Part II - Rabbit Blanket Lake Provincial Park
The ride along Hwy 17 between Terrace Bay and Marathon is still one of my favourites. Nice changes in elevation, spectacular views of Lake Superior, and an incredibly twisty roadway. By the time I was nearing Neys Provincial Park and my nemesis for the day - the hill lookout - I was fighting excitement mixed with some understandable trepidation. How daunting would the climb be? Were Dan and his dad Art correct in stating that the CBR wouldn't make it? These were the thoughts running through my mind as I turned off onto the tower road located adjacent to the Neys Lunch Restaurant across from the park entrance. For the first hundred meters or so everything felt great and I began thinking that this actually might be much easier than I'd expected. Yet it's usually this kind of overconfidence that precedes being dishonorably thrown from the bike. This train of thought was suddenly interrupted as I encountered a lengthy section of road that looked remarkably like Veradero beach. How would the CBR handle fine, soft sand? Terribly as it turned out. From behind - I bet it looked like I was trying to imitate Chubby Checker with the rapid back and forth slaloming action that the bike was now showing. This wasn't going to be as easy as I had figured a few moments before. I didn't fancy having my CBR150R take its first nap out on a sandy road in the middle of nowhere. Then again - my Ortlieb saddles stuck out further than the Givi case - so if I happened to meet such a fate - I was somewhat confident that the soft bags would provide some good cushioning and prevent the top case from contacting the ground. Still - I wanted to avoid such peril at all costs. At least the route to the top was well travelled with no guess-work needed. Soon it became apparent that the road gods weren't about to rule in my favour as the grade became steeper and the roadbed became noticeably rougher. With the increasing steepness came ruts, eroded sections, loose gravel, large rocks, unpredictable off-camber sections, and an assortment of other obstacles (e.g., tree branches, grass, guardrails) to remind you that a constant mental focus was absolutely essential to climbing through this gauntlet. Such intense focus prevented me from keeping track of how many times I experienced a near upset on the way up. Each loose rock jarred the CBR and threw it off course, and with the significant weight I was carrying, not to mention the scant suspension travel I was sporting - the punishing ride up felt much like what it looks like to ride a mechanical bull. By the time I reached the tight, hairpin-like bends in the road (clearly seen in the image) - I wondered what else the road might throw at me. It became almost comical.
Here is a Google Earth capture of the hill and the meandering road leading to the top. The hill is over 500ft above the road below and sits about 850 ft above Lake Superior.
I could appreciate what Dan and Art had warned me about the year before - and I seemed to recall them describing some dramatic near "get-offs" during their ascent as well. This was a tricky climb - fully loaded with gear on a street-bike. Granted - it would have been much less challenging on a dual-sport - like my WR250R. Yet - just when it seemed at the time that the obstacles would eventually wear me down - and ultimately catch me off guard - the road started to return to a more gradual climb again - and I could tell that the worst was over for now. Fortunately, I was rewarded with some spectacular views.
Here's a view from the top looking west toward Neys Provincial Park.
This photo was taken looking southeast toward Coldwell.
So how was the ride down the hill? Not any better. I remember at one point thinking "Hey I should take a photo of this so people will apprecia....." and in that brief lapse of attention - I almost did a brake-stand...with only my rear brake in use. I thought it better to just concentrate on getting down in one piece - and then write about it as descriptively as I could - later.
