Day 34: Schreiber to White Lake (154 km)
“I think I’ll enjoy it, but I’ll be in pain,” Katie Wanderer responded when I asked her this morning what she was expecting from today’s ride.
Pain unfortunately seems to have become a feature of this trip. Mostly it is knee pain or back pain. But there is a plethora of pain that I am experiencing that is quite distracting from the joy of cycling through Ontario.
I felt apprehensive about the day ahead. And not entirely convinced that I would make it to White Lake, especially given my wonky pain and yesterday’s pitiful run. As I set off this morning I tried to focus outwardly on the beautiful scenery. The north shore of Lake Superior has a quiet majesty about it. Early morning the road was almost empty of traffic save for a heron flying over head. The frequent steep ascents allow you to steal glances of the lakes over the top of the forest. The side of the road was decorated with wild flowers, buzzing with life. Yellow and black striped butterflies flapped across the road. I noticed a very beautiful bee collecting pollen at lunchtime. It was orangeish and looked a bit like a hummingbird.
There’s a distinctive bird call which I often hear as I cycle along. It’s made of four sharp, long whistles. I think it’s a white throated sparrow although the melody of its call reminds me of lazy afternoons lying in the grass in England listening to the cooing of a wood pigeon.
The wildlife highlight of the day was seeing a black bear. It was happily munching at the roadside when I zoomed past. First my heart skipped a beat as it turned round but then it sort of shrugged and just carried on munching. I guess I should have stopped to take a photo but I am still quite scared so was happy to use the downhill as an excuse not to stop.
I needed all the nature I could get to distract me from today’s epic ride: 154km on tired, old legs. I had to stop every 30km or so to pull out my half yoga mat and do an entire stretching routine to loosen my knotted muscles. I would respray Deep Freeze on whatever body part was complaining the most. Then pop another painkiller (I need to give up painkillers tomorrow as I now have indigestion.)
After about 90km I reached the town of Marathon (an apt name for today’s ordeal). Pulling in at a gas station I met a hipster duo of cyclists who were headed east. I was chatting to Hipster 1 when Hipster 2 arrived. He immediately chucked his bike on the ground and kicked at the trailer he was pulling. “It’s a piece of junk,” he complained, “I was just given it for free a couple of days ago but I want to get rid of it.” He then opened the lid of his trailer to reveal a guitar and what looked to be a pair of old cowboy boots. He pulled out a pack of tobacco and started rolling a cigarette. I later discovered (when i went down it) that he had just cycled up a ridiculously steep 3km long hill. And he was celebrating with a smoke.
These guys sleep in hammocks. They haven’t paid for a single night at a campsite yet. They seemed to be carrying very minimal gear (guitar and cowboy boots excepted) but I’m sure this is because they didn’t have stuff rather than because they had the super-compact ultra-lightweight technical gear (see Mr Triathlon from yesterday.)
Later on today I saw two other cyclists coming the opposite way. We waved cheerful to each other. They looked retro: he bare chested in small, blue shorts, her in a neon top and buggy sunglasses.
The bike and gear are undetachable from the cyclists. I don’t mean this in a materialistic way. Rather I mean what stuff they pack, how much they carry and how’s it’s loaded onto their choice of bike inextricably reflects their personality. I figure that by seeing a cyclist on the road with all their gear you can instantly get a feel for what they are like. I guess it’s the same as having a snoop round someone’s house. After all, our bikes are our homes for the summer.
After lunch at Marathon and the enjoyable, swooping 3km descent, the hills began to flatten out. The wind had been blowing against or across me off the lake all morning, but as a headed inland towards White Lake it seemed to swing round to my back and push me along for the last 50km. My speed gradually picked up as I started to believe that, yes, I would actually make it to White River.
I swung into my forest clearing of a campsite after a memorable 8 hours and 1 minute of cycling. It was 7pm. This was the longest day of cycling I have done in my life. I called my Dad from the only available pay phone to inform him that I was still alive. Relief swept over me: I’ve made another day.