Two countries, one lake. On the US side, Lake Superior abuts small towns, local businesses, and large industrialized cities. People abound. Yet, along the Canadian border, with the exception of Thunder Bay, the land is pristine, green, and seemingly untouched by man.
As John, Jim, and I continue our Circle Tour of Lake Superior, this leg of the journey takes us from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie on the Canadian side of the border. The first and most obvious thing we notice upon entering Canada is the rural landscape, primarily consisting of farms. In the Upper Peninsula and Minnesota, there was very little agriculture, given the rocky nature of the land. Thunder Bay, however, is very much the urban scene with four-lane highways, plenty of traffic, and the familiar sights of malls, McDonald's, museums, railways - even an airport. What distinguishes Ontario's 14th-largest city is the pulp mills that produce eight-story high piles of saw dust and wood chips, soon to be your next sheet of plywood or entertainment center. There's also Fort William Historical Park, a recreation of the North West Company's inland headquarters.
A Watercolor Wash of Green and Blue
We could have easily spent three days exploring Thunder Bay, but we're here to explore all of Lake Superior's Canadian border. We point our trusty steeds northeast and head to the Ouimet Canyon, about 40 miles north of Thunder Bay, off Hwy 11/17, a well-maintained asphalt, two-lane highway, with numerous passing lanes and pull-offs for trucks. The shoulders are wide and paved. They're also busy with bicycle traffic and hikers - an odd juxtaposition to the road itself, which is occupied with heavy truck traffic, campers, and RVs. The speed limit is 90 km (60 mph), a limit that is both patrolled and enforced. Eight miles over the limit can cost you your wheels.
This section of the tour is sparsely populated as we pass through endless rolling forests of emerald green and lakes of sapphire blue. The views are breathtaking and ever-changing. In places, the forests fall away over cliffs of red granite, down to rushing streams filled with trout. The air here is addictive, sweet, fresh, and lightly tinged with pine, cedar, and the aroma of the numerous wildflowers that hug the shoulders.