The urge for miles didn’t stop with the flight from Ness Creek. What I had intended to be a leisurely two to three week trip across Canada turned into a marathon of less than a week, averaging 500 miles per day. Covering just under 4,000 miles between Idaho and destination (on only about 200 miles of divided highway, the other 3,800 on two lane country roads) still left a few minutes here and there for sightseeing however.
One unplanned theme of the trip turned out to be visiting hydro-electric facilities. After the great time at Fort Peck Dam in Montana I excitedly stopped at several other hydro plants along the way. The first was the Grand Rapids Generating Station in Manitoba. A nearly 500 MW plant, it’s part of the grand Manitoba Hydro project on the drainage basins of the Nelson and Churchill Rivers. Manitoba Hydro produces 4,000 MW, which supplies the province of Manitoba with 98% of its power. It seems security concerns limit photography inside most industrial settings now, so sadly I can’t show off the amazing sights seen within. The tour was privately given by an electrical engineer, thorough yet speedy, with information shouted over the drone of the massive mechanisms overhead and underfoot. He mentioned facts with a responsibly savvy yet laid-back attitude, nonchalantly pointing out slippery stairwells that “Seem to flood a lot,” and that one generator that “Is running a bit hot this week,” before leading me through a blast of skin-blistering hot air. Yes, it does seem to be running a bit hot, might want to look into that.
The rest of the day’s 600+ mile ride through Manitoba passed by with little incident besides a lone black bear crossing the road in front of me. As I returned south so did the evidence of human population, no longer did an hour pass without seeing another vehicle. Soon I was on the beltway of Winnipeg, orbiting the city before launching east toward Ontario. Not far past the provincial line the topography’s pulse resumed and I entered the area known as the Lake of the Woods. This landscape of intricate lakes, cliff studded islands, and steep, forested hills was a welcome sight after a thousand miles of flatland.
The next day was one of little visibility, with the first 300 miles through intense red smoke from northern forest fires, and then the dense evening fog of northern Lake Superior. Another long day, but not without a few short breaks to see the sights.
The fog intensified as dusk fell, but an excited energy rose within which compelled me to keep at it for hundreds of more miles before sleep. The ride took on a mission impossible feel, careening around corners while ghostly islands floated to the lake’s surface and then sank once more, the headlight’s beam penetrating through just enough fog to see the right and middle boundaries of the road. My trance-like concentration at piloting the rocket steadily east (subsidized heavily by Deadmau5 in my headset) was only distracted by imagined absurdities that lay just beyond the fog.
Unfortunately, competing with those figments were some very real beasts that could quickly put an end to the mission. Shortly before midnight a van passed me with an array of spotlights that would put most UFO’s to shame. It soon stopped in front of me and waved me over for conversation, “Are you crazy?!?!” the driver asked. To answer seemed pointless as he seemed to have pretty much made up his mind, “I’ve never seen a motorcycle take on this stretch of moose country at night before. Why don’t you follow me, will be safer that way.” I agreed and soon we were off, though I’m not sure it was any safer. True his spotlights did illuminate the night well enough to actually see a couple of roadside moose whose hulking mass rose above me like some huge furry elephant just off the road. However, he apparently thought those bright lights justified keeping up 70 mph through the dark, foggy, moose country. Compared to my own slow, steady pace it seemed a bit crazy, but it sure got those hundred miles taken care of quickly!
There’s places you dream about visiting your whole life, and then there’s places you happen upon that you would have never dreamed of in a million years. White River, Ontario is one of the latter. It considers itself the birthplace of Winnie-the-Pooh and has the monument to prove it.
The day along the north-eastern shore of Lake Superior was one of the prettiest of the journey. Vast like an ocean, its shoreline varies from Caribbean-like sandy beaches to Newfoundlandesque forested cliffs. A stop to explore the Montreal River yielded a small 47 MW hydro generating station nestled in the river gorge. With turbines dismantled for upgrades, the supervisor invited me in to tour the Andrews Generating Station. Sharing many of the features of the trip’s previous hydro-plants, this one was simply a scaled down version, manageable in its dimensions and that much more personable.
A quick stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario brought me to the historic Sault Ste. Marie Canal, where the first lock to connect Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean was built in 1798. When upgraded in 1895 it became the first electrically operated lock in the world. It is now a historic site and only used for recreational boats, with major shipping traffic using the Soo Locks on the U.S. side.
