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Day 25: Ann Arbor, MI to Blenheim, ON

Yep, you saw that right. I’m in Canada! Tonight will actually be the first overnight I’ve ever spent in Ontario, and today marked my first-ever visits to Ontario breweries. (To be sure, this trip also included my first-ever visits to Wisconsin breweries, but somehow that seems less impressive.)

But let’s wrap up the US first. I managed to drag myself out of bed at a decent hour, and after some cereal and watermelon courtesy of Mike (he didn’t have juice, but I’ll happily take a really good watermelon) I hit the road around 7:15.

Given my long day yesterday, I decided I wasn’t going to take any scenic routes to Detroit. Instead, I was just going to take the most direct route possible: Washtenaw Ave. to Ypsilanti and then US-12 all the way into downtown Detroit. Mike thought I was crazy. He was probably right. Nevertheless, that’s how I went. In Ann Arbor, there are nice big sidewalks along Washtenaw suitable for biking. Once you leave the city limits though, the sidewalks become much more narrow and broken, and in some places I think their only function was so that the township could say, “Look! We have sidewalks!”

Regardless, I made it to Ypsilanti, home of Eastern Michigan University. (Western Michigan University is, of course, in Kalamazoo.) They have an interesting historic water tower in the city center.

The rest of the way into Detroit was much less interesting. US-12 also went back and forth between good sidewalk, bad sidewalk, and no sidewalk. But there wasn’t a huge amount of traffic, so biking in the road when I had to wasn’t horrible. It was definitely a bit jarring to see impoverished Inkster right up against comfortably middle class Dearborn though.

After a quick bite in Dearborn I continued the rest of the way into downtown Detroit, where there was a pro-union protest going on in the face of the Democratic primary debates.

Fortunately I arrived towards the end of the protest, so after a few minutes I was free to explore Campus Martius Park.

After that, I went over to the bus stop, which is right behind the historic Mariner’s Church.

Okay, I guess I should back up a second. There are two bridges and a tunnel connecting the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to Ontario. None of them allow bikes. There’s a ferry service across the St. Clair River, but that’s well north of Detroit. However, the city of Windsor, ON runs a bus service through the tunnel connecting it with Detroit, and that bus has a bike rack on its front. This seemed like my best option for getting my bike to Canada, so I caught the bus to go through the tunnel. While the fare was posted at $5 (either American or Canadian; the Canadians get the better deal), the driver just waved us all on board without paying, and a few minutes later we were in Canada!

I’d been wondering how a city bus would go through customs. The answer is the bus stops at the customs booth and everyone has to get out, clear customs, and then re-board on the other side. After getting my usual grilling from Canadian customs, I got back on the bus. Only the bus wasn’t moving because I guess customs is its layover point. So I sat and talked with the other people on the bus. 5-10 minutes later, something finally clicked in my slow brain: “Hey, wait a minute. I’ve cleared customs and been admitted to Canada. I have a bike. There’s no reason I can’t just hop on my bike and pedal off without waiting for the bus.” And that’s what I finally did.

I circled around the tunnel entrance to get out to the Detroit River, where I had a very nice view of Detroit across the way.

Then, since it was almost noon, I decided it was high time to hit my first brewery of the day. Windsor has quite a few, but Walkerville Brewery was in the direction I wanted to be heading and was highly rated.

Just for some general background, Ontario has some ridiculous laws regarding beer distribution. The result is that it’s incredibly difficult to get Ontario craft beer outside of Ontario, and it’s also incredibly difficult to get non-Ontario craft beer in Ontario. So I really knew nothing about Ontario craft beer prior to today.

Anyway, it turns out Walkerville is the oldest craft brewery in Windsor, which is to say it’s 7 years old. The ratings did not disappoint either; their Road Block doppelbock was great, as was their Argyle Apple cider. The latter is a really light, crisp cider produced with local apples. In an interesting lesson on how palates change, I tasted the Belgian strong ale and thought about how 30-year-old me would have been all over it. 41-year-old me found it a bit too sweet though.

While Walkerville doesn’t serve hot food, there are two restaurants next door, so I popped over to one of them, got a lunch to go, and brought it back to the brewery with me.

Only a couple of blocks away from Walkerville is Chapter Two Brewing, which is much newer and smaller. They’re actually in the middle of an expansion, so there was construction going on and their selection was a bit limited.

