This year we have decided to cycle on the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Northern Tier Route. An epic route beginning in Bar Harbour, Maine and rolling across the US to its eventual end in Anacortes, Washington. However, as we have brought our bikes from England, it has been much easier and much less expensive to fly them to Toronto, Ontario, Canada and join the Northern Tier in Buffalo, New York.
As we have mentioned before, it’s not about distances, times, or even the bikes for us, it’s more about the experiences along the way and the people we meet. We have chosen this route because it takes us away from the larger towns and cities and leads us through less populated places where we won’t have to deal with lots of traffic and busy streets.
We had chosen turbulent times to arrive in Canada. Southern Ontario had just endured a once-in-a-hundred-years ice storm. Hundreds of thousands of homes were without power and over 350 flights had been grounded in Toronto. 100km/hr winds had seen over 1400 collisions on the roads around the area.
We were one of the first flights to touch down after the storm. Outside our cabin window the landscape outside was apocalyptic. There was no sun and through the gloom only odd shapes could be made out from under all the ice.
We had arranged an Airbnb in Barrie, about a hundred Kms north of Toronto. The lady was to pick us up at the airport and drive us back. Unfortunately though, the roads were way too dangerous for her to drive down. She had booked an airport shuttle for us though, a $150USD fare we hadn’t been counting on! We sucked it up though (we had no other choice), crammed our bikes in the back of the van and were soon hurtling up the 400 to Barrie as if we were in some kind of qualifying for Monza.
(If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet then use THIS LINK to join and get the equivalent of AUD 55 off your first booking over about AUD110)
A blizzard still raged around us and we could barely see 200ms up the highway as our driver seemed to be late for dinner, or something more drastic. It took just over an hour to Barrie and if we looked relieved to get out – we were! No wonder there were so many accidents of late!
The streets of Barrie were a metre deep in ice. For us though, it was magical, it looked like some kind of Christmas movie. There was almost no other traffic or people to be seen.
Our Airbnb was a lovely old, well-kept Century home, its roof and yard covered in snow and ice. Just last month Spring had sprung early and everyone was cleaning leaves from their driveways. The snow ploughs had finished their contracts and had gone home leaving the good folk of Barrie to get about the slippery roads as best they could. They would just have to wait for it all to melt away before they could tend their gardens and driveways.
Barrie is wrapped tightly around the western shoreline of Lake Simcoe, a huge body of water that was currently frozen over – our first ever frozen lake – BONUS!!! So, as much as we were having a great time enjoying the winter recovery and the flurries of sleet stinging our faces, the locals weren’t as enthusiastic, after all, it was meant to be mid-Spring and they were still negotiating slippery footpaths!
On our first morning in Barrie we tried out our first “Greasy Spoon”. It’s a term for a diner/cafe that cooks everything in oil and serves bottomless cups of Cafe Americano (black coffee). We had no idea that there were so many ways to eat bacon and eggs! We also made it to a sports bar for dinner with our host. I think American Football and Baseball are going to take some getting used to!
The next morning we were picked up by Ian, the owner of the house we were sitting up north in Port Severn. He backed his goliath, long wheel base F150 pickup truck into the icebound driveway and we, very awkwardly, got our bikes into the back without managing to slip over on our bums.
Ian drove us up to his place about 6kms outside of the tiny village of Port Severn via the town of Coldwater, a place noted for its interest in Steampunk and the location of the only supermarket in the area.
Set amongst a Birch and Pine forest and fronting a small, frozen over lake, Ian and Maddie’s house was amazing. Ian had designed and built the house himself. The huge, sloping driveway, which included a putting green, led up to a 3 car garage. Once inside, we could see that the whole front of the house facing the lake and 2 small inlets was entirely built with glass. The view, a solid white winter wonderland that we’d only ever seen on the tv or in magazines. It was a monochromatic vista that was both alluring and threatening at the same time, a harsh natural environment that was completely foreign to us, but beautiful in its own way.
Our principal job as housesitters was to look after their 2 dogs, Jessie and Dozer, a poodle and a pug. We would walk them twice a day, feed them and give them their medications. Jessie had an electric collar that allowed him to wander around outside but only to the perimeter of the block where, if he continued, he’d get a small electric shock from the collar. Dozer didn’t need it as he had no intentions of wandering too far.
We spent 10 days there while Ian and Maddie took a river cruise through Germany with their neighbours. After about a week the scenery had changed completely. The sun had returned and melted the remaining ice and snow and the lake was no longer frozen. The new found warmth outside ushered the return of the local wildlife as well. Beavers begun swimming around in plain sight and the skies revealed numerous birds returning. Geese, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Red Tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures and we even had a Bald Eagle fly low directly over our heads, a fish in its claws.
Down at the marina, over the nearest hill, people had been readying their pontoon boats for the season. From here you can sail down through the locks to the States if you wished, or, like most, just hang around fishing and swimming and drinking with friends.
We used the time here to check our gear, especially the tent, and ready our bikes so we could get some riding in before we would begin our next adventure down through Ontario and out across the States. We would ride the 6kms to the village and buy some groceries and beers and put them in the panniers for the return trip. It wasn’t a great preparation, but we’d started “cold” before and we figured we’d get our legs eventually. We’d just have to take it easy to begin with.