, it was an old railway line. I was able to avoid climbing up and over the rises, as did the highway. The trail brought me into the back streets of Meaford, past lumber yards and other industries, to deposit me at the town marina.
Meaford was a small, pleasant town, but I did not stay long. Highway 26 climbed, perpendicular to the lake, straight up the long hillside, with never one curve. (I would learn that these Ontario roads were laid out by surveyors, with no consideration of any natural obstacle that might be in the way. Roads did not follow river valleys, but climbed up and over a succession of ridges, meeting the same river at every descent, so as not to deviate from the straight path.)
The sun was beating down on me by this point and it was developing into a hot day. I had the pleasure, at least, of racing down the first couple of ridges. Then I encountered road construction. Not only were my climbs slow and laborious, but I then had to inch down the other side of each hill. At length, I made it to the largish community of Owen Sound around Noon.
There was a short, but very steep climb up out of Owen Sound. I was sweating buckets by the time I got to the top. Not too much further along was the intersection with Highway 6, leading north through the Bruce Peninsula. I lost nearly all the traffic at this point and Highway 21 was reduced to little more than a country road. It continued as straight as before, up and down the rolling hills. I crossed the same river three times.
On approaching Southhampton, the first town on the shore of Lake Huron, the road builders finally had to give way to 'force majeure": I came to a curve! The highway began to follow a huge river canyon, which finally opened onto the lake. Southhampton has wealth of old buildings and a well-developed tourist area, with museums and gift shops. I rode down to the beach to take in my first panoramic view of the vast blue arc of Lake Huron. At the foot of the main street, by the beach, flew this gigantic Canadian flag.
My destination for the day was Port Elgin, the next town southwards along Hwy 21. I had reserved a camping space at Point MacGregor Provincial Park. I arrived in late afternoon and would find myself riding five times over the same 5km of roadway in the next few hours. The campground was 5km past town. I rode directly through and checked in and set up my tent (One passage along 'Lake Range Road'). Then I rode back into town to check out the beach and have supper (Two). At the beach, I found an old children's railroad whose train was pulled by a bonafide steam locomotive. I rode back to my tent as evening came on. (Three). The next morning I would ride back into town for breakfast, as there was little chance of a restaurant further on (Four). Then I would ride once more past Point MacGregor on my way out of town (Five). I felt like I should know the individual corn plants in the fields along the road by name.
At the end of the day, I was content with the progress I had made, and was anxious to continue my exploration of Lake Huron.
|03 Wednesday, July 13, 2005||
It was the second day of my bicycle ride down along the West Coast of Ontario. On the first day, I had ridden from the shores of Georgian Bay, across the neck of the Bruce Peninsula, to come to rest at Port Elgin, on the shores of Lake Huron. I awoke in the dawn mist of the campground at Macgregor Point Provincial Park, packed up all my gear and left the park before most had arisen.
I returned to Port Elgin for breakfast, and called ahead to reserve my camping spots at provincial parks for the next couple of days. The distance I could travel was governed entirely by the placement of campgrounds along the way. My goal for this day would be the town of Goderich.
Once more, then, and for the last time, I passed by Macgregor Point along Lake Range Road. It was a quiet, country road, well away from the highway. There were few cars and both sides of the road were lined with impenetrable forest. It promised to be a hot, sunny day, now that the mist had risen. Normally, I would rejoice at the lack of any wind, but I found I had to keep up a speed of at least 15 km/hr in order to stay ahead of the many biting flies that would otherwise circle around me. I crossed "Concession" roads at every two kilometres exactly.
Lake Range Road ended at Concession 8. I could see off in the distance the huge concrete shells of a nuclear power plant, along the lakeside. As I followed Concession 8 down to the shoreline, where there was a small settlement, I passed radiation counters every few hundred feet. All the woods to the left of me were fenced off, with stark warning signs. From the point, I was able to get a good view of the plant.
As I continued along the roads southward, B/C Road and Tie Road, all view of the nuclear plant itself was lost. The roads were not at all arranged as indicated on the map. Some roads and towns shown on the map simply were not there. Alongside the plant itself was a long, high fence, topped with barbed wire. When I stopped to ask at the gate whether there was any sort of visitor's centre, the armed guards looked visibly nervous, and directed me out to the main highway. The visitor's centre was far up the hill, so I decided against the detour.
