La Classique 2023

If you like dual sport riding, you’ll love La Classique.

La Classique, organized by and with close to 1000 riders, is the largest dual sport rally in Canada. It’s so popular that I’d never managed to get in. Registration fills in about 2 days—you blink and you miss it—and always seems to fall when I’m busiest at work grading mid-terms. I almost missed it again this year but snuck onto a team last minute.

It used to be you had to organize a team, and I could never find riders willing to join me. Now RidAventure has simplified the process and you can register as a single rider and join an existing team. That’s what I did and found myself on Les Amis de la Motorcyclette, a great group of Francophone guys. RidAventure has also separated the Saturday and Sunday rides to allow wider participation in the event. That’s a great idea because even if you aren’t riding, there are vendors and test rides available for a more relaxed day of hanging about.

I registered for the Saturday Classique Plus route, which is about in the middle of the skill level of rides. You have to be comfortable riding Level 2 Trails. I felt pretty good about that but was a little concerned about my tires. Organizers are clear that you need knobbies for anything Classique Plus and up, and because of the long-distance touring I’m doing this summer, I had on Dunlop Trailmax Mission tires, a street-biased 70/30 tire. In the end, I probably should have had a more aggressive tire, but I managed.

This rally falls nicely for me right at the end of the school year. I worked hard in the weeks prior to the rally, pushing to complete all my end-of-term grading so I could ride away with a clean conscience. In fact, I did so much intensive grading toward the end that I developed a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome in my writing hand. Thankfully, it didn’t significantly affect my use of the throttle and front brake except in the most intensive sections.

Parts arrived from Dual Sport Plus just in time, and I spent the Friday of my departure adding hand guards and folding mirrors; I was worried about breaking a lever or a mirror in a crash, which is not uncommon in dirt riding. I was also worried about breaking my bones so geared up in my Knox Adventure Shirt, neck guard, and tucked some wrist braces into my bag. (Yeah, a little tip-over can cost you the better part of the season, so I’ve started using these if there is a chance of falling.) I left unfortunately at rush hour on a Friday, so after the requisite hour to get off the island, I was on my way.

One nice thing about these rallies is that you can camp on site. The rally this year was in a new location in Saint-André-Avellin, north of Montebello, and there was a big open field for all the tents. RVs were parked in another area, and there were a lot of them!

Camping at La Classique 2023 in Saint-André-Avellin.

Now if there’s one thing I know about camping in Canada, it’s that you don’t want to do it before July. The bugs are bad! In my last minute haste, I forgot to pack bug spray (doh!), so the first order of business once I got my tent pitched was to find some. Then I checked in at registration, got my sticker and T-shirt, and spent the rest of the evening hanging with The Awesome Players at their camp. As you may remember, I did a few rides with them a while back, and they are a great bunch of welcoming guys. In fact, although I was on my own for the weekend, I never felt alone; there’s a strong sense of fellowship within the RidAventure community.

One of the things I like about these rallies is checking out all the bikes. The next morning, before forming up for my ride, I took a stroll along where the campers’ bikes were parked.

Better than the Montreal Moto Show.

Yes, that is an action camera I’m using. As I pondered in a previous post, I’ve decided to join the crowd of YouTube content creators, although I’m not a hero—as in, I didn’t get a GoPro. After much research, and heavily influenced by this video review by Dork in the Road of several action cameras, I decided to get an Insta360 One RS. I’m not interested in the 360 lens; I think that’s a gimmick that will quickly lose its appeal, and I don’t like how it makes every shot look unnatural, like through a fish-eye lens.

I got just the 4K boost lens and will be incorporating some short video footage into my posts in the future. I’m not interested in “competing” with full-on YouTube channels because that’s not my genre: I’m primarily a writer, not a videographer. I wouldn’t know my way around a massive video editing program like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, and I wouldn’t want the interruption in my rides of setting up a tripod for a ride-by shot or sending up a drone, although drones capture some amazing footage. So my footage will be minimal and serve to complement the written accounts of my rides. Anyway, we’ll start with that and see how it goes. All the videos I use will be available separately on my YouTube channel. Let me know in the comment section what you think of the new multi-media format.

Enough about that. After perusing the bikes, I had to get up to the start area and introduce myself to my adoptive team.

Marc Chartand giving the pre-ride talk.

