I find cycle touring, the act of biking long distances and staying in campgrounds, to be one of the most enjoyable things to do with my free time. Semi drivers buzzing by my shoulder don’t get me worked up. Neither does having all my possessions soaked by an unpexcted rainstorm.
Simply reflecting on that brutal office job I used to have, or the late nights serving liquor to drunk people, makes most of the minor annoyances of living on the road fade away.
The only thing that has really gotten under my skin while bike touring was the bugs of northern Ontario.
I’ve lived in rain forests and spent my summers living in the cottage country of Manitoba, but these places couldn’t hold a bug zapper to the airborne pests of northern Ontario.
Visiting this area made me truly sympathetic to the Algonquin First Nations people and the pioneers that settled the area by building roads and railways through this inhospitable country.
I was trying to hustle through rugged and lonely Ontario to escape the torturous bug-bites inflicted regularly, biking all day through rocks, trees, lakes and more rocks, from Kenora towards Ottawa. No matter how early you wake up, it takes a long time to bike the almost 2,000 km across this giant province.
After a full day of riding, I would pull into a campground near sundown, when “bug ferocity” was at its climax. Upon arrival, I would immediately lean my bike against a picnic table and don long pants and a rain jacket. After raising the jackets’ hood, zipping the zipper to the very top and tightening up the elastics, the only flesh exposed was my eyes. A mesh mosquito hat over my head left me completely covered, but desperately overdressed for the hot, humid weather.
Slow, methodical steps kept sweating to a minimum, helping to promote disinterest on the part of the bugs. Slowly, I would erect my tent.
Occasionally a mosquito or black fly would gain access to the interior of my mesh hat. Coping with the situation and not ripping the hat off required the coolness of a scuba diver. Removing the bug veil would mean a feeding frenzy. Leaving it on meant a relentless assault by the lone warrior.
The challenge was to kill the bug without punching yourself in the face.
As soon as my tent was set up, I would re-hydrate myself to acceptable levels. It is imperative to do drink your liquids well before going to bed in bug country, so you don’t have to open your tent door in the middle of the night to hit the washroom, ushering in hundreds of bugs that want to eat you.
Opening the zipper of my tent door just a crack, I would feed my belongings through the narrow opening. Once everything was organized, I would zip the door shut and hit the showers to get cleaned up.
Normally, after showering, I would light my stove and prepare an elaborate spread of calories to help ready my body for the following day. Because of the relentlessness of the bugs, it would be futile to try to cook food in the open. I am forced to begrudgingly eat a sandwich in my tent, while dreaming of cheese-covered pasta.
I unzip the tent slightly and slip inside. Despite my best efforts, the tent is still swarming with bugs. When I first arrived in Ontario, I would try to clap my hands to squish the small black flies and their friends. This technique made me sweat and the bugs go crazy. After a few evenings in the Ontario wilderness, I developed a better way. Like pushing an elevator button, I would squish them between the pad of my index finger and the inside of the tent roof and roll them into a little ball. Often, upon squishing the bug it would return some of my blood onto the wall of the tent. After 10 minutes or so, I would be the sole-survivor in the tent.
After all the bugs were culled, only then could I relax, eat some food and read a book.
It felt glorious to lie on my mattress, looking up at the mesh of my tent and see thousands of these little beasts, pining to get into the tent to suck my blood. The swarms of bugs would bounce in between the main body of my tent and the fly, causing a pitter-patter so constant and rhythmic that on many occasions, I was sure that it was raining outside.
In the morning you pack up your sleeping bag and other gear while still inside your tent. Then, no matter how hot it was, you would suit up into your bug gear, pack your tent, load your bike and race to the safe haven of pavement where there were considerably fewer bugs.
Once you were off of grass, you could you remove your outer layers of bug gear and pack them somewhere accessible, for when late in the day when you pulled into a campground to do battle with the bugs once again.