Northern Ontario

Next summer my wife and I will be cycling across Canada. Our route is pretty much set except for a few minor decisions to be made about through B.C., the Maritimes, and Northern Ontario.

Obviously, biking through Ontario will take up a huge chuck of our tour. Right now the plan is to take the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) straight through from the Manitoba border until Wana, Ontario. At that point I am thinking of taking Highway 101 across to Timmins. (Why? I am thinking of taking the 101 straight across, going all the way into Quebec to pickup the Route Verte in Val-D’Or, Quebec. We are thinking of doing this in an effort to avoid the highways and traffic we’d encounter between, basically, Sudbury and Quebec City on the TCH.)

So, my question is does anybody have any personal experience driving across this highway? It is a rather remote highway, having only two real settlements across its entire 350km length, and I’d like some real knowledge of the highway before I commit to cycling across it. Any information you may have on it, please offer. Anything from road conditions, size (if any) of the shoulder of the road, availability of services in the two minor towns along the highway, traffic density, etc.

Also, if anybody has personal experiences in driving any of the Trans-Canada between Manitoba and Wawa, please feel free to contribute any knowledge you may have. Right now, as I am in the midst of planning for this tour, Ontario is looming large as a potential problem.

First big question - are you tenting or staying in hotels all the way?
Second big question - there are some places where you can get off the main highway and ride along reclaimed railway lines/disused highways. Does that have any appeal? If so, I’ll ask a couple of cyclists about how to look them up. Most of these routes that I remember hearing about are between Winnipeg and Kenora.

It’s pretty isolated through that stretch, but there are more than two settlements, even between Thunder Bay and Wawa. Shunia, Dorion, Red Rock, Nipigon, (which isn’t mentioned on Google maps unless you specifically enter it - I don’t know if it’s been amalgamated into some other town, but it ought to be on the map!), Rossport, Schreiber, Terrace Bay, Marathon, Mobert, White River, Wawa. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve gone across, but it’s in the twenties. I actually prefer going a maximum of 150 - 200 km at a time, and spending some time in these interesting small towns.

Even in a car, it’s a long drive - I find the scenery gorgeous, but some people hate it. It’s also a busy highway as there are only two routes, and the more northern 11 (counter-intuitively, a shorter route Nipigon to Toronto, but therefore it has more trucks) is even more sparse. The roads are not in great shape, I don’t know what the shoulders are going to be like, and depending on the time of year, the black flies are deadly.

Did I mention the scenery is gorgeous, though? You might find some useful stuff at the Tourism Ontario website (or at least be able to ask someone who’s supposed to know). According to its FAQ, the trans-canada trail is shared use, so that might be better for your purposes. Do you have to be on a highway? Let me know, and I hope some of this helps…

Yes. We’ll be tenting it most of the time. Unfortunately, finances prevent us from staying in motels in all but the most necessary conditions.

Riding along reclaimed railroad lines would be fine, but from what I am aware of, nobody cycling across Canada does it. I suspect it is because there are no large and paved reclaimed sections of line. Keep in mind we’ll be traveling 130ish km/day; going out of our way to bike a 40km stretch of railroad line just isn’t worth it. Also, the Trans Canada Trail is kind of a joke. Although it is complete is small sections in populated regions, in northern Ontario it is pretty much non-existent. Everybody who cycles across Canada takes the highways. It is the only way.

The Highway 11 route you mention is preferred by truckers, so I hear, because it is more flat than the more southerly Highway 17 route. I will be taking Highway 17 because it is not nearly as remote. I fear that if we encounter a bad rash of bike troubles on Highway 11 we’ll end up stuck in some middle-of-nowhere town with little assistance.

Also, I was saying there is only two settlements between Wawa and Timmins along Highway 101. There is Chapleau and Foleyet. What I’m looking for somebody with personal experience driving this highway to fill me in on its real conditions and level of remoteness. None of the truck drivers I’ve talked to have taken this route.

A thousand apologies, I totally mis-read your OP. Now those numbers are making a lot more sense to me. Yes, I’ve gone between Timmins and Wawa on Route 101. I’m aware intellectually that I must have passed through Chapleau, but I remember nothing about that road except that it was one of the few times driving that I’ve felt myself distracted by the stroboscopic effect of driving at a steady pace through a long, long forest. I don’t remember encountering any cars or trucks that entire afternoon, and I didn’t even recall the name Foleyet. Man, that was one underpopulated region.

So, if Val d’Or is your destination, 101 etc. is your most direct route, but man, stock up on what you need at Wawa - you’ll be going through some pretty lonely country. Any other way to Val d’Or is going to take you a long way out of your way, and most of the ways of getting back far enough north are going to be just as isolated. 11 won’t do you much good because a) it has more trucks and b) there’s not much between Greenstone and Hearst, either, except 200 clicks of highway.

Best other solution I can suggest is to go Wawa - Montréal River Harbour - Pancake Bay - The Soo on to Sudbury, up 11 to Temiscamingue - Temagami and pick up 101 around Notre Dame du Nord. Meanwhile, I’ll ask a couple of my long distance cyclist friends what they’d recommend.

I really have nothing to add except this. :smiley:

Oh, now - at least 5 of them are named Jacques.

I’ve driven from Manitoba to Southern Ontario a few times along the route you’ve described. Everyone is right, it’s really beautiful, and I’m from BC [/brag mode off].

In reading your post, the first thing I thought of was: Bears.

How are your “bear-smarts”? They’re probably “great”, as you are a long-distance cyclist, but I just thought I’d ask.

I’ve gone up 11 from North Bay to Temagami last summer. That isn’t remote at all, cars, trucks, and residences everywhere. But it isn’t an options because that is too far out of the way. If we took the TCH to Sudbury we’d go all the way to Ottawa along it. But thank you for your posts and memories from Highway 101. They don’t instill me with much confidence, however. I’m not sure if we want to be biking for 330km through nothing but desolate forest.

Shamozzle, I am not bear-smart, I’m bear-scared. I’ve been camping enough in my life that I know all the major things when it comes to bear safety. However, I have never had any encounters with a real live bear; which is good because they - since a young age - scare the s#!t out of me. During our trip we’ll both have bear-spray and a whistle. In certain parts of our ride those two items will be readily accessible.