“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway
That was all I said to my mentor when he answered the phone.
That was all I said to my mentor when he answered the phone.
“What?!” he asked, surprised.
”That’s right…Stayner. Just now. After almost 5 hours on the road. I am not enjoying this experience yet, my friend.”
I was close to tears.
“Are you ok?” he asked, his voice conveying a mixture of concern and a touch of amusement.
“I am sure that when I am all settled in at the cabin tonight, and out of these wet clothes and have had a nice hot shower and something to eat, I will look back on my day with a more favourable and pleasant attitude,” I answered. “For now, I just wanted to touch base with you to let you know that I am nowhere near where I am supposed to be, and that I will check in with you again when I’m finally up in "Minnett.”
“Are you lost? Right now?” he questioned.
“No,” I stated wryly. “I know where I am. As for if it is where I wanted to be by now? The answer to that question is a very emphatic ’no’.”
Silence on the other end of the line. I am sure he figured that no matter what he said at that point, it probably wasn’t going to be the ‘right thing’.
“Be safe. Be careful. And try to have fun, KAT,” he said encouragingly. “It’s all a part of the adventure. Remember that…”
“I know,” I replied wearily. “Thanks for the pep talk. And for all of your help. And for not laughing during this conversation,” I added.
“No problem, biker,” he said with a smile that came across loud and clear. “Now get back out on the road and get to where you’re going,” he ordered.
“Yes, sir,” I said, saluting him in my mind.
And I was off again.
And there you have it – the beginning of my story. Well, the middle of the beginning of my story. Truth be told, the story actually started about 5 hours earlier.
In my driveway.
With a sense of optimism and under threat of rain.
Passenger seat and backrest now installed, Ruby was a picture of preparedness; with my duffle bag and tote firmly held in place with my brand new, ruby-red cargo nets, she was looking the part of a seasoned traveler.
I had a plan.
I had a map and detailed set of directions.
I had to know that nothing ever really goes the way it’s supposed to go…
Well-meaning locals who (all combined) sent me almost two hours out of my way.
Overcast and with short moments of sunshine for the first two hours; a hard, driving rain off-and-on for the following two hours.
Legs soaked all the way through my jeans and long-johns.
Stopping in a farmhouse driveway to pull my raingear leggings out of one of Ruby’s saddlebags and figure out how to put them on without falling over while hopping on one booted foot.
Novice enough to have started out my journey without the gear already on, and far enough along on my personal journey to ‘bikerdom’ to know that the weather was going to be getting much colder once I hit the 400, and cold and wet in the wind is a recipe for rider fatigue.
Feeling empowered and assured one minute, and completely overwhelmed the next, I spent over four hours getting to somewhere that should have only taken me two.
I met my fair share of bike admirers, ‘It’s a girl on that motorcycle!’ finger-pointers, well-meaning but sending-me-on-an-unnecessary-adventure direction givers, and people who wore looks of pure pity from the warmth and dryness of their cars as they drove past me in the pouring rain.
And then there were the Road Angels: The restaurant hostess / cashier who took pity on me as I sat looking totally dejected in a booth while I ate a hamburger and stared out into space – she came over and said she was finished her shift and then proceeded to have me follow her while she drove a little over 20 kms to get me back on track and where I needed to be; the two guys sitting in a service van at a gas station where I pulled in to get a brief respite from the rain who pulled out their laminated map and chatted with me for 15 minutes about their first bikes; the fellow rider who stopped to make sure I was ok on the side of the road when I pulled over to check my now-beyond-damp-and-crumbling paper set of directions, and who not only assured me that I wasn’t lost, but gave me a boost of confidence and a feeling that although I was travelling alone, I wasn’t really alone. More on him later….
Long story short? I made it to Clevelands House just as the dusk faded into blackness. By the time I unloaded Ruby, had parked her and attached her via a ‘handcuff lock’ to the cottage railing, peeled off my soaked gear, had a hot shower and devoured the cheeseburger I had picked up at the on-site restaurant after I had checked in, I barely managed to make it to the bed before tumbling into an exhausted sleep.
It rained heavily throughout the night; the sound of the drops bouncing off the cottage roof woke me up every couple of hours. I couldn’t go back to sleep until I got up and peeked through the front curtains to make sure Ruby was still there. I felt guilty for being warm and dry while she was spending the night out in the pouring rain. Yeah, I know I’m a bit of a dork when it comes to Ruby, but she has made such a difference in my life that I think of her as a dear friend.
It continued to rain throughout all of Friday. I spent the day exploring the Clevelands House property, taking pictures, and getting some well-deserved rest and relaxation. I even took a nap. A KAT nap. It was a great day, and I fully intend on visiting Clevelands House next summer to see its beauty transformed from the brightness of the fall colours all around to the lush greens I am certain it possesses in June.
Saturday was the day for me n’ Ruby to take in the Bala Cranberry Festival. The weather was cold and damp, and it rained off and on for an hour or so, but I happily wandered the length of the main street, checking out vendor booths that contained everything from all things cranberry to clothing to handcrafted items to food.
The scents that wafted through the air were heavenly.
The sounds—from the Bracebridge Legion Pipes & Drums to the laughter and excited chatter of people of all ages—echoed throughout the town.
And then, I heard them.
The rumble of bikes coming down the street.
