I woke to the rain Sunday morning. I had pulled my gear under my tent fly the night before. In the morning I turned on some music on my phone, and packed my gear without ever leaving the tent. I packed my pad and sleeping bag, got dressed, got my dry bag packed, and got my rain gear on. When I exited the tent, everything was packed in dry bags except the tent. I pulled it down quickly and was on my way. Best packing-in-the-rain I've accomplished to date.
Then ... to the forest roads! I didn't know where I was sleeping tonight. Maybe Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, maybe a municipal campground around Thunder Bay. But neither was that far away and I had time to play.
I took minor forest roads that Google Maps claimed existed. Google Maps was pretty much wrong. But I had a proper USFS paper map of the forest, and it got me straightened out. My initial destination was the Trestle Inn that I had spotted on Google a while ago, a placed nestled in the middle of nowhere. I suspected they sold breakfast. I was right:
The bartender said they can fit a couple hundred snowmobilers in there in the winter. They don't need to turn on the heat on those days, but it sure does stink. Sounded like fun to me though.
Then I ran The Grade to Grand Marais. I suppose it was an old train trestle in the logging days, and now it is a thoroughfare of forest roads. With some nice lakes along the way:
Saw lots of moose tracks up and down the side of the road, but no actual mooses (meese?).
These flowers are everywhere up north. The grass along the sides of highways are painted with them. They are one of my favorite parts about being up north, along with the marsh grasses:
At Grand Marais I sat in a coffee shop for a bit, used their wi-fi and got out of the rain. There was a line of about 10 people which sucked, then I realized they were all waiting for their half-caf mocha lattes and stuff. I got to march to the front, ask for a big cup of black coffee, and was on my way while the connoisseurs waited.
I ended up sharing a table with a couple that had rode down from Thunder Bay on a Concourse for a day trip. They obviously had money. He obviously spent a bunch of time with weights. We chatted bikes for a while, then he took a phone call and started talking about order numbers and invoices and such. So his pretty girl and I got to chat. I told her where I was off to, and when she realized I was traveling alone she got this kinda sad, kinda jealous look and said "Guys can do that, can't they?" I wanted to ask why she thought she couldn't, or if she wanted to, but he got off the phone about then. I suppose it does take a special woman to feel safe traveling alone, and I take the benefits of being a guy, and fairly undesirous guy at that, for granted. At any rate, it gave me something to think about.
I said goodbye and took a short walk around the waterfront by the Coast Guard building. Watched young parents struggling to keep their young children from falling in, and felt thankful my kids are old enough that they can worry about themselves.
Then I decided to try and find Partridge Falls.
I had noticed Partridge Falls on Google Maps while day dreaming about my trip ahead of time. Kinda in the middle of nowhere: 47.995153, -89.845346. Seemed like a good destination.
To get there, you take Rt 61 to old Rt 61. When you see the sign that the road is unmaintained past this point, you'll be surprised because it didn't seem very particularly well maintain to this point. You keep going, there may be a sign about the road being closed ahead. Ignore it. When you see a sign for Partridge Falls Rd, turn there. There is grass between the two tracks, that's OK, the road is actually pretty good for what it is. Keep going until the road ends at the Pigeon River, about 8 miles. Hike downriver about a quarter mile. You won't drive, the mud bogs are too deep. You will know it when you arrive.
So, I headed north on 61
From the 1700s until the early 1900s, itinerant missionaries braved extreme hardships to minister sporadically to North Shore settlers. In 1855, Jesuit missionaries from Fort Williams, Ontario, served Chippewa City, an Ojibwe community of about 100 families located near this site. The Jesuits conducted monthly services in residents' homes until St. Francis Xavier Church was established by Father Joseph Specht in 1895. To raise money for construction, local women held basket socials. Enticed by home-baked foods, area lumberjacks bid heavily on the handmade birch bark baskets. The small clapboard church became both a religious and social center for the community.
When I ran cross country for a Catholic high school in New England we ran against a school named "Xavier". I should probably google him someday.
In 1865 post offices were established at Grand Marais and Grand Portage on a route connecting Duluth, Minnesota, and Fort William, Canada.
Since there were no roads, mail was carried in summer by boat on Lake Superior. In winter, dog teams and sleds were used by the mail carriers to tote the heavy packets through the wilderness over what was known as "The Old Dog Trail", which ran along the North Shore of the lake for more than 150 miles.
The mail was transported in those days by private carriers who contracted with the government for the job. Sam Zimmerman, a German, and the Beargrease brothers, who were Chippewa Indians, were among the earliest postmen on the trail. The trip they made took several days and necessitated a change of dogs on route.
In 1895 the trail was cleared for hauling logs, and horses could then be used along part of it. Later, further stretches were improved, and in 1920 it became Trunk Highway No. 1. Parts of the trail are followed by present-day Highway No. 61 (North Shore Drive), which is now a part of the Great Circle route. Traces of the pioneer mail route are still visible.
