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It rained into the early AM and the day started off a bit damp. But, no big deal… it would keep the dust down. We started off from Wakomata Lake Cottages and then we were on our way north on 129 to 553. This stretch of Hwy 129 is one of the best ride experiences in the region. It's really one of those sections of road that you don’t want to end, and you can easily turn around and run it again. Despite its girth, my GS1200 is right at home in the twisties. Hwy 553, Ranger Lake Road, is two-lane gravel—a solid Class 2 that we took west off 129 to Searchmont. Hard-pack, well-used and well-maintained all year round, this is a patrolled road.
We made good time and after heading off route for a bit, decided to head into the Soo. 532 to Hwy 17 is another great section of road, with elevation changes and sweepers. After lunch in the Soo, we doubled back to Searchmont on Ranger Lake Road with the intention of making good time to our destination for the evening, the Laurentian Lodge.
Another quick refuel, at Black Creek Rd and 129, and suddenly we're at the trail head of an eastern traverse, overland to the apex of the Deer Trail. This 55 km leg is a single-lane seasonal Class 3 road, with bumps and obstacles where you definitely need to be aware of extra “features”, before it widens into a Class 2 road to accommodate commercial logging. We reached Laurentian Lodge for the evening, and were treated to a great meal and service by friendly staff.
The sun was starting to burn the fog off, so we had good clear skies. A perfect day for putting in some serious helmet time. We found out that we couldn't route overland to Ritchie Lake anymore, due to the MNR removing bridges that allowed the traverse, so we re-routed and doubled back down 108 to the 17, west to Massey North to Ritchie Falls. From there, we hit West Branch road, to the Sultan Industrial Road, west until 129 and on to Wawa.
Tracking south through the hills north of Elliot Lake, with the hills poking through the morning mist, combined with the vivid colours, was otherworldly. But then again, as if to balance things out, we then endured about an hour of asphalt-ennui to Massey, where we refuelled. Suddenly, all of the phones came out as we were back in connectivity land, and everybody started catching up with family and friends, letting loved ones know how the ride was going.
We entered the 553, better known locally as the Massey Tote Road, and headed north. Far out! There was rarely a straight, flat stretch of road. The trees close in on this road, so you don't have a lot of visibility around the corners, of which you always seemed to be in one, like a continuously winding serpent. Big logging trucks rule the road in these parts and the tight corners can force them wide sometimes. With that in mind, I decided to stick to the outside edge on corners as a precaution.
It was mostly hard-pack in the twisty section, with little dust for the most part. We hit some freshly-graded road that the guys with knobbies bit into with glee. Meanwhile, me with my balding tires… A reminder for all adventure riders: having decent tread for off-road riding is essential. Aside from heightened situational awareness, another common helpful tip is to grip the tank and steer with the pegs, which really helps. Having said all that, you have to stay relaxed. A mental mnemonic someone told me once is to focus on holding your handle-grips like you would a ripe banana. Easy as she goes. Remember, your bike wants to stay upright, so relax and ride the slide.
After a huge and delicious lunch, we hit West Branch north to the Sultan Industrial Road. These roads were much more open, two lanes and active with commercial and hunting traffic in the Fall. Dust was an issue when the big trucks passed, as visibility can be compromised for a second or two. We ended the evening with well-known ADVer Gord Jones, of Jones Powersports in Wawa. Gord also holds the NOFAR Icebreaker Rally in May. We did bike talk till late in the night. Go figure.
After an obligatory stop at Tim Hortons and the goose, I parted with the last two riders and made for home. I still had a good day's riding ahead of me. The first half of the day was all asphalt, down the western coast of Lake Superior, which looks like it was carved out of the wilderness.
Riding in this part of Ontario, ripping across the Trans Canada, I realized that you don’t have to be tearing up dirt roads to feel like you're on an adventure. Far from being a drag, the asphalt was more like a carpet that had been rolled out in front of me, allowing me to experience this rugged marvel. You don’t have to go hundreds of kilometres on remote roads to get the experience that you're in the middle of nowhere. In fact, even though I'm only a few hours from home, the Superior route makes me feel like I'm in another world.
East of the Soo, I take the 638 exit and track eastward to overland on Hwy 129. With the help of locals, I was given a few suggestions. Once you get off the secondary roads, it opens up to a large network of Class 3 and 4 roads. I ended up on one route that started closing in, with mud and ruts, and had to manhandle my orca of a GS, turning it around and tracking back to the main route. I ended up coming out at 129, at Wharncliffe Road. From there, it was time to head home. Helmet time and the thrill of the adventure were over… at least until next time. Sigh.