Week 4: Bicycling Hamilton, ON to Millington, MI

Total distance: 315.5 miles

Day 22 – 50.8 miles – Hamilton, ON to Port Ryerse, ON

By the morning, Jess’s rear tire had lost some pressure again, so it was clear there was, in fact, a leak. It still seemed slow enough that we decided to wait to patch it until we got to camp that night. Our goal for the day was to reconnect with the Adventure Cycling (AC) map near Lake Erie. We were using Google Maps directions since our Toronto detour wasn’t on the AC route. The day started out with roughly ten miles of the Escarpment Rail Trail which was beautiful. When that ended we were on Route 6 for the rest of the day, which was considerably less pretty and had a lot more traffic, but it had a decent shoulder, so the large trucks whizzing by weren’t too close.

Theme: Escarpment Rail Trail and Route 6

Escarpment Rail Trail

Highlight: We stopped at a Circle K convenience store in Port Dover to stock up on food for dinner. The owner came outside to talk with us and gave us free ice cream.

Just as we were pulling away after eating our ice cream, Jess noticed her bike felt funny and discovered her rear tire was entirely flat. So much for a slow leak! We were about five miles away from camp, and we really wanted to make it there before patching the tire, so we pumped it up, biked a mile and a half, pumped it up again, biked a mile and three quarters, pumped it up again and biked a mile and a half. There was no one at the gate when we arrived at the campground, so we went in and started looking for a tent site. It wasn’t clear which sites were which. Jess hates biking around campgrounds at the end of the day anyway, but with the flat tire she really wasn’t having it. She waited while Eric flagged someone down, went back to the office to get a site assignment, and then biked around looking for the specific site.

Patching our first tube

Overnight: Norfolk Conservation Area Campground. Site of our first real bicycle repair. Jess got the tire off and pulled out the tube. It was a tiny pin-prick hole that had clearly grown a bit in the past 90 miles of biking. She patched the tube, put it back in, and the problem was solved. Eric, meanwhile, had finally had enough of his hair, so he got out his beard trimmer and buzzed off most of it.

Eric giving himself a haircut

Our campground had a pretty view of Lake Erie. Little did we know it would be the best view of the lake we would see.

View of Lake Erie

Day 23 – 37.7 miles – Port Ryerse, ON to Port Burwell

Theme: Waterfront Trail, although we hardly saw any water. Unlike the route near Lake Ontario, the route near Lake Erie is a farm or two away from the lake, so we saw glimpses of the lake from time to time. One time when Jess pointed out the lake, Eric said, “how can you be sure that’s the lake? Maybe it’s just the sky.”

View of Lake Erie from the “Waterfront Trail”

Highlight: Blueberry Hill Estates winery where we stopped for a wine tasting and cribbage game. We had passed a lot of wineries and always thought it would be fun to stop at one, but it never seemed to be the right part of the day. This one came up ten miles into our ride and while it was early for a rest, it was a hot day so we stopped.

Cribbage and wine at Blueberry Hill Estates

Overnight: Stealth camping by the river. When we got to Port Burwell, we stopped at a convenience store to stock up for dinner and asked about a place to camp. There was a campground in town, but it was Canada Day weekend so we expected it would be full. We were also getting tired of paying $35 for a campsite and $7.50 for firewood. The owner of the convenience store suggested we try to find a spot by the river since people camp and fish there all the time. After walking down a very buggy trail by the river, we found a patch of grass that was nicely mowed and decided to pitch the tent. It seemed it was clearly owned by someone, so when a person came out of the house up the hill, we asked if he would mind if we camped there. He said it was fine as long as we didn’t leave any trash.

Our “stealth” campsite near the river in Port Burwell

Day 24 – 55.2 miles – Port Burwell, ON, to New Glasgow, ON

There were wind turbines scattered along the route mostly in the fields of the farms on either side. When the windmills were pointed the same direction we were biking it took a lot more energy to keep moving. We started trying to draft off each other, but too much of Jess’s energy had been sapped to keep up with Eric, so we had to make a few emergency stops to eat spoonfuls of peanut butter and left over zucchini cake until we could acquire more food.