The rally is extremely well organized. At registration check-in, your bike is inspected, you sign a waiver, then receive a wrist band and a sticker for your bike. The sticker indicates what group you are in, and there is a corresponding marker to line up with your group. Here we all are, lined-up and waiting for the signal to pull out.

500 riders waiting to start.

I was a little nervous, being my first Classique and not knowing if I’d chosen the right level. You don’t want it boring, but then you also don’t want to slow the other boys down. In the end, it was the right choice, but I faced some challenging sections. My philosophy in riding and in life is that you want to push yourself slightly out of your comfort zone once in a while; that’s when growth occurs. My French and my off-roading skills got an injection this weekend.

Finally we got the signal to start our engines and pull out. We were on our way.

Starting out on the Classique Plus ride.

Right away you can tell that my bike is different from most other dual sports. You can hear the high-pitched induction whine of the Triumph triple instead of the growl of a parallel twin. But that’s what I love about this bike: it’s a sport bike engine shoe-horned into an adventure chassis. It’s smooth with a ton of torque and loves to be revved, and it handles through the twisties like a sport bike. Okay, it doesn’t have the tractor factor of a big thumper or a parallel twin, and that’s something I have to keep in mind when off-roading. I have to remember to keep the revs up or it will stall climbing hills or working through sand and mud.

Soon we left the asphalt and were enjoying the countryside on some easy dirt roads. No doubt the route planners considered this as warm-up for what was to come. The trees closed in and then we were snaking through the forest on a twisty dirt road, and lacking knobbies, I had to remember to weight the outside peg on each corner or risk low-siding.

Sorry about the wind noise. This was my first time using the camera and I’ve since discovered the audio setting for wind noise reduction. There’s an option in the Insta360 Studio application for post production noise reduction, but for some reason, this particular noise gets “reduced” to a sound similar to fingernails being dragged down a chalkboard.

Soon we turned off this road and entered Parc Papineau-Labelle, and that’s when things became a little more “interesting.” Our entrance was a rocky hill climb, and although it wasn’t super difficult, as anyone with a GoPro knows, the action cameras flatten out all hills and the image stabilization smoothens out the ride. In fact, my suspension was working hard, and it wasn’t long before the ABS on my bike sent an error code to the ECU.

Rocky hill climb into Réserve Faunique Papineau-Labelle.

To sit or stand? There’s an excellent podcast by Adventure Rider Radio (April 15, 2022) with an aerospace physicist and Chris Birch on this topic—well worth a listen—but one thing I remember from it is the simple maxim to sit when you can and stand when you have to. Some terrain requires that you stand so you can control the bike through the footpegs, but standing all day would be tiring, so sit when you can. You can see me stand when I enter a climb or a sharp corner. You can also see me glance down a few times to check what gear I’m in. Sometimes I’m concentrating so much on the terrain I forget and want to verify.

This was fairly easy dirt riding so I decided to keep my ABS on. I thought you really only have to turn it off if you’re doing steep descents in loose terrain where you might find yourself suddenly without brakes. But one thing I learned this weekend is that my bike is not happy with ABS on in even this degree of chatter. You can see in the following clip that I have a couple of warning lights on. They would turn out to be the check engine and ABS lights, so I put two and two together and figured it was an ABS/speed sensor error. (Later back home, I confirmed this using an OBDII scanner.) I got pretty good at navigating through the set-up menu on my dash to turn ABS off since it resets every time I turn off the bike. For short stops, however, I was able to use the kill switch but keep the ignition on and it didn’t reset.

I’m not sure which caused me more concern: the warning lights or that I was losing my sticker.

At one point, we came across a moose. I could see something running up ahead in the road and thought at first it was a horse, but soon realized it was a moose. We backed off and let it run ahead until it could get off the road. In all my years of canoe camping, I’ve actually never seen one, so this was exciting.

Also exciting were the patches of sand that sent the bike snaking. You just gotta hold your nerve and let the bike sort itself out. Nobody went down that I’m aware of, although there were some close calls. Here, I’m watching the guy in front almost lose it on a sandy corner, and then when I reach up to turn off my camera (I had it on loop mode), my front slides out and I almost lose it.

Almost overcooked.

Finally, with the ABS turned off and a few hours of this, by lunchtime I was feeling more confident in the sand.

Finally feeling confident in the sand.

