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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by nick949eldo, Oct 5, 2020.

  1. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,198
    Location:
    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    Back in July 2020 I had headed north on my 1986 Suzuki Cavalcade for a quick trip up to northern Ontario to experience whether I liked riding the big, bloated tourer on long trips and to visit the Abitibi Canyon. That trip was cut short by my own stupidity. I’d forgotten to check the condition of the tires and half-way through realized that the rear tire was bald. I scuttled home in the pouring rain, experiencing some irritating, almost show-stopping electrical issues on the way. If the suspense is killing you and you simply must read the full story, I wrote about it in my book “Riding in the Time of the Plague”.

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    With a new rear tire installed and the troublesome electrical gremlin evicted, my thoughts once again turned northwards. I'm usually riding one of my old Guzzis, but I'd bought the Cavalcade for an absurdly low price as a two-up tourer, and somewhat to my surprise, found I really like it.

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    The weather forecast promised a spell of warmish weather, and since the leaves in our area were just showing the first signs of turning, I figured that the cooler temperatures further to the north would mean that the leaves would be spectacular. I wanted to ride up the Lake Superior coast, explore a couple of favourite inland routes and enjoy the mind-freeing experience of riding quiet roads through inspiring scenery. More importantly, a good friend had just announced that he’d acquired an old Russian motorbike and sidecar. He’d even posted a couple of short videos showing him chuffing around his garden on it. I needed to see that bike. His house was on the way. I could cadge a meal and a bed for the night. A perfect excuse – as if I needed one.

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    And there was one more destination I had in mind. A curious thing that had caught my attention while cruising the internet one day: something a little strange and possibly a little intimidating – but more of that later.

    The capacious hard luggage of the Cavalcade swallowed my camping gear, rain suit and extra clothes with room to spare. On my other bikes I usually have all kinds of misshapen objects strapped to the back with bungees and elastic netting, so it made a real change for my travel bike to be in stealth mode. Nobody could tell whether I was just heading down to the corner, or across the continent. Usefully, the side cases and top box were adorned with large, chromed, industrial strength locks, so I could safely park the bike and forget it, fairly confident that my stuff would be intact on my return.

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    #1
  2. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    2,198
    Location:
    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    I didn’t get my usual early start. It had cooled off during the night and although it was clear that it would eventually be a sunny day, patchy ground-fog was lying in all the hollows for the first few miles. A few days earlier I had attached a GoPro camera to my helmet with a small microphone on the inside, just ahead of my lips. I’m terrible at keeping notes and rely heavily on photographs as memory joggers, but if I don’t stop and take any pictures, any thoughts and observations I had along the way tend to evaporate. With the mike and camera, I thought I’d be able to make little audio notes and observations as I rode along. Not that these impressions are of earth-shattering consequence – it’s usually little things like, ‘that thermometer at the real estate agent’s office in Cloyne says it’s 4 degrees’ or ‘just the tips of the leaves are turning on a few of the trees – I hope they’re more impressive further north’, or ‘man, there are a lot of dead raccoons on the road this morning’ – simple stuff like that that keeps the journey fresh in my mind.

    The first hours of riding were certainly fresh. It was warm enough that there was no danger of frost on the roads but the cool air eventually found its way into all the weak spots in my riding gear. Although the Cavalcade’s windscreen and lowers kept most of the wind-blast off my body, the wind has a nasty habit of circulating around behind me, chilling me between the shoulder blades. My hands were well protected by the fairing and mirrors but eventually, even they started to cool off. I have a Calvinist attitude towards heated gear. It still feels like cheating to escape suffering so easily, simply by plugging something in or switching it on. Nevertheless, choking back my masochistic tendencies, I pulled over, grabbed my heated gloves from the top box and plugged them in. The wires, which dangle over my knees are a bit of a nuisance, but that was easy to overlook as the gentle heat started to bring some life back into my chilled fingers. I must be getting soft.

    With roughly four hundred miles of riding ahead of me, despite the initial chill, I was confident that the gradually warming sun would soon have me stopping again to shed layers. Being slightly chilled is fine, as long as you know things will perk up later – as indeed they did. By the time I’d run through the first tank of fuel at Eganville, I abandoned the heated gloves, stripped the padded liners out of my riding pants, shed a sweater from beneath my leather jacket and rolled on up past Lake Dore, north on the ‘B’ Line Road until I joined the Trans-Canada Highway just west of Pembroke. I realise these placenames won’t mean much to many of you, but there are map geeks out there who like to follow every little twist and turn. You’re welcome.

    How many times have I ridden or driven along the Trans-Canada Highway between Pembroke and Sault Ste. Marie? It must be dozens, but it hasn’t completely lost its appeal. I still get pleasure from viewing the rolling, forested hills, and the glimpses of the broad Ottawa River every time the road descends from the uplands. Although its the main road across Canada, it is perfectly normal to be able to ride comfortably along, within spitting distance of the speed limit for hours without having to touch the brakes. I had set my cruise control ‘at exactly the speed limit officer’, the big V4 humming along quietly. Freed from the need to hold the throttle I could move my hands around to different positions on the handlebars (and sometimes not hold on at all), while I alternated my feet between the pegs, the forward crash bars and the passenger boards. With such a big, stable bike beneath me, I could clamber around like a monkey, stretching any parts that were thinking of getting stiff. This is exactly the kind of effortless mile-guzzling riding these big, full-boat tourers were designed for and I was loving it.

