Thanks to Ian Laws for sending in this ride report of the trip from Sault Ste Marie to Sudbury along the newly opened Lake Huron North Channel Bike Route.
I printed out only the relevant pages from the maps that dealt with our route from about Desbarats to Sudbury omitting all the “A” maps, and stuffed them into a zip lock map case on my handle bar bag. Then I downloaded the whole set to my iPhone iBooks app and they were very readable and could zoom in and still get excellent resolution. My riding partner, Kevin, then took the map and went to www.ridewithgps.com and plotted the course from Sault Ste Marie to Sudbury and downloaded it to his Garmin bike GPS that had a decent size screen and resolution. It indicated more than a few times we were deviating from the planned route. I had a cell phone with Google maps that came in very handy, when we had cell reception, when trying to route find and locate exactly where we were on the planet. Most useful in Sudbury.
The printed maps are very accurate and could almost be used alone. The route from Sault Ste Marie to Blind River is pretty straight forward with paved, chipped sealed and gravel roads. Just follow the map. You are basically committed to gravel sections. Detours will only lead to more gravel. You cannot ride Hwy 17 from Sault Ste Marie to McKnight Rd (just past St Joseph Island turn off) as it is a divided highway.
There are restaurants and convenience stores in Echo Bay, (maybe Desbarats, but we didn’t ride into town to confirm), Bruce Mines, Little Rapids General Store, Thessalon, Rob’s Variety, Iron Bridge, Mississagi First Nation Trading Post, Blind River, Algoma Mills, Serpent Harbour (did not actually see it but it’s on the map), Spanish, Massey, Espanola, Nairn Centre, Mikkola. Small towns open late, e.g. 9:00 AM and close early, e.g. 6:00 PM. Business is seasonal and may be closed Sundays. LCBO closes at 6:00 PM where available and there are no Beer Stores in small towns. Some restaurants are not licensed. You’ll have to seek out fresh fruit and vegetables.
Stayed at Red Top Motor Inn in Iron Bridge. Chef prepared excellent food and decent beer and wine list. Couple work all summer and then bike Asia and India all winter. Bikes allowed in the room, there is no pool, but good A/C. Espanola Pinewood Inn decent room, powerful A/C, ok tap beers and very good food. Bikes allowed in rooms. They take Vicinity points cards. Travelodge in Sudbury on Paris St, excellent value, nice rooms, bikes allowed in rooms. Perkins Restaurant on site serve dinner plate sized salads piled 3” high. Large portions and Steam Whistle on tap. Breakfast at 6:00 AM. Massey Motel, good A/C, cheap, clean, Wi-Fi , cable. Dragon Fly Restaurant next door was very good food, not licensed. Hit convenience store night before to buy fruit, milk and bread products for breakfast. Carolyn Beach Inn in Thessalon had no A/C in room and onsite restaurant not open for breakfast, mediocre meals, $11 lettuce salad and $25 “steak”, licensed.
Gravel sections on the map were accurate for our trip June 10-15 as can be expected with additional gravel just west of Desbarats. Government Road is all gravel now from Gordon Lake Rd to Centre Line. Dayton Rd is almost all gravel now from Pioneer Rd NW corner to Pioneer Rd SE corner. New gravel sections will appear and others will get paved as the county crews begin their seasonal maintenance work. Some gravel is loose, some thick, some thin, some is well packed in wheel tracks, some is coarse and some is fine. It all needs respect as you ride it, especially going downhill!!! I used a Cyclo Cross bike with 700×35 Schwalbe Marathon Mondial folding. Kevin used a Cyclo Cross as well with 700 x 32 Vittoria Cross XG Pro folding. I don’t recommend smooth tread tires. The tricky part is when you leave Blind River and head east towards Algoma Mills. The first bit leaving Blind River shown on the map as a dotted red line, is a gravel bike only pathway that crosses the highway at Woodlawn Ave – no street sign so I used Goggle maps to find it. Keep a look to the right off of Lake Drive for the restart of the gravel bike path. You will be in the woods for a while along with bears – so the sign says. When you come out stay on Kennedy Drive and then pick up an ATV trail on the south side of the highway marked red dashes on yellow. It will cross to the north side of Hwy 17. Pay attention as the trail crosses driveways and roads with restricted vision due to foliage. In Algoma Mills you need to get onto Centre Street and then make sure you don’t miss the intersection with Hwy 538 on the south side of Hwy 17. The ATV trail carries on and you suddenly realize that you are not in Kansas anymore!
After riding Martin Rd, Hwy 17 and back onto Riverview Rd that turns into River Rd, it ends at 1 as indicated on the map where you are instructed to dismount and walk across the foot bridge that is to the RIGHT through the grass and that will take you across the Serpent River. Do not go to your left as that is the Voyageur Trail and it does not have a bridge! We figured that out. The bridge is disused and piled with rocks at both ends. Then continue down a 1 km corridor of bush track with lots of bushes, downed trees etc. We rode it at the height of caterpillar infestation. That was fun!! So much so, I decided to ride it on the way back. Even more fun! Don’t worry, you’ll come to a gravel pit at the east end and get back on the highway.
The shoulder section from Iron Bridge to Blind River varies from 12” to 6’ There are quite a few vehicle passing sections for east and west bound traffic so there are many sections that offer a bit of relaxed riding. If you hear an air horn blast from a truck, just ride off the paved shoulder to the right onto the gravel part and keep heading right. Chances are the truck will have had to move onto the shoulder as another vehicle in the opposite direction was across the center line. I saw that happen and it shook me up quite a bit!! There are other brief sections of Hwy 17 travel with shoulders 18” on average. Be safe, be seen, lime green, red flashing tail light.
The bridge on Centre St/Hwy 6 north out of Espanola has huge drain openings that you cannot ride through! You will crash! Use the sidewalk, walk across or take whole lane, 200’ max. We rode the newly paved section of Hwy 17 from Jacklin Road to Old Nairn Road having to weave in and out of the 5’ pylons scattered about. The shoulder is 6’ wide but no line markings until they finish whatever they are doing to that section. Busy frickin’ section of highway! Spanish River Road is bone jarring with frost heaves, frost cracks and pot holes.
As you leave Graham Road heading into sub Sudbury, you are back on an ATV trail marked yellow with red dashes on the map. The gravel is pink crushed quartz with some nasty sharp granite bits. A few gnarly hills that need to be walked up and down. You cross at Phil St and the directional Trail Sign is behind a wooden out house!
Trail signs – “Great Lakes Water Front Trail” and “TransCanada Trail” signs along the route are quite good out of the Sault heading east but become sporadic here and there and then pick up again after Graham Rd only to become smaller and hard to find in Sudbury as you try and find the gravel path through the city to Elgin Street. Hence the GPS and sharp eyesight. Follow the ravine. Do not attempt to ride Old Hwy 17, aka Road 55, into Sudbury as shoulders sometime just disappear. Stay on the marked map route. Frickin’ traffic is nutz! Kevin tried some trick riding on gravel. He was not successful. I have an upper leg chain ring tattoo as I managed to pretzel my chain.
Read more about the trail at https://waterfronttrail.org/
And here’s a link to the maps Ian printed out https://waterfronttrail.org/map/downloadable-maps/