Theme: Canadian farm land with tiny plants taking root and wind farms

Wind turbines and little plants

Highlight: Breakfast at Royal Canadian Legion 524. When we emerged from our campsite in Port Burwell, we ran into Tony who told us the Royal Canadian Legion was hosting a bake sale. We went to the Legion and had breakfast sandwiches, bought a zucchini loaf, and spent some time chatting with Tony and others.

Royal Canadian Legion bake sale

Overnight: We slept on the lawn next to Take A Bite restaurant. We stopped at Take A Bite in New Glasgow for dinner where we had yummy food and good craft beers. There was a campground in town, but it was 1.5 miles off route, and we were still in avoiding campground mode. We asked if the owner would mind if we pitched our tent on his lawn and he said it was no problem as long as we contributed five dollars to the coffee fund. He gave us wood to make a fire, brought out chairs for us to sit on, and taught us that you can burn egg cartons to ward off mosquitoes. We’re not sure we’ll use this trick much since it also smells bad enough to ward off humans, but it’s good to know.

Camping outside Take A Bite

Day 25 – 36.1 miles – New Glasgow, ON to Kent Bridge, ON

We set out with the idea of biking to Ridgetown to find a coffee shop where Eric could get some work done for his upcoming presentation before continuing on to McKay’s Corner. We had just made a turn onto a less busy road around mile 12 when Jess’s rear tire blew out, deflated immediately, and tipped Jess unceremoniously onto a shady patch of grass. The tire had two punctures! It seems we weren’t going to avoid bicycle repairs on the side of the road forever. We removed Jess’s rear tire for the second time in three days, took out the tube which now had two new holes in it, put a boot in the tire to cover up the holes in the tire, inserted a spare tube, and put the tire back on. Shane at Cambridge Bicycle had advised us to patch tires at camp when we could allow the patch glue to dry sufficiently which meant putting new tubes in on the side of the road. Unfortunately when Jess fell the rear ferring got bent and was damaged beyond repair, so we had to remove it. We couldn’t find anything in the road that looked like it would have caused the puncture, so we eventually decided the tire must be wearing out and set out to find the next bike shop. Of course, there were no bike shops on our route until the US-Canada border, and the next day was Sunday so none of the bike shops would have been open. Monday was Canada Day, so nothing would be open in Canada, which meant our best bet was to get across the border as quickly as possible.

Patching the bike tire after Jess’s blow out

We made it to Ridgetown and found a Tim Horton’s where we holed up for the day. Half way through the day, three Ontario Provincial Police officers came in and sat at the table next to us. We started chatting and soon they asked where we were planning to sleep that night. We told them we were hoping to make it to McKay’s Corner and find a patch of grass there. The female officer offered us her empty lot in Kent Bridge which was slightly past McKay’s Corner but still on our route.

Theme: Another rough day of biking against the wind. It’s amazing how much more energy it takes, but also how effective drafting is for the person in the back.

Highlight: Watching Canada Day fireworks through our tent window

Fireworks through our tent window

Overnight: When we arrived at the lot it was overgrown with tall grasses. There was a flattened section near the road where it appeared someone might have previously pitched a tent, so we started spreading out our tarp in that spot. A neighbor across the street saw us and offered we could sleep on his mowed lawn instead. He and his wife came out to introduce themselves and let us know we could use the bathroom inside their garage. They also invited us to join their Canada Day fireworks celebration, but we were tired and opted to go to bed early.

The empty lot we were offered as a campsite

Day 26 – 55.4 miles – Kent Bridge, ON to Port Huron, MI

While we were setting up camp on the lawn yesterday, another police officer who lives in the neighborhood came by on his bike and chatted with us. He offered to bring us coffee in the morning. Unfortunately, we must have had a miscommunication because he did not arrive with coffee before we were packed up and ready to leave. In the meantime, we had not prepared our own coffee in anticipation of his. This meant we made an unusual stop at a Tim Horton’s in Dresden to buy coffee.