Unfortunately, that would be the final clip of the day. For some reason which I would only discover at lunch, my camera would not turn on and would not record anymore. When I could finally unmount the camera and have a look, it was displaying a message that an error had occurred in my last video and would I like to fix it. (I did but the above clip is missing metadata.) It had started to rain hard and I was feeling a bit stressed about keeping up and decided that perhaps this was not the best time to test and troubleshoot the new camera so I put it away. That’s unfortunate, in retrospect, because the real fun was about to begin.

Shortly after lunch we had a sandy hill to climb, and even the best riders in the group were having a hard time with it. This is where I really needed some knobbies. I was looking at the hill and thinking this isn’t going to go well, but what choice did I have? Go back to camp or go for it. So I went for it and surprised myself. It wasn’t pretty—I had to dab several times—but I got most of the way up. Having done the hard bit, the last part I did less well. Like I said, I have to keep the revs up on this bike or it will stall. But with some pushing from others, we all made it to the top and lived to ride the rest of the route.

Not me but someone else getting a push. You can see how deep the sand is. Photo credit: Jean-Charles Paquin

There were some easy water crossings but no other major obstacles and we were back at camp by 5, in time to clean up before dinner.

The next day I was going to head home early but decided to do some test rides. First up, just out of curiosity, was the new Harley Davidson Pan America. It was, shall I say, a little underwhelming. If you imagine what a Harley adventure bike might be, that’s pretty much it: a little loud and rough and brash. There was a lot of vibration up through the handlebars, which was surprising because they had street shoes on. The best part of the test ride was that the sun finally came out! It had rained hard through the afternoon and night and everything was soaked, so it was nice to see the sun and to know my tent would dry out before I had to pack it up.

Test riding the new Harley Davidson Pan America.

There’s definitely some interesting technology built into this bike. The suspension lowering feature when you stop is innovative and will open up the adventure market to those who struggle with the seat height of most adventure bikes. And hydraulic valves sound neat. I don’t know exactly how they work but the bottom line is apparently you never have to adjust the valves. There were some Pan America bikes at the rally so they are selling, but I don’t think this bike is going to cause a major splash like the Teneré 700 did or the BMW GS.

Speaking of the GS, I’ve always wanted to try the iconic bike. As followers of this blog will know, I had the single 650GS for years and loved it and always wondered what the big boxer would be like. Many said that the big cross-Canada trip I did would normally be done on the big bike, and I have to admit considering it when I decided to change my bike, but I’m nervous about taking a big bike like that off road into remote areas. It’s close to 600 lbs. and, with gear, that’s a lot to lift on your own if you dump it.

Anyway, this was my chance and so I did a test ride on a 1250GS. I have to admit, what everyone says about how it carries its weight is true. You can turn this bike easily at slow speed. But what I found most impressive—not exclusive to the GS—were the rider modes. I’ve never ridden a bike with rider modes before, and after 20 minutes in Enduro Pro mode, I was sliding this baby around corners. You can hear me making exclamations into my helmet.

Test riding a BMW 1250GS.

It’s very confidence-inspiring, but I couldn’t help thinking that I was cheating; it wasn’t me doing the powerslides but a computer. Call me a purist, call me a technophobe, call me a Luddite, or just call me poor, but I’m glad my 2013 bike doesn’t have rider modes. I know they’re the way of the future, but for now, I’m happy to have to learn throttle and clutch control and braking using manual inputs. Speaking of which, my throttle/clutch control sucks (!) and I’ll be targeting it with some practice in the coming weeks.

Upon reflecting on my ride of the day before, perhaps what I am most proud of is not that I kept up on the tires I had, but that I did it without any rider aids, including ABS. It was all me. I’m not a great rider, not yet anyway, but if I had a bike with that level of computer input, I wonder if I’d ever be. What are your feelings about rider modes? Greatest safety advancement in motorcycle technology in the recent past, or making us all lazy, unskilled riders?

Finally it was time to start heading home. I packed up and headed down the 321 to the lovely 418 East that took me into Grenville.

Heading along the beautiful 418 that hugs the north shore of the Ottawa River.

It had been a great weekend at my first Classique. The sun was out and I had the whole summer vacation ahead of me. I was feeling pretty bouyant, and since I was in an indulgent mood, there was only one more thing to do to make the moment perfect.