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    #2
  3. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Location:
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    Chalk River, Deep River, Mattawa – where I stopped for a quick coffee – North Bay, Sturgeon Falls and Sudbury all disappeared in my rear view mirrors, barely slowing progress at all. My destination was a few miles past Espanola where my friend’s recently acquired motorbike and sidecar awaited my inspection. I was hoping to dump three litres of old oil at his house and replace it with the new, fresh oil I had tucked away in my panniers. I hadn’t had time to do the oil change before I left and it was a few miles overdue.

    My friend – I’ll call him Jacob, since that’s the first name that sprung to mind – is one of those guys who you occasionally cross paths with in an internet forum and just know you are going to like. Jacob and I had exchanged many emails before I met him and he turned out to be exactly as I had anticipated: quiet, competent, generous and knowledgeable about many of the things that interest me – so, nothing like me at all. Even so, our friendship has stuck, and it is a rare event for me to be in the vicinity of his house and not stop by.

    After a little relaxation and a truly scrumptious meal prepared by his equally welcoming and delightful wife who, for no discernable reason I’ll call Amelia, we ambled outside to one of his sheds to look at his newly acquired Russian prize. The 1989 2WD Dnepr 650 sidecar rig took up almost every inch of the diminutive shed, and sat there looking purposeful and elegant in its livery of black and aluminum. With scabby paint on the engine castings and rust speckles on the exposed frame parts, it wasn’t going to win any prizes for aesthetics, but after cleaning some congealed gunk from its carburetors, Jacob had worked his magic and had it running cleanly. Over the winter, he anticipates evicting the gutless and failure prone Dnepr engine for a freshly rebuilt (and hopefully much more trustworthy) BMW 750/5 motor. Knowing Jacob’s excellent mechanical skills, I expect to see it running in the spring.

    Changing the oil on the Suzuki Cavalcade was a five minute operation. Jacob slid under the engine with a big socket wrench and asked,

    “Do you have a new filter?” then gently chided me for not replacing it this time or the time before, and extracted a promise from me that I’d be sure to do it next time. I will Jacob – honest! You might be thinking, ‘what a jerk to leave Jacob to deal with all that old oil’ and you’d be right, it was a bit of a dirty trick. In my defence, with multiple bikes of his own and access to proper disposal facilities at work, I knew I would only be adding to his own stash which would eventually get recycled.

    Jacob had work in the morning, and not being one to linger, I was soon heading west again along the Trans-Canada Highway. Once again, it was a chilly start. Once again there was low-lying fog in the hollows, but it soon dissipated and by the time I reached the turn off to Elliot Lake it had warmed up enough for me to shed some cold weather clothing.

    It would take a skilled poet to adequately describe the astonishing colours of the northern maple forests in full fall display. As I rode north towards Elliot Lake the ribbon of immaculately paved highway was lined with trees displaying every shade of yellow, red and brown you can possible imagine, the early morning sun illuminating whole hillsides vibrant with vivid autumn hues. The trees had been becoming steadily more impressive as I rode north and west but reached their zenith on this road in the oblique early morning sun. I’d muttered some nonsense into my microphone about God being an impressionist painter, daubing the hillsides with splashes from a comprehensive palette, but while it had seemed profound at the time, when I listened to it afterwards it sounded like gibberish. All I can suggest is that at some point in your lives, make a pilgrimage to see autumn in the Great North Woods. You won’t regret it.

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    #3
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  4. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,198
    Location:
    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    I’ve briefly described Elliot Lake in another collection of road tales (Road to Missanabie) as a thriving retirement community which had emerged, phoenix-like from a slowly dying former uranium mining town. Nothing I saw this time convinced me that anything had changed. The lakeside park was still immaculately groomed with healthy-looking people jogging, cycling or strolling along its paths. The grass along the side roads was scrupulously cropped, the parking lots at the grocery and hardware stores were huge, clean and largely empty. Most of the vehicles I saw were relatively new and spotless. The place looked wholesome and prosperous.

    If you looked closely, you might notice a disproportionately large amount of grey hair distributed around the healthy looking folks, and rather fewer young and middle aged people than one might expect. Come to think of it, the whole place is a little too clean. A little too well managed. It started to remind me of one of those mysterious, idyllic worlds on “Star Trek” where everything is perfect - until the crew discover some grim and disturbing secret that keeps the population balance in check.

    The number of minutes I’ve actually spent in Elliot Lake in the last twenty years can easily be counted on my fingers. I’ve bought gas, but otherwise have always just been passing through. But, when you’ve been sitting on a bike seat for a while, giving that enormous, convoluted human brain little to do beyond keeping the bike out of the weeds, its bound to go off having little adventures on its own. As I left town I checked my mirrors, but since I couldn’t see any grey haired hoards of zombies racing up the road behind me, I assumed my imagination was getting the better of me and kept riding north.

    Highway 108/639 runs almost straight north from Elliot Lake, through Mississagi Provincial Park to its junction with the Little White River Road. A municipal dump truck was lumbering up the road ahead of me, belching black smoke as it ground up the hills. There were plenty of opportunities for me to overtake, but as I was in no hurry I hung well back and idled along, enjoying the stunning colours lining the road. Eventually the truck turned off towards the Quirke Lake Mine, the road narrowed, lost its white lines and started to feel a little more remote. Whenever I stopped to take photographs I was greeted with that awesome silence that surrounds you when you have made it beyond the constant background hum of the busy world of human activity. But in truth there wasn’t silence. There was a faint rustling in the tree tops, the tinkle of water making its way down some tiny stream, the peeping of small birds, the churring of angry squirrels and the snapping of twigs as some large animal made its stealthy way towards the unsuspecting rider. I’m just kidding about the last bit. I heard no such noises, but there’s some part of our primeval monkey brain that’s always got one ear cocked for sounds that might announce the imminent arrival of a predator.

