Day 52, 8/4, Wadhams, MI to New Glasgow, ON, CA: 93.4 miles, 763 ft elevation gain, 13 mph average speed.
Trip totals: 3,323.9 miles (73.9 mile daily average), 129,877 ft elevation gain, 12.5 mph overall average speed.
One day behind schedule.
Happy third anniversary to us! We like to be on vacation during our anniversary, so it’s nice timing to be on a 9-week vacation, I suppose.
We started out the day right with McDonald’s for first breakfast because it was close to our kampground. Right after we sat down with our food, a 69-year-old local man sat down at the table next to us and said, “do you know that TV movie series on Hallmark with Tom Selleck called Jesse Stone?” We, of course, told him we had not heard of this obscure TV movie series, and he replied, “Oh, well I’m a movie and TV freak so I know all of these things. Anyway, there’s a girl on there, she plays a secretary, and you’re the spitting image of her!” Thus began a long conversation about TV, little league, eavsdropping on conversations at McDonald’s, and bike riding. I love meeting people on this trip–it’s probably my favorite part–but sometimes you just want to eat in peace, and that’s what I wanted to do today. Pro tip: if you want to eat in peace, McDonald’s is not the place to dine. We’ve gone to McDonald’s six times now and only once has no one struck up a conversation.
This man was waiting for his friends that he meets there daily, and he said he likes to get there before everyone else to listen to people’s conversations and talk to travelers. Every time we’ve eaten breakfast at McDonald’s, there has been a retired folks’ breakfast club and every time we’ve gotten there before the meeting began, there’s been one guy who is always the first one there and he has always started talking to us. It’s really fun to experience the early morning McDonald’s culture across America.
Anyway, we hit the road and found ourselves moving very slowly. We were facing a bit of a wind, but we were also just generally pooped from our long day yesterday. We got on a bike trail a few miles down the road called the Bay to Bridges trail, and it was the worst trail of the trip. It was as if the city thought, “boy, there sure are a lot of bikes on the road. I wonder what’s the best way to get them off?” Then they decided to build the absolute cheapest bike trail possible and do nothing to maintain it. There were enormous crevices between the asphalt trail and the non-graded curbs and deep potholes that were so frequent that they were difficult to avoid. I felt like I was mountain biking on a stiff road bike frame. But we’ve found that drivers are exceptionally rude when you ride on the road if there’s a bike trail nearby, so we stuck with it.
When we got to the ferry port in Marine City, we decided to delay our trip to Canada a bit and stop at the fancy coffee shop in town to cheer ourselves (or maybe just me) up. I got the best iced dirty chai of the trip, Ted got a bottomless cup of delicious Kona coffee, and we both got another breakfast sandwich (because on your anniversary, you get to eat two breakfast sandwiches). There was a retired women’s breakfast club at this coffee shop and their conversation ran the gamut from whether the Confederate flag is racist or represents southern heritage (the club was split on this and neither side was making a strong argument) to their favorite shows on HGTV (no one said Rehab Addict, which means they’re all wrong). I had an urge to crash their club and share my strong opinions on these matters, but I resisted.
We headed to the ferry, refreshed and excited to enter Canada. We met a retired American woman living in Canada while waiting to board the ferry who was good company for the ride. Her sons both served in Peace Corps and her daughter works for the state department, so she had plenty of interesting stories to tell.
The Bluewater ferry is a relatively small car-carrying ferry that crosses the beautiful St. Clair river into Canada in less than 10 minutes. It’s run efficiently, making round trips all day every day every 20 minutes. The ferry has three rows for 4-5 cars each in the center and a small standing area on the port side at the stern. We got to watch a semi-truck carrying oil board a narrow bit of the ferry with some of the most impressive driving skills I’ve ever seen.
When we entered the border patrol station the officer asked the expected litany of questions, but the final question was directed at Ted: “where will you attend school this fall?” When Ted answered, the officer perked up and said, “oh! Well have a fun time then, kids!” I guess one benefit of Ted going to such a well-known school is credibility with border patrol agents.
Anyway, now we’re on an international bike tour! We began our time in Canada tracing the river on a dedicated bike path. The riverfront homes were on the opposite side of the road, and each house had a dock / beach area on the river. This is the ideal set up for biking down a residential waterfront road, but we rarely saw such a set up in Michigan, so we were pretty pleased.
