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Hightailing It in the Highlands

"Fleeing the Police" on the Calabogie Road

Ontario's Highlands are quickly becoming a favourite touring destination for motorcyclists from around the province, Quebec and the U.S. In response to this growing interest, a new website has been created to celebrate the road building craftsmen of yesteryear and their achievements that continue to amaze us to this day.



Safely discover Ontario when the time is right. For the most up-to-date information on where and when it is safe to travel please visit: covid-19.ontario.ca.

Do your part by following public health advice. It is important to wear a face mask or covering, practice physical distancing, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Editors Note: As you'll see, cruising these roads is exhilarating enough on its own—you don't need to overdo it by including a police chase. We do not in any way condone stealing gas or non-compliance with police of any kind. We do wholeheartedly suggest that you treat yourself and plan a trip to Ride the Highlands!

Getting hunted down by the Ontario Provincial Police, questioned for a gas and dash, and then handcuffed in front of seven other moto journalists was not in the plans for the day. But that’s exactly what happened in Wilno during a five-day tour of Ontario’s Highlands with the top—and influential—American women in the industry. 

Two days earlier we’d converged in Ottawa and picked up bikes generously provided by BMW Motorrad, Deeley Harley-Davidson and Honda Canada. Eight experienced riders, brand new touring bikes and fantastic motorcycle roads were perfect ingredients for a wonderful adventure and I was eager to showcase this corner of the province to these first-time visitors. 


View Champlains Route in a larger map

A short 90 minute ride to Calabogie Peaks Resort gave us all a chance to unwind from a day of travel. Surrounded by prime riding country, it’s a great weekend destination. With on-site restaurant dining and an outdoor hot tub, you can park your bike and relax after an exhilarating day of exploring the area’s roads, without having to think about saddling up again. 

A morning visit to Calabogie Motorsports Park, including a lap around the 5.05 km track, got us warmed up for the day. On site Pro 6 Cycle operates track days, private instruction, and bike and equipment rentals for those interested in track days.

Heading west, Calabogie Road, with endless twisties cutting through forests and between lakes, is one of Ontario’s most popular motorcycle roads. Our route took us on a 230km loop through Griffin, east on Highway 132 and south at Renfrew to Burnstown, for a delectable lunch at the quaint Blackbird Cafe

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The afternoon was already getting away as we headed out through scenic farmland along the Ottawa River to the London House Inn and Spa in Forrester Falls. Located in a tranquil and private setting within the RiverRun Resort, this is another weekend getaway option. Converted from a historic home, the charming inn is welcoming and cozy. An inviting common area and large country kitchen are natural places to congregate. Walking trails through old growth forests are wonderful for re-energizing. If you prefer a more boisterous evening, RiverRun’s riverside tavern is a fun place to meet new friends and swap tall tales. 

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After a delicious home cooked lunch, we were off again. After fueling up at a crowded 2-pump station, we were off to the underground Bonnechere Caves. Located under a limestone hill, the rock strata and fossils in this natural wonder provide a glimpse at what life here was like 500 million years ago when this was said to have been the bottom of a tropical sea. 

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It’s also where I realized, to my horror, that I’d forgotten to pay for gas! Christa Neuhauser, CEO and Editor in Chief of RoadRUNNER Magazine tried to reassure me. As the one with the credit card, I usually entered it, fuelled up first and the others followed. There, you had to go inside to pay and with all the confusion, I’d simply forgotten. Not having cell service, or even knowing the name of the place, there was nothing I could do until I could get somewhere to make a call. 

We continued along the Opeongo Line, built in the 1850’s to carry European settlers inland to dreams of a better life. Vestiges of dreams dashed by the harsh, unforgiving wilderness are still evident in tumble down log cabins on vacant land framed by stone fences and cedar rails. But not all failed. There are also homes and working farms dating back to this pioneer time, taking you back to a simpler time and traditional values. 

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Pulling up in front of the country store in the hamlet of Wilno, Canada’s oldest Polish settlement, we parked our bikes, and headed in for ice cream and a place where I could make things right with the gas station. Concurrently, two OPP cruisers pulled into the parking lot. “They’ve come for me,” I bemoaned to Genevieve Schmitt, founder of Women Riders Now. “Don’t act alarmed,” she counselled. “Just act normal and go make your call.” 

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The OPP had indeed come for me. Eight women riders on high-end motorcycles in rural Ontario are not particularly difficult to spot. Thankfully, the officer accepted my explanation, called the credit card in to the Cobden gas station and posed for a good-natured photo-op caught by Tricia Szulewski, Art Director for The Motorcycle Mag.

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The landmark Wilno Tavern, right beside the store serves up a reknowned Polish Buffet. As tempted as we were to step inside, we instead crossed the road to tour the historic Polish Kashub Heritage Museum, with buildings and artifacts depicting the life of the area’s early settlers. 

 

Photo courtesy of calculatedtraveller.com

Fortunately, after all the excitement, we only had another 30 km. to ride before calling it a day at the Sands on Golden Lake. The spacious dining room overlooking the lake serving home-cooked fare is the hub of the community and a place to catch up on the local gossip. Waiting to welcome us were Craig Kelly, now CAO for the Township of Madawaska Valley, and his friend and OPP officer Neil Gonzales, both avid riders. As you can imagine, there was lots of friendly banter about the day’s events. 

In contrast, the next day was 500km of pure riding around Algonquin Provincial Park. With sunshine, little traffic and Ontario’s Highlands’ signature wilderness beauty, it was a glorious ride. North Bay Mayor Al McDonald rode his Harley-Davidson to welcome us to lunch at Average Joe’s Restaurant, overlooking Trout Lake. Our afternoon route along the route Champlain followed inland 400 years ago, hugged the massive Ottawa River for much of the time. Arriving at Petawawa’s Quality Inn & Suites, we were honoured with a welcome from members of the 1st CAV—Canadian Army Veterans motorcycle unit

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Dinner that night was lively yet poignant. Although we’d be spending our last day in Ottawa, this was really our last night on the road, a rider’s favourite place to be. 

Following a short hike in the Barron Canyon and a requisite sampling of poutine, we cruised south to the nation’s capital, flanked again by the familiar Ottawa River. 

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Special bonds form during shared experiences between friends. Ontario’s Highlands’ outstanding scenery, down-home hospitality and unparalleled adventures, woven together by fantastic roads, had given us a treasure we would all remember fondly.

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