My destination for the first night was originally supposed to be White Lake Provincial Park between Marathon and White River. However, this would have meant that the next leg of my journey would be a more lengthy 750kms - and an extra long day in the saddle - so I chose instead to find another campground closer to my route inland from Wawa. That turned out to be to Rabbit Blanket Lake Provincial Park - about 33 kms south of the large goose. Just before reaching the park - a young bear ran across the road and scrambled up an embankment in front of me. One of several wildlife encounters I experienced throughout the day. If you are looking to spot wildlife on a motorcycle tour - the north shore is as great a place as any. A few moments later - when I reached the gate - I was elated (actually jubilant) that there was an attendant there waiting to assist with registration. I admit - I was so starved for human contact at this point that perhaps seeing another human probably contributed to my exuberant display of hypo-mania. I felt like kissing the park attendant. If you've read my previous reports - you know how I abhor the tedium, pain, and indignation of having to go through the throes of self-registration. You know - looping endlessly - struggling to find a suitable and un-occupied site, then being burdened with completing the self-registration form (if you can find a pen) - and paying well over $30 for the opportunity. So you can understand my joy and relief in having the entire process completed quickly and efficiently by another human - who had quick access to available site, could pull my address and information instantly from the computer - and could charge my Visa card - without the need for exact change - with little fuss. This is how every visitor should be welcomed. Yet - this elation was only short-lived - cut-off abruptly by the her carefully worded caveat - "Unfortunately we have no water in the campground". She added that some potential visitors made haste in the direction of Agawa Bay Campground - 55 kms further south - as an alternative. I really didn't see that as an option. Perhaps as a way of softening my disappointment - she informed me that I would likely be the only one staying in the 60-site campground this evening. Yes - I'd have it all to myself ¯"One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do....¯". One benefit was that I could now choose any site. The attendant recommended #11, as she had heard (umm....apparently from hoards of visitors?!??) that it was the nicest site in the park. I was about to find out. I joked that I'd seen a bear just up the road so perhaps I'd have some company this evening. The fact that she didn't offer any reassurance, and didn't exactly deny that possibility - gave me pause. So out of curiousity - and a strict desire for self-preservation I asked "So who can I call if there is a problem tonight?". While her answer was kind and compassionately worded - it came out sounding to me much like "no one". She added that there was no cell phone signal in the park either. I thought that this would make for a pretty compelling plot-line for a new slasher film. As I was leaving the gate - I thought I could make out the faint whispering "chih-chih-chih-chih......hah..hah..hah" sounds common to the Friday the 13th franchise. Heck - it was Wednesday the 19th - and unless a few pages stuck together in Jason's day-planner - I considered myself in the clear. I could now take comfort that the Three Dog Night ear-worm was gone - but was concerned that it had now been replaced by something more sinister that sounded nothing like Chuck Negron on vocals.
The site did look great situated right on Rabbit Blanket Lake. I also appreciated how straight-forward the campground layout was organized. Essentially two adjacent loops - with a comfort station in the middle. Apparently the park was named for a blanket made of rabbit fur pelts crafted by aboriginal people - the first visitors to the area.
As soon as I arrived - I removed all essential gear from the bike and began assembling my home for the evening. I'm still loving my Nemo Moki single-walled, water-proof tent. It packs fairly small (about the size of a football) and I appreciate the simplicity of not having to setup a rain-fly. Any drawbacks? Nemo touts the convenience of being able to erect the tent in the rain, as the design necessitates that two cross poles be inserted inside - thus permitting partial assembly of the tent while staying dry (there are two other poles that clip to the exterior of the tent). What they didn't mention is that you need an open door to position these poles inside and this allows swarms of mosquitos buzzing around you - to gain easy entry. While the tent is completely bombproof and retains its rigidity even under the most determined wind and rain - I would be willing to forego the bombproof-ness of this shelter for the same tent - with a three or four exterior clipped pole design. Why am I mentioning this? Well the mosquitos drained me of more blood than a distracted ADHD-diagnosed cell-phone texting nurse at an emergency blood drive. I was making my contribution to their healthy ecosystem. And their numbers seemed to multiply as time wore on. Yes - there WAS something I had forgotten to take with me - insect repellant. Lest you think I might be complaining - whining - unnecessarily - keep in mind I'm not talking about a few mosquitos here and there. I could handle that. To get an impression of how ubiquitous they were - later in the evening I slapped the calf of my leg and counted 11 dead mosquitos on the palm of my hand. I opted to leave my gear on - including my helmet. It seemed to make the most sense at the time. But running around swatting flies and performing frequent squats - made me feel like I was like doing a Billy Blanks Tae-bo workout in a snowmobile suit.....inside a Finnish sauna. Did I mention it was rather warm outside? I hoped my fortunes would soon improve.
