Day 1: Trowbridge to Hurkett Cove - 90 km // 1075vm
At 10 am, we jumped on our 90-pound bikes and headed out of Trowbridge Park in Thunder Bay towards Hurkett. After half an hour on the highway, we turned off onto a gravel road that snaked its way east on a huge range of surface qualities. From small, fast-rolling gravel on the flat sections to loose baby head on the washed-out climbs and descents, the road carried us gradually up towards the Greenwich Wind Farm, before gracing us with a huge descent back towards the highway. Spectacular cliffs, lakes, and fall colours flew by as we ticked over the 70 km mark and crossed the highway. We reached an old rail bed (BED, not trail) which would carry us the last 15 km to Hurkett Cove. It was overgrown, slow going, and pretty punishing but still a lot of fun. I was thankful when we turned off of it onto the dirt road that would take us down to the lake.
Hurkett Cove was a very cool spot, an old boat launch that was still in use by the locals, but also home to a few abandoned fishing boats. We spent a good while climbing inside them and poking around before setting up the tent and cooking dinner in their shadow as the sunset over Lake Superior.
Day 2: Hurkett Cove to Outward Bound Base - 85 km // 650vm
It was a cold start to the day, and after coffee and oatmeal, we rolled out of camp. We were heading north, up the Black Sturgeon Road to a decommissioned Outward Bound base. Apparently, all the buildings were still standing and there was even rumour of a Sauna right on Black Sturgeon Lake. Black Sturgeon Road is one of my favourite roads I’ve ever ridden. It’s an active haul road that weaves its way north away from Lake Superior on beautiful red dirt, with tons of twists and rolling hills. After a lunch stop on Eskwanonwatin Lake, we cruised through the late afternoon light until the overgrown turn-off to the base. Down the path, we found at least a dozen perfectly intact buildings including bunks, kitchens, offices, food storage, and yes, a functioning sauna. We spent over an hour exploring all the rooms and looking through the drawers and cupboards. After dinner, Glen finally had the opportunity to use his saw (yeah he brought a saw) to cut a bunch of wood for the sauna, which was followed by a jump in the freezing cold Lake. Which is also apparently full of black Sturgeon.
Day 3: Outward Bound Base to Albert Lake Mesa - 85 km // 870vm
Up at 7 am, it was still dark. We made coffee and drank it on the shore of Black Sturgeon Lake just as the sun started to come up over the water. We had been lucky with the weather so far and it looked like day three would be no exception. Today would take us up to the top of the road, to the end of Black Sturgeon Lake, before heading west and climbing up away from the water. This would pass through the most remote point on the whole route, about 100 km in either direction to the highway. As we got further up, the road deteriorated and became more flooded and overgrown. We saw a black bear snacking on some berries but he didn’t wanna stick around, so we kept going. We slowly gained elevation over the next 20 km before stopping to cook lunch. From there it was a long flowy descent on forested double track that lead us back on to more open roads that rolled through clear cuts with mesas on either side. Somewhere in there, we saw a beaver which was amazing. We pulled in to Albert Lake Mesa around 7 pm, a very cool spot right on the very tiny lake.
Day 4: Albert Lake Mesa to Cavern Lake -79 km // 752vm
Today I heard the words that no bikepacker wants to hear when you’re hours and hours up a bush road: “my frame is cracked.” Ahhhhhhh.
Glen’s frame had cracked around the eyelets on his seat stays, where his rack was mounted. After trying not to freak out we decided to offload some of the weight from his bike onto mine, and modify the rack to use the lower eyelets instead. This worked fine at first, but it was clear it wouldn’t be a permanent solution. We toodled along quietly both thinking about what we were going to do, neither of us wanting to entertain the idea of Glen having to bail on the ride. I had said that if he had to call it early I would finish the route by myself, but I knew this wouldn’t be an easy task. We were starting to work well together, it would be much harder and less enjoyable solo.
As for the riding, day four had some glorious dirt roads, a wildly overgrown bush track (which Glen efficiently cleared with his saw), and a visit to Wolf River Falls, a spectacular waterfall that involved a pretty sketchy hike down. At the top of the falls, we caught sight of a Lynx just a few feet from us. I only caught his tail and hind legs as he took off into the forest. At the falls, Glen managed to find one bar of service and used it to call in one of our in-town contacts to bring him a new rack. Our mate, Keegan came in super hard with an Old Man Mountain rack, a couple of beers, two sleeves of graham crackers, and his kite which he was very excited to show us. It felt odd for both of us to request this kind of support on a trip, but we decided it was well worth it if it meant finishing the ride together. Once Keegan left, we found a quiet little roadside camp spot, drank our beers, and ate Pad Thai. Exhausted but satisfied we had sorted out a major hiccup and optimistic that we’d be finishing the ride together.
Day 5: Cavern Lake to Old Truck Road - 111km // 1463 vm
Our longest day of riding so far, and also the end of our good weather streak. We rolled out into a thick fog that hung out most of the morning. We slowly picked our way up the overgrown ATV track to the top of Ouimet Canyon, where we parked the bikes and walked down to check out the massive gorge. Afterward, we flew down a descent before climbing back up to the wind farm from day one and began our trip over to the western loop part of the trail. The rain started right at the halfway point and didn’t let up until it got dark. The riding was challenging and pretty slow. Lots of climbing on slippery, eroded dirt slopes and deep gravel. We arrived at the campsite after dark, pretty beat but glad to have gotten through our longest day of riding yet.
