Let’s Talk About Moto Camping Gear

In this third post in a series on gear, I talk about the camping gear that works for me.

There are many reasons to do moto camping. The obvious one is that you save on accommodation costs. Most campgrounds will charge a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest hotel room or AirBNB, and if you do wild camping, it’s free. But I don’t think that’s the best reason to camp. Camping gains you access to remote areas only accessible if you’re willing to tent it. Yes, you have some inconveniences, but you get to sit by a fire through the evening, hear loon call through the night, and wake up to mist on the water—priceless experiences you can’t get at even the most expensive hotels. One of those inconveniences is that you have more stuff to carry on the bike, but trust me, it can all fit quite easily if you get the right gear. Here is what has worked well for me over the years and during my cross-country trip last summer. I’m not saying these are the best options, but it’s what I’ve been using and am happy with.

Tent

MEC Tarn 2

The tent I use for car and canoe camping is too big for the bike, so when I moto camp, I borrow my son’s MEC Tarn 2. Yes, he lent it to me the entire summer last year when I did the big trip. I keep thinking I should buy my own but he asks why if he’s not using it. That’s very generous of him, especially because it’s a great 4-season tent.

He lived in it an entire summer when he was tree-planting. It was the smallest tent in camp, and I’ve had people comment on “my tiny tent,” but we both love it for its size because that makes it warm and cozy. And when you are only sleeping in it, why do you need anything bigger? MEC says this is a two-person tent, but the only way it could fit two people is if they slept head to toe, and even then it would be tight. I find I can sleep comfortably with room for my jacket, pants, tank bag, and even a helmet beside me. Yes, for security reasons, I normally take my tank bag and helmet into the tent.

One especially nice feature is the large vestibule. I can fit both of my 40L Touratech panniers in the vestibule if I want a day of unencumbered riding, or at night my duffle bag, boots, and other gear I want to keep dry and close . . . but not too close, if you know what I mean. With only three poles, the tent is quick and easy to set up, and it has held up great over the years. We’ve both been caught in some big storms but it has kept us dry and warm. What more could you ask?

The poles are a little long so the length when packed up is 23″ x 7″ (diameter), but it fits perfectly into the bottom of my Wolfman Duffle or strapped onto the top of a pannier. Unfortunately, this tent is no longer available but there are others with a similar low-profile design and large vestibule. Eureka make one that is similar. I normally put a cheap tarp underneath to protect the floor but I make sure it doesn’t extend out beyond the fly or it will catch rainwater running off the tent and transport it underneath. I’ve never needed to string a tarp over this tent.

Marilyn and I didn’t do any camping together while she was riding with me last year, but I think we’ll have to next summer when we tour the Maritimes and Newfoundland. I’m in the process of researching a 2-person tent, and the MSR Elixir 2 is on my short-list. If you know of a good but reasonably priced 2-person tent, please let me know. Yeah, we’d all like to have a Hilleberg; maybe in my next life.

Sleep System

Inside the tent, I use a Nemo Cosmo mattress. I’ve used various self inflating mattresses and considered the popular Sea to Summit mattresses, but in the end, I bought this for a steal when it was discontinued and I have no regrets. I know the current inflatable mattresses use a fill bag instead of a pump, but I’ve never found the built-in pump annoying. It takes a timed 90 seconds to fill.

More importantly, this mattress is very comfortable and warm. Fully inflated, it’s 2.5 inches thick, and although that doesn’t sound like a lot, it beats the self-inflating mattresses and I can sleep on my side comfortably without my hip touching the ground. I’ve recently come across some sleeping bags that do not have any fill on the underside, and that’s because most, if not all, of the insulation from below comes from your mattress, so it’s a good idea to get one that has a good R-value, especially if you are doing any camping in Canada. The Nemo is 20R rated for temperatures from 15 – 25°F (-9 – -4°C), and I’ve never been cold on it. It packs up to 11″ x 6″ (diameter) and weighs 1 lb 13 oz, or 815 grams.

Overall, I’m very happy with this mattress. The only shortcoming is that the nylon surface is slippery, as is my sleeping bag, and I’m an “active sleeper,” so I’ve woken up briefly in the middle of the night off the mattress.

Nemo Cosmo Mattress

For years, and for the big trip last summer, I used a synthetic sleeping bag. It was fine in terms of warmth, and being synthetic meant I could throw it in a washing machine mid-point when I got to Calgary. However, being synthetic, it doesn’t pack up very small and that meant I had to take my large Firstgear 70L duffle when I really wanted to use my Mosko 25L Scout on the tail rack. Realistically, it probably never would have worked with the Scout; when Marilyn joined me, we needed all the room of the larger duffle for all our stuff, but when I got back, I bought a compression sack so I could cinch the bag down smaller. That certainly helps, but I’ve since bought a down-filled bag from MEC and that is now my preferred bag unless I expect to be wetting it (not yet) or sleeping in dirt (not likely) or in heat (not now). I got just a 650-fill one, which was affordable and adequate for 3-season camping, and it packs up small and is very light. I now recognize that for moto camping, you really need a down bag for its reduced size and weight. And for laundering it, I bought some Nikwax Down Wash Direct.

Finally, I use a Sea to Summit silk liner inside the bag to keep it clean. How often do you launder your bed sheets? I know that’s an impolite question to ask most bachelors. But you should launder your bag as often as your sheets, and a liner is a lot easier to launder than a bag. (You can, in fact, hand-wash it easily at a campground.) The benefits of a liner aren’t just related to hygiene. It adds warmth when you need it, and can replace a bag when it’s hot. There are lots of different kinds, from fleece to synthetic, but I decided to get the silk one because it insulates and breathes, so is practical in a wide range of conditions. Sorry vegans.

Stove

The type of stove I prefer is one that runs on liquid fuel. I don’t like having to dispose of propane canisters and I find them bulky in the limited space of my panniers. Instead, I have two 1L MSR fuel bottles that fit into racks on the back of the bike. (Most pannier systems, soft and hard, have a fuel bottle holder as optional add-on.) I already have the bottles as spare fuel for the bike, so why not double-purpose them as my cooking fuel? Some people say the food can take on the odour of burnt fuel, but I haven’t found that to be the case.

There are, to my knowledge, two manufacturers of this type of stove: MSR and Optimus. I started with the Optimus but unfortunately we had some issues with it and ended up abandoning it mid-tour a few years ago. The valve got stuck closed and then the threading got stripped in trying to open it again. To be fair, I probably was at fault in turning off the stove at the valve, but I always found that system of turning the stove off by flipping the bottle over awkward and unreliable. Had I known the casing was going to shrink when cooling and fuse itself to the threading of the valve, I would have done as instructed, but I didn’t, and that’s what happens when you don’t read the 15 pages of warnings that accompany most products today.

For the replacement, we went with the MSR Dragonfly. Same idea, better design. Liquid fuel is atomized on the underside of a heated saucer. It seems complicated at first but quickly becomes easy. You open the valve briefly and allow a little fuel to soak the wick, then light it and the resulting flame will heat the underside of the metal saucer at the centre of the stove. After about 30 seconds, the metal is hot enough to instantly turn the liquid fuel to gas and the flame turns from orange to blue. It’s a very efficient design; I can get a bottle of fuel to last easily over a week of full-time use. And best of all, you can find fuel at any gas station. It will burn all grades of petrol, including diesel, as well as kerosene and white fuel. Heck, it can probably burn alcohol if you’re in a pinch, but you’d have to be pretty desperate to burn your bourbon.

MSR Dragonfly

The main drawback of the Dragonfly is that it’s loud! Okay, it’s not like a jet is taking off from your campsite, as some online reviews claim, but it produces a steady roar, depending of course on how quickly you need your coffee. MSR also make the WhisperLite stove that is quieter, but we were talked into the Dragonfly by a salesman who uses it to do baking in the bush; the valve is that good. You can turn it right down to a simmer, unlike any other stove I’ve seen. Seriously, after having the Optimus crap out on us in Sudbury, Marilyn and I wanted a stove with a long history of tried-and-true reliability, and the Dragonfly has been used the world over at all altitudes by hikers, climbers, and campers. And after several years of use with only the most minimal maintenance, it’s working as well as the day we bought it.

Cookware

For years I used an old enamel pot and a steel frying pan, and they were adequate, but before the big trip, I upgraded my cookware. I went with a Zebra 3L Billy pot from Canadian Outdoor Equipment. There are four sizes but the 3L is right for me.

Zebra 3L Billy Pot

There are several things I like about this pot. For one, it’s stainless steel, so light and strong. There is an integrated pan that fits into the top, so I can have rice cooking underneath and a packaged curry on top, or pasta and sauce, KD and beans, etc.. I like the overhead handle so I can hang the pot over an open fire (instead of trying to balance it on rocks), and the little clips ensure that the handle doesn’t swing down when not in use and touch the side of the pot and get hot. My stove, the pan, and the lid all fit inside the pot, so it’s very space efficient.

