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It's Time to Ride!

It's Time to Ride!

A Searchmont Ride Report

Is it possible to ride your bike to the ski hill? If you're in Canada it is...

Early Spring. The snow is in retreat... it’s the first real ride on my bike; last ride on my skis. I kicked off this riding season with a rip to Searchmont. Going on our first overnight bike ride for the last ski weekend seemed like an awesome adventure. Despite the placid pace, it felt fabulous to be back on my bike. Early Spring riding does present its own unique features that a rider should keep their situational awareness tuned into.

1 Leaving HomeMy bike is loaded and ready to go, I was concerned about the wide load and its legality. It's legal, however I had to consciously keep to the centre of my lane, especially going through towns.

Searchmont Resort is one of my favourite ski hills. It has a large variety of runs and terrain features, and it gets more snow than the surrounding area due to lake-effect off of Lake Superior. Besides skiing, Searchmont Resort is no stranger to power sports enthusiasts—the Canadian Snowcross Racing Association (CSRA) holds an event in its series at the resort. Searchmont also hosts a Ride For Sight, and the resort offers excellent accommodations and facilities at reasonable prices. 

The area north of the Soo is one of the best riding areas in the region if not the province, hands down. Highway 129 snakes its way alongside the Mississagi river, making for some of the coolest twisties anywhere in Ontario. The scenic ride along the west coast of Superior is amazing with its primordial good looks, elevation and sweepers—a fine ride. Hemmed in by these two highways is a veritable goldmine for the off-road enthusiast. This region is rife with industrial roads, backroads, seasonal access roads and trails that are too numerous to count (or map, for that matter). Last fall, Algoma Country developed the first adventure on-road/off-road routethe Algoma ADV Loop—which has made its debut in the Ontario Go Tour interactive online mapping tool. There is sure to be more to come.

This was a straight-up ride, more destinations-oriented, so there was no side road action or going off the beaten path. This time of year, backroads are not at their finest, with snow and ice in sections. Our big GS’s were not up to that; not for the first ride, anyway.

The ride from Manitoulin was a sunny 10 C. Highway 6 from Little Current to Espanola has some great turns and scenery. After that you hit the Trans Canada for some helmet time. The ride towards the Soo is interrupted by some pleasant meandering turns alongside the Missisagi, just west of Blind River. It was a leisurely pace, the kind where reality just sort of flows around you and you get to take it all in. It just felt so good to be back on my bike... not even bad weather was going to ruin my day. Or so I thought. A swollen creek closed Highway 553 for the Friday as it poured over the road. 

the MapAs for most ADV riders, it's all about logistics and planning. Here, ride-buddy Colin Wilson looks over options and alternate routes to get to Searchmont using the Map. If there’s a place you want to go…

I figured we had big bad adventure bikes—we can cross. Nope, the po-po’s were turning people around well before with ne’re a word as to the extent of the damage and when it would open. It wasn’t a washout but they don’t take any chances, as the water can flow under the asphalt undetected. Waylaid in the Soo for the night. No biggie.

washoutWork crews still at the site of flooding the next day. They were more worried about sinkholes. After sassing the workers for leaning on their shovels, I knocked over a pylon with my bike. Then another leaving… oops.

The next morning we hit 553—with its wonderful sweepers, we basically kept speed down and bikes upright. With an east-west traverse most of the curves were invariably through rock cuts, which meant run-off and northern exposures: a bad combo this time of year. You have to assume it's frozen. That combined with the sand from winter maintenance and we took it real easy. We 'll be road eaters another day.

sweepers2Laying off the throttle and no big leans into the sweepers for safety's sake—rock cuts, meltwater and northern exposure can often mean ice on the road, where you least expect or want it. It looks like water... well, it is, but be diligent. Just assume it's all frozen. And then there's the sand!

The return trip was wet and gloomy. It was around the same temperature, 10 C or so, but no radiant heat from the sun. Combined with moisture in the air, I could feel my extremities, finger tips and feet, and my core taking a hit. Even with thermals and layers, your body will still shunt blood from your extremities when you lose heat from your core. This is where a heated vest comes in handy, keeping the core warm so that your hands and feet stay warm.To those of you who've have spent some serious road time crunching lots of km’s, you get into a zone, and the last thing you want is to have your mind distracted or focusing on any sort of discomfort. (For some of the more masochistic endurance riders, that is part of the trip.)

Leaving SearchmontLeaving Searchmont. Damp weather, signaling the last day of skiing, but my day is just beginning. I have a cool 350 km ride home to enjoy the day.

A Few Things to Ponder

Sometimes common sense is not so common. I really should follow my own advice. Every so often I get a flash of common sense. Most of these, I found out the hard way. Meltwater can be frozen. Be aware of northern exposures and shadows.

Heaving roads: Whoops! I bottomed out, was up on my pegs too (which can be considered stunting by the way). Secondary roads, due to their construction, tend to have more 'whoops' than main highways. Potholes, sinkholes, washouts: these features are not always apparent or marked.

Salt OMG: I am still paying for a late Feb ride two years ago, breaking bolts, re-tapping threads. It makes routine maintenance a nightmare. A warm soapy once over may be a good idea.

Sand: Another winter road maintenance feature. You should reconsider coming in hot on turns and maybe even be super aware of how you brake. Front break + fine sand = not a good combo. Been there. Another feature that tends to appear when you least want it, too.  

Tires: Cold, hard rubber is not grippy. To warm your tires, try a  few repeated linear accelerations and hard stops. Weaving side-to-side is one way, but uptight cops can consider that stunt riding as well. Fluctuating temperatures change the tire pressure—check and re-check. 

Critters: Deer! There are tons of them in my area and they come out to feed in the melting fields in the Spring. They are unpredictable. Assume that there is more than one.

Weather: Before you suit up, take a step outside, seriously! Don’t depend solely on weather reports. You know the rest, dress in layers… blah blah blah.

ski hillYes, we did go skiing!

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