Tuesday, October 3

The Road to Tobermory - IV

Final Dispatch from Lucas:

This will be the longest and final entry on my journey to Tobermory from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. This is the body of the trip and is composed of four days of life on the road with a motorcycle. I am writing this entry after my successful return home in one go instead from notes I should have taken. I needed to purchase a journal but it never got in my shopping cart and pulling over to find a place that had a simple notebook was never convenient on the trip. For example in Guelph, I pulled in for my first fuel stop and there was plenty of large strip malls but it was raining and the traffic was heavy. I didn’t know my way around and felt it was better to get moving than try to find a way to navigate into a parking lot to get a notebook. The trip is fresh in my mind and I’ll capture as many facts as I can to make this an interesting read.

I pulled into my driveway yesterday after noon which was October 2nd. Corrina had almost 1000 km on her trip odometer, that’s 600 miles. I filled her up three times on this journey for a total of $30.00 CDN. With an average price of $0.85 a litre, Corrina had consumed 35 litres of gas which is approximately 8 ¾ gallons resulting in about 65 m.p.g. Corrina is a BMW F650CS motorcycle and I felt she did very well as a touring rig. I’m not an expert on motorcycles and this is the only motorcycle other than my moped that I’ve ever owned but she was very comfortable, handled the wind and the trucks confidently and had plenty of power for passing and the hills. The heated hand grips were a boon on cold and windy days.

Before I rant on much further I have to thank the universal powers that be for a safe and successful journey. For giving me strength and courage and to not let me cave in to my darkest fears. Thank you for having this opportunity to be able to have the means and facilities to ride a motorcycle. This trip opened up a whole world that I never knew existed just a few hours north of where I live. I will return plenty and often – I now have some ideal weekend get-aways that I will do much next summer.

This trip was the final trip of the season and I’m so happy to have accomplished it. The journey was a remarkable way to wrap up the riding season. This summer I dreamt about riding, researched into the possibility of riding, met some great people on line that ride, got my license and learned to ride and then took a grand tour riding. I couldn’t ask for more than that and call it a success.

Now about the trip.

On Friday morning, September 29th – I was up early with anticipation and anxieties about the trip. After feeding the dogs, getting breakfast, cleaning up and getting the spouse out the door and the dogs walked. I was ready to embark on my trip. The bike was packed from the night before and I added the final bits and secured the luggage one last time. Corrina’s chrome gleamed in the fluorescent lighting of the garage as in eager anticipation of her first journey. Her first owner only put 2677 km on her and maybe less as she was used as a loaner bike for awhile at the Toronto BMW Motorrad. I did find a receipt in her stuff bag for bagels. Maybe that is all that he wanted out of motorcycling, was to get bagels. I knew the owner was a ‘he’ as the salesman told me Corrina was traded in so the guy could get a sport bike.

I put on my riding gear, a bit too much as I felt confined and hot immediately. The fleece pants and top were too much with the winter liner of my riding gear. I let it go for awhile to see if I could take it and if it would become more comfortable. I rolled Corrina out of the garage and onto the street. This was it, I’m either going or I’m not. I was going. My neighbour Pauline was mowing another neighbour’s grass with her grandson Brody. She is the sweetest and warmest person I know. She can make a friend with anyone. Pauline has lived her entire life in this area – she knows how to be happy by enjoying the simplest things. Seeing Pauline before I left was a good thing because she has encouraged me so much to ride. Her husband Marshall an ex-RCMP motorcycle cop got me to ride down the street on my own. They are the best neighbours.

I talked to Pauline for a few moments and she wished me a safe journey. I closed the lid on my helmet, let go of the front brake and rolled on the throttle. Corrina purred to life and surged towards the stop sign at the end of the street. I checked for traffic, made a right and then a left and I was on to Glendale Boulevard pointing west bound. My first stop was at the bank just before leaving town. I needed to deposit my last ‘side-job’ check as this was going to be part of my funding for the trip. After leaving the check at the bank and taking out $100.00 Canadian, I felt the fleece had to go. I was too stiff and too hot with all of that on. At the back end of the bank’s parking lot I ditched the fleece and stuffed it into my luggage. I would need it later but not now.

The sun was shining through patchy silver and grey clouds. I looked westward and could see some ominous dark clouds, that was Guelph and from the weather report I knew rain was ahead in that area. I haven’t done much riding in rain since I learned to ride my motorcycle this summer. I did some practice in the wet but nothing long distance and this did cause me some consternation and anxiety. I didn’t let it bother me too much as the weather in my current location was fine.