I missed my turnoff of Old Highway 61, which frustrated me at the time. I was able to cut over to it from the north though, missing the southern part of the road. That turned out to be a blessing. It was the worst road of the trip. It looked smooth enough, but these heaves across the road were common. The potholes were unusually hard. It would transition to almost gravel to almost pavement regularly. It sucked ... and that was the "maintained" part.
At the end of the road, the river was peaceful. It almost made me think I was in the wrong place.
By now the rain was over and the day was heating up. I set up my tent quick to let it dry. I had not seen a person or a car since leaving the main highway. I really felt in the middle of nowhere, and pretty far from help. If felt odd leaving my stuff behind alone and exposed, but I had little choice.
I started hiking downstream. There was no riding it. There were four mud crossings, slimey bogs really, to be crossed. It was tough enough skirting around them on foot, trying not to slip down into the muck.
Soon enough I heard a bit of a noise. I quiet roar. As a continued on, there was no mistaking the noise. It got pretty darn loud actually. And when the river fell off the side of the earth, it seemed that I was fairly close indeed.
I stood on the edge of the falls at the top, trying to look over. The water was moving fast. It did occur to me that I was one slip from being dead. So, I decided not to do that. There was a boundary commission survey marker up there.
I was having a hard time finding a vantage point to see the falls from though. There was a very steep drop down the edge of the falls. I hiked a bit farther downstream but found nothing. I went back to the steep drop, and realized there was a trail down it. I edged down it a bit, and found it to actually be very easy. Roots for handholds. Rock outcroppings for stairs. I bet humans have been traveling up and down it for hundreds of years. A thousand years?
At the bottom ... it was intimidating. The sheer volume of water falling. The noise. Water fell so fast and hard it created a constant wind blowing mist downstream. I had to protect my camera from getting soaked. The far gorge wall was constantly drenched in the mist, and was pure green. The flora there is pretty unique I bet.
I was pretty satisfied. It's not like I was the only one who'd ever been there. But, it's not on the well beaten path either and well off the radar of the typical tourist. It was a bit of a journey to get there well worth the trip. The falls had a pretty strong presence standing so close, they were impressive.
It was about 4:00. I was still in the US and a bit from the highway. I had time, it stayed light to nearly 10 and I didn't need to get tucked in early. But still, time to get serious.
A riding day is like a martini. It starts so perfect, full of possibility. Clear and crisp. And as you whittle it down, it gets warmer. The olives make it saltier. The entire character of the drink evolves, or devolves. The fact that you will be soon enough without this particular martini starts to weigh on you. Mind you, it's still a great martini. Just ... the possibilities for its future are narrowed down.
Kids are the same way I suppose.
Anyways, back down to Old 61, then I continued on to across the Grand Portage to the end at the old border crossing:
The Grand Portage
This 8.5 mile long portage became a vital link in the 18th century water trade route from Montreal and the Great Lakes to the northwestern wilderness. First traveled by Indians, the Grand Portage by-passed a series of falls and rapids extending along the last 21 miles of the Pigeon River.
During the fur-trade, thousands of tons of trade goods and furs were carried across the portage on the backs of voyageurs. Sieur de La Verendrye, David Thompson, Alexander MacKenzie, Alexander Henry and other explorers traveled this route from 1779 through 1802. The North West Company held a summer rendezvous at the eastern end of the Grand Portage along these shores of Lake Superior.
I came over a hill and saw those trees in the middle of the road. Pretty cool, it took me a minute to realize it was the old border crossing.
The bridge is gone now. I could look across to the far landing. I was standing over there just a couple years ago exploring the back roads on the Canada side. A bit cool
From there, I took Joe's Road out to Current 61. Who was Joe do you think? How did he get the road named after him?
Quick stop at the Isle Royale lookout just a bit south of the border. Really, one of the best views of the trip. My pictures didn't do it justice.
Then a quick and easy border crossing. Into Canada about 5:30. Into Thunder Bay about 6:30.
There was a big old thunderstorm cell sitting just west of the city. It's amazing how much a thunderstorm makes you want to get inside. There is some part of my reptilian brain the fires off "take cover". And I felt like I had just dried out. And ... I need no excuse, I grabbed a hotel room. Added bonus, I could pull my bike right to the back of the room, if I bent a rule or two.
I wandered next door to this greek place for dinner and drinks. Salad and a gyro. And of course, a martini.
I told him not to leave the gin on the ice too long, and he failed. I had to tell him he was making me nervous, but it was too late. So later I gave him a second chance. Said give it that first big shake and directly into the glass. That worked just fine. But he just said "that's a strong drink" and made no more eye contact.
Ontarians cook their vegetables like they're mad at them. They cook them with the same enthusiasm as my kids cleaning their rooms. But I ate them, and the gyro and salad were just fine.
Then I stumbled back to my room, cause the bartender was right, and turned in for the night.