    No such predator emerged from the dark forest. You could spend a lifetime standing in the same spot with far less chance of being attacked by a predator than if you were standing in the entrance to Wall-Mart. Probably less. So I packed my cameras away and rolled on.

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    Highway 639 was completed in 1963 with almost no regard to the upland topography through which it passes. Instead of avoiding hills with a more circuitous route, it cuts straight through, exposing the gnarly granite bedrock in almost constant vertically faced rock cuts. Where it crosses dips and valleys, the road has been built on a crest of fill lying well above the surrounding terrain. This makes it sound uninteresting, and indeed, for those looking to wear the chicken-strips off their tires they’re out of luck, but it’s oddly pleasant to see the bones of the country exposed so clearly.

    Eventually the main highway ends at a T-junction. To the east, a minor road leads to Mount Lake, McErea Lake and the interior country beyond, but ultimately dead-ends in the forest. To the west lies the delightful Little White River Road, leading back down to the Trans-Canada Highway at Iron Bridge. I turned left.

    Just past the intersection the signs promised a bumpy and twisty road for 53 of the 64 kilometres to Iron Bridge. Cool! I was looking forward to seeing how the mighty Cavalcade would fare. I had ridden this road in the other direction a few years before on my old Guzzi and was curious to see how that experience would match riding my ‘modern’ bike.

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    Within less than a mile of turning the corner, you cross a bridge and from that point on, for the next twenty miles or more, the road sticks close to the river. The river winds a convoluted path through its broad valley, with plenty of bends, ox-bows and dead channels, while the road takes a more direct path, never diverging far from the Little White. It’s hard to imagine more pleasant and relaxing riding. With no traffic to worry about and delightful views of the river constantly present, it’s captivating to roll along slowly, sucking in the clean air, stopping occasionally to listen to the sound of the water rippling over the rivers stony bed, to dream of snagging brook trout from its pools. Not that I ever bother with fishing, but it’s nice to imagine.

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    The road lives up the warning signs: it’s surface is poorly laid and full of frost heaves, with patches of loose gravel in the almost constant corners. The Cavalcade handled it all with smooth equanimity. Occasionally a particularly rough section would rattle the plastic dash, but the suspension did a fine job of smoothing out the bumps, and the surprisingly adept chassis handled the corners without drama. The Cavalcade may not have the deeply cool factor of my 72 Guzzi, but it rolled along in a surprisingly enjoyable way.

    I suppose there will be those who think that a twisty paved road like this has to be ridden at 98%, like the sport-bike riding boneheads who tear up Mulholland Highway, but if so, I hope I’m not around at the time. I would have a hard time being a good Samaritan to some idiot who’d wrapped his bike around a tree or spun off into the river through his or her own stupidity and thoughtlessness.

    Eventually I left the river behind, spun through the back end of Iron Bridge and rejoined the Trans-Canada highway heading east towards Sault Ste. Marie. It was still early in the day and although I had a vague idea of my itinerary, it was subject to change on a whim.
    #4
  5. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Location:
    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    I’d had enough of the Trans-Canada by the time I reached Bruce Mines, and although it made little sense for making time and distance, I once again abandoned the highway for an old favourite of mine which headed north towards Rydal Bank – a place I’d lived in the distant past.

    It's always intriguing to revisit old haunts, only to find that the places you thought you knew so well have morphed in your memory during the intervening years. The whole area was hillier than I remembered. Houses and farms weren’t where I expected them to be. The landscape was better managed and less scruffy than I recalled. These were just changes in what I remembered, but real changes had also happened. Buildings I expected to be there were gone. The alignment of some of the hamlet’s roads had changed. The two shoddy shacks Christine and I had inhabited had been demolished.

    I thought briefly about dropping in unexpectedly on our one remaining friend in the area, but decided against it, opting to take the ‘short’ way to the Soo[1] up the Plummer Road, part of an old colonization road built in the 1860s to attract settlers to the area and facilitate travel in the region. After Rydal Bank the asphalt surface fizzled out and I was soon piloting the heavy Cavalcade along a hard-packed gravel surface. I was please to find that the bike wasn’t the handful I’d expected, and even when I had to pass through some road works where the crew had repaired their excavation with a section of soft sand, the bike remained stable and controllable.

    The gravel eventually ended and I turned on to the narrow, paved Centreline Road heading briefly north towards Gordon Lake. This lovely lake is surrounded by high quartzite ridges, the bare rock gleaming in the midday sun. The surrounding forest was a riot of red, brown and yellow as the maple trees displayed their full glory. Despite it’s beauty though, I had another reason for being there. Long before Chris and I were married we’d sat together on a low rock at the water’s edge, looking out over the reedy water. It had been a romantic moment in a romantic setting and I was happy to park the bike for a few moments and think about how, miraculously, some forty-two years later, nothing has changed in our feelings for each other.

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    A little further on the rocky hills surround the broad Sylvan Valley, dotted with small farms amid well-cared-for fields. Ever since I’d first seen them there decades before, I always looked for Sandhill Cranes picking frogs and seeds from between the freshly harvested crops. I was not disappointed. There was a whole flock of the tall, stately birds in the first field, but sadly, as soon as I slowed the bike at the field entrance they all took flight in a flurry of gigantic wings. I had better luck in the second field, and was able to spend a few joyful moments watching as they stalked around. The adults are grey, with brownish flight feathers and a red forehead whereas the juvenile birds have uniformly buff-coloured feathers. It was interesting to see that like teenagers everywhere, the young birds tend to hang around in groups looking gormless, while their parents get on with the serious business of filling their crops before the next stage of their southward migration.

