Beaten by Northern Ontario

Days 13 and 14

I don’t consider myself a fair weather rider, but Northern Ontario made me cry uncle.

After being dazzled by the glorious rides in Western Canada, I had planned my daily drive to arrive at each destination with plenty of time for a couple of hours of trail riding. Yesterday’s itinerary involved a GoogleMaps-predicted 5-hour drive from Geraldton to Kapuskasing, to a bed & bales that promised miles and miles and miles of trails.

I was excited. I was keen.

We were packed up and on our way at the way-early-for-me hour of 8:30, but even at the start of the day, I was feeling melancholic. The gorgeous mid-twenties weather of the day before had deteriorated to a 5 degrees and rainy.

The road between Longlac and Hearst is, in a word, bleak. I’d like to say that it’s got a rugged northern beauty, or to say some other positive and poetic thing about that stretch of highway, but, seriously, I got nothing. It’s 300 km of bleak. Three hours of this:

(On this trip, I have been hesitant to even answer the phone on hands-free, so focused am I on my driving. But on this road, when I was meeting oncoming traffic once every 10 to 20 minutes, and nothing but trees and flat road to be seen: yes, yes, I did in fact pick my phone up, hold it over the steering wheel, and take a picture).

It never got better. The truck’s temperature reading stayed stubbornly at 6 degrees C as the miles rolled out behind us. The rain continued to drizzle half-heartedly down. The wind continued to rage.

I ride in the rain at home. Really, I do. It rains at home a lot. At home, if you won’t ride in the rain, chances are, you won’t ride much.

But Lord have mercy. On my holiday, after 3 days of dicking around in Northern Ontario, hacking out for a leisurely 45 or 60 minutes through farm fields and farm woods, if I was going to ride in the wind and rain at a horrifying 6 degrees C in JUNE… Well, to paraphrase Julius in Pulp Fiction, “We’d have to be talking about some charming motherfucking trails.” As I cruised though Kapuskasing, I looked at the same flat land featuring the same old poplars and same old spruce I’d ridden through for three days, with the truck still reading 6 degrees C and the rain still falling and the wind still blowing… That’s when Northern Ontario won. Driving another 336 km on the road instantly seemed a joy – a joy – compared to huddling in my camper in Kap.

I called up my contact in New Liskeard, fellow veterinarian Connie Dancho of Temiskaming Veterinary Services – yet another gift from my fairy godmother Carol, who had done her externship there 20 years ago (holy crow, how is it possible we’ve been doing this for 20 years?). I was meant to be staying with some francophone clients of hers, but my short-notice change of plans took everyone off guard, and Connie ended up inviting me to stay at her place.

Her place turned out to be a sheep farm, as well as being the woolen mill after which their road is named. The wool mill burned down two months ago, which is a tragedy, since they made some of the most gorgeous wool blankets I’ve ever seen. There’s one in my truck right now. (A crisp, brand new $100 bill from Dad had been burning a hole in my wallet since my birthday in April. I couldn’t bank it and then spend the money on debit or credit or by cheque. I had this self-imposed rule that I had to spend that specific bill on something that was specifically a present, something I would love. And now I gots me a gorgeous wool throw).

Gratuitous cute baby lambykins photo

More lambies!

Pai enjoyed a big box stall and had periodic visits from Connie’s 3 horses while I enjoyed dinner with Connie and Dave and Jenna and Alex, and talked shop with Connie for a long while into the night. As I walked back to my camper, fireflies flickered on the grass. We don’t have fireflies on Vancouver Island; they always remind me of warmer eastern summers.

New Liskeard is on some kind of clay table (the geology escapes me), and so is a sort of non sequitur in the geography of Northern Ontario. To the north are the flat boggy spruce Forests of Death, and to the south are the pink rock (I want to say granite, but I’d totally be making that up) and beautiful tiny lakes that epitomize what I visualize when I think “Canadian Shield”, and New Liskeard is this prairie-flat area of lush farmland. Their exuberant hayfields are to our Vancouver Island versions as a sumptuous beard is to a teenager’s peach fuzz.

Today’s 8-hour drive (10 point to point) wound down past those gorgeous wee lakes between New Liskeard and North Bay (sadly, I found no safe place to pull over with a horse trailer for a photo), past Temagami, which reminded me of being in school, when Temagami was in the news during roadblocks and protests by the Temagami Wilderness Society.  The morose highway warnings (“Can’t See? Don’t Pass!” and “La vitesse tue. Ralentissez!” and “Larger Vehicles Need More Room”) followed us all the way down to Ottawa.

Tonight, Pai is happy in a big paddock with a barn run-in at the farm of Peter Tropea, the vet I worked for when I was a high school vet-student wannabe. And I am happy at my Dad’s – he cooked me my favourite thing: fried fish with Bajan seasoning. I’ll be here visiting for a few days, until I hit the road for the final two days to PEI.




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