C2C Day 45: Brockport, NY, to Waterloo, NY – 128.20km, 330m (Cum: 5,178.50km, 24,930m)

I forgot to show you this yesterday. It’s a 9,999 dot dot-to-dot on sale at the Lockport Visitor’s Centre for $6. Not a bad price but the winter evenings would have to be very long and dark before you undertook that, and they’ve rather given the game away with the end picture. You shouldn’t be able to guess good dot-to-dots until at least halfway through.

Today we were back on the canal until about ten miles from the end and whilst the towns did not hit the architectural heights of Albion, there was plenty of interest to occupy us in the way such that we were late for Happy Hour. We are evidently passing through an area of prosperity and the route is lined with fine houses which use the canal for swimming, canoeing and boating. There was a continual stream of runners, cyclists and walkers along the tow-path.

Although we were nominally staying in Brockport last night, we were on the outskirts  and hadn’t seen anything of the place. We cycled through it on the way back to the canal. It followed the pattern of having its main street at ninety degrees to the canal, just as towns in Montana had been perpendicular to the railroad, because, in the same way, these towns wouldn’t have existed were it not for the prosperity brought to them by the canal which reduced the cost of transporting grain from the Mid-West to New York by around 85% in the 19th Century. 25% of America’s grain passed along the canal, and Rochester which we circled was known as the Flour Capital of the World (never knowingly undersold).

Brockport had its own set of stylish buildings and also a couple of murals such as this – it’s a mark of civilisation when a town has a bookshop (Belper may be the exception to this rule):

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A few miles up the canal was Spencerport which had a museum. We sought it out more in hope than expectation, but we were in luck. Spencerport Depot Canal Museum was blessed with the energetic Bob, a man so in love with his job that he turned up to work early; the museum was open at 08.20. The Depot that the museum was housed in was the trolley-bus stop on the line built between Buffalo on Lake Erie and Rochester; the locals were so suspicious of it when it opened that they threw rocks at it. It ran from 1908 to 1931, and Bob told us that on hot days, when the tarmac melted, you could still see the rails underneath. As well as telling the story of the trolley bus, the museum exhibited such curios as a telephone exchange and an early washing machine.

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The toilets displayed facts such as that the Erie Canal cost $7,143,379 to build and made its money back in 10 years. I think  more toilets should display random facts in order that the general knowledge of the nation should thereby be increased.

It gets a GV rating of Four, two of which are for Bob himself (it didn’t actually have that much in it, apart from a jigsaw for which each visitor was encouraged to fit a piece).

Bob explained that until now, we had only seen lift bridges, which are raised to allow boats to pass under, on the canal because it was relatively flat:

From now on because of the elevation difference of 280 metres, we would be coming across a series of locks:

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Halfway through the afternoon, we reached Palmyra. You could tell that Palmyra is a town out of the ordinary because at the first cross-roads, there were four churches on each corner, the only town in the US able to say this: Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Zion Episcopal (no, me neither). Here are two of them:

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Palmyra was a hotbed of religious revivalism in the 19th Century and can claim to be the birthplace of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormonism), Joseph Smith’s family having a farm there. Palmyra is also where Winston Churchill’s mother’s parents were married. We visited one of five museums – The Historical Museum – and were given a personal guided tour by the curator. It was housed in an old hotel, lifted from a neighbouring street and re-sited. Each of the rooms were dedicated to a subject relating to items donated by local people. This decoration on the wall is comprised entirely of one woman’s hair over her life-time. I found it a bit creepy to be honest:

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The last port of call was Lyons, obviously named after the city in France, but inevitably pronounced ‘Lions’. This is another town known for its murals but, not knowing where they were situated and there being no man mowing a lawn to hand, I hailed a girl who confirmed that she lived in Lyons. I asked her where the murals all were. She stopped dead in her tracks as if it had only just occurred to her that Lyons actually had any murals. “I’m sorry, I know we have some murals, but I honestly couldn’t tell you where they are”. This seems to be a recurrent theme of our travels. How can you live in a town and not notice murals like these?:

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Lyons is not the only French name in these parts. We are staying outside Waterloo and cycled along the road to Marengo, two of Napoleon’s battles, but why name your town after the battle that saw the end of his career as a megalomaniac when the US was an ally of the French at this time? I have not been able to find the answer to this question.

