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The Happiness of Loneliness

The Happiness of Loneliness

Solo Ride Through Ontario's Highlands

If you're looking to spend some quality time with just your bike and the open road, this is the place to do it!



What’s the essence of a great road trip? Is it just good company, or good roads, or good times? Can it be just one or the other? Or do you need all three? Like any die-hard rider, I believe you can get by with just one, but the more you have, the better the ride gets. 

I managed to get my hands on a Honda F6B for an extended test ride and the first thing that came to mind was finding some partners for this road trip. But, due to short notice and mid-week timing, I found myself facing an unfamiliar situation, a solo ride through some great Ontario backroads

There was a time in my life when going solo was the norm and my preference. Kayaking, mountain biking, ski trips all enjoyed in the company of nobody. Then came family, kids, coworkers - I can't remember the last time I had a day to myself, never mind a weekend. I find the idea of going solo exiting and scary - in other words, a true adventure.

A bit of keyboard touring and I discover the Ride The Highlands website. A few more clicks and I zero in on The Highlands Loop at 1000 kilometres tracing its way around the Ottawa River, Algonquin Park and the winding roads of Calabogie. I was familiar with some of these roads and their motorcycle touring potential, but many on the route I’ve never ridden, let alone heard of. Judging by the zig-zag’s on the map I know I should get to know them intimately.

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With a few extra kilometres to get to start of the loop and back home at the end, I’m looking at around 1400 km in 3 days. Sounds good to me!

Honda introduced the F6B, a stripped down version of the proven Gold Wing in hopes of attracting the bagger crowd into the touring folds. Being well entrenched in my own mid-life crisis, I’m not sure I’m young enough to fall into Honda’s demographic net but I must say with its bagger styling, flowing lines and all black finish, this is one sexy beast, an observation shared by many at my numerous stops along my ride. At 1832cc and 836lbs it is plenty of bike but to my surprise, the size and weight of the F6B was a non-issue. With built-in saddle bags I was able to load all my photo gear into one side and four days of clothing and personal needs into the other.

I pick up the Highland Route at Hyw 7 and 46. From here I’m heading north on twisty roads framed by blue sky and no time restraints; it doesn’t get any better than this. A break in Bancroft for a coffee and a chance to study the map makes me realize one of only a few peeves with the bike. There’s no GPS and no way of mounting my portable unit. I develop a routine to compensate; I pull out the GPS from my pocket, study the next few turns, ride until I feel lost and repeat. A minor inconvenience, but really more of a challenge.

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I pull into the parking lot at The Wolf's Den around 6 pm. I’m hoping to stay here for the night but have no reservation, so fingers crossed. 600km on the odometer, about seven hours in the saddle and you know what, I could’ve kept going. The seat on this bike is amazing, and despite the fact that I’m 6’4”, I step off and don’t have to unfold my legs, unlike with most bikes in the showroom. I'm really liking this bike.

Good fortune shines, and I managed to snag a room in the main lodge. The Wolf Den, located a short distance from the east gates of Algonquin Park has become my accommodation of choice when in the area. This hostel-type establishment offers choices from a bed in a dorm, a private room or a multi-bedroom cabin all at a price that is easy on the budget. 

Price aside what keeps me coming back are the guests. The communal kitchen, dining and relaxing areas gather travelers from around the world. Accents here are varied as the adventures they describe to keep fellow travellers entertained late into the night.

Day Two

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I step out the door the next morning and instantly my breath surrounds my face with a cloud of white mist. Damn…it’s cold. The shiny black finish on the Honda is now a thick coat of matte white frost, and lots of it. I was planning an early start; cruise through Algonquin at first light, spot some wildlife, shoot some photos, but that ain’t happening.

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I watch from inside the lodge as the sun gently caresses the bike back to life. Eventually, the black seat warms enough that I can wipe it down. I pull out of the parking lot a couple of hours later than planned, with most of the bike still encrusted in ice. Peeve number two about the bike; no heated anything and no way to plug in heated gear. It’s a beautiful late September day but it's zero degrees celsius and I have to smile with chattering teeth.

