Morning broke in Falcon Lake with drizzle, then, steadier rains. Ten straight days of sunny skies and short-sleeve warmth would not extend to eleven.
The sky wore its heaviest greys since Lake Louise. Moreover, I hadn’t been rained upon for any extended stretch of road on the entire trip. Till Falcon Lake, I’d been thoroughly gifted with rainless riding. Interesting how the weather turned as my spirits felt brighter within. Finally sunny inside, suddenly raining all around.
Without any reliably waterproof gear, I resorted to wearing an old pair of splash-pants and a wind-resistant jacket. The Ontario border was only fifteen kilometres away. About a half-album or podcast east.
Approaching Ontario, the lakes dotting the landscape became more frequent, the hills more pronounced. Far more trees and green in view. An admittedly welcome change of scenery. The Prairies offer horizons of unique, expansive beauty. Undeniably memorable flats. But, pedaling across the plains in slower motion, striving to feel a notable sense of accomplishment in my days, this unchanging beauty often felt draining.
Strange how a minor hill, a modest rise in elevation followed by a quick descent, covering the same distance as a flat stretch, could instill a greater sense of progress, even purpose. I felt energized by the gradual disappearance of the Prairies. I’d moved from the seemingly endless flats to rolling hills and the land of the countless lakes.
Time didn’t pass more than a few hours of riding before my yearning for the sun’s warmth began. I’m only human. Quickly, I reminisced fondly of my Prairies-long journey guided by mostly clear skies. All the while, though, I accepted an endurance test under inclement weather seemed well past due.
Under the heavy greys, the temperatures dwindled back down to single-digit highs and freezing lows. My smoker’s gloves and long-johns were rummaged out of my panniers.
Clouds and persisting rains would dominate my first days in northwestern Ontario. From Falcon Lake to Kenora and Vermilion Bay, I strained to feel every scene’s beauty through the dulled colours begging for sunlight. More pressing, though, I wondered when my mind would begin to race and resonate, once again. I was ready to explore. Just waiting for the thought within or sign outside to set the spark.
In the early evening, I approached Vermilion Bay, entertaining the idea of pushing on for another forty-five kilometers to Dryden. I noticed an exit sign for a northbound highway to Red Lake. Wildman. I pondered aloud if he was still working up there, or if he’d already blazed this trail long before.
My wind-resistant jacket became saturated and useless. The headwinds gained strength all day, beginning to gust in more frequent waves. My thrift-store aviators covered only my eyes and upper cheeks. The most intense winds shot needles of rain into my face. This scene was pleading for an end, urging its lone rider to finish his day.
Before pedaling beyond the junction of the highway leading to Red Lake, I heeded nature’s invitation to cease for the night. I sought cover under the awning of a vacant motel across the road. I pulled my phone out of a Ziploc bag and checked the weather. Tomorrow would be the same as today, only mightier in its winds and heavier in its rains. With no further thought, I opted for a warm, dry sleep in a room at the motel I was already trespassing, open to the idea of staying for more than one night, if the weather insisted.
I rose to the next morning unhurried. My first destination was the motel room window, to check on the day’s conditions. To my chagrin, the forecast was spot-on. Tree-bending winds forced the pouring rains nearly sideways. Mother Nature was practically screaming its advice to remain in Vermilion Bay:
Not today. Just. Wait.
The very thought of staying at this motel for another night inspired restlessness. Curiously, my mind remained dormant when I wasn’t moving. I sat on the bed and searched for weather updates on my phone. When can I start riding again? My new normal of constant motion had certainly taken hold.
As I browsed, I received an email notification from my dad. He was offering to meet me in Huntsville. Much of my family resided in and around London, roughly three days of cycling further south of Huntsville. I was born-and-raised in that area, and my choice to embark on this trip was all about experiencing the world beyond my bubble, the unfamiliar I’d never explored. I’d already chosen to to stay north of Toronto as I rode through southern Ontario and avoid the roads I’d lifelong known, with the certainty that I wouldn’t go out of my way to revisit the most familiar places in my entire world.
Family, though. My strongest roots. By far. My most beloved fortune, truly. A gift and privilege I’d already long embraced. From the simplicities of unconditional love and support to the messier complications of all the rest.