2023 East Coast Tour: Preliminary Plans

Sketching out the next big adventure

As I write this, we’re having yet another major snowfall in Montreal. It’s been a particularly snowy winter and after a few mild days, some of us got lured into thinking spring is just around the corner. But as I sit looking out the window of my 2nd-storey study, it’s hard to imagine that the Montreal Motorcycle Show is next weekend and we can legally be back on the road in less than a month.

My favourite way to avoid shoveling: write a blog post!

Still, I must continue making travel plans in a kind of blind faith in the power of nature. If I put on my cheap Dollar Store shades, all that white outside becomes a shade of green, and I can almost imagine it being June and setting off. With this trip, there are some reservations that have to be made, like booking the ferry on and off Newfoundland, so I have started to map out a rough outline of our planned exploration of the Canadian east coast. This will be the book-end tour of the west coast trip of 2021.

Learn from your mistakes

I’m trying to keep in mind what I learnt from that last one, specifically, sometimes less is more. That’s what I keep telling my students, anyway, who think they are clarifying their thesis statements by adding clause after clause. The last trip was spent too much on the Superslab in my need to cover distance in the time I had. I don’t want to make the same mistake so am trying to be realistic in what we can see in the time we have away from the dog and our jobs. Marilyn, the domestic accountant, likes to remind me about our budget too.

My first route planned included The Cabot Trail. It seems sacrilegious not to “do” The Cabot Trail if you are anywhere within 150 kilometres of it on a motorbike, and we will be passing through Cape Breton en route to Sydney, NS, where one catches the ferry to get to Newfoundland. But my practical wife reminded me that we have been to Nova Scotia several times and both ridden (at least, I did) and driven The Cabot Trail and maybe we should devote that time to Newfoundland and perhaps Prince Edward Island, which we haven’t visited. This is a classic case of idealism (i.e. “we can do it all”) versus realism (“we are only human”) so we’ll see in the coming months which ideology wins.

The Cabot Trail: an iconic ride

Gaspésie, PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland

What we do agree on is that we’d like to ride the coast of the Gaspé Peninsula, or as they like to call it here in Québec, La Gaspésie. I’ve driven that before and it’s spectacular. Marilyn hasn’t seen the Roche Percé, and like the Butchart Gardens we visited on Vancouver Island, we will make a stop at the Reford Gardens in Matane, QC. Forillon National Park at the tip of the peninsula is pretty special too.

Another decision we have is whether or not to visit Prince Edward Island. Our Insight Guides book suggests a three-day 250-kilometre road trip that includes Charlottetown, Argyle Shore Provincial Park, Brackley Beach, and the West Point Lighthouse near Cedar Dunes Provincial Park. Hopefully, those provincial parks offer camping. Technically, I’ve been to PEI, but I was too young to remember much. If we can’t work it in this summer, we will definitely get out there next. Aside from NWT and Nunavut, PEI and Newfoundland are the only provinces or territories I haven’t visited, so I’m hoping we can devote a few days to get a taste of the island.

Should we take the day or night ferry to Newfoundland? There are pros and cons of each, as I see it. A day crossing might be time wasted, just looking out for 7+ hours over endless water. I know there might be the opportunity to do some whale watching, but I’m sure we’ll be doing some of that once on the island. A night crossing is more expensive if you buy a cabin and try to get some sleep. On the other hand, the cabin isn’t any more expensive than a motel room, which we’d have to get soon after landing from a day passage. I’m leaning toward a night crossing. I’ve never experienced sleeping on a boat like my parents did when they immigrated on the Queen Elizabeth II and I think it would be novel. If we cross during the day, we will camp at a favourite campground in Baddeck in order to get to the ferry in the morning; if we cross at night, there might be time to ride The Cabot Trail or stay at Meat Cove, which is an amazing campground off The Cabot Trail right at the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island.

If you’ve visited Newfoundland, what did you do and why? I’m open to advice. There is a growing sense of urgency to decide, especially if we want a cabin as they sell out early, so decisions have to be made soon.

Neither Marilyn nor I has visited Newfoundland before, so this is going to be a treat. Again, we can’t do it all, and we’ve decided to focus on the west coast. Gros Morne National Park is a bucket list item. Then we will continue up the coast on what’s called The Viking Trail because I like history and am interested in seeing the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows. Then we will cross the island to Saint John’s because, well, you can’t visit Newfoundland without strolling around Saint John’s, including “hydrating” at a pub on Water Street before climbing Signal Hill. I’ve heard and read about these places and look forward to exploring them in person.