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Highway 60 through Algonquin Park is as spectacular as always. The sun and temperatures are on the way up, as is my mood. A quick stop in Whitney for a late breakfast and then east toward Pembroke and the Ottawa River. 

My navigation setup is still annoying me, so when I spot a tourism information building in Barry’s Bay, I pull in immediately hoping to get a paper map.

Before I can snap down my kickstand I’m approached by a lady holding an iPad.

“Are you with the media tour?” she asks.

“Ahhhh…”

“We have official motorcycle-only parking over there!”

I move my bike and park in one of the official spots. Apparently, they are expecting a couple of media types doing a tour of the area any minute now. 

I wasn’t one of them but before I could explain, I was inside the building getting the full rundown on the area’s motorcycle touring potential. I must say I am impressed and will definitely be back. 

Map in hand I step outside. The media tour is here, cameras are rolling, interviews are flowing but I’m too quick for them and it’s seconds before I’m back on the bike and back on the road.

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A few minutes down highway 60 is the Wilno Tavern, which has a one hundred year history of serving up good times. It’s way too early in the day for me to sample the tavern’s wares, so the best I can do is take a picture of the Honda by the tavern.  

My next stop is just up the hill. The St. Mary’s Church is an impressive structure with a spectacular view from the front steps. Hmmm, a historic famous tavern neighboured by a very large historic church, coincidence? 

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I ride north, embracing the solo experience of total timeline freedom. Coffee in Pembroke then east along the Ottawa River. The landscape flattens and opens up vistas of rolling grasslands. Tonight’s destination is a friend’s place in Gatineau, Quebec. I cross the Ottawa River at Portage-Du-Fore. I will be back on the Highland Route tomorrow in the company of friends.

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Day Three

As much as I was enjoying my solo trip there is something to be said about sharing the motorcycle riding experience with friends. Calabogie Road is amazing! By the time we hit Centennial Lake Road, I have lost count of the curves but they just keep coming. We skirt lakes and glide through rock cuts. We linger over lunch at the Pine Valley Restaurant, talk bikes, rides, reminisce the past and make plans for the future. Other bikes come and go as do the clouds which by now are looking dark and menacing. It’s clearly time to go, my friends head home but for me it's south on the beautifully twisty and hilly Highway 41.

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Alone again, I’m left to enjoy the full majesty of Highway 41, a gem of a touring road. Big sweeping curves, excellent surface and grand vistas. 

The darkening clouds finally burst at the seams and the sudden downpour engulfs me. I can hear the water spraying under the bike as the road can’t drain fast enough. Luckily I zipped everything up when I left the restaurant, but I can feel the rain desperately trying to get in. 

As fast as the rain started started, it was over. I keep riding south, through Lower Madawaska River, Bon Echo Provincial Park and then it’s decision time.  

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There comes a time in every trip when things go from outbound to home bound. I could have continued on Highway 41 to Highway 7 and straight line it for home, or I can follow the official Highland route which turns east onto Highway 506 which will add about an hour and a half to the trip. When you’re on a solo trip the decision making is all on you.

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So Highway 509 twist and turns for about a hundred kilometres. Roadside signs that promise the winding road that will continue forever, justify my decision. Once things turn west, my homing instincts take over. I try to follow the route signs but for the most part I'm semi lost. I keep to the back roads and ride into the setting sun, which today is more spectacular than ever and seems to last for hours. 

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I have no doubt the Highland Loop is on its way to becoming an Ontario classic. Easily accessible from the GTA, Ottawa, and Kingston, it traverses some of the best paved motorcycling roads in the province. With plenty of accommodation options and one thousand kilometres of twisty touring heaven, it’s the perfect weekend getaway – together, alone; no matter how you’re riding, the roads alone will make the trip worth your while.

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