We are staying at the Del Lago Resort and Casino which only opened last year and did not even exist when our booking was made. We stayed at a casino on Route 66 too and I find this one equally bizarre. As we arrived there was a constant stream of cars going into the casino and we had no choice but to eat at one of the restaurants which surround the main hall. This is vast, the size of six football pitches at least, full of slot machines flashing and buzzing as mesmerised gamblers sit in front of the screens throwing their money away. As we came down in the lift, a woman asked, ‘Are you lucky tonight?’ We explained that we were cyclists and the nearest we come to gambling is when trying to turn left on a busy road.

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C2C Day 45: Niagara Falls, Ontario, to Brockport, New York State – 120.30km, 475m (Cum: 5,050.30km, 24,600m)

As night falls, the Falls themselves are lit up in technicolour, as if their appearance requires improvement by illumination in fluorescent blue and pink, as a preliminary to a nightly ten-minute firework display. This is admittedly stunning but entirely unnecessary unless your view of Niagara Falls is simply as an extension of the earthly pleasures lining Clifton Hill, which themselves exist to ensure that Niagara is not just a day-trip but part of a Holiday Experience.

Well, try as they might they couldn’t ruin the thrill of taking a boat trip across and almost under the Falls, a pleasure which remains undiluted. We joined the queue early in the day to avoid the crowds, a successful ploy as we smugly confirmed to ourselves watching lines of late-comers coiling and stretching around the concourse in the afternoon.

The whole operation is incredibly slick and militarily precise. There are two tours operating in synchronicity with one another, one from the American side, one from the Canadian, four boats in all, each holding 700 and making a trip of 25 minutes. As one boat returns and the hordes pour off, an equal number of eager replacements take their place, all sporting their plastic issue rain-capes, pink for Canada, blue for the US. At $25 (Canadian) a time (£15), the operators are coining it continuously and endlessly, as these trips continue into the night too.

There are two waterfalls, the American and the Horseshoe (actually three, but no-one cares about that one). Every boat visits the American first as a warm-up for the second, because although the first is spectacular, it is not as wondrous as the Horseshoe and its visual impact is lessened by the boulders lying at its foot.

It is incredible to watch afterwards as the boat then proceeds towards the Horseshoe Falls and makes three sallies into the spume created by the thousands of gallons of water before allowing the boat to fall back under the current.

From the point of view of the passenger, the dousing from the spray intensifies from an splattering to a deluge as the experience turns from the visual to the physical, the world’s greatest natural shower. It is huge fun and there is nothing of its like on the planet.

Later in the day, we wandered along the rim of the esplanade bordering the escarpment until we finally reached the point at which, metres away, the Niagara threw its average 85,000 cubic feet (2,400 cubic metres) of water per second over the edge and into the abyss below. Another awesome spectacle of natural power to add to the beauty of Glacier National Park, the memory of these two unforgettable sights book-ending our trip, for we are now only nine days away from Boston and passed our 5,000th kilometre today.

We left Canada not by the Rainbow Bridge almost opposite our hotel but by the Lewiston-Queenston bridge seven miles further downstream. From a cyclist’s point of view this was a strange experience because the official route took us to a roundabout then directly left into a hotel car park, round the corner of the hotel and along a path which led directly to a bike supervisor’s office – which was shut. This meant we had to cross the stream of incoming traffic from the States in order to take our place amongst the outgoing vehicles.

