Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
1600 KM - Lake Superior Camping Adventure on a WR250R
1600 KM - Lake Superior Camping Adventure - Part III - Lonely Lake
The walk back to the parking area was more uphill than I had remembered. By the time I made it back to my bike and wished Raymond "Good-luck" with the rest of his journey, I was really looking forward to riding again and cooling off. I removed my eye-glasses, put on my helmet and gloves, mounted my trusty steed, and thumbed the starter. Nothing. Not good (Please don't let it be the new Shorai battery.....). This called for a steady head, an even disposition, and a plethora of privately uttered profanity. I irrationalized that if I couldn't start the WR, I'd be toast - just a little hotter, a little darker, slightly more burned, and tons more crispy in this heat. I tried the horn. Yep. Good sign. Signals? Yep. So I had power (the Shorai Gods were looking favourably upon me). Did I bump the kill switch when I had previously clmbed off the bike? Nope. Kick stand up? Check. Then I remembered placing the WR in gear, as I had parked on a slight grade. Now realizing I was only a short, upward snick away from green-lighted instrument panel heaven, I engaged neutral and pressed the starter. With the bike now running - I darted across the parking lot toward the exit. It was about then that my amygdala detected a slight discrepancy in processing fluency - like the reverse of deja-vu. Rather than "Wow - something about this seems familiar" - it was more like "Wow - something about this seems too unfamiliar". Something wasn't right, but it was unclear what that might be. What important piece of implicit information was my amygdala trying to tell me? Things weren't very clear from my perspective - they lacked acuity - were a little "fuzzy". Literally. Was my vision blurry due to heat exhaustion - or just salty sweat welling up in my eyes? I reached to my face and realized that I wasn't wearing my glasses. I remembered debating whether or not to take my contact lenses prior to leaving. The contacts make it easier to remove one's helmet at rest stops, and they don't get fogged up in rainy, damp, riding either. But they are a pain to put on and take off. I now regretted not bringing them. So what next? What was I to do? Where were they? I remembered putting them on top of my tailbag when I put on my helmet. They weren't there now. Did I run them over? I decided I would have to perform a dishonorable dismount and find them. As I was extending the kick stand with my foot - I tried to stay positive - yet it was hard to deny that a feeling of despair, shock, and hopelessness was creeping in - mixed with a sudden feeling of exuberance, as I spotted my glasses lying next to the kickstand. Perhaps this was a gift from Mishipishew. They appeared unharmed. Ironically, they must have fallen off the bike after my near stoppie-like brake stand. I asked a youngster on a bicycle nearby if he could grab my glasses for me - and he politely retrieved them. I thanked him and was then on my way. It felt good to feel the wind on my face. I left my visor cracked slightly open to take advantage of the breeze. Everything was right in my world again.
Highway 17 hugs the scenic shoreline for much of the route from Agawa Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, ON. I stopped at the Can-Op (Northgate) near Montreal River Harbor to fuel up. An incredibly friendly couple and their son - all on cruisers - were at the pumps when I arrived. Turns out - they were from the Soo and were headed to - you'll never guess.......that "little piece of paradise across from the pictographs". Yes, they knew the owner of the cottage and they were heading there for the weekend. They also provided me with some useful suggestions on where I might find an Internet cafe in the Soo and an LCBO in Echo Bay, ON. I thanked them - wishing them the best, and continued on my way along the coast and through Sault Ste. Marie. Once I reached Echo Bay, I stopped at the Pit Stop Gas Bar at the intersection of Hwy 17B and Hwy 638 (the one I would be heading east on toward Lonely Lake). I would later stop by Dinelle's General Store at the same intersection to purchase my daily quota of Miracle Whip (lite) and was impressed by how well this store was stocked. The attached LCBO had two of the friendliest employees I had met on the entire trip. One of them rode a motorcycle, and when she saw my gear she had lots of questions. She also showed me an old photo taken from around Echo Bay during the '40s that included her father on a group ride with some other bikers. We chatted for quite some time. I asked her if she had seen the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" and she yelped with excitement and exclaimed "That is my dad!!!!" For a few brief moments I thought that Anthony Hopkins was actually her father until she explained that the personality of the character he portrayed in the movie (Burt Munro) perfectly matched her father's quirky nature. I felt bad when I had to end our conversation early, as Dinelle's was about to close and I feared the repercussions and reprisals that awaited me if I returned to the camp "Miracle Whip Lite-less". Still - how can anyone not thoroughly enjoy chatting with someone who is so engaging and genuinely passionate about riding?
