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Highlands Highlights

Highlands Highlights

Why Returning To Ontario’s Highlands Is My Summer’s Go-To Goal

Like a personal Olympics, this rider returns to Ride the Highlands every four years. Read on for some sweet memories, and recommendations.



Riding the Highlands—at least in my case—seems to happen every four years. Kinda like my personal Olympics, straightening them curves, flattening them hills… and having a ton of two-wheeled fun.

First Contact with Ontario’s Highlands began a decade ago. I was a new rider, barely a season in the saddle, riding a rickety, Ruckus ripoff scooter that could barely break 85.

By that time, the riding bug had already bit. Its hold was strong, and I sought to do anything and everything to get my fix.The bike was painfully slow, and it seemed that its only suspension was my spine.


Toulouse, very far from home, 2009

I affectionately named her Toulouse, since she kept dropping bolts with every big bump. My world didn’t range beyond the urban confines of Toronto, with the odd suburban jaunt to my folks’ place in Markham and that one loooong ride to have burgers north of the city, in rural Mt. Albert.

2009

Riding season came and my scooter club was abuzz with the news of an iron butt scooter rally—the Mad Bastard—a 24-hour challenge for small-displacement scooters, mopeds, and sub-200cc motorcycles. The smaller the bike the better, with points given for outrageous costumes and stops at local landmarks. Seeing a chance to expand my horizons, I joined a rag-tag group of crazy scooteristas and rode out to Gatineau, Quebec, the starting point of a circuit that would cross the Ottawa River and spend most of its route in what I know now as Ontario’s Highlands.


One-lane bridge near Calabogie, 2009

The ride was slow and sure, taking back roads that wound, climbed, and dove. This no-car city boy was intrigued by this new world and added names like Eganville, Wilno, Tweed, and Combermere to the map in my head. Unfortunately, being on a mission (finished the loop in 19 hours), I didn’t have time to take in what these towns had to offer. My best memory? Dicing with a big sidecar rig on Old Barry’s Bay Rd, with little Toulouse being pushed to the max in the few straights that we navigated (alas, the flux capacitor didn’t kick in when I finally hit 88).

2013

Fast-forward an Olympic span, and my bikes got bigger. I was now on a fast 200cc Italian scoot and my riding mostly consisted of a daily 50-km highway commute from Aurora to Downtown Toronto. The Mad Bastard Scooter Rally beckoned again, this time starting from Belleville, Ontario, looping north towards the Highlands once more. My teammates from a local scooter shop, Fada Scooters, both on Vespas, complimented my Aprilia.


A Bastard of a route, 2013

2013’s ride was as eventful, with me once again dressed up in an uddered fleece cow suit, which I happily skimmed off to take a Bastard-mandated dip in Sharbot Lake in only my skivvies. I was already wet, so the epic downpour that came after didn’t dampen my spirits as we wound our way to Calabogie for lunch and collected a kiss from the smiling waitress at Polly’s Little Shanty (once more, a Mad Mandate).


Cow suit on a wooden bridge, 2013

Calabogie, to Combermere, past Bancroft to Faraday, were the best roads I’d ever ridden at the time, full of elevation changes and tight, technical corners. Once more, the scoot got a workout at a more torrid pace (passed a few Harleys with glee on a particularly curvy piece of road!). As the route straightened out towards home base, we took turns drafting with another team dressed as bumblebees on their Honda Forzas. Most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels!!!



End of the road, 2013

2017

It would take yet another four years for me to rediscover and Ride the Highlands, this time on a Honda NC 750 motorcycle. Joined by five friends, we ditched the 400-series highways and took a more leisurely route to Halliburton and the Bonnie View Inn. Two days of amazing, twisty riding followed, along with great stops to take in the local savoir-faire. Once more, the Highlands delivered the roads: Loop, Dyno, Elephant Lake, and the legendary 507.

(A more in-depth account of my amazing Highland experience can be found here.)


One of many "yeehaw moments," 2017 (photo: Martin Lortz)

2019

If we were to follow my traditional schedule, I’m not due for my next visit until two years from now, in 2021.

But the call of the Highlands is still loud and clear, with my last jaunt still reminding me of the scenic beauty of the and the amazing roads.

Fourth time’s the charm! I’m pointing my bike towards those roads again. Unencumbered by any mission, I’m planning to stop often and  find out more about historical, local and culinary flavour at my own pace. There’s lots to explore when the world isn’t whizzing by, though getting there on two is also half the fun!

Here’s my to-go list:

  1. The Wilno Tavern, Wilno, ON
    Stopped here briefly for lunch 10 years ago during my first Mad Bastard Scooter Rally and was surprised to savour great, authentic Polish food outside of Roncesvalles Ave. In Toronto – I’ll make sure to bring an empty stomach.
     
  2. Avro Arrow Monument, Zurakowski Park, Barry’s Bay, ON
    A stop to thrill eight-year-old aviation nerd me, like Haliburton’s CF-100 did on my last jaunt. Barry’s Bay was the hometown of original Arrow test pilot Janusz Zarakowski.
     
  3. Crooked Slide Park, Combermere, ON
    (A few years ago, my riding buddy Michelle introduced me to the practice of jumping into a body of water wherever we rode. She always wears a bathing suit under her gear—I usually forget, but it never stops me...)
    With its historic log slide waterfall as a backdrop, Crooked Slide Park looks like a relaxing place to cool down on a hot summer day and dip a toe (or more) in.
     
  4. Dorset Lookout Tower, Dorset, ON
    I know, I know every biker and her brother’s been there… except for me! Looking forward to great views and a nice, winding Hwy. 35 to get there!
     
  5. Newfoundout, ON
    Just a spot on the map with a really quirky name as I was doing my research on where to go on this year’s highlands trip. Once I delved more, I was even more fascinated: it’s one of Ontario’s abandoned ghost towns, along with nearby Balaclava. Lots of photo ops for this photo nerd here.

And of course... any road not travelled—the twistier the better! Feel free to tweet me @mondolulu with suggestions!

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