How do you plan your motorcycle adventures? Are you the type to obsess about every detail or are you more of the go with the flow type? I tend to sway towards the latter. Some of my best memories are of me and my bike and the uncertainty of what happens next. Reading the accounts of a fellow rider’s moto escape from the GTA north triggers the desire to hit the road. Just like that my mind goes into planning mode. I search my memory bank for destinations and browse images of maps in my head. Mattawa, Ontario, I visited there last fall on a ATV ride, I remember thinking “Man, this would make an awesome adventure bike trip, I will need three days, Thanksgiving weekend coming up, perfect.”
With the destination set I turn to my favourite trip planning tool, the Ontario Back Roads Map Book. The direct route is not for me, gravel roads, logging roads, dirt trails, that’s what I’m after. I trace out a plan hugging the west side of Algonquin Park, success is uncertain but it looks good on paper. I fire off a few emails in search of trip companionship, with the short notice I’m not holding my breath. That’s ok, though there are good times in numbers I love the freedom of going solo too.
As expected I’m on my own, fortunately thanks to today’s electronic information spider web, a friend of a friend who knows a friend pointed me towards a place to stay, GPS tracks of trails to ride, and even some locals to show me around. Just like that in a few hours an itch to get away is moulded into trip perfection.
When on a motorcycle weather can be your friend or foe, today its showing me no mercy. Two hours in and I’m chilled to the bone, as the temperature toys with freezing. The wind, rain and sleet is howling from the side making staying in the lane a challenge. I already adjusted my plan skipping a couple exploratory side shoots in favour of making heist north, but the open highway is getting tiresome so at the next right turn, wherever it leads, I will make my move.
Up on the pegs splashing through an endless array of water filed potholes, that’s better. My destination should be around 80 kilometres ahead, the gas gage reads 110 to empty, hmmm, as long as I point the bike northwest I should be ok. The road narrows, the potholes turn to mud holes, the forest closes in and what’s that, sunshine? From misery to joy in four fun filled hours. Eventually the seat of my pants route I’m following crosses the preplanned route on the GPS screen, turn left destination ahead.
Cedar Gables Lodge, located on the outskirts of the community of Bonfield is today’s end of day destination. Owners Darcy & Joanne Watson have an appreciation for the rumble of an engine. Though they prefer the winter variety (snowmobile) they are happy to host power sport enthusiasts all year long. A cozy spot for my bike in the garage and a spacious and comfortable room for me means a good night’s rest for both.
If I had to label myself I would say I am a morning person. I love the golden glow of the rising sun, the moisture laden mist hanging low in the valleys the blanket of frost typical of a late fall morning. There are some challenges associated with a late season morning motorcycle ride. Inhaling -2 ºC air at 60 kilometres per hour is painfully suffocating, shield up brings you to tears, shield down and all vanishes in an instant fog screen; minor annoyances and today’s morning is spectacular, a thumbs up start to day two.
Back at the lodge I hear the familiar sound of moto engines outside. My internet arranged blind dates are here to show me around. I finish up the bacon and eggs, chug the rest of my coffee and step outside. Jeff McGirr, Tim and Noah Sullivan, pleased to meet you. I have heard of Jeff in friendly conversation mostly regarding his snowmobile riding prowls. Tim and his son, Noah, are local engine doctors and owner/operators at RBR Performance.
First impression, their bikes are half the weight of mine and so much more trail worthy. The observation has me a bit concerned. No need to worry as the next four hours of logging roads and single track are so big bike friendly that I think the smile on my face is now permanent. We end the ride with a late lunch at the Dinner Bell Restaurant, our lunch time conversation focused primarily on the next time. While my new friends head back to their lives I strap on my luggage, fill the gas tank and disappear back into the forest. Next stop Mattawa, direct route, hmmm I don't think so.
The Valois’ Motel & Restaurant in Mattawa has become a bit of a home away from home, love the riverside location, so relaxing. But relaxing is not why I’m here this time. I still have a 200 km loop burning a hole in my GPS. With the day getting long in the tooth I drop my bags and hit start on the GPS.
The loop splits it’s length exactly in half between dirt and pavement and the traffic I will encounter over the the next few hours is less than the number of fingers on one hand. Dinner is late at Tim Hortons, what an amazing long day, good night.
Homebound, I'm looking forward to today. I will retrace a few steps, fill in some blanks and apply what I know. If all goes well today, I should not see more than a few kilometres of pavement until I’m in the heart of Muskoka.
From Mattawa to Highway 11, its all farm fields and dense forests. I ride these roads with a "been there done that" confidence, past the Bonfield trails and the potholed road. What a difference a day can make, yesterday -2 ºC today it’s pushing 20 ºC. Once I point the front wheel south I’m into familiar territory, the Forgotten Trails and Old Nipissing Rd take me to Magnetawan. From here I would typically continue on Nipissing Rd but a need for gas and lunch forces a detour to Burks Falls.
Pavement surpasses gravel the further south I go. I partake in some of Muskoka’s best twisty roads, Hwy 518, 632, Southwood Road. Then it’s the open road of the expressway home.
The quality of any trip can be measured in the memories it intrenches, the weather, the scenery, the people you meet, the challenges. My brain tells me let’s do it again, my local contacts tell me I just scratched the surface, the calendar tells me, next year. This trip took only a few hours to plan, now with home still an hour away I’m already staring to plan my return.