No Reason Needed – Motorcycle Tripping in Northeastern Ontario
When it comes to heading out on a motorcycle road trip, do you ever really need a reason?
“You wanna meet up in Timmins for a few days of riding?”
That’s all the arm-twisting I need to pack the saddlebags and hit the road. The only set item on the itinerary is the meet-up location. Beyond that, the plan is to go with the flow, the route and the duration TBA.
The horn bellows as the last rocky outcrops of the Bruce Peninsula slips out of my peripheral vision. A blustery crosswind blasts across the deck announcing the start of this adventure with a cold slap in the face. With my bike safely packed away in the belly of the Chi-Cheemaun and an endless expanse of water in front, there is no turning back now—next stop Manitoulin Island and the open roads of Northeastern Ontario.
The nice thing about motorcycles on ferries is that we are first on and first off. It might be the result of loading protocol but I like to think it’s because we’re special. I roll on the throttle and point it north leaving the cars behind to jockey for position.
There is only one road that will get you off the island and I must say this might be my favourite stretch of pavement in the province. Highway 6 snakes its way through rock cuts of white quartzite that sparkle more like jewels than stone. The savannah-like grasslands of Manitoulin Island give way to vistas of Lake Huron’s rocky shore and the 3.5-billion-year-old La Cloche Mountains glowing white in the distance. This is a tough stretch for a motorcycling enthusiast who fancies himself a photographer. My brain tells me stop for a photo but my right wrist says, “I don’t think so.” It’s an internal struggle that I actually love and I don’t mind repeating.
I drop my bags at the front desk of the Cedar Meadows Resort in Timmins. Really nice place with everything you might need at the end of a long day’s ride—comfy rooms, pool, spa, amazing food, and what might qualify as the world’s largest petting zoo. The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge festival is in town and although we might not be into bouncy castles and face painting, the promise of BBQ ribs, a beer tent, and some good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll played live is reason enough to hit the town.
A quick study of a map of Northeastern Ontario and you realize that it is a BIG space with relatively few paved roads. As you travel around, you often find yourself at the same crossroads; they become the hubs of your adventures. The truck stop where Highway 144 and 560 meet is such a place.
I’m 1000km from home but I have stopped here enough times that I move about with home-like comfort. The place is so . . . Northeastern Ontario; a dirt parking lot that you share with minivans, pickup trucks, and log-hauling Goliaths. Inside, the dress code is orange with a reflective X—a must-wear for the local work force—the chatter is heavily French, and the food is home-cooked goodness. It’s early in the day, so this time we only feed the bikes, then turn east on to Highway 560.
The traffic instantly goes from little to none, the sky zooms out to forever, and all the lines on my GPS vanish but for one twisty line representing the road we are on. We fall into the rhythm of the curves and long straights that vanish into the horizon. I love the solitude, the lakeside rest stops, and the single pump gas stations. You wish roads like this would go on forever, but eventually all good things come to an end. No worries when Highway 560 runs its course other roads take over—Highways 11, 112, 66, and 65. We stretch our saddle time as long as we can. What separates motorcycle travel from other modes of transportation is that while most travel is about the destination, good times don’t start ‘til you arrive. On a motorcycle, getting there is the good time.
Like roads, good days on the road don’t last forever. We loop back to Elk Lake and the Elk Lake Eco Centre. First impression? Wow! The architecturally stunning buildings, the rows of Muskoka chairs on the manicured lawn, hot tub, fire pit—this place oozes relaxation. A quick swim in the gently flowing Montreal River, a fabulous meal and it’s lights out.
We already have a few hours of riding under our belts today and are making our way south on Highway 11. New Liskeard, Cobalt, Temagami . . . another stellar day on the road, then suddenly traffic, stopped traffic. Word is the road is closed up ahead and it might be for hours! Once you commit to Highway 11 south of New Liskeard, it’s the only road south and from where we are, south of Temagami, a detour means heading north, crossing into Quebec, then south again. It will take hours. We settle in for the long wait. As often happens in these situations, you start chatting with your fellow traffic hostages . . . a bit of local intel, a bit of GPS study, and there might be a way of escape.
Those are my best words of encouragement that I can offer to my riding buddy who is facing a 20-km stretch of uncertain Northeastern Ontario dirt road on a BMW K1600GTL, a 1600cc sport touring bike.
“There might be one water crossing,” our local advisor adds.
“You’re not helping.”
A round of nervous laughter follows and it’s time to create some BIG memories.
The dirt road detour is no problem. The water crossing is just a big puddle, patches of sand and chatter-bump-covered uphills are the only challenges—all just part of the adventure.
It’s not hard to see why Highway 64 is a staple on every list of Ontario’s best roads. It contains stretches of twisties that beg for a re-do, and we happily oblige. From here it’s south, lunch in Sturgeon Falls at Larry’s or The Riv, the most famous pair of french fry stands in Canada, then we follow Highway 64 west to the end of Lake Nipissing and Saenchiur Flechey resort, a beautiful spot at the water’s edge where you can watch the sunset and sunrise from the same dock chair. The last bit of road in is 3 km of gravel, but compared to our earlier detour it might as well be a highway.
After another indulgence in my favourite Northern Ontario pastime—a refreshing swim in a crystal clear lake—we head back north on Highway 64 to the Lavigne Tavern, which claims to have the best pizza north of Toronto. The owner is a Moto Guzzi fan and you will usually find more bikes in the parking lot than cars.
I never need a reason to head out on a road trip but as the days pass I find reasons to head for home. Kids and family are at the top of the list, followed by a horde of more pesky reasons: work, bills, and responsibilities. Tomorrow we are homeward bound but the ride is far from over. We still have Highway 64 to finish, stop in at the French River, poke around Muskoka. After all, it’s not about the destination—it’s all about enjoying the ride.