Homeward Bound

In the completion of my Epic Adventure, I cover 5,500 kilometres from Whitehorse to Montreal in seven days to be home in time for work.

In my last post, I rode up The Dempster Highway to Rock River Campground, just south of the NWT border, then went to Whitehorse and did an oil change to prepare for the final leg of my Epic Adventure Tour. I had a week to be back in Montreal, 5,500 kilometres away, so I knew there were going to be some long days in the saddle. I would have to let Google Maps do its thing and direct me there on the shortest, fastest route. It was beginning to feel like my tour was coming to an end, but I still had those seven days and lots to see and to experience as I crossed the country for a second time.

My first night was at the famous Liard Hotsprings Provincial Park, just outside of Yukon in northern BC on Highway 97, the Alaska Highway. I retraced my ride on the 1 back to Upper Liard, but instead of turning right and heading south down the 37 (Stewart-Cassiar Highway), as I had come up, I continued south-east to Watson Lake. My first rest stop was at Sign Post Forest.

A quick peanut butter sandwich lunch and I was on my way again. Somewhere along the 97, heading into Liard, I encountered Bison on the road. I’d heard they are unpredictable and will charge a motorcycle, so I waited until the road was reasonably clear, then slowly passed, one hand on the throttle, one snapping photos.

I was especially nervous about passing this cow (left) while her calf was suckling.

I also came upon sections of burnt-out forest. All summer we had been dodging forest fires. Now I was seeing close-up the after-effects of one.

Looks like fire came through here a few years ago, based on the new growth.

I’d been told you have to make reservations at the campground—it’s that popular—but I took my chances on a weekday and got lucky; there were lots of spots left. I pulled in late afternoon, pitched my tent, and headed to the hot springs.

There, I met a couple of other ADV riders, so we naturally struck up a conversation about our travels. When I mentioned a few details about my trip, one of them said, “Oh you’re that guy with the blog.” That was a bit of a surprise. I’ve been writing and publishing poetry for over 30 years but have never been recognized for my writing outside of a literary context, so it was an unusual experience. Hmm . . . might the universe be trying to tell me something? I’m proud of my poetry collection, Invisible Sea, but I think my next book will be something more like this, related to my motorcycle adventures, targeting a more popular audience.

Mike at Liard also rides a 650GS and lives in Powell River. He had sent me in a previous post before I left some tips for BC touring, including the possibility of buying a week-long pass for BC Ferries, which might end up being cheaper than buying tickets for individual crossings. Thanks, Mike. I hope to catch up with you later when I retire to BC. Perhaps we will do some touring together one day.

Muncho Lake

The next day was some great riding through the mountains of Northern BC, including passing Muncho Lake. At one point, I passed a couple of motorcyclists stopped at the side of the road, so I naturally pulled a U-turn to see if they needed any help. I recognized one of them from the hot springs the day before. They had a little problem but nothing serious and would soon be on their way. As I left, I pulled another U-turn to return southward. I had the entire lane to do it and knew I could without crossing into the oncoming lane, so foolishly didn’t even check over my shoulder to see if there were any vehicles coming behind me. I also had my ear-plugs in, so the 18-wheeler barrelling down on me was a bit of a surprise and for a moment I lost my nerve and almost dropped the bike, saved by a couple of heavy dabs. The poor truck driver must have crapped his pants as he swerved onto the shoulder. I looked back at my friends and one dropped his jaw. Yeah, it was close. A momentary lapse of judgment is all it takes. In the entire 20,000K of the tour, this was the closest I came to an accident.

I also experienced in Northern BC the third and final rain shower of the six-week tour, it was that hot and dry all summer. I did “only” 616 kilometres that day and found a spot for the night at Inga Lake Provincial Park. There I met Walter and his dog Simba, travelling in a converted camper van. Like Mountain Man Mike I had met in Yukon, travelling by converted van or truck seems to be a very popular choice these days. Gas is cheaper than with a full RV, it’s easier to get around, and most have a small kitchenette and bed. Walter and I ended up sharing a drink and watching the meteor shower together that night.

The next day was the big push into Edmonton. My friends at Liard had tipped me off that hotels are super cheap in Edmonton for some reason, so I indulged myself.

The next day I did 651K into Prince Albert National Park. I was trying to hit all or most of the national parks en route. I followed my GPS that took me the back way in (see title image above), which was more interesting but got me there later than I would have liked and campsites were scarce. In fact, I rode through the park to a couple of the campgrounds before doubling back and finding a single spot right on the water.

The site showed that it was occupied for another few days, but before I rode off, a neighbouring camper kindly came over to say that I’d be fine. Apparently, there seemed to have been a domestic dispute and the family packed up early, not bothering to remove the reservation from their site. My guardian angel had done the deed, of course, and I felt a little guilty to be profiting from an argument. How anyone can be at conflict in such a beautiful location is hard to imagine, but then again, they say a good test of marital compatibility is to go camping.

