Since moving to Lake of the Woods after retiring in July 2007, I have contemplated a challenging bike ride around the entire lake. As I got older, I realized that the “window of opportunity” was getting smaller and that if I was to get this off my bucket list, it would need to be done sooner rather than later. In 2022, I planned the ride around the lake, but the plans fell through since there were limited accommodations available due to COVID. The Sprague Hotel, which was one of the planned stops had shut down entirely and all accommodations in Warroad were fully booked due to the town’s main employer, Marvin Windows operating a full capacity to meet the increased demand for windows. There was not a single room to be had in any hotel, motel, B&B, or fishing resort in Warroad. (Camping was not even considered as a viable option!)
In June of 2023, I again thought about the Ride Around Lake of the Woods and made preliminary plans with dates scheduled around the availability of accommodations. My daughter, Angela was keen on riding with me during the last week of August; so much so, that she booked the vacation time and began to train seriously! With her firm commitment, I was compelled to also ensure that I was ready.
The logistical plans fell into place when my buddy, Scott Mundle who had recently retired from his optometry practice, offered to provide road support. His wife, Michelle Georgi (also a retired optometrist) indicated that she was also interested in riding along, even though she hadn’t trained nearly as much as Angela and me. Her plan was to cycle as far as she could each day and then join Scott for road support. (I should mention that Michelle had ridden quite often with our riding group in Kenora but had never cycled more than 42 km in a single ride.) Since our planned circumnavigation of Lake of the Woods was not a race, we would ride at a reasonable pace with lots of water and food breaks as necessary. The ride was planned for the week of August 28 through September 1.
Scott’s truck was loaded with our luggage, repair equipment, spare inner tubes, and the requisite water, Gatorade, energy bars, and oranges.
Day 1 – August 28
Longbow Lake Firehall to East Braintree, Manitoba (104.4 km)
Angela had decided to bring two bikes; a road bike with narrow tires for riding on pavement and a hybrid bike with wider tires for the gravel road south of East Braintree. I was up early to load our SUV with Angela’s two bikes and my bike, plus our gear tothe start of our journey at the Longbow Lake Firehall located atthe intersection of Highway 17 and Storm Bay Road. Joan joined us to take pictures and to bring the car home.
Scott and Michelle arrived at the firehall at the prearranged time of 8:00 am. Although it had rained while I was loading the car, the rain had stopped when we started the 500-km ride at 8:06 am. Scott took his job as road support seriously and had made up a schedule with water and food stops every 11 or 12 kilometers. Our first stop was at the Tim Horton’s on the east side of Kenora, where we checked our gear to make sure that there were no issues. The road was a bit wet, but mercifully, the rain had ended. The sky was overcast and the temperature was a perfect 18°C. All systems were “GO” and we continued according to our plan.
Our first day involved riding along Highway 17, which had a wide well-maintained paved shoulder. Consequently, we had no issues with the traffic on the Trans-Canada Highway. Our only concern was the two enormous hills between the Ontario boundary and Westhawk Lake. It turned out that these hills were long, but not especially steep so they were easily climbed. We arrived in East Braintree just before 2:00 pm. Although we were a bit tired, our first day had been surprisingly easy. After packing up our bikes in the back of Scott’s truck, we headed back to Falcon Lake where we had reservations at The Hotel at Falcon Lake. Our hotel rooms were ready even though check-in wasn’t until 3:00 pm.
We had dinner at small restaurant named The Nest in the town centre. Afterwards, we were all invited to have drinks at friends of Michelle. Angela wanted to talk to her kids, so Scott, Michelle and I went to Rick and Jan Skene’s cottage at the south end of Falcon Lake. Rich is a stunt instructor/coordinator and Jan is an actress, both living in Winnipeg. They are an interesting couple, and we were quite entertained by their stories. Since we were planning an early morning wakeup, we were back to the hotel before 10 pm.