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    [1] Sault Ste Marie. (Sault – rapids in French – is pronounced ‘Soo’)
    #5
  6. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

    Joined:
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    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    I had been really looking forward to riding up the coast of Lake Superior from the Soo to Wawa. It’s a trip I’ve done many times before and it usually excites and thrills me to see the massive lake spreading off to the horizon with the high, forested bluffs stretching off towards the east and north, but first I had to fill my fuel tank and replenish my empty stomach.

    Back in the late nineteen seventies when I lived in Sault Ste Marie, the ‘Trading Post’ just past 4th Line as you were leaving the Soo, was a gas station and general Canadiana knick-knack store where you could buy a chocolate bar, a pair of moccasins, a velvet picture of dogs playing pool, a faux Indian beaded belt, beef jerky, an orange hunting cap, a few fishing lures, regional maps and a wide variety of other useful and/or trashy items. I remember the place well. During my first Canadian winter, I learned that there is nothing, simply nothing you can do to control a four-wheel skid on freezing rain as I drifted past the Trading Post, totally out of control. After I’d finally managed to stop the car, I ended up sitting outside under their porch while I waited for the grit trucks to go by and my nerves to settle.

    Times have changed. The old Trading Post building is still there (or at least, I assume it’s the same one), only now it’s ‘Hunter’s Headquarters’ selling guns, licences, ammo and accessories, as well as a handy sideline in fireworks and propane – an incendiary mix if ever there was one. And the place has massively expanded.

    Nowadays the knick-knacks are available in the separate acid-green ‘Totem Pole” (gifts and souvenirs) building, and behind them is a row of absurdly inappropriate, gaily painted faux ‘western’ false-fronted buildings selling burgers, fish, pizza, chips and beer. They were the last place heading out of town so, you guessed it, I swallowed the lump of bile in my throat, ordered some chips and sat on a bench outside ‘Frenchies Fish House’ while insipid country music blared from a host of loud speakers. The chips were good though.

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    Lake Superior is mind-bogglingly huge. You can only ever see tiny portions of it at any one time and I’m always searching for ways to describe its extent. Here is my latest. If you could somehow extricate the whole of Ireland (surface area 32,599 sq miles) from the European continental shelf and plonk it down into Lake Superior (surface area 31,700 sq miles ), it would only be fractionally too large. Of course, if you were able to do that, the 2,900 cubic miles of water you spilled would cover the whole of North and South America in a foot of water - or so I’m reliably informed by Wikipedia. Hmm. Some days I’m not sure that wouldn’t be a good thing.

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    The weather was gorgeous, the bike was running beautifully, the scenery was as dramatic and scenic as ever and the traffic was light, but for some obscure reason, I just wasn’t feeling it this time. There was nothing external I could put my finger on. Internally I was feeling buoyant and cheerful, so I couldn’t even blame my mood. Perhaps I’d ridden that stretch of road one too many times, and it shouldn’t be taken as a negative attitude towards a ride which, by any standard is inspiring and agreeable.

    The Cavalcade romped on, cruise control engaged most of the time, flattening even the highest hills without any noticeable change in engine pitch or effort. As I rode towards Montreal River I passed the place where, decades before, as a newly minted Canadian immigrant I’d almost crashed my Austin Mini. I know. An Austin Mini was a ridiculous choice of car for Canada, but I’d only been through one winter and hadn’t yet fully internalized the requirements for comfortable and safe winter travel. I was still stuck in the British mentality which favoured running costs above all.

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    #6
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  7. viajero

    viajero Too old to be a nOOb

    Joined:
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    10,385
    Location:
    Idaho
    Enjoyable RR. Thanks for sharing.
    #7
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  8. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2010
    Oddometer:
    2,198
    Location:
    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    Stay tuned, more to come.
    #8
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  9. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2010
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    I was on my way back to the Soo from a mid-winter archaeological conference in Thunder Bay with my two large dogs sandwiched into the rear seat. The roads had been bare and dry when I started out, but as I passed through Wawa heading south, a storm had built over Lake Superior and it was snowing steadily and accumulating fast on the road. I gingerly made it down the Montreal River Hill – a two mile long descent from the upland plateau to the Lake Superior shore – by keeping my wheels on the flattened, hard-packed snow where heavy transport trucks had passed. But if I got out of the ruts, the tiny, ten inch Mini wheels were difficult to control in the loose deep snow.

    Having made it down the hill and across the river, I thought I was in the clear, but as I increased speed the wheels lost traction and in an instant I was in a spin. Even now, years later, I can remember the sensation well. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The car spun through a complete revolution, then started on a second. In those first moments I was confused and disoriented, but as the car entered its second three-sixty, I was able to get the wheels heading in the right direction and as it straightened up again, gave a touch of throttle and astonishingly, was able to keep driving straight.

    It's a good job there was no other traffic as I’d drifted right across the highway and was fully in the north-bound lane. Had a truck been coming the other way, the car would have been squished like a bug. The dogs barely even lifted their heads from their slumber.

    Nothing that exciting or dangerous occurred to affect my progress north this time and it wasn’t long before I was parking the bike at the Wawa ‘Tim’s’ and heading in for a coffee and a sandwich. Because of restrictions in place to limit the spread of Covid-19, facemasks and social distancing were mandatory and many of the inside tables were roped off, but I was able to enjoy a few minutes off the bike, replenishing myself.

