By Heather Pardon
As I continue on my cross-Canada meandering journey, many of my friends keep asking “when are you going to get out west?” Well, as a native of Ontario I’d like to see and enjoy some of the best that this province has to offer. And when it comes to cycling, it’s hard to top Manitoulin Island.
Knowing that I would be passing very nearby the northern access road to Manitoulin, Highway 6 through Espanola, I knew that a day trip was a must. After spending a couple of nights camped in nearly Espanola and doing a ride on Highway 6, I packed up early one morning and drove down to the first town and northern-most access point to the island, Little Current.
Little Current made for a great starting off point for the ride as you can leave your vehicle at the Tourist Information Centre, which is just past the bridge as you come onto the island. It is also a great finishing off point as the Centre is situated next to Farquhar’s Dairy, which makes a nice place to end your ride.
I began my ride by heading west on the 540 to West Bay. Although the 540 is a main road, I found the traffic relatively light and that drivers were respectful on the road. As you make your way, the landscape offers you rolling hills, farms, views of the Bay and, in my case, a nice headwind. I’m not sure how the thermal system works on the island but I figured that I faced a headwind 80% of the day while completing a route that looped all four directions. Not sure how that works??!!
Cycling 32 kms along the 540 will bring you to West Bay, a small village that offers a few places to eat, buy refreshments and admire the local crafts. It was here that I stopped off and purchased a lovely dreamcatcher at a local artisan shop that sold beautiful local wares.
From West Bay, I ventured south on the 551 to Mindemoya, a slightly more bustling village offering a grocery store, restaurants, bakery, hardware and more. While there are places to buy snacks and refreshments en route, there are sections of the road that are barren of anything. It’s advisable to plan for self-sufficiency when you’re cycling on Manitoulin, not only in terms of food and hydration, but also bike repair items. I saw many cyclists on the roads but didn’t see a cycle shop along the way.
From Mindemoya, I headed east along 542 to a local sideroad that winds along Rockville Lake. While offering a much less-trafficked and inland route, again, be prepared to be self-sufficient if you opt for some of the less-travelled routes on the island. Carry food, water, repair and first aid gear and a cell phone. I did not see many cars or any other cyclists on this section of road however you may see other signs of life, such as the fawn which came out to greet me.
While the road is mostly asphalt, about 10 kms. from Sheguiandah, it turns to hard packed gravel which was fine on my hybrid but some folks might not enjoy the experience on a road bike. Thankfully however, this was the one section of road on which I got to enjoy a really nice tailwind!
From Sheguiandah, take Highway 6 back to Little Current, and en route you’ll be treated with stunning panoramic views of the Strawberry Channel and rugged terrain of Strawberry Island. Total ride distance, 100 kms.
While I spent only a day cycling on Manitoulin, you could easily spend a week and still touch the tip of the iceberg as to what you can see and experience on the island. From what I tasted, Manitoulin offers the best in what you could hope for in local cycle touring – quiet roads, reasonable terrain, interesting culture and sites, beautiful and varied landscape. And don’t forget the ice cream!
Heather’s Cross-Canada Cycling Adventure
Join Ottawa author, personal trainer and life coach Heather Pardon who recently sold and packed up her home, downsized her life, bought an RV and is taking her belongings and bicycle for an adventure across Canada this summer. Each week, Heather will be sharing photos and stories from her cycling adventures en route. You may also visit her personal blog at http://wilddaisy.ca/Blog/ for more frequent updates from the road.
Read Heather’s Previous Post:
A Day with the Gurlz