Beyond the plant, I came to tiny beach hamlet of Inverhuron. No shoreline road led south from there, so I had to climb steeply inland. I passed a wagon full of Amish or Mennonite girls dressed for the beach, dressed in head-to-toe bathing suits as one might see in the 1890s, and wearing bonnets.
On the high road (but still not the main highway), I lost all sight of the lake. All I could see to the my right, across the farmers' fields, was a distant line of trees. I soon came into the delightful town of Kincardine. Here was a beachfront park, a long pier jutting out into the lake, and an historic lighthouse. I rested in Kincardine for lunch and spent more than an hour looking around. As I headed south, I was able to follow Beach Road right alongside the water for quite a distance. At the county line, though, I was shunted inland to the main highway, Highway 21. The traffic was a shock, for I had been on the highway all morning!
Lake Huron was once again just a distant line of trees as I beat my way southwards under the hot sun. After a couple of hours, I came to Point Farms Provincial Park, still about 5km short of Goderich. I set my tent up in the park, on the bluffs high above the lake, and then set out for town. Goderich, I would discover, was quite a large town and a major port. I would find a bike trail leading down into the port across an old CP rail trestle. Upper town was famous for its octagonal downtown square and for the oldest jailhouse in that part of the country. I looked around town, had supper, and managed to catch the tourist information centre before it closed. The brochures I picked up would be instrumental in solving my lodging problem for a few days hence.
I lingered overlong in town and found myself riding back up the bike trail in near total darkness. Back at the main highway, I still had 5km to go. Although I had a rear tail light and was wearing reflective gear, these things did not help me see ahead. I found I could only advance when there was a car coming one way or the other, so as to illuminate the road. Otherwise, I had to stop. It was a long 5km!
Before retiring, I stood out on the bluffs looking out into the unbroken grey of the lake at night. It was impossible to make out the horizon. All was the same uniform colour. A mist hid the stars. Distant sheet lightning, far out on the lake, lit up the night sky. I slept well that night.
|04 Thursday, July 14, 2005||
I awoke on the third day of my bicycle ride along the shores of Lake Huron to a bright, sunny morning. The 5km back into Goderich was much more pleasant in the daylight, as was the ride along the bike trail that crossed the old CP trestle into town. I was treated to marvellous views of the vast, deep blue of the lake, stretching out to the horizon.
It was a hard climb back up from the waterfront to the main section of Goderich, with its famous octagonal main street. I had breakfast at the same restaurant where I had been the evening before, and talked the waitress into filling my little mini-cooler with ice.
I had my destination for the day, Pinery Provincial Park, near Grand Bend, but beyond that was a black hole in the campground guide. Where was I to stay when I got to Sarnia, and then Windsor? The Ontario road map listed nothing but a few tantalizing campgrounds along the Saint Clair river, but shown in different colour. The map key called these 'Parks Commission Campgrounds", but offered no information. Armed at last with the Sarnia tourist guide I had picked up the day before, I discovered they belonged to the 'Saint Clair River Parks Commission'. The attendant did not want to give me a reservation for only one night, but my sob story about arriving by bike after a long day's ride finally prevailed. I also made my reservations a bit before and a bit after Windsor. Leaving my phone booth office, I felt content that the rest of my campgrounds were taken care of and I could just relax and ride.
The 'Bluewater Highway' south of Goderich was pretty unexciting. It was a two lane road, with lots of traffic, stretched on due south without a single curve. There were no trees. Along both sides was a succession of wheat fields, many of which had large combine crews working them. Far off to the right, but edging ever closer, was the distant line of trees which I knew marked the lakeshore, but I see no water.
By the time I got to Bayview, the shoreline has moved fairly close to the highway. I dipped down into a steep ravine and saw the road climbing up an equally steep slope ahead of me. I turned instead to the right, to follow the road out to the harbour. Sitting far out at the end of the concrete breakwater, surrounded by water, I had my morning snack.