    Time was marching on. I’d already ridden a good few miles but it was still too early to stop for the day. I decided that I would head for Chapleau (pop. 2000), a small railway town about eighty seven miles to the east. I was unclear about my plans after that but assumed they’d resolve themselves after a decent supper and a beer or two.

    Highway 101 between Wawa and Chapleau starts off scenically enough, with glimpses of Wawa Lake between the trees, high wooded hills and towering rock bluffs. After a few miles though, the land flattens out and much of the ride is along a fairly straight, well surfaced road lined by endless forest. Some might find this tedious, as it’s undemanding, steady riding with no challenging corners or imposing views to engage the attention. I don’t mind though – this vast country is what it is – and it’s a mistake to expect it to be something it isn’t. The very scale of the land is what I find engaging. In eighty seven miles, you pass through zero communities, one or two huntin’/fishin’ lodges barely visible from the road, and ‘Shoals Provincial Park’, now a non-operational park – victim of an ill-considered government cost-cutting blitz. And that’s about it - no traffic lights, no traffic, no pubs, cafés or shops. Just a big, empty road through the forest. I love it.

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    Unfortunately I’d seriously misjudged my timing. I rolled into Chapleau, crossed the weirdly serpentine overpass which carries traffic over the railway bisecting the town, and headed for the LCBO[1]. Finding it was easy enough, I’d been there before, but to my surprise and disappointment it was closed. In horror I looked at my phone only to find that it was 6.15PM – I was just fifteen miserable minutes too late. Back on the bike, I scuttled a few streets over, desperately hoping that the ‘Beer Store’ didn’t operate the same hours. Darn it, it too was closed. My last alternative was to find a licenced restaurant where I could fulfil my desire for both food and drink, but all the restaurants were shut up tight too – victims of anti-Covid restrictions. There was nothing else for it – it was going to be a dry, healthy night of gas station pizza and pop in the motel.

    That evening, through the wonders of the internet, I chatted to my wife and to my Dnepr owning friend Jacob. Christine informed me that all our vehicle licence stickers were out of date. They had become due for replacement on my birthday, but somehow it had skipped my mind so here we were, almost two months later, driving vehicles that could be pulled over by the police at any moment. She could do nothing about it since all the vehicles were registered in my name. We could either chance it for a few more days, or I could rush home.

    I didn’t mention the licence debacle to Jacob, but I did say I was thinking about cutting my trip short to make the twelve hour, 600+ mile ride home the following day. Wisely Jacob reminded me that I’d also curtailed my previous ride because of the bald tire, and I would kick myself afterwards if I did the same this time. He was right. The licence renewals could wait[2]. I would proceed..


    [1] Liquor Control Board of Ontario (agency booze shop)

    [2] I subsequently found out that because of Covid-19, renewals had been postponed and there was no great rush.
    #9
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  10. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Location:
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    During the previous winter I’d been stumbling around the internet, dreaming of future adventures, when I came across a peculiar landform. I’d actually been researching the Otish Mountains in far northeastern Quebec, wondering if the newly constructed mine road extending inland from Lake Mistassini would be rideable on my old Guzzi when I spotted a reference to Mont Chaudron – an unusually shaped small mountain near the Ontario / Quebec border. It was a peculiar thing. In a heavily glaciated landscape of rounded knobs and low, forested hills, it stuck out like a miniature Devil’s Tower. I filed the information away in a remote corner of my amygdala then promptly forgot all about it.

    Why that portion of my brain was triggered while riding through the endless forests east of Wawa is anyone’s guess. Perhaps, without the riding placing much demand on my concentration, some little neuron was rooting around on its own and threw it up at random. That evening, after chatting with Christine and Jacob, I checked Google Maps, found the mysterious mountain and formed a plan. I would ride the two hundred and fifty miles to the Quebec border in the morning, climb or scramble up Mont Chaudron if I had the stamina and skill, then, assuming I didn’t break my neck or explode my heart, ride in the general direction of home until I was too tired to go any further.

    Like an idiot, when I’d been buying my pizza at the gas station the previous evening, I’d not bothered to fill the bike. The young woman at the counter assured me they would open at 6AM, but when I arrived at about 6.02, I was promptly told they didn’t start the fuel pumps till seven. I can’t be counted on always to make the wisest decisions. Even though it was still completely dark, only just above freezing and foggy, and a sensible person would have parked the bike and gone in to kill time over a cooked breakfast, I was soon heading east towards Foleyet, just over sixty miles away, where I knew there was another gas station.

    I like riding in the dark, the Suzuki has terrific headlights, and with no insect pests floating about, I was able to lift my visor and ride through the night air without eye protection. Gradually the patchy fog started to rise as light appeared in the eastern sky, at first as a grey band over the horizon, turning to hazy pink as the sun started to claw its way into the sky. That’s complete rubbish, of course. I know the earth rotates around the sun but it’s not hard to see why people believed it was the other way around when you watch the dawn unfold.

    DSCN8008.JPG

    I had been keeping a wary eye out for moose and other large fleshy things looming out of the forest but it was almost light before I saw the first signs of life. A young wolf trotted unhurriedly across the road a hundred yards ahead of me and disappeared into the forest. A few minutes later, I caught a glimpse the rear end of a much larger wolf as he left the road, his unmistakable curved tail stretching out behind his lanky rear end. It’s not unusual to see moose, bears, porcupines, skunks and squirrels on or near the roads, especially at dawn and dusk, but wolves are a much rarer sight so I was feeling doubly blessed.

