The Niagara Peninsula: a failed adventure

by Perette Barella

This travelogue follows a 2016 bike adventure intending to go up Ontario's Bruce Peninsula and onto Manitoulin Island, but failed when anxiety, bike trouble and communication woes turned me back in Waterloo, Ontario.

Log messages come from the diary entries, with some clean up for publication.


1. WarmShowers host, Buffalo, NY

2016-06-22 19:59 Wednesday

Hard day. 120km. More distance than expected, maybe harder because of steady headwind. Today is my first WarmShowers experience as a guest. The hosts, Joey & Emmalee Olgin and their roommate KC, are friendly.

Dinner at Amy's place on recommendation of guy I met on trail in Clarence. Dive diver, good root beer, funky music, interesting menu, filling food.

Haluzak Horizon loaded for touring
My Haluzak Horizon is loaded and ready to go.
Wild flowers
Wild flowers grow in the front yard of my first WarmShowers host.

2. Windmill Point Park, Ridgeway, Ontario

2016-06-23 16:33 Thursday

Took an easy 28km day to make up for yesterday. Felt emotionally fragile this morning. Sunburned in front from yesterday afternoon. Expensive setting up telecom plan---$140 Canadian or so for 1 month.

Windmill Point Campground
Camping at Windmill Point.

3. WarmShowers host, Selkirk, Ontario

2016-06-24 18:27 Friday

Today was 77km, 20km on the paved Friendship Trail, 20km on the stone dust Cross-Canada trail, the rest on paved roads.

Staying at another WarmShowers host, Mark and Lisa Mitchell and their daughter Megan. Daughter is reserved, Mark is friendly. It's a beautiful, quiet place to stay: under the willow tree on my hosts' front lawn, a view of Lake Erie across the way. Feel like I biked well today, though feeling emotionally fragile again tonight. Feel like I'll sleep well tonight.

Sunset over Lake Erie beaches
Sunset over Lake Erie beaches.
Dusk on Lake Erie
Dusk on lake Erie. It's awesome that people are willing to share a slice of heaven like this, rather than keep it to themselves.
A sign my host had hanging in their house. True words, and an explanation for why I run my life the way I do.

4. WarmShowers host, Cambridge, Ontario

2016-06-25 16:58 Saturday

A 98km day, about 60km on roads, 15km paved trails, the rest dirt/stone dust. Hosts tonight are the friendly Ali Burke & Glenn Livison, and their young one.

Tired but feel good. The hosts are friendly, open, and shared a tummy veggie stir fry. Cambridge is a pretty town, lots of old stone buildings.

Bicycle & pedestrian bridge near Brantford, Ontario
Bicycle & pedestrian bridge near Brantford, Ontario.
Grand River, Ontario
The Grand River north of Brantford, Ontario.
Cambridge-Paris Rail Trail in Ontario
Cambridge-Paris Rail Trail in Ontario.

5. WarmShowers host, Waterloo, Ontario

2016-06-26 Sunday

Short 41km day (20+km of it trail), but hot. Stopped at Rogers in Waterloo to fix telecom woes; failure. After deliberating, returning home.

Host, however, is very awesome. 23yo recent engineering graduate, getting ready to embark on masters. Full of life, youthful energy and free of old prejudices. Gives me hope for humanity's future.

6. Campground: Cedars Campground, Hamilton, Ontario

2016-06-27 21:24 Monday

Started the day with a visit to a certain fetish store this town is known for. It's a small, out-of-the-way storefront (they do mostly mail order), but they let me peek in the warehouse... Huge. Both awesome, and kinda scary seeing the scale of consumption we create as we aim to make ourselves happy or complete.

I talked with Cindy, the owner a few minutes, and it's more evidence against hero worship of modern society. She's made a business for herself, work for her 7 employees, and in the brick-and-mortar storefront provides a sense of normality, a means to accept a side of oneself that can't be found via mail order. Mail order is how you can keep yourself hidden away, afraid and ashamed; walking in the door and buying face-to-face from someone who doesn't judge you is validating and empowering.

But she's not a superhero, just a person doing her Little project that's grown up, and changing lives doing it.

After that, it was a hot 47km to The Cedars. The campground is nice, but there is no potable water. Had nice tailwinds and downhills today. Noticed I crank a little bit more when the sun hides behind a cloud, slow down when I feel the heat again.

Ate 3.5 servings of food tonight, I was hungry.

Sunset at The Cedars campground.
Perette Barella and sunset
Sunset at The Cedars campground.
The horizon where the sun set remains afire as dusk approaches at The Cedars campground.
The Cedars campground in Hamilton, ON
The sky blazes in the west as the sun sets over The Cedars.

7. Jordan Valley Campground, Lincoln ON

2016-06-28 Tuesday

Uneventful 76km ride but noticing rear tire will need to be replaced Real Soon Now, and backpack frame is trying to poke a hole through the fabric. Looks like a design flaw. Have some thoughts on how to reinforce it. Think I may have a wheel bearing on its way out too.

8. Friend's house, Newfane NY

2016-06-29 Wednesday First time re-entering the US via Queenston-Lewiston bridge on a bike. Palpable sense of comfort to be back in US, which I've never experienced before.

