Part XII - Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park
I knew I had the luxury of taking my time as I wound my way up Hwy 144 past Cartier and onward towards Ivanhoe Lake - a very modest 320km trip for the day. I soon found my thoughts returning again to Windy Lake. Over the past 4 years - I had motorcycle camped at eleven Ontario parks and Ivanhoe Lake would be my twelfth. I would have to put Windy Lake on my mental list of the top 5 parks I'd visited over this time. Why? I'd be the first to admit that my fond memories of the area - and brief yet memorable stay there - biased my impression. But I thought that it deserved some accolades for a variety of reasons. Like the simple things it got right. Like a vast sandy beach offering a spectacular view over a crystal clear lake, large campsites that offered plenty of privacy, cell service from your site, a modern comfort station, proximity to the highway, supplies close by in Onaping and Levack (only 5 mins away) and a gatehouse that stayed open late. All the essentials could be checked-off. The trains rumbling by all through the night could deter some. Yet as mentioned - I somehow managed to escape this annoyance this time around.
The roadway up to where Hwy 144 and Hwy 101 meet is about as exciting as watching a chia-pet sprout. And it feels like it accesses an area of the province that is far more remote than any map will show. That you don't pass through any communities after skirting Cartier - is probably a major factor. It's hard to imagine that a city like Timmins could exist at the end of this route - after hours of nothing but continuous bush and lakes on either side of you. After about 110km I took my first break for fuel at the Watershed Restaurant where the junction of Hwy 144, the Sultan Industrial Road and Hwy 560 - meet.
As I approached Foleyet on Hwy 101 west - I briefly considered stopping for fuel - but decided to continue to the park - figuring that I'd have to return to town again anyway for dinner later that day. As I approached the sign for Ivanhoe Lake Road - I was struck by some surprising mixed feelings. I was first and foremost excited to have made it this far, and to stay at a park that I had been curious to visit for quite some time. I also remembered what it felt like to be riding through here previously on my way to Temagami - only one week ago. I could now recount the stories that only recently had never existed. And I was also both sad that my adventure was nearing the end - and excited at the same time knowing that I'd be soon returning back to Thunder Bay, to hold my girlfriend in my arms -and adjust to a more conventional life once again.
The road to Ivanhoe Lake Provincial Park was an interesting and unique visual experience. Many cottages lined the lake along the route. I even passed by an airbase and lodge (Air Ivanhoe) as well as another resort just down the road (Red Pine Lodge). At the bottom of one hill I crossed over a dam spilling out of Ivanhoe Lake and then wound around the twisting, scenic shoreline before reaching the gatehouse. It came stocked with friendly attendants. I picked site #92 - the only remaining site available on the lake. When I asked about places to eat in Foleyet, the attendant suggested some eateries just around the corner. I decided at once that I'd eat at the Air Ivanhoe Lodge that evening. She also mentioned that the Red Pine Lodge had fuel - so I was relieved that it wouldn't require a trip back to Foleyet - even though it was only a 15kms ride away. I was starting to like this place already. Less than a year ago - the prospect of ever camping over-night here seemed unlikely. Last Fall the Ontario government decided to close 9 Northern Ontario parks and turn them into "day parks" (strangely - with a locked gate at their entrances) to save money - claiming that these places required expensive upgrades and had low visitor numbers. The parks included Caliper Lake, Fushimi Lake, Greenwater, Ivanhoe Lake, Mississagi, Obatanga, René Brunelle, Tidewater, and The Shoals. Over the past few years - I've motorcycle camped at Mississagi, Obatanga, and The Shoals and was thankful that I had the opportunity to stay at them when I did. But I regretted that I would miss out on Ivanhoe Lake. I thought our parks were something akin to a birth-rite. A Canadian institution! I guess not. Thankfully, in the new year a few of the parks reached a deal with the government to keep them open - via a short reprieve - with the understanding that any cost over-runs would be footed by the local municipalities. Thus Ivanhoe Lake was spared - at least temporarily - and I thought I'd capitalize on this chance and support the park with at least one nights stay. I remember thinking as I was riding through the campground at the time that this seemed like a really special place. With so much activity around the lake - I bet there was a lot at stake if this park closed down. Apparently there was widespread outrage when the initial list of closures were suddenly announced and Ivanhoe appeared among the unfortunately few.
The views as I entered the campground were quite inspiring.
