Part VIII - Windy Lake
After enjoying a few days of much needed R&R and reminiscing at my dad's place (my brother Mark and his son Aidan were visiting from Quispamsis, NB) and topping it off with a trip to Canada's Wonderland - that included multiple encounters with a Behemoth and a Leviathan (the FastPass was a guilty pleasure) - I was looking forward to beginning my long trek back to Thunder Bay. But along the way - there were still a number of key areas I wanted to visit - including some that held special meaning for me as a teen at Windy Lake Park near where I grew up, as well as Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park a little ways further up the road - a place I'd wanted to visit for quite some time.
I chose to forego the 400 series highways and instead re-trace my route back up to Erin, and then head through Mono Mills, and up Airport Road past the scenic hamlet of Mansfield all the way up to Stayner. It was an easy choice. The hills, scenery, and relaxed pace made for a much more interesting riding experience. After re-fueling in Stayner, I headed east to finally join Hwy 400 and give the little CBR a chance to stretch its legs. I was hoping for the best - but not expecting much (no offense little Honda). I figured I could ride at 105km/hr (GPS) - in the right-hand lane - and not worry about holding up traffic. Yet - when I finally accelerated along the on-ramp - it was clear that I had more in reserve than I'd expected. On any large displacement bike - this wasn't something you'd even need to consider. Yet when you are suddenly endowed with a little bit of extra power that you didn't anticipate on a small bike - at a time when you could clearly use the extra juice - the relief driven reward was not unlike what Scotty must have often felt after suddenly and unexpectedly finding a bit more thrust power from NCC-1701. I even found myself overtaking slower vehicles at that speed - including some RVs and a truck pulling a large boat and trailer. When riding with other traffic on expressways - you always experience a boost from the large rolling masses moving in the same direction - and you don't need to be drafting dangerously off the end of their bumpers to realize the benefit either. I imagine the sensation is much like (*Caution - two sci-fi references in a row alert*) it would feel to be drawn in by a tractor-beam - a feeling of suddenly being pulling along without any change in throttle position. I won't discount the possibility that I was also the lucky recipient of a moderate tail-wind. Either way - I ended up riding between 107-110 kph (GPS). At one point I noticed a pack of vehicles approaching from behind. Once they had passed - and cut a nice hole in the atmosphere - I decided to enter the left-hand lane and see for myself how much more the 150R had left. The group seemed to be traveling at around 130 kph, and in my attempt to following them over a short distance, I found myself cruising momentarily at a top speed of 120 kph in 6th - sitting straight up on the bike - before I decided to settle down into a more comfortable pace again.
Here is the route. It would be a relatively short 472 kms trek on this day. A very comfortable ride on the CBR.
A short while after the road returned to two-lanes, I re-fueled at the Shell station in Pointe au Baril and took a break to stretch before setting off on the next leg of my journey. Speaking of which - the shape of the CBR's seat is such that over time it has a tendency to cut off circulation to my legs - so stops of 200kms or less were necessary if I wished to remain comfortable. I remember experiencing the same thing with the identically shaped seat from the CBR250R. If this could be rectified - the overall comfort level on the bike would be noticeably improved. A new seat may be in my future. With that said - I really didn't mind having to stop every 100 kms along this section anyway. Hwy 69 isn't the most thrilling experience (except when reacting to the "I can't believe that car is trying to pass that long train of traffic" - that is typical of this route) and at least I could enjoy the ride on a day where it wasn't over-run by hoards of Torontonians clamoring to seek refuge at their northern cottages.
It started to rain a bit as I reached the divided highway again while approaching Sudbury. However, it dissipated by the time I entered the by-pass heading west to Sault Ste. Marie. For travelers skirting the city - I recall thinking that this probably wasn't the best postcard image of Sudbury. Still - the way the landscape has seen a stunning transformation over the years is nothing short of remarkable. There is now greenery present along this stretch - which can be really appreciated if you remember what it used to look like here. Before long I found myself on the northwest bypass heading towards Hwy 144 - and decided to stop - yet again - at a Subway restaurant in Chelmsford. Before I even took the first bite - I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a middle-aged fellow with a wide grin "Is that your bike out there?" He was the only patron in the restaurant besides me - and I thought my helmet and riding gear was a dead giveaway. Did he run over the 150R? Turns out - he just wanted to ask me about the bike. When I told him it was a CBR125R with a 150cc engine - he looked flabbergasted. He had recently returned to riding and picked up a KLX250S. Yet once he realized it would never see much dirt and gravel - he replaced it with a new Honda 750 Shadow. He had lots of questions. "How fast is it?" I replied "Around 83 mph". He said "My Shadow doesn't seem much faster!". "What kind of fuel economy does it get"? This interests me too and I've taken some great pains to keep track of it - so I stated "Around town about 115 mpg, out on the highway with no luggage, about 92 mpg, and fully laden with gear - about 80 mpg." I must admit - I enjoyed chatting with a fellow owner. It was rare that a non-rider would ever approach me with so much enthusiasm for the sport. He wished me luck on the tour - and I noticed that he took a lengthy stare at the bike outside as he was leaving.