    The general store in Foleyet (pop 200) was open and had fuel. As I filled up I noticed their delightful sign which proclaimed “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it” and as I went inside to pay, I was able to confirm that it was probably true. For a small store in a remote hamlet, it was well stocked with hardware, food, fishing and hunting supplies and important stuff like toilet paper and dish detergent. If this shop was your only option for miles, you could get by.

    IMG_20200923_073005.jpg

    By the time I reached the City of Timmins (pop 42,000) I was in serious need of some breakfast so I pulled into the first Tim Hortons I saw, only to discover it was strictly a drive through. As I moved through the town I was sorely tempted by proper restaurants which offered proper breakfast fare, but being a creature of habit (my wife calls it OCD) and cheap, I pulled into another Tim’s in South Porcupine – the original gold mining core settlement around which the city developed.

    The Tim’s was doing a bustling drive-through trade while only a handful of people had opted to seat themselves in the interior. As I sipped my coffee and chewed into my ‘sausage-breakfast-sandwich-on-a-homestyle-biscuit’, even opting for the optional plasticky hash-brown because I was starving, I noticed the fellow over by the window watching me...........
    #10
  11. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Us humans are hard-wired to notice even the slightest subtleties of expression or manner, so it didn’t take too many sips of my coffee before I was confident that this well-dressed, slightly overweight, middle-aged man was desperately eager to talk to me and was struggling to find an entrance-way into conversation. If I’m riding my old Guzzi Eldorado I expect conversation. Even non-motorcycle people recognize it as an older bike, and since it’s usually covered in strapped on bags and extra fuel containers, it provides an easy dialogue gateway for the curious. The Cavalcade, however, is virtually invisible. Unless you are a motorcycle geek it just looks like any other fully dressed tourer and there are no external clues as to whether I’ve just ridden from around the block or across the country.

    After numerous glances my way and after steeling himself by getting another ‘triple-triple’[1] and a sugar encrusted donut he finally plucked up the nerve. In a voice far too loud for the situation he blurted, “MY DOG LIKES TO EAT GARBAGE”.

    It wasn’t quite the opening line I was expecting, but we soon had a fine conversation going about his dogs weekly adventures, which involved ripping into and redistributing the neighbours trash which had been put out on the side of the road to be collected by the municipal truck.

    By now my coffee and sandwich were gone, so before I learned any more about his or his dogs habits, I said goodbye, wished him a good day and headed back to the bike. As I got myself organized I saw him watching me. I like to think he was wistfully dreaming of riding off on a big motorcycle himself, but I suspect he was still thinking about his dog.


    [1] Coffee with three cream, three sugar.
    #11
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  12. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    I still had over a hundred miles to ride before I could exercise my hiking boots. With yet more fuel in the tank, a more comfortable feel in my own tank and a decent road ahead, I picked up speed a little and was soon devouring the miles, passing through Matheson and Virginiatown before arriving at my destination just after lunch time. I didn’t stopped in Matheson this time although I usually stop for a brief break at the Ontario Government historical plaque, more out of a ghoulish curiosity than from any need to refresh myself of its contents. In a nutshell, while clearing land in the summer of 1916 by ‘slash and burn’, a number of smaller fires coalesced into one massive conflagration which roared through the area killing two hundred and twenty-three people. There was no warning and no means of escape, except for the few who managed to board the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway train or by sheltering in the waters of nearby rivers and lakes. It still remains the largest loss of life through forest fire in recorded Canadian history[1].

    I had looked at the parking arrangements for Mont Chaudron on Google Streetview so I didn’t have to hunt around for the start of the trail. Just a rough gravel pull-in provided room for vehicles while a narrow bush road led south through the bush toward the mountain. There was only a single car in the parking area when I arrived – a good sign as far as I was concerned. I parked the bike, stripped off my riding gear, locked it in the panniers and headed down the trail.

    Almost immediately I was too hot. Air that feels cool when you’re rushing through it at sixty miles an hour is quite a different kettle of fish when you’re walking through it up a rough gravel track. I stripped off my thin quilted jacked and tied it around my waist. A few hundred yards further on I pulled my sweater over my head and carried it. Sweat was beginning to bead on my forehead and I wasn’t even half-way to the base of the climb.

    Oddly, it’s impossible to gain a decent view of Mont Chaudron from the first part of the trail. You have the feeling that there might be something bulky and looming behind the thick screen of trees but other than the occasional glimpse of bare vertical rock, there is no way to see its whole extent.

    DSCN8011.JPG

    After about a mile, a sign indicated the real start of the hiking trail. I shed yet another layer, hung my clothes in a bush behind the sign, cursed myself for not changing my now sticky and sweaty jeans for shorts and ploughed on. A rough path led abruptly through thick forest gaining altitude quickly, the footing rapidly turning from a typical forest path of soil and roots, to jumbled rock talus. Close to the edge of the trees, an Australian Shepherd – the dog, not the guy – lurched around a rock towards me, straining on the end of his leash.

    “Don’t worry, he’s friendly” said the young lady at the other end of his rope, as he gave my hand a perfunctory lick.

    “So am I”, I said, “Did you go all the way up?”

    “No, I had to turn back – it was too steep for me”.

    We exchanged a few more pleasantries before we went our separate ways. I’d been happy for a few seconds break from the climb, and as I continued upwards, I wondered what I was about to face.

    By the time I was through the talus field and reached the base of the cliff my heart and lungs were operating at maximum speed and I no longer had any doubt why the young lady had turned back. Ahead was a pitch of almost vertical rock which no dog would be able to climb. Someone had provided a knotted rope, but even with the rope it was a daunting ascent.