The scent of their fuel exhaust as they made their way past where I was standing.
The sight of their golden helmets.
The main attraction for the day had arrived….
I grew up in a police family; my father was an OPP officer for years. When I’m around policemen and women, I feel like I’m with family. Add more than a dozen-and-a-half Harleys to the mix, and this KAT was in heaven Saturday afternoon.
I spent time with several of the officers while they readied their rides for the upcoming show, and we chatted about everything from whether or not they rode when they were off-duty to the length of time they had been a part of the Golden Helmets ride team. I took notice of the little personal touches that each officer had added to their police motorcycle, from gremlin bells to decals to cartoon character statuettes. The Ride / Show was about 30 minutes in length, and the crowd loved every minute of it.
Not far from Bala – and about 1/3 of the way back ‘home’ to my cabin at Clevelands House – was the next stop on my full day of activities: Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh & Muskoka Lakes Winery. Bustling with activities ranging from wagon ride tours around the cranberry marsh to outdoor wine tastings to a very busy on-site store (selling everything from bags of fresh cranberries to Muskoka Lakes wines to an amazing assortment of jams, jellies, sauces, candies and more), Johnston’s was the perfect way to end my day of ‘Cranberry Cruising’.
The ride back home on Sunday was cold along the 400, and although the colours and scenery were gorgeous, I just wanted to get off the highway and onto some of the more sheltered back roads. Not wanting to have anything to do with the traffic or construction at Barrie, Ruby and I took the Horseshoe Valley Road exit off of the 400, and had a nice leisurely and short ride to Highway 26, and then back in to Stayner, this time stopping at the Timmy’s on the corner of #26 and #42 for a quick tea, a ‘biology break’, and some time to warm my frozen fingers.
I have to say that Highway #42 / #18 (Airport Road) was a gorgeous and most enjoyable ride. Rolling hills, fantastic views, plenty of interesting sights and scenery all the way down to Highway #89. I have promised myself (and Ruby) that we are definitely returning to ride as much of the entire length of Airport Road next summer.
The ride home was far more enjoyable—from a stress level perspective—than the ride up to Minnett and area days before, but I celebrated the achievement of both of them, and came out of the entire weekend’s experience with far more than some great pictures and a promise to buy myself some much better cold-weather riding gloves.
Even smack-dab in the middle of my wanderings (I have often been told and now truly believe that you are never truly lost when you are on two wheels), I never felt like I had made a mistake in attempting my first longer-distance trip all by myself.
Yes, I’m still what many consider to be a novice rider.
Yes, I still have so much yet to learn.
And yes, I made plenty of ‘mistakes’ on this road trip of mine.
But none of that compares to the overwhelming feelings of accomplishment and the profound pride I have in myself deep down inside.
I did it.
We did it; me n’ Ruby.
And we’re going to do it again. And again.
I have no idea where next season’s rides are going to take us.
I have no idea just how brave I am going to get when it comes to making plans and wondering ‘Why not?’ instead of ‘How on earth?’
I do know that this trip was food for my much-hungry soul. I may have only put about 800kms or so on Ruby, but in my heart, we travelled around the world and back again.
Which brings me back to that fellow rider I mentioned earlier….
The day after I got home from my trip, there was an email waiting for me.
“Hello, Kimberlee!” it began. “I was the guy on the bike who stopped just at Horseshoe Valley Road and pointed you in a bit different direction. I hope you made it to your destination that night without being too cold. I was really excited for you when you said it was your first solo trip. I’ve not been riding super long myself, but have now got about 8 seasons in, and over 100,000 kms between the 3 bikes I’ve owned. I was excited to hear it was your first trip because it brought me back to my first long trip and I remember how awesome it was and what a learning experience it ended up being. Your time of year is challenging with the wide variety of weather you can be exposed to. I hope your travels (are going) great, and in our brief exchange, you reminded me what I love about solo rides. It’s not just getting somewhere, it’s getting off track, seeing as much as possible, and the challenge of staying focused on a goal of either time or mileage. Great to meet you. Safe travels.
Mark (Neon jacket guy on the side of the road)”
I have decided to ‘forgive’ him for neglecting to mention the pair of wings he had tucked underneath that neon jacket of his; our brothers and sisters of the road don’t always recognize themselves as the angels that they can sometimes prove to be to other riders, especially rain-soaked and uncertain novice ones on their very first long-distance adventure.
Mark’s enthusiasm and excitement about my undertaking, and his kind words of encouragement by the side of the road, helped me to remember why I started riding in the first place and replaced the fear & uncertainty I was feeling with a renewed love of the adventures that take place every time you whisper ‘kickstand up’ to yourself.
Thank you, Mark.
Thank you, lady from the restaurant who led me to where I needed to be.
Thank you, guys with the laminated map who were sitting in the service van.
Thank you, mentor-and-dear-friend-of-mine, for your words of encouragement and the gentle kick in the butt from over 3 hours away.
From Brantford to Bala and back: ‘The Long-Distance Adventures of KAT n’ Ruby’ are officially underway…
KAT (aka KimberleeAnna) is a regular contributor to this site, and is looking forward to sharing her adventures with you. KAT’s next piece will be a special report in time for Christmas; it will go live on on Friday, November 28th. To reach KAT by email, send your questions, comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org