I upgraded the frypan to the Firebox Frypan. It’s aluminum, and that might sound scary, but the aluminum is underneath a non-reactive oxide coating. Apparently it’s 30% harder than stainless steel, so scratch resistant, and—don’t worry—won’t cause Alzheimer’s. And being aluminum, it’s extremely light.

Firebox Frypan

This pan requires a little prep to set it up before using, but once done, the surface is sealed and begins a seasoning process that will make your food taste better. That’s at least what Firebox says. Usually when I’m camping, I’m so hungry everything tastes great, but I’ll take their word for it. The sealing process takes a few hours but is not difficult. The handle holds the pan securely, and I’ve used it to lift the pan of my Billy pot too. I like this frypan because it has the same properties as cast iron but at a fraction of the weight.

Between these two items—the Billy pot and the Firebox frypan—I’ve never needed any other cookware.

It’s a good idea to protect your cookware with a bag. This also prevents rattling on the bike if you have hard panniers. You can buy bags, but I decided to make my own. I bought some Cordura off of Amazon and sewed some simple bags with draw-strings. I cut a circle a little larger than the circumference that I wanted, then made a tube and sewed the two together. Then I hemmed the top of the tube and pushed a length of paracord through (attach the end of the cord to a safety pin to push through). Finally, turn the whole thing inside out so the hems are on the inside, and knot the ends of the cord so they stay put. I made an even simpler one for the frypan and plates, and one for miscellaneous cutlery, the handle, tongs, and can opener.

Homemade Cordua bags. Are you handy with a sewing machine? It isn’t hard.

Coffee!

Forget about freeze-dried coffee; you deserve better. When car camping, I’ve used the Melitta system with funnel and filters, but it’s impractical for moto camping. Lately, the only way I make coffee when camping is with the AeroPress.

AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Maker

It looks like a lot of stuff but it all fits together inside the cup. The AeroPress makes a great cup of coffee quickly and easily. The filters come in their own holder, but it’s not waterproof so you’ll want to prevent it getting wet (uh, before using). I can then fit the packed press inside one of my GSI Outdoors Glacier mugs. Again, nesting items helps keep your gear compact.

GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Steel Mug

Water Sterilization

Once you get into remote areas, you will have difficulty finding potable water. You can boil your water, but that’s time- and fuel-consuming. For years, I used while canoe-camping a ceramic pump like the Katadyn Vario Filter, but the first time I went to replace the filter I choked on the price—almost as much as the original unit. The pump is also a bit bulky for moto camping. That’s when, for a little more money than a new filter, I bought a Steripen.

The Steripen uses ultraviolet light to eliminate bacteria, protozoa, and viruses. It can sterilize 1L of water in 90 seconds and has a basic display that indicates your progress. You submerge it in the water and stir, ensuring all the water gets treated. (For this reason, it’s helpful to have a wide-necked bottle.) A charge lasts for 8000 uses, apparently, but if that is not enough, it can be recharged off the bike via a USB port. Best of all, it’s super small. It doesn’t filter particles, of course, and is less effective in sediment-laden water, but I used it to treat the brown water out of the pumps at Yukon River Territorial Park and suffered only mild rectal bleeding and a slight twitch. (No, seriously, I was fine.)

If you have the space, a ceramic filter and Steripen is a good combo, and this is what my son Gabriel and I did this summer canoe camping. Of course, there are always chemicals, but I gave up on them years ago. If anyone knows of a small and effective pre-filter to replace the Katadyn while moto camping, please let me know.

Fire Prep

I’ve told Marilyn I have only two requirements for our retirement home: a heated garage and either a wood stove or a fireplace. I love fires. I was bummed about the fire ban in British Columbia last summer, but thankfully it lifted at the end of July so I could enjoy fires through northern BC and Yukon, where $12 gets you a site and unlimited firewood.

For splitting wood, I have a cheap hatchet. I can’t remember where I got it. I’ve considered upgrading, and still might, but for now this is what I use. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to sharpen knives and axes and bought a sharpening stone and strop with compounds and got to work. Now it’s pretty sharp and does the job. I can’t split logs in half, but I can split off kindling. I had my local cobbler make up a sheath for it.

Generic Hardware Store Hatchet

For years, I used the Trailblazer 18″ Take-Down Buck Saw for sectioning wood. Once assembled, it works great. But it does take some assembly, which makes it impractical for clearing trails when you are riding. I recently saw an Awesome Players video in which Riley is praising the Silky folding saw they use for that purpose. I dropped a hint to Marilyn and she gave me for my birthday this year the 210mm Folding Saw. My son and I used it to prune some branches away from the house this summer and again while canoe camping in August, and I have to say, this thing kicks butt! Nobody makes blades better than the Japanese. An unusual feature of Silky saws is that they cut on the pull stroke. As Riley says, they’ve tried imitation saws off Amazon and they are not the same. This is now my preferred camp saw.

Silky 717-21 210mm Folding Saw

Miscellaneous

This is getting long, so I’ll wrap it up with a few other favourites. I have two sources of light for when the sun goes down (other than my fire). One is a Spot Lite 200 headlamp by Black Diamond. A headlamp is a necessity, in my opinion, because it leaves both hands free for working around camp. This one is 200 Lumen, which is more than adequate, has settings for distance (spot), proximity (flood), is dimmable, and includes a red light, which doesn’t attract bugs. There’s apparently a way to lock it too, so it doesn’t accidentally turn on in your tank bag and drain the batteries.

For the picnic table and tent, I like the Moji Lantern, also by Black Diamond. It also has 200 Lumen max output and produces a nice soft, diffuse, light that fills the immediate area. It’s dimmable and has a strobe function as an emergency beacon, which I guess might be useful on the water but not for much else. It’s IPX 4 Stormproof, which means it can be rained on from any angle but I guess not submergible in water. The recessed switch prevents it from being turned on accidentally, and double hooks underneath allow you to hang it in the tent. All in all, it’s a very well thought-out and inexpensive small lamp (2 5/8″D x 1 3/4″). Best of all, you get your choice of four colours.

I’ve saved the best for last. My two current favourite pieces of camp gear are the Tribit Stormbox bluetooth speaker and my dad’s hunting knife.

The first time I played something through the Tribit Stormbox I was immediately impressed with the quality of sound coming out of this little speaker. It has rich, full bass, without sacrificing definition in the treble range. I don’t know how Tribit do it. The mesh on top is metal, so it’s durable, and it’s also waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in a shower or during that river crossing. It has a built-in power bank that is rechargeable on the bike via USB-C, and it’s plenty loud enough, especially for a campground. It connects automatically to my phone when I turn it on—no need to pair each time or mess around in settings. I never thought I’d like music so much when camping, but I’ve discovered it’s very nice as a sort of companion fireside.

Finally, my favourite piece of camping gear is my dad’s old (circa 1954) Solingen hunting knife set I inherited when he downsized. Admittedly, these knives have more sentimental value than practical use, but I do use them around camp. The bowie knife is also known as a survival knife. I’m not using it in any sandbar duels, as Jim Bowie did, but I have used it to split wood by hammering on the blade with a rock or for digging a hole for poop, and a variety of other purposes that require a strong blade. If you had to survive in the bush with one knife, a bowie knife would be it. The little paring knife I use for a variety of purposes. The handles are carved antler, and the sheath is ornately stamped. It’s my prize camping possession so, sorry folks, not for sale. I see that Solingen in Germany are not selling any more hunting knives, but there’s no shortage of good quality knives available on the market. In fact, I’ve recently discovered YouTube channels devoted to reviewing knives. Who knew?

If you’ve stayed with me to the very end, congratulations; go outside for some fresh air. I didn’t realize I had so much gear until I started getting into it, and figured if I’m going to talk about it, I should say something meaningful and not simply present a list. I solemnly swear that it, plus food, a small stuff sack of personal items, and even a container of spare bike parts all fit in two 40L panniers and the small Wolfman duffle tail bag. The light stuff like sleeping bag, mattress, and clothing go high on the tail rack; the heavy stuff like all the cooking gear and food go low in the panniers.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. I know several items are already discontinued, but that’s when I usually buy gear—on clearance—and you can find similar items based on these recommendations. If you have a favourite or newly-discovered piece of camp gear, please let us (me and my readers) know by dropping a comment below. I recently took a look at my stats and this blog is getting about 300 views per month—not a lot by internet standards, but not bad either. And while I’m on this topic, please consider following and share with anyone you think might be interested. I am hoping to grow the blog, and with retirement and another big east coast trip planned in the not-too-distant future, I still have lots to say.

In the next post, I’ll conclude the series on gear by talking about the essential tools I always carry on the bike and the navigation apps I use to get around.

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 Jeremy and Samoyed, Rory, 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.

Klondike Days

Continuing north, I explore Dawson City, then venture up The Dempster Highway.