    IMG_20200923_131429.jpg


    [1] I phrase it this way because we have no way of knowing whether even worse events occurred in the pre-European past.
    #12
  13. jonnyd

    jonnyd n00b

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2006
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Halifax, Nova Scotia
    Where do you get gas between Wawa and the Soo now?
    Great report, have ridden that road many times, thanks.
    #13
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  14. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Inverary, Ontario, Canada
    Before I go any further – and frankly, I’m happy to take a break, from the exertion of climbing, even in retrospect - I suppose I’d better tell you a little more about this exceptional place. Mont Chaudron is an inselberg [1], an isolated ‘mountain island’ surrounded by much lower topography. The harder rock of the ‘island’ proved more resistant to glaciation, so while the ice sheets of the last ice age carved away much of the surrounding plain, the 527 metre (1729 feet) high Mont Chaudron was left as a protuberant hill rising abruptly more than 250 metres from the adjacent country. It’s base emerges out of the surrounding forest in a steeply sloping tangle of blocky rock-scree containing everything from fist-sized gravel to boulders the size of a small car. Above the talus slope, vertical cliffs surround the oval mountain which is topped by a more-or-less level crown of forest.

    On the world stage, Mont Chaudron doesn’t rate as much above a pimple. It’s no Matterhorn, Pikes Peak or even Snowdon - even many of the lesser peaks along the Pennines are higher - but in the generally level landscape where it resides it is both unusual and outstanding. Such distinctiveness undoubtedly intrigued people for generations. Local indigenous people appear to have revered it, perhaps as a sacred landscape place where vision quests or secret spiritual ceremonies took place.

    The French word chaudron means cauldron, which, I assume, refers to its resemblance to an upside-down cooking pot. Although the mountain is just on the Quebec side of the provincial border, in Ontario it’s often referred to as Mount Cheminis – a name which may be derived from ‘Shaman’ or a place of healers or healing. Whatever the etymology of its names, I have little doubt it was well known and visited by First Nations people and can readily imagine it being regarded as the place for experiencing life-guiding visions or for making personal contact with the gods.

    With some of my stamina and breath regained, I started the clamber up the steep rock face. The rope wasn’t really necessary as there were plenty of well-worn hand and foot holds. In surprisingly little time I was making my way along the narrow path towards the lookout at the northern edge of the mountain, where a bare terrace of rock ended abruptly in vertical cliffs considerably higher than the ones up which I’d just climbed.

    To say the view was outstanding barely does it justice. Far below, a carpet of many-hued forest, spotted with small lakes and dappled with cloud-shadows stretched out to the horizon. This was a perfect place for a good, long contemplative sit, but being a sweat-drenched restless person, I soon found the trail that rings the mountain top and carried on.

    DSCN8017.JPG DSCN8021.JPG
    There is one piece of intelligence about the area which I hadn’t known at the time, and had I done so, my feelings about the top of Mont Chaudron might have been very different. Rather than paraphrasing it, I’ll render the information exactly as it appears in Wikipedia:

    “"the body of a man, minus a head, two hands and a right foot was found on the top of Mount Cheminis. Nearby was a shotgun and an empty cartridge in the chamber. The clothes were 'city clothes,' not bush clothing. There was absolutely no identification and nobody has been reported missing in the area since July, 1954. " and,

    Quote from Le Progrès in July 1955 : “The body was found by three young people who were demarcating lots for the government. A rifle in which there was a perforated bullet and a bottle of alcohol were found on a newspaper dated July 5, 1954, some 30 feet from the corpse, who was wearing a gray town dress. "


    It’s hard to know what to make of this. Was this poor man murdered and his head, hands and foot removed to prevent identification? If so, what was special about his foot, and why would his murderers make the tricky climb to kill him? By leaving him in such a prominent position, were they making a statement? If so, to whom?

    If this was a suicide, as the booze bottle, newspaper and gun might suggest, what happened to his head and extremities? One might think they could have been carried off by animals, but it seems unlikely that any large carnivore would climb the vertical cliffs to make off with or consume the body parts. Perhaps the corpse was so deteriorated that the police simply didn’t notice the small bones of the hands and foot. Could the skull have been shattered by a self-inflicted shotgun blast and the pieces scattered into the vegetation, unnoticed and unrecognized? Did someone take bits as souvenirs? The questions are endless. I suppose by now any physical evidence collected at the scene will have long since disappeared. It’s a cold case that may never be solved.

    IMG_20200923_125018.jpg

    The rough, poorly defined path rings the mountain top, bringing you back to the cliff and rope. As far as I was able to tell, this is the only way up and down unless you are a skilled rock climber with the appropriate amount of safety equipment. Looking down the pitch was daunting. The hand and foot holds have become well smoothed by other hikers over the years, and while going up was relatively painless, turning around to face the rock, searching for a foothold, my body hanging over empty space with nothing but angular granite blocks to break any fall was intimidating. The stupid twenty-something who still inhabits my head said,

    ‘Forget about the rope, that’s for pussies, just climb down the rock. You can do it.’

    Fortunately, a second, wiser and more experienced voice quickly chimed in saying,

    ‘Use the darn rope, idiot. You’re not the spring-chicken you used to be.’

    I used the rope. Even so, it wasn’t easy and I was relieved to be standing at the base of the cliff a few minutes later. Sadly, the previous year a seventeen year old had lost his footing while climbing Mont Chaudron and fallen twenty metres to his death. I don’t know whether this occurred in the same spot, but it seems perfectly plausible.