The sun was now shining and I looked forward to setting up my tent and drying it out in the hot mid-day sun. I even found some nearby tree branches to conveniently air out my riding gear. When I tried my cell phone - there was no signal. I shouldn't have been surprised. Granted - I rarely use my cell at home. It was purchased solely for traveling purposes. But It was hard not to feel so disappointed when 90% of the time that I tried it - there was no signal. This wouldn't bode well if an emergency presented itself. I found it amusing to consider that the only times I used my cell - it wasn't operational. I could tell my friends that cell phones in my experience - were incredibly unreliable devices.
With each of my reports I've always found it necessary to explain my tent setup. Why? Perhaps a recent experience will enlighten. A few weeks ago I was telling a friend about the camping gear that I typically took with me on my motorcycle. When I mentioned the word "cot" she broke out in hysterical laughter - and couldn't stop. Even when she calmed down a bit and seemed to recover...and I then continued - she would suddenly collapse into a fit of uncontrolled giggling that seemed more appropriate for an episode of Beavis & Butthead. Still - many of the comments I've received about my reports concern my sleeping system. People find it hard to believe that the entire she-bang can be carried on the back of a motorcycle - let alone one displacing 149cc's. Yet those I've camped with who have actually tried the cots - all agree - after one restful slumber - they could never go back to sleeping on the ground. The bed consists of a Camptime Roll-A-Cot - the best, easiest to set up, lightest, and most durable tent bed I've owned (including army cots). If you want more information - here it is! http://www.camptime.net/roll-a-cot.htm . This cot is now an essential part of my camping gear. Occasionally - people will respond with disbelief that I carry a cot with me - like it defeats the purpose of camping in a tent somehow. Strangely, these responses mostly come from people who exclusively stay in expensive hotels on their motorcycle adventures. Nevertheless, with the combination of this cot, my Nemo Cosmo Air Insulated mattress, http://www.amazon.com/Nemo-Equipment...4807193&sr=8-2 my new North Face Dolomite 3S (20F) rectangular bag, and camp pillow - I can be assured of having a restful, deep sleep - every night. Not only do I look forward to crawling into bed at night - but I have grown to trust that I will feel well rested when I set-off for another destination the next day. Feeling tired and cranky before setting out on a long days ride - not only dampens your fun - but can be dangerous as well. There are other pragmatic reasons for bringing it along too. Here are some notable perks: 1) The cot sits about 15" above the floor so you can store all your gear underneath as you sleep, and saves lots of space so you can actually bring a smaller, lighter tent as an option, 2) Storing gear under the cot keeps you from having to leave it outside under a vestibule where it can still get wet should it rain overnight, 3) You can sit on the side of the cot and get dressed more easily in the morning, which is worth bringing this cot for this reason alone, 4) When the ground is uneven - you can sleep above the rocks, twigs, and bumps - the cot remains level, 5) You can use the cot at home as a spare bed for guests - it sure beats a pull-out bed that jabs you in the back with cross pieces and coiled springs. For me - it offers much of the comfort of sleeping in a bed - especially when you place an air mattress on top. It doesn't get any more luxurious than this when camping in a tent.
My next plan was to ride naked to the comfort station. At least it felt that way. I wore only my sandals, shorts, tee-shirt, and helmet. I couldn't believe I was going to be actually "squid-ing" it for the very first time. After showering - I looked forward to putting on fresh clothes, shaving, and riding the short distance to Ivanhoe Lodge to re-fuel my body and then onto Red Pine Lodge to re-fuel my bike.
As I was riding to the comfort station a number of things caught my attention. One was how tiny my grips felt without large puffy gloves. I'd never ridden bare-handed before. The other was something I hadn't noticed since visiting provincial parks as a kid with my family in our Starcraft tent-trailer. There were lots of kids riding bikes and playing everywhere. This is what I remember from my youth. And it felt great to hear the laughter and screams of delight as they rode on two-wheels too - on their own adventures - that included catching frogs alongside the water. I wondered if they'd write their own trip reports describing "How I Spent My Summer Holidays" when back at school in September. This indeed seemed like a special place.
While the showers and sink area looked to be from a different era - and a little short on the room I needed to perform the limb contortions that were a part of my regular washing ritual - I was so thankful at this point for the opportunity to feel clean - that I didn't mind. After removing the Billy Gibbons-like level of scruff from my face - I felt like I could now risk a public appearance without being unwittingly entered into an impromptu YouTube "Bum fight" contest. I rode to Air Ivanhoe, parked the bike, and entered the restaurant. Before finding a place to sit, I asked a staff member about nearby Wifi hotspots. This seemed like a bold request considering the locale - so you can imagine my shock and surprise when she gave me a password and I was able to access the lodge's Wifi from my dinner table. Did I say that I was starting to like this place yet? While waiting for my meal - I checked my e-mail and connected again with the outside world. It felt great to have this level of luxury only a few minutes from my campsite. And the food was great too. I had a burger and poutine that was incredibly tasty - and filled the plate - making it a challenge to scarf it all down. I managed to find a way. Barely.