Bayview rests upon a bluff overlooking the harbour and turns its back on the water. I hiked my heavily-loaded rig up the steep pedestrian trail to 'Main Street', an overly trendy tourist haven which did not seem to have any real shops. The street was thick with tourists, exploring the myriad candle and curio shops.
The highway south of Bayview was a repeat of the earlier highway. Once again, the distant shoreline edged ever closer. There began to be roads leading towards the shore, which fanned out to a range of shoreline homes. None of these roads connected though, so I had to continue along the highway.
I came at last to an open wheat field, the back of which ended at the cliffside above the lake, without houses. A short ride down the road brought me out at the lake, atop a fifty-foot bluff. Looking south, I could see the big bend in the Lake Huron shoreline, as it curved westward.
The town of Big Bend was a typical beach town. I could have been at the seaside. The main street streched several blocks, lined with trendy stores and ending in a vast and crowded beach sporting a giant Canadian flag. After eating my lunch out at the end of the breakwater, I walked my bike back up through the town, along the sidewalk, so that I could experience the energy of all the throngs of people walking up and down the street.
My campground was still 5km further west, along a highway which was now very busy. It had grown to four lanes. The Pinery Provincial Park was a huge complex, but it had only one entrance. Once inside, there were miles of roads. It was another 5km from the gate to my campsite! I stopped in at the huge camp store complex, almost as big as a supermarket and complete with restaurant. The hundreds of campsites in the park translated into literally thousands of people. Most got around the park by bicycle.
After leaving for supper along the highway and coming back, I managed to get to the beach, beyond the dunes, just as the sun was setting to the west over Lake Huron.
|05 Friday, July 15, 2005||
I awoke early in the pre-dawn mist at my campsite amidst the vast complex of the Pinery Provincial Park. It was the fourth day of my bicycle ride, the day I would be leaving Lake Huron behind. My neighbours had partied well into the night and it was oh so tempting to make a lot of 5:00 racket as I packed up, but my Christian heart prevailed and I left quietly. It was nearly 5km back to the park gate, during which I met only a few other early morning souls.
The four-laned boulevard continued westward along the outside edge of the Pinery, but there were few cars. As I rode along, hungering for breakfast, the sun broke through the fog with the promise of yet another bright day.
The Pinery ended at Port Franks, as the road crossed over the second 'cut' in the Au Sable River. The first had been at Grand Bend. Each of these 'cuts' diverted water from the river directly to the lake, in order to cut down on flooding. What was left of the river formed the centerpiece of The Pinery Park. On the far side, I found a small restaurant, crowded for breakfast.
Continuing along, but now sated, I soon came upon a long stretch of fenced off forest to my right. My interest was piqued by signs warning of 'un-exploded rounds'. It was an army base from former days. As the buildings of the base came into view, I noticed old cars parked among the barracks, along with clotheslines and other signs of habitation. It was odd, for the base seemed very run down. Then, at last, the mystery was solved as I came upon a big sign announcing that this was "Indian Land" which had been "Occupied". I now knew, also, why the Ipperwash Provincial Park was marked on the map simply as "Closed". It, too, had been occupied.
I was in the middle of the Kettle Point Indian Reservation. The main road turned south at this point, to join the freeway, leaving me to continue on the much quieter and more pleasant "Lakeshore" road, though I had not yet seen the lake that day. I came upon a stretch of tree-lined road bordered by a corn field. Around each tree was finely bevelled cone of lower growth, as perfect as if a machine had trimmed it. I guess it was the shade of the trees, as the sun swung around during the day.
As Lakeshore turned south, I continued west along the tiny city streets at the beginning of the outskirts of Sarnia, and came upon an opening to the lake, my first view of the day. Edging ever westward along the tiny streets, I came out at a marvellous stretch of beach, lined with a bike path. The surf was blowing in like at the ocean. Alas, it was not to last. I was shunted inland, back to "Lakeshore". I passed through a long tree-lined stretch, bounded on the lake side by huge estates. As I got closer to town, the estates became more and more modest, until they were only fancy homes.