I worked my way out of the bank and back on to Glendale Boulevard, past the mall and out towards the far westward end of town towards St. Paul Street which becomes Rt. 81. Rt. 81 has been a favourite ride of mine and I have been down that road several times. The road goes from suburban homes and into light industrial to farm land and vineyards. Through Balls Falls Conservation area there are some twists and turns in the road. Sitting up higher towards the Niagara Escarpment, the road provides a good view of the flat land that leads to the Lake Ontario. The flat land has provided a bounty of agriculture and viticulture over the years. The golden brown fields in autumn lead to the blue water of Ontario and on a clear day you can see Toronto from here.

This area is known as the ‘Golden Horseshoe’. I’m not sure why it’s called that, maybe the western end of Lake Ontario is horseshoe shaped and the golden part could be from all of the natural resources that have been extracted out of the land over the years. The road to Tobermory is northwest from Niagara Falls. I need to move west to get away from the lake and up into the back country to get to my destination. I started at 10:30 and by the time I left the bank it was 11:30. This included all of the final preparation and getting to the bank and then changing back out of the fleece. My destination for this day was Sauble Falls Provincial Park. The park is about an hour south of my furthest destination, Tobermory. Between St. Paul Street and Sauble Falls, I had about 5 hours of time – I road about 4 hours of that time. For now, I had a large city and a smaller city to get through and then face the open road for the first time with rain. I had to fight back all of the negative thoughts and keep positive. I knew deep down that I would be safe and that I would have a good ride with plenty of memories to share.

Riding for me is part of living my past. There were days when I didn’t have the moped and I can’t exactly remember why. I’m not sure if it wasn’t working or if I had become too embarrassed to ride it. Instead, I would hitchhike from my house in Lake Hughes to Lancaster for work. I remember a ride home that left me stranded in the desert, when my ride wanted to go right and I needed to go straight. I got let off out in the dark. I only had the heat of the road to keep me warm. I discovered that there is a power within, a deep down resource that you can tap into to find a reserve of strength and courage. I’ve used that reserve to overcome many challenges in my life since that night in the desert. Using the internal power reserve, I was able to overcome those negative thoughts of ‘can’t’, ‘what-if’, ‘loser’, etc. that can really bag your ride.

I rode through Rt. 81, enjoying the ride and the feeling of the open road. Corrina was set perfectly. Her oil was at the correct level giving good shifts and positive accelerations. The spring pre-load was comfortable and she felt confident. The camping gear was properly load and well balanced. Heading into Hamilton was going to be a new challenge; heavy city traffic. This was not as big a problem as I had imagined it would be. I found being confident in the lane, clearly signalling your intentions and keeping alert provided the necessary tools to tackle this hurdle. I remembered the directions from the map and studying mapquest.com, but managed to get turned around when I saw a sign to Highway 6. I missed a turn and ended up at a dead end. Turning around, eventually I found my way to a city park. At the park entrance, I found a detailed map of parks in the city and realized I was only a block away from York Road. York Road leads to Hwy 6, which is where I needed to be.

Highway 6 was my road to Tobermory and getting on that highway was a big accomplishment. This means that I fought back every negative thought and tackled the big bad city. Little did I know that I would quickly face another challenge. I misread the map and didn’t see the little red squiggle for Highway 6 meant getting on a real expressway, 401. When the sign appeared that Highway 6 meant 401 for 2 km, I hesitated at first – then checked the right turn lane for traffic and leaned Corrina onto the on-ramp of 401. I had done some expressway practice but for short distances and with slower traffic. I got on to 401 and the traffic in the slow lane was doing over 120 kmh. I had a car on my left that was block my entrance to the highway. On a motorcycle you don’t have the luxury of a car body to nudge people out of the way. I’ve learned if you signal your intentions very strongly that the cars will move. I stretched my left arm out and point to the left lane and the black Audi backed off and went into the next lane; this allowed me to get onto the expressway at 120 kmh. I was nestled in between some rather large trucks and was glad to see my exit was coming up. I was now on Highway 6 proper and moving northwest.

Made a stop in Guelph for lunch and gas. Lunch was a BumbleBee lunch pack, for $2.50 US it was quite a deal. I found them to be the right amount of food for motorcycling. I’ve read you don’t want to fill up too much and have that after-lunch-want-to-take-a-nap feeling. The lunch pack consisted of 6 crackers, a can of tuna salad, a cookie and a fruit cup. I also had some hot tea from the McDonalds, as I used their restrooms – I felt that I owed them $1.25 for the use of it. The gas station was in the same parking lot, filled the tank and I was off.