The Customs Official actually asked me, ‘Have you anything to declare?’ I have often wondered if, in this situation, I could summon the courage to utter the words of Oscar Wilde, ‘Nothing but my genius’. I took one look at the lemon-juice face of the official making the enquiry and decided against it.

The re-entry to the States was a lot more theatrical than our exit, along a three-lane highway into the sun:

above the canyon of the Niagara River below us – the hydro-electric plant open since 1914 is claimed to be the first large-scale hydro-electric power generator. At this point, I will mention that the Niagara Falls used to be 11 miles further down-river but erosion pushed it back to its present position. That erosion has been slowed by hydro-electric projects but is perpetual nevertheless.

The next three days will see us cycling along the Erie Canal bike path which we joined at Lockport where an excellent Visitor’s Centre greeted us, together with an equally impressive museum which we were allowed to visit free since their video wasn’t working (a GV rating of Five). We were given a short lecture on the history of the canal by a historian whose levels of enthusiasm reached heights only previously attained by Peter Snow. Essentially, in the early 1800’s, the US needed a means of transporting its goods west and the only feasible method available at that time was by water. It was realised that a canal which ran west from the Hudson River to Lake Erie could then link up with  the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

The canal, running to 363 miles, was constructed in just five years opening in 1825. When they reached Lockport, the lowest point of the Niagara escarpment, they constructed a five-lock staircase to move boats 60 feet vertically higher before cutting through the rock to Lake Erie. I’ve seen five lock staircases before, e.g. Five Lock Rise in Bingley, but what made the Lockport locks different is that there was one set for boats going up and one set for boats going down, to double the capacity. I imagine the up and down escalators in Debenhams work on roughly the same principle.

The rest of the day was spent on the canal path (average gradient: 1%!) which sounds easy but, since the path was covered in gravel, there was actually quite a lot of resistance to overcome, and some gave up and took the road. We contented ourselves with occasional forays off route into towns like Albion which was lined with 19th Century buildings:

and with murals such as this curiosity:

A passerby explained that nearby there was a school for training Santas. Now I’ve heard everything. How difficult can it be to say, ‘Ho Ho Ho’?

Before we reached Brockport, we passed this sculpture, billed as The Big Apple (New York, geddit?).

Well, seldom have I been more disappointed by a public piece of art, to which the sculptor had not only put his name but also claimed to have spent 18 months on it. It’s the wrong shape and the colouring is wholly unconvincing. All in all, it’s just a rotten apple.

C2C Day 44: Simcoe, ON, to Niagara, ON 124.20km, 159.50m (Cum: 4,930.30km, 24,007.00m)

The information contained in this instalment will be even less reliable than usual because the hotel we are staying at has a policy of charging $17 for internet use, and I have a policy of not paying for internet use when staying in hotels. Earlier in the tour, Mike Gardner commented that a hotel in one of the photos was advertising ‘Clean Rooms’ as if anyone would expect dirty rooms otherwise, and my response was that I couldn’t understand also why hotels would advertise ‘Free Wifi’ because who would choose to pay for it? Well, not me. I have had no opportunity, however, to check whether anything I say is factually correct, and if by any chance this blog appears before Tuesday night, it will be because I have parked myself outside somewhere which does offer free Wifi. (My principles do not prevent me from taking advantage of someone else’s).

I had been looking forward to seeing Niagara Falls ever since we received the itinerary for this tour. We have been here before, about ten years ago when Kate was studying in Victoria, but the experience then of witnessing at first hand the mighty Falls was a truly memorable one and would bear endless repetition.

Most of today was spent cycling along the sort of varied rural mix of woodland and fields of corn that we have become used to in Ontario, but without the sort of cafes that a cyclist is entitled to expect to see on his or her travels. However we are in Canada and whenever there are no small independent cafes, there is always a Tim Horton’s, sort-of Canada’s response to Starbucks but with added doughnuts. The standard of coffee in Tim Horton’s is commonly referred to by Canadians themselves as ‘fine’, which means that it’ll do when there’s nothing else available.