I got my second view of the lake at the end of Lakeshore, at a tiny sliver of a park, barely one lot wide. Looking westward, through the haze, I could make out a giant lighthouse and the American shore of Lake Huron stretching off to the north.
Residents had told me how to cut through the vast city park and by the beaches, to find the beginning of Sarnia's waterfront bike trail. I came out underneath the international bridge, right at the beginning of the Saint-Clair River. The water was crystal clear and the current strong.
Boats plied the waters in both directions, small pleasure boats and huge lake freighters. Those coming uptream had hard job! Kids were jumping off the bridge pier and letting the current carry them down. Opposing pairs of giant flags could be seen on either side of the river. It was a great place to stop for lunch!
Once past the Indian casino, the waterfront trail continued, bringing me around the beautifully-groomed Sarnia shoreline. Then it all came to an end. I followed the signs for the Saint-Clair Parkway, along which I knew there to be a bike path. I was brought into several kilometres of industrial hell, finding my way timidly along the edge of a six-laned boulevard thick with traffic and heavy trucks. I was passing by giant refineries and chemical plants. It was strange to find, amidst all this, an irrigation canal, snaking its way through to the farmland beyond. When I finally came out at the Saint Clair River again, the bike trail turned out to be quite pleasant. It led through the parkland right alongside the river and continued along for some 30 kilometres. All along the river were the floating docks of home-owners on the other side of the road. The U.S. side looked the same, some 250 metres away.
At the small town of Courtright, I was forced to wait out one of those giant mid-western thunderstorms for more than an hour. I could see and hear it coming, but seemed to take forever to arrive. Then, after ten minutes of intense rain, it was all over. I would have a fun time the next day with these storms!
The bike trail ended at the town line of Sombra, where I also found my campground. The attendant had left, but had placed the reserved sign for me on one of the best overnight campsites there. I would look upstream during the night at all the lights, including those of passing ships.
I continued on into Sombra itself for supper. It was a tiny town, next to the ferry. All major traffic had been shunted off to other highways, so the towns along the Saint-Clair Parkway were rather sleepy and quiet. There was very little traffic. I enjoyed a great meal out on the terrace, watching the tiny four-car ferry ply back and forth. I ended my evening sitting out by the water at my campsite, watching the ships on the Saint Clair River.
|06 Saturday, July 16, 2005||
When I awoke before 06:00 at the campground in Sombra, Ontario, on the banks of the Saint-Claire River, all was dead quiet and covered with a light, foggy mist. The sky was grey. The day held lots of promise, but would turn out to be one of my most trying days ever in cycling. The goal of the day was to ride around the eastern shore of Lake Saint Claire, to arrive at a pre-arranged campsite at a golf course near Belle River, just a couple of hours ride from Windsor.
The tiny road was nearly deserted as I set off in the early morning. The grey, foggy day lent a totally different aspect to the river than I had seen the day before, in the sunshine. Nothing was open in Sombra, so I continued on to Port Lambton, half an hour further on, where I joined the farmers and other early risers at a busy little breakfast place.
At Port Lambdon, alas, the road turns away from the river, to make way for a large island, which is also an Indian reservation. I could not believe my bad luck as the grey skies turned to rain, but I took it in stride and stopped to change into my rain gear. Riding due east and halfway to Wallaceburg, I met the main highway. Suddenly my the two-laned road was alive with heavy traffic. The rain remained light. I was surprised to find a drawbridge at Wallaceburg and a channel filled with pleasure boats and industrial barges. I had never known water traffic could come so far inland off the lake. My route led me southeast from Wallaceburg. I had no choice but to give a wide berth to eastern shore of Lake Saint Claire, as there was no road that went directly south. My intention was to cut over and zig-zag southwards along a collection of farm roads. I was still riding along the main highway, next to a canal, when I began to see the mist hide the distant trees to my right. Soon, even closer trees were vanishing. Then I heard the thunder and saw the lightning! In grey, overcast skies, it is very hard to see an oncoming thunder storm. The slightly darker sky and the oncoming mist, which is really heavy rain, are the only clues.
