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Saturday, July 7: Milton to Orangeville, 43 miles.
We had expected this to be a relatively easy, shorter day, with a few challenging hills, but ones we felt ready for. Instead, it turned into another trying day. It started well, with great biking, great roads, great weather in the morning. Then we started hitting some hills, and some serious winds that would only increase as the day wore on. Much of the time, the winds cut across our path, but occasionally we would turn or the winds would shift and we'd be going headlong into them. I expect that some of the gusts we hit were in excess of 30 or 40 miles per hour. One time in particular, I remember going down a hill relatively fast, and a sudden blast of headwind hitting in such a way that it felt like it was stopping me in my tracks. Other blasts from the side made the ride precarious at times -- such cross-winds bother Joan in particular.
In spite of the winds, we made reasonable progress, until we ran into a detour, which forced us up a large and very steep hill. This was the hardest climb we've encountered since Tennessee/Kentucky. At the top of the hill, we were preparing to follow the detour back towards our route when another cyclist happened by, and stopped when he saw us consulting our maps. He looked at our map, saw the direction we were about to go in, and said that's crazy, it is much faster to Orangeville going this other way. He suggested we just throw that crazy Adventure Cycling map out... at which point I gave out an involuntary cry of "NO! We can't do that!". (That bike map has become in some ways the single most important item we carry!) However, in this case, we were willing to take his suggestions as a better way to recover from the detour. He sent us down a very nice road that went directly to Orangeville..... and he said it would go over a few "hills and dales" to get there. Well, we found that his "hills and dales" included one humongous hill right before getting to Orangeville, but we made it up, and in retrospect, his suggested route was better than what we would have done otherwise.
Once getting to Orangeville, a cute little town, we rode down the main street, and saw a large wedding just letting out of the church, with a bagpipes being played in front of the church. Looked like quite a ceremony. Then we got to the hotel we had planned to use, only to see a "No Vacancy" sign. Turns out every hotel in town was booked up, due to this wedding. But, fortunately for us, the woman said she had just had one cancellation, so we got that last room. (A smoking room, but she made a valiant effort to clean it and make it workable for us.) So, this unexpectedly long day, with more hills, obstacles, and uncertainties than we'd expected, came to an acceptable end.
One last amusing item from the day... on two occasions today, we were asked by curious people where we were going. "Owen Sound", we said. (At this point, we are within a hundred miles of it and everyone is quite familiar with where Owen Sound is.) "Owen Sound???!!!" was the amazed reply. "You're going all the way to Owen Sound on bikes???" Needless to say, their frame of reference opened up considerably when we told them where we had started!
Sunday, July 8. Orangeville to Collingwood, 65 miles.
As opposed to yesterday, this is a day we were expecting to be hard, but which turned out to be great. We were nervous because we knew we had over 60 miles to do, with very few stores or services available in this stretch, on a Sunday when what few shops there were could be closed, a few hills to deal with and a HUGE descent from the top of the Niagara Escarpment at the end. Also, the weather report was that this was to be an unusually hot and humid day, temperatures expected to be as much as 35 deg C. (95 deg F.). But as it turned out, this ended up being one of the best, most interesting and enjoyable days of the trip!
We got a very early start out of Orangeville, on the road by 6:30 am. The weather forecast turned out to be completely wrong. It was cool, cloudy, windy, and threatening rain from time to time. For the first 5 miles out of Orangeville, we were heading due west, and directly into the wind. It was awful. But then the route turned toward the north and stayed primarily north for the entire day, which meant cross-winds vs. headwinds -- a tradeoff we gladly made! We made great time. The roads were excellent biking roads, and in fact we past many other cyclists who were out for their weekend morning rides.
As we neared the town of Dundalk, we passed an immense wind farm. Huge 3-bladed rotors rising up out of the fields, each probably 200 feet tall, spread out as far as you could see. And given the winds today, they were definitely producing a lot of energy! At one point, I tried counting all the ones in view at the time, and counted 26. I know that there were more than that off in the distance. It gave a sureal appearance, these futuristic structures turning smoothly and silently, towering over traditional farms and 150-year old farm houses. It was as if giant aliens from another galaxy had landed!
