We’re riding on dusty mountain bikes, a smooth ride on fat wheels that get a firm rubber-alloy grip every surface we ride on. We glide down Sauble Beach; principle star of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, ducking under massive seagulls and making childish attempts to jump the bikes over small streams of water that exist between the dunes and Sauble Bay.
It’s a chilly April day, under a slightly foggy, egg-shell white sky; still almost two months off-season. It’ll be a remarkably sunnier Victoria day when the teenage revellers arrive, righteousness in their hearts and canned beer in their trunks. Until that day, we’re unperturbed by the paltry clouds and the bitterly chilled waters.
Up the road a clip and we can be in Wiarton or Meaford, and past all the jokes about cultural myopia, Mennonites and gentrification, the greens of preserved and manicured nature are a nice sight after all the sludge and spray-paint of Toronto that we city-mice admire so. Kelsey, our guide, is a well-travelled local, back home to roost for a spell, and taking on her childhood haunts with the kid gloves.
It is my firm belief that all children should meet eyes with danger, and more specifically, the risk of imminent death at least once, if not often, in their childhood. I’m not tossing this out simply for provocation: I think a serious sense of danger is something that is good to instill in a child. Knowledge of how close we all are of toddling off this mortal coil makes for tougher, more aware kids. When we’re regaled with stories of the bear that sneaks around in the woods surrounding our hostess’ house, I can’t stop the excited, curious nine year-old in me from wanting to go hunting and exploring for it in the woods.
When we’re riding the bikes down a hill covered in soggy, melting autumn leaves on a barely-discernible path (to these eyes at least) on a hill in the middle of the woods. Loose branches and sharp twigs blow by with unsettling speed. That being said, I’ve got my hands kept off the brakes; the girls I’m riding with seem the sort of equally spunky/gruff stock that are so common in Canadian Women. It’s a feature that I usually find to be pretty endearing, but on these bikes I fear that if I got too far behind they could spend hours verbally-ribbing and emasculating me.
A tree in front of us has been partially up-rooted and now leans over the path. The girls lithely duck forward over their handlebars and pass under with ease and panache. I take it with considerably less grace; my awkward torso pressed to the front of the bike leaning forward to see that there’s a sudden turn to the right after the tree. I lean l too far to the left, forgetting that this is nothing like my city-boy light road bike from back home and the bike flies out from under me. I move to get back on it faster than I’ve done anything else in life, only checking to make sure I don’t have any cuts or scratches after I get back on the bike. I make fast headway and climb up a hill to get back closer to the girls, for fear of spending the next day getting called a “pussy.”
Accordingly, we make sure to stop at the pride of Wiarton, Ontario; the most esteemed and known Albino Groundhog, Wiarton Willie (now being played by “Wee Willie” due to the original Willie’s untimely death in 1999.) Willie serves as a Canadian Puxatoni Phil, picked from his hole once a year to declare how soon the snow will clear and the the sun will shine. Willie is remembered in a ten foot-tall statue, “Willie Emerging” that is at the town’s center.
Willie’s story is worthy of it’s own article, and is quintessentially Canadian. It’s origin makes for a funny tale of too-many beers and too few news stories from this peaceful little town. But a Canadian’s drunken yarn has become a yearly event commemorated in the “Wiarton Willie Festival” and has produced odd news tidbits about animal rights, groundhog taxidermy and even groundhog-on-groundhog murder.
But Kelsey instructs us to view the statue from the lake, so we’re on willie’s backside. We see what every fisherman has ever seen through the fog coming in close to willie’s statue; the same thing every perverted adolescents would see, looming tall and erect out of the mist, a ten foot uncircumcised phallus, chiseled out of granite and displayed with pride.
Prime visiting months for the Bruce Peninsula begin in May and End in August. There are plenty of activities to partake in during the winter, and the pleasurably gray months in between the two seasons. Wiarton has a full-service airport, though flights are rare and pricey, so most visitors arrive from the south by car, which is about a 3-hour drive. Travellers arriving from the north often do so by Ferry; the M.S. Chi-Cheemaun operates during summer months.
Prices for both methods vary throughout the year. There are a number of charming bed and breakfasts, as well as many campers during the summer months. For more information on camping and the Bruce Peninsual, check out the website at National parks
Additionally, Bruce Peninsula Tourism runs this informative site, which is also an excellent example of horrifying web-design.
And, of course, you can keep an eye on Wiarton Willie around the clock via his webcam, or help proliferate his good name at his official website.