Nevertheless, I did appreciate their Cincinnati cream ale quite a bit. It’s always nice when I find good examples of styles that I don’t drink that often. The Zug Island porter was also good for a robust porter (though remember I tend to find robust porters a bit dry for my palate). Incidentally, flights at both Walkerville and Chapter Two were super cheap. Four 5-oz pours were $7.50 at one and $8 at the other, but that’s Canadian, so it comes out to around $6 US.

While I was at Chapter Two, a guy from Florida came in. (He was in Detroit on business, had a free afternoon, and decided to drive across the bridge.) When he found out I was from the Boston area he mentioned he had met his wife in Brookline, and we got into a whole discussion about Green Line vs. Red Line. Overall he and I and the bartender wound up in a very long conversation, so that by the time I left it was already 2:15.

And now came the problem of the day: For some reason I had thought that the city of Chatham (formally known as Chatham-Kent because it consolidated with Kent County) was 40 miles from Windsor. In fact, it’s 50 miles from Windsor. And it was already mid-afternoon. And I had already lined up a warmshowers host who lived another 10 miles past Chatham. It was going to be a grueling afternoon.

But first I took a bike path called the Ganatchio Trail out to Lake St. Clair. Ontario bike paths are strangely reminiscent of Minnesota bike paths, which is to say they stop and start without warning. At least the Ganatchio Trail ran steadily for a few miles before it started becoming intermittent. As for Lake St. Clair itself, it’s the Not-so-great Lake. Sandwiched between Lakes Huron and Erie, it’s only 11 feet deep on average, but it’s still plenty big to not be able to see the other side.

The first 20 miles out of Windsor, heading east along Lake St. Clair, weren’t too bad. I got to pass through town after town of lakeside resorts, and I thought that’s what the ride to Chatham would be like. But then the road turned northeast to head more directly towards Chatham, and the wind happened to be coming from the north. Oh, and since I was first following a lakeshore and then following the Thames River, the road was completely flat so there were almost no opportunities for coasting.

The next 30 miles were possibly the most brutal flat miles I’ve had on this entire ride. I wound up having to stop to rest and stretch every 5-10 miles because my body was really tiring out. And it was through farm country, so there was really no place to stop. Incidentally, farm country in Canada is remarkably like farm country in the US. Lots of people drive pickup trucks, and lots of people fly flags very prominently in their front yards. Never let it be said that rural Canada is somehow fundamentally different from the parts of rural America just over the border.

By the time I finished my 30 miles of rural headwinds and got to Chatham it was already 6:15 and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to make the final push to my host Chris’s house in Blenheim (pronounced “Blennam”) without first resting a bit in Chatham. Conveniently, Chatham is home to Sons of Kent Brewing, which was exactly the sort of place I needed to visit to re-energize myself. They also have some interesting pieces of artwork around the brewery.

My favorite beer here was the Spirit Wolf coffee blonde ale. Putting coffee in a lighter beer is a risky proposition, because it’s really easy for the coffee to overwhelm the flavor of the beer. This is what I encountered with most other lighter coffee beers I’ve had on this trip. But Sons of Kent has figured out how to brew a coffee blonde that doesn’t hide the coffee flavor but where the coffee also doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors. Another good one was the Zephyr dry-hopped sour ale. The hop notes and the sour notes complement each other nicely.

After relaxing a bit, I left Sons of Kent at 7. Blenheim is southeast of Chatham, so I finally had a tailwind and was able to hightail it the last 11 miles. About 4 miles shy of Chris’s house I felt like I was going to bonk, but I just forced myself to pedal through it since I didn’t want to stop to eat so close to the end.

Chris and his wife Anne have been fantastic hosts. They’re not cyclists themselves, but they signed up for warmshowers after a cyclist friend of theirs raved about the site. Chris welcomed me with a glass of hard peach cider which he had made himself, and then they served me a huge dinner, which was great since I’d sure worked up an appetite. They also provided entertaining, animated conversation.

So that does it for today. I think I’ll take it a bit easier tomorrow. Back-to-back centuries took a lot out of me. I’d expect somewhere between 50-80 miles tomorrow, but it depends how I’m feeling and where I can find lodging. At least we’re getting nice cool weather finally, so I don’t particularly need to get an early start.

Total distance: 100.7 miles
Average speed: 14.3 mph

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