Leaving Guelph, the small towns and farmer’s fields passed my view out of my full-face helmet. Some of the towns were noteworthy and others were barely remember-able. Towns like Fergus and Arthur had some pretty streetscapes that were still maintained in this area of big block stores and strip malls. Highway 6 isn’t a great bike route and more of a get-there kind of road for automobiles. Being unfamiliar with this area and on my first run, I was inclined to stay in an area that I would be most comfortable. I had a deja’ voux in Mt Forest. I’ve had these before in the past and when you encounter a scene, it’s quite eerie. I had dreamt several years ago about a small town, as you entered the small town you saw the main street went up a hill and the road was being repaired – a detour was required to get back on to Highway 6. I dreamt all of this exactly. This tells you that more is going on in this world than we know about.

I stopped for a break outside of Mt. Forest at a little M.T.O. rest stop. The weather was a bit chilly and I put on my fleece vest for more warmth. I had purchased a BMW neck warmer and that was worth every penny ($35.00 US). Its waterproof on the outside and fleece lined on the inside. There is a zipper on the left side, so it fits snug against your neck sealing out drafts. I’m not into buying name brand apparel for the sake of the brand, but if they make the best item then I’ll buy it. My feet were cold, so I added some extra socks. With the heated handgrips on my bike, I was doing quite well in the chilly and wet climate.

I motored on to Owen Sound, arriving at about 3:30 pm. From what I could see of Owen Sound, it was a pretty town that I would like to revisit. I followed the signs for Highway 6 and soon I saw the Ontario Parks sign for Sauble Falls Provincial Park. I was close to my destination and feeling good. An hour later, I arrived at Sauble Falls Provincial Park. The park was quiet with few visitors at this time of year. The shadows were long by this time and the feelings of loneliness were great. I had just accomplished the first leg of my trip and feeling a bit overwhelmed. I wish I had someone to share the ride with. Setting up camp and searching for fire wood with no luck helped fill the time. I went to the local store for fire wood, they didn’t have it in bags – so I canned the idea. Deciding for a hike instead up to Sauble Falls, the bright warm sunlight changed my mood and it felt good basking in the suns rays.

Returning to the tent, I started my dinner routine, finished and spent the rest of the evening reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. My earlier feelings I had upon arriving at the park were vindicated by reading Robert Persig’s account of his journey as he stated the same exact feelings towards the end of his day. The mornings are bright and full of hope and possibilities that everything is going to work out. By the evening as the shadows grow longer, there is less chance to make right for went wrong. You have to live with that day’s decisions and think about them through the evening.

The rain came in through the evening and I stayed dry and comfortable in my tent. I’ve had that tent for over ten years. It’s a great backpacking tent that holds two people. The tent is light-weight and roomy. For moto-camping, I’d highly recommend getting a backpacker’s tent – don’t attempt to bring your big Coleman dome tent. You want something that will pack down into a small space and is very light. I’d almost recommend a bivvy sack but you may feel claustrophobic on long raining evenings.

The next morning, Saturday was Tobermory day. The rain had stopped long enough for me to get breakfast, take a shower and pack up my gear. As I put my riding gear on, the rain drops began. Corrina didn’t want to start this morning – I think it was a combination of running the heated handgrips on high all day and being left out in the cold damp weather without a cover. I need to get a cover for the bike and remember to turn off the grip heat at least 10 miles before my destination. Corrina’s starter cranked very slowly and when I thought the battery was going to give out, she sputtered to life. I blew a sae of relief and I was driving out of the park. The park was on Rt. 13 and I followed that as the weather began to kick into full rain, wind and cold. I followed Rt. 13 back onto Highway 6. Not much to talk about Highway 6, straight as an arrow and two lanes without a divider – what joy! My destination was Parks Canada Visitor Center in Tobermory.

Arriving almost an hour later at the Visitor Center and with a sense of accomplishment. I had officially reached my goal of Tobermory. The Visitor Center was a welcome relief to the rain and cold of the road. I visitor in the parking lot had to comment about riding a motorcycle in the cold weather, I replied ‘It’s not so bad if you bundle up.’ Which is true, I really wasn’t that uncomfortable with the winter lining, the winter lining in my gloves, the fleece and of course those blessed heated grips. The visitor center had some nice displays on the history of the area and a decent video that showed some of the park highlights. I climbed the 20’ tower to view the entire peninsula and beyond. Then I followed the tower climb with a 15 minute walk to Georgian Bay. Grey and hazy, the dark forested islands beyond were enshrouded. With the grey-green water lapping the shoreline. I stayed at the visitor center awhile longer as the rain had not abated much since my arrival. Eventually, I figured it’s now or never – I walked back to the bike, put my helmet and gloves on and rode out to the village of Tobermory.