Growing up in this area - I knew that my first photo opportunity would be where the Onaping River cascades down High Falls between the towns of Dowling and Onaping. It's funny. I wondered how many times I'd passed by this spot as a youth and then as a teen without giving it a second glance. I thought it strange when the town actually created a large parking area, interpretive panels, trails, and lookout. It was clear that I had taken this scenic overlook for granted. Yet - it really is a nice place to stop. Even Paul Gross thought so. He filmed one of the earlier scenes for the Canadian curling movie classic "Men With Brooms" here. And when I was younger - I had no idea of who A.Y. Jackson was either - let alone that he had actually painted
our falls. I thought differently now.
As I parked the bike and slid awkwardly off the saddle - there was a group - cameras in hand - making their way up the path. I offered a friendly smile and a warm "Hi". One woman returned the greeting and smiled so widely at me that I figured it must have been due to the fact that I was advertising the worst - most amusing - helmet head imaginable. Can't imagine it was due to the rough, unshaven, crusty road-warrior look that I was sporting at the time. Whatever it was I was oozing - it sure seemed to attract female mosquitos. I eventually walked to the first lookout and snapped the following photo. I figured it was worth getting bitten for this special photo opportunity.
High Falls on the Onaping River near Onaping, ON.
I decided to zoom in for a little more detail. Up near the top you can see a foot bridge spanning the upper part of the rapids. There is a trail that loops around on the other side. I remember walking along it as a youth and thinking that it was an unbearably long slog through the wilderness. But in all likelihood it was probably only about a couple of kms in length.
After climbing back on my bike - I wondered what had changed since I last traveled through. I thought it funny that if I noticed how much things hadn't changed over the years - I'd likely feel that this reflected the tired image of a town that lacked vitality. Yet if I spotted some things that weren't the same as how I had remembered them - I might then lament how things just weren't the same anymore. Maybe the saying is valid here - you really can never truly go back. Still - I wished to find out for myself. And rather than just passing through - this time I would be taking some time to look around - to reflect - to wander off to some special places I hadn't seen for ages. When I approached the rail-tracks at a place we used to call "Dog-patch" I knew enough to ride wide - then cross them at 90 degrees. This sharp, nasty corner would often take people by surprise. You could feel a car's tires slide side-ways along the tracks if you negotiated it at anything above the reduced speed warning sign. Within no time I was approaching my destination for the evening - Windy Lake Provincial Park. It was good to be home again.
The entrance to the park.
Despite having grown up here - I found it funny that the only time I could remember actually camping at this park was about 5 years ago - when a good friend and I used it as a quick stop-over - on our way to Southern Ontario. And even then - it was our second choice - after the trees along Hwy 144 near Halfway Lake Provincial Park fueled a fire that spread across the highway and closed the campground. I recall a water-bomber flying unbelievably low overhead and the tops of telephone poles burning like lit cigarettes - sending wisps of smoke upwards into the sky. It had a bit of a "War of the Worlds" feel to it and I was surprised that 144 was even open to traffic - and that we were driving seemingly right into the middle of it. At that time we made no room in our itinerary to explore the nooks and crannies of Windy Lake. But I believe we drove down to the beach. I was excited and eager to do more on this visit. My excitement suddenly grew exponentially when I noticed the gatehouse was open and an attendant was available to help me find a site. Following some discussion, she suggested that I ride around and find a spot that hadn't been already reserved (she offered me a map listing the ones already taken). I came back and selected #12.
After smartly dousing myself with insect repellent and quickly and efficiently setting up my tent (I was becoming surprisingly skilled in this area) I tried my cell and was impressed that I had a signal. Things were indeed looking up. After calling my girlfriend to check in (it was both the best and worst feeling to be missing her like I was at the time), I called a friend of the family who resided in Onaping (and coincidentally used to work at the park) and asked him if he'd be interested in stopping by for a campfire and an opportunity to touch base (I wondered if he'd remember my e-mailed request for salt & vinegar chips and pop). He agreed to pay a visit a little later - which would give me just enough time to take my camera down to the lake and snap some photos before the evening set in.
Here is a view of Windy Lake through the trees on my campsite. It didn't look like much here. But I knew the views I so cherished as a teen would be awaiting me once I ventured upon its sandy shoreline. First - I had to bush-whack through the saplings and scrub to access the lower roadway. I thought there was a trail down to this road some where along here?!?
As a teen - I used to ride my Supercycle 10-speed out to the park in the early evening - just to sit on a picnic table and look out over the lake. I'd sometimes even take a refreshing nights swim. All alone. I'd ride out here during the day too - to relax on the beach with friends, swim, and work diligently on a severe sunburn. Yet - in the evening - when the beach had only a few stragglers - it took on a completely different meaning to me. I could actually sit and absorb the entire experience. Getting lost in my own thoughts was the kind of profound experience I remember craving at the time and what contributed to the specialness of this place for me. Would this all come back to me now? I was willing to give it a shot.
Stay tuned for Part IX.