I’d long felt the resonance of linking my present self to my predecessors, further stoking my familial attachments and deepening a curiosity of my connections to generations past. After all, I was nothing till I was brought into this world. My gifts, shortcomings, talents, limitations, traits, and sensibilities all can be traced back to my older brothers and through the generations beyond. Including my father.
In the quiet dark, with only my screen brightening the motel room, I felt elated. Lifted. Traveling these roads alone, I’d still been directed unknowingly by emotions and choices strongly influenced by my roots. I felt a pang of guilt for not thinking much of my family on these roads. My friends. My home. Roots, man. I’d allowed myself to become consumed by my own selfish wonderings and struggles. I missed the world I’d always known.
I tracked the route from Vermilion Bay to Huntsville. About thirteen solid days of riding, including today. For the first time, I realized Ontario’s size is far more massive than I’d always envisioned. On the other hand, I’d never known any different. My north had been Ottawa. My world had scarcely expanded beyond the cityscapes, small towns, and farmlands of the southern edges of the province. Tucked in comfortably by the shorelines of the Great Lakes.
I responded to my father’s email with the assurance that I’d meet him in less than two weeks.
In the moment, I failed to understand I’d established a future checkpoint with a concrete time and place for the first time on this journey. Sure, the goal wasn’t unrealistically ambitious – I had to maintain a pace of roughly one hundred-and-twenty kilometers per day – but the goal included today. Suddenly, I felt obliged to push on, against Mother Nature’s insistence.
I looked outside the window. The weather called for gusting winds and persisting rains till the next morning. Temperatures no higher than five degrees, all the while.
I scanned the room, a simple lodging with a box television offering the sole source of mindless entertainment to pass the time. No wi-fi. I’d already read and written after waking up, and I didn’t feel drawn to exploring the intimidating entanglements of my mind. The moment would arise; I assumed to know when the feeling was right. I believed it was only it was a matter of time.
An arousal of restlessness emerged. I’ve gotta move.
Dryden was forty-five kilometers away. If nothing else, ride till Dryden. Make up the mileage in the coming days.
I prepared for the stormy ride. About two hours on a calm day. Probably an additional half-hour on account of the headwinds, I figured. I double-checked to protect any valuables inside Ziploc bags. I lined my panniers with black garbage bags I’d stashed away since Victoria, a plastic guard to act as an improvised seal between my belongings and the world outside. Indeed, thin layers of plastic served as my only waterproof gear. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any plastic large enough to cover my own body as I rode into the storm, with only my smoker’s gloves, wind-resistant jacket, and cheap aviators serving as protection.
Categorically the worst day of weather on this trip. A cruel mixture of unseasonably cool temperatures, fierce headwinds, and pummeling rains wore me ragged for three-plus hours. My clothes saturated rapidly, weighing my body down.
Minutes prior to reaching Dryden, the Trans-Canada finally turned south, offering a minor reprieve. The winds and rains punished my side instead of my face.
In Dryden, I stopped happily, achieving my intention and conceding the rest of the day. I was shivering and felt soaked to my bones. Nature has an unsubtle way of announcing the times that are meant to be spent inside.
I rushed into the first restaurant I noticed: Pizza Hut. The place was half-filled with customers taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. I bypassed the tables and scurried directly to the washroom, a trail of rainwater following my steps.
I ran my hands under scalding-hot water and splashed my face, again and again. The moment felt more painful than Drumheller. Cold and wet prove to be an exhausting combination. Thankfully, the washroom included rolls of paper towels and an automatic hand-dryer. Though my clothes were still drenched, I managed to dry my face, hands, and neck, working my core from frigid to a dim warmth.
I glanced at myself in the mirror and couldn’t resist laughing aloud at my own making. I’d willingly ridden in a mess of miserable conditions. I looked like I belonged far away from any signs of urbanized life. A soaked and stone-cold mess. But, I’d already arrived here. And, I was famished. With spirits unexpectedly high, I occupied a cushioned seat in the booth nearest to the buffet and committed to an all-you-can-eat feast. By the time I finished chewing on the first crust, my seat had soaked through, puddles gathering at my feet. I felt curious eyes from numerous strangers peering my way with distance and uncertainty, a far cry from the line-up of admirers in Falcon Lake. I didn’t care. I was on my way to Huntsville. Closer than I was that morning.