There wasn’t much to see in Tobermory – it’s mostly a village of crap-shacks (aka gift shops) and local eateries. I partook in the crap-a-thon by visiting the Purple Dog House. I had to pick up some gourmet biscuits for my pooches. They wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t. I asked about a ‘come-as-you-are’ restaurant as I was in my motorcycle gear and wasn’t going to change out of it for pleasantries. The Lighthouse was recommended and as it was just a few doors down from the Purple Dog House – it became the obvious choice. A meal of white fish and seafood chowder, the rain finally backed off for the afternoon. I used the opportunity to cruise around the village making my way over to Big Tub Harbor and the lighthouse. After taking a few snaps, I walked back to the bike to find a man and his wife admiring my ride. They were both riders (but not that day) and really liked the look of my BMW.

I had misplaced my beanie the night before in Sauble Falls and was severely in need of a replacement. In Canada a beanie is called a Toque, why I don’t know – it’s a Canadian thing, I’ll never understand. A beanie can be a backpacker’s best friend and motorcyclist as well. On cool days, after riding several hours – your head gets used to the heat inside of the helmet. Then you get off your bike and remove your helmet. Your head is suddenly at a loss without its former insulating layer. Throwing a beanie on will help save you from a headache or worse, a cold or fever. Keep a beanie in your tank bag and put it on at every stop. The beanie helps with over night camping by providing an insulating layer for your head while you sleep. You’ll stay much warmer through the night while wearing your beanie. I found a replacement beanie in the village for $5.00 bucks, it was on sale but no journal.

My fuel light was on – first time on this trip. In need of gas and ready to move on, I found a filling station (Canadianism – Gas Bar) and motored out of town. I headed to Cypress Lake Park Canada Campgroud and got a spot. The friendly woman at the desk recommended a very nice site. After setting up the tent, went back for firewood as it was sold at the check-in in bags. I later changed into some appropriate hiking gear. The weather was holding out and I was up for a hike. I put on my fleece top and bottom, with my nylon rain pants and green rain slicker and of course, my beanie. I went on a nice hike around the lake and out to Georgian Bay. After returning to my campsite, the rain began. No chance of using that firewood tonight, it would be another night inside the tent reading. Since my lunch was at the Lighthouse Restaurant, I decide to have my lunch for dinner and forego the dinner routine due to the rain. The rain kept up through the night and finally abated in the morning.

Sunday morning I woke to blue skies and crisp temperatures. I could see storm clouds forming out over the bay – the big tall scary ones. I was hoping it would stay over the bay but no luck. I have been granted some nice spells without rain and the hike around the lake was one of them. I was truly grateful for that hike as I was for the one the night before. I got back to my campsite and found the beautiful blue skies being replaced by the stormy grey ones. One thing I really hate about camping is packing in the rain – I used my time wisely and quickly packed up while fixing breakfast. I slurped down my breakfast and just as the raindrops began to fall, I was on the road. My destination was going to be either Inverhuron or Goderich – it all depended on the weather.

Time was plentiful on Sunday as I had no stops to make. Whatever the road presented is what I planned to see. I knew I wanted to get off of Highway 6 as soon as I could and see some of the back country. Again, Highway 6 was uneventful except for the rain. A Suzuki Burgman was making its way northbound as I was going southbound. That was totally cool sight to see. The big scooters will open up motorcycling to many people that previously were restricted from it due to abilities or injuries. Making a list of places I’d like to see, I made a stop in Sauble Beach. Sauble Beach looks like one of those old timey East Coast resorts that have long been forgotten, it even has the sign to go with it. I’ll come back next summer and visit the beach and some of the interesting stores.

Following 13 down to 21 east bound, I made my way to Southhampton. Southhampton is a community with a church on every corner and being about 4 square blocks, that about covered it. They have a nice lighthouse and a decent water front. The neighbourhoods are filled with turn of the century homes – they look like a nice place to raise a family. I have found many small towns in this area where time has forgotten and the people seem to like it that way. Visiting these towns, I have left with a sense that we have lost so much in our own neighbourhoods. The Walmarts and Best-Buys will never have the sense of community and character that these places have.