I raced across the canal and dashed into a nearby farm, taking refuge in an open equipment barn, as the torrent arrived. Lightning flashed all around, with heavy thunder, but it was all over in 20 minutes. In that time, no one said anything to me. I was back in the light rain as I continued southwest along the main road.
Just a few minutes later, as I neared my turn off onto the farm road called 'Electric Line Road', I saw the mist coming upon me again, and heard the nearby thunder. I looked around and could find no easy and open refuge.Finally, at the corner, I dashed into a driveway and knocked on the house door. A leery woman answered and, upon my request that they open their car garage and let me in it, called her husband quickly. Hearing my plight, he did as I requested. I was on my way again about 20 minutes later.
A few short minutes later, at Bear Line Road, a storm struck yet again. This time I did not have time to find shelter before being caught in the heavy rain. As lightning was striking the ground nearby, I raced for the island of trees ahead, which I knew to be a farmhouse. I dashed in and, without asking, parked myself on their sheltered porch. I saw the curtain move as a lady looked out the window, but no one said anything. Soon I was on my way.
It began to clear a bit and the rain stopped. I felt the day's storms were over. I kept scanning to the southwest, whence they had all come, but saw nothing.
I ended up at the town of Mitchell Bay, right on the shores of the lake. Feeling from the improved weather like my day's troubles were over finally, I relaxed and had lunch at a small restaurant. As I headed south along Winter Line Road, I kept a wary eye at the sky towards the southeast, looking for more storm cells. I saw nothing, but noticed I was making really good time. There was a strong wind behind me. I stopped at the town of Grande Pointe, surprised to see signs of French all around me, and looked behind. The whole sky behind me was a dark, ominous colour! I knew I did not have much time as I raced on, taking advantage of the windy push as long as I could. The rain hit just as I came to a crossroads.
Once again, I had to dash for someone's porch. For a few minutes, the rain fell so strongly that I could hardly see the road. As I was standing there, the owner of the house drove in. He looked at me, but did not say anything as he raced inside. Half an hour later, I was on my way. I began to become concerned about making my day's destination, for all these stops. I now knew to look behind me as well.
I realized later that the hour's worth of 'good weather' must have been the eye of the storm, which is way the afternoon's weather was coming from the opposite direction.
My next forced stop was in the town of Painville, where I shared a sheltered porch with two young girls, as their mother eyed me warily. Then south once more, to reach the Thames River. I was surprised to find it completely enclosed by high levees. After crossing the Thames, I was forced one last time to seek shelter in a farmer's shed along Tecumseh Line Road. This time, the storm was less intense and it did not move on, but merely dissolved into heavy rain.
The rain had turned cold as I rode on after half an hour or so. All around me were high levees. I felt like I was riding through the delta-land of Louisiana! I came to the town of Pointe-aux-Roches, looking for a hot coffee and some soup, but there was nothing of the kind to be had.
Thankfully, 5km further on, I came upon my campground for the evening. It was attached to a golf course. They took pity on me and gave me a site usually reserved for trailers, as all the tent sites were literally underwater. I set up my tent in the rain and then came inside their cafeteria for some well-deserved hot soup, hot coffee, and a wholesome meal.
The rain had ended by the time I was done, so I took a walk around the campground and marina. All along the far side of the channel was thick, jungle-like vegetation. My feeling of being in Louisiana was reinforced.
There was little else to do so I retired for the evening. It was still light outside.
|07 Sunday, July 17, 2005||
When I awoke to my watch alarm at 05:00 and gazed outside my small tent, I was delighted to see that the sun was coming up. All was still dripping wet from the previous day's downpour, but I managed to pack up reasonably well and was ready to set out at 07:00. Unfortunately, I had to wait until the pro shop (for my campsite had been at a golf course) opened at 07:15, in order to get back my $30 key deposit (The campground washrooms were locked so that only campers, and no golfers, could use them.)
Although technically in Belle River, I still had a ways to go before actually coming to the town itself. The town's main street was, interestingly, called 'Notre Dame'. It was a sleepy town at 08:00, but I came upon a breakfast nook called 'Edna's Place', which was packed. I was greeted with "You like it breakfast?" by this tiny and elderly little Slavic lady who was serving the entire restaurant single-handed.