After the meal I chatted with the Lodge staff about the park and the recent threat of closure and how this would impact the community. It was clear after our conversation that everyone was passionately committed to fighting to keep Ivanhoe open. Yes - there was a lot at steak (oops still thinking of food) here for all involved. The park is an important financial and recreational contributor to the area. I found it hard to believe that it could fall so easily under the knife.
Before thanking the staff - I wanted to snap a few shots of the lake from outside. They suggested that I climb up to the second floor for a better view. This is one of the images I captured from up top.
After re-fueling at the Red Pine Lodge and enjoying the cool breeze in my new ATGATT (Absent Typical Gear At The Time) setup - I decided to take a photo of the beach that runs along much of the campground. I didn't realize it at that moment - but this would be my last photo of my trip. The sun would soon be setting - marking the end of the day - so it seemed fitting that so too would my 4000km long adventure. Once back at my site I retired to my tent to finish some reading. At one point I remembered I had left a PowerAde drink in my hard case and reluctantly left the coziness of my bed to venture outside to retrieve it from my bike. As I was fumbling for the drink - I noticed a staff member doing her rounds and said "Hi". She approached me and she asked where I had come from today. She looked familiar. I discussed some of my trip that included a mention of my stay at Wakami Lake last year - when she announced that her brother worked there. That was the cue I needed. I had met her before. Last year at The Shoals Provincial Park. Her name was Heidi and she suddenly remembered me too. We had a good chat and we shared some of our experiences camping at other nearby areas. I found this a pleasant coincidence.
The last photo of the trip.
The next morning I awoke early and quickly arranged and positioned my gear in their respective places on the bike. The sun had been good to my tent - and I was grateful to be now packing it up dry. As I was leaving - I said a mental goodbye to Ivanhoe Lake - and hoped that I might return again sometime.
I knew that the final leg would be a relatively long one - covering about 700 kms in total from the park to Thunder Bay. Yet after stops in Wawa, Marathon, and Terrace Bay - I was able to split up the ride nicely. The weather made the trip easier too - encountering only a sprinkling of rain when nearing the land of Nanabijou.
What can I say about the trip? Considering my adventure took place over a relatively short 10-day period - I was surprised by how many things I'd seen and how many memories had being consolidated over this time. You appreciate this even more - when you finally sit down and begin to write up the story mysteriously hidden behind the many photos - knitting everything together on the screen as the tale unfolds in front of your mind's eye. While the ultimate goal of each trip report I've written is to share the experience, insights, feelings, and encounters I've faced along the way with other like-mind people - each time I do so I quickly realize that the experience of writing it out leaves me feeling like I've returned to these very places in a startlingly vivid and compelling way. And it's incredibly rewarding to relive the sights, sounds, smells, and thrill of your own personal collection of these discrete moments in time. When there is snow on the ground outside and ice hanging from the windows - I sometimes re-read these trips so I can once again transport myself back to these special places - to escape.
Many were surprised that I would attempt such a feat on an admittedly atypical adventure bike. Others have since appeared incredulous when I insisted that the bike never at any time detracted from the experience - and if anything - likely contributed an interesting mix of character to the trip - making it even more special and memorable. Recently I heard someone call a Honda Fit a "city" car. And that it could "never be used to travel across the country. You'd definitely need an SUV for that". Granted - you can't deny the comfort of a large, luxurious vehicle. But I think the uniqueness of the conveyance makes the experience that much more memorable and endearing. One of my best trips ever was in 1985 when three of us climbed into my brother's 1973 Super Beetle and headed 700kms to Mont Tremblant, for a week of skiing. Plywood served as the rear seat, the heater barely worked, and many placed bets that the engine would blow up once we were cruising on the highway. But we were young and full of adventure. Heck - we had an Alpine stereo inside that was worth considerably more than the car itself. And we didn't care. It was the journey that mattered. Yet - we still laugh about how much crazy fun that was and believe that it wouldn't have been the same without the character of the Beetle - which came through for us when we needed it to.
As with my previous small-displacement trips - I hope this report inspires others to do more with less as they build a bond with their small bikes - and set off on their own adventures while proving to others that "You CAN tour on that!" Some big bike tourers may scoff at you - but you'll have just as much fun out there. Honest.