From Flying Saucers to a Monster Moose: Bicycling across Ontario… The 10,000 Mike Bike Trek

Large moose culture found in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

Large sculptures are often found in Canadian towns. They serve as tourist attractions but also give the town a unique character. We found this large moose that Peggy is snuggling up to in Hearst, Ontario.

Quebec and Ontario shared a unique status on my Bike Trek: They were huge— two to three times the size of Texas. Each took over a week to bicycle across and each had a lot of no-where miles, long distances between towns. Northern Quebec won the prize, however, for being the most remote. As I bicycled south and picked up Quebec Route 117, larger towns reappeared at more frequent intervals. Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda were close to being small cities.

Crossing into Ontario, smaller communities were the rule. Ten thousand people constituted a major metropolis. Larder Lake, the first community I biked through in Ontario, had a population of around 1000 in 1989. It had dropped to 700 when Peggy and I drove through in May. I was reminded of West Texas, where most of the towns seemed to be losing population. Once upon a time, Larder Lake was considered to have a golden future. A mining investment company ran an ad in the 1907 Ottawa Citizen claiming:

“The Larder Lake district is believed to be the richest gold country ever known, and it is just now being opened up. Soon will commence the most tremendous outpouring of gold known to civilization.”

If you could get past the English, how could you not invest? The person who wrote the ad copy likely had a great future as a time-share salesman. Eventually a little gold was found, but it was more like a trickle than a “tremendous outpouring.” Today, the town is better known for fish. Peggy and I found a large one beside the road. It was leaping out of the ‘water.’

Lake Trout Sculpture in Larder Lake, Ontario Canada.

A large Lake Trout leaping out of the water served to let travelers know that Larder Lake was a great place to go fishing, and, I might add, enjoy the outdoors in general.

I am in love with the large, often outlandish sculptures, that so many Canadian towns adopt to encourage tourism, or maybe because the residents have a warped sense of humor. Peggy and I first became aware of the phenomena when we were driving into British Columbia in 1999 on Highway 97 out of Washington and came upon the “World’s Largest Golf Ball” and the “World’s Largest Beehive.” Here are some that we found as we made our way across Ontario on Trans-Canada Highway 11.

Flying saucer sculpture in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

If your town is named Moonbeam, why not have a flying saucer sculpture in front of the Information Center? Quivera, our van, can be seen peeking out from behind the saucer.

Aliens peak out window of flying saucer in front of information center in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

Curious aliens were staring out the windows of the flying saucer.

Alien points out brochures in Information Bureau in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

A helpful alien points out brochures inside of Moonbeam’s Information Center.

This young woman staffed the Information Center. She spoke fluent English but confessed her first love was French. She also told us there were great hiking trails in the region but that she avoided them because of bears.

This young woman staffed the Information Center. She spoke fluent English but confessed her first love was French. She also told us there were great hiking trails in the region but that she avoided them because of bears.

Large black bear sculpture found in Kapuskasing, Ontario Canada

Shortly afterwards we found this huge black bear statue at Kapuskasing. I’d be staying off the trails, too.

Giant moose and wolf sculptures in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

Here is another shot of the moose I featured at the top of the post— not looking so friendly as he stares down a pair of wolves.

Wolf sculpture in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

A view of the wolf looking like he might belong in the movie, Twilight. “Jacob, is that you in there?”

The 'World's Largest Snowman' in Beardmore, Ontario Canada.

Beardmore proudly boasts the World’s Largest Snowman as its claim to fame.

My bicycle trip across Ontario in 1989 was something of a blur. One thing I do remember was a gradual change from French to English. It wasn’t like I arrived at the border and the language changed. Local loyalties seemed to depend on culture rather than the provincial boundary. I was reminded of my experience in West Africa where loyalty was to the family first, the tribe second, and the country third. Peggy and I still noticed remnants of these emotions in Ontario 26 years later. A house might be painted in tri-color French, warning off potential Anglophiles. Or British lions would be proudly displayed as lawn ornaments, prepared to pounce on someone who spoke French.