The other thing that we noticed in this area was the building style of the homes. Almost all of them were red brick, 2-story structures with a relatively square footprint, and white bricks placed in patterns along the building's corners or in stripes across the face to give decorative flair. Most had a single chimney coming out of the center of the roof, probably connecting to numerous fireplaces on the interior of the house. Some of these houses and a few churches had dates inscribed in them, and all seemed to date from the mid- to late-1800s.
The farm fields were primarily planted in hay, corn, or wheat, but we started seeing some crops we did not recognize. One was dense plantings of stalks about 2 feet high, topped with bright yellow flowers that turned the field brilliant with color when they were in full bloom. This turned out to be canola. Another was a low bushy plant with white flowers, which turned out to be potatos.
We reached the town of Dundalk at 9:50 am, with the skies starting to darken and threaten. This was the only intermediate town on the route today that had any hope of having a restaurant or service station. As we entered town, we stopped and asked a couple of women on the street if there was anything open, and they directed us to "The Junction", a restaurant they thought opened at 10. Sure enough, we found it, and it seemed to be the place to be in Dundalk on a Sunday morning. People were waiting out on the street for its doors to open. We parked our bikes under an overhang in front of the building, and waited for about 5 minutes, chatting with a farmer who was waiting in his pickup truck, an obvious regular. As soon as the doors opened, we entered with the crowd, and sat down. Five minutes later, a heavy downpour began outside. Once again, our luck with the rains was perfect. Knowing that this was our only restaurant opportunity of the day, we ate well, and by the time we were done, the rain was over.
As we left the restaurant and prepared to get back on our bikes, we had another conversation with a very nice man who gave us some background on the wind farm we had passed. The windmills are only about a year and half old, and there was considerable controversy around their construction. Towns people were worried about their appearance, noise, cost. Local indiginous Indian tribes objected on more spiritual grounds, concerned conceptually about harnessing the wind. But the economics of the project eventually won enough people over. Owners of the properties on which they were built received a generous 1-time payment, plus will receive annual payments based on the revenues in the future. The rotors operate 24x7x365 -- winters cause them no problem. There seems to be almost no noise whatsoever. While the jury is still out on how successful they will be, they certainly appear to be working out very well so far, with all but perhaps the Indians' concerns seeming to be addressed satisfactorily. And it helped us mentally..... if we were going to have to contend with riding our bikes through all this wind, it was good to know that at least someone was getting some benefit from it!
Leaving Dundalk, we headed east and north. Everytime we rode east, the wind was behind us, and we just flew! Then came the big descent. Downhills are normally fun for Mike, but a source of some concern and work for Joan, as she wants to control her speed more and must ride the brakes harder. This particular descent, however, was serious work for both of us. It was so long, so steep, and the road so bumpy and broken in places, that you really had to keep the brakes pumping. We dropped over 600 feet of altitude in the first 3 miles, then another 500 feet in the 9 miles following. We rode long stretches without ever pedaling a stroke. The route took us through the Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, and the scenery was outstanding. At one point, we surprised a large coyote standing in the middle of the road, who just trotted down the road for awhile after seeing us, before bounding off into the brush. Once down the steepest section, we had one flat straightaway to the east, and with the tailwinds, we were amazed to find ourselves cruising at 17-19 mph with practically no pedaling. This was really, really fun biking! If the entire route from Mobile had been like this, we'd have finished this trip weeks ago!
Finally, we came to the outskirts of the town of Collingwood, and it became quickly obvious that we were no longer in rural Ontario. We were suddenly surrounded by million-dollar houses, and soon thereafter, were in a suburban district of gas stations, hotels, a WalMart, an A&P Grocery store, and lots of cars. This is a town that is on the boom as a resort area. A wide array of ski runs (all green right now, of course) could be seen coming down the Escarpment, and resort villages were in place and new ones being built in the valley below them.
