I woke up early and didn’t waste time in setting off. After a brekkie perusing the hiking map of the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, I drove into the park and stopped at the first pay machine to buy my $14.50 day ticket. The man at the campground yesterday had suggested a couple of hikes that would take me to the top of the cliffs that stretched over 4km and resembled a sleeping giant. Best thing about it, you could ride most of the trails.
At the trailhead at the southern tip of the park, I parked and started with some bike maintenance as usual. I’d taped up my handlebar grips a while ago because they were so worn out and sticky, but the tape had unwound itself in the wind. Instead of replacing the tape, I took the grips off and replaced them with a pair I’d been carrying around for months. Don’t ask me why I didn’t do this sooner, the new grips fit perfectly. Next, I noticed the rear brake pads had thoroughly worn out so I replaced them too, with much fiddling to push the piston back into the brake housing. With all that sorted out, I still had to pull the brake lever all the way to the bar to get any action out of the brakes. That means they’d need a bleed, something I’d have to sort out before getting into BC. I still had a spoke nipple that was broken, but I didn’t want to muck around fixing that now and considering the trails wouldn’t be real “mountain bike” trails, I left it broken.
Finally ready with a bag packed full of snacks and water, I rode off. Something I should have done before I left was change out of my denim shorts. For the rest of the day they would plague me with sweatiness and falling down around my hips. The trail was almost double track through forest that I would have found boring if I was walking it. I passed a few people doing so and they didn’t seem all that enthused.
After 6km, I came to Sawyer Bay, yet another corner of Lake Superior. There was a campground here and a boat anchored out in the bay, definitely not a bad spot to sleep for the night.
Another half km along the trail, I came to the steep incline that was the Head Trail. I locked my bike to a tree and started up the hill on foot, the steepness of the 1km trek soon becoming apparent. There were steps through the forest formed by logs and rocks, making me realised staying on my feet on the way down might be a challenge. I came across one guy coming down but otherwise had the trail to myself so I took my shirt off to let my body sweat. The sun was out and it was humid.
After a tough slog, I made it to the top of the giant and honestly was a bit disappointed at the view. Yes I could see Lake Superior, a few islands and some boats, but it didn’t make me go wow. I trudged back down the trail, managing to stay on my feet against the odds, until I saw my bike again. I rode back to Sawyer Bay and sat on one of the logs in the campground to have a snack. Next, I rode a half km back along the trail to get onto the Talus Lake Trail. This connected the two giant trails but the information man had told me it was not ridable. Well, we’ll see about that!
I avoided a couple of guys working on the trail with whipper snippers and snuck onto the Talus trail. I wasn’t sure if they’d get up me for riding so I was quite proud of myself that I managed to slip past them! For the first few hundred meters I thought, “That guy was full of shit, this is perfectly ridable,” though it had more roots across the trail, it was easily manageable. That all changed when I hit the first creek crossing. It was only shallow, but rocks were stacked on top of each other and impassable on two wheels. The steep rocky hills that followed were the same and so I pushed my bike. I had been prepared for this and didn’t mind the hike-a-bike because I considered it better than backtracking for 15km. It would be something different!
The first 1km of the trail was all uphill and I pushed my bike steadily up each steep incline, thinking that around each corner I would find a ridable section. Nope. It took me a long while to get through that first kilometre, then thankfully the trail started trending downhill and I got in the saddle for a bit. I was on and off for the next few kilometres, riding whenever I could and pushing whenever I couldn’t.
When I came upon the first of three small lakes on this trail, I happened to be walking and the bugs began to make me irritable. They were incessant, hardly moving when I swatted at them. Trying to keep the bugs off me and push my bike through the overgrown trail was not the most fun, but I kept my resolve and pushed on. The lakes were pretty at least, but I’ve come to cringe at the sight of still water because of the insects that come with it.
A good hour later, I’d passed all three lakes, swatted just about every part of my body and carried my bike on my shoulder across a big outcrop of boulders. This was turning out to be a physical challenge! When I got to the “Top of the Giant” trail, again it was time to lock the bike and leave it behind. I nearly didn’t do this section because I was a bit over it, but I convinced myself to trudge the 3km up to the top of the giant for a second time because this peak promised more impressive views according to Mr. Information.