As I was queueing, I saw these doughnuts advertised as Canada Day Doughnuts:

I wished the person who served me ‘Happy Canada Day. He looked at me bemused and told me it was not Canada Day, that was on 1st July. Tim Horton’s nevertheless sell Canada Day doughnuts for the whole of the month, I suppose in the same way that Bronner’s celebrate Christmas for 264 days of the year.

About ten miles out, the road ended and was replaced by five miles of cycleway as we hit the Old Welland Canal:

A panel told us that it was opened in 1829 to allow (floating) traffic between the Erie Canal and New York. Frustratingly it left all sorts of questions unanswered such as what happened to its 40 locks, whether it was as wide as it is today and when it ceased to carry traded goods. We were grateful for the peaceful change though.

That peace was shattered as soon as we turned off the canal and headed along Lundy’s Lane, the main artery leading into Niagara Falls. On the previous occasion, we had caught a bus from Toronto and I hadn’t realised that Niagara Falls is also a city of 18,000 citizens. The traffic and density of people increased as we neared the centre.

Fortunately there were two attractions to lighten the gloom. The first was the Flying Saucer Restaurant with its snazzy Art Deco sign:

and, well, its flying saucer shape.

Then there was the commemoration of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane:

One of the bits of history that we’re not told in the UK, and there’s no reason why not, is that the USA sided with the French in 1812 to try to make life difficult for the British who happened to be fighting Napoleon at the time. Fortunately, Napoleon came a cropper in Moscow and this allowed England to divert sufficient of its forces to see off the attack on its Canadian territories.

A Canadian heroine of this episode is one Laura Secord who learned of an impending attack by US forces on Niagara. She walked 12 miles through the night in difficult terrain to warn the British and Canadian troops. As a result, fewer than 50 Allied troops attacked and saw off 542 US troops, capturing their colonel into the bargain.

The cemetery where many of the slain are buried is on Lundy’s Lane. I loved the way that the commemorative plaque, so as not to insult valuable US tourists, described the humiliation as a ‘draw’ because ‘the Americans withdrew voluntarily’. Yeah, sure. Who said history is written by the victors? (If I had internet access I’d tell you. Since all of the above has not been checked, it may in fact be complete baloney, but it’s a good story anyway).

As we neared our hotel, my eager anticipation of what awaited us became gradually deflated as we passed through a gauntlet of hell comprising casinos, funfairs, fast food outlets, tacky souvenir shops, the complete opposite of the wonder of nature that are the Niagara Falls. Our Hotel is next to the ‘Spongebob Squarepants 4-D Ride (The Great Jelly Rescue!)’. Now I love Spongebob as much as the next man, probably more if the truth be known, but Spongebob has no place anywhere near the Niagara Falls.

When we visited ten years ago, Kate advised us that the Canada side of the Falls were much the preferable because they were devoid of the tat that characterised the US side. Well, I’ve got news for you, Kate. That ain’t the case anymore. On the one side, you have Clifton Hill which looks like this:

while the majestic Falls keep on doing what comes naturally on the other:

There cannot be a starker illustration of the crassness of humankind’s desire to cheapen and exploit the gifts given freely to us by Nature than this. It is horrible, and it has completely ruined what should have been a thrilling experience for us. Although we shall undertake the boat trip past the Falls tomorrow, we are already looking forward to getting out of Niagara on Tuesday and on to the Erie Canal where we as cyclists belong.

The view that you can see above is actually from our hotel. The tour leader has pulled out all the stops (probably blown the budget too) and got us all rooms with Falls views by booking 18 months in advance, before anyone else could get hold of them.

