Tenth annual passage ride gives cyclists the chance to enjoy northeastern Manitoulin

by Maureen Strickland

MANITOULIN—Fluorescent jerseys, big smiles, loads of laughter plus bikes, bikes, bikes kicked-off the first morning of the tenth annual Manitoulin Passage Ride at Memorial Park in Little Current.

At 8 am on Saturday, June 4 in downtown Little Current it felt more like a busy weekend afternoon in August.

This year, because of uncertainty around the schedule of the Chi-Cheemaun due to COVID, the passage ride was based out of Little Current, said Maja Mielonen, of Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA), the non-profit organization that hosts the ride. The ride normally is based out of South Baymouth.

Cyclists had the opportunity to try out Highway 540 paved shoulders, which MICA successfully lobbied for, and to explore the northeastern end of Manitoulin Island.

Over the weekend of June 4 and 5, 250 cyclists from the US, Quebec and all over Ontario enjoyed short, medium or long rides which included mechanical support, rest stations and a bagged lunch. Saturday’s routes included the Cup and Saucer, where some bikers took a break and hiked the trail. The short route (57 km) circled back down Bidwell Road to Sheguiandah, the medium route circled back through Rockville to Sheguiandah (82 km) and the long ride (118 km) went all the way to Kagawong. The final stop was Little Current each day.

Sunday’s routes were on the east end of the Island, taking riders through Sheguiandah, along the eastern side of Lake Manitou and included a stop at 10 Mile Point. The long route (85 km) took the cyclists to Manitowaning before returning to Little Current.

Saturday morning was a chilly 7°C at the registration table at Memorial Park. Many cyclists soaked up the sun at Breakaway Sports before heading out.

“We opened early at 7:30 am on Saturday and quite a few people picked up sweaters, hats and mittens because of the cold,” said Sarah Quackenbush, owner of Breakaway Sports.

“Most cyclists can’t stay away from bike shops,” said Ms. Quackenbush. They planned to open early on Sunday and stayed open later than normal until 9 pm on Friday night. On Friday night the store, as well as downtown, were buzzing. They even sold a few bikes Friday night for the ride on Saturday.

Ms. Quackenbush noted that most of the cyclists arrived Friday night and all local accommodations were booked solid.

‘Breakaway Bill’ Slaght, Breakaway Sports bike mechanic, provided pre-ride mechanical service and roadside service for the weekend. All the cyclists have Mr. Slaght’s contact number and he goes wherever he is needed to fix a bike and get the cyclist back on the road.

The temperature climbed throughout Saturday reaching a high of 20°C with wind gusts from the west up to 42 km/h by mid-afternoon.

At the rest stop in Sheguiandah at Centennial Museum Park cyclists stopped for washrooms, water and fruit before the final leg into Little Current.

Debra Smolkin of Collingwood picked up a fruit slice. “This is a great event,” said Ms. Smolkin. “This is my third year and the ride keeps us coming back, we love it.”

“The passage ride is a really nice way to introduce people to your island,” said Ms. Smolkin.

Ms. Smolkin did the short ride on Saturday so she could spend the afternoon exploring other parts of the Island. She planned on checking out Low Island for kite-surfing, heading to the powwow at AOK and going back to the Cup and Saucer for a hike before leaving the Island.

Cyclists started trickling down Highway 6 back into Little Current around 12 noon.

The passage ride included a post ride appetizer at Manitoulin Brewing Company’s silo and patio. By 3:30 pm on Saturday the bike racks at the brewery were full.

Ms. Mielonen addressed the crowd and noted 60 percent of the cyclists registered this year have participated in the passage ride before.

From the smiles and laughter at the silo and patio after day one’s ride and a perfect forecast of warm temperatures, sun and low wind for Sunday it is likely some of this year’s riders will be cycling off the ferry for the eleventh annual passage ride in 2023.