Part V - Baptiste Lake
Rarely have I ever celebrated - revelled - in having my tank topped off with fuel. This time was an exception. After leaving Deep River, it was evident that Hwy 17 was losing much of its captivating scenery - so I was looking forward to a change - leaving the Trans-Canada for the quieter, relaxed, and more intimate riding east of Algonquin Provincial Park. As I was nearing the town of Alice, I snapped the photo below to mark my new transition into this more serene riding environment. Even the smells were different - something that would go unnoticed when riding in a car. I remember thinking to myself "I can't believe I've made it this far". I could tell that the hardest part was behind me for now - and looked forward to riding through some new areas of Ontario that I had never before visited. And I was sure there'd be more stunning scenery along the way - as I slowly edged closer to Baptiste Lake and Bancroft.
Nearing the town of Alice. It was nice to be riding off the Trans-Canada and into a less crowded, quieter, and more relaxed setting.
Maybe it was the excitement of knowing I was getting nearer to my destination for the day - but one regret from this portion of the trip was the lack of photos I'd taken of this area. Then again - it's not like the intent wasn't there. I attempted to take some photos near Bonnechere Provincial Park and 'round Round Lake in all of its impressive circular-ness. Judging from what I could see from the road way - I could tell that any open view of the lake would be breathtaking. But there were few opportunities, unless I boldly rode up someone's driveway and walked around their cottage for a peek. So I just continued onto Hwy 60 into Barry's Bay, and along Kamaniskeg Lake down the picturesque Combermere Road. I have to admit this section hugging Kamanisikeg Lake really caught my attention - particularly as I was leaving Barry's Bay and then again as I was climbing a hill west of Combermere where a panoramic view of a large rolling hill next to Kamaniskeg Lake suddenly came into view. A day later - when we were re-tracing the same route on a group ride - others were startled by this same view - and agreed that it'd make a great photo opportunity. But the challenging logistics of doing so on a group ride meant that we never did capture this group image.
As I rode west through Maynooth, and then down Hwy 62 toward Bancroft, I was also impressed that there was no need to consult my map - it was remarkably easy to just follow the signs leading to Bancroft. Perhaps it was this overconfidence that led me to dismiss bringing a more detailed map along that would give me a fighting-chance to actually make it directly to the meeting place. Granted I knew approximately where I was going. Yet, in hindsight - I can't believe that seemed good enough for me at the time. What was I thinking? Maybe it was my need to discover the place myself, or just my desire to create my own adventure before stumbling inadvertently upon the camp. All I know is my first mistake was riding down North Baptiste Lake road. I knew I needed to turn at a Baptiste Lake Road. Yet I suppose I hadn't paid enough attention while trip planning to realize that there were - in fact - two Baptiste Lake Roads. And as Murphy's law and chance might suggest - I was riding down the wrong one. For at least 20 minutes. I remember thinking - "This doesn't make sense - I should have seen the river long ago"...... So I briefly entertained asking someone for directions, yet on this beautiful sunny day - perhaps due to a zombie apocalypse - there was nobody outside - nobody anywhere. Finally I saw a women placing clothes on a line in her yard that backed onto a spectacular view of Baptiste Lake. She was incredibly friendly and helpful and apparently frightfully unaware of the devastating zombie apocalypse that was taking the region by storm. She even offered to have her sons "Google" the address I was seeking on their computer. Geez - now that I think about it - her offer may have actually been a thinly veiled "dig". Well played...well played. But pride stood stoically in the way - and I just followed her Jedi Mind Trick tip to try out South Baptiste Lake - because she felt it was likely that "this was the road that I was looking for". I had no idea myself - but through a process of elimination - with only one option left - it did seem like a likely candidate.
So back to Hwy 62 I went - feeling a little bit humbled.
When I finally reached South Baptiste Lake Road - I knew from my keen sleuthing skills and fine directional sense - that I was getting closer. I could smell it. Or maybe that was my own stench (the hot and humid S. Ontario weather was now upon me). At one point I smelled ammonia when I removed my Joe Rocket pants. I apparently had a chemical lab specializing in sweat metabolites beneath my gear. As luck would have it - I was getting closer. But unfortunately, I had no idea how much closer - as I rode up and down this stretch several agonizing times. All that was missing was the connecting road that would lead me to camp Nirvana - yet - there were many - and I couldn't recall which one I needed. I took a moment to think this one through and approach things more systematically. I knew that a couple of other riders were supposed to either be at the camp already - or would be arriving about the same time. I had one of their cell numbers. Good. I'll just ride back to the highway and call them on my cell phone I thought.