That Escarpment, we knew, represented the last really big challenge for us, for tomorrow, our final travel day.... we will need to climb 800 feet of it, 700 of that in a 4-mile stretch, to get to Owen Sound. We found a bike store there in Collingwood and went in to talk with them, to see if there were any locally-known "magic" routes that could help us bypass this huge hill. But no, unless we want to ride on a dangerous, high-traffic route, we are going to have to climb this hill. So we resigned ourselves to that fact.
That evening in Collingwood, we were treated to a wonderful time by Lou & Gayle Sage, parents of Bill Sage, who I used to work for and with at P&G. Bill helped us get in contact with each other. Lou and Gayle took us to their home in nearby Thornbury, and then to a jazz concert in a local park, where we had a picnic dinner, met a number of their friends, and had an absolutely great time. It was also a super way to get local perspectives on this very interesting area. Lou & Gayle, thank you again for your hospitality!
Joan, Lou (seated in the chair) and Gayle (next to Joan) take cover under a tree, along with the Sage's friend Diane, as the rains fall. The live jazz music in the park, being performed from under a covered pavillion, continued without missing a beat.
Monday, July 9. Collingwood to Owen Sound and the end of the UGRR route, 44 miles.
So this is it. What started almost two months ago, on May 12, will be completed today. Rather than feeling the warm, fuzzy glow however, we found ourselves this morning transfixed with apprehension of what the Inaugural Group folks called the "monster hill" that was now facing us. We had actually seen it from a distance when driving with Lou last night, and it did not look that bad. But the elevation profiles on the map clearly show this to be about the biggest single climb of the entire 2100-mile route. Saving the best for last, I guess.
The first 9 miles out of Collingwood were easy, riding along the Georgian Trail, a level, hard-packed gravel trail that paralleled the shore of the Georgian Bay. (By the way, I've been saying all along that Owen Sound is on "Lake Huron". It is, but more specifically it is on the Georgian Bay. The Bay is part of Lake Huron, but is almost large enough to qualify as a 6th Great Lake. Locals identify more readily with the Georgian Bay, and "Georgian" is applied as a regional name throughout the area.) Here is a picture of Joan riding on the Georgian Trail.
From the Georgian Trail, we could look up to our left, and see the summertime view of the many ski trails that run down the side of the Escarpment.
Then we hit Route 40, turned left, and started to climb. We went up about a hundred feet steeply, then the road leveled off, but we could see the big hill off in the distance. It still did not look that bad, but as we rode, we began to realize how far away the hill still was, and that our view of its height and steepness was deceptive. A bit closer, the hill was still in the distance, but we could pick out trucks making their way up and down it, looking like little specs, and lending some perspective to just how big this hill was. Then as we finally neared it, we saw that there was a significant downhill right before it..... which meant that we would just have that much more of a climb to make to conquer this thing. From the base, looking up at the 2-mile stretch immediately in front of us, it seemed impossibly steep, especially the second half of it.
So, as we have done on a hundred lesser hills before this, we put the bikes in their lowest gear, and started to slowly plug away. And as before, we slowly made progress up. We had some headwind in addition to the climb, but somehow we just got through it. Then, just as we hit the steepest section, what do we see coming up behind us but two other cyclists, a husband and wife, out for a morning ride. As they passed us, we had a brief conversation. They live in the area and ride this route frequently. "You do this on purpose?? For fun????" Of course, they were not carrying loaded panniers like we were, but I was still duly impressed. And they seemed to appreciate the story of our trip as well. They went on and soon disappeared over the hill ahead of us, but their "visit" had provided some nice conversation and encouragement for us, and eventually we crested the hill ourselves, and then stopped to rest. Looking back the way we came, you could see the hill we'd just come up, and far below and in the distance, the blue waters of the Georgian Bay. A beautiful spot. The photo below shows Joan reaching the top of the hill. Because you really cannot see down over the crest in this photo, it really does not do justice to the steepness.
At this point, we knew that the last really big obstacle on the trip was behind us. We still had some ups and downs to navigate through, and some wind to deal with, but it was now just a matter of time before we would be done. We stopped for lunch at the town of Walters Falls, and did an impromptu tour of a grain mill there that we were told about at the restaurant. It was built by a resettled African American in the 1800s, and still operates today on 100% water power, following that original design. Very interesting to see.
