Niagara Falls was one of those “must see” places as we made our way across the country and everyone we talked to about it told us that it must be seen from the Canadian side. So we took their advice and headed towards Sandusky, Ohio where we caught a ferry to Canada. Half way across Lake Erie we stopped and spent a night on Pelee Island, Canada's southernmost establishment. I don't really have much to say about the island. It's tiny with only about 200 full-time inhabitants and there wasn't much going on since summer's tourist season had ended. There's a vineyard, campground, post office/general store/gas station, a few restaurants and the rest is homes and fields. We pretty much saw the entirety of this quaint little island in the couple of hours of daylight we had once we got off the ferry. That night we camped in a field and were up before the sun to catch the ferry to the mainland the next morning.
On the ferry to Canada.
Freezing on the ferry.
Our stint in Ontario was short but nice, though the roads were not very conducive to cycling. They had no shoulder to speak of and it seemed as though there was always a lot of traffic, especially trucks. However, the countryside was beautiful with Lake Erie visible for much of our ride and the change in crop scenery from the U.S. was a very welcome surprise. I can't begin to tell you how sick we were of riding through nothing but corn and soybean fields that went on as far as we could see. It had been that way essentially from South Dakota through Ohio so when we arrived in Canada and found fields of cabbage, zucchini, red peppers, butternut squash and tobacco to accompany the fields of corn and soy beans we were thrilled. It's a funny thing to get excited about but it made riding more enjoyable, less monotonous and I was happy to look around and live in the moment instead of plugging in my iPod, staring straight ahead and singing my way across yet another map as I had done through most of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
A few things we observed about Canadians while we were there: They love to fly their flag. Nearly every house we passed had at least one and almost every main street we rode down had a flag on every light pole. There was a lot of flags compared to what we generally see in the U.S. Canadians really do put an “eh” at the end of every sentence, which gave us many good laughs. We got honked at frequently, which is nothing new, but in the U.S. it's very apparent whether it's a good or bad honk depending on the kind of wave, yell or which finger is raised to go along with it. However, I never could figure out if the Canadians were mad at us or encouraging us because their honks were never accompanied by any gestures. They'd honk and then act as if they didn't do it; just kept on driving by with no indication of what their honk meant. They love scarecrows. I know it's the time of year for scarecrows, but the frequency of them was astounding. Some towns we passed through had at least one in every yard, many of which were very well done and impressive, but this display was by far our favorite – it actually made me laugh out loud. There were signs beside each one, but they were difficult to read, so I just wrote them below.
"Rain makes corn"
"Corn makes whiskey"
"Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky"
Once again we ran into fabulous and friendly people, the ones we met in Caledonia really standing out amongst them. After a day of riding in the cold rain, a fellow cyclist picked us up at his local gas station and invited us to stay at his house for the night. Apparently we ran into the right person - John is known amongst his family and friends for taking in strangers and no one in his family even batted an eye when they walked into their own home and found a couple of extra people in their kitchen. John then went on to phone several of his cyclist friends hunting down maps for us for areas that we were planning on riding through and before we knew it we had maps to get us almost all the way to the east coast, a bag of edible goodies, new handlebar tape for both of our bikes and a riding buddy for the next morning to show us some back roads out of town so we didn't have to ride on the busy highways we'd been riding on since arriving in Canada. A huge thank you to John, Nancy, Tracy, Bob and Cathy for everything you did for us while we were in Caledonia!
Mike, Cari, Bob, Cathy, John, Nancy and Tracy
Finally we made it to Niagara Falls, Ontario and I was everything but impressed with the town surrounding the falls. First we had to meander our way through miles and miles of strip malls, strip clubs, “massage parlors” and sleezy looking motels all advertising cheap rates and heart-shaped jacuzzis. And it didn't get much better as we got closer. Things got less sleezy but the town suddenly turned into a circus amusement park with rides, annoying theme park songs blaring from all directions and fast food joints lining the streets. The irony of having to be subjected to miles of human excessiveness and gluttony to get to an impressive natural wonder disgusted me. I understand that by building up an area is how visitors are lured and money is made, but at the same time I found it a shame that a park system didn't get their hands on it first and preserve some of the natural beauty surrounding the falls.
Once we got to the edge of the falls, which is undeniably more impressive from the Canadian side, and tuned out all of our surroundings, the magnitude and splendor of it was able to set in. Like the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef, Niagara Falls is indescribable to someone who has not seen it in person. From the edge of the gorge looking over the falls you hear a low-pitched rumble like a freight train in the distance and feel an ever-present light mist on your face. We took the “Journey Behind the Falls” which allowed us to go to an observation deck and tunnels more than half way down the falls. Decked out in the rain ponchos provided, we stood on the platform and got pummeled by the spray and not only heard the powerful roar of the water but felt it too. Everything shook; the ground, our clothes, every cell in our bodies. It was a fantastic feeling of the greatness of nature.
Niagara Falls from up above.
Niagara Falls from down below.