I had just met up with my longtime friend, Nathan, the day before — after months of badgering, he had agreed to join me for three days en route to Ottawa. This was to be our first day on the road: North Bay to Stonecliffe.
Then it all went to hell.
As we climbed the hill out of Mattawa, already drenched in sweat from the morning’s ride, his rear spoke snapped.
One problem: Mattawa has no bike repair shops, and the nearest place to get it fixed, North Bay, was 62 kilometres behind us. The day was not going to unfold as planned.
We limped back into town and started running through our options. He suggested I press ahead, not wanting to disrupt the ride. I declined — we had just started riding together that morning, and whatever the day led to, we’d get through it together. The rest could wait.
I had a spare spoke, so we set about trying to replace the spoke ourselves — never mind if mine was a touch smaller than the ones on his wheel. Soon enough, a crowd formed. A husband and wife arrived with tools and set to working on the wheel. Another man joined in. A passerby offered money for a motel room that night — it was getting late in the day, and our odds of getting out of town were slim. It was also becoming increasingly clear we weren’t going to fix the bike in Mattawa, no matter the tools we had.
Just when it was looking like we’d accomplished all we could, a man walked up and asked where we were headed. I told him our hope was Pembroke — the nearest place with a bike shop without backtracking to North Bay. As it happened, he and his wife were heading east for a cycling trip of their own and had a bike rack on their truck with extra space. You know the hitchhiker’s dream for a bicycle tourist? This was it.
Just like that, we went from stuck in Mattawa to sitting pretty in Pembroke — and back on the road the following day with a new rear spoke.
Three things come to mind:
1. You have to marvel at the kindness of people in this country.
2. Things may not always happen as planned, but they often happen as they should.
3. You might be thinking, “but wait! You didn’t bike to Pembroke!” Well, sometimes, cheaters do prosper.
A few stories from the past while:
1. I fear I have reached peak gluttony: in the span of an afternoon, I had an ice cream cone and two Frosties. (My previous personal best for the trip was drinking a large milkshake and immediately following that up with a Slurpee.)
2. Ontario is beautiful, but you have to laugh at some of the names people come up with for towns, lakes, and rivers. To wit: between White River and Wawa, you pass both Fungus Lake and Desolation Lake. Could you pick two less appealing names for a place to swim and fish?
3. On the road, a little company goes a long way. Thankfully, my ride over the last week and a half has led me to new friends. I met Ken, a cheery graphic designer from Seattle, leaving Marathon. He’s exploring Canada at length for the first time by pedalling across the country. Brent and Claire came up and introduced themselves in Wawa. A sociable couple from New Zealand, they’re cris-crossing Canada on a tandem bicycle. When they’re done, they’re going to hike across their home country. For awhile, the four of us crossed paths just about every day — always a guarantee to put a smile on my face.
Things I’ve seen:
1. Odd bathroom arrangements.
This was in a farmer’s side yard, just outside of Beachburg. Somewhere in here, there’s a joke to be made about when nature calls.
2. Familiar haunts, part 1.
North Bay has become somewhat of a summer pilgrimage for me of late — this marked my third visit in the past three years. We’ll see what next year brings.
3. Familiar haunts, part 2.
Returning to Ottawa always instills a sense of wonder in me. This trip, the city has taken on added significance as I reflect on how far I’ve come since Vancouver. (Exactly how far, you’ll see below.)
Distance travelled: 4,815 km
Most unusual sleeping location: Curling rink.
Best motto spotted on a truck: West Nipissing Sanitation: We Ain’t Hauling Milk