As I trudged the 400 metres to the car park to get our luggage, I passed two Hard Rock Cafes before I came upon this:

It is the carcass of an old Planet Hollywood restaurant, which if memory serves was the failed attempt by Bruce Willis, Arnie Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to do for film what Hard Rock has done for rock music. Their enterprise failed, the stops have been pulled, but the millions poured into this horror-show are still evident for all to see as the building rots away, unloved and forgotten.

If this were not bad enough, I walked past the hulk of the building and noticed four rusting cars, one of which was instantly familiar:

Yes, it’s the jeep Jim Carrey drives in Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls. This may be the very vehicle which features in Kate and my favourite scene where Jim Carrey drives the jeep at full speed towards a line of parked cars, overturns it twice and yet still manages to park it perfectly in the narrow gap the right way up, sticking his head out the window and yelling, ‘Like a Glove!’. (You really have to see it). This always cracks Kate and me up, and whenever I complete an awkward parking manoeuvre successfully, I always turn to her and say, ‘Like a Glove’. Never fails to amuse. But to see that jeep (probably not the exact same but that’s not the point) consigned to slow deterioration into decrepitude just because of some Hollywood stars’ failed attempt to make even more gazillion dollars is a tragedy almost equal to what can be found round the corner on Clifton Hill.

I wonder if I could persuade Val to allow me to put in a bid and bring it back to England where it would fit in nicely in our back garden.

C2C Day 44: Port Stanley, ON, to Simcoe, ON – 116.60km, 402.00m (Cum: 4,806.10km, 23,848.00m)

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We had intended a late start today because the hotel refused to serve breakfast till 08.30, the sort of time sensible people get up on a Saturday morning – even though we were virtually the only ones in the place. Our plans were thwarted by a combination of the 5 o’clock Club and the hotel’s ancient pipework which cranked into action at 04.54 under the strain from several people pursuing their ablutionary options. There was no point in waiting 3 1/2 hours so we gave in to the inevitable.

Yesterday, as we cycled into Port Stanley, I was hailed by a resident as we passed his house and was warned about an impending thunder-storm. A few minutes later, we were in the Visitors’ Centre and I turned around and there was the same man standing behind me. I was beginning to think we had a stalker but, whether he had followed us or not, he wanted to tell us about the bridge that was down on today’s route in the next town, Port Bruce. This didn’t seem to be weather-related but simply a matter of bad design, which was probably no comfort to the van driver on the bridge at the time of its collapse.

I passed this information on to the group at yesterday’s Happy Hour, but proceeded to forget my own advice and, seven miles into today’s ride, found myself confronted by a closed road in Port Bruce with five others. We were just about to resign ourselves to cycling back out of the town to find the official detour when we heard a shout from below on the river. A local man with a boat who’d just ferried his two sons from the other side was willing to give all of us and our bikes a lift back to the other side. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Just as we’d disembarked, some more of our group appeared on the other side, but our hero was having none of it. Having done his good deed for the day, he steamed off into the distance.

Fortunately this blog’s intrepid on-the-spot photographer was there to capture the drama with these exclusive photographs:

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20180728_090510A little further on and we descended into Port Burwell, chiefly notable for the presence of a Cold War submarine by the side of the river:

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The town has a marine and military museum and they wanted a tank to display, but Canada didn’t have one spare. They did have a spare sub, which the town bought for $6 million (according to a local – I find that part of the story hard to believe, frankly). It’s a bit of a white elephant and, as you can see, it looks like the museum can’t afford even to maintain the paintwork. They charge $25 (about £15) to look round, but if they’d halved it, I think curiosity would have got the better of us.

Today’s route followed a similar pattern to yesterday’s in that we spent most of the day shadowing the Lake without actually being able to see any of it. The countryside was notable for the variety of crops grown, including syurprisingly tobacco. About 90% of Canada’s tobacco is produced in this area, but the crop is in decline because of the health concerns attendant on smoking. Farmers are actually being paid not to grow it.

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We also passed fields of what looked like fennel but turned out to be what asparagus looks like after the shoots have been harvested. A third mystery plant was completely covered by a covering of black cloth; this was ginseng.

