Hello Folks, (cross posted on Wildguzzi)
There are a couple of northern Ontario back roads which have been calling to me for quite a while. I have driven them in the distant past, when I used to do canoe survey work. Some time ago the idea lodged in my mind that I would like to explore them by bike. *In particular, I wanted to ride in to Biscotasing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biscotasing,_Ontario
) - a tiny railway community at the end of the road, made famous as one of the stomping grounds of Grey Owl (Archie Belaney), in order to scope out the facilities and parking arrangements for a lengthy canoe trip I have been planning. *Then from Bisco, I wanted to head over to Sultan - then perhaps down the Chapleau Highway. *What better than to take the old dear out for a spin, extend a weekend and accumulate some serious gravel miles.
Characteristically, things didn't work out quite as I had planned. *
While I was away I took a lot of video footage which I will be compiling soon. *In the meantime, here’s a taster. *This is the route: approximately 1752 kilometres (1088 miles) of which the middle 350 or so were entirely unpaved.
For a more detailed look at the map: http://goo.gl/maps/bplB9
For once I’ll try to curb my verbosity and let the pictures do most of the talking.
Setting off - Devil lake, a few miles from my house heading north towards Westport.
An early start always gets the stomach rumbling, so I stopped for a breakfast sandwich and vat of coffee at Tim’s
. *The Eldo’s performing well.
The journey from my place up to North Bay then Lavigne is one I have driven and ridden innumerable times. It’s a nice ride but my mind was other things. *Guy’s beers from the local craft “Highlander” brewery are most excellent. So was the pizza he cooked for me. Thanks Guy.
Lavigne Tavern *GHQ 2013 National Rally.
From Guy’s I headed west and north past Sudbury towards Gogama. *The Sultan Industrial Road (a logging haul road) was my first objective, although I couldn't help taking a couple of snaps along the way.
Onaping River, close to Highway 144
Salubrious accommodation: worker’s bunkhouse attached to the gas bar at the end of the Sultan Road. *Early morning photo - yep, that’s frost.
The Sultan Road is a well maintained gravel road, which means a loose gravel surface on hardpack. *Its OK in a truck but a bit tricky on a bike. *Before too long a much smaller road cuts south towards Biscotasing. *Bumpy and full of potholes and wash outs - much more my style.
I saw the first bear on this road. *He was a young fellow, about the same size as a Newfoundland dog. He had probably been booted by his mum this spring and was out on his own looking for something to eat. *[s]As soon as he saw me, he looked up and charged the bike.....[/s] He took off into the bush in a hurry when he saw me.
The road to Bisco
When I arrived in Biscotasing the owner of the store was out on his balcony drinking coffee. *“Did you ride that thing all the way here?” I said I did. *“That’s only the second road bike I have ever seen in here”. *Apparently they see dirt bikes from time to time, but not elegant gentlemen on Italian steeds of distinction. *I soon attracted quite a crowd (4), approximately 20% of the year-round population.
Just a couple of kilometres outside Bisco, I came across Herman, sitting with his 4 wheeler and trailer. He waved me down. *His machine was broken - something to do with a recent, unsuccessful valve job - could I go back in to town to get his brother? *You bet! *Back in town I found the ‘white house with the red truck’ (I didn’t have to look too hard), and explained Herman’s predicament to his brother, who assured me he would be along with his other 4 wheeler to get him soon. *Back on the road, I conveyed this to Herman then carried on.
It’s a mere 32 kilometres from Bisco to Ramsey, back-tracking up the Bisco road for most of the way. *On the way in I had stopped a couple of times to sit and listen. *There is a quality of silence in the northern woods that must be experienced to be appreciated. *Other than the evocative call of *the Canada Warbler there is nothing but the gentle rustling of the trees.
Grey Owl put it best:
a land of shadows and hidden trails, lost rivers and unknown lakes, a region of soft footed creatures going their noiselesss ways over the carpet of moss, and there is silence, intense, absolute and all-embracing. It is as though one walked on the bottom of a mighty ocean of silence, listening, waiting for some sound which must eventually break it.
(The Falls of Silence: Country Life 1929)
Grey Owl would not be impressed by what has happened in the region since his death. *His stately pines have all been cut down, massive clear cuts are everywhere and his ‘hidden trails’ are now a network of logging and skid roads. Indeed, he would hardly recognise the bush at all since the original forest has long since been cleared and most of what one sees is second or third growth.
Fortunately nature is unremitting in her efforts to recover from our destruction. *Clear cut areas rapidly bloom with spindly new growth as nature reclaims the forest. *It is not the same, but at least the scars are healed over fairly quickly.
On the road between Biscotasing and Ramsey
Ramsey is now a ghost town - just a small node on the trans-continental Canadian Pacific main line. *In its former glory, it had a population of about 300 gold mine workers, then it was a lumber town with its own sawmill. In the early eighties, I remember seeing enormous piles of logs stockpiled along the rail tracks. Now it is deserted. The buildings have all been demolished. All that is left is a broad, bare plain which, because of the scale of the past industrial activity, nature has failed to reclaim.
As I rode out of the edge of the forest and in to the open, another teenage bear took one look at me and galloped off into the edge of the trees. *He was mostly black, like most of the bears in the area, but with an endearingly cute cinnamon left ear. Unfortunately I did not have my video camera rolling at the time, so you’ll just have to take my word.
