Sometimes a ride is just a ride, there’s no deeper meaning or context to be provided. These are the rides magazines never show you, the hard slogs. Magazines are all about peak experiences, not the troughs. Leaving Sault Ste. Marie, Highway 17 hasn’t been what I expected. I was told to brace for mind numbing boredom. I was expecting a trough. Along the shore of Lake Superior I’m seeing anything but.
Group of Seven trees struggle against prevailing winds, as waves crash against rounded grey and white outcroppings of the Canadian Shield. The road traces the transition from rock to water with gentle curves and the occasional vertiginous climb.
Climbs though, take a cold morning and make it colder. By the time we reach Wawa on the far side of Lake Superior Provincial Park the Ducati’s air-cooled engine’s operating temperature has dropped to 41-degrees. It’s 6C out and I’m praying for a Work Warehouse with some heavy poly-pro long johns in stock. Seems that will have to wait, through here the 17 is beaded only sparsely with small service towns. It’s all truck stops and Canada Tires.
Water, the enemy, is implacable. It seeps, it worries, it builds a beachhead of dampness, then marches in aided by its allies gravity and wind. The gloves give way first, a growing dampness that after two hours becomes a sopping wetness. Make a fist and water runs out of them. From there it conducts itself up the sleeves of the jacket and towards your core.
The rain pants hardly put up a fight.
“Water? This is the stuff that built the Grand Canyon right? What chance do our failing rubber seams have?” None apparently… after an hour of rain, my bottom half is thoroughly cold and soaked. Only 500kms to go.
Keeping me from shivering is the heated electric vest, but I’d give the world for a set of grip heaters right now. That’s what makes rides like these feel intrepid.
The weather is like an abusive lover. Every now and then the clouds lighten, lure you onwards and leave you thinking maybe the relationship has gotten better, maybe the weather has really changed this time.
In Nipigon, ON I debate grabbing myself a hotel, wringing myself out and settling in for the night. It’s 109kms to Thunder Bay though, and I suspect I’m at the Cold-Wet threshold, where I can’t get any wetter or colder. That’s not the case, you can always get colder and wetter.
Coming down a straightaway there’s a sign… “Terry Fox Highway of Courage”, it reads. Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope covered 5,373 km starting at St. John’s, Newfoundland on April 12, 1980 and ended 143 days later just north-east of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Fox was forced to stop the run after his bone cancer metastasized resulting in tumors in both his left and right lungs.
No matter what we do context can be found. My marathon towards the town of the same name seems trivial in comparison to Terry Fox’s run, and makes me regret not attaching a bigger purpose to this ride.