While riding back toward the highway - I found myself following a pick-up truck that suddenly made a right-hand turn (without signalling) and as I was braking I met two riders coming the opposite way through the same intersection. Could these be the two forum members? I tried to mentally calculate the probability. That likelihood took a steep nose-dive as they passed by - one riding a 750 Katana, and the other a CBR600RR. One of them waved, and I managed to stick up my hand - as I was braking - after they'd passed. A few minutes later I was back at the highway and took out my cell phone. As I was doing so - a vehicle full of older adults pulled up alongside and a fellow asked if I needed directions. I must have looked pretty discombobulated. I remember being taken aback by the thoughtfulness of this gesture. After sharing the camp address - there was some muffled consultation across the back-seat - and the driver spoke up and suggested I ride back, and after crossing a bridge, and cresting a large hill - I should turn left at Woodcox Rd. That would get me closer. I thanked them for the help - and reassured them that I had a cell number available - and would call to make sure. They wished me good luck and drove toward Bancroft. When I turned on my phone - I was dismayed to find no signal. I'm sure you know the feeling. Then remarkably - the "no signal" changed to my carrier and I was suddenly "good to go". After dialing Nathan (hoping he would be somewhere with a signal as well) there was no answer - so I followed the advice I had been given and headed back along South Baptiste Lake Road. As I was putting my phone away - I heard my messaging app chime a few times - but I dismissed it. I figured it was likely some older messages coming through now that my cell was turned on and I had a signal. As I was making my way - yet again - along South Baptiste Lake Road - I spotted what initially appeared to be a roadway mishap on the top off a distant hill. I made out a few figures - with one waving frantically for help - arms flailing wildly around in the air - in the middle of the roadway no less. I remember thinking that my boring, repetitive ride up and down this stretch of blacktop was about to get more interesting. As I got a little closer - I realized that the S.O.S. was really more of a beacon - that these were the two riders I had passed only a short while before - and that they were indeed the two members from the forum - desperately trying to show me the way. Oh....and those messaging alerts I had heard before? They came from Nathan texting:
5:58Pm, Jun 21
U passed us buddy
5:59PM, Jun 21
Woodcox rd on you left heading east on s. baptiste
5:59PM, Jun 21
He had heard his cell ring - but couldn't answer it in time. It felt like a rescue in progress. I had met Nathan before (at our previous meet-up at Balsam Lake), but I had never met Richard previously. Both of them had owned CBR125Rs at some point - and unless they had some expensive cloaking technology at their disposal - they weren't riding them now. At least with the three of us - I could assume the route to the camp would be easy - right?! Not exactly. Even with Nathan's cell GPS - the way from Woodcox Road was still a bit confusing with a few forks thrown in for good measure - and a lack of clarity about which one to select at each junction. But ultimately - we arrived at the site. It was good to finally be there. To relax. To celebrate after what seemed like a triumphant victory. And to actually converse - a skill that I worried I had lost through an acute lack of practice. While I think my first few words had me struggling like Tarzan at his first Toastmaster's meeting - the rhythmicity of my usual linguistic ability soon returned. Before things got out of hand however, we needed to re-group and map out our priorities. First we needed to setup our tents. Next - it was agreed upon that we needed beer. That was all.
Some tents on a perfect little site along the York River.
We even had a river to swim in.
The camp came well-equipped. It even boasted a new invention I hadn't heard of in a while called electricity. After battling it out in the trenches for a few days - I really felt like I was going to be pampered here (not in the diaper sense - though admittedly this might be an avenue to explore on future trips) - by such extravagant luxury.