When I was at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, a neighbouring camper wandered over to examine the stickers on my panniers. He had a box on the back of his camper and also collected stickers, so we struck up a conversation about the places we’d been. He told me that he and his wife had been all over Canada and their two favourite places were Newfoundland and Yukon. I’d never been north, as in North, and I had a bucket list item to see Canadian tundra, so I was especially excited about entering Yukon. The trip so far had been amazing, but in many ways this felt like the climax of the tour.

I left Boya Provincial Park and soon entered Yukon. I was expecting the 3rd degree but in the end didn’t even need to show my vaccination passport. There was a roadside check and I had to fill out some paperwork but was soon on my way.

Nisutlin Bay Bridge

The Klondike Highway (2) is long and under considerable construction, so there were delays and some tricky deep dirt and mud in the bypasses that was warm-up for The Dempster later. Apparently they’ve been working on this road for longer than Transport Quebec has been rebuilding the Turcot Interchange, but I suspect the mafia aren’t behind these delays. It led to a long hot day in the saddle. The heat was following me all the way north and it was 32 degrees Celsius in Dawson City when I arrived late afternoon.

Fortunately, there was ice cream.

The first thing you notice about Dawson City are the colours. I suspect it has something to do with there being little light for major portions of the year, like putting up Christmas lights midwinter. Or perhaps residents know that tourism is a major part of their economy so why not make the buildings look nice. Lord Elgin High School, built in the 70s in my hometown of Burlington, Ontario, with its purple and orange colour scheme has nothing on this school in Dawson City.

Robert Service School in Dawson City

I crossed the mighty Yukon River on the free 24-hour ferry and set up camp right on the river at Yukon River Campground. I love the Territorial campgrounds! They are $12/night including firewood. Like the recreation sites in BC, they work on an honour system, with envelopes and a secure deposit box at the gate.

The forecast was clear so I decided to try sleeping in my hammock. That would turn out to be not a good idea. My sleeping bag is good down to 7 degrees Celsius plus I have a silk liner, but I was still cold. The relentless heat that had been following me across the country was finally abated at night in the Yukon. I also found it very difficult to get in and out of both bags (liner inside of bag) in the pitch dark for those nighttime bathroom breaks. I wish I had a video of me trying to climb back in. I tried climbing into the hammock and then inserting legs; I tried standing and pulling the sleeping bag up first and then climbing in. Both were comical, and I felt like I was in a Charlie Chaplin movie. The next night I slept comfortably in my little warm tent.

The next day I took a guided tour of Dawson City. Yukon Tourism provides tours with a guide in period garb and you get access to buildings that are normally locked to the public. We went into the local bank (one of the first in the region), the post office, the saloon, but for some reason not the brothel. I was surprised to find the same BC fir on the ceiling of the post office that is in my 1934-era home in Quebec. I guess that wood was freighted right across this country.

After the tour, I wandered up to Writers Lane, which contains the homes of three major Canadian writers—poet Robert Service, Pierre Berton, and Jack London—all a stone’s throw from each other.

I don’t know what is in the water in these parts, but there is some major literary talent up here. In fact, Maria Rainer Rilke and other writers like Robert Bly have written that the main ingredient for good writing is solitude, and there’s certainly plenty of that up here. There is also some pretty dramatic history that makes for good fiction.

The next day I pulled up stakes and headed up The Dempster Highway. I write that casually but in fact the decision of whether to try any of The Dempster had been on my mind the entire tour as I was traversing the country. My original plan, as anyone who has been following this blog knows, was to reach the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk. I knew I didn’t have the right tires (Michelin Anakee Adventures) but thought I’d be okay at least for the bottom 70K into Tombstone Territorial Park if it was dry. Only once I was on The Dempster, all that was on my mind was “This isn’t so bad . . . I can do this . . . I wonder if it’s all like this? . . . I don’t want to have regrets that I didn’t try . . . you won’t be here again for some time . . . don’t be a wuss,” etc., looping through my brain like the daredevil “friend” who always gets you into trouble.

So when I got to Tombstone, the first thing I did was ask at the the Interpretive Centre if The Dempster is like this all the way up. The nice young ladies at the centre replied, “Have you received permission to enter Northwest Territories?” What now? I had been following the Covid restrictions on the Yukon border all winter because it was closed for much of it, but hadn’t checked NWT! Turns out strictly residents and people doing business were allowed in. The staff did encourage me, however, to go to Eagle Plains, about halfway, and from there I could ride another 45 minutes for the photo-op at the Arctic Circle sign.

Hmm . . . I had the rest of the day to mull that over, looking closely at the forecast. (If there were any rain, I’d be stuck and would have to wait for the highway to dry out, which could be days.) In the meantime, I decided to do a hike just north of the Interpretive Centre on Golden Sides Mountain. A short ride got me to a horse trail that leads to this spectacular view of four valleys—three in front, and one behind.

Feeling like I’m on top of the world.

That night in my tent I did the mileage calculations over and over again in my head. You need to have a range of at least 370 kilometres to get to Eagle Plains. Although I had not planned to go up The Dempster, I fortunately filled up at the base of it first. (One gets gas when one can in these parts.) My bike has a 17-litre tank and I have another couple of litres in bottles on the back, only one of those bottles was half full because I use it for my stove. So I had about 18.5 L and my bike gets 20-25 K/L, depending on the riding, so I calculated my worst case scenario and concluded it would be tight but I had enough to get me there. And in the end, I did. I cruised at 80 K/hr. and my fuel light came on about 60 K from Eagle Plains but I made it.

Click on any image to enlarge.

Once there, I treated myself to a steak at the restaurant at the lodge. I guess dining etiquette is a little relaxed in these parts because you can apparently play ball with your dog in the dining room here, and why not? I think you should be able to play ball with your dog in any dining room!

Eagle Plains Lodge. I like how the server casually steps over the rope toy.

There I met Mountain Man Mike. Mike is an avid outdoorsman with his own YouTube channel about his adventures in his truck-top camper. He told me about Rock River Campground just south of the NWT border so I decided I’d follow him up there for the night.

I headed up to the Arctic Circle sign. Mike was already there doing some filming and took the requisite photo. Thanks Mike!

I set up camp next to Mike and we had a nice campfire through the evening. At one point, about 10 o’clock at night, he was chopping wood and it was LOUD! I asked, “Isn’t it a bit late to be chopping wood?” He paused for a second, thought about it, then said simply, “It’s expected.” Well, it’s not like Security is going to come tell you it’s quiet time.

Washing my cookware the next morning in the turquoise Rock River. Strange to see the water flowing north.

Now there are a few places on Earth where you especially don’t want your bike not to start, and halfway up The Dempster is one of them. I had put 20W/50 oil in this bike in North Van when the heat had been relentless, but now it was about 2 degrees Celsius and my bike wouldn’t start. It doesn’t like 20W/50 in cold weather; the flywheel is just too big to crank over fast enough.

Mike could hear what was going on and wasn’t surprised when I slunk over to ask him for a push. He’s fortunately over 200 lbs. and very fit, but it even took him a few tries to get me going. Thanks again, Mike. You were a Godsend!

It was drizzling as I pulled out of Rock River so I high-tailed it down into lower climate where there was sun. A quick gas stop in Eagle Plains and I was on my way again.

I saw Mike only one more time, somewhere down The Dempster. He’d stopped to take some drone footage. After saying our good-byes, I pushed on and was soon back at Yukon River Campground for one night, exhausted but happy that I’d made it as far as legally possible. I didn’t make it to the Arctic Ocean, but it’s not going anywhere soon, and I’ll return to complete The Dempster when the time is right.

I’m glad I risked it. The geography up there is nothing like I’d ever experienced. The area is vast, remote, and pristine, untouched and unblemished by humans. And in that rawness is a natural beauty that is unparalleled by any park or nature reserve I’ve visited. There are very few places on Earth like it, and those are quickly dwindling. I hope that when I return, it will be as I remember it.

This marked the turnaround point of my tour and now I started heading back home. I had to be in Montreal in a little over a week for work. But first Bigby needed an oil change, so I went to Whitehorse, where I knew there is a Canadian Tire. Unfortunately, the large and excellent Robert Service Campground was closed so I ended up at High Country RV Park.

Note scavenged box underneath with plastic liner to catch the oil. You gotta do what ya gotta do. The dirty oil did end up back in containers and dropped off at the local Can Tire.

I found a private corner of the crowded camp and did an oil change. Now Bigby was ready to make the big sprint home across the country.

Northern BC

The journey continues now solo from North Vancouver to the Yukon border.

Seeley Lake Provincial Campground, BC

In my last post, Marilyn and I toured the Sunshine Coast on our BMW f650GS. We’d been having some problems with a lithium battery I had put in before leaving, so as soon I was back in Vancouver, I headed over to High Road Vancouver and bought a glass mat battery. There was no way I was heading north into remote territory without a reliable battery.