Staying with my friends Josh and Brent. Had dinner at the Harper Bazaar, delicious comfort food. Wandered the bazaar afterward, it reminded me of a country version of Honest Ed's on Bloor Street, Toronto.

Today was 75km.

A slushie at a cafe while waiting for my host to get home from work.

9. Home

2016-06-30 Thursday

A long ride again, 105km, with tires going from poor to bad. Developed two bulges in front tire, rear tire the rubber began separating from the canvas (fix: ducky Duck tape). Made it though.

10. Reflections on my ride

2016-07-02 14:49 Saturday

I failed to do all I wanted on this year's bicycle adventure, but did try a bunch of new techniques for managing the trip.

My goal had been to go to Lake Huron, follow the shoreline to Tobormory, cross on the ferry to Manitoulin Island and bike across that and up to Sudbury, then come back either along the Ottawa River or via Temiskaming Shores, Val D'or, and Grand Remous. I only got as far as Waterloo; a 6-week adventure was truncated to 9 days.

Static vs. Dynamic Routing

On prior trips, I've figured out my route in its entirety in advance. I generate a cue sheet and stick to it quite closely during the ride. Since the route is set, there's nothing to worry about or reconsider. The only big question is, where along the way are places to stay, and how far do I want to go? And even there, I've chosen possibilities in advance, noted their costs and directions off the route.

This trip I used dynamic routing. I had an idea where I was going, but I used Google Maps to generate routes each day. This introduces more flexibility, which is nice, but also more choices and more to think (and worry) about during the travel.

Paper vs. Tech

I like paper maps. They're easy to operate. If they're big, they can have a lot of detail and yet cover a wide area. Sometimes they're waterproof.

A problem is that tech can't be trusted. Tech breaks, comms go down, there are limits on data plans, batteries run out, sometimes there's bad data. I don't feel safe being entirely dependent on tech; I feel like I need maps as a backup. So if I'm using tech, I'm bringing the paper too.

Using an iPhone is both awesome and a pain in the ass. The back-end data covers both wide-areas and minute details, but using it on a tiny screen requires zooming in and out. Although I have an OtterBox for mine, it's still succeptible to water and I've got to protect it. That and and battery life mean I can't just have it up where I can see it and follow along as I progress, without having to stop.

But it knows where every service (or at least many) is along the way, has contact information and often some reviews. It knows not only the roads, but bike trails. And among roads, it knows the bike-friendly routes. If I'm not sure where I am, it can pinpoint where I am using GPS. And if I go off route accidentally, it can help me get back on track, something cue sheets don't do.

Camping vs. WarmShowers

On prior trips I stuck to camping or, very occasionally, lodging or staying with friends. Camping is nice and relaxed: it costs money, but once you get there there's the ritual of camp setup and getting settled. It can be a pain in the ass, especially after a long day and/or if it's really hot or raining. But once done, I am free to do what I want—and most campgrounds have a lake or pool. The downside is a feeling of isolation and loneliness. A risk is a campground has no vacancy.

I found my first experiences with WarmShowers stressful, though it got easier with each stay. Rationally, I know if they didn't want me there they wouldn't list themselves on WarmShowers. And since I'm a WarmShowers host, I'm just taking a share of what I've given, so I'm not being greedy. But going into someone's house who I don't know, borrowing their shower, eating their food, it still felt like I was imposing—though I think I was getting over that a little each night, and it depended on the host. It helped if I was able to do something to help: one host let me chop veggies and spices for dinner, alleviating a sense of being a leech.

With that in mind, when I have future WarmShowers guests, if they offer help I should delegate tasks to them, to make them feel good too.

WarmShowers offers a social opportunity that isn't there when camping. It depends on the host, though, and how busy they are and stuff. Each household felt different too:

  • The Buffalo house felt communal, with roommates and two other crashers-over from CouchSurfing.
  • The cottage on Lake Erie felt like someone generous sharing a little piece of what they had.
  • The folks in Cambridge seemed like they were both looking to connect with other people who were making amazing adventures, and trying to pay back into the world the generosity they'd received on their amazing tour.
  • The young lady in Waterloo seemed full of youth's piss & vinegar & optimism and wanted to connect with others because she's a social person.

There are advantages to WarmShowers: not having to set up tents and hang food in trees, having a good hot meal and a nice fluffy towel and shower. In inclement weather, I can see WarmShowers being a huge boon. It let me stay in cities where I could rat around and see stuff and go places there. If I was camping, I'd be obligated to make the next campground— and therefore my time in cities is limited. And it's nice to just walk down the hall and take a piss in the middle of the night.

But there are advantages to camping, too: Outdoors, I'm in touch with the world. I watch the sunset, I feel the cool night air. Time alone enforces introspection; I find myself reading a lot more. I'll still meet some people, either on walks or at the beach or pool, or sometimes I'll just introduce myself if they've got a fire going, so it's not like I'm completely isolated.

And when it comes down to it, arranging camping is easy: show up, pay money, and set up. WarmShowers requires searching a day or two in advance, writing people to see if they're available, adjusting for their schedule if required. There's watching what I say, to make sure I don't offend anyone. Afterwards, there's writing a review and sending thank-you notes. None of it's super hard, and I can see the effort to get a night's stay is probably less than the effort to earn the money to pay for a campsite. But it adds effort expended during the trip, a period I've set aside for downtime.