Yesterday, we passed a pick-it-yourself blueberry farm of the type that was once so common in the UK. Not sure why it fell out of fashion; maybe people kept eating the profits. I was surprised at the size of the bushes, head-height. I must be doing something wrong because mine back home are not knee-high – though I was assured that these are thirty year old plants:

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Today, we must have seen around 100 wind turbines, more than in the whole of the last seven weeks. The Canadians are very environmentally conscious on the evidence we have seen; there are numerous solar farms too. Given the ever-presence of wind, there is no reason why Montana and North Dakota should not make its contribution, but we have seen more anti-turbine posters than turbines themselves in the US.

Our experiment with no cash continues although Val was searching desperately and unsuccessfully for a cash machine when we came across this double-decker London bus selling ice-cream but strictly on a non-credit card basis:

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We did some shopping in a Walmart which is to be found in Canada notwithstanding it being a staple US Supermarket. When we walked in. we were met with a surprise because it looked very much like an ASDA back home. This is not perhaps surprising given that Walmart own ASDA, for the moment anyway, but the familiar red and yellow signs are not a feature south of the border, nor is the presence of the ‘George’ clothing brand, surely imported from the UK.

Another similarity with the UK, and dissimilarity with the US, is the widespread acceptance of contactless payments, or ‘Tap’ as it’s called here, which makes life so much easier. In the US, not only do we have to use the pin number, we also have to sign the receipt too, which seems a bit pointless. I still can’t fathom why contactless has not been more widely accepted in the US when they are at the forefront of so much technological innovation.

Tomorrow, we arrive at last in Niagara Falls.

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C2C Day 43: Wallaceburg, ON, to Port Stanley, ON – 128.4km, 246m (Cum: 4,689.50km, 23,446.00m)

Today was another 75 (actually 80) mile day so it was important to get a good start. I set the alarm for 05.45, or thought I had. Except I’d only set the -45 bit so it was 06.30 when I actually awoke to the sound of trundling wheels. The breakfast room can be a lonely place when there’s just two of you.

Today we made a south-easterly passage towards Lake Erie and then followed its northern shore but at a distance of around two kilometres. This was along the Lake View Trail for the final section, but it might as well have been called the Elephant View Trail because we didn’t see any of those either.

The difference between Canada and the US has not been remarkable, and there’s no reason why it should be; countries are a man-made invention, but geography does not recognise such boundaries. The field are mainly full of either sweetcorn or maize just as they were in Michigan. What is definitely different though is that everything is in kilometres. Canada is a fully-paid-up member of the metric system whereas we have only half(-heartedly) adopted it. We still travel by road in miles, though I run in kilometres, and we are obliged to buy packaged and loose goods in (kilo)grammes, but can still buy beer in pints. It’s a typical British fudge (which is in grammes).

(This is what a field of soybeans looks like in case you’ve forgotten).

It was another day without anything specific to visit or see, which is not to say that such attractions didn’t exist, only that they were always 5 or 6 kilometres off-route and we were disinclined to add to our 128 existing km. The one point of interest was closed because we arrived too early for its 10 o’clock opening time, and that was ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, an open air museum dedicated to Josiah Henson, the real-life inspiration for the Harriet Beecher Stowe character and book. Born into slavery, Henson escaped from Maryland to ‘Upper Canada’ (Ontario) and founded a settlement just outside Dresden on our route. He offered other slaves who managed to escape the chance of starting a new life there.

The museum was only a couple of km off the route so we diverted to see what we could see. The 10.00 opening time was sacrosanct but there was definite activity outside the centre as we saw a 19th century cart being taken away. We were told that a film (didn’t sound like a major Hollywood production, maybe for local interest only) was being made, using the buildings on-site as authentic background, on the subject of Petrolia, a town in Ontario where oil was found in 1858, sparking a boom as thousands flooded to the area in search of their fortune. If we’d come the day before, we could have watched the filming of actors in their costumes.