While crossing the city, the most fortuitous thing happened: my phone fell out of its mount onto the road and broke. Why is this fortuitous, you ask? Well, because my phone was old and needed to be replaced. We’d noticed a huge difference between photos (the same photo) taken on my old Samsung Galaxy S5 and Marilyn’s new iPhone 11; the GPS often dropped the connection to the satellite (probably because I’d dropped it on my office floor); the screen sensitivity was failing and often didn’t respond to touches, which is really annoying when you are riding—in short, I’d developed a hate-on for the phone and just needed a good reason to replace it.

So before leaving North Van, I went to the Koodo store at Capilano Mall and upgraded to a Galaxy S21. Photos from this point on in my trip are much, much better. I had to pay a bit extra for the wireless charging, but finally I would be free and clear of the cords and charging issues on the bike. Okay, I didn’t have a wireless charger yet, but I’ve since picked up a Quadlock mount with vibration dampener and am never going back!

Marilyn flew back to Montreal and I suddenly found myself alone again. I love solo riding, but I loved touring with Marilyn more. This was—dare I say—a bit of a surprise to me; it would take a day or so to adjust. Her absence was felt all the more since the first day involved riding that same Sea to Sky Highway we’d ridden just the day before. But this time I didn’t stop in Whistler but blew past, all the way to Pemberton before taking a break.

Pemberton lunch spot. Nothing like a weeping willow on a stinking hot day.

Then the road got really interesting. Serj, a local ADV rider I’d met on the Sunshine Coast, had told me about this section of Highway 99 and it didn’t disappoint. Also known as the famous Duffy Lake Road, the small but well maintained mountain road weaves through the range with magnificent views of the valleys on each side. I passed a few recreation areas en route but had in mind to stay at the campground in Lillooet, only once I dropped down into the heat of the town, took one look at the parched and empty campground, I turned around and high-tailed it back up into the mountains.

Duffy Lake Road

BC has what they call “Recreation Areas,” which are unserviced sites for only $15 a night. They’re not full campgrounds but just a handful of sites on a loop off the road. You pick up an envelope at the entrance, drop your cash in it, tear off the portion that gets posted at your site, and deposit the money in a secure box. A park official comes by once in a while to check. These sites are a little rustic without running water (you have to pump it by hand, Waltons-style) and only drop toilets, but with a picnic table and fire pit, it’s a step up from wild camping (i.e. bivouacing). There’s also a sense of security with a few other campers nearby.

Cinnamon Recreation Site

The next day I rode back down out of the mountains into the heat of Lilooet. Lilooet is apparently the jade capital of the world, so I stopped at The House of Jade Mineral Museum with the idea of picking up a gift. As it would turn out, the only gift I bought was for myself and it wasn’t jade. My eye was caught by a polished bit of tigers eye. I decided it would be a good-luck talisman for the rest of the tour and asked the owner to string it for me as a necklace that I could put under my gear.

“Do you know the particular properties of this stone?” I asked.

“No idea,” was his reply.

He was very knowledgeable about the local geology and geography, but clearly not interested in the energetic properties of crystals. As I write this, nine months later, I see on Wikipedia that “Roman soldiers wore engraved tigers eye to protect them in battle. It is still used as a stone of protection today.” My intuitions were correct.

As I and a few others browsed the store, the owner gave a sort of impromptu lecture on an unusual local geological landmark. About 45 minutes further along the 99 is Pavilion Lake, renown for sections of brilliant emerald water. The water gets its emerald colour from limestone, extremely uncommon in the Rocky Mountains, but apparently a mountain of it drifted up from California during the continental drift and attached. Sure enough, about 45 minutes down the road, I saw what he was referring to.

Pavillion Lake

Soon I was on the 97, the Caribou Highway as its called here, blasting through place names like Williams Lake and Quesnel that I’d heard of when my son was tree-planting. While also planting, my niece and boyfriend had a bad experience wild camping near Prince George, and really, the only place I was nervous about for security reasons in all of Canada was PG, as the planters affectionately refer to it. So when an old friend from my undergrad days who was watching my progress on Facebook messaged with an offer to stay at her place just west of PG, I was doubly happy. Her husband also rides a GS, so we had a lot to talk about over dinner. Kristen and Dale live in a beautiful log cabin on a gorgeous piece of property. The last time I saw them was at their wedding near Whitby over twenty years ago, so it was a treat to see them again.

On the Highway of Tears

The next day I rode west along Highway 16, the Highway of Tears, as it’s called because so many murdered and missing indigenous women have disappeared while hitchhiking on this road. I passed billboards such as this one, and roadside shrines, and the miles laid down that day were pensive as I reflected on yet another layer of trauma inflicted on the indigenous peoples of Canada. I’d seen singular orange garments hanging from trees right across the country like a breadcrumb trail leading to a sordid history Canadians are only now truly beginning to recognize and accept, but now I was riding along a road that was tangibly a place of violence for many women. The contrast between my ultimate freedom on the bike and others’ lack of freedom in even the fundamental aspects of self-determination was poignant. And I couldn’t help also reflecting on the perpetrators of these crimes, and how damaged and deranged their own lives must be to do such heinous crimes. It was one of the more melancholy days on the bike.

Just south of Smithers, I decided to take another look at my bouncing front tire. The open roads in these parts allowed me to look down at the wheel as I was riding highway speeds. (Okay, maybe not a brilliant idea, but 6,000 kilometres of curiosity had gotten the better of me.) I noticed, in addition to the bounce I’d been feeling throughout the tour, that there was a definite wobble in the wheel. Aha! It’s not that the wheel is not balanced but that it’s not true! At least this is fixable, or so I thought.

I’ve trued up bicycle wheels before. It isn’t easy, and you have to be careful because you can easily make it worse, but I had a spoke wrench on me. However, with this much at stake, I thought maybe I’d have it done by a professional. As I came into Smithers, I saw a Yamaha dealership and pulled in there. They didn’t have a mechanic on duty but directed me over to Eyecandy Customs motorcycle repair and bikes. Sam took one look at my front rim and said it was bent. In fact, it was bent in two spots, probably from the two failed attempts to get up a particularly challenging rocky hill climb shortly before my departure in Montreal. He said there was nothing he could do about it. It wasn’t a matter of adjusting spokes; I’d need a new rim. Damn!

With that bit of good news adding to my day, I pulled in to Seeley Lake Provincial Park just east of Highway 37. The sunset there was the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced, so there really was a silver lining to this grey day.

Seeley Lake Provincial Park

The next day was my big push north to the Yukon border up the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, but first I doubled back to Hazelton and the Ksan Historical Village because there are some totem poles there that Emily Carr had painted. It was getting late when I passed Hazelton the day before so I decided to do it this way. It meant that I arrived early and saw them in the rising sun.

Ksan Historical Village, Hazelton

The poles were impressive, and the colour paintings on the dark wood of the longhouses striking. I wanted to explore more and was curious about the history of this place, but like my visit to Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre in northwest Ontario, everything was shut up due to Covid. I found myself strangely alone without a single soul in the historic village or adjacent town. Old Hazelton—quaint and picturesque, with a paddle boat at the water and old buildings with original exteriors—felt like a ghost town.

So I read the historic plaques, took some photos, then hopped on my bike and headed off. I had a big day of riding ahead of me so perhaps it was for the best.

Soon I turned onto the 37. Now there are two ways to get to Yukon: the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (37) or the Alaska Highway (97). I took the 37 up and the 97 down. They are both pretty good for different reasons, but in terms of riding, the 37 is better.

Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Although tiring, I was happy to put on the kilometres, all 707 of them over nine hours with only a short break south of Dease Lake for fuel and food. I had to keep my eye out because there were a lot of bears on this road. You see a black dot up ahead and, sure enough, when you get up there, it’s a bear—in the ditch eating berries, crossing the road in front, or climbing the embankment on the other the side. I lost count how many I saw, thankfully all black bears. I even came across one dead on the shoulder, poor thing, half decayed, maggot infested, and stinking to high heaven in the heat.

I was aiming for Boya Lake Provincial Park just south of the Yukon border and pulled in exhausted, late in the day. The entire campground was full except for one spot on the water, too small for anything but a motorcycle and tent. As I was pitching my tent, it started to rain and I didn’t have time to cook. Suddenly a man was there, offering me food. He said he does a lot of backcountry camping so I guess was understanding if not sympathetic, and he and his family were just pulling out in their RV and had some extra dinner. I was of course very appreciative of the gesture and the food. It was a delicious bean and pasta salad, which I ate in my tent during the downpour. When the rain stopped, I poked my head out to see this.

Boya Lake Provincial Park

Luck and human kindness had shone on me again. It had been a long day of riding and I was tired but didn’t feel much like sleeping. This far north, the sun stays up well past midnight, so I just sat there at my picnic table and smoked my pipe and admired this sunset that lasted for hours. It just doesn’t get any better than this. Or so I thought.

