Friday, July 16, 2010

Fort Erie Ontario to Sudbury Ontario

We woke up to find that the storm we had been expecting overnight had broken up and passed us by. A small series of showers was imminent and we decided to wait for them to pass before leaving.

Me contemplating our last day on the road

Packing the Uni-Go's

Sandy and Judy - BFF's

The rain was gone and we were ready to ride by 9:20. We made a brief stop at the nearby Shoppers Drug Mart so the Americans could acquire some over the counter codeine laced Tylenol. Sometimes it's good to be a Canadian. We took the Niagara Parkway north out of Fort Erie cruising along the banks of the Niagara River towards the Falls. There are some really nice homes along here and also some older, smaller ones. The big ones that front the Parkway are quite pricey but smaller ones a block back appear to be quite reasonable.

As we got closer to The Falls, the cloud of mist became visible letting us know just where they were. Then, as we entered town, a bridge on the Parkway was closed causing us to take a detour. The GPS saved us because the flagman provided no direction and there were no signs indicating which way to go. We had to travel about 3 kilometers along the creek before we found another bridge to cross and then had to navigate some poorly marked roads to get back to the Parkway again.

The skyline above The Falls has changed much in recent years. Where the only high rise landmarks were the Minolta Tower and Skylon in the old days, tall hotels now dominate the entire ridge. And, despite the recession, construction on new ones is continuing. Something lost and something gained, I guess.

Some homes along the Niagara Parkway north of Fort Erie Ontario

The mist from The Falls come into view in the distance

Another high rise hotel being built overlooking Niagara Falls

The parking has changed along The Falls. We got into the big lot across the street from Table Rock, right at The Falls.  Because we were relatively early on a Friday, were able to park quite close to the walkway to the Visitor Centre. Parking was $20 but the lady let Brad and I in on a two for one deal if we parked in the same space. Done.

The layout of the Visitor Centre has been upgraded, too. You need to take the walkway over the street and then you must pass by all the concessions and shops to get to the exit to the edge of The Falls. Good marketing. It is a nice building and the shops are well appointed.

From the walkway over the Niagara Parkway at Table Rock

They have also changed the way they market the tours. A package for $39.99 gets you admission to four main attractions and discounts on most others. It also includes two days of free bus access. The four main attractions were Niagara Fury, the walk behind The Falls, the Maid of the Mist and a boardwalk in the Niagara Gorge. We took this package and got our pass books, tickets and bus stamps right there.

The first thing, right at Table Rock, was Niagara Fury. This is a 4D surround video presentation on how The Falls were created. We stood in the 360 degree theatre and watched an animated presentation with cartoon characters trace the geological history that culminated in one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The floor shook, water sprayed and sounds rattled us. I have never been issued a rain poncho for an indoors movie before, but it was necessary.

Brad complete with disposable rain poncho for Niagara Fury

The second attraction was a long standing tradition, the walk behind The Falls also located at Table Rock. This trip through old tunnels with windows to view the cascade from the back side has been here as long as tourists have. There is also a viewing terrace just below the edge of the drop that gives a unique perspective of looking up. Our ponchos were yellow this time. Before entering the tunnels, we had a bit of time so we headed out to the edge of The Falls to get a view from the top.


Looking downstream at the Niagara Gorge and Rainbow Bridge from Table Rock

Sandy at Table Rock

Judy and the Horseshoe Falls

Sandy with the back side of The Falls behind her

Looking up at The Falls

Returning to the Visitor Centre, we had lunch at Tim Horton's. I will give them credit because, unlike other shops that charge captive audience prices, Timmy's rates were the same as anywhere else. We timed it right because we had no line up. That grew right behind us, helped by a young man who had to be the slowest moving bagel butterer I have ever seen. He was in need of some further instruction by his supervisors. We also cruised the shops where the newbies bought some T-shirts and souvenirs.

