I set the cell phone to alarm at 7 am but I quickly hit snooze the second it starts to bleat at me. Ambition seems like a bit of a joke in a cheap motel room in the middle of nowhere. Around 8 am I hear a scratching noise followed by the metallic jangle of the door locks being bungled with and my limbs pumped with primate fear as my brain struggled to shake off sleep. The door cracks open with a thud as it hits the brass chain latch and I shout non words as the maid mumbles and closes the door again. Well, I guess I’m fucking awake now. I fumble with the mini drip coffee maker, as i’ve been spoiled by the lil cup cartridge systems in other hotels. I drink two cups of the chocolate protein mix, the second cup just being a slurry of coffee and protein powder for a filthy mocha. I’m midway through packing my panniers around 9:30 am when I hear the sounds of keys in the door again and I yelp so that she leaves me alone. Check out time was 11 am and I can’t imagine there is an overwhelming demand of new travellers that will want this dingy room by noon sharp. So glad I spent the cash to feel safe and secure in a locked room only to have it constantly busted open unannounced by a zealous cleaning lady. I scootch a chair next to the door and take a shower while pop songs play loudly through my cell phone. Since wifi is rare luxury, I don’t get to listen to any streaming music while on the bike, just the 6 albums on a battery powered mini MP3 swiped from my mom, so listening to Ariana Grande is like an audio slice of icing thick vanilla cake. I finish another cup of protein powder and chomp down a bruised banana before rolling out after 10 am. I stop at the giant Winnie the Pooh statue for a some photos ops with bikey because WHEN IN CANADA.
Here is a plaque that clarifies the whole silly old bear story.
Or you can read a more fleshed out version of the tale here, but it seems that White River has been a bit of an underwhelming outpost since railroad days, as the journal entry from Harry Colebourn indicates: “August 24, 1914 Left Port Arthur 7AM. In train all day. Bought bear $20”. I felt no need to linger but I did swoop by the gas station before rolling out hoping to find something like a nut roll or two to throw into my bag but the store was half empty like the gas station in Marathon and I bought an orange juice and some sort of cereal bar and chatted about the weather with the cashier, who warned of coming rain. I kept forgetting about the luxury of weather reports, as for the most part I just assumed it was going to rain and was pleasantly surprised when it didn’t so it was odd the idea of “knowing” what weather was heading my way. Huh. Looks like rain, eh?
Usually the first hour or so clips along quickly, riding a small coffee high and delusional optimism. But I don’t know if it was the knowledge of impending storms or if the caffeine just didn’t do it for me anymore or that slight incline leaving White River but I felt so gloomy. It felt like 3 pm already and every close truck past was felt two layers deep, as if I had forgot to slide on my skin that morning. I only spend about an hour on the road before I pull off onto a picnic spot next to a muddy river to decompress and eat something. I lean my bike against a picnic table and go wander next to the river and I spotted a pretty cluster of purple wildflowers (thx P) and just kicked the grass and felt glum. I made a sandwich with a perfect avocado and a big hunk of the brie that I bought two days before and had been in the perfect petri dish that is a sun warmed pannier and yet it did not ooze. Seriously, look at this photo. ZERO OOZE. This was the Kraft singles of Brie. A shame to the Brie name. The entire Brie family. Come on, Canada, I know that these newfangled food trends can be intimidating, but if I buy a discount wheel of triple cream brie, I want it to be softer than a pencil eraser.
Oh, and here that weird packaging from the discount store. Seriously, so Repo Man
I’m sitting at this bench, trying to finish the bland pita sandwich and shoveling in raisins, just marinating in my sadness when another car rolls up. I wince at the thought of human interaction and hope I can puzzle piece myself together enough so I don’t snarl at the strangers. An affable middle aged couple wander towards me and ask about the bike and they tell me that they are on a circle tour as well, just via four wheels and going in the opposite direction. They warn me of a coming stretch of hilly terrain (wait, didn’t I just get through the mountains?) and seem mildly concerned about my well being, which was most likely a result of my exceptionally dour mood. They tell me of their son who is my age that is also an adventurer and that they got him a GPS tracker that they use for when he goes rambling in the backwoods and there is a website that you can pull up and see where the tracker is on a map. It seems like a swell idea but I barely endured the idea of my parents knowing where I was at all time when I was a child and as a 31 year old woman I’d rather get eaten by a bear and have my teeth collected by some backwater sheriff for identification instead of being constantly pinged by a satellite. I’m trying to keep the conversation light but my bones are still rattled by quick passing semis and I’m trying to net up my emotions but I am so scared of being murdered by an oncoming truck. Whatever cushion my optimism provided me at the beginning of my time in Canada was obliterated by hours pedaling on 20 inch shoulders and I haven’t talked to anyone who has actively listened to me since that gas station in Marathon and I process feelings outwards so this poor couple is stuck witnessing this pathetic sunburnt me trying to find optimism in a spew of words. They are kind. I give them the address of my website so they can check up on me and I’m left to my emotions, which are now tinged with shame for burdening others with my feelings. I slowly make my way back to the bike and pedal off again on the Highway of Existential Doom.
I think about this TV show I watched a few years ago where the eternally handsome Ewan McGregor and his childhood buddy ride around the world on motorcycles. During a stretch of their trip, Ewan is struck by a depressive state and he talks into his helmet camera about how miserable and dark he feels even though he is on a fantastic adventure with his friend. I’m so grateful that the producers decided to keep that clip in the show, because now as I’m stuck in the mental mud, I have something outside myself to reflect on and that I’m not just being petulant but actually just experiencing a storm of my mental illness. Like a solar flare but for deep dark thoughts. The problem is that although depression is located in the mind, it also has very real effects on the body and I am slow moving.
