The sky is grey, it’s raining and the only dawn around Gananoque would be for the pilots flying high above the ominous cloud mass that blankets the entire region. Following a beautiful start yesterday, day two of our four-day excursion arrives with a threatening tone. But as they say: “we’re not made of sugar so we won't melt” and with that in mind we’re off!
Rushing along the river, rocky islands emerge as ghostly apparitions in the morning mist. In foul weather, the Thousand Islands exude a melancholy mystique. With tourist season finished, there are very few cars on the road, so I pinwheel at the top of a hill to go back for another view of the majestic Thousand Islands Bridge stretching across the narrows and disappearing into Georgina Island's forest.
At Reynolds Road we turn left and head north to begin our inland ascent through rock cuts of weathered red granite and limestone, then across green wetland, followed by another rock cut and another wetland. We are riding on the southern reaches of the Canadian Shield with just a shallow skiff of soil hiding the granite below. The bedrock provides a seamless waterproof barrier creating hundreds of wetlands, swamps, ponds and lakes.
As we cross Hwy. 2 through the hamlet of Lansdowne, the landscape levels out into pasture and hay fields. Small herds of Holsteins squeeze together, huddled under a canopy of trees in an effort to stay dry. The off-colour of the leaves are showing the first signs of a changing season when their flaming reds and yellows will usher in another foreboding winter.
Visors down, we roll along, gingerly leaning through the slippery corners. Though the temperature is only 15° C, we enjoy the warmth inside our good rain suits. Creature comfort for motorcyclists has come a long way in the past few decades, for which I am eternally grateful. Bedrock rears itself here and there, its surface covered with hearty mosses and lichens, wet and shiny in shades of purple, blue and green.
At Outlet we cross over the bridge where Charleston Lake's excess flows into the Gananoque River and on to the mighty St. Lawrence. CR. 3 is a delight with its many curves and changes in elevation. We thread our way through the maple forest, past lake after lake and arrive at CR. 33.
At the intersection, an old T 500 Suzuki twin buzzes past with a trail of spray behind, the rider couched over, squinting into the rain and not looking too happy. We turn right and soon pass the antique Suzuki and at Lyndhurst we park the bike to have a look at the stone arched bridge spanning the Gananoque River. Built ten years before Confederation, its three arches still carry all of the vehicle traffic in and out of Lyndhurst as part of CR 33. It is the oldest surviving bridge of its kind in Ontario
A few miles and several curves later we turn left onto Wilcox Road, a shortcut that takes us across to CR. 42 and into the Township of Delta. Situated between the Upper and Lower Beverley Lakes, the restored Delta Mill is the finest building of its kind in Upper Canada. New stone grinding wheels still use the power of moving water to change local Red Fife wheat into flour. I had read that every Saturday you can buy warm fresh baked bread here, however, for some reason it is closed-a huge disappointment for us.
As we stand looking at the closed and bolted door of the Delta Mill, the same T 500 rattles by and gingerly turns left up to Lower Beverley Lake Park. A sign on the corner says that the Old Bastards Motorcycle Club's Vintage Rally is today. Founded many years ago in Delta, which is in Bastard Township, the name is attention grabbing, but also appropriate. In spite of the drizzly grey skies, the park is filled with vintage motorcycles, and some vintage owners.
Winding onward to Philipsville we pass by the historic Forfar Cheese Factory that has been here since I was a child. We cross Hwy. 15 at Crosby, and roll along CR 42 as it caresses the verdant, reedy shoreline of Newboro Lake, one of the many lakes used by Colonel John By to link together the Rideau Canal, a backwater passageway built in case the Americans were to invade Canada again.
At Newboro, we cross over the Rideau Canal where the former land was called The Isthmus, a solid rock divide between Upper Rideau Lake and Newboro Lake. Here is where on one side, the water flows north to Ottawa and on the other, south to Kingston. After two contractors went broke trying to cut through granite to join the two lakes, 270 labourers where brought here. Working under the 7th Company of Royal Sappers and Miners they completed the job, but at a high cost. Malaria, or what they called "Lake Fever", took its toll and many died. Several lie in unmarked graves in the Old Presbyterian Cemetery with only a piece of fieldstone for a marker. Right across the road stands a Blue Plaque honouring the Royal Sappers and Miners.
Beautiful Westport comes into view across the deep blue waters of Upper Rideau Lake. With its brilliant white church spire piercing the sky high above the town and Foley Mountain looming large in the background Westport presents a picture fit for a post card. The tourists are gone and the town is in a hushed silence with everything glistening in the sheen of rainy wetness as we roll along Rideau Street. We pass the old fish hatchery and torque up Foley Mountain past the conservation area to leave town.