After taking a few pictures of the lighthouse and the waterfront, I made my way back to where I left the bike. I had left the bike at a local museum and they opened at 1:00 pm. It was only noon. I had BumbleBee lunch roadside and waited for the museum to open. The museum is typical of this area. Here is short description; the land was formed millions of years ago and it’s made out of these rocks on display. Then some nice native people moved in and lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years (again on display). A couple of hundred years ago, some European types showed up and kicked those nice native people out and called them savages(huh?). Ok, that part was rough, and the museum is truly sorry about that part, but hey the Europeans made some really nice stuff out of all the timber and other resources they raped from the land (see display). The native people weren’t mentioned again but if you want to see them, they’re selling cheap smokes along Highway 6 and they only own 2% of their original property that was stolen from them. Moving along.

After Southhampton, I quickly made my way to Inverhuron. The time was at 3:00 and I had still plenty of day light. The skies were filled with grey and chubby fat rain clouds with day light breaking in all over. Inverhuron was filled with these and some other dark nasty clouds. I had plenty of time and Goderich was only an hour and half a way. I looked down the road and figured Goderich was among that nicer set of looking clouds. At that point, Inverhuron was bagged and Goderich became my destination and I’m glad I did. Arriving in Goderich at about 4:00 pm, the sky was autumn blue and temps were nice. Another nice lady gave me a sweet spot along the shoreline. Trees sheltered the spot from the direct winds of Lake Huron, but I was able to walk down a few yards and get a beautiful view of the lake. A campfire was successful this evening and I also got to watch the sun set on the lake – a double feature. Sunday evening was filled with the dinner routine, reading and keeping the fire going.

Monday morning and my last day on the trip. I awoke to blue skies and mild temperatures. I walked down to the lake front, among the sand and the sea grass. These beaches aren’t as nice as the ones in Michigan along Lake Michigan. But, they were enough to remind of my days as a kid living just about every weekend on the dunes of Lake Michigan. It’s a memory that I always cherish. I will come back to this camp site, again. Before heading out, I took a few snaps of the wind farm that was located across from the campsite. The wind turbines are beautiful structures that generate re-usable natural energy without any waste or contaminates. While taking my pictures a group of bikes on tour honked their horn and waved. It’s really fun being part of the biker community. I would love to tour with a larger group someday.

From the campsite, I rode south to the town of Goderich. Now this is something you got to see. It’s a town with a thriving downtown! Yeah, no kidding. You could almost see the men in their Fedora’s and the woman in their PillBox hats and white gloves. The downtown was filled with cars and people shopping. I picked up some chocolates for the spouse at a store, took some more pictures and headed out of town. I should have gotten gas and every gas station I passed I kept thinking, you should get gas. The fuel light wasn’t on and I had kind of forgotten my last fill up was in Tobermory. I pushed on and pushed my luck. Finding my way on to Highway 8 towards Kitchener, my fuel light finally came on. I had spoken to a nice man that helped me find some nice back country rodes. Highway 8 was way too busy with cars and tractor-trailers all in too much of a hurry to get somewhere and with no divider. I figured I could find gas outside of Clinton and gotten myself to a village called Kinburn. The place didn’t even deserve a dot on the map – there was nothing there but a sign that said Kinburn. In a panic and without gas, I made my way back to Clinton. I had to ride around a bit to find gas. I wasn’t out as much as I thought I was as the tank only needed $11.00 CDN to fill at 0.85 a litre. I’ve put in more before.

After the scary gas incident and beginning to lose time, I decided to bag the scenic route and just put up with Highway 8. Seaforth, Mitchell and Stratford were all nice towns that would be decent to visit again. After Stratford, the ride became a commute back home. Highway 8 turned into an expressway and I had to bring the bike up to 110 kmh. Making my way through Hamilton, and finally back home, arriving home safely at 4:30 pm.

My impressions of the trip were overwhelming positive and ecstatic. I would definitely do this again. I really liked the old churches – I’m not a religious person but they do bring back a sense of community that has long since gone away. There is a beautiful old church north of Goderich that I would like to visit. I should take up photography and take some pictures of these places. To me they represent a beacon out on the road of town nearby.

I need to investigate some more of the back roads and stay off of the red lines on the map, purchasing a GPS will help and some better maps. There is so much to see and do in my own backyard – this trip has opened up the possibilities of seeing these and many more places.

-Lucas-

For photos of the trip follow the link below:

1 comment:

Lidja said...

Lucas! This is great!!! The pictures are wonderful - you have a good eye. I cracked up at your description of the museum - I did my Master's Thesis on rural museums, and your description was spot on. :) Thanks for posting your trip notes. Makes me want to head out with a tent soon, too. Best wishes! Lidja