As we were looking over what we could see of the site a cyclist passed us and then later passed us again travelling in the opposite direction. He explained that this was his standard 40km route, there and back, which he could do in an hour and a quarter. This seemed unlikely judging by the shape of him, but he assured us that he was ‘athlete from the waist down and cheeseburger from the waist up’.

It is always interesting hearing from cyclists along the way. We met another pair tonight from Arkansas. One had been dropped off by his wife in Minneapolis and was cycling to Niagara and then down to New York, where he intended to catch the train back home – a journey of 38 hours! He was camping – apparently it is the law in Michigan that a campground cannot turn away a cyclist who wants to camp  – and he was weighed down heavily with panniers back and front. He was riding a steel-framed Surly bike and I could hardly move it. Yet it is quite possible to cycle the route he had taken (which was to the south of us) because of the abundance of bike trails and the flatness of the terrain.

One similarity with the US that we’d rather have left behind is the presence of gravel roads, three sections today, the last a full four miles long. In Canada, they even have their own road sign to warn of their impending presence:

I don’t understand why these are tolerated or why they even exist apart from making life difficult for cyclists. One minute you are cycling along tarmac and then the tarmac comes to an abrupt halt to be replaced by lumps of rock:

Part-way through the day, we passed a sign denoting ‘Beecroft Farm’. This is of personal interest because my maternal grandparents were Beecrofts, so it follows that it was my mother’s maiden name. It’s quite an unusual name, although it doesn’t sound out of the ordinary – I’ve never come across it outside my family. My Uncle Arthur and Aunty Wendy are the only members of the Scunthorpe Beecroft Dynasty still to bear this name. Perhaps some time in the past, one of my ancestors emigrated to Canada?

Port Stanley where we are staying tonight came as a sudden and pleasant surprise, especially as it was our first sight of Lake Erie apart from when we’d taken a deliberate detour, frustrated at being so close without a glimpse of it. It is for all intents and purposes an old-fashioned  seaside resort beside a(n admittedly huge) lake. It has a beach:

as well as a pier:

I asked at the Visitors’ Centre whether there was any connection between Port Stanley, Ontario, and Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, but all I received was a blank stare and ‘I’ve never heard of Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands’. Good Grief. Well, the answer is that they are both named after the same person, Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Lord of Derby, who served as British Prime Minister three times between 1852 and 1868 and who still holds the record as longest serving leader of the Conservatives (didn’t know that). He visited Port Talbot near Port Stanley, but never visited the Falklands – he was Secretary of State for War and the Colonies when Port Stanley became the capital. I might just pay the Visitors’ Centre a visit again tomorrow.

C2C Day 42: Port Huron, Michigan, USA to Wallaceburg, Ontario, Canada – 63.30km, 47m (Cum: 4,561.10km, 23,200.00)

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The trailer that follows us around contains washing detergent in plastic pouches. Yesterday morning, just before we left, I saw Val had left one out so I slipped it into my wash-bag. I thought no more about it. Last night, I started to clean my teeth and recoiled at the foul taste left behind in my mouth. The awful truth dawned: the capsule had split inside the wash-bag. As well as giving a new meaning to the instruction, ‘Go and wash your mouth out with soap’, the experience means I have been unable to get rid of the residual tang of detergent which resists all attempts to remove it. Every piece of food I eat now comes with that irresistible trace of Tide.

Last night we were sleeping within sight of the Huron Bridge so we decided to cycle a couple of miles to see it more closely. There was a railway museum nearby called the Thomas Edison Depot Museum as well as a statue of the inventor as a young man:

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Born in Milan, Ohio, Edison moved to Port Huron at the age of seven. He sold sweets, newspapers and books on trains running from Port Huron to Detroit. He spent the money he made on scientific equipment which he used in experiments conducted in one of the carriages. During one of these experiments, the carriage caught fire and he was sacked. The inventor of the light bulb and the phonograph was an extraordinary man; he was deaf from childhood but later refused an operation to restore his hearing because he did not want to live in a world where noise would be a distraction to his thought processes.