Once our tents were taken care of - we headed in to Bancroft and straight to the LCBO....er.....actually M&M meats. We were kind of hoping for some large juicy steaks so we could punch a stick through them - dip them in the camp fire for a bit - then howl a few times as we gnawed on our freshly roasted kill. But the kind lady at M&M only had frozen, bacon wrapped fare available. So we decided to head to the local Foodland grocery instead. As we were leaving M&Ms we noticed a disheveled teen, talking loudly to nobody nearby - and stumbling around our bikes. Worried about theft - Richard quickly blurted out a warning that didn't sit well with him - and this led to what could only be described as an alcohol fueled Oscar level tirade that began with "Do you know who I am" clearly lifted from Reese Witherspoon's play book - and ended with him actually spelling out his name - and I'm not joking here - letter by letter. Though judging by how much he was struggling - I think he may have cheated by quietly humming the alphabet for assistance. We cut his proclamation short by starting our bikes and moving on to the LCBO - where I picked up some boxed wine (for everyone at the site) and some tall-boy cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Ambrosia in a can. Now I know why - when we were kids and our family visited the U.S. - my dad would pick up a few cans of this liquid gold and covet it. It went down a little like beer-flavoured drinking water - but it sure was refreshing. At the Foodland - Richard thought it best to stand watch with the bikes this time, while Nathan and I fetched some steaks and snacks. Nathan then relieved Richard who did the same. When I exited the store - Nathan reported that I had just missed a street fight. Welcome to Bancroft on a Friday night - I thought.
When we returned to the camp, we broke out the drinks, made a campfire and enjoyed the moment. I called my girlfriend (there was cell service!) who - as it turns out - was doing the exact same thing. The requisite Thunder Bay Friday evening residential backyard fire-pit circle - sipping drinks with friends. Welcome to Thunder Bay on a Friday night - I thought. Before long, the others arrived from Orangeville including Brian (who has been to every annual gathering) and Adam (who I had met last year at Wakami Lake and who generously offered his camp for the weekend) and some other forum members who I had not met at our other gatherings - including David from Burlington, and Bishop from Toronto who rode in on a modified seat that was only slightly more comfortable than sitting on a severed tree stump. It's hard to describe the kinship you feel toward other riders who you've conversed with so frequently online, and have shared the same excitement and adventures with.
Here's a group huddle taken with Richard's camera. Can't believe we had the motor coordination to pull this one off at the time. From left to right: David, Mike (me), Richard (kneeling) Brian, Bishop, Adam, and Nathan.
It seemed that each new conversation around the fire squirted a few more finely metered molecules of dopamine fuel at my nucleus accumbens (adding to the the pool that was already accumulating from the intoxicating Pabst Blue Ribbon). Needless to say - I was feeling pretty "happy" as the night wore on. It didn't help that Adam had the local radio station pumping a terrific array of great oldies from the local Bancroft radio station. How can you not feel unbridled euphoria when exposed to an assortment of arena rock anthems from REO Speedwagon, Journey, Bad Company, Boston, Max Webster, Supertramp, and an entire cornucopia of other similar gems. When Van Halen's "Jump" suddenly began bellowing through the speakers -my frontal lobe had had enough - and just couldn't hold back anymore - unable to resist such alcohol fueled impulsivity - I blurted/slurred out "Hey - I can play this on keyboards". It was clear that my limit for frontal-lobe inhibition had been breached. Not wanting to miss out on such a glorious opportunity - Richard said "Great - you can play it on the piano keyboard on my iPad then". Now bristling with bravado and the most confident uneasiness I've experienced in a long time - I awkwardly grabbed the iPad with all of the grace and motor coordination of a punch drunk prize fighter and put my money where my Pabst Blue Ribbon saturated mouth was. I was also thankful that the weight of the device didn't tip me over into the fire. I like to believe the end result sounded like a reasonable rendition - but because the iPad was handicapped by a glaring lack of polyphony, and the uncanny quirk of only rendering every second note when played quickly - the solo with the fast arpeggio part came out sounding more like the beginning of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" instead.
The candid photo that Adam captured of me using my one-handed technique trying to play Van Halen's "Jump" on an iPad around the fire.
What can I say? It was a fantastic night. It made the long journey down so much more meaningful too. Can it get much better than sitting around a campfire, sipping drinks, telling storing, iPad-ing Van Halen, laughing, and connecting with other motorcyclists?
Stay tuned for Part - VI.