Algonquin & The Land of Gold Ride

Sadly the bike is seeing less and less use and with every passing day I think about selling it.

I am all gung ho on the idea and I have even relisted it on Kijiji. But then I do something silly. I pack my bags, strap items to it and turn the key. The engine, sputteringly roars to life. White exhaust, after a few moments, starts coming out the pipe, her way of telling me she’s warmed and ready and then I hit the road.

This is when the change in me occurs. Thoughts of parting with her fall away and a clarity and peace comes over me. Even though it sucks on my wallet most of the time, she makes herself worth it I am finally out and about.

This trip, Algonquin & The Land of Gold, came about after looking at the map and feeling the need to highlight major yellow/red roads, namely 11 north of Beaverton, 60 from Huntsville to Whitney via Algonquin Park, 127 heading south and finally 62 all the way into Belleville that stood out on my map like a sore thumb. In particular, the stand alone 60. I felt compelled to slay her.

Day 1: July 26, 2013

I took this day because well, even with no intention of really doing so, once I started riding I knew I made the right call. I had 19 days vacation prior to this trip and with a major work tour coming up (after just ending one a month earlier) and much to be done for it, I simply resigned myself to wasting a lot of these days but I certainly didn’t regret taking a vacation day.

The day was sunny with a few clouds in the sky. I admitedly packed in a hurried fashion so as I started to leave the city I felt sure I overlooked something but I didn’t let it bother me. I covered the basics, shelter and toiletries. Ah food, that was it. I had forgotten my dehyrdated Coleman meals I have been saving for some time. Dammit.

The first part of the journey I was not looking much forward to as it was up Hwy. 11. I am pretty familiar with that road up through Beaverton and Brechin and knew there was nothing special about it. But actually for the most part, between home and Washago I enjoyed most of it. After a brief stop at Claremont Native Plants in Pickering to discuss a backyard swamp project, I took Westney then Lakeridge Rd. all the way up to Lake Simcoe which turned out to be a pleasant ride. I then headed east across 48 to Hwy. 11. Once I got out of Brechin and turned on to 169 towards Washago the scenery got a little nicer but there were some pretty shitty houses around and so that sort of ruined things.

I got to Washago shortly after lunch. Washago is now the current home to the first love of my life, my high school sweetheart Nicole. So as I was eating lunch at the Log Cabin Resto I could not help but think of her and some of the things, nice and not so nice, we did in high school. She really was a terrific girl and I fucked that up…as I do with most women. Anyway, she is apparently fine now, married some cop who is a Inspector so I think. She called me few months back in the winter to discuss her car problem that is the only contact we have now. Only when its auto related and when she thinks I can bail her out of a bad car situation she has gotten herself into.

Lunch was BLT on crappy bread but I had a side veggie soup with homemade bread which was outstanding. Sadly, I could not persuade the waitress to serve my BLT on same.

In the parking lot of the Log Cabin was a local farm fruit stand. Realizing that I had no nourishment for camping later on that day, I decided to by a quart of strawberries which I thought would be a tasty treat. I sampled one, nothing beats Ontario strawberries, I don’t care what anyone says.

As much as I didn’t want to do it I had to take Hwy. 11 as it was unhighlighted so the rest of the trip was pretty uneventful as I passed through Severn Bridge then on to Bracebridge and Huntsville. One thing I did notice was the lack of traffic on the roads. I would have thought that the cottage-bound traffic from Toronto would have caught up to me by then but not at all. I also noticed a distinct lack of bikes as well for such a beautiful day. It often seemed like I was the only one riding that day.

One of the nice things about my route this time around was that I knew I was going to go over the same real estate, namely Hwy. 11 twice. So I could afford the luxury of deviating from this highway if possible and adding some more graffitti to my map. A careful study of the official roadmap revealed a small secondary highway, starting in Novar, 592. On the official roadmap its right beside and therefore almost indistinguishable from Hwy 11 but its there and since it got me to my next most immediate destination, Kearney, I gave it a try. In fact, this highway is an old alignment of Hwy. 11

I love the little grey roads which indicate the the secondary roads on the official roadmap. They usually turn out to be the most fun, rewarding and challenging to navigate. This road was lovely. Not so much on the twisty side of things but I really enjoyed the changes in elevations.

The northern terminus of 592 is in Emsdale which I was going to exit anyway 11 or 592 to take 518 in to Kearney. It was a strange highway to me as it seemed to just end but as I write this entry after the ride has ended, the highway website I study has revealed to me why its sudden ending seemed so strange so check out the link.

 Kearney claims to be the “Biggest Little Town in Ontario.” It was pretty small and from what I could gather it was merely a handy town for people to get in to the western side of Algonquin Park with adequate supplies. Kearney was just not a destination for me and it was more about colouring a road that would stick out on the map if I didn’t do it. So I rode around town for a bit and came to the gates of the park and turned around, next stop, Burk’s Falls & Magnetewan.

With no gas station in Kearney that sold premium fuel, I had to head to Burk’s Falls where I was told I could find some. After retracing the the 518 I turned north again on the remaining portion of the 592 that skirts Hwy. 11.

I refuelled in Burk’s Falls where I had an interesting conversation with the owner and mechanic of the local Shell station. He noted my heavily laden bike and asked where I was headed that sort of thing. He then told me a story of a guy that came through on an older bike that had the gas tank under the seat. He said “if he ever caught on fire he’d have a flaming ass”. I guess it was funny.

Burk’s Falls seems nice but I didn’t really have time to stop and look around. I often don’t on these trips. I find the need to finish the map more important so I don’t really stop to take an hour to explore these little towns. I just don’t have the time and I got a lot of ground to cover. But it seemed like a place worth coming back to. It had a pretty downtown.