Day 6: Old Truck Road to The Bog - 53 km // 395vm
It was another grey soggy morning, and we rolled out of camp on Old Truck Road into the mist. The last time we rode here it was a barely visible ATV track but it had been fully brushed and turned into a gravel road. Some crazy steep pitches and wet loose gravel that followed woke us up very quickly.
We pedaled along slowly in the fog, eventually leaving the dirt roads and making our way on to more rail bed where we stopped for some photos at a bridge and met a very cute puppy in a very clever outfit. The route took us through the Flett Tunnel, a decommissioned railway tunnel that was part of the Grand Trunk Railway. After a short break for some photos, we headed on, both knowing what waited for us at the end. A few minutes up the trail, we took a sharp right onto a natural gas corridor, a grassy, bumpy ATV trail that headed off into the bush towards a very large, long water crossing that we’d have to make our way through.
The crossing took about five minutes one way, slow knee-deep mud, and water through reeds, leading up to a waist-deep stretch of water full of sticky muck at the bottom. We stripped down, took all the gear off our bikes, and began shuttling back and forth. I had to cross a total of 5 times to get everything across and I can’t count the number of times I had to backtrack in search of a Croc that had gotten sucked into the abyss. Did I mention it was raining the entire time too? We made it across, got dressed, and pushed on through the bush until we found a dry clearing to camp. We ate dinner and watched a pair of otters swim and play in the water next to our tent for way too long before turning in for the night.
Day 7: The Bog to the Aldina Fire Tower - 73 km // 420 vm
On a bike tour where you need to ration food, you basically get two hours of Theo running at 100%. The hour after breakfast and coffee, and the hour after lunch. Everything between is basically trying to ward off hunger on the 3 Sour Patch Kids a day Glen would allow me. So it was kind of our best play to hit the slowest, swampiest section of the ride first thing in the day.
We said goodbye to our boggy campsite, the mosquitos, and the otters and plodded off into the grey misty morning. For two hours we were either pushing the bikes through thick reeds and mud or slowly pedaling in our lowest gears, picking our way through root balls and logs, small swamp crossings, etc. This all reached a climax when we hit a stretch of water about 10 feet across and of questionable depth. We didn’t exactly feel like stripping our clothes and bikes down again so we had to find another way across. Luckily beavers greatly outnumber people out there, and the amount of infrastructure from both species is a clear reflection of this. We managed to scramble across their dam to the other side, which was a delicate balance of finding the least slippery logs and most solid mud piles, all while balancing our heavy bikes beside us.
We made it across, then spent a good 20 minutes picking seed pods out of Glen’s leggings. We were finally out of the swamp section. It took us 3 hours to cover 6 kms. We were back on a real gravel road, ready to get riding and make it to our destination for the night, the Aldina Fire Tower. We encountered some of the best riding on the entire route that afternoon. Beautiful dirt roads that twisted and turned and seemed to descend forever. But also loads of mud with the final hike a bike up to the tower being absolutely brutal. After what felt like forever pushing our bikes, we arrived at the base of the tower, absolutely cooked but so stoked to be done for the day.
Day 8: Aldina Fire Tower to Cloud Lake - 96 km // 1479m
At 6:50 am sharp, I heard the sound of air being released out of Glen’s mattress, a sound I’d come to recognize very well over the past 7 days. Somehow still unbelievably loud and jarring, I took my cue to roll out of the way and start getting my preparations for the day underway. Bombing down the trail from the Aldina Fire Tower, we were back on more incredible dirt roads that brought us down to the southern most point of the route, just a stone’s throw from the US border. After cruising along the shores of Cloud Lake, we took a sharp left and started our climb up to the next camp spot, right on the cliff’s edge well over 100 meters up. The view was absolutely spectacular, we could see all the way to Superior, Pie Island, and the Giant. Quite the spot for our final night on the road.
Day 9: Cloud Lake to Thunder Bay - 130km // 1214 vm
Our final day began at 5:50 am. We were quick to pack up and roll out, but couldn’t resist hanging around to catch the first glimpse of sunlight from the top of the cliff. We watched the forest and valleys below slowly flood with golden light, fog still filling all the low spots. It was truly spectacular. But we had a job to finish, so we picked our way back through the woods towards the trail.
The descent off the cliff was so incredibly beautiful. A loose, challenging, scrabbly descent into the mist and morning light was one I’ll remember forever. Before long we were back down below, slowly picking our way through thick fog along muddy, overgrown, flooded ATV tracks. It was the coldest morning yet, and we donned an extra layer and brought out the mittens for the first time on the trip. Slowly but surely the sun crept up and warmed us through and before we knew it we were back in t-shirts.
The riding today was fast, as we slowly crept back towards civilization. More houses, signs, and infrastructure let us know that our trip would soon be over. We reached Kakabeka Falls, overwhelmed with the sight of the water itself but also by the people. It was the most people we had seen in one place in over a week and it was a lot to take in. From there, it was a few hours of paved riding back into town.
For our final meal, we climbed up to the top of Rabbit Mountain, and ate Pad Thai, again. Thanks @glenquinn for being the best riding companion I could ask for, and for bringing me along to be the first to ride this crazy route with you. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the coverage of the trip as much as I’ve enjoyed going back through my journal and photos and writing about it. Thanks for following along, more adventures soon.
Follow Theo Kelsey-Verdecchia: @theokelsey_