Day 2 – August 29
East Braintree, Manitoba to Warroad, Minnesota (132.3 km)
We started the day by having a light breakfast and driving to the previous day’s stop in East Braintree. Our ride started at 8:23 am and we made it to Warroad, MN after traveling a total distance of 132 km from East Braintree. Approximately 65 km of Provincial Road 308 was gravel. Although that seems like a lot of gravel, about half of that was well-packed and every bit as good as fresh pavement. We stopped for lunch at Moose Lake Provincial Park before continuing to Highway 12 at Sprague.
The road from Moose Lake to Sprague was paved and made for an easy ride with very little traffic. The cedar bog that we encountered along the first part of the road gave way to farmland.
When we stopped in Sprague, MB, Angela had to make a minor repair to her bike seat which came loose, but she had it repaired in short order. As we neared the Canada/US border, Michelle got a phone call from Scott who had planned to meet us just ahead of the American customs to give us our passports. Since there was no where for him to stop, Scott had to clear American customs before us. After informing the customs agent about the three cyclists coming behind him, he was advised to give our passports to the customs clerk. The 3 of us waited for two cars to clear customs before we advanced to the customs window. All in all, we had no problem clearing American customs, unlike the car in front of us who had told the customs agent that they had no fruits or vegetables. Their cooler was searched, their goods were confiscated, and they were fined!
After spending nearly 7 hours in the saddle, we arrived in Warroad feeling good but tired. Scott did a FANTASTIC job keeping us hydrated and fed. As planned, our breaks had been about every 11 km. After settling into The Patch Hotel in Warroad, we had a bit of a rest before going for dinner to a Lao/Thai restaurant named Vientiane. The food was plentiful and quite good. There wasn’t anything left over when we were finished.
Day 3 – August 30
Warroad, Minnesota to Baudette, Minnesota (60.0 km)
I got up at around 5:00 am went for an early morning walk in town returning to The Patch Motel at around 7:30 am. While drinking my morning coffee, I reviewed our confirmation email for our accommodations in Baudette, MN. I was horrified to see that the confirmation showed that we had 3 cabins booked at the River Bend Resort located about 10 km north of Baudette at the mouth of Rainy River. I was sure that I had requested rooms at the Walleye Inn in downtown Baudette. How could I have screwed up? I mentioned the mistake to the rest of the crew, who were quite gracious in accepting the error – at least we had rooms. Nevertheless, the plan was to cycle to Baudette and have a group photo at Willie the Walleye, a statue near the crossing into Canada.
Since we had a long ride the day before, we decided on a 10:00 am start. With the extra time, we started our day by having a “real” breakfast in Joe’s Cafe in downtown Warroad, MN. Although the place was less than luxurious, the breakfasts were decent.
When we returned to the hotel, I cleaned and lubricated the bike chains. Although I thought that there would be a lot of grit in the chains due to the ride on the gravel road, I was surprised to see that they were remarkably clean. We left Warroad at 9:45 am and arrived in Baudette just after 1:00 pm.
We took team photos with Willie the Walleye, after which Angela and Michelle went shopping across the street at Ronning’s Borderland Outfitters. Meanwhile, I bought Angela and me coffee and sat in the shade of Willie the Walleye with Scott.
We continued to River Bend Resorts after making one more stop to see if I could find a padded seat cover for my bike. (My butt was getting quite sore!) No luck buying a seat cover, but Angela and Michelle were able to spend a few more dollars on mementos. When we tried to check in at River Bend, the manager said that we had reservations at the Walleye Inn which is also owned by the same resort! I showed him our confirmation which clearly showed us as having cottages at the River Bend Resort with no indication of the Walleye Inn! He apologized for the error and gave us three complimentary drinks. It was lunch time anyway, so we sat on the patio, enjoying the afternoon sunshine, and beautiful view. It turned out to have been a mistake that we fully enjoyed for the 2 hours that we were at the patio overlooking the mouth of Rainy River as it goes into Lake of the Woods.
At around 4:00 pm, we returned to Baudette and registered at the Walleye Inn where we indeed had reservations. We showered and rested before going out for dinner at 218 Tavern on the west side of Baudette. Once again, we all had early bedtimes to prepare for the next day’s ride to Nester Falls in Ontario.
