Wednesday, 29 July 2015

On top of the swing bridge at Little Current

One of my most stressful biking experiences was crossing the Fraser River at Mission. Therefore, I approached the single lane swing bridge to Manitoulin Island with some trepidation partly as it was the end of a relatively tough day. I didn't take the end of the first green light and instead stopped to put on my high-visibility vest while the light was red. This put me at the front of line for the next green light. I wasn't wild about this but the SUV after me was clearly ready to let me go at my own pace. This was very nice of him. As it turned out, there was a walkway for pedestrians which I nipped into to walk the bike across. As well, the bridge has a 20 km/h speed limit that I am quite capable of breaking. However, I only found that out later. The mainland half of the pedestrian walkway doesn't get much use judging by the cobwebs suggesting people don't walk it that often.

The bridge swings open on the hour and as it was nearing that time, I parked Leonardo and leaned against a railing to watch the event. A man drove up in a pickup to the parking area where I was and got out in a hurry. He asked me if I wanted to see the operation from the control room atop the bridge! I said "Yes, please!" and grabbed my handlebar bag and hurried after him. We walked halfway across the bridge, crossed the roadway and went up a steep staircase to the control room.

The control room was an interesting mixture of technologies. The controls looked fairly modern. In addition there was a video monitor showing any of a number of parts of the bridge deemed critical for safe operation.  Ron Lewis, the operator, explained that after making sure all traffic was off the bridge, it was necessary to unlock the bridge extremity supports before actually swinging the bridge. He flipped through the video feeds to show me the mechanisms at work. Regrettably, I was a shade too excited to remember the minutiae well enough to relate. If my memory serves, two or three sailboats went through along with a large motor cruiser (or "gin palace" to John Mact.).  One sailboat missed the swing. Ron explained to me that the bridge can only be taken out of road use for 15 minutes out of an hour. As the swinging procedure takes about 6 minutes each way, there is only a window of about 90 seconds or so for tall vessels to pass. Apparently, the electric motors that were installed about fifteen years ago are somewhat slower than the twin car engines that used to power it!

After thanking Ron, I left floating on air. I was thinking about how much I would have enjoyed the experience the only other time I was in Little Current. That was in 1977, when my brothers and I were taken on a sailing cruise by Pappy and Granny and Grandpa Mact.. Back in those days, there were still train tracks on the bridge, though their days were numbered.

The day began with some more of the T-Can. At Massey, I took a chance on an apparent shortcut to Espanola on the Lee Valley. I told myself that there would be no shame in turning back or opting out if it became too hard. More fool I, as aside from two short bits of hard packed gravel, the whole way was paved (albeit a shade roughly), flat, quiet apart from the odd car and included some shady bits. Midway, I relaxed when I saw a guy on a narrow tired road bike going the other way. In fact, the only "problem" with the route was in Espanola itself where a section was being redone and was at the loosely-packed gravel stage. As there was a useful alternative handy, I didn't even try it. (In Little Current, I was to learn that the Lee Valley Road is a recommended cycling route!)

I had an early lunch in Espanola, before hitting Highway 6. This proved to be a long series of hills and dips with little apparent logic to it. The only good as far as I was concerned was the wide shoulder. There was a light headwind and it was quite hot. Shortly before Whitefish Falls, there was a longish downhill.  I was feeling a bit drained, especially as I had only come about a third of the distance from Espanola. I was sufficient hot that I went into the town in search cold water. The store seemed very closed as in "gone out of business", so went into the Red Dog Grill. If I had to do this over again, I'd have lunch there as it was a nice friendly place where not only the waitress but also some locals having lunch comforted me with the news that I was all but done with the hills! I left well provided and refreshed with ice water. I am getting addicted to the stuff.

The remaining 30 clicks went by fairly smoothly. First the Whitefish River First Nation, then the desolate feeling Greater La Cloche Island. Then came the bridge.

After settling into my motel and a shower, I went to Tourist Information to find out where the Laundromat was. (Tomorrow is a rest day so I think getting a few things thoroughly clean is a permissible indulgence.) Coming back, I chanced upon a Spandex-looking cyclist on a road bike waiting by the side of the road, I asked him how far he had ridden today. He was deeply tanned and grey-haired. It turned he had come from Blind River and was part of a supported Trans-Canada bike trip! They had started on the 18th June which means they have made pretty good time on their carbon fibre bikes. He was from Georgetown, Texas. It later came out that his group was the reason I could get a room in my first choice of accommodation in Little Current.

A very good day, especially as I beat the rain to Little Current!

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