Never before has a group this large snowmobiled through this part of the country and what makes this ride special is friendships and raising funds year after year.
The GNR (Great Northern Ride) Charity stayed in their in home province of Ontario this year. This incredible fundraising group has raised over 1.5 million dollars for handicapped children over the past 14 years and they achieved this through their passion of snowmobiling. This year they traveled over 2,000 km in 5 days, they rode through OFSC Districts: 12 STP, 13 Algoma, 14 TATA and 15 Northern Corridor, covering a lot of trail all in the name of fundraising. The riders that make up this group mainly hail from Brantford, Ontario, but there are others that join in on this charity ride from all over. There are Rotarians and businessmen that include all walks of life that participate in a group of 70 riders strong but the one thing that clearly stands out is this group is a fun loving group of snowmobilers that really enjoy what they do. In the past, this group has ridden across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and all over Ontario and throughout Quebec. But this year's ride was different, it had bigger mileage than in previous years, so big a ride it scared some of the past riders away, but attracted a lot more enthusiastic newcomers.
The Journey Begins
In the last week of February the coldest week of the winter, the GNR started this awesome journey in a well-known hot spot called, the Sportsman's Lodge. This snowmobiler's haven is just outside of Sudbury, Ontario. It was a Sunday and everyone had trailered to this location. They came in at different times throughout the day; there were a lot of friendly greetings upon arrival. It was here that the GNR had their Kick-Off Meeting later that evening that outlined the week's event ahead. And it was the Sportsman's Lodge that also served as our staging area and was our return destination at the end of the loop.
Considering 70 riders hitting the trails at the same time, that would be chaotic, but this group has a different formula that works for large group such as this. They start off in smaller groups of 3 or 4, few travel in larger groups, but nothing larger than 10. After a hearty breakfast everyone started their trek north. The first day's ride was incredible with no serious problems.
The next day's ride to Cochrane was excellent, the group travelled on groomed double wide trails, they were long, straight and occasionally sneaked in and out of the hydro line corridors. After finishing the TOP C trail, we turned left and went west on the TOP A trail towards Hearst. As we cruised along the top of the Ontario trails, we came across the Moonbeam Snowmobile Club's club house right on the trail. There was a surprise here, our group was welcomed with applause as we entered the building. This is a great lunch spot and highly recommended. We ate so much it was hard to move afterwards, but there was more trail to cover this day.
This section of TOP A follows along Highway 11 and goes through several towns, with lots of services. As we approached the town of Hearst, there was a special welcome sign trailside, just for us.
A Cold Snap Sets In
With the biggest distance ahead of us on Day 3, we were also faced with extreme cold, -35°C. Even the sleds were hard to start, it was almost like the sleds were trying to tell us something. The TOP A trail continued west, until we found the D108A trail which bought us back south. Travelling this wilderness trail was like travelling through a Christmas tree farm with all the new green growth. The trails wove through the bush with a few big trees and great scenery, after all this trail goes through the Nagagamisis Provincial Park. We braved through the extreme cold and made into the town of Hornepayne, this is where we stopped for fuel, and this was also a timely warm-up spot.
Our next stop was the town of Dubreuilville, our lunch stop. Everyone was still talking about the cold over lunch, some more than others. We also filled up on fuel in this town and then continued south. The wind started blowing snow around in the afternoon and made trail sighting difficult at times, it's a good thing that signage was well marked in this area. Not far out of town, we noticed the trail was peppered with tracks, big tracks, lots of moose tracks. When we rode over this relatively large section, it caused the sled to vibrate, so much so, that one would think there was a serious mechanical problem. With our eyes peeled for wildlife...we saw nothing.
We travelled the groomed trail out to a lake crossing at Missanabie. The drifting snow made visibility and navigation difficult, but we found fuel and directions to get back on the trail. A group followed us into this fuel spot with excitement, wanting to know if we saw the moose on the trail. They too saw fresh tracks in the blown snow and thought we saw them for sure. Bottom line here is, nobody saw moose that day!
Later on, the trail turned into a groomed logging road, almost all the way to Chapleau. This was a good thing, with a group this size travelling over 500 km this day, things need to be smooth. And it was, the trails were groomed the entire way. The town of Chapleau is a large logging town and has a lot of services. With the trails going through the middle of town, you know that snowmobiling is a way of life here, as it is in many northern towns. Our group stayed at the Aux Trois Moulins and they had no trouble dealing with our large group and all our needs.
The Canadian Version of the Tail of the Dragon
Thursday's ride also proved to be cold, it was like the cold followed us everywhere we went, Chapleau, was the coldest place in Ontario during our stay. After a warm breakfast, our group got an early start and we headed south on the TOP Trail F. This trail follows alongside Highway 129, you seldom see this highway from the trail, but it's known as the "Canadian Version" of the "Tail of the Dragon". This road is well known for its several turns, tights and twisties for motorcyclists, but the F trail has way, way more.
This section was a highlight of this trip, spectacular scenery and the challenging trail seemed to never quit. There are sections here that are cut through the trees that form a square tunnel of heavy shade, unique for sure. Our mid-day timing was good as we pulled into Black Creek Outfitters in Aubrey Falls, Thursday's lunch stop was also the only fuel stop. Jean and her team had us warmed up with soup and chili, so that we were ready to go onto Elliot Lake, our day's destination.
Ontario's Algoma Region is Open
Our final ride day was also really cold, so cold that there were many machines having trouble starting, at -40°C. It is a great thing having knowledgeable dealers on this ride and they were busy all morning getting sleds started. The ride south on TOP F Trail was interesting and picturesque. But once we headed east, towards Sudbury the trail followed along Highway 17, it weaved back and forth through the different communities. Services were never an issue, as civilization was never too far away.
This section of trail also offered choices of Land Trail or Lake Trail, most of the way to Sudbury. The GNR final day was a short ride back to the Sportsman's Lodge, and the week ended with no casualties, there were some mechanical break downs, as to be expected, but everyone was thrilled with the ride. During the Wrap-Up meeting, Bob Cassie the GNR organizer said, "This year's trip was so great, we should do it again next year, only backwards!"
There has been several rumors floating around, that the region has trail closures and is not open for business. This information could not be further from the truth. The entire region offers the very best that snowmobiling has to offer anywhere. Having only met a couple of sleds along the trail this trip, it was clear; traffic is not a problem in this area. We were fortunate to have the pleasure of riding with great people and meeting new friends along the way on perfectly groomed trails the entire distance. Very few venture into this part of the country and this is why these parts are one of Ontario's best kept sledding secrets.
The next time you're planning a session, maybe your last ride of the year, look into the conditions in Northern Ontario. Take the Snow Challenge and do the Northern Loop. You won't be disappointed!