Boya Lake sunset from my campsite

The Prairies

I blast through Manitoba but savour Saskatchewan.

Many thanks to my talented and skilled wife, Marilyn Gillespie, for the retouching of all images used.

Of all the geographical regions in Canada, I was most excited to experience the Prairies. That probably sounds strange to many. Before leaving on this trip, I’d heard others say that prairie roads are flat and straight and mind-numbingly boring. But the Prairies were not only the one Canadian region I hadn’t yet visited in my lifetime, but they are also Big Sky Country, and I’m a Gemini, an air sign, so I like the sky. No wonder I’m also a flight enthusiast.

Provincial Covid restrictions meant I couldn’t stop in Manitoba except for food and gas, and with that in mind, I didn’t even stop in Kenora on my way out for the requisite photo-op with Husky the Muskie. That would have to wait for the return leg of my tour. I hit the highway, brought the bike up to 120 km/hr, activated my Kaoko throttle lock, and didn’t stop for hours on end. It’s not the Prairies that are mind-numbing, but the super-slab highway.

I discovered a few favourite positions on the bike to cover these miles. My favourite and go-to position was right hand on the throttle and left elbow on the tank bag. This “lean-in” look not only made me look distinguished on the bike but also saved my back as well as cut down on wind noise. There was also left hand on the left grip and right arm anywhere but on the throttle, usually dangling down by my side. Even with my throttle lock, I developed tingling in my right hand from the hours of vibration transmitted up through the handlebars, and this position gave it some relief. It’s not just the mind that goes numb on a big thumper with adventure tires. And when my legs needed a stretch, there was the Harley cruiser position. I would lift my legs up and rest them on the little Giant Loop Possibles Pouches strapped horizontally to my crash bars. Those bags became my highway pegs. 6 hours of 5000-rpm riding is not really touring but moving the bike from Point A to Point B, which was exactly the intent of Manitoba’s Covid restrictions.

Halfway to my destination.

The only relief came at Winnipeg on the ring-road, Highway 101. For some reason, my GPS decided that, enough was enough, and it would mercifully divert me, 3/4-way through the ring, off onto Highway 221 and then the 26. What a difference the secondary highway makes! It meant a few stretches of gravel road, but the tank-slapper I received on one section (a result of my bent rim, I would discover later) was preferable to another kilometre of the Trans Canada. I was closer to the land and passing through small towns with history. On one “roadside break,” I discovered this old caboose and wandered back through a field to find more quintessential prairie artifacts.

Shortly before Poplar Point, I noticed a sign stating something like “Celebrating 100 Years of Hockey” and then a historical marker. I naturally had to go explore and arrived at this historic hockey rink.

Soon I was routed back onto the Trans Canada and the rest of the day was more of the same. The only thing that made it bearable was knowing there would be a TV and bed waiting for me just over the Saskatchewan border; I had decided to take a hotel room in Moosomin—a rare luxury when I travel. After a long hot day of highway riding, a cool shower, hamburger, and more mind-numbing TV in bed would be just the thing.

En route to the beer store.

The only time my bike burns oil is at high revs, so after the kind of day of riding it had been, I thought I should check it. Unfortunately, checking the oil level on this bike is not as simple as letting it settle in the sump and pulling the dipstick. That’s because the crafty German engineers gave it a dry sump system, so oil level is a product of a) amount of oil in the bike [duh!], b) temperature of oil, c) ambient temperature, d) temperature of engine, e) altitude, f) lunar cycle, and g) bike’s direction relative to True North. It was hot, and the engine was hot, and so was the oil, so I let the bike sit for a bit while I checked in at the hotel. That only took a few minutes, but when I checked the level, it was missing about 3/4 of a quart! Yipes! I thought that was a lot, and a bit concerning, but I added it nonetheless from the quart I was carrying.

The next morning at my first rest stop I checked it again and now it was high—really high. Damn! I guess the bike did not burn as much oil as I’d thought, or perhaps I waited too long before checking it at the hotel. Guessing aside, I knew I had to get oil out of it now or risk damaging the seals. What was there to do but parking-lot maintenance. Out came the tools and off came the body panels. I was at a gas station with adjoining convenience store, so I ransacked the washroom for paper towels and dug an empty windshield washer fluid container out of a garbage bin, then drained some oil out of the upper holding tank. I did my best guess and took out about half a quart. The level was now within range and I put everything back on the bike and rode on in search of somewhere to deposit the used oil. Fortunately, in these parts, the ubiquitous Co-op gas stations have oil drop-off containers.

Now I was ready to ride, and what a ride it was! I was headed to Grasslands National Park (East Block entrance) and my GPS routed me along Highway 13, which is a different world from the Trans Canada. What a joy finally to be seeing some of Saskatchewan. While passing through Ogema along the 13 I saw a sign for Deep South Pioneer Museum. Always curious to learn something about the history of the places I’m riding through, I decided to take a look. Of course it was closed for the usual reason, but I was able to walk through the grounds and check out some pretty old machines.

Further west along the 13 I saw a sign for Horizon, and from the little bit of research I’d done, I knew there were some dilapidated grain elevators there so decided to make a detour. When driving back out to the 13, I passed this quaint little chapel. They are everywhere in Saskatchewan—spartan clapboard churches that are very different from the heavy stone exteriors and ornate architecture of Quebec churches. I could suggest that’s indicative of the difference between prairie folk and Quebecers . . . but won’t.

So tempted to give this a nudge.

The riding got better once I turned south onto 36 and even better on the 18. By now it was the golden hour, and the twisty road rose and dipped over the amber, grassy hills. Who says Saskatchewan is flat? It seemed like I had the road to myself except for mule deer that scurried away across the barren fields and a coyote that froze and glared as I passed. Was I in heaven? No, actually just in southwest Saskatchewan. I fell in love with this region. It was one of the discoveries of the entire tour and I’m looking forward to going back as soon as I have the chance.

The only thing I didn’t like about Saskatchewan was the gravel used on their secondary roads. They use small brown stones similar in shape, size, and rolling behaviour as marbles. It’s fine as long as you stay in the tire tracks, but if you get into the deeper stuff that collects between those tracks, you are in for a treat. I didn’t have the best tires for this stuff, and it didn’t help that my front wheel had a wobble, so there were a few times when I thought I was going down. In such cases, the old adage “If in doubt, throttle out” was not going to help me. And with the bike fully loaded, getting my weight back did not lighten the front end one bit. I found I just had to clutch in, coast, let the bike go where it wants to go, and hope for the best.

When I arrived at the park, I mentioned my dislike of those stones to the young lady at registration.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” she said. “When I first moved here, I ended up in the ditch.”

“Oh, you ride too?” I asked.

“No, it was in my car.”

Riding down to the campground in the valley.

But don’t let me put you off visiting the park. It is very remote, as you can see from the photo above, and you get the sensation of what it must have felt like to travel by wagon across the prairies. You are completely exposed, and I could hear the coyotes yelping in the distance at night. The wind is fierce and relentless, so cooking is a challenge, but the badlands are spectacular, especially at sunset. There is a 20 kilometre single-lane loop along the top and I was lucky enough to do it at sunset. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The Badlands at sunset.

The next morning I decided to head on over to the other side of the park. I’d heard that the west entrance at Val Marie is very different so worth a stop. Now what do you do when road signs point one way and Google Maps tells you another? It’s not that I have an abiding faith in modern technology, but I decided to follow my GPS because it showed a route through the park, and I thought it would be much more interesting than going back out to the 13 and riding asphalt.

Crossing the park by dirt. It looks easy enough.

The road looked pretty doable at first and I enjoyed the true adventure riding. Four stags crossed the road in front of me and, one by one, in what seemed slow-motion, leapt the bordering fence and headed majestically across the open countryside. That kind of sighting was the reward, but the cost was more of the infamous gravel and, then worse, sand—deep sand. It’s not fun riding a fully loaded bike through sand, but I was committed now, and to make matters worse, my fuel light was on and I didn’t think I had enough gas to get me back out the other way, even if I wanted to bail. I pursued on and the sand in the valleys turned to two-track dirt on the hills. The road deteriorated further, I was told to turn off that “road,” and I found myself facing a gate. Like I said, adventure riding is about facing each challenge as you encounter it. Now I was in the middle of a vast, remote park; I hadn’t seen a soul in about an hour of riding; I was almost out of gas; and I was facing a closed gate.

I got off the bike and untied the gate, which thankfully wasn’t locked. I swung it open, rode through, stopped, closed and tied it again, then rode on. But as I pulled away, I heard a terrible grating, scratching sound like metal on metal. I’d ridden through barbed wire! Someone had strung barbed wire across the road on the other side of the gate! Clearly I was not where I was supposed to be but had no choice now but to continue. I untangled myself and the bike from the wire and rode on, half expecting to hear gunshots. It was lucky I hadn’t received a puncture from the barbs.