The Tim Hortons where we got coffee and learned the ferry crossing was closed

This was fortuitous because this was the day we were crossing the Canada-US border and a friendly Canadian outside Tim Horton’s told us our planned route across the border (ferry from Sombra to Marine City) was permanently closed due to ice damage. Even though the ferry has been closed since the winter of 2018, our bike maps still say this is the way to cross. The friendly Canadian told us we would have to go to the Sarnia-Port Huron crossing roughly 30 miles north. Since we needed to go north anyway, this made sense.

Theme: Just go straight for a very long time

Just keep going straight

After 30 miles of straight road, we made a left turn towards the border. We were targeting the Perch Creek Habitat Management Area for a snack and stretch break. Just before Perch Creek a vicious-sounding dog tore out of its yard at full speed, crossed two lanes of traffic and chased us for a quarter mile. Jess was in the back and pedaling as fast as she could to keep ahead of the dog. Eventually the dog gave up and wandered slowly back to its yard across the road causing the oncoming cars to honk. We have never realized before how much dogs like to chase cyclists and how absolutely terrifying it is, not to mention how dangerous it is for both us and the dogs.

Highlight: Rest at Perch Creek Habitat Management Area. We were glad to have this pretty spot to rest at and let our heart rates return to normal after the incident with the dog. While we were sitting on our picnic tarp, Jess felt something near the neck of her shirt that felt like a bug. She pulled her shirt down a bit and saw all these tiny brown hairs. They looked like Eric’s beard hair trimmings, except they were brown. Just as she was asking Eric where all these little hairs could have come from, she flipped over the neck of the shirt and saw a fuzzy caterpillar just hanging out there! Surprised, she flung the caterpillar onto the grass a few feet away from the tarp and went back to resting. The caterpillar was making a great effort to climb over the blades of grass, but it looked like it was a struggle, so Jess started doing yoga and ignored the caterpillar. Twenty minutes later when it was time to pack up and get back on the road, the caterpillar had made its way all the way back to Jess’s shoe and climbed on, and it was now holding on for dear life. Eric was a bit jealous of the caterpillar’s feelings for Jess. Jess thinks the caterpillar just wanted to stow away to the US.

When we arrived at the Canada-US border, we saw the no pedestrians/no bicycles sign and wondered what we should do. Eric was in favor of going anyway. Jess thought we should ask a cop we’d seen a few blocks back. We went back and asked the cop who told us about a different entrance to the border that incidentally had the same no pedestrians/no bicycles sign but was at least closer to the border guards. Seeing no better options, we ignored the sign and biked up to one of the toll booths where we were told to wait on the side for a truck. Two minutes later a woman showed up with a truck with a small bike rack in the back. We put the bikes in the truck and she drove us across the border. She called ahead to let the US side know we were coming through the bus lane and dropped us off on the other side of the border. The US border guard, probably trying to be stern, said, “didn’t you see the signs? What made you think you could cross this border on a bike?” Jess, having already biked 30 miles north because one border was closed, and having a bum bicycle to boot, was not impressed.

Crossing into the US – we see why bikes aren’t allowed

Speaking of bum bicycles, we were finally in the US, on a day when bike shops were open, in a town that had a bike shop. We raced over to Alpine Bicycles, arriving 15 minutes before closing. The owner looked at Jess’s bicycle and said, “I’ve never seen a tire this size in my life.” We should have realized when Cambridge Bicycle had to special order the spare tube for Jess’s bike before we left that the parts on Jess’s bike were unusual, but we had just assumed they didn’t have it in stock. The owner at Alpine Bicycle tried swapping the tire with a bigger one, but it wouldn’t fit in the frame. This meant he couldn’t do anything to help us and our best bet would be to call a bike shop in a place we expected to be four days from then and hope they could overnight order a new, stronger tire so it would be there when we arrived. Now we were in the US, but the 4th of July holiday was coming up, so there would be two days when the bike shops were closed. The owner suggested we swap the front and rear tires in the meantime to take some pressure off the damaged rear tire and hopefully buy ourselves some time to get to that bike shop in four days. While at the bike shop we bought Jess a bike computer so she could see her speed and mileage instead of asking Eric every few miles.

