Into the Great Northwestern Ontario
Editor's Note: Stephen Bischoff is a traveler, in every sense of the word. He doesn't just visit places, he inhabits them, living by the old Buddhist teaching that, "Today is worth more than two tomorrows." He's practiced stick fighting in the Philippines, chanted with monks in Tibet, ridden his motorcycle in the United States, Mongolia, China, Vietnam and this year, Northern Ontario. This is the fourth and final part in a series of articles on motorcycling through Northern Ontario written by 'the Shameless Traveler'.
As I road out of Terrace Bay and headed west I realized that soon I would be veering away from Lake Superior. Honestly, I was a little bummed to put the lake in my rearview, but I didn't realize at the time the awesome vistas that awaited me. Yes, I was moving away from the big lake, but my research on Ridenwo.com assured me hundreds of tiny lakes were on the way, each containing islands and crystal blue waterways just like Superior.
As I made my way by Thunder Bay I saw signs for the Terry Fox overlook. Always game for an overlook and interested in learning whom Terry Fox was, I turned off the road. It was a very surreal and moving experience. The rain started to clear away as I reached the top of the hill where the overlook and Terry Fox's monument stood. Reading the monument I learned that Terry was one of the greatest of Canadian icons. In 1980 he set out to run just over a marathon a day across Canada to raise money for cancer research. The remarkable part was that Terry had lost his right leg to cancer and was running with a prosthetic. After 143 days and 5,373km Terry was forced to quit due to the return of his cancer not far from where this monument had been erected, shortly after he lost his battle to the disease.
Terry's legacy, however, had already captured the heart of the Canadian population and created a public dialogue about cancer research. To this day Terry Fox's charity has raised over half a billion dollars worldwide to benefit cancer research. As I rode back onto the road I thought of what Terry must've seen along the way on his journey and I thought about all the things I'd seen on this road as well. With a deeper appreciation for everything around me, I continued on my journey past the point where Terry had to stop.
Like it was meant to be, after that moment the weather became perfect. With a rainbow behind me, I put some distance between Lake Superior and myself. As I crossed over the Arctic watershed, the point where all streams begin to flow into the Arctic Ocean, I realized I was getting further north. Then I crossed over the Central Standard Time Zone marker and realized I was getting further west. The roads got longer, the weather kept improving, and towns became fewer and fewer. It was becoming a motorcycle Valhalla.
One contributor to the beauty of this segment of the ride was Lac des Mille Lacs. The many runoff streams, rivers, and smaller runoff lakes from Lac des Mille Lacs created a diverse and increasingly beautiful ride. Lac des Mille Lacs wasn't just pretty, it was also the home to local legend Waldo the Great. "Big Waldo", the fish of all fish, was said to inhabit these very waterways. Waldo apparently sent many victims to Davey Jones' Locker including men and boats alike. But his reign of terror ended in 1888 when Captain Marechal dropped the elbow on ol' Waldo and reeled him in for good. Who doesn't like a fish story?
Riding away from Waldo's battlefield I realized no matter how far out you get into the Northwestern Ontario wilderness you are never really alone on the roads. Besides the wildlife, along the side of every road, you'd see small stone sculptures guiding your way. These little rock forms were a mystery to me until I found an explanation at a Native American trading post. The little rock people sculptures were called Inukshuk, which means "in human likeness" in the Inuit language. The native Inuit's built these little rock people to warn of danger, mark places of respect, or simply show the way. And they did indeed show me the way.
Following Ontario-17 to Dryden, I saw perhaps some of the most stunning landscapes of the trips. Meadows, rivers, thick lush forest, green and golden fields, and small lakes were perpetually all around me. Those little rock Inukshuk dudes sure knew where they were leading me.
Once I arrived in Dryden after a pretty spiritual day I checked into my room at the Best Western Motor Inn Dryden. This quite honestly could have been my nicest room of the trip. It was impeccably clean, super stylish, and had a great bathroom and facilities. It was the perfect room to end a perfect day.
Making my way out of Dryden the next morning and heading towards Kenora the weather was once again immaculate. This would be the most northern route I would drive on my trip and it felt as much requiring a few extra layers of clothing. This would be one of my shorter days of riding, but no less awesome than the others. With an array of scenic landscapes and of course more beautiful blue lakes this ride seemed like it was over in a blink. It was one of those rides where the brain stops working, the body goes into automatic, and the endorphins just continue to release until you arrive at your destination with a smile on your face. And that is exactly what I did.
Kenora is a beautiful little town that sits on a picturesque lake full of small-inhabited islands. When I arrived at my hotel, the Clarion Lakeside Inn, I could see boaters, jet skies, and small water equipped aircraft coming and going all day long. This hotel sitting right on the lake was surely built for the awesome surrounding views. Even its placement was perfect with the sun setting right across the water from it.
Being a short ride and having a little extra time I explored Kenora on foot and found out it is a pretty cool little lakeside town. With several eclectic locally owned businesses and murals adorning many of the buildings, it had plenty to see. My favorite spot was the local microbrewery Lake of the Woods Brewing Company. For my late lunch there I had some pretty decadent pork shoulder poutine and a super tasty glass of their smoked I.P.A. beer. They know beer and food, don't stray from those two and you'll have a supremely satisfying meal.
After saddling up the next morning I headed south to the border town of Fort Frances and realized I was on the last leg of my Canadian Lake Superior adventure, but man, what a last leg. If you look at the route between Kenora and Fort Frances down Ontario-71 the northern half looks like a drunken person tried to draw a straight line and the southern half is straight shots through the country. It is the perfect combination of 50% constant curves around lakes and forest and 50% long lonely roads through beautiful countryside and Native American territories. If this was to be my last day riding in Canada then the motorcycle gods assembled everything to make it a sweet one.
There were points where I just stopped in the dead center of the road, looked forwards and backwards and realized nobody except for the bald eagle flying above me was around for miles. I could have had a picnic on the highway if I wanted.
Arriving to my final destination in Canada at the La Place Rendez-Vous Hotel it was slowly starting to sink in. After unpacking my gear I walked out onto the scenic back patio that nearly every room had and stared off into the glittering lake that sat only a few meters away and tried to make sense of this amazing journey. In only a few hours I would go to bed, wake up, and ride back into the US. Everything in me wanted to turn around and head back north up Ontario-71 and keep going.
What a great damn ride. When you ride Lake Superior you will ride superior in every sense of the word. Superior lakes, superior food, superior roads, superior landscapes, superior people, superior everything.
When finishing a ride like Lake Superior my last thought is always the same, "How soon can I go back."
Until next time, may your poutine be hearty, your ride be smooth, and your roads be superior.