Just when things couldn’t have looked worse, my GPS announced, “In 8 kilometres, turn left.” Ugh! But it’s always darkest before the dawn, and just when I thought I was riding myself into serious trouble, there was another chapel in the middle of nowhere—a good sign—and then the road got better and resembled more a road, and before I knew it I was back out on the 18 again. It was asphalt from here on.

I popped out at McCord and filled up at the local gas station there. Across the street were these old pumps next to a local museum which was . . . well, you know.

There is a Visitor Information Centre at the West Block and I learned some interesting information about the region. For example, I discovered that they get an average annual rainfall of only 30-35 cm, half of it in the summer in thunderstorms in June and July, and about a third in snowfall. This really is a desert climate! I also discovered that rattlesnakes are common and that you can hike up the nearby Eagle Butte. Normally those two clauses would be incompatible but I had adventure riding boots on so decided to do it, just for the view. A sign at the trailhead said the buzzing sound you often hear along the trail are rattlesnakes, but the grasshoppers in this region make a similar buzzing sound by slapping their wings together in flight, just to mess with you. The whole experience—climbing a desert mountain mid-summer wearing adventure boots amid rattlesnakes and flying, buzzing insects—is highly recommended. Once at the top, the view was worth it all, but not captured very well by the camera.

From the summit of Eagle Butte, looking west.

By now it was mid-morning. I wanted to stay and explore this fascinating geography some more but still had seven hours of riding to get to my destination, Calgary. Marilyn had reserved an AirBNB for us and I was looking forward to seeing her and sleeping in a bed. I hit the highway again and before long I was at the provincial border.

Goodbye Prairies. Hello Rockies.

Now I had a few days to rest the body, do laundry, eat and drink well, and socialize with friends and family before we would hit the road together on the next leg of the trip.

Northwest Ontario

I leave Chutes Provincial Park and ride along the north shore of Lake Superior into Lake of the Woods.

You don’t realize how big Ontario is until you have to drive it. The people I know who’ve driven across Canada say getting through Ontario feels like half the journey. It’s made long in part by having to circumnavigate Lake Superior, but seriously, what better obstacle could there be? I’ve written about my love for the geography north of gichi-gami, aka The Great Sea, and in that article I said “you could drive from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay in eight hours, but why would you?” Well, if you had to be in Calgary in five days, that’s why.

I’ve driven in the car Highway 17 to Thunder Bay with my wife, and I’ve ridden on the bike Highway 11 as far as Kapuskasing, but this would be my first time riding the beautiful 17 on the bike. That was a large part of the reason for my smile upon waking at Chutes Provincial Park that morning: I knew the ride that lay ahead of me for the day.

Whether you have time to stop and savour the landscape or are on a tight timeline, the ride is amazing. The weather was cooperating and the bike was running great so I put on the miles and made it all the way to Pukaskwa National Park in time to set up camp, eat, and stroll the shoreline before losing the light.

Looking at views once painted by The Group of Seven

Upon leaving the park the next morning, I saw a sign indicating that there was a National Historic Site nearby, so naturally I followed the signs to The Pic, an important Aboriginal meeting place for thousands of years and the site of an important trading post during the height of the fur trade.

Today there is little evidence, aside from this marker, of the historical importance of this place.

I continued west, but was soon diverted by another sign marking Ausable Falls and Gorge.

Pretty spectacular view just off Highway 17 west of Terrace Bay at the head of Lake Superior

There’s a convenient parking lot right off the highway, and the short little hike down to the lookout makes a good rest stop. Best of all, there is no charge to get a view worth a million bucks.

Looking south out to the Slate Islands on the horizon

Okay, now it was time to avoid the distractions and pound out the miles. There are a number of spectacular lookouts along the north shore but I sadly had to blow past most of them or I’d never get to my destination just west of Thunder Bay by evening. It was hot, like 30+C (~90 F), and I was glad I’d purchased the Klim Marrakesh jacket specifically for the tour and days like this. It vents a ton of air, and my fuel pack meant I had plenty of water to keep me hydrated.

Still, I pulled off on one of the lookouts just to take a break in the heat and ran into two other riders, about my age, it seemed, maybe a little older, heading east on sport tourers. They had travelled from Victoria and said the heat bubble followed them for the first several days of their trip and was pretty unbearable. Their red, puffy faces showed the aftereffects, and I was glad I missed the worst of that. I experienced it on TV newscasts from the comfort of my air-conditioned living room. I would ride in heat the entire trip, but nothing like they experienced.

The heat got worse, and the stretch from Nipigon to Thunder Bay seemed endless! All I had on my mind was finding the first Tim Horton’s and getting a large Ice Cap, which I did. As I was standing outside savouring it (the A/C dining area still closed due to Covid), a Harley pulled in riding two-up. He was struggling in the heat to back his bike into a parking spot, so asked his wife to dismount first to make it easier. I thought, “He’s tired.” Turns out he’d been on the road since 4:30 a.m. and this was his first stop since leaving Sudbury. And I thought I was in a hurry.

“That was some heat coming down through those hills,” he said. And then, before I had slurped the last of my drink, they were back on the road again, apparently to Regina.

I thankfully had another small errand to run, happy to be in A/C for a little longer. I stopped in to the local grocery store to pick up something for my hosts that night who live in the Shebandowan area just west of Thunder Bay on Highway 11. This is a lovely cottage area with its own network of lakes. Marilyn and I stayed with her cousin last summer and did some water skiing there, which left me stiff for days but was exhilarating. This time there was none of that; I was happy to relax, see familiar faces, and meet more extended family.

The next morning I continued west along Highway 11 toward International Falls. The evening before, in conversation with a fellow biker, I was told that “the road is straight and remote, and you might be tempted to see what your bike can do, but be careful because OPP are along there.” I now saw what he meant so “sped responsibly.” I really couldn’t afford a whopping fine let alone having my licence suspended.

Somebody has a warped sense of humour

I was excited to experience Lake of the Woods, which I had never visited before but had only read about in researching an article on The Northwest Loop. But first I decided to explore Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung, or Manitou Mounds, another ancient Aboriginal meeting place of national significance that contains “the records of 8000+ years of recurring use or habitation” and “the largest group of burial mounds and associated village sites in Canada” (https://manitoumounds.com/history-culture/). It was about forty minutes out of my way but I decided to pay the price to learn first-hand about ancient Indigenous history and culture. Only once I had paid the price, not only in time but kilometres of dirt road, the only thing I learned was that it was . . . you guessed it, closed due to Covid. Nothing on the website indicated that, which would have been nice. (I could hear my wife’s voice in my head saying “You should have phoned first,” which is probably true and would have saved me the frustration.)

Now I was in the mood to see what my bike can do. I’ve never had it pinned and have always wondered. Okay, the bike was fully loaded, but it still hit 160 km/hr in a tuck, which is pretty good for a 650 that is 16 years old with over 100,000 kilometres. As luck would have it, soon after that little test, I passed an OPP sitting at the side of the road. Sometimes you get lucky.

Highway 71 lived up to its reputation, winding up through a mixture of forest and wetlands as it skirts the eastern border of Lake of the Woods. My wife who grew up in Winnipeg has talked about this region using similar tones that Torontonians use to talk about the Muskokas. It’s beautiful cottage country, for sure, and its remote location has saved it from the more obnoxious development that has altered the Muskoka region during my lifetime. The road north of Nestor Falls is twisty and hilly with views of lakes and wetland. I stopped at The Narrows Gift Shop and took a browse (I’m always on the prowl for pannier stickers). Beside is The Lazy Loon Restaurant. Okay, there’s some kitsch development here too, with fake inuksuks, fake totem poles, and mini-putt, but I forgave it all because THEY HAD ICE CREAM!

The final leg of the day and my ride across Ontario took me into Anicinabe RV Park and Campground in Kenora just as a thunderstorm broke. It had been a long, hot day, and the cooling rain was welcome relief. As it would turn out, it was one of only three showers I would experience in my six weeks on the road.

One of the last spots at Anicinabe Campground near the Manitoba border.

Have you been to any of these places? Drop a comment below. I love to hear from my readers.

Next up: Prevented from stopping in Manitoba due to Covid restrictions, I ride across in one day and spend the night in Moosomin, SK.

Guelph to Chutes Provincial Park

After a few days visiting family in Guelph, I start out on July 1, Canada Day.

With my sisters and brother-in-law. //Photo credit: Sue Bushell

After the stressful days of preparing the bike and packing, I was happy to have a few days to unwind with family before setting off. As the day of departure approached, so did the expected trepidation of leaving my comfort zone. The main thing that I was concerned about was finding accommodations as I headed across the country. In order to keep my schedule flexible, I don’t like making reservations, and I’d heard that campgrounds were full as people flock to the great outdoors post-lockdown. I had visions of struggling in the fading light to find a safe and affordable spot to stop each night.