Towns became more frequent, which meant there were more excuses to stop. I could start with breakfast and eat my way through the day. I had given up on cooking for myself by now, unless I was desperate. There was mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner to look forward to, not to mention coffee breaks. My hundred-mile a day bicycling body demanded constant fueling. Plus I liked the companionship. Bicycling by myself for 8-10 hours was lonely business. On occasion, I would even stay at a motel, just so I could turn the TV on and hear people talk. The downside of this was that I ran through my trip budget more quickly than I had planned. When I arrived in Thunder Bay, I called my brother-in-law and had him transfer some money he owed me into my account so I could finish off my journey in the style I had become accustomed to!

The terrain in Ontario wasn’t much different that I had been peddling over in Quebec, more or less flat with rolling hills. I worked my way through forests and farmlands, continuing to pass by numerous lakes and occasional rivers. As I neared Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, however, more mountainous country came into view, and with that more serious uphills and downhills. Following are several photos that Peggy and I took of the countryside.

Trans-Canada Highway 11 works its way across Ontario— in this particular instance forested, flat and straight.

Trans-Canada Highway 11 works its way across Ontario— in this particular instance forested, flat and straight. Can’t say much for the gravelly shoulder.

Bear Lake in Ontario Canada along Trans-Canada Highway 11.

Many lakes are found along the highway in Ontario. Bear Lake was one of the first I came across. In line with its name, bear-proof trash containers were provided at the wayside. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Kapuskasing River provides hydro-electric power for the town of Kapuskasing.

The Kapuskasing River provides hydro-electric power for the town of Kapuskasing. Peggy and I also saw extensive use of solar power along Highway 11.

This abandoned church caught my attention...

This abandoned church caught my attention…

It's feeling of ages past led me to render it in black and white.

It’s feeling of ages past led me to render it in black and white.

Wild Goose Campground near Long Lake provided some scenic views...

Wild Goose Campground near Long Lake provided some scenic views…

Reedy lake at Wild Goose Campground in Ontario.

Plus this one of reeds.

As I approached Thunder Bay, Mountains provided both beauty and a more challenging ride.

As I approached Thunder Bay, mountains provided both beauty and a more challenging ride.

Peggy and I stopped to photograph this cliff.

Peggy and I stopped to photograph this cliff.

And its small waterfall.

And its small waterfall.

Nipigon River Bridge in Ontario Canada

This bridge across the Nipigon River near Thunder Bay has only been opened for a short while. It was closed briefly in January this year because it became detached from the approach. Given that it provides the only way across the river for Canada’s major East-West highways, you can imagine the resources that were devoted to fixing it! Peggy and I headed across the bridge, stopped in Thunder Bay for lunch, and then drove into Minnesota — returning to the US as I had on my bike.

NEXT BLOG: I cross Minnesota, throw a rock across the Mississippi River, and visit with a babe (as in Babe the Blue Ox).

32 comments on “From Flying Saucers to a Monster Moose: Bicycling across Ontario… The 10,000 Mike Bike Trek

  1. Approaching Thunder Bay from the west in 2014, we saw the world’s largest Tomahawk in Cut Knife. but we stayed on 17 east and missed all your animals on 11. i guess we will just have to go back.

    • Ha, you get it Ralie! You almost have to see these sculptures along the road to gain a true appreciation for them. I always wait in anticipation to see what the next town may offer. It may be the World’s Largest Chair. I think Canadian towns compete over that one. 🙂 Curt

  2. Some of those town monuments are, um, eye-popping. The flying saucer! Seriously corny, and the wolves are scary bad, but I do like the moose. The black bear seems very oddly proportioned.
    I get the feeling those were some long lonely miles you travelled through Quebec and Ontario back in 1989. It must have been fun to relive it with Peggy.
    Alison

    • My feelings exactly on the black bear, Alison. I’ve seen my share, up close and personal, and they don’t look like that. Still, it was all the more ‘eye-popping’ because of its ‘unique’ shape. And yes, there were a lot of lonely miles out there, Alison. I didn’t even have many cows to talk to. It was fun to relive the journey, all the more so because Peggy was along. –Curt

  3. The photo of the reeds os hands down my favorite one! The huge monuments? Sculptures? Not my thing haha but they make a nice collection for sure! It is funny how places like to project a certain image or “attracting feature” to draw the tourists in.

    Peta

    • Thanks, Peta. The reeds was certainly my favorite scenic photos as well. As for the monuments, the Canadians are just having fun. I think there must be a chapter in their Chamber of Commerce handbook that insists the sculptures are vital to tourism! (grin) –Curt

  4. Terrific photos of this episode of the journey. Interesting to say the very least!! With Jackie standing by the moose, you can get a perspective on the size of the statue!!