The next day was another long haul of over 600 miles, seeing me through Ontario and into Quebec. Ottawa proved to be a beautiful afternoon stop, somehow combining the “capital city” feel of Washington, DC with the gothic architecture of a European fairy-tale. Soon it was back on the road for my last sunset in Canada and then on to Montreal for some unexpected adventure.
There’s something exciting about Montreal, approaching it speeds one’s pulse with anticipation like driving the 405 through LA or walking up 9th Ave toward the 9:30 Club. As Gliggity and I proved some years ago, it’s not hard to find a good time in Montreal, and tonight would be no different. As usual my approach to the beautiful night skyline was circuitous, confusing the French signs for bridge, tunnel, city center, and every other navigational term. It didn’t help that nearly every off-ramp and route option was barricaded off with police cars. Something was up. I finally made it into the city, now with the singular mission of finding an adequate location to photograph the skyline over the St. Lawrence river. This proved nearly impossible after getting hopelessly lost for nearly two hours, crossing over and under the river three times, passing the same inscrutable signs over and over, and generally going nowhere. About to give up hope I noticed fireworks in the distance. Oh Montreal my dear, you needn’t have welcomed me so!!! This development obviously prompted a new mission: to photograph the pyrotechnics. The fireworks turned out not to be in celebration of my visit, but instead part of L’International des Feux Loto-Québec (the Montreal International Fireworks Competition), the largest pyrotechnics event in the world. Held over the course of a month, it hosts firework performances from around the world, this particular night happened to be themed “The Wizard of Oz” put on by the United States.
I found the perfect vantage on the side of a four lane freeway and began setting up my equipment. A few minutes into photographing, a patrol car zoomed past at 100 mph and locked up its brakes. Party lights flashing and a French monologue blaring from its loudspeaker, it began reversing toward me, again at 100 mph. Locking up its brakes next to me a female officer in the passenger seat began yelling in French. “Bonjour!” I repeatedly responded like a broken record, peppering in a few “Oh, Merci! Oui, oui! Merci beaucoup!!!” while grinning to give the full effect that there was something wrong with my mental condition. Not humored in the least she continued yelling. Finally I resorted to an honest “Parlez-vous anglais?” The driver then shouted over his siren, “You are not allowed to be here, you must finish what you are doing and go away as quickly as possible!” I considered asking if “finish what I was doing” meant “finish photographing the hour-long firework display” but decided not to push it. I packed up and as I waited for an opening to pull back into traffic he shouted through his loudspeaker “Just go, go now!” Thanks for the welcome Montreal. Not one to give up, I realized I had a distinct advantage over those family-sedan patrol cars: the Camel excelled at off-road work. I took off up the freeway until I found the perfect area of construction rubble, grass, and otherwise impassable terrain in the midst of freeway cloverleaf chaos. Off pavement at last I hill climbed until safely out of reach and sight of the numerous patrol cars who were casually parked along the freeway to watch the show. For what my parking spot lacked in legal legitimacy it more than made up for in viewing peace, so there I stayed until the end of the fireworks. My only regret is that I lacked the composure during my run-in with the law to photograph the confrontation. Next time……
Re-entry into the United States through a tiny corner of Vermont was fairly painless, though I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of the “Welcome to the US!” sign due to security reasons. Hmmm, interesting, doesn’t seem that if terrorists could access pictures of our polite border signs on the interwebs it would be much of a threat to national security. Oh well, some goats in a tree house welcomed me to New Hampshire so that cheered me up.
Once I arrived in Maine my destination was finally near. A few hours of fantastic, twisting Maine roads leading from the mountains to the coast were a wonderful end to the nearly 4,000 mile leg which started in the hairpin curves of Beartooth Pass, Montana.
Before I give away the destination, I must share a few photos dedicated to Mimi. I met Ted and Mimi at a gas stop near Ottawa, motorcyclists themselves who were curious about my journey and invited me back up to Ontario sometime for a northern two-wheeled adventure. Mimi very much wanted to clean the Camel’s windshield, however I had to refuse as I’d been collecting bugs for 3,500 miles and wanted end-of-journey windshield pictures once I arrived. So here it is, documented and ready for a good cleaning if your offer still stands Mimi!
And now for this leg’s destination. Let the boat work begin!