The road to the camp and gathering was strewn with fist sized rocks, eroded sections, and various natural obstacles. Like Highway 17 around Thunder Bay after the recent flood. It is in situations such as this that the WR250R shines - with its light weight, long-travel suspension, and sharp handling. What it taketh away in highway stability, it giveth back in off-road prowess. When I made it to the camp, I fully expected to arrive to an ADV Rider version of Sturgis. Yet - except for several tents tucked off to the side - the place was largely empty. No bikes. Was I at the correct place? I noticed one fellow sitting and reading near a smoker and asked him the same question. Yes - it was the right place. The other forum members were out on group rides and would be back shortly. It turns out, Scott sacrificed participating in the ride to tend the smoker, which was slowly and tenderly cooking succulent pork for the evening's pulled pork extravaganza. As much as I like riding, the enticing aroma wafting my way made me think that tending the BBQ was not all bad. He guessed that I was "Nanabijou" from the forum and mentioned that the hosts had expected me to arrive yesterday. Oops. At least it felt good to know that someone was looking out for me. So we chatted about the usual things adventure riders chat about - you know - things like "Which company makes the absolute, undisputed - if you disagree with me you are a moron - best oil ever", and "Is synthetic oil really any better than non-synthetic oil?". It was tense. Did I say something wrong? Just kidding. I knew better than to broach this topic, as I've witnessed first hand the destructive consequences of such postings in online forums on numerous occasions. The collective response was not unlike how a fellow inmate reacts to being called a "goof" in prison. I think this is where the saying "And everyone went Ape$hit" originated. So instead we talked about...bikes. What else? I quickly asked him about the picnic table close by that was painted in KTM orange and black regalia complete with logo. I wondered how obsessed one would have to be about a bike and manufacturer to create a shrine out of a picnic table. Did I have to ingest a piece of consecrated bread before I approached this hallowed structure? I later found out that Dan - our host (no, not the thin, round, wafer) - was a "Rush" fan and worshipped Neil Peart just as much as KTM - so I knew that his heart was in the right place. It was interesting to also learn from Scott that Lonely Lake was also deep enough to contain a healthy stock of lake trout. We also discussed where I might pitch my tent for the evening. There weren't many spots available. I was later forewarned by a number of people that one of the tents I was considering setting up next to - housed a snorer whose soft throat tissues registered a rhythmic sound only slightly less obnoxious than a baffle-less straightpiped Road King. Thanks for the tips! So I chose a spot down towards the water, near the dock. It looked a little wet there - but I knew it would offer a nice view when exiting the tent in the morning.
It wasn't long afterwards that groups of riders started to stream into the camp following an afternoon of riding, exploring, and sight seeing. The photo of my tent (below) was taken by Rick (Thanks Rick!) who rode an old Triumph Scrambler 900 to the gathering. Here is a video of him flying his Cessna on floats around Chapleau, ON. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6my0FM9F_Q. If you can find any video that better captures what it is like to grow up in Northern Ontario, and one that makes you more proud to be Canadian - I'd like to see it. My dad used to fly a Piper J-3 (Prospector model) in the mid 1950's.
It was refreshing to meet such a diverse group of friendly, funny, knowledgeable, and interesting riders. If there is a "squid" version of an adventure rider - I didn't see one at the gathering. Just a great group of people. It was nice to meet Ron, a rider on a BMW F650GS Dakar who showed up later in the evening - straight from Thunder Bay - after a long day in the saddle. I was looking forward to meeting him, as he also owned a CBR125R and lived only a short distance away from me. He also brought with him some unfortunately news. A fellow rider (Feliz) from his group low-sided into a ditch not far from camp on a dirt road while negotiating a blind and dust clouded corner. It turned out that the rider would be fine - except for what was later diagnosed as a broken shoulder blade (scapula). This is the kind of news that affects everyone deeply - but we were relieved to hear that ultimately he would be fine. I was also surprised by how many riders found it notable that I rode in on a WR250R. I suppose with the bulk of the riders piloting Kawasaki KLR650s, Suzuki DR800s (Big), KTMs and BMWs, the WR250R was sort of the "odd-ball" adventure mount of the group - at least in terms of displacement. I was beginning to suspect collusion when I was witness to even more suggestions that the WR would be a "Good bike to ride north on that [80km/hr] highway from Atikokan to Highway 17". Was I missing something here? I reasoned that because the WR250R is relatively rare and doesn't sell in large numbers, people just weren't very familiar with the bike. One of the riders (Gord) brought with him a Warbonnet tent hammock that he had strung up between two trees alongside a nearby slope. He found it incredibly comfortable to sleep in. He claimed it was even comfortable when curled up on one's side. This peaked my curiosity. Here was a sleep system that was waterproof, packed light and small, required no mattress or air bed, was comfortable, required no amount of level ground, and was quick to set up. This would seem to be the "perfect" sleep setup for an adventure rider. The ideal boon-docking sleep system. For the remainder of the evening I sat in front of the fire, devoured the most succulent smoked pulled pork my palate has ever made contact with, chatted with fellow riders, and sipped what tasted like ambrosia (Coors Light - O.K. I was stunned too) - after such a hot, dehydrating day of riding in the sun. All arranged by the most generous and gracious hosts you will find anywhere. Thanks again Dan, Greta, Scott, and Nancy for all the time, effort, hard work, and money you invested in the gathering. I was one of the last ones to retire for the evening - retreating to my little home down near the dock.
