Saturday, August 11

The road to Thunder Bay, Ontario

Last night I called a friend without whom this trip would have been considerably more difficult. I chatted briefly and she mentioned that not since my first entry have I mention my mileage. That made me think about this trip. There is an unavoidable tension between wanting to just ride these luxurious roads or play tourist—not that they are mutually exclusive. The former, to me at least, gives primacy to the roads, mileage, road conditions and challenges. The tourist part, gives emphasis to the sights, sounds, stopping everywhere the heart desires. For the last few days, I think I’ve been stuck in the tourist trap and I have paid little attention to reporting the mileage here, although it’s part of my journals, which I’ve only reported in snippets here.

Yesterday, sometime after leaving Wawa, I watched the trip odometer reach 1000 miles. Since leaving Sunday, one day shy of a week, the GPS reads 1074 miles. I estimate I’ll ride nearly 3000 miles or more by the time I return to Chicago. So, thanks Pat for reminding me to share this little bit of mileage info.

Friday was a day about riding. The weather continues to be a rider’s dream! Cool when riding, a bit hot when stopping but it doesn’t affect you unless your stop-stretch extends beyond 30 minutes, which is all one really needs anyway.

Since it is difficult to stop along the roads, you’ll have to take my word for it: Highway 17 is amazing! One lane in each direction. Mountainous, curvy—magnificently breathe taking. My riding level definitely has been challenged and I’ve learned that you can’t blindly follow the cornering advice you read about. You have to put things together and apply what you’ve learned to the reality at hand. There is standard advice that the proper entry for cornering is outside-in. At times, the outside-in entry is spot on; at other times, a more midline entry is called for—it all depends on the situation, which is why it’s a good idea to read about riding technique from different, credible sources.

Highway 17 is lined with cliffs on each side. At times, massive cliffs with jutting boulders that block vision make the outside entry strategy appropriate. But there are many times when the road banks or angles in odd, unexpected ways or is so tight that it makes no good sense to be near the outside. On coming cars are right there at that outside edge-way too close for comfort—or safety. Still, nothing diluted the pure fun of this road. I rode it over 300 miles Friday and boredom never visited once.

As usual, I met a few characters along the way: two attempted pick-ups, which hasn’t happened to me in a long time. And, one exchange that started well but ended on darn near attempted murder on my part—fortunately I restrained myself for the person did not know that she was treading on dangerous grounds. I’ll recreate two of the conversations as best I remember

Character #1

Somewhere near Marathon, I decided to call to make reservations for a resting spot in Thunder Bay. A man pulled up in a truck.

“Eh, enjoying your vacation?”
“Yes, thank you.”
He makes his call first while I continue to find the magazine with the hotel numbers in it. When he finishes, motioning to the bike, he says, “You come far on that, eh?”
“From Chicago.”
“That right?”
“Where you heading, eh”
“Thunder Bay, if I can get there before dark.”
‘Eh, you can, I’m going there too, why don’t you just follow me, eh—I’ll lead you right there.”
“That’s nice of you, but I have some stops in between and I wouldn’t want to delay you.”
“Eh, no bother, we can pull over and have coffee and then dinner tonight when we get to Thunder Bay, eh?”

I say “no thank you, but thanks.” He doesn’t seem to hear me.
“Have you ever been to Newfoundland, eh? Beautiful country. I can take you there, show you around, take you to my brother’s place, and introduce you to my father, eh. Take you out on the boat—you like fish? You like to eat lobster?”

I tell him I like fish, lobster the works and that I’ve read about Newfoundland and know that it’s a beautiful place.

“You should let me take you or I can meet you there, if you like, eh?”
“That’s nice of you. Hopefully some day I’ll get there.”
“So, can I lead you to Thunder Bay, eh? There’s a hotel there, Victoria Inn, that’s a nice place, eh. You can stay there and we can have a drink.”

I thank him again and say I’ll check out Victoria as a place to stay but that I need Internet access. He doesn’t know if the Vic has Internet—he actually didn’t seem to even know what it was I was asking about; however, according to him the Victoria Inn is THE place. We talk a bit more and he finally decides to leave without me. Before leaving he says, “I’ll be at the Victoria Inn at 9:30, waiting. I wish I could take you to dinner but because you’re married, we can have a drink (I mention several times I don’t drink but he wasn’t talking about drinking, I guess). When I say I probably won’t be able to show, he say, “I’ll be there, eh and hopefully you’ll show up. I’m from Newfoundland, we’re very friendly people, we are open and outgoing and we like to get together. That’s why I want to get to know you, have dinner with you, eh, so maybe you’ll show up at 9:30, eh?”

Character #2

In a restaurant in Marathon, I sit across the aisle from another lone diner. Before I even sit down she says, “You ride a motorcycle?” In my head I say, “No I just dress like this in the summer and carry a helmet around.” But I’m only a smart aleck in my head.

“Yes, I ride a motorcycle.”
“Wow—that’s amazing.”

When my food came, we ate in silence at our respective tables. As she was leaving, I asked her if she was familiar with Marathon and she took that as an invitation to sit down in my booth! She said she has been living in Marathon since February and she can tell me it’s an “awfully boring place.” She says, “I’m from Thunder Bay.” I can’t believe my luck.

“I’m heading now for Thunder Bay—know any good places to stay?”
“Yes, there’s a brand new Days Inn right near my house—it’s real nice—only been open about four months.”

I ask about other things to do in Thunder Bay and Penny tells me that she didn’t go out much but that I’ll find a lot of things there to do. I ask what brought her to Marathon. She tells me that her husband of almost 31 years works in Marathon and has been doing so most of their marriage. I didn’t ask what he does but she kept referring to it as “works in the bush,” which sounded grueling.

Penny tells me that she ran a day care business until “frozen shoulders” forced her to close. She recently learned that she’s on “My Space,” because of positive memories one of her former “children” posted about her day care experience. Penny’s didn’t look like she had taken in much sun this summer and her strikingly dyed black hair made her already pale face appear anemic and drained of all color. When she talked about her day care business, however, her cheeks became rosy and round and she talked with an animation that was lacking when she talked about Marathon. Since February, she’s not met anyone in Marathon and her two-bedroom apartment is “small and crappy” in contrast to her four-bedroom house in Thunder Bay.

“If I were in Thunder Bay now, you could stay with me—better than staying in a hotel. I live near that new Days Inn, if you stay there go on over and say hi to my house. It’s on Rainbow Street.” She considers “Rainbow” street to be highly symbolic given that her husband is searching for his “pot of gold.”

Penny gives me her address. Even though she is in Marathon to be with her husband, she doesn’t see him much still. His hours sound insane and he comes home tired, but now that she no longer has a business and she’s conquered “frozen shoulders”—a real medical condition—they thought it was time to be together due to her other medical issues. We continue to talk. We’re having a nice conversation. Then things change abruptly, for me at least, and with five words, I am ready to kill Penny.

“You look like Whoopie Goldberg.” Murderous words to my ears. I am forced to behave as if I didn’t hear her. If I did not, I would have grabbed her throat and ended her medical issues forever. Those who know me well know how much I detest this reference given that it is only the hair that people are commenting on. In any case, I didn’t hold the comment against Penny. This was difficult for me. Very. After getting to know Penny for these relatively brief moments, I liked her and felt a little sorry for her. Therefore, I overlooked her mistake. After all, she did give me the name of a new place to stay, which had one availability left when I called.

In route to reaching the Days Inn, I pass Rainbow Street and think of Penny.

I also passed a sign leading to the Victoria Inn and thought of Robert from Thunder Bay, formerly from New Foundland.

Day’s mileage: 335 miles