Three Days On The TCAT

From Wawa to Gogama to North Bay to Toronto

Leaving the city behind to get into the wilds of Algoma. THIS is what adventure riding is all about!



Day One - Wawa to Gogama

Water crossings... love them or hate them. Spend enough time riding Ontario's backcountry and sooner or later, you'll have to deal with one. So here we are about fifty kilometres into a fifteen hundred kilometre ride, and the hydro cut trail that we're on suddenly disappears beneath the dark surface of a newly-formed beaver pond. There's only one way to safely deal with this situation—one of us has to walk it. The last thing that you want when you're hours from anywhere is to hear your bike taking its last gasps of air as it disappears beneath the surface.   

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I always find this situation a bit awkward in a funny kind a way. We both know what needs to be done, we keep staring at the water, avoiding eye contact, secretly hoping that if you wait long enough the other guy will volunteer. Well, I must have blinked first and now I have to live with wet boots for the rest of the trip. I'm six four and, as the rising water level forces me up on to my tiptoes, I know, this time the beaver wins. An hour and a half later we're back at Tim Horton's in Wawa in the same seats we occupied just three hours earlier.

So what now? The plan is to make our way home from Wawa to Toronto along the Trans Canada Adventure Trail (TCAT), the brainchild of Ontario resident Ted Johnson. With the help of many riders across the country, each working on their local section, he assembled a dirt trail coast to coast across Canada; 3000 km of its 18000 km length traverses Ontario. The main TCAT track is laid out so that even a 4X4 truck can use it. What we attempted this morning was a tech section, a more challenging side section of trail, which on any given day might or might not be doable. All we have to do now is pick up the main TCAT and turn south for home. Forty-five minutes later we're knee-deep in a bog, damn it—turned back again. Half a day in and we have yet to make any headway towards home.

0113448Then again, what's an adventure without a few challenges, a bit of back-trackin and re-routing? Soon enough we're finally making progress south. The gravel road from Highway 11 to Halfway Haven is a blast—gravel narrowing to a single lane, it climbs and descends offering views saturated with fall colour. It would be nice to have more time to soak it all in, maybe snap a few photos, but we're trying to make up time and our focus is occupied by the constant obstacle course of bear scat... a fresh pile is strategically-placed on the road every fifteen metres or so.

Eventually the twists and turns give way to kilometre after kilometre of wide gravel road. Our saddle time stretches into double digits. We reach the end of the Sultan Industrial Road just as Nature's lights go out, feed the bikes and ourselves at the truck stop, and ride off into the darkness in search of a place to sleep. Gogama looks promising but no luck—every room in town is taken. Best we can find is a place to pitch our tents. The night is unseasonably warm and the sky is full of stars. Camping lakeside: perfect.

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Day Two - Gogama to North Bay

Our fair weather luck continues as we wake to sunshine and blue skies. Long day ahead of us, today's destination North Bay, 500+ kilometres, eighty percent dirt. After the mandatory breakfast at Tim Horton's in Timmins, we are on gravel within minutes of town. Wide, loose, dusty... our bikes float gently side to side on the loose rocks as we make good time south. A couple of hours in, the purple line on my GPS makes a sharp left—we follow, the gravel road turns into a single lane and dives into the forest, then narrows to a single track then disappears altogether.

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Ahead of us is another tech section; a 55 km hydro cut which from where we are standing hasn't seen a tire in months. Two hours of rocks, mud, stream crossings and doubts about our decision-making, and it's over. All the "what if's"—what if we break down, have a crash or can't get through—make way to a success-fueled adrenaline rush. High five, turn south, let's go.   

It's six pm and we're fueling up in Capreol, both petrol and coffee. Eight hours in the saddle so far and not done yet. We hit the old rail trail at dusk. Crossing the old rail bridge high above the river is cool. The whoops and sudden sections of deep, loose stone that scares the shit out of you, not so much. We drop our bags on the hotel room floor in North Bay, 10 pm... a long day.

 

Day Three – North Bay to Toronto

“Please dismount your bike.” The crackling voice takes me by surprise—no, it's not a police take-down. The voice is coming from the fuel pump. After almost a week of filling our bikes at one pump, Ma and Pa establishments up north, where the exchange of pleasantries takes priority over the exchange of cash, it takes me a few moments to adjust back to the metropolitan ways. 

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Our last day on the road, we are heading into the familiar home turf of sorts, even though we are still five or six hours from home. But first, breakfast; I don't think I need to say where. If you're thinking Tim's you've been paying attention. We roll out onto Highway 11 for a stretch, then meander along cottage roads—pavement turns to dirt, road narrows to trail. Beavers have flooded a section of Old Nipissing Rd trail, but this time we win and our boots stay dry. Old Nipissing Road south of Magnetawan is an adventure bike jewel.

We ride along a whooped out section of the Sequin Trail. We bounce off rocks hidden by leaves on the Old Wagon Road and suddenly it's over. Not our trip, but our time on the TCAT. We still have a ways to go. A good stretch of Old Wagon Rd is still ahead of us, followed by a mix of pavement and gravel to Gravenhurst and finally the highway home. So here we are at the fork in the road. The TCAT turns left with promises of future adventures, while we point our bikes straight ahead with the promise of the eventual hot shower.

We set up the last shot of the trip. “You know, the next time we do this ride…” hmmm a true sign of a good trip, planning to do it again before it's even over.

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