Fortunately, the moose was too big to bring home

Another shot of Sandy looking good at The Falls

Our next adventure was to take the Maid of the Mist boat ride to the base of The Falls. This is one of the key Niagara experiences and I haven't done it in years. We opted to walk to the boat dock which was a ways downstream. It didn't look far but, given heat, humidity and the fact that our legs still hurt from the lighthouse yesterday, the trek almost did us in. Once more into plastic rain ponchos, we were on the lower deck and got spots along the ail right near the bow. I have no photos because this spot was wetter than a morning shower. Awesome view of the water thundering down 170 feet from what I could see through my soaked lenses.

The Maid of the Mist

Ron at the boat dock

Back at the dock, I realized my jeans were soaked form the knees down. We took the elevator back up to street level and decided to take advantage of the people mover bus back to Table Rock and the bikes. We skipped the Gorge boardwalk because it was further downstream and we were running late.

My plan had been to ride with the others all the way up the Parkway to Niagara-on-the-Lake stopping at the Spanish Aerocar over the Whirlpool and visiting Brock's Monument to show them where we repelled their invading force during the War of 1812. Unfortunately, I also wanted to get back to Sudbury tonight before it got too dark and, since it was 3:00 PM and I had over 300 miles to go, the plans were scrubbed.

We said our goodbyes after a dozen days of traveling together and hit the road at 3:10 sharp. The others would cross back to the US and planned to make it to Rochester, New York for the night. It was strange to ride through traffic without having to keep an eye out to see where the rest of the group was.

We fueled in St Catherines and then hauled along the Queen Elizabeth Way in moderate traffic. Near Hamilton, the opposing Niagara bound QEW was pretty well at a dead stop as the lemmings tried to escape the Greater Toronto Area on a Friday afternoon. Google Maps seems to think that you can't go from the QEW to the 407 Express Toll Route in Burlington but the ramp is there. We got up on the pay road and made good time until we got to the 400 northbound. Then we joined the lemmings.

Traffic was gridlocked on the 400 as it shrank from eight lanes northbound to three within several miles. I should have caught the collector lanes because they moved fastest. The rightmost of the express lanes crawled a little faster than the left ones, a phenomenon that made no sense to me whatsoever since the 'fast' lanes should have the least impediments. In any case, we crawled to the service centre at King and stopped for a quick coffee to go.

Northbound Highway 400 traffic at a slow crawl

North of the service centre, things started to move but ground to a halt ever time we reached another exchange. True to my new observation, the right lanes moved the fastest most of the time but I was aggressive in switching to whichever one as progressing best. It is easier to do this on a bike which can slip into small gaps and would be virtually impossible with more than one. On the other hand, if this was California, I would have been long gone after splitting lanes.

Sandy took lots of pictures of white weeds along the roadside. There are reports out of Sudbury that giant hogweed, an invasive, noxious and dangerous weed, has been found in town and she wondered if any of the white flowers we saw were the same thing. I personally think these are way too short.

Unknown white weeds along the roadside

North of Barrie, traffic thinned out quite a bit as most of the GTA escapees headed up Highway 11 to cottage country. I set the cruise at 19 over and found most of the vehicles going by me. We stopped at Waubaushene for our last bit of fuel, a protein bar and a 5 Hour Energy shot. Then we stopped again at Pointe Au Baril for a comfort stop for Sandy. It was cooling and the shadows were getting longer so I kept the pace down as I watched for moose, deer and bear. None were seen.

Some day soon we may take this new road

Red sky at night

We reached the Greater Sudbury city limits at 9:02 and were in our driveway by 9:25. Not a bad run. I got a note from Ron that said they reached Rochester by 8:30 after a long holdup on the bridge to the USA and a rough ride along the road bordering Lake Ontario.

It was sad to see another trip to come to an end but we had memories of a good time and good company. Plus we'll be seeing the crew again in Maine before too many weeks go by. Thanks Ron, Laurie, Brad and Judy for sharing the road with us.

Today's Route (343 Miles):

Note that Google Maps seems to think that there is no ramp from the Toronto bound Queen Elizabeth Way to the Eastbound 407 ETR. In fact, there is.

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