After breakfast, I explored to the end of the town's pier, jutting out into the waters of Lake Saint Claire. The whole town seemed to be gathered at the pier for some sort of children's fishing contest.
Riding westward, I encountered a series of short beachfront streets, each broken after a few blocks by the mouth of a creek. At each break, I would have to ride back up to the main road in order to cross the bridge and then return along the far side. These sections were lined with tiny, working-class beachfront cottages and backed by the main railroad line from Windsor.
When I rode back up to the highway at the town of Puce, I found the main highway itself approached the lakefront at the far side of the bridge. Gone was the working man's beach. The tree-lined boulevard was lined with vast, expensive estates. As I got nearer and nearer the city, the estates became ever more modest until, at the town of Tecumseh, they had become simply large, expensive city homes.
At the Tecumseh-Windsor line, I found a small waterfront park, barely a sliver between two fenced property lines. It was my first direct access to the lake since leaving the Belle River pier. I could see the far, Michigan shore angling southwards towards me as I glanced to the west.
A bike path began at the Windsor line, but it ran on the inside of the boulevard and was well separated from the water. After a short way, I came upon thousands of cars parked all over the grass and just about anywhere. I heard loudspeakers. It was a huge union party at a lakeshore park. I had to dismount and walk my bike through the crowds. Beyond the park, I lost access to the waterfront again. I finally abandoned the bike trail to ride along 'Riverside Drive'. When I came out the beginning of Windsor's well-groomed waterfront, I was across from Belle-Isle, a Detroit island park.
Riding along the waterfront was great! Tour boats from Detroit came by and the tourists waved to me. Once I was past Belle-Isle, I could see the industrial Detroit waterfront on the far side. I passed by the remains of rail ferry docks. (The last time I had visited Windsor itself, rather than just driving by, had been in the early 70s. I remember standing on the promenade and watching the dozens of rail ferries loading and departing on almost a minute-by-minute basis, as long freight trains were broken up and pushed out onto the boats.) Now the promenade was along the old rail lines, of which no trace remained.
I passed by the big Windsor casino, directly across from the glassy towers of the Detroit Plaza. The Detroit River was a bright blue-green and was thick with boats: Pleasure craft, freighters and tour boats. I could see Detroit's monorail people movers following their airborne paths. It looked like the far side was as much a waterfront park as the Windsor side. (Which was a far cry from how I remembered it during a Detroit visit in the early 80s.)
I took a short detour into downtown Windsor and discovered it was at least ten degrees hotter than along the cool waterfront. It was very stifling and I did not stay long. The waterfront park came to an end underneath the International Bridge. There was this old, black fisherman who was being given a ticket for having two fishing poles in the water at once. The ticketing officer was kind enough to tell me how to bypass the freeway soup that was the beginning of the shoreline highway south of Windsor.
I ended up riding through this old, abandoned industrial park. Trees and grass had overrun all the former factories. Across the river was the massive 'Rouge River' plant of Ford Motors. Pipes stuck into the ground at regular intervals issued forth what looked like steam. I caught a whiff of this noxious vapour at one point and almost passed out. I was glad to get out to the highway.
Past the Racetack, the traffic lessened and soon I was back along the water, riding south along the Detroit River. The far side was all waterfront cottages and private boat docks, just like the Canadian side. I came upon an Indian cemetery with a monument to the allied Indians who had been settled here after the War of 1812.
My destination for the day was Amherstburg, within sight of the mouth of the Detroit River. This picturesque old town housed a fort and had many blocks of historic buildings along its old waterfront. It had been a haven for blacks during the days of the Underground Railroad, when they would jump ship off the steamboats connecting Sandusky, Ohio and Detroit.
My campground of the day was well outside of town, a very commercial "family" campground of the "Jellystone Park" chain. They did not quite know how to handle my arrival by bike. The absence of a license plate number nearly made it impossible for me to register. Then there was a rule against riding bikes in the park, but when I refused to walk my heavy rig, the attendant agreed to waive the rule in my case.