Finally, we have to decide whether we have time to ride The Irish Loop, a 325 kilometre loop along the coastline south of Saint John’s. The name is intriguing since we both have some Irish blood. And anything along a shoreline is bound to please me on the bike. Our guidebook suggests 2-3 days for this, so it really depends on if we can fit it all in.

Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont

Currently, the plan is for Marilyn to fly out of Saint John’s back to Montreal like she did from Vancouver when we were out west, and I’ll continue on solo. And I’m pretty sure I’ll come back via The United States instead of my initial plan to return via Labrador and the north shore. Like the caribou during their migration, I’m detouring to avoid bugs. Besides, the riding through Maine and New Hampshire will be more interesting than through Labrador. I recently purchased a subscription to Rever, which classifies roads on a colour coding system, and there’s a cluster of G1 (Best) roads in the White Mountains of NH that is calling my name.

G1 Best roads to ride are in yellow. That cluster in the White Mountains looks interesting.

I might saunter my way back along the coast, checking out Bar Harbour and a few other places before cutting diagonally north-west through the White Mountains. Without the deadline of ferry crossings, this will be the unplanned, unscheduled segment of the trip, which is generally how I like to tour. Maybe I’ll stay an extra night in New Hampshire so I can ride those primo roads unladen with gear.

This trip is going to take me about three weeks—two weeks with Marilyn, and about a week solo to get back. After a short rest in which I’ll service the bike and change my tires to something more dirt-oriented, I’ll head off again, this time to ride some BDRs. It’s going to be a full and exciting summer on a new bike, and I’ll have lots to write about so click Follow if you want to follow along.

To Vlog or Not to Vlog

Do we need another hero? I ponder the question.

Even before I had my 6A licence I was watching motorcycle vlogs. A weekly series called Weekly Rides with Reuben was my introduction to the world of motorcycling. That was in 2015 and Reuben was ahead of the curve. Today, it seems everyone has a helmet cam.

Recently, a video came up in my YouTube feed—you know the ones that seem to be generated by AI (or at least the narrative voice is) made by an unknown source just for clicks and YouTube revenue? Okay maybe you don’t but that’s the kind of stuff I end up watching in the off season. It was comparing the popularity of Itchy Boots and another female vlogger, and they estimated Noraly’s net worth at over $7M. I don’t know how they estimate these things or if it’s at all accurate but I thought to myself, “I’m in the wrong genre.”

My day job is as an English teacher at a college, and one of my colleagues has been saying recently that we are in a post-literary culture. By that he means that no one reads anymore. And while it’s always dangerous to generalize, we English teachers do see everyday the effects of a general decline in leisure reading. In fact, I don’t even have to look at my students; I can look at my own behaviour. It’s after dinner at the end of a long day of work and I have a choice: read or watch TV? I almost always choose the latter. And the more I watch, the more tiring reading becomes in a vicious cycle that I struggle to prevent.

Source: Association of American Universities

This blog has been a joy over the past eight years and it’s not dying anytime soon. Believe it or not, even after over 100 posts, I’ve still got lots to say. But I have been wondering if I should expand the blog to include video footage of some of the trips I do. They say a photo is worth a thousand words, and while I’d counter that the right word is worth a thousand images, sometimes a few minutes of video footage is irreplaceable in words. Perhaps it’s like the old adage about the book versus the movie: it’s not which is better but what the movie offers that the book can’t and vice versa.

Of course this is not the first time I’ve considered starting a vlog, or at least getting a helmet cam and recording some footage. My hesitancy so far has been out of concern that the filming would interrupt and detract from the enjoyment of riding. I find already that when I’m riding, I’m in the moment and even stopping to take a photo is an annoyance I force myself to do for posterity. I can’t imagine interrupting the ride for 15 minutes while I set up a tripod for a ride-by shot.

I’m reminded of what someone once said to me years ago when I was back-packing through Europe: “Some people go on vacation to take photos, and some people take photos while on vacation.” I’d hate to have the filming eclipse the ride.

And then there’s the investment in equipment. Hands up if you’re tired of the 30-minute helmet cam footage. It seems that like all art forms, it’s all or nothing; you’re either all in with multiple camera perspectives (front-facing, rider-facing, maybe a side mount and, of course, the drone footage). There’s music to buy, and the pretty steep learning curve of editing software. Oh yeah, and then I’d probably need a new computer, a laptop, I guess, and some way to carry it safely on tour in all types of conditions. Sigh! That’s why I’ve been avoiding jumping in.