Overnight: Alpine Bicycles recommended Port Huron Charter Township RV Park since it was only three miles away. We found a patch of grass for our tent between the RV sites and set up camp. There was no one at the office when we checked in, and the next morning when we went back to pay, the Port Huron Charter Township RV Park gave us our campsite for free! Since there were no grocery stores near by, we had dinner at the nearby Cracker Barrel.

Day 27 – 59 miles – Port Huron, MI to North Branch, MI

Camping in between the RVs

Theme: Another day of bicycle repairs.

Swapping front and rear tires

Highlight: Our camp neighbor, Jan, made us coffee in the morning and told us stories while we made the repairs.

Jess fighting with a stubborn tire

We spent the morning swapping Jess’s front and rear tires. At some point, the woman in the RV next to our site came out and asked if we’d like some coffee. She only drank one cup, but she always made a pot, so she had some extra. We accepted and she began to tell us lots of stories about her life. At some point, Jess realized she had to keep working on the tire swap or we’d never get it done, so she brought the tires over to the picnic table outside Jan’s RV and worked on them there. We had just finished pumping up the tires again and putting them back on the bike when the rain came. We managed to grab all our bags and tools and dive into the tent just in time. We hid in the tent for an hour waiting for the rain to pass and making calls to bike shops in Bay City to ask about special ordering a new tire, an extra spare tube, and a new rear brake caliper. The first bike shop we tried, Ray’s Bike Shop, called us back to tell us they couldn’t order the parts by July 5th. The second bike shop, Jack’s Bicycle, said they could do it and asked for photographs of the brake mechanism to make sure they ordered the right thing.

We got on the road very late in the day but we still managed to bike almost sixty miles. Jess was a little nervous that while putting the damaged tire on the front would buy us some time – it wouldn’t wear out as quickly there as on the back – it would result in a more catastrophic accident if the tire blew out again. One benefit to having in on the front though was Jess could more easily keep an eye on it.

Overnight: We arrived at Sutter’s Recreation Area and pitched our tent on the grass. We had eaten a late lunch at Subway, so we weren’t that hungry and opted to drink our dinner calories instead. We had orange juice, milk, and a bottle of wine, which we later supplemented with peanut butter sandwiches.

Our campsite in the middle of the lawn at Sutter’s Recreation Area

Day 28 – 21.3 miles – North Branch, MI to Millington, MI

Theme: Short days feel long!

Biking hard the past two days meant we set ourselves up for a short day to Millington where we had rented an AirBNB for July 3rd and 4th and where our friends Paul and Maggie would be meeting us. We were glad we didn’t have too far to bike since July 3rd was hot and humid in Michigan.

Highlight: Getting off the road before it got hot, and seeing our friends Paul and Maggie, who drove four hours to meet us.

We got to the AirBnb at noon after biking down a road with a narrow shoulder and lots of cars. Since the AirBnb was not on the bike route, we had roughly six miles of this slightly harrowing road to get there. When we arrived we took showers and did laundry so Paul and Maggie wouldn’t mind being in the same room as us. We pitched our tent outside to let it dry and sprayed it with permethrin to keep the bugs away.

Overnight: Airbnb in Millington. Our friends arrived around 4pm and we spent the evening catching up and playing Sushi Go.

Week 4 was our most exciting week yet. In a single week we removed a tire from Jess’s bike four times, patched two tubes, booted one tire, and visited one bike shop that wasn’t able to help. Meanwhile, we biked further than any other week so far, biking an average of 45 miles a day with no rest days. Average cost of week 4: $71.50

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