It was 38 hours before I was supposed to leave and I did not yet know where I was headed. I hung up the phone, having received the latest surprise changes to my plan, and yelled down the hall to my roommate making lunch in the kitchen.
“Okay, so I don’t know where I’m going in a day and a half, but I’m going somewhere.”
I had to. I had been going stir-crazy for weeks and desperately needed an adventure of sorts. It wasn’t as if my summer had been uneventful, but lately I’d felt lethargic and uninspired, and had taken to swinging mindlessly in my desk chair for hours.
The idea of a bike trip had reignited my wanderlust. I pored over internet research and topographical maps with focused dedication. I called distant municipalities and spoke with locals, trying to chart obscure backwoods roads.
Rest assured it’s not in my nature to be so organized, but this time a certain degree of planning and preparation was necessary. I was going alone. This wasn’t me looking for a cheap thrill; rather it was a result of having no one to go with. My father of course, was thrilled. This is a man who insisted – with an underlying sincere plea – that I refrain from dating until the ripe and acceptable age of 45.
To dull the risky knife’s edge along which I would be walking and to put everyone’s minds a little more at rest (including my own) I promised to bring my mom’s old taser gun. Even though my dad said she’d owned the now-illegal defence weapon for as long as he’d known her, it seemed to work perfectly.
My destination ended up being a charismatic children’s canoe camp 500 km away called Wanapitei. Here, I was to spend the weekend with a few friends who worked there as counselors during their days off.
But dear Wanapitei is a little out of the way. It’s 10 km past Temagami (north of North Bay, population 934), then 30 clicks down a rough gravel road, then another mile through rugged forest trail to finally reach the shore of Lake Temagami.
Problem: my bike is a vintage racing bike with delicate, inch-wide tires. Great for pavement, but I had no idea how I was going to get past that last gravelly 30km.
Despite concerned appeals and an anemic skeleton of a plan, I set out on a serene Sunday morning from my mother’s country farm. The air was comfortably brisk and I rode along the empty roads happy to be going, happy to be gone. The first line of my trip journal reads as such:
“7 a.m., July 25, 2010. I BEGIN! (note to self: later write an ode to spontaneity.)”
Alas, the following line wasn’t quite so puffed up, shall we say.
“9:30 a.m. Back tire flat. No cell reception.”
Hanging my bike off the nearest mailbox, I sat next to the road-side ditch. Calmly, I brought out my tool kit, spare tube, bicycle handyman’s instruction manual, and two sandwiches. I had never changed a tube before. Flipping to the chapter on step-by-step tube-replacement, I began to read between mouthfuls of peppered-chicken and whole-wheat bread.
Dusting the crumbs off my hands, I set about the dirty task of detaching the wheel from the frame. An epic struggle between chain, derailleur and I ensued. By the end my fingers and palms were smudged black with grease, but I emerged victorious, though perhaps somewhat winded.
The next journal entry (at 11:15 a.m. no less) is marked with a dirty thumbprint to commemorate my accomplishment.
But my trial wasn’t over. The tiny frame-mounted pump I had brought simply couldn’t sputter out the requisite air pressure. I peered at the house across the road, intending to find something a little more robust.
The lawn was clipped but scraggly, and dissassembled tractor pieces were rusting next to the porch. I carefully tucked my taser in the back of my biking shorts, staying mindful of the on-switch, and approached the paint-chipped front door.
I pressed the doorbell and waited. No noise betrayed movement on the other side, but a pick-up truck (also paint-chipped) sat in the driveway. I was just about to turn away when I heard a faint shuffle inside. The door opened to reveal a shirtless, goateed man, maybe late-20s. His beer-belly protruded over his board shorts. He looked hung-over.
To my great fortune, he had an electric pump. I followed him to the wooden garage behind his house, making sure my back stayed turned away from him. I left, re-inflated, shortly thereafter. The hidden taser hadn’t left my spandex.
Over the next four days, I biked an average of 110 km a day, over hills and into headwinds strong enough to push you backwards up a hill. I camped in people’s backyards, dined on trail-mix and Ramen’s noodles and met fellow bike-trippers from across the continent.
I was alone on the road for the majority of each day and passed the hours by belting out country songs and focusing on the rhythm in my legs rather than the pain in my joints. I thought about life and I thought about nothing at all.
As for that final 40 km stretch, it worked itself out. There’s more of a story here (which I’ll save for another post), but the gist of it is that I ended up locking my bike in a shed at ‘Dad’s Outdoor Shop’ in Temagami, jogged the first 20 km out of town and then got a ride for the remainder with some parents who were going to pick up their kids from the camp.
Travelling solo is an experience unto itself. It may not always be as much of a party, and there’s obviously a lot more personal responsibility involved, but there’s a certain freedom in going it alone. You can break when you want for as long as you feel and go however fast you can for as far as you are able. It’s just you, your bike, the road and the world. 😀
For a few more pictures of the trip, click here.