Once set up, with my wet tent drying out in the breeze, I returned to town and watched the sunset over the Detroit River before retiring to a local pub for dinner. My panier-laden bike parked outside the window became a point of interest and some locals bought me a beer so as to hear about my trip. It was quite late when I returned to the campground.
|08 Monday, July 8, 2005||
No one was stirring when I awoke at 05:00, under the pines of "Jellystone" campground, a tiny island of trees set amidst the open expanse of farmer's fields. I quickly and quietly packed up my gear and rode out of the park, to head west along the highway and back to Amherstburg. On the way in, I crossed over a small creek, whose importance I would discover later in the morning. Once in town, I found a busy breakfast restaurant along the main highway.
Sheryl and I spoke on the phone, and arranged for her to meet me at the end of the day at Leaminton, Ontario. For her, it would be nearly a full day's drive.
I headed south after breakfast. The road led right along the river, on the high ground. I could see the ever-approaching mouth of the Detroit River and the opening up of Lake Erie beyond. I passed the ruins of another fort, built by the Americans as they briefly laid seige to the main British fort at Amherstburg in 1812 (before Detroit fell to the British and was held for the rest of the war.)
At a certain point, just a couple of kilometres from the lake, the main road turned sharply to the east. Ahead continued a small street along the beachfront houses, marked with a "Dead End' sign. I decided I might as well go to the end and have a look. As I descended the hill, there were beachfront houses to my right and a vast, forested marsh to my left. The trip odometer my wife had bought for me earlier in the Summer, along with my new bike, turned 1000km and so I stopped in front of one of the homes to take a photo. As I saw the homeowner coming over, I prepared for grief: Why are you stopping in front of my house? I was pleasantly surprised when he told me to ignore the "Dead End" sign at the end, that bikes could get through along the levee. He must have been an angel. When I got to the end of the street, it certainly did not look like anyone could get through. I never would have tried it without his having told me. As it was, I had several kilometres of pleasant riding, right along the waterfront.
I was only forced back to the main road when I came out at a vast inlet and marsh. This was the tiny creek I had crossed earlier in the morning! I soon came to a cut off and took the smaller, less-travelled road along the shoreline. Alas, there was no chance to really see the shore. All was blocked by trees. I took many of the access roads down to the water's edge, for it look on my map like the shoreline roads met up. They did not not. Each ended at a small inlet, to be continued on the far side. I had at least six of these false starts.
I came back to the main road at the quaint little town of Kingsville, which seemed a bustling tourist hub. Just before reaching town, I passed the first of what would be a series of enormous greenhouses. It was several stories high and seemed to stretch for the whole length of the farmer's field. Once in town, I stopped along the main street for lunch.
The road between Kingsville and Leamington was quite busy and was set high and quite a distance from the lake. I could only get occasional glimpses of the vast, blue expanse to my far right. All along the road were fields of tomatoes, being harvested my armies of workers. I saw a mechanized device where rows of pickers lay flat as it advanced slowly through the field.
I came upon an old gentleman in his eighties who was pulling a home-made, hand-drawn "camper" trailer. Whereas a car might travel 1000km in a day, and I might travel 100km, he was content with 10-15km a day. For him Kingsville to Leamington was his day's trip. When I asked him why, he just responded, "What else am I going to do in my eighties?" He was supporting the War Amps children's programme, but they were not his official sponsors.
It was still early afternoon when I got to Leamington. I rode about the whole town scoping out the various motels and figuring out how to give my wife detailed instructions as to how to find me. I discovered the vast Heinz plant at Leamington and the fact that Spanish was the town's second language, given the influx of farm workers from Mexico. I rode down to the waterfront to check out the ferry for Pelee Island. (It would turn out that my wife and I would take the ferry over there a couple of days later, with our bikes, and stand on the absolutely southernmost point in Canada that is accessible.)
I ended up back at the motel towards evening. Sheryl was close, but my directions fell apart as key exits on the 401 were closed for construction. I soon found myself guiding her by cell phone, using my detailed map of the area, as she drove frantically along empty farm roads as dusk settled in. She was very happy to round the curve and find me sitting by the roadside in one of the motel's chairs I had brought out.
My bike ride was over.