As we set off today, we cycled along:

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I hoped that this was the one that Eddie Grant was ‘gonna rock down to’ in 1982, but sadly not – that one was Electric Avenue in Brixton, the first market street to be lit by electricity, thereby providing a spurious connection to Mr Edison. Anybody that didn’t know me would think I planned this.

We followed the edge of the St Claire river and passed a notice referring to Gar (Garfield) Wood. I’d never heard of him, but he was another inventor, who, at one point, held more patents than any living American. None has had quite as much impact as Edison’s, but they financed his hobby of power-boat racing. He was the first man to travel at more than 100 mph on water and broke the world record five times. He is buried at Algonac where our ferry departed from.

We stopped at Marine City which sported this splendid mural on the side wall of a record shop:

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We could see the ferry we were originally going to take stranded on the other side of the river. Following my dictum of finding out information from the man (it usually is a man) who cuts the grass, I asked a passing strimmer about the accident to the causeway and he told me that fault was the ferry-owner who was supposed to insure the causeway, but, of course, didn’t. The State has been asked to fund the repair but understandably refuses. The accident has had a devastating effect on Marine City businesses because few people now stop there, despite the attraction of this striking lighthouse moved from an island on Lake Huron.

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Unrelated fact: Edison Lighthouse were at Number One in the UK with Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) for five weeks in 1970.

The ferry we actually caught was a much more modest affair than the Lake Michigan one with a capacity of 12 cars. There were eight cyclists and one car when we caught it, and the cost was an amazingly cheap $2 per cyclist.

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On the other side was the lowest low-key customs post you will ever see, staffed by three people, one of whom was stroking a stray dog whilst we passed through without incident. All the British passports received a proper stamp, but not the American ones. There’s no point in having a passport with a sheaf of blank pages to them unless it’s going to be stamped.

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Once over the river, it was only around 10 miles before we reached Wallaceburg. We put an end to our coffee drought in a local café. I noticed that all the packets had information on them in both English and French. This seemed a waste of time in most of Canada where French is not spoken. The waitress agreed, but said it was the law. She herself could only speak one word of French: ‘Bonjour’.

We are conducting an experiment to see if we can survive the four days we spend in Canada relying only on our credit card, to see whether the cashless society is really here, at least in Canada. OK so far. This stood us in good stead when we reported to the Wallaceburg museum, which charges $3 each (Canadian dollars are worth about £1.75) but had no credit card machine. Nevertheless, possibly because we were English and they took pity on us, they allowed us in free of charge, giving credence to the popular belief that Canadians are the most polite and laid-back in the world.

We spent about an hour in the museum (GV rating: a solid Four), much of which was devoted to the not-so-distant past when there were a number of thriving industries in the town including the glass industry (the volunteer at the desk worked there). This lasted nearly a century until 1999 when it closed down for the usual reasons. A brass fittings business produced the biggest tap in the world:

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I feel much the same way about this as I did about the Green Bay nut.

Today’s theme seems to be inventions. Wallaceburg’s  claim to historic fame may well be as the birth-place of the magazine which allowed rifles to fire rapidly, developed by James Paris Lee, born in Scotland but who moved to Canada when five. (There are a lot of people in Canada with Scottish ancestry; many moved here following the Highland Clearances). Lee’s invention was adopted by the British Army who bought the patent and manufactured the rifle in Enfield. The Lee-Enfield rifle was a staple of the latter days of the Empire for the next sixty years.

As an added bonus, there was a local art competition and we were allowed to vote for our favourite, the winner to be announced on 17th August. I saw, but didn’t vote for, this picture and thought immediately of Sue Russell (sorry, Sue!):

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