I focused on my music as I climbed and went as fast as I could just because I could. I passed a big meadow that made me think of bears, after which the climb really started. It was short and sweet, flattening out for the last couple of km’s to the top of the giant. There were a few more people on this trail and all seemed to be equipped for serious hiking so I must have looked ridiculous in my denim pants.
I paused at the viewpoints of Lake Superior as I climbed upwards, but I didn’t linger, wanting to hurry up and get to the top. When I did make it to the windy point, I was impressed with the view. I stood atop a cliff that dropped straight down at least fifty meters and could see the face of the other cliffs that formed the knees of the giant. The cliffs were so sheer I could see all the way down to the shore of Superior.
I stood letting the wind cool me down a bit, then turned to head back down. I really sped things up on the downward trek, happy to see my bike at the bottom. Straight back in the saddle, I didn’t stay in it for long when I came upon some knee high stairs. I carried my bike down them and was happy to see the bike rack at the intersection to my trail back to the car. It would be smooth sailing from here on out.
That it was. I was back on double track and I could ride as fast as my legs took me. When I stopped in to have a look at another campground on the shores of Superior, I decided I’d save my swim for after my ride so I could introduce some soap into the event. I came upon a family taking a photo at the lake so I stopped to take a photo of the whole family. They were keen for a chat and offered me a photo, but I rode on soon enough. Just as I did, I heard the familiar clang of my derailleur cable whacking against my back wheel. Perfect timing. I clanked along for the last few kms and finally got back to the car. I’d been out for 5 hours and done 30 km. I don’t’ really know what I’d expected, but it wasn’t that much!
Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t my derailleur cable, but another broken spoke nipple. Shit. Oh well, something to fix later, I put the bike on the roof and drove out of the carpark. I was headed straight for last night’s camp where I knew I could have a swim with the place to myself. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite the case since the “Conservation Officer” was in the space with his big boat and big truck. The two men seemed to be packing up the boat, but I didn’t want to wait around for them to leave, so I saved the soap idea and just dove into the water as I’d done yesterday and rubbed the mud from my arms and legs.
I drove out of the park, satisfied that I’d made the most of my day pass, and continued on to Thunder Bay. This would be the last major town I’d see for a while so as soon as I got to the outer limits, I found a Laundromat and navigated myself there. I got some change from the lady working there and put a load on, using their Wifi to upload some photos while I waited. Dan called just as I was getting everything out of the dryer so we talked while I folded.
Next, I wanted some dinner having not had a square meal since breakfast so on my way out of town, I stopped for some dirty Wendy’s. It looked like it was the first week for the boy behind the counter and he had no confidence at all, the poor thing. It was painful to watch as he let customers line up before him. As I ate, I got onto Google Satellite to try and suss out a camp spot since there were no official sites listed. As I did so, someone sat a couple of tables away and after singing loudly along to the song playing on the radio, looking for attention, she started reading aloud from her phone some interview or survey questions. The highlight of which was, “Why do you identify as transgender?” Wow. While I didn’t go into the downtown area, I did not get a good impression of Thunder Bay so I was happy to see the back of it.
I was looking for camps as I went and hit all the spots I’d saved on my maps. The first possibility had a very muddy road, the second a private property sign and so the trend continued. I went through all of my six options, doing many u-turns, and none of them came up good. Not discouraged, I continued on my way, just searching in the old fashioned way, by looking. When I came to an intersection of highways, there was an unmanned petrol station that had a large parking area. Thinking I’d go back to see if they had any signs about parking, as I waited for traffic, I noticed a road off to my right with no signage and no fence. I took it. It went a few dozen meters off the highway and ended near a railway line. It was flat, I was out of view of the road and there were no signs telling me not to park. And so, I found camp! Canada definitely doesn’t make free camping easy, but as a veteran, I feel like I’m managing.
There were mozzies as usual and since I’d already had dinner, there was nothing to do but remain couped up inside the van and watch some TV. I felt sleepy early but found it hard to pass out thanks to the light that remained in the sky at 10pm. I understand daylight savings, but this was ridiculous! Eventually I drifted off, only to be woken up by the first train. I didn’t mind, it was kind of nice. There would only be one more throughout the night.