After a few miles, we turned inland and traded the bike path for a shoulderless country road. That melancholic tandem couple we met in Wisconsin had me dreading Ontario drivers on narrow roads, but the drivers have been the best we’ve experienced all trip, with few exceptions. People have been getting all the way into the other lane or, when there’s oncoming traffic or a blind corner, using that passing option that most American drivers don’t seem to think exists: slowing down until it is safe to pass.
The scenery in southwest Ontario is very similar to Michigan scenery, as one might expect, but it felt cleaner and better maintained than most of the places we’ve ridden on our trip. There was almost no trash on the sides of the road, the grass on every bit of public or private land was recently cut, and the homes and other buildings were not quite so dilapidated. There also weren’t many houses with random large objects (broken swing sets, rusty car parts, old furniture, etc.) strewn about in the lawn. On one stretch of road, the soft shoulder had recently been combed and cleaned, like a baseball diamond. And the roads themselves have improved dramatically.
We stopped in a convenience store and bought roast chicken-flavored Lays potato chips, which we haven’t had since Zambia, and bonafide seltzer water, which we haven’t had since the Qdoba in North Dakota. Canada is treating us well so far! We talked to a couple friendly people outside of the store while we ate, then headed out.
Thanks to flats and a slight tailwind, we quickly reached Dresden, a small town that was the home of Reverend Josiah Henson, a remarkable man who escaped slavery in Kentucky, settled in southwest Ontario, became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and wrote an autobiography that informed Harriet Beecher Stowe’s pivotal 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We visited the Uncle Tom’s Cabin historic site and learned that after Beecher Stowe’s novel, which was the first widely distributed book that described the horrific practice of American slavery, gained popularity, many supporters of slavery insisted that it was a novel that had no basis in fact and that slavery was perfectly humane. Beecher Stowe then published a new book that revealed all of the nonfiction sources that informed her novel, and the main character was primarily based on Josiah Henson.
After settling in Dresden, Henson founded the Dawn settlement, a community of blacks who fled to Canada to build new lives as free men and women. Henson co-founded the British-American Institute in 1841 to build literacy in the community and facilitate the exchange of trade knowledge. After Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1852, word spread that Canada was a haven for blacks and the Dawn settlement, and southwest Ontario, in general, became a popular destination for escaped slaves.
The historical site was very cool. They had Henson’s last residence, a church, a typical residence, two graveyards, and a large interpretive center / museum. It was refreshing to see such a well-maintained, elaborate historical site honoring a black historical figure. It was the first recognition of black history on the trip and the tone of the site was strong pride in the role Canada played in providing freedom for American blacks. Canada’s looking nicer and nicer every second!
After lingering there for too long, we continued on. We decided we would stop in Ridgetown for an anniversary dinner out. There weren’t many options, so we went with a Chinese / Canadian restaurant that was empty, but pretty good. I really enjoyed my black pepper beef, but Ted was less thrilled with his chicken and veggie stir fry.
We decided to bike as far as we could and just pitch a tent somewhere because there weren’t many campgrounds on this leg of the trip and the campsites we did find were very expensive and several miles off the main road. We passed by some of the most beautiful old architecture in Talbot, including a very cool school that I did not take a picture of (we had a tailwind and it was flat so I was going too fast). There were also a few first glimpses of Lake Erie and lots of wind turbines. It was pretty riding, even though it was that same sort of farm land we’ve been riding through for weeks. I’m not sure what made it feel different. Maybe the cleanliness and nice building and lawn maintenance?
The wind suddenly turned from a tailwind to a headwind–we could actually feel it turn–so we stopped in New Glasgow, a small farming community, for the night. We have run into a several bike tourists who stealth camp, meaning that they set up their tent someplace discreet without asking for permission. And we originally decided that we would try it out tonight. We found a restaurant that was permanently closed and that had a great back yard. We walked around to the back and hung out there for a while, waiting until it got dark so we could set up our tent without being seen. We sat around for probably about 15 minutes until we decided that stealth camping wasn’t for us, not on private land, at least. We like to have permission and it doesn’t seem worth the risk. So we decided to head down to one of the official, expensive, off-route campsites. We rode about 100 feet before we saw someone mowing his lawn next to a beautiful old church and asked him if he thought the church would mind if we camped in their yard. He said that the church was no longer owned by the Presbyterian community so he couldn’t see why not. Permission! I set up the tent while Ted cleaned the bikes, and we went to bed stinky and sweaty.