Day 4 – August 31
Baudette, Minnesota to Nestor Falls, Ontario (109.4 km)
Angela and I started our morning by going to the McDonald’s next door to the hotel to get some egg McMuffins and some coffee. Scott and Michelle had some bagels that they had brought along. Once breakfast was finished, we dragged our gear from the second floor of the hotel and loaded the truck.
We were on the road by 8:11 am, cycling the 1 km to Willie Walleye, and then continuing on to the Canada/US border crossing into Rainy River. When we arrived at the Canadian border, we cleared in almost no time, since there wasn’t anyone in front of us.
We were on Ontario Highway 11 for almost 4 hours, even though the distance was only 55 km. There was a 30 km/h crosswind from the south which felt more like a head wind. We were further delayed by having to make a stop to replace Angela’s rear tire and tube, both of which developed a puncture due to a sharp piece of gravel on the pavement.
Our lunch break happened at the gas station at the junction of Highway 11 and Highway 71. Scott had made us each ham and cheese sandwiches (great road crew) that provided much-needed fuel. The ride north to Nester Falls was very quick, thanks to the same 30-km/h wind that made the morning ride so difficult. We arrived at the Arrowhead Resort before 3:00 pm and settled into our rooms, which very dated but clean. Scott struck up a conversation with Monte McCleerey, the owner who lives in Nestor Falls during the summertime with his wife, Tammy. In the winter, they return home to Montana.
At the recommendation of Monte, we went for dinner to Lecuyer Resort in the heart of Nestor Falls. Interesting place! Our waitress was wearing a VERY tight blue dress that was enhanced by some spectacular plastic surgery! Jay (said waitress) was quite boisterous with all the guests, most of whom seemed to know her. The food was very good.
We returned to the resort just after 9 pm to get a good night’s sleep ahead of tomorrow’s final 100-km ride.
Day 5 – September 1
Nestor Falls to Longbow Lake Firehall (106.4 km)
WE DID IT!!!
Angela, Michelle, and I left the Arrowhead Resort (Nestor Falls) and started out our final leg of the Ride Around Lake of the Woods at 8:09 am. The temperature was a comfortable 18°C. As usual, Scott had our water and food stops planned for about 11-km intervals, which again worked out perfectly. We arrived at Sioux Narrows at around 10:30 am and although it was a bit early for lunch, we each had a ham and cheese sandwich and coffee to keep us fueled. Prior to arriving in Sioux Narrows, I heard someone across the road call my name. How could anyone out here know who I was? It turned out to be Joan’s cousin, Glen Grist who had been following our progress on Facebook and who has a cottage south of Sioux Narrows. Glen had correctly estimated our arrival time and planned to meet us without my knowledge. It turned out that Michelle also knew Glen, who had been a patient of hers when she had an optometry practice.
While in Sioux Narrows, Angela and Michelle went into a small boutique shop to buy a few items of clothing and other mementos. The temperature had warmed up and was getting closer to the predicted high of 26°C and the wind was still quite strong.
By 11:00 am, we were on our way, making good time in the wind that was somewhat in our favour at 30 km/h from the SSW. By the afternoon, the wind had switched to the west, giving us a nasty crosswind, but we pushed through. After a few more stops, we arrived at Rushing River Provincial Park at around 2:00 pm, from where we phoned to let our home crew know about our arrival in about 30 minutes.
The ride was finished at the Longbow Lake firehall as planned. We had quite a group of greeters waiting for us, including our friends, Kevin and Chris Semenchuk, Angela’s husband Christopher Buick and their kids, Briar, Killian, and of course my wife, Joan. Also, our neighbours Bruce Kucey and his wife were at the firehall for another reason, and they came over to congratulate us. Angela, Michelle, and I were exhausted but we enjoyed the company. Scott Mundle had been a fantastic help with the road support. We invited Semenchuks and Mundles over to our house for a glass of champagne (and a margarita for Chris).
The experience had been a goal of mine for several years and we managed to complete the 500 km (512.5 km to be exact!) without injury or serious mechanical problems. Nevertheless, I was glad that it was over.
Will Miller hits the road again, and contributes to our Celebration of (Retired) Life series again. Thanks Will!
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