For photos and highlights of the gathering see the links below:
Early the next morning - after eating a delicious breakfast - I reluctantly decided to cut my trip short. I really didn't want to leave so soon. But I had some academic responsibilities back in Thunder Bay that needed tending to (much like the succulent slow smoked BBQ pork) and I knew going into this adventure that I only had a limited window of opportunity available. I also reasoned that it would be enjoyable to ride back with some new friends who were also heading in the same direction. Hello?!? Friends?!?!? (sounds of distant echo bouncing off Canadian Shield). I may have taken a little too long to pack up. They went ahead without me. I would be on my own for the first part of the leg - but figured I'd meet up with them later anyway, as we would all be traveling the same route. While loading the bike, I also noticed that one of the nylon straps from my Ortlieb saddles had made contact and partially melted against the exhaust. Damn. I decided at that moment that it would be best to purchase racks to help keep the saddles at a safer distance. After thanking the hosts and wishing others a safe trip, I rode out along the dirt road towards highway 638. Just before reaching the pavement I met up with Brian and John who were seeing off some other riders. Ken was there too with his Yamaha DT400 air-cooled 2-stroke. I think Ken had an option to choose between a Hummer H3 or the DT400, and picked the DT because he didn't mind getting significantly poorer fuel economy (just teasing Ken! ). I also took a moment to make sure my bags were secured on the bike after the rough ride from the camp. When Brian tested the setup by tugging on the saddlebags and practically extricating the entire mass from the bike - I realized that it needed some fine tuning. Turns out - the straps that were positioned under the seat weren't as secure as the same setup on my CBR250R and CBR125R. Granted - I rode 800 KMs (500 miles) to the meet without any difficulties. Still - connecting two straps to tie downs on either side of the bike helped button-down the gear more solidly. Thanks Brian and John. My next stop would be to pay a visit to the fallen rider (Feliz) from the previous day at a hotel along Great Northern Road in Sault Ste. Marie. Some other riders had gone ahead to provide him with some moral support. However, as I rode past the hotel there were no bikes in the parking area - so I continued on (I found out later that he had been kidnapped by some Lonely Lake inmates who convinced him that his day would be better spent - relaxing in pain - back at camp). I planned to fuel up again about 45 minutes north of Sault Ste. Marie, at the Canadian Carver Esso. When I arrived, I immediately recognized Steve's DR800 Big and Lee's Suzuki Burgman 650. They had decided to stop here as well. So did Doug, who was riding a Honda Gold Wing. Apparently Ron was missing in action. We also assumed we'd meet up with him later on.
The ride back up along Lake Superior toward Wawa, ON was simply incredible. The sun was shining, the scenery was equally breathtaking from this direction, there was little wind, and it was warm. So warm that one of our group (Doug) elected to ride the route in a t-shirt. He later commented that a brief cool breeze near Old Woman Bay provided some much needed relief from the heat. Over-taking slower moving traffic was no problem on the WR. On a couple of passes - with the throttle cracked open - I felt like I needed to hold on especially tight as the rush of wind was pushing on my chest, while the eager WR was energetically tugging me forward - like I was being pulled on water-skis by an accelerating speedboat with a parachute attached to my back. Once on the cam the WR250R just keeps pulling. When we reached Wawa to fill up with fuel, Doug, who was riding at the front of the pack asked (though it sounded a little more like a bit of good-natured ribbing) "Did you have any problems keeping up with us back there on that 250"? Now, keep in mind we were all riding at between 100-104km/hr (60-65 mph). I said "Not at all - I still had lots of throttle left". I looked at Steve who had been riding the DR800 Big behind me for much of the stretch, and asked him rhetorically "What do you think Steve - did the WR250R look like it was struggling?". He said "I was surprised by how much pull that thing has - were you dropping it into 5th gear when you were passing?". I said "No, I was still in top gear (6th)". He said it "looked like the WR250R had as much "jump" as a KLR650!". Now I don't wish to offend any KRL650 owners reading this report - but when I got home and checked some online reviews that included dyno tests and wet weights for both the WR250R and the KLR650, I discovered that indeed - the power-to-weight-ratios between these two bikes were remarkably similar.