Motovlogger wildLensByAbrar’s vlogging gear. Hmm . . . that’s a lot of weight.

Wouldn’t the best of both worlds be ideal, at least for me? I don’t think I can jump into the full YouTube channel thing, but perhaps adding some helmet cam footage to my ride reports would be nice. I know that when I rode up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, for example, I stopped at the side of the road to take a photo of what I was seeing, but as good as the photo is, it doesn’t capture the ride.

This was the best I could do to capture the amazing Stewart-Cassiar Highway in Northern BC.

So part of my off season has been spent researching action cameras, and it looks like the DJI Action 3 has surpassed GoPro in a number of ways. Apparently a lot of people are jumping the GoPro ship because GoPros have had an ongoing problem of reliability. They freeze and you lose footage, and the only way to fix them is to remove the battery and replace it again. The DJI Action 3 has a longer battery life, handles heat better, has a touchscreen on the front and back of the camera, a more convenient magnetic mounting system, and is $150 cheaper, although as I write this I see GoPro currently have a sale on their Hero 11 to match DJI’s pricing. GoPro has the better image quality because it films in 5K and DJI currently only goes to 4K, but they will be coming out with a 5K camera in the fall, albeit too late for my planned trip this summer. Decisions, decisions. Feel free to drop some advice below in the comment section.

Anyway, this post is a bit incoherent but that’s the nature of pondering. These are just some thoughts I’ve been having. I’ve reactivated my Instagram account and renamed it to match this blog, and the same for my YouTube channel, which currently has a whopping 50 subscribers. I’m enlisting the help of my talented wife to create a logo and will get some stickers and patches made and generally aim toward maybe, maybe, turning my rides into a small retirement income in a few years if I can find a way to do it which adds to rather than detracts from both the ride and this blog. I can’t see myself rocking a selfie stick anytime soon, but you never know, and stranger things have happened. If you don’t dream it, it’s not going to happen.

Any thoughts or advice for me as I ponder these developments? Drop a comment below.

ADV Riding as Thrill-Seeking

Is extreme remote riding simply gratuitous risk-taking?

Video credit: Troy R. Bennett

Recently a story was circulating about Eric Foster, a guy who crashed on the Trans-Taiga Highway. Perhaps you’ve seen it. He was riding solo and woke up eight hours later in a hospital in Montreal. It’s actually an old story from 2017 but was republished end of November and that’s when I saw it. It’s a pretty gripping story, as far as crash stories go. He was riding in perhaps the remotest area of North America when he crashed, breaking his back and a leg. Some trappers saw the smoke from his motorcycle on fire and came to his aid, but it took hours for first responders to get to him, and then hours to get him to a hospital. The story has a happy ending; he returns to the spot where he had the accident and finishes his trip, stopping to thank the trappers along the way who helped him.

I’d never heard of the Trans-Taiga, so the article got me looking. It’s a dirt road built by Hydro Quebec to service their dams, and it is indeed about as remote as you can get in Quebec. According to Wikipedia, it’s the “northernmost continuous road in Eastern North America,” snaking 582 kilometres (362 mi) through forest from James Bay Road to the Caniapiscau Reservoir. That’s right—that’s all there is at the end of a dangerous journey: a reservoir. Then you turn around and ride the same road back.

Why would someone want to do such a ride? Well, the answer is in the article. Eric Foster describes himself as “a challenge guy.” When asked why he wanted to ride the Trans-Taiga, he replied, “Just to say I did it,” then added, “I love a good challenge.” I’ve found myself saying the exact same words of that last sentence, and I’ve written about risk-taking in an earlier post when discussing my decision to try The Dempster, another dangerous highway. Quoting Jordan Peterson, I wrote at the time:

“When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.”

12 Rules for Life

Research on the Trans-Taiga led me to looking at James Bay Road, a highway so remote that you have to sign in at a check point before riding it so officials can keep track of who’s up there. I watched a YouTube video of a group of guys who rode it to James Bay, including a few kilometres of the Trans-Taiga, “just to say they did.” And then the YouTube algorithm did its thing and showed me another series of videos of a father and son riding the Trans-Labrador Highway, which was right up my alley because I was considering riding it back from Newfoundland this summer after crossing to Blanc-Sablon.

