Taking the Leap

ATVing from a Beginner's Perspective



Editor’s Note: Luckily for us, Ontario is filled with incredible places to go ATVing. From the fabulous trails of Mattawa to the stunning natural landscapes of Muskoka and Elliot Lake, the list goes on and on. But how does one get started, especially if you’ve never actually been on an ATV before? And, in a sport often dominated by men, how does a woman find her bearings? Here, Marissa Lok shares her experiences.

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Like many who grow up in a big city, for me playing outside meant in the yard, or if your parents were willing to really let out the chain, the park across the street. To my great displeasure, my brother was allowed to venture slightly out of those bounds, but I was not. So, watching the sprinkler go back and forth, I would long for adventure and patiently wait for the opportunity to make my escape.

Twenty years later, I have 12 acres of thickly treed land up in Bancroft and a motorcycle that I ride every decently warm and dry day that there is. I love my bike, but I’ve come to see that it is somewhat short of a magical flying Pegasus ordained to deliver me wherever I wish. It cannot happily trample through a sun-dappled trail in the woods, or winch a log and drag it back to base camp to chop up for the fire. But maybe I’m too quick to judge its lack of magical properties. It isn’t lacking. I just needed a beast of another sort.

Into the Forest

ATV prep 1ATV prep 2ATV prep 3

A few talks over coffee and scrambled eggs later, me, my fiancé, and a motorcycling buddy are on our way to Ganaraska Forest near Peterborough to give a visit to Trail Tours. I swiftly sign the waiver without donning my glasses and gear up. Some couples choose to pair up for their first ATV experience, but I say “hell no!” loudly in my head and get one of my own.

Ganaraska is an incredible destination for ATVers and dirtbikers alike. Across 11,000 acres, there’s a huge variety of trails and surface types, including sand, gravel, valleys, fields and old-growth trees. The mix of wide and narrow trails makes it ideal for dirtbikers. For ATVing, it’s a better destination for beginners to the sport, which suits me just fine. We start out gentle and calm, but soon find ourselves bouncing, or sometimes flying, over dirt moguls or “whoops” as our guide calls them. The numerous trails are well-groomed and offer a variety of options for riders of all levels. As a test, we’re taken to some of the more advanced obstacles, and all of us experience close calls at one point or another. Egos in check, we cheerfully ride on.

According to our instructor, Allan, ATVs can seem easier to ride than bikes at first, but they’re actually more dangerous. They can turn on you in an instant. In general, they tend to provide less feedback than a bike, and of course they weigh more. Often, by the time that you feel an ATV tipping over, it’s already too late. Next thing you know, it’s either on top of you or you’re lying on the ground next to it. Two weeks earlier, Allan had been riding his dirtbike when a group of ATVers approached from the other direction and one of them lost control. There was nowhere for him to go, except into Allan’s leg. Luckily, everyone came out of it okay, with only minor bruises. While ATVing is fun for everyone, it's also nice to have trained instructors around – and of course, make sure that you ride at a level that's appropriate to your skill level.

Let Them Eat Pie

ATVs along trail

Later in the day, we rumble past a woman standing beside her ATV, collecting berries for what I imagine is going to become a delicious pie. I never imagined an ATV performing such a domestic task, but could see how handy it would later be. It’s getting to the middle of the afternoon, and the sweat and dirt are forming streaks across my face, so I’m thankful when we stop at a stream. It’s flowing fast over a densely mossed ledge, and our guide leans over to drink directly from it. The city dweller in me struggles with this incongruous sight, but I soon give in and take a swig, and then a few more, and then stand back.
Water streamThe earthy smell of the woods and burnt petrol is an intoxicatingly unpretentious perfume that I inhale deeply and hold in my chest for as long as I can.

As we head back, I realize that I’ve kept pace with the boys the whole day. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to, but feeling a little sore and tired and seeing that they were too, I understand that gender doesn’t matter here. I only had to be willing and wanting to push and test my personal limits. During the course of the day, I’ve savoured every dust-plumed power-slide and close encounter. With sand in my teeth and looking like I took a mud bath, I mournfully return the ATV.

 

Marissa ATV

Anyone can drive an ATV—that’s one of the many great things about the sport. Whether you’re using it for sport or leisure, or simply as a means to an end, such as transportation or hauling firewood (or gathering berries for pie). During the car ride back, my fiancé tells me about a woman one of the instructors had mentioned earlier. She’d visited Ganaraska Forest for the first time about three months ago and has been back every weekend since. I completely understand. It’s addictive, this kind of “man-made” freedom, even for a woman.

 

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