When riding along the north shore of Lake Superior - you can count on the weather being predictably unpredictable. Shortly after Doug turned off toward home just past Wawa. the weather changed from a balmy 30C (86F) to about 10C (50F) in about one hour. What can I say about the rest of the ride home to Thunder Bay? After eating a nice meal in White River, the weather continued to get worse. By the time we reached the turnoff to Manitouwadge, it started to rain and Steve put on his raingear. After that - it was wet, blustery, cold, and miserable. Even though my Joe Rocket Alter-Ego suit kept me dry - I was shivering noticeably under my gear. We stopped every hour to pry ourselves off the bikes, warm up, and sip and cradle hot chocolate like it was Coors Light from the day before. Lee was concerned that hypothermia might be setting in (as we all were) and figured that she would wisely end her journey for the day in Nipigon, ON - one hour shy of Thunder Bay. We almost didn't make it. About 10 KMs before reaching Nipigon, Steve slowed, pulled over to the side of the road, and was slalom-ing his bike like an F1 car with an empty fuel cell. He had run out of gas. After inspecting both fuel tanks (the DR800 has two) it appeared that one tank was still full - yet the bike wasn't getting fuel from that side. Fortunately, Lee came to the rescue with a 1 L Primus fuel bottle, and once Steve fired up the DR800 again, we pushed on to Nipigon. With Steve riding ahead and doing his best hypermiler imitation, he made it to the pump with fuel to spare. After some food and drink, Lee rode off to the Beaver Motel in town, while Steve and I continued to stubbornly freeze our a$$es off on the last 100 KMs (60 miles) to Thunder Bay. We got in at around 9:30PM. It was one of the coldest rides I've ever completed. When I drove around Boulevard Lake near home, I noticed some people walking around the path in shorts and sweatshirts. It felt like 0 C (32F) on the bike - yet from what people were wearing - it couldn't have been that cold. Minutes later when I arrived home, I took a 30 minute hot shower and felt better, but still had the chills afterwards (I just couldn't warm up) so I plugged in a portable heater and sat at my computer in front of it. Eventually, I started to feel "warm" again. I checked the current temperature online and it showed 10C (50F). It was only after I read through postings in the Northern Riders section of ADV Rider later that evening that I discovered that Ron had beat us home by about 2 hours. He concurred that it was one of the coldest rides he had ever experienced.
One of the original goals for this trip included a desire to more fully "bond" with the WR250R. So after 1600 KMs of riding in all kinds of weather conditions, on pavement and gravel, with the bike loaded up behind me with camping gear, over-taking highway traffic, riding slow, riding fast, feeding it fuel, climbing on and off frequently - actually "living" with the bike for a few days - had my previous impressions of the WR250R changed at all? I remember months ago thinking about the WR and comparing it to my other bikes and wondering if it lacked "character". This may not have been a fair assessment, as dual-purpose (dual-sport) bikes by their very nature are designed to be all-purpose bikes - a bike that can do it all, yet not excel in any one domain. But the more I thought about it - the more I realized after my recent trip - that the best way to experience the character of the WR - was to ride it like I did - through a variety of conditions - put it through its paces and allow it to show you how it can shine - when in its element. And by allowing it to do just that, it opened my eyes to how fun and versatile this bike really can be if you give it a chance to let it show you. Its character shows through in these environments and really offers up lots of value for the minimalist adventurer. From the fearless and confident way it handled rock-strewn dirt roads, to the entertaining way it braved buffeting and gusty highway riding, to its spirited "this bike produces more power than a 250cc dual-sport ought to" feeling when cracking the throttle and accelerating to pass out on the highway. A few days after the ride, I found myself investing more time and money into the bike. I smiled thinking that I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it was worth it. So there I was, purchasing a new $200 rear rack so I could eventually mount a Givi hard case - to make loading and off-loading camping gear quicker and easier. I also purchased new under-the-bar mirrors to help protect them from the ravages of tight trail riding. And I purchased a Kriega US20 tankbag and adaptor, so I need never go without again. I re-installed my stock seat and found it much more habitable. And this led me to think about the trip again, and how natural the upright riding position of the bike feels. The WR rides like a veritable Gold Wing compared to my CBR125R and CBR250R in terms of leg room and overall comfort. And I thought about how much easier it is to see above city traffic - on the WR I feel like Marshall "Sam McCloud" riding a horse through NYC. Yes - I realized I was giving this bike more attention than I had had in a long time. I had to resign myself to the fact that I too was now suffering from "hemispatial sportibike neglect". I remember thinking to myself......Yes - there IS something special about the WR.
I hope you've enjoyed this trip report and found the description and details of my gear, the bike, and the riding area both useful, enjoyable, and entertaining. And I also hope that sharing this adventure helped you imagine for a moment just what it might be like to ride the WR250R along the north shore of Lake Superior, camp over-night, and make new friends over on the Northern Riders section of the ADV Rider Forum. Maybe like me, you will find satisfaction and some excitement in reading through this report in the middle of January in anticipation of the spring thaw - and that first opportunity to set out on another new adventure of your own.
Nanabijou screwed with this post 06-21-2012 at 12:31 PM