Final tinkering, delaying, before leaving Guelph. //photo credit: Sue Bushell

There were other concerns too, but here’s the thing I’ve discovered from doing these trips: once I’m on the road, all anxiety and concern dissolve as I face each challenge in turn. A trip of almost 20,000 kilometres breaks down into a series of distinct tasks in the moment: “Okay, now I have to get to that road . . . now I have to find gas . . . now I have to solve this mechanical issue . . . now find a campground,” etc. You deal with one thing at a time, and it’s not actually all that stressful.

The immediate concern as I left Guelph was a bounce in my front wheel. I’d had the balancing double-checked by BMW before leaving Montreal and they said it was fine, but I could still feel vibration at 110-120 km/hr—annoyingly right in my cruising speed. I pulled into Two Wheel Motorsport off Highway 6 to see if they had any ideas.

“What tire pressure are you running?” someone there asked.

“About 31 psi,” I replied. The normal pressure on the front is 28.5 but I was fully loaded. He thought it was a little high and to drop it a pound or two. Unfortunately, that didn’t fix the problem which, I would find out much later in the trip, was actually a bent rim. [Note to self: don’t attempt any rocky hill climbs just before leaving on a major tour.]

I continued north on Highway 6 and started zig-zagging my way toward the 400. It was warm and sunny, the countryside north of Guelph is beautiful, and aside from the wheel issue, the bike was running great. It was sinking in that I was finally doing this—what I had been thinking of doing for years.

As I was passing along Highway 26, I spotted a MiG 17 mounted at the side of the road. I pulled a U-turn—the first of many on the tour—and turned into the Edenvale Aerodrome. There, I saw not only the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 but a Canadair CT-114 Tutor used by the RCAF Snowbirds. It was July 1st, Canada Day, and the museum was closed, but little did I know that the only replica Avro Arrow is now housed at Edenvale. A return visit and tour is definitely in the near future.

MiG 17 and CT-144 Tutor at Edenvale Aerodrome in Stayner, Ontario.

Yes, I’m an aviation as well as motorcycle enthusiast. It seems I’m not alone in being passionate about both. I figure that’s because riding is about as close to flying as you can get without actually leaving the ground. When riding, you get the sensation of wind and speed and the pull of all three planes in each sweeping turn. In fact, I’m so crazy about flight that I’ve written a collection of poems about it, due to be published by DC Books next spring. Invisible Sea is a collection on the theme of flight, especially early human flight, with the title poem a long serial poem examining aerodynamics. Details on the launch and availability to follow.

After stretching my legs and having a snack, I pressed on, up the 400, through Sudbury, and over the top of Georgian Bay. Now I was in familiar territory from my Northern Ontario adventures. I would have loved to detour down the 6 from Espanola to Manitoulin Island, one of my favourite places to visit, but with 3,000 kilometres still to cover in 6 days, I had to keep heading west. (I was supposed to meet my wife in Calgary on the 7th, and I know better than to keep her waiting.)

As I was passing through Massey, about 30K west of Espanola, I spotted a sign for Chutes Provincial Park. It was about the right time of day to start looking for a campsite, and I was pleased with the distance I’d covered. I pulled in late afternoon, hoping they had a site. This was my first real test and what I had been most stressed about.

“I’m hoping you have a campsite for tonight,” I said to the young lady in the kiosk. “I don’t have a reservation.”

“We’re full,” she replied, and then, “Let me check with the Warden.”

In a minute he showed up, and it turned out there was a spot for me. This would not be the last time on the tour that I would literally get the last spot in the campground.

I set up camp, had a quick dinner, then went for a walk around the campground. I figured with a name like Chutes Prov. Park, there had to be some waterfalls somewhere. The park contains the Seven Sisters Rapids and a hiking trail that follows the river.

Seven Sisters Rapids at Chutes Provincial Park

I followed the trail and it led me to a lookout at the base of the falls just as the sun was beginning to drop below the trees in the west.

That night I slept in my tent like a king, and in the morning, when I woke, I had that uncanny experience whereby for a moment or two you don’t know where you are and what you are doing. When the answers to those questions finally came to me, lying in my sleeping bag, I just smiled.

Route Day 1

The Epic Adventure: a preview

20,000 kilometres by motorcycle from Montreal to the Pacific Ocean, up to Yukon Territory, and back.

I’ve been home now for almost a month and I’m still feeling unsettled. Part of me is still in Dawson City, lying in my hammock next to the Yukon River. Part of me is still north of the Arctic Circle, washing my cookware in the Rocky River, just south of the Northwest Territories. Part of me is still in Northern British Columbia, lying in my tent at night listening to wolves howling in the distance.

My right thumb still has a slight tingle from some sort of neurological damage from the vibrations over thousands of kilometres, although I used my Kaoko throttle lock as much as possible. The bike hasn’t gone anywhere since I pulled into the driveway mid-August after riding 1,000 kilometres on the final day from Sault-Ste Marie to get home. After 19,500 kilometres, some of that in dirt up The Dempster Highway, it was a mess and in need of a lot of service and a thorough cleaning. Although I had the correct amount of oil in the bike, the heat and hours of riding at high-revs led to oil ending up in the airbox and, ultimately, down the side of the bike where it baked onto the engine. I’ve also changed the oil pressure switch that was acting up and changed the rear tire that was finished. But the big obstacle has been a frayed wire leading to an ignition coil that has left me waiting for OEM parts to arrive from Germany.

In the coming months, I’ll be writing about these memories and more. Here is a visual preview of what’s to come. If you want to follow along, click the Follow button and you’ll be notified of new posts. Join me as I relive this bucket-list tour across Canada and up into the Far North.

Life is an Adventure

The meaning of life in four simple words.

Recently I had one of those incidents of reflexive karma in which you go to help someone, only to have it come around and help you. It began when I wandered into my college’s bookstore co-op last spring. This is one of my favourite pastimes between classes, usually right before or after picking up a coffee. A book on display jumped out at me.

My son is a pretty good procrastinator and his birthday was coming up, so the book caught my eye. Not suffering particularly from this ailment myself, I bought the book then and there.

Then the Covid lockdown hit and so I ended up having the book longer than expected. Naturally, I started reading it, and I have to say, it’s an excellent book! It presents this complex and deep affliction in clear language and clever illustrations, using Buddhist metaphors and practical exercises to help readers stop procrastinating and start living life to the fullest. One such exercise is to make a Personal Vision Statement.

The authors claim that goal-setting does not work very well in motivating people and avoiding procrastination. That’s because the goal-posts are always moving. What happens when you achieve your goal? There may be a moment of elation, but then . . . what now? Another goal is set, and on it goes. You live in a perpetual state of striving, with very little celebration—not enough to keep you motivated. A better method is to find meaning or purpose to your life. This will fuel your efforts every day, not just at the milestones.

But coming up with a Personal Vision Statement is not easy! Try capturing your idea of The Meaning of Life in a few sentences. The book of course helps with this exercise and suggests a series of drafts. You can find the worksheets here but you’re better off just buying the book. Suffice to say that a good vision statement encapsulates your values. The authors also suggest you think a bit about what your legacy might be and to include what they call Ego 2.0 activities—contributions to others or society, since that’s where we find deeper meaning than in strictly self-serving acts.

Here is my first draft. It’s pretty lame: “Live each day as if it’s my last, but confident that I still have years ahead to experience my dreams. Those dreams are realized in small acts today, just as a marathon is run in thousands of sequential steps. Direct my efforts to giving to others, but don’t forget to give to myself. Enjoy all that the moment offers.”

Like I said, pretty lame. Kind of reads like Desiderata on valium with a dollop of schmaltz on top. There were a few more drafts—something added about listening to the opinion of others but trusting mine—and then, almost as an afterthought, “Keep in mind that life is an adventure not a destination.”

Live each day as if it’s my last, but confident that I still have years ahead to experience my dreams. Those dreams are realized in small acts today, just as a marathon is run in thousands of sequential steps. Direct my efforts to giving to others, but don’t forget to give to myself. Enjoy all that the moment offers.

I wrote all this in my journal, and when I recently finished that journal, I flipped back through the pages before putting it away for posterity. This is one of the things I like about journaling: you can see in those pages all you have been thinking and feeling in recent months. And when I came to the section where I was writing those drafts, it came to me—the perfect vision statement: simply, life is an adventure.

The authors say that a personal vision statement need not be long and complex, in fact can be one sentence, but you might be wondering how I could possibly capture the meaning of life in four words. Let me explain.

The first motorcycle tour I took was in 2017. I’d just gotten my full license the year before and, naturally, had to ride The Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia. I scheduled myself 10 days. I packed up my tent and camping gear, an assortment of tools and spare parts, an old car GPS, and lots of peanut butter and pasta. I had a general plan with reservations at a few campgrounds, but between those fixed points was a lot of room for flexibility. The idea was to explore.

