Twenty-five years is a considerable stretch of time to expect things to remain the way you remembered them. But Nancy is nearly at loss for words when she discovers one of her favourite roads has been “improved” since she saw it last.
I was filled with trepidation. Would the road be worse than I remembered it? Would I be capable of riding it? Twenty-five years is a long time. I was in my mid-20s back then. The bike I was riding was pure street. Surely my 1987 BMW enduro, first in a long line of “adventure” bikes, would be up to the challenge. But was I?
I lead my daring new riding buddy, Ray Sticklend, a much better rider than I, and a whopping five years older, on an adventure that would take us to North Bay, Ontario then east, into the great unknown. The adventure was different than I planned, but when is that not so?
It was my job to find accommodations. Friends in North Bay were gone for the weekend. That meant finding a motel. When I told Ray that I wanted a cabin on a lake with a canoe he laughed. He’s not used to the way I travel. It was Friday night and getting dark. And I’d already put in an eight-hour day at work, then rode six more. Enroute to Brent, our ultimate destination in Algonquin Park, there was a town called Bonfield and another called Eau Claire. I felt I’d rather stay in a place that had clear water than a nice field, but I later changed my mind.
The Dinner Bell Restaurant (with motel) was closed when the got there, but we were welcomed in to arrange our accommodation. My eyes opened wide at the parfait glasses filled with rice pudding, and we were served dessert and tea before heading to the only room available in the area, due to a music festival in nearby Mattawa. We were lucky, on many counts. The auxiliary guest house was located on a lake, with a canoe.
We spent two nights with Tom and Lou Rowe, of Aldershot, Hampshire, who settled in Bonfield a decade ago. My motorcycle adventure included one morning paddle down the lake in a canoe, and the next day, a pleasant swim in a surprisingly warm lake. More extraordinary than that was the Yorkshire tea. There is only one thing better than a good cup of tea, and that’s another one!
Our host told us motorcycle tales from England and showed us pictures of the 1929 500cc Ariel he had restored (along with photos of a 1972 Jensen Interceptor 7.2 L and a 1988 Jaguar XJ6 coupe). Ray got to watch cars go around in circles on the big screen, known as the Formula 1 in Germany, while I played in the lake. This was turning out to be a wonderful adventure.
Then there was the riding part. Armed with my Cottage Country Ontario Backroad Mapbook blow-up of page 65, and alternately, Ray’s GPS, we headed down the road toward Deux Rivieres, where the road to Brent starts off Highway 17. I had remembered it as a mass of boulders, rocks, gravel and sand, and hills that required serious skill to get up and down. It was the most difficult road I had ever ridden in Ontario, and I wanted to ride it again.
Was I ever disappointed. “My” road began as a nice, smooth, well-groomed dust and gravel road that I kept expecting to degrade, but remained nice and smooth and gravel, slippery in the corners but otherwise uniform and boring. What a letdown! This was the worst case of road improvement I’ve ever experienced! I was embarrassed. Ray and I rode far enough down the road that I could see that all we were going to get, all the way to Brent, was more of the same. And I wasn’t interested. I didn’t ride six hours north of Toronto for dust and gravel.
Thankfully, we still had the map. It wasn’t easy to determine which of the many offshoots would be the one road that would cut across to the other road running south of 17. We sampled a few recently created logging “roads” that were far beyond my ability. I had agreed to use Ray’s communicator, so he kept hearing strange sounds and verbal exclamations, wondering from ahead just what trouble I’d gotten into.
I can only imagine how entertaining (or nerve racking) that was. Only once did I need to be pulled out, and that was when I got stuck in a track and rode my way off the soft earth road toward a huge pile of brush that consisted of tree roots and branches. This was a real fresh logging road. I got covered in dirt while “helping” Ray ride my BMW enduro (the one I call “Casper”) up and out.
The answer turned out to be a snowmobile trail by winter that satisfied me in summer. It had a few signs posted at the beginning and began as a decent trail. But there were forks. And it was difficult to determine which was the main route and which would lead us astray. We chose astray a few times. Once we found a cabin on a small lake, with people at it. We thought that was remote. When we found another, on an even smaller trail, we were quite impressed. We even met the occupants heading in on an ATV. They told us their cabin was on leased land, but the one at the lake was actually deeded. The rest of the property was owned by the logging company. We were questioned about how we ended up there because motorcycles never ride that trail. We were definitely having fun.
We backtracked to what we thought was the main trail, and continued, matching GPS co-ordinates against the ones on my map. The combination worked. We were able to tell where we were, roughly, and after some strange endings, found our way to Klocks Road and back to Hwy. 17. And from there it was all about dinner.
Clem and Deb Shank make their guests feel at home. We’d already eaten breakfast at the Dinner Bell, and it was excellent. We knew there were butter tarts and bread pudding we simply had to try. Besides that, Ray owed me an ice cream. Bonfield seemed remote enough to collect. We dined on the patio in the sun, where the food was as impressive as the company.
Our weekend ended with Ray’s brilliance showing. The English couple had guests that included a young boy. When I returned from my swim I saw my helmet propped on my jacket, held up by the undersized boy, wearing it. Grandma smiled and waved as the 800cc BMW headed down the road, and I knew that boy would have something to talk about when he went back home.