  5. Oh Canada yes we love those giant roadside statues. Alberta is stuffed with them. Interesting the fading of the language from one to the other. Were you sad to be back in only English once you cycled away from Quebec?

    • I can never resist those statues, Sue. Or even more the communities that go all out for wood carving, or murals, or totem poles…:) Mixed feelings Sue. For one I could carry on much more thorough conversations. 🙂 –Curt

  6. Interesting statues 🙂
    “… just so I could turn the TV on and hear people talk.” There’s only so much solitude we can take, I guess.

    The rendering of the church in black and white, does it justice.

    • Thanks Timi.
      I can handle a lot of solitude (or I certainly wouldn’t have taken off on a six-month solo bike trip), but it became a bit too much… especially when I started to hear voices out in the Nevada desert! 🙂 I knew it was time to be home. –Curt

  7. I came across “big’ in my travels, too — with a delightful art-overcomes-commercialism twist that made me happy. And of course Texas has the largest pecan. We can’t forget that.

    Being in out-of-the-way places can be delightful, but it carries its own challenges. I did pause when I got to the top of a very tall, very isolated (big!) monument by way of a pretty danged bad, rutted road, only to have a couple in a pickup truck tell me they’d been placing bets on whether my car would make it. As the he of the duo said, “We really don’t usually see people up here who aren’t using four-wheel drive.”

    Well, that’s why I include 200 mile towing on my AAA membership. If you use it once, it’s worth it.

    • Texas has the biggest lots of things, Linda. Laughing.
      I always become conservative in out-of-the-way places. That was true of when I biked and when I backpack, as well as drive. And I do have a four-wheel drive pick-up. 🙂 Quivera, the Van, doesn’t get to go on dirt or gravel roads unless they are well-travelled and relatively smooth. I can see the two people betting on whether you would make it. So, did you have cell service as well as the 200 mile tow! –Curt

    • Hi Linda, I was just responding to your comment about cell service and my answer took off into the Internet netherworld. Anyway, I noted that having people around is always good under those circumstances. I have always found people in the backcountry ready to help. And then, traveling when you were, there was also a chance of a snowstorm. –Curt

  8. You really are an excellent storyteller, weaving fun facts, intelligent observations about what you are seeing, and little story bits out that make us want to keep reading, and your pictures are gorgeous! You are attracted to the same sort of road attractions that always caught my eye and tickled my sense of humor. My sister and biked down the coast of Washington and Oregon in 1978–I might have told you–and it was very interesting to retrace our steps twenty and thirty years later.

    • Thanks, Naomi.I appreciate that.
      I can never resist ‘roadside attractions.’ Out comes my camera! Fun that you relived your bike trip down the coast with your sister. That would have been a great bonding experience! Not that one needs an excuse to drive the Oregon and Washington coast. Or the Nor-Cal coast either. Peggy and I drove a portion of it last week and stayed in Mendocino. Drop dead gorgeous! Have you been there? It is one of my favorite coastal towns. –Curt

  9. We have the Biggest Banana up North at a place called Coff’s Harbour. Australia too is big on large dodgy looking sculptures. We have world’s largest Oysters, Lobsters, Dogs, Sheep.
    There is also a Tudor type ‘real’ castle just past the Big Banana with an English looking Knight in shining armour and sword just outside this castle. The property itself is a large macadamia nut growing farm. What the English Knight is doing there, I don’t know.
    Inside the castle? It is full of stalls where trinkets and tea spoons are for sale.
    Give me unadorned unspoilt nature such as your shots of the reeds and Long Lake camp anytime.

    • Laughing here Gerard about your comparison of the “unspoiled nature” with the “dodgy looking sculptures.” I like both, obviously, but if I were forced to choose, I would come down on you side of nature ten times out of ten. Thanks for adding your fun take on things. Not surprised that Australia has its share of the dodgy!:) –Curt

  10. How fun to see all these larger-than-life statues. Snowman’s a fave. But all are iconic. I’m surprised I haven’t seen some of these in a movie somewhere, or maybe I have and just don’t remember. So glad you’re including all these great photos of your travels.

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