Day 29: Fort Frances to Atikokan (153.5km)
This is a nightmare.
I am cycling alone in bear country. The rain is pouring and pouring. I have cycled 100km already. I still have 50km to go. There is nothing, nobody here. I ring my bell, I call out loud to scare off the bears. And so I can hear a human voice.
The sky flashes. I count the pedal strokes. 7, 8, 9…The thunder rumbles. I remember that awful moment coming out of Calgary. Don’t ride in thunderstorms. But what else can I do right now? I scan the roadside for possible wild camping spots. Yet the thought of sitting in a tent in this weather is equally terrifying. I just want to get there. I pedal as fast as I can.
There are kilometres I don’t remember. I just kept pedalling. The lightning stopped and soon I realised that I had not heard thunder for a while. How long, how far I don’t know. It was still raining.
The birds had stopped singing. The rain has drowned out every other sound save for the rattle of raindrop on the tarmac, the splashing of Monty’s wheels and the soft metallic hiss of his disc brakes.
I saw a sign up ahead for a fishing resort with a campground 1km off the road. With 38km to Atikokan I decided it was worth a try. I stopped at the roadside to collect rocks and rubbish and write “Dino” with an arrow point left on the roadside – my sign to the Wanderers so they knew where I’d gone. When I leapt down the verge to collect the rocks a swarm of mosquitoes swirled around me biting at every spot of available flesh.
Approaching the fishing ground my heart sank slightly. The brown wooden cabins looked somewhat derelict. There was no sign of life save for the mosquitoes that gathered on my face and legs. Nervously I entered the green house labelled as “office & store”. Inside it was dark. The only light came from a small square front window which cast a gloomy light over the small, ramshackle front desk. Fishing maps and an old manual till sat on the desk. At the back of the room a limbless bear hide lay on a dusty table, the jaws of the dead animal hanging open and gormless with lifeless terror. A deer head was mounted above a few shelves, empty save for a few old tins of beans and a single jar of mayonnaise. I could hear the noise of a television from behind the closed door that stood behind the desk. I rang the bell. Nothing. I rang the bell again and called out again. The door creaked open and a shaft of light entered the gloom.
“Hello?” I called again apprehensively.
I looked down the doorway and saw a small cat. It eyed me suspiciously, took a furtive step forwards and then backed away. The door closed. I rang the bell. Again the door creaked, the cat crept a step out, eyed my suspiciously and backed away. Nothing.
I walked outside and surveyed the pouring rain. I approached the nearest cabin, wondering that if perhaps it was unlocked I could rest there for a while.
“Can I help you?” A voice came from the cabin. Behind the wire mesh of the window I could just about make our a tall figure, with long hair and thick beard. I asked him if he ran the place. “Sort of,” he replied mysteriously.
“I was cycling to Atikokan but then the rain and thunder started,” I began. At this point the kind stranger usually apologies for the weather and the bugs and ushers the feeble, soaked cyclist into the indoors. I stood outside in the rain.
“It’s not supposed to thunderstorm again,” the man replied matter of factly. “Just heavy rain.”
Oh. “Are you not open then?”
“No, not really.” He turned away into the darkness
I was relieved that I could leave. The place was freaking me out. But it also meant I still had 38km to ride in the rain. Back on the highway the Wanderers had caught up with me. It was comforting to see their outline, like two horsemen side by side, in the distance behind.
When I reach 18km to go I know I will make it. 18km is the distance of my commute home from work. However dark, cold, wet and windy it has been I have always, always managed to cycle home. I am not in Ontario, I said to myself. I am just cycling home. I am turning off onto the Sustrans route, I am passing Danish camp, then climbing over the bypass.
The last 4km felt like the longest of the day. We were all looking a little worse for wear. My fingers had turned white and prune-like in the rain. My feet squelched in the socks and shoes that hadn’t never dried over since yesterday’s thunderstorm dash (note: merino socks are still warm even when completely and utterly drenched).
The Wanderers sought out the cheapest motel in Atikokan. I needed only one thing: hot pizza. We found the pizza (not without meeting a very odd man on the street who offered to buy us “two drinks each”… But something about his weird face and stumbling manner made us politely decline). And enjoyed an 18” pizza washed down with beer. We were sat at the window of the restaurant. The curve of the setting sun was just visible underneath a sea of thick, dark clouds. To entertain us four teenagers cycled back and forth in front of the window trying to catch our attention. They glared, they waved like the queen, they got off and carried their bikes under their arms like a pile of important documents, they cycled backwards (okay, that one was quite impressive). There is clearly nothing to do in this town.
Tomorrow is a rest day. Thank goodness. After 7 hours and 40 minutes on the bike I am so tired and my muscles feel ridiculous. We must rest well for on Monday we need to cycle 178km (!) to Kakabeka Falls.