About two thirds of the way to Perth on CR 10, we gingerly turn right onto CR14, Narrows Lock Road, and head south. The blacktop back road winds along following the path of least resistance created by horse-drawn-wagons and carts of yesteryear as they made their way between Perth and Crosby. Ponds gilded with white water lilies, junipers scattered about fields of shallow soil and maple forests pass us by until we come to our left turn at CR 21.
Tight twists and turns on single lane blacktop confront us as we pass modest back-country homes and subsistence farms. Suddenly the road turns to dirt—or should I say mud—a surprise but not an insurmountable impediment for this old moto-crosser. The bike skitters and twitches a bit in the soft mud but just two kilometres later, we are back on nice pavement again.
The road from Murphy Point to CR 1 is well worth the bit of muddy riding along the way. Grand maple forests, with homes nestled amongst the trees keep me busy gawking as the road sweeps left and right making me wish for a sunny day. All too soon, it ends at CR 1 where we turn right to Rideau Ferry, the former home of Big Ben, Canada's most winning jumping horse from the farm of his rider, Ian Miller.
At Rideau Ferry we walk, stiff-legged in our bulky rain gear, into "CC's on The Rideau" right beside a narrow channel of water that links Big Rideau Lake and Lower Rideau Lake. The patio for the restaurant is an actual Rideau swing bridge, just like any you can still see at some of the locks along the Rideau Canal.
Legend has it that John Oliver, the ferry master of years ago, would not cross the water in darkness, so travelers were offered a place to stay overnight in his home. Many never arrived at their destinations and years later, when the home was torn down, it is said that human skeletons were found inside walls and under floorboards. Although without foundation in fact, the legend lives on today.
Well sated with delicious food we quietly roll up the bridge and over the channel. On the other side, Old Kingston Road beckons us and we turn right. Down this road is in an old log house that used to be the halfway house between Kingston and Ottawa and where I spent my formative years on our 150 acre farm on the shores of the Rideau. The once-productive fields have now changed to forest, attesting to the demise of the small family farm in Canada. Similarly, the old log house I grew up in is gone and the dirt road that led to it is now blacktopped.
I feel a twinge of loss as we slowly ride along and my childhood memories sweep over me. I chatter away, regaling my wife of the local history over the Gold Wing's intercom. I now see the size things actually are, but in my memory, as a child, everything appeared much larger. All things change with the passage of time, but memories never diminish and I realize once again how much I loved this place.
Passing my old one-room schoolhouse we turn right onto Briton-Houghton Bay Road and tour all the way to the end, past summer homes of millionaires and the homes of my grade school classmates. Backtracking, we follow Old Kingston Road again until we arrive at Hwy. 15, just north of Portland. A few miles north at Lombardy, we turn right onto CR 1 and meander along the snakes-back winding road enjoying the never-ending curves. Through Motts Mills, with a total of three homes, and on to Toledo we turn right turn onto CR 8 and bank hard to the left as we pass by an angler along the shores of Bellamy Lake.
CR 5 at Athens makes a nice place for a break. Named after Athens, Greece because of it early educational facilities, Athens is a bustling little farm community. Several years ago local artists dressed up the sides of commercial buildings with life sized colourful murals depicting Athens past history.
Mounting up again and gliding along southbound, we cross Hwy. 2 and then 401 again before arriving at Mallorytown Landing in Front of Yonge Township. Named after the Sir George Yonge, British Secretary of War in the War of 1812, the name carries the evidence of the area's United Empire Loyalist beginnings along with all of the village names in Leeds Grenville County. Mallorytown Landing is no exception with Nathanial Mallory, a United Empire Loyalist landing here in 1784, soon to be followed by many other Loyalists fleeing their American aggressors.
The rain has not let up all day but we are still comfortable and warm in our rain suits as we follow the Thousand Islands Parkway back to Gananoque. Back at Beaver Hall B&B, we are met by owners, Hendrikus and Agnes Tieken. This interesting couple arrived here from Holland via Chezatcook, Nova Scotia many years ago. Hendrikus, Harry, later regales me with stories of his sea kayaking adventures around Newfoundland’s stormy southern coast and his very successful kayak business—interesting times that only a B&B can provide.
Later, with the rain gone, a candlelight dinner on the patio of the Riva restaurant provides a happy ending to the day. A tasty meal while basking in the warmth of the day's adventures in Leeds Grenville County provides the perfect medium for storing away memories that will last a very long time.
Just a couple of hours from Toronto, Leeds Grenville, Gananoque, and the Thousand Islands provide a wonderful destination for motorcyclists who want to escape the hustle and bustle but at the same time have all the comforts of home. The scenery is fantastic, the windy roads are endless and Leeds Grenville has whatever you want or need to relax and refresh your soul.