My original plan had been to carry on from Ramsey to the megalopolis of Sultan but things didn’t work out that way. *Ramsey was so changed from what I remember that instead of turning north-west, I ended up bearing south. It wasn’t until I had already covered 40 or 50 kilometres with no Sultan in sight that I realised my mistake.
Oh well, I still had plenty of gas, the bike was running well and it was only about 168 kilometres from Ramsey to Webbwood along a completely uninhabited, unserviced, poorly maintained gravel road on a Sunday. *Nothing to worry about then..........
It was about this time that I started to notice a few problems with the road. *I would be humming along, and usually about three seconds too late, would see a desultory bit of flagging tape in a bush at the edge of the road or a bit of spruce tree sitting in the middle. *As I soon found out, these marked minor wash-outs and places where sink holes had developed in the road bed following recent storms.
I hit the first wash-out hard, completely bottoming out the Eldo’s forks and giving me a heck of a jolt. *Time to be a bit careful then....
Bear shit was everywhere. *Along one section of road I counted about a dozen, really large piles of doo, about 100 metres apart. *Clearly Bruin had been over-indulging on some vegetable matter and had voided his system at regular intervals as he ambled along the road. *
Its odd how your mind plays tricks on you. *Before I realised that I was heading in the wrong direction, I crossed a fairly substantial river flowing between lakes on either side. *Something obviously twigged, because I remember thinking, ‘that looks like ‘the Chutes’ - a well known starting point for canoe trips down the Mississaugi River. * I had used it myself when doing canoe survey decades ago. *But because I didn’t really believe it could be, I didn’t fully recognise it.
Still, being only mostly lost has its benefits, and the scenery in the lands between the Mississagi and Spanish Rivers - the old “Mississagi Forest Preserve” of Grey Owl’s time, is rather delightful.
A couple of views along the Ramsey/Webbwood Road (yes, lakes are everywhere with nobody anywhere - glorious!)
The wash-outs were coming thick and fast now. *Some were foot-deep channels right across the road. Others were braided networks where the run-off had done its best to turn the road into a new stream bed. *I handled each with as much care as I could muster, although it’s a testimony to the robust nature of the Eldorado that she took it in her stride and didn’t try to unseat me even when I saw them too late and ended up hitting them full on.
Lunch break (and no bugs!)
It was also slowly dawning on me that the road was eerily quiet. *Usually you can count on some traffic - at least a vehicle every half an hour or so, but the only vehicle I had seen since leaving Ramsey had been a very off-roady jeep. *I don’t mind the quiet and I love having the road to myself, but this was starting to be unusual.
Then I saw why! *The road was completely washed out. *No, it was just gone! *
I parked the bike and took a walk. *The jeep and perhaps a couple of other 4x4's had managed to get through. *The river bed was soft, loose and bouldery, but my options were a bit limited. *I wasn’t entirely sure I had enough gas to get back to Sultan (where I didn’t think there was gas anyway) or Chapleau, which was almost certainly beyond my range. *Better give it a go. *
Riding across the first stretch was relatively painless. *I took it really slowly, letting the Eldo’s torque do the work, dodging the bigger rocks and rely on her power to get through the soft sections. *The wash-out area was the best part of 100 metres wide, still with a small stream flowing across what was left of the road bed.
I could see where the jeep had come down the far bank. *It was steep and loose. *If I managed to get up this, what would I find on the other side? *Were there other washouts I would have to struggle through?
Oh well - here goes. *At first I tried to ride the bank, but the rear wheel dug in to the loose gravel and a lost all traction. *Its at times like this that you start to understand how much a 500 pound motorbike, loaded with camping gear really weighs. *
Holding the bike up with one hand, I managed to pull my helmet off and set it down. *It was just getting too darn hot and I could see there was going to be a bit of a struggle ahead. *Fortunately my camera was still running - these stills are extracted from the video footage.
With the bike running in first gear, and after a couple of false starts where I almost lost it, I managed to run the bike up the loose slope, controlling it (sort of) on the clutch and throttle. *It’s a good job I’m just a healthy teenager - it was a bit of a struggle.
Part 5 (final)
Fortunately that was the only major wash-out. *As I headed south there were a couple of patches where work crews had done a hasty repair and one place where a whole section of road had been *rebuilt and a shiny new culvert installed.
I stopped in a couple of places to have a breather and take some pictures, but the rest of the trip was uneventful.
OK I lied - there were a few more minor wash-outs
Just above Webbwood you hit the hard top, then shortly after, join the Trans-Canada highway. *I headed east to Espanola and a motel.
Espanola is a pulp mill town. *You can tell by a distinctive odour and the volume of steam emanating from the factory
The following day I was on the road by six, heading through Sudbury and along the Ottawa River towards Pembroke. *It was cool at first but it soon warmed up and ended up being the third wonderful day in a row.
Lake Nipissing - not far from Lavigne
Just south of Pembroke the Eldorado started to misfire. *One of my valve guides is a bit leaky and changing the cludged-up spark plug was a two minute roadside fix. *After that, it was quiet roads, glorious weather and excellent scenery all the way home.
Bridge over the Ottawa River near Rolphton
Eastern Ontario Backroads - near Snow Road
I like my Eldorado. *She's a fine bike. *Robust, capable, economical, solid, fast enough, easy to fix, emotionally satisfying. *To others she may look a bit messy but she gets the job done. *
Thanks for reading along.