I was starting to get in to Magnetewan River country. The river is apparently 175km long from Algonquin all the way to Georgian Bay. I criss crossed it a few times on my ride.

Downtown Magnetewan:
Now growing up my dad used to take me to our little private campround near Dunchurch. The closest, reasonably-sized town to Dunchurch was Magnetewan so that is coincidently where most of the campers there got their supplies. I remember as a kid that these “Downtown Magnetewan” tees were all the rage. I was too young to remember the last time I was “downtown” but sure enough I found myself in the heart of this little town which was really quite pretty. It had the river running right through it with a large lock and a lot of boat traffic and people milling about the riverside parks.

It seems to be thriving on the tourist trade as there were some banks and a expensive looking grocery/supply store too. I made a note to myself that the next time I found myself at the OTF campground to journey back to explore it further.

By now it was getting dusky so I had to make tracks. I stopped at the bait supply place to get some spaghetti and sauce for dinner and then jumped on the 124 to get to OTF as quickly as I could.

The old campground is still there I am pleased to report. Don’t get me wrong, I have been back a few times before this trip but for a stretch there between the mid 90’s to early 2000’s I had not been there. Typically only teachers are allowed to use it as it is a “union” campground but I guess a few years back campers where few and far between so they opened it up for a year for teachers to sign up their kids, teachers or not, to use it for their lifetimes. My dad signed up my brother and I and I am glad he did.

My girlfriend Laura and I have been having meanduring discussions about having children and this would be a great place to take them. My childhood memories there are happy and sad but it is a kids place. There were lots of them there and sites were few. Laura and I were up there for May 24 and we had the whole place to ourselves pretty much.

Anyway I pulled in and parked the bike. A few sites down was a large gathering of people all in a circle around a fire enjoying “happy hour” as I was to learn it was called later. One voice yelled out, “nice bike, when is it going to grow up”. I turned to them and said who said that and this older fella with a biker shirt on said he did. Well I retorted that it was a 1000cc in case he wanted to know but perhaps he didn’t see that because he could not count that high. After a huge round of laughter in the group 4 guys, including the one who said it came over to check out the bike and welcome me.

Turns out the fella was named Paul and he had been coming to OTF for years. I recognized him from my childhood. He had the same voice, personality and laugh but, as he is older, he is much smaller now. He used to be a very imposing man with a big grey beard. So I told him that I recalled him from years ago but he didn’t recognize me. Paul and I were to share a beer or two at his trailer later that evening after I cooked my shitacular dinner of spaghetti with canned sauce.

When cooking dinner I got invited by another site to drop by for a fire but I had a date with Paul first so I went over to talk to him. You would think that a place like OTF would be a source of respite from politics but no such luck. Apparently the campground is full of it with everything from who watches the water, who gets what sites and more importantly, how the washrooms there (which only now are being renovated from when I was a kid) get done. Regardless Paul and I had a few laughs and he told me about his motorsports career and the little bike trips he takes on his machine that he had with him in camp.

After finishing with paul and since it was night time I got invited over to spend some time at the site behind me for their fire and a few card games. It was nice to sit around and meet new people. The father of the family was very interested in all my travels around the province and reccommended some good roads to take.

Day 2, July 27, 2013
In the morning I awoke to a cloudy day but it was warm which makes for great riding weather. After studying the map the night before I decided that there were just not enough roads that I had to do in the immediate area that warranted a additional nights stay at OTF so I decided to pack up the site, do the roads I needed to do and then move on to the feature road this trip which was 60 through Algonquin park.

First up was a little side trip on Hwy. 520 which goes from the 124 outside of Dunchurch and ends at Ardbeg. This proved to be a short road but it was very enjoyable. It was also on this road that I had a close call with a bear cub that ran out on to the road. I just missed him which was lucky has he was a fair size and had I hit him I would have been done for.

When I finally got to Ardbeg there wasn’t much there but I managed to catch a CN train rolling through so for my break I stopped to watch it go by. I like trains especially the smell of freshly tarred rail road ties. Takes me back to exploring empty rail cars at my grandmothers house when I was kid. That smell does something for me.

Rather than re-trace my route to get back to 124 then on to Parry Sound, I turned right and went down a road called the Bunny Trail. This was a great road but my enjoyment of it was hampered by the fact I was stuck behind two SUV’s one of which was hauling a boat so I could not really get up to any fun speeds.

Hwy. 518 was next just south of Parry Sound cutting east/west towards the general area of Huntsville. This road also proved to be a ton of fun but was very slippery in spots having just been rained on but even in the dry parts, the pavement is not of good quality and you could feel the tires giving way a bit in some turns. I really enjoyed this road and would give me something fun to do next time I find myself in this area. I stopped in at Sprucedale and decided to eat lunch at the Sprucedale Hotel. Another biker at camp the night before told me about this place and said it is biker friendly so I decided to have a soup and sandwhich there. The food was terrible and very expensive. It was obvious the food came from the local grocery store. My spaghetti meal the night before was better!

Anyway I did make note of the place because they appeared to have very comfortable rooms at very affordable prices. But in looking at the map, Sprucedale is not really in a strategic location for a number of future trips which is too bad. But, along with another place I discovered later on in this trip, it was good to note.

I decided not to complete the entire length of the 518 and decided instead to turn down Stisted Rd which turned in to Ravenscliffe Rd. that went all the way to Huntsville. Another wonderful road! On the whole this area is pretty impressive for great roads. On the way I passed several interesting churches one was made entirely of stone from 1886 the Christ Church Ilfracombe. I stopped in and took some reallly great pictures. The entire inside was a lovingly cared for wood. It was very cool.