Coincidentally, this series is also by Troy Bennett.

The Trans-Labrador Highway is one of those classic ADV rides you’ve apparently got to do to call yourself an ADV rider. It also snakes through some pretty remote territory, and until recently, was mostly gravel. (The final remaining section of dirt has recently been paved.) I watched the six-part series and the riders did have some adventure. They had a break-down and had to be saved by some locals, and they encountered some unseasonable weather and were held up for a few days by a late snow fall. There was some good bonding time, for sure, but in terms of the ride itself, it seemed like hours and hours of mind-numbing coniferous forest. No lakes, no mountains, no cliffs, no hill climbs, and as of last summer, no dirt.

Why would the Trans-Labrador be such a popular ADV ride? It has to be its remoteness, and if you live in the northeast of North America, the Trans-Lab is one of the few remaining truly remote roads.

If you’re looking for a challenge, remoteness will provide it. For one, there is the not-so-little issue of fuel; you have to be able to cover upwards of 400 kms between fuel stops, which can be done by carrying extra fuel in a Rotopax or another fuel container. With remoteness usually comes some challenging riding too since no one wants to pave a road that has limited use. And if it rains, that challenge increases significantly, especially on roads like The Dempster or The Dalton that are sprayed with calcium chloride as it makes the mud greasy. Then there’s the danger of wildlife, whether it be an aggressive grizzly bear or, worse, the black flies.

Stuck in otherwise pretty safe lives, we seek danger in answer to an ancient call somewhere in the reptilian brain that harkens back to another era when we lived close to death.

But the real challenge of riding remote is simply the lack of assistance should you have a mechanical or medical problem. I won’t say you are on your own because even on these remote highways there are still trucks passing periodically, but parts and medical assistance become scarce. This is where you have to be prepared: know how to fix your bike, carry spare parts, bring a first-aid kit, and have on you a satellite tracker like the Garmin inReach units that are connected to emergency services.

Is it worth it? Well, to each his or her own, but for me, the risk itself is not enough. In fact, I’ve been wondering if riding remote for its own sake is really just a way for some people to feel alive again. Stuck in otherwise pretty safe lives, we seek danger in answer to an ancient call somewhere in the reptilian brain that harkens back to another era when we lived close to death. Some people skydive. Others bungee jump. Some climb mountains. And some race The Isle of Man TT in search of what Guy Martin calls “The Buzz,” that adrenaline hit you get when you are on the edge of life and death.

But watching these videos has led me to rethink my upcoming tour. I don’t think I’ll be coming back from Newfoundland via The Trans-Lab. It’s not because I’m scared of remote riding, but in my world, there has to be some pay-off for the risk, and bragging rights just isn’t enough. When I rode up The Dempster, every kilometre was worth the risk for the magnificent views the highway provided. I’d never seen geography like that before and likely won’t until I get up there again.

Golden Sides Lookout just north of Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon.

But the Trans-Lab, the James Bay Road, and the Trans-Taiga don’t offer much beyond hours and hours of forest. From what I can determine, there aren’t even places to pull off safely for a rest or to camp. These are roads built exclusively for trucks to get from Point A to Point B, cutting a single line through otherwise impenetrable bush. I’ll leave it to the black flies.

For a challenge, I’ve decided instead to ride this summer the NEBDR and MABDR (North East and Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Routes respectively) down to The Blue Ridge Parkway, and while there, I’ll probably do Tail of the Dragon, although riding a curvy section of road at the limit of my skill and the bike is not my preferred mode of challenge these days. Rather, I’m looking forward to testing my metal on those Class 4 roads of the NEBDR. I’ll take a rocky hill climb over speed or gratuitous remoteness any day; it’s what drew me to ADV riding in the first place. Off-roading provides a challenge that is relatively safe. That might sound like an oxymoron, but you don’t have to risk your life to get “The Buzz.” Successfully completing a technical section of road or trail will give you a hit too, and if you don’t make it and drop the bike, well, you live to try another day. And along the way, there are some pretty great views, villages, and campgrounds.

What do you think? If you ride a motorcycle, you’re familiar with managing risk. Is remote riding your thing, and if so, why do you do it? If not, what kind of riding gives you The Buzz? And if you don’t ride, what do you do to step outside your comfort zone and feel alive? Drop a comment below; I’m always interested in hearing from readers.