After my tent was assembled, I decided to ride back toward Wawa for some fuel, some eats, and an opportunity to contact my girlfriend to reassure her that I had reach my destination for the day. I had read online that the Subway in Wawa boasted a wireless hotspot - so I was eager to check my e-mails as well. And to be honest - I was really looking forward to escaping the mosquitos. Can you blame me? Unfortunately, once I was on my bike again - some stowaways managed to limbo themselves between my helmet and my temples. I thought I was in the clear after stopping, removing my helmet, and slapping myself silly like a Three Stooges skit - but for some reason - and I'm not sure if I was just imagining this or if the critters were really in my helmet - (kinda like the mosquito equivalent of cocaine formication or methamphetamine "crank bugs") I continued to feel the sensation of them crawling around for much of the ride into Wawa. Once at the Subway I was looking forward to sitting in a mosquito free environment, sipping on a drink, eating a healthy sub, checking my e-mail, and touching base with my girlfriend. Part of the reverie was shattered when I asked an associate for the wireless password - and was informed that they were "Having some problems with the connection today". Sure enough - when I finally sat down to eat and removed the laptop from its home inside my Kriega waterproof bag - and tried to connect - I couldn't. And a quick call to my girlfriend ended even quicker with me having to leave a message. As I was leaving the restaurant and retrieving my helmet and gloves from the top case (the convenience of locking my helmet and gloves inside the Givi made life so much easier) a fellow stepped outside and inquired about the bike's displacement. I said "Take a guess." He said "Hmmm...about 500cc's or so?".
When I returned to Rabbit Blanket Lake Park, the sun was slowly starting to set so I decided to capture a few more photos of the lake. I thought the one below nicely reflected what I observed as I was getting ready to turn in for the evening. The shot even managed to capture a mosquito towards the lower right-hand corner. How fitting! I had run down to the lake to escape them. They were in hot pursuit.
Before retiring, I decided to head to the comfort station to re-charge my cell phone and see whether taking a shower was possible. I had assumed that no water meant "no showers" as well - but I brought along a change of clothes and my toiletries just in case this wasn't the case. I was pleased to discover that there was indeed hot water for a shower - but no current from the wall outlet. I've learned to be flexible and accept such obstacles - particularly when touring before peak season. The priority was taking a nice, long, and hot shower anyway - so this really wasn't the end of the world. The long ride - mixed in with wearing waterproof and non-breathable raingear - on top of my heavy Joe Rocket textile jacket and pants - combined with the sweltering tent raising workout - meant that a shower was not only desired - but necessary. This is another perk to traveling on a motorcycle. The little things that you normally take for granted - often produce such hedonic pleasure - that the you wonder if part of the reason for the discomfort during the day is to reap the incredible rewards found at the end of it. Life was good again. The shower felt incredible. I had the entire park to myself. I was wearing fresh, clean clothes. I smelled good. Once I cleared my tent of flying insects - I would be golden. It was going to be a good night. I decided to retire early - partly because there was nothing else to do. After a few minutes of sporadic hand claps that mimicked the puzzled audience reaction to the end of the first pre-screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey - I figured the mosquito culling was near complete. I decided to leave the screen up on the door to allow a gentle breeze to waft through. Not only to enhance my slumber - but to hopefully air out my gear at the same time. Once in the comfort of my sleeping bag - I took out some reading material. There was no one around except for some loons, birds, forest floor critters, and what appeared to be a guy in a goalie mask taking cover behind the comfort station. I hadn't read for pleasure in a long time. Yet - I craved something a little more intellectually stimulating. Under the light of my head-lamp, I pulled out Scott Lilienfeld's "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behaviour" and began to read.
There's something to be said about being alone in a park, in your tent, with virtually nothing to do. Without a watch - I wasn't even aware of or even cared about what hour it was. Nor did I even consider turning on my cell phone to find out. I figured I fell asleep around 10PM that night - the earliest I've gone to sleep in a very long time. It was nice to not have to keep track of time. I slept incredibly deeply and soundly. When was that last time you slept so soundly in a tent?
Stay tuned for Part III.