During the last miles into Owen Sound, it was a very strange feeling, knowing that the end of the route was close, and trying to wrap our minds around what these moments meant. As we entered the town of Owen Sound, it was sort of like coming home to a place we'd seen on maps and thought a lot about, but had never been before. We looked for a "Welcome to Owen Sound" sign to take a picture, but to our disappointment, never saw one. We just suddenly found ourselves in the southern outskirts of the town, and then soon after, at Harrison Park, where the route ends. We entered the park, which is quite big, and had trouble at first locating the Black History Cairn, which is the official end point of the UGRR route. We did find it with the help of a nice woman (from Dundalk -- yes, we know that place!), and read the associated signs and markers there. We intercepted a nice couple, Don & Mary, out for a walk and they graciously agreed to take our picture there. (Included in our posting on July 10.) We talked with them at some length about the trip, and then..... we captured the final statistics from our bike computers, reset them, and headed off into town to find a motel. For the first time in almost 8 weeks of travel, we no longer had a defined route to follow, nor a specific point to pick up from tomorrow. That part was now over.
Our bikes at rest, at the end of the UGRR route:
Tuesday, July 10. Owen Sound.
The traveling of the UGRR route was over, but there was much still to do. This day would be one of some sightseeing and taking care of the practical arrangements for getting home.
-We went to the Greyhound bus station, and made arrangements with Lou (the fantastic station manager there) for tickets and confirmed the transportation details for our bikes;
-We went to Jolley's, the local bike store (which is excellent, by the way), and they gave us 2 bike boxes to pack our bikes in for the bus ride home. They also provided consulting on the best biking route to take up to Wiarton, which is where Joan's Aunt & Uncle's cottage is near. We plan to make that trip tomorrow.
-We took the bike boxes back to the Greyhound station, where Lou happily agreed to store them until we were ready to actually disassemble the bikes.
-We found our way down to the waterfront, and did our wheel-dipping ceremony, our front wheels into the Georgian Bay. No one can say that these bikes did not make it all the way from Mobile Bay to the Georgian Bay now! Tegan, a sailing instructor who was doing summer classes for kids along the shoreline there took the photo. (See July 10 posting.)
-Went to find the BME (British Methodist Episcopal) Church, which dates from the 1850s and served the needs of the founding black community in Owen Sound's early days. Unfortunately, the church is closed, and may be about to be moved. But we took pictures in front of it to capture the moment.
A block away from the church we found a tent erected that was serving as the headquarters for a Habitat for Humanity build that was taking place down the street. We started talking with the staff and volunteers there, and had a really great time with them. They asked us lots of questions about our trip, and gave us some excellent perspectives on the real-life logistics of doing the fine and meaningful work that they do.
The day also included a number of other errands, and by the end we felt we knew a little bit about this town first hand. Then it was time to go back to the motel, and prepare for another travel day -- to the cottage.
Wednesday, July 11: Owen Sound to Oliphant, 43 miles.
Joan's Aunt and Uncle have had the cottage in Oliphant for over 50 years, and Joan remembers visiting it as a young child. We had several route alternatives to choose from to get there from Owen Sound. (Now that we no longer have a bike map to follow, we need to make all the basic routing decisions ourselves!) We chose to take a longer and more scenic route going, essentially doing the circumfrence of this roundish part of the peninsula, following the coastline all around. On the way, we passed a house with a series of trees out front that had that most amazing and intricate carvings of faces in them. Definitely worth a photo stop!
As we got further away from the town of Owen Sound, we could see the mouth of Owen Sound Bay, where it opened into the Georgian Bay.
It was a very nice ride most of the way, albeit with a climb up a part of the Escarpment again. Getting tired of seeing pictures of us climbing hills? Well, too bad, we had to climb them, so we're putting them in the blog! :) Anyway, I like the Georgian Bay in the background here.
Then, near the end of the day, we once again had to head due west, and into headwinds. Some of the gusts this day were as strong as any we'd seen. Coming across some of the hilltops and directly into the wind, it was almost as hard work as it was climbing some of the serious hills. Finally, though, we reached the western coastline, turned south, and rolled down the road to the cottage. And thus began what would prove to be an absolutely delightful visit with Aunt Marge and Uncle Frank.