    [1] Or so Wikipedia reliably informs me
    #14
  15. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    Thanks viajero - more to come.

    I always fill up at either end. I didn't notice what was available in between. It's only 227 kms, so most decent bikes can easily manage it.
    #15
  16. B10Dave

    B10Dave Long timer

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    Kingsmill Corner Ont.
    Great writing and pics Nick. Thanks...:lurk:drink
    #16
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  17. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    The hike back to my bike was hot and sweaty as I had to now carry the clothes I’d hidden behind the sign. I had the remains of a bottle of water and two slices of left-over pizza in the top box, so I consumed those while I cooled down a little. The idea of putting my riding gear back on over my sweat soaked-clothes wasn’t appealing but I had little choice.

    Heading west again towards Larder Lake I noticed that whenever I slowed down I could hear a faint grinding or scraping which seemed to emanate from the rear wheel. So far the Suzuki had been relentlessly reliable, starting instantly whether hot or cold and running hiccup-free all day, so to hear unusual noises coming from the rear end was disconcerting to say the least. I’m used to such periodic interruptions of usual service with my old Guzzis. I accept them with forbearance and equanimity as part of the game and am almost disappointed when something doesn’t go a little awry. But my super-deluxe modern Suzuki Cavalcade? Surely not!.

    Wheel bearing? Drive shaft splines? Universal joint? Inevitably one’s mind goes straight to the worst case scenarios. If my U-joint is toast, how am I going to deal with that? Ride the four hundred and fifty miles home and chance it flying apart, wrecking the whole rear end? Call Norm with his trailer? Call CAA?

    I rode carefully, not accelerating too hard, trying to pin-point the noise. Was it there only under power? Was it still there with the clutch pulled in? Only at slow speed or all the time?

    I was soon in Larder Lake. I pulled over into the parking lane at the side of the road, switched off, put the bike on its centre stand and slid underneath. I spun the rear wheel. Nothing. It sounded completely normal. I grabbed the tire and tried to rock it from side to side, assuming that might tell me if the bearings were shot. Nothing. I carried on, completely mystified, as the rear end continued to chirp cheerfully at me whenever I slowed enough to be able to hear.

    A few miles later, in Kirkland Lake, I pulled into yet another Tim’s for a break. After grabbing my coffee, I wandered back outside and pondered the bike. Could I trust it? Was it going to let me down?

    With the bike on the centre stand again, I started it up, put it in gear and gently released the clutch. If I do this on my Guzzis there’s usually an almighty clattering as slack in the driveline allows the moving parts to rattle. The Suzuki’s rear wheel spun quietly. I increased the revs and the wheel spun faster. No nasty noises. What is this?

    By this point I’d convinced myself that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the bike and, scraping noises notwithstanding, it was safe to carry on. A few miles later I again slowed, listening for the untoward noises. To my astonishment, all was serene and normal.
    #17
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  18. nick949eldo

    nick949eldo Long timer

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    I can only assume that while on the gravel parking area back at Mont Chaudron, I’d picked up some gravel dust in the rear disk which had become caught between the disk surface and the pads. Somewhere along the road to Kirkland Lake it must have cleared itself. The back brake was working as well as ever. There were no longer any nasty noises. It was time to boot it for home.

    Like any of the big, heavy touring bikes, the Suzuki Cavalcade is an easy bike to ride long and far, but after four hundred and fifty miles and a strenuous hike, by the time I got to Mattawa I was more than ready to stop moving.

    I suspect the motel I ended up in had once been more salubrious than it now was. I had a fine view of the Ottawa River, slightly tainted by an evening of overly loud music broadcast from a work truck parked next to the river. The shaky wooden staircase leading to my upper level room was clearly in need of replacement and the whole place had a ‘last gasp’ air to it, but the bed was fine and I slept like a log.

    IMG_20200923_185418.jpg

    I made another early morning start, reaching home at lunchtime after a few hours and just over two hundred miles. As I’d been riding along I’d mentally compared the experience of riding the Cavalcade to my old Eldorado as I’d now ridden the same roads and the same distances on both bikes. Despite considerably more power (about twice the HP), more comfortable suspension (ie. it actually has some that functions), a broader and more comfortable seat, and best of all, cruise control, I was riding no further, and was no less tired at the end of the day on the Suzuki as I would have been on the Eldorado. Despite its almost 50 year old design and the overall sloppiness that comes from time and use, there is something about the way that bike rolls that keeps me happily in the saddle.

    But I was just as glad I’d ridden the Suzuki. For this trip at this time, it turned out to be the ideal bike. Being able to lock my riding gear safely away while I was otherwise engaged was a huge asset, and I found riding the huge beast to be enjoyable – and not at all the unengaging, appliance-like experience Japanese motorcycles are often accused of. My bottom line, as I’m gradually common to understand it, is that as long as the motorbike I’m riding isn’t uninteresting, the journey is more about the ride than the bike. I’ll have to wait and see whether this emerging perspective holds true during my next series of rides.

    IMG_20200922_114326.jpg

    Thanks for following along.

    Nick
    #18
  19. JohnRcbr

    JohnRcbr underpowered

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2014
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    56
    Location:
    Elliot Lake Ont
    If your riding through Elliot Lake again give me a heads up. I am usually up for a ride on the Deer Trail. I usually do it on my not quite stock CBR125 but sometimes I take the Breva750. Enjoy reading you posts.
    #19
  20. Muscongus

    Muscongus Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2014
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    Location:
    Warren, Maine
    Thanks for another great trip/tale Nick!
    #20