A few more kilometers in and on the other side of the highway are two riders, a twin vision in highlighter yellow. In two blinks they cross the highway and are in front of me, kind and with lightly accented speech. I take them to be Nordic, as they spoke with the same musical upturn and directness as my Norwegian friend Morton. They were incredibly polite although I was still tight jawed from my grinding sadness and a bit off put by their matching un-scuffed rain gear and panniers. It seemed as if they had a thick hazard yellow condom stretched over each body. IMPERVIOUS flashed over their heads. The two has started in Toronto and looped to Niagara Falls and were now heading North to catch a train across the bleak territories to Vancouver. We talk about the bareness of the small towns and the death wish traffic of Trans Canadian Highway 17. I’m still deep in the Eeyore woe and trying to seem upbeat to this well-prepared couple is difficult but we all manage ten minutes of polite conversation before pushing off into opposite directions.
Clouds are building as I arrive at the gates of Obatanga Provincial Park and although the kernel of hope that resides in my belly button would like to believe that there might be a campground or two, my experience with Ontario parks has taught me otherwise. It is a long hour rolling through the park and slowly realizing that I would need to create my own camp tonight. I scanned the sides of the highway, which were mountainous and didn’t offer many flat spaces that weren’t also thick with long grasses and cattails, which signaled hidden swampy patches. The collection of NIGHT DANGER signs with the screaming moose didn’t help put me at ease, because my biggest concern was accidentally parking my stuff in a moose’s nighttime stroll path. Or anywhere near soon-to-be hibernating bears. I eventually found a spot that seemed to have a natural opening and pulled my bike through the trees into a petite clearing, just enough to comfortably fit my tent without resting my ankles on a root. I can still spy the highway, which I tell myself will keep the big animals away, as I’m sure they hate the truck rumbling as much as I do.
20 paces away from the tiny triangle where I’ll set my tent, over and under dead logs and branches, is a 4 ft circle clearing and I balance my tiny stove and pot on soft ground and set the water to boil for my daily ramen. While the stove hisses I quickly set up my tent, just in case the rolling clouds drop rain suddenly. I flip inside out the orange bag filled with dirty shorts and the soft grey fleece lining is now outside and ready to offer lump support to my tired head. Blue bag of batteries, power cords and random electronic flotsam sits at my head, next to the grimy ziplock that holds folds of cash, a few pens, multiple IDs, random scraps of notes, my gold printed notebook and the torn paperback “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” The lime green bag used to hold my extra pair of shoes, a grungy pair of slip ons that we already destroyed by river hikes, big city concrete walks and cheap beer spills, which I threw away at some point because I was just sick of packing them over and over. My pannier full of non-stinky items is tucked close and I angle it so that I can access the wet wipes and cocoa butter stick for my *intimate* end-of-day cleansing of the sores. Bear spray and knife tucked between sleeping bag and mesh door, not a practical mode of defense but it is an important lie so that I get some sleep. All these parts together make a home. Not bad for a few square yards of waterproof fabric and bendy metal sticks.
I walk back to the kitchen and watch the familiar foam pulse when I add the chicken seasoning packet to the rolling water and then add curry powder, my chili blend, noodles and hunk of discount salami, which has distinct plastic tones but seems more realistic than the brie I ate earlier. Once the noodles are soft I smoosh an avocado into the pot and start to stuff it into my face as I grip onto the pot and wander around. The smells of the forest are overwhelming, of that damp sort of decay that makes the air into atmosphere, gives it a thickness like city smog but with a cool hand. I spy a few aluminum cans near a small clearing, the remnants of a long forgot fire pit and before I can even seriously worry if this is a recent hobo camp. I notice that the cans are from the 70s, before the tabs and back when you had to stab a sipping triangle into the metal with an opener. I wander back towards my tent and instinctively crouch when I get near this decaying birch tree.
ORANGE SLIME. Oh gosh, I love a good slime. I had hiked a section of the Superior Trail the year before with boyfriend-of-sorts and he was deeply into fungi. Every fifteen minutes he was rambling off the trail to sniff through old trees and pointing at all the oddities spouting out of the ground. It was incredibly charming to me and I would flip through the mushroom guide as we would sip gritty coffee next to cool rivers and I became smitten with pretzel slime and learned to identify a few specimens. The habit has stuck and seriously, date one person obsessed with mycology and you will spend the rest of your life squat walking through damp clearings and poking dead tree trunks. It is a glorious burden. I creep in close and coo “coooooool” while snapping a few photos. I wish I had the pocket guide on me for more dorky facts, but the most I could do was just appreciate its gooey florescent beauty. I slurped the last bits from the pot and wandered back towards my tent. I pack up the food items into a waterproof stuff sack and find that there are no sturdy branches so I’m resigning yet again to just finding a hidey place away from my tent to stuff it into, some place that might be tricky for a creature with claws? I am RECKLESS. I find a spot nearby the aluminum cans and hope for the best, I shake my hands in the air and ask the bears to leave me be, that I am quite sore and that one day I will avenge the capture of their beloved Pooh.
I turn to head back and look at my little set up in the woods and instantly I see the entire thing with 9 year old eyes. I remember reading Julie of the Wolves and Island of the Blue Dolphins while snug in between tree branches and dreaming of the day where I could wander off with a pack and a knife and be left alone.
I have finally run away from home. Two pats on my full belly and I unzip the tent and flop in just as the first few rain drops touched my shoulders.
DISTANCE RIDDEN: 51 km
SONG OF THE DAY: “Life on Mars” covered by Seu Jorge