Sunset, July 11, as seen from down the road from the cottage:
Thursday, July 12.
Absolutely NO bike riding to report for this day! We were treated by Frank and Marge to a wonderful car tour of the entire Bruce Peninsula, during which we went up the east side of the Peninsula, stopping at Hope Bay, Lions Head, Cabot Head (where we toured the old lighthouse), and then drove up to the town of Tobermory at the northern tip of the peninsula. This was a very picturesque boating/fishing village, and a lot of fun to see. Had we wanted to continue on to northern Ontario, it would have meant a 2-hour ferry ride from this point. Returning to the cottage, we came down the western side of the peninsula, so by the end of the day, we'd been around the whole block there. A great day!
Lighthouse and lighthouse keeper's quarters at Cabot Head:
This was an amusing sight..... this rocky little "vacation island" was apparently claimed in the name of the Queen!
And this was a lucky photo shot. This was in Tobermory. Just as I was snapping the picture of the ferry, bow lifted to unload the cars, a sea gull flew into the field of view, and is seen superimposed in flight in the foreground.
We pose with Joan's aunt and uncle in Tobermory:
Friday, July 13. Oliphant to Owen Sound, 31 miles.
Now it was time to get down to the business of getting home. Uncle Frank and Aunt Marge graciously offered to drive our gear back to Owen Sound for us and meet us there, so we simply had to ride our unloaded bikes back. We did so following the more direct route the bike store had recommended. It was a great route, and with mostly eastward travel we had wonderful tailwinds. We made it back to Owen Sound in just 2 1/2 hours. We rode straight to the Greyhound Bus Station, retrieved our bike boxes from Lou, and then, after a moment of thought and a deep breath, started taking our bikes apart enough to fit them into the shipping boxes. After all these weeks of depending on these bikes, and having them deliver for us so well, it just seemed kind of wrong to do this. But sentimentality aside, the time had arrived. We turned a corner of the bus waiting area into our workshop, and had lots of people come over and inspect, express interest, and offer help. Before long we had 2 packed boxes, and no longer had our bikes to ride. We left the packed bikes with Lou overnight, and Joan's aunt and uncle met us there, took us to do some final shopping for the bus trip home, and then dropped us off at our motel. A couple of times that night we looked around our room and momentarily panicked when we did not see our bikes there! Then we would remember that we were in the "end game" now, and that it was ok.
Saturday, July 14. Owens Sound, ON to Cincinnati OH. Nearly 1000 miles in one day!
We took a cab from our hotel to the bus station at 7 am, stopped at TJ's, the local coffee shop for an english muffin and hot chocolate, and by 8:30, we and our bikes were on the bus and heading for home. Along the first part of the trip, we crossed roads and intersections that we remembered being part of our route days before, and we could not help but look at them in fond memory. We changed busses in Toronto, then crossed into the U.S. in Detroit. (Customs officials had a fair amount of interest in our bike boxes initially, but then satisfied themselves that they were what we said they were, and we were allowed to pass.) We made it home to the Cincinnati Greyhound station at about 12:20 am (Sunday), and were met by our good friends Dawson and Tamara, who had brought their pickup truck. We just loaded our bike boxes into their truck, and they drove us home, bringing this odyssey truly to a close.
One of the main streets of Owen Sound, shortly before we boarded the bus home. The ribbons are decorations that have been put up in advance of the 150th anniversary celebration that the city would be celebrating the following week.
We arrived at the Cincinnati Greyhound station a mere 17 hours after leaving Owen Sound. Our friends, Dawson and Tamara, were good enough to make the midnight run to pick us up! Our bikes, packed in their boxes, are loaded in the back of the pickup.
Home a day now, we pose with the still-boxed bikes, just prior to setting about the task of unpacking and reassembling them.
The bikes are now unpacked, and back to their old selves. Here we are, just returning from our first ride around our neighborhood. We are thinking about how good it feels being back on the saddle, and wondering what the next bike adventure will be!