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Ex­plore the as­phalt and gravel routes of Man­i­toulin Is­land

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Jeff Bartlett

Ex­plore the as­phalt and gravel routes of Man­i­toulin Is­land

Ihadn’t vis­ited On­tario’s Man­i­toulin Is­land in nearly a decade, so I was happy to find that the Man­i­toulin Is­land Cy­cling Ad­vo­cates (mica) group had a map with rides that would keep me busy through­out my short visit. Rid­ing out of Gore Bay, I opted to fol­low the 51-km Lake Wolsey cir­cuit. It was a short ride, but quite the in­tro­duc­tion to is­land life. This was cot­tage coun­try at its best. The maple trees were slowly turn­ing red, hint­ing at a colour­ful au­tumn that was still a few days away. Wildlife, such as sand­hill cranes and white tail deer, eas­ily out­num­bered the lo­cals along my route. It didn’t take me long to re­al­ize that although the is­land was short on hills, it had a chal­lenge of its own. ”We don’t have a lot of big hills,” says Peter Ford, sec­re­tary of mica, “but we do have wind. That’s our al­ter­na­tive and it can be fierce.”

Man­i­toulin is the world’s largest fresh­wa­ter is­land. It main­tains a de­cid­edly ru­ral at­mos­phere. Mea­sur­ing just 160 km long, its land­scape is a com­bi­na­tion of bo­real for­est and agri­cul­tural land. It’s home to roughly 13,200 per­ma­nent res­i­dents. The di­verse pop­u­la­tion is spread across two in­cor­po­rated towns, three mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, four town­ships and six First Na­tions re­serves. Born and raised lo­cals are called Haweaters af­ter the dis­tinc­tive haw­ber­ries, which grow in the is­land’s al­ka­line soil. The an­nual Haweater Week­end is cel­e­brated over the Au­gust long week­end.

Gore Bay, although not the big­gest com­mu­nity on the is­land, is con­sid­ered the area’s cap­i­tal. Its cen­tral lo­ca­tion makes it an ex­cel­lent start­ing point for vis­i­tors ex­plor­ing the is­land for the first time. In­cor­po­rated in 1890, the town is one of the re­gion’s old­est com­mu­ni­ties and its his­tory

“The best way to ride here is to just find a new road and go get lost. You’ll al­ways come out some­where cool.”

is on dis­play both in its small mu­nic­i­pal mu­seum and along its streets. Many homes, and bed and break­fasts, nearly match the town’s age. Along the water­front, the ma­rina, pubs and restau­rants give the town a lively feel that is ab­sent in the smaller com­mu­ni­ties across the is­land. Through­out the sum­mer, Man­i­toulin’s pop­u­la­tion grows by nearly 4,000 as tourists come to en­joy lake life. Fish­ing, hunt­ing, hik­ing and wa­ter­sports are all more pop­u­lar than cy­cling; how­ever, things are chang­ing. “The lo­cal scene is quite sur­pris­ing,” says Joshua Shaw, owner of Light­foot Bike Shop. “There are com­mit­ted lo­cals within each lit­tle com­mu­nity on the is­land. The rid­ing is great. We al­ready have some nice paved shoul­ders and our ad­vo­cates are work­ing hard to en­sure roads are re­built with cy­clists in mind.” At first glance, it seems pos­si­ble to ex­plore the en­tire is­land by bi­cy­cle in a sin­gle week­end, but the many back roads make it pos­si­ble to ex­plore for days or weeks at a time. “A good 40 per cent of the cy­clists we see ride a big loop of the is­land and catch the ferry back home,” says Shaw. “At the shop, we al­ways show some pref­er­ence to cy­cle tourists, sim­ply be­cause we want to keep them on the road.” MICA or­ga­nizes an an­nual fully sup­ported two-day ride with a va­ri­ety of route choices for all cy­clists. “The two-day event only costs $100,” says Ford, “and you can ride as much as 100 km per day or as lit­tle as 30–40 km. It’s a great event that’s been go­ing on for years.”

Ford also noted that mica is busy launch­ing a new cy­cle tour­ing pro­gram that will al­low vis­i­tors the op­por­tu­nity to bike Man­i­toulin with­out be­ing weighed down by their equip­ment. “We’re ar­rang­ing for peo­ple who want to tour across the is­land but want their lug­gage trans­ported to ar­ranged ac­com­mo­da­tions,” Ford says. “The pric­ing is quite flex­i­ble, de­pend­ing on what peo­ple want to do. We want to make cy­cling on Man­i­toulin easy.”

Part of that ini­tia­tive is putting signs along eight of the mapped cy­cling routes, too, which Ford hopes will be com­pleted within the year.

Af­ter com­plet­ing the Prov­i­dence Bay 2 Beach loop, I was rid­ing the main road back to­ward Gore Bay when I re­al­ized I hadn’t seen a car for nearly an hour. When I saw a sign for To­bacco Lake, my mind im­me­di­ately re­turned to my short con­ver­sa­tion with Shaw and his ad­vice echoed through my mind as I de­cided to ex­tend my ride. “There are so many nice sec­ondary roads that have very lit­tle road traf­fic,” he said. “They have lots of small lakes and beau­ti­ful scenery along the way, too, so the best way to ride here is to just find a new road and go get lost. You’ll al­ways come out some­where cool.”

along when vis­it­ing. Some great din­ing-out op­tions in­clude break­fast at ei­ther Mum’s Res­tau­rant and Bak­ery (Min­de­moya, 705-377-4311) or Loco Beanz (Lit­tle Cur­rent, 705-368-2261), lunch at Huron Fish and Chips (Prov­i­dence Bay, 705-377-4500) and din­ner at Buoy’s Eatery ( buoy­seatery.com) and Min­de­moya Grill and Chill (Min­de­moya, 705-377-5191). When din­ing out, ask about Split Rail Brew­ing ( spli­trail­man­i­toulin.com), one of the is­land’s mi­cro­brew­eries, or visit the tast­ing room in Gore Bay. There’s also Man­i­toulin Brew­ing in Lit­tle Cur­rent.

Where to shop Road cy­clists vis­it­ing Man­i­toulin Is­land will en­joy scenic roads and lit­tle traf­fic, but they’d bet­ter come pre­pared as there is a lone shop on the is­land. Light­foot Bi­cy­cles, lo­cated in Man­i­towan­ing, is open Tues­day to Satur­day. Al­ter­na­tively, hard­ware stores in Min­de­moya or Es­panola might carry ba­sic patch kits and tubes, but any other sig­nif­i­cant re­pairs or pur­chases would re­quire the two-hour drive to Sud­bury.

Man­i­toulin Is­land

above The Chi-cheemaun ferry links Man­i­toulin Is­land and Tober­mory

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