The next day was another 700K and another national park, this time Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba. Where Prince Albert is remote and beautiful, Riding Mountain is a camping suburb. There are 427 available campsites at RMNP, and reservations are highly recommended during peak season, which it was. I think 425 were already taken when I got there, and I found myself tucked into a tiny site at the far end of the campground. I guess the park serves the generally landlocked residents of eastern Manitoba and Winnipeg and provides a summer playground for the kids, but it’s too big. It was good for a night’s rest but I wouldn’t want to vacation there. The next day I rode down to the beach just to check it out, and along Wasagaming Drive in search of a coffee. It felt very touristy, with fake indigenous trinkets, souvenir T-shirts, and plastic sunglasses. It didn’t feel like a national park, or any park, for that matter, and I didn’t buy a sticker for my pannier before hitting the road.

Riding Mountain National Park

Okay, it does have a short beach, but with that many campsites and hotels in the area, I imagine it gets pretty crowded in the summer months. This was taken early morning. By afternoon, I suspect it looks more like this.

I started heading east on Highway 16 that took me through Neepawa. The name should have twigged but it didn’t until I saw a sign indicating that the former home of Canadian novelist Margaret Laurence was nearby. What an unexpected treat! I don’t do much research before touring but prefer to follow my nose, which generally serves me well. Her home is just a few blocks off the main road. If you like her novels, it’s worth a stop. Admission is a few dollars and you receive an audio tour through the house.

I knew that her novel The Stone Angel was inspired by a monument in a nearby cemetery and was directed there by the nice young man working at the house.

The Stone Angel

If you want to understand what it’s like to be inside the head of a failing old woman, read The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, set in the fictitious town of Manawaka, based on Neepawa. It should be required reading for students in Special Care Counselling who wish to work in elder care. I am always impressed by prose fiction that is not autobiographical. A mature writer is able to imagine characters and voice, not simply fictionalize his or her own experiences.

I pushed on, aiming for Kenora, just over the Manitoba-Ontario border. I was in such a hurry leaving Kenora westbound that I didn’t get the required photo-op with Husky the Muskie.

In truth, my only reason for stopping in Kenora was in search of food and campsite beer after another long, hot day on the bike. I arrived after the imaginatively-named The Beer Store had closed, but thankfully Lake of the Woods Brewing Company was still open and had cans for sale.

This delay meant that I arrived at Sioux Narrows Provincial Park at sundown, after the park had closed, but I had phoned ahead and reserved a site. The staff there were nice to not charge me a reservation fee and my reservation paperwork and a map of the park were waiting for me under a rock on the picnic table of my site when I arrived. The staff at this park get full marks.

I was now in Ontario and things were looking familiar again. I was retracing my ride westward from six weeks prior, including an overnight stay with extended family on Shebandowan Lake, just west of Thunder Bay. It was nice to see familiar faces again and sleep in a bed. I was getting pretty tired from all the riding and needed a good night’s sleep before the big push home.

The next day I rode my favourite highway, Highway 17, which I’ve written about for Ontario Tourism, including a stop for the other required photo-op in Wawa.

It was all business now and I pushed all the way to Sault Ste. Marie. I deliberated where to stay that night. I considered Pancake Bay Provincial Park, just west of Sault Ste. Marie, but I knew the next day was already going to be a very long day to get home. I considered pushing past the Sault but it was getting late and dark. I hate spending money on hotels but with miles to cover and being my last night, I splurged on a room at the Quality Inn there. Counter to Edmonton, though, hotels in the Sault are expensive. Perhaps it has something to do with being so close to the US border, just over the bridge (although the border was still closed due to Covid), or maybe it’s just a factor of pure supply and demand. At any rate, I paid through the nose but had a good night’s rest before the final push home.

The next day I rode further than I ever have, 1000 kilometres (968 to be exact), pulling into my driveway in the dark at around 10 o’clock after having successfully navigated the requisite construction detours and pylons welcoming you to Montreal. Thankfully, I didn’t have to function the next day, but I was back in town for my official availability at work. I’d have another full week to decompress, prepare for classes, and wrap my head around the culture shock of stepping into the classroom again. When I did, it seemed almost surreal that just a little over a week earlier I had been above the Arctic Circle.

The bike was a mess, an absolute disaster, and some of that week would be spent on a thorough cleaning and some much-needed maintenance. But I was home. I’d completed a dream over forty years old to cross Canada by motorcycle. It was the end of that dream, but the trip had firmly planted an adventure bug in my ear. I knew now that I was capable of more—the east coast, including Newfoundland and Labrador, the Trans America Trail (TAT), The Continental Divide, The Trans Canada Adventure Trail (TCAT), and more. I was sadly at the end of my tour, but in many ways, this was just a beginning.

In my next post, I’ll complete the blogs about the Epic Adventure with some general thoughts and reflections on the tour overall and make an exciting announcement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s