Those were the fullest 10 days of my adult life. I remember sometime around Day 6, I texted my wife that I’d be heading home the next day to be there in two days. She said, “Don’t you have another four days planned?” It’s not that she wanted me to stay away longer, she was just genuinely confused; I’d said my trip would be ten days. Now I was confused too. I’d completely lost track of time and was two days ahead of myself.

“Wow, I’ve got an extra two days!” I texted back. Then I thought back to the beginning of the trip, a mere six days earlier. It seemed like weeks ago. My days were so full and yet I was so present in each moment, they were the longest days of my life.

It’s not that it had all been easy and good. On Day 2 the bike wouldn’t start after one of my rest stops, and there was an ugly hour of anxiety trying to figure it out. Later I discovered that the ferry I had planned to take to Deer Island, NB, was permanently closed, leaving me to find another way to get there in the fading light or change my accommodation plans. There was driving rain, and stifling heat, dehydration headaches, a bee up the sleeve, phone charging issues, navigation problems, and an unexpected oil change. Oh yeah and I dropped the bike. Twice.

But there was also crossing the Penboscot Narrows Bridge, take-out fish & chips on the ferry to Deer Island, going down into the Springhill coal mine, off-roading in the Cape Breton interior, the switchbacks of The Cabot Trail, swimming in the North Atlantic Ocean at Port Shoreham Provincial Park, and Peggy’s Cove at dawn. There were the people I met along the way, from the guy who helped me when the bike wouldn’t start, the Quebecois cyclist on his own adventure through Maine, my ex-colleague Guy at Seascape Kayak Tours, Yannick my off-road buddy in Baddeck, and Walter, who wandered over to my campsite and offered me a cold beer after a wicked hot day of riding, not to forget the staff at Adrianne’s Cycle Service in Moncton.

Seal Island Bridge. Cape Breton Island, NS

But there is one moment in particular that stands out for me when I think back on that trip. It was at the end of Day 7, just when I was starting to get comfortable and confident with this adventure touring thing. I’d left Baddeck in the morning and ridden over the Seal Island Bridge into Sydney to buy a new phone cord at the Best Buy there. Then I picked up Old Highway 4 that took me along the shoreline and out to Port Hawkesbury and over the causeway, where I turned left onto the 344, the beginning of the spectacular Marine Drive that hugs the Atlantic shoreline.

He was singing Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” and it occurred to me that I was—having the time of my life.

Sometime in the afternoon, I saw a sign for a provincial park and decided to stop for lunch. It was a sandy beach, and I went for a swim to cool off in the heat. When I returned to the bike, I asked a woman in the parking lot if she knew of a campground nearby. She directed me not only to “the most beautiful campground in Nova Scotia” but also to “the best fish & chips” at a local microbrewery not much further down the highway. So I followed her advice and set up at Boyston Provincial Park, then rode into Guysborough to The Rare Bird pub. I sat out on the terrace that looked out onto the wharf, and as I waited for my dinner to arrive, I enjoyed the amber ale and the sound of a local musician singing and playing a guitar. He was singing Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” and it occurred to me that I was—having the time of my life.

I was in my element, living in the moment and exploring, seeing things I’d never seen before, meeting new people, enjoying my bike, trusting myself, and discovering what life presents me literally around each corner, whether good or bad. I have only experienced this feeling of freedom once before, when I backpacked through Europe for a month in my 20s. Similarly, I was exploring the world, and life was an adventure. If only life could always be like this, I thought.

And it is.

The Puppy Dog Trail, 2.0

Rest Stop

The first time I did The Puppy Dog Ride, I enjoyed it so much my recurring thought was that I should be sharing it with someone. “I should lead a ride down through here,” I kept thinking. “I should show others how amazing this is!” And so, when plans to tour northern Ontario with a couple of riding buddies fell through, I suggested we change the route to the beautiful dirt roads of Vermont.

Originally, the plan was to do a section of The Puppy Dog in Vermont and a section of The Hamster Ride in New Hampshire, working our way back toward the Canadian border. We also had plans to ride Bayley-Hazen, a military road that dates back to the American War of Independence. But we soon realized that our plans were a tad ambitious. Riding dirt all day in the heat of high summer is hard, so in the end we ended up doing sections of Puppy Dog with some asphalt mixed in to cool off and save time.

My riding buddies were Danny and Mike, whom I met at the 2018 Dirt Daze Rally in Lake Luzerne, NY. In truth, I only met Danny, who unfortunately had suffered an injury early in the weekend, as had my bike, so we were laid up together, so to speak. He and Mike had come down from Montreal, and while I never actually met Mike at the rally, the contact was made, and we ended up riding together later in the season.

I was happy to meet some off-roaders from the Montreal area. You shouldn’t really be riding off-road alone, partly because doing so is dangerous, but more importantly, because it’s a lot easier to lift your bike with the help of a buddy. Those who have been following my blog know about the trouble I’ve gotten myself into riding alone in remote areas. Mike works in the construction industry, so at the end of last July, during the constructor’s holiday, as it’s known here in Quebec, the three of us headed off for three nights of moto-camping in Vermont—Mike on his Honda Africa Twin, Danny on his new Triumph Scrambler 1200XE, and me, with half the power, on my BMW f650GS.

I had downloaded the GPS file for Bayley-Hazen into my phone and we picked it up soon after crossing the Canada-US border. We rode it for several kilometres and it was pretty amazing, but soon my GPS got confused and took us out to a highway. “This doesn’t look like an 18th-Century road,” I thought, so I pulled off to consult with the boys. My phone showed the snaking route for what we had just done, then suddenly a line straight as the crow flies to the destination. It was my first time using a GPS track downloaded from the internet, and I concluded that tracks only work in one direction. They are a series of turn-by-turn directions that take you from Point A to Point B but not Point B to Point A. And since the track I got was south to north, it didn’t work. If anyone knows a link to the north-south route of Bayley-Hazen, please drop me a line either in the comments section below or via the Contact page.

It was swelteringly hot—so hot that you really can’t stop moving—so a quick decision was made to abandon Bayley-Hazen and jump onto the Puppy Dog, which wasn’t far away. Soon we were back in the shade of those Vermont dirt roads. Now that we knew where we were going, we stopped for a break and to water the old growth trees lining the road. Danny noticed a vine as thick as a rope hanging from one of them. A little pruning off the end with a hatchet and we had a swing.

Vine Swing

Boys will be boys.

I don’t have the premium version of WordPress that supports embedded videos, so go here to see how this turned out.

The ride is hard-parked dirt with a variety of forested rural roads, open valleys, switchbacks through dense forest, covered bridges, with some river and lake views as well. If that sounds pretty ideal, it is. You don’t really need an adventure bike to do this ride, but it helps. It’s nice to be able to stand up for some of the hill climbs, and there are some more technical sections that require the clearance of an ADV bike. But generally the ride is easy and undemanding. Danny and I rode it with 85/15 tires.

3 Bridges

The PDR takes you through four covered bridges, including this one in Guilford.

We love Vermont’s state parks almost as much as its dirt roads. They are well maintained, and the sites have lots of privacy, as you can see from the photo below. They are also not expensive compared to what I’ve paid in Ontario. Despite all this, we didn’t have much trouble finding a site even without a reservation on the weekend. Either they are the best kept secret or Vermont has more campgrounds per capita than Ontario and Quebec. The second night we made it down to Fort Drummer State Park near the southern border of Vermont and near the end of the route. For our third night, we stayed at Silver Lake State Park, which is about halfway up the state in Barnard. As a bonus, it is located on . . . you guessed it, Silver Lake, and it’s nice to go for a swim after a hot day of riding.

Mt Ascutney

Mount Ascutney State Park

Mike had said at outset that he likes general country stores, as do I, so as we passed one while riding Highway 100 in Weston, we pulled in. Little did we know what we were getting into. Walking into The Vermont Country Store is like walking into another century. This family-run business prides itself on stocking items dating back to when it first opened in 1946. Where else is checkers the game of the week and there’s a section labelled Apothecary? But the real fun is in the toy department. I saw games there that I did not think were still available, like Etch-a-Sketch, Kerplunk, Lite-Brite, and Operation. There were paddle-balls, which I had to try, and fail at, miserably, and Slinkys, and other hand toys too. The entire store is like a department store from the mid-20th-Century with clothing, candy, soaps, and “sundry items,” to borrow a phrase from that era. It was a blast from the past. I walked out with a “nightshirt,” a term I’ve only ever heard my dad say and Alistair Sim wear as Scrooge.

Apothecary

Apothecary section of The Vermont Country Store. Photo credit: Getty Images

Another fun rest stop was in Chelsea, just north of Silver Lake on the PDR. Okay, it doesn’t have The Vermont Country Store but it does have Will’s General Store, where you can pet the cat sleeping on top the fridge, rent a movie on something called a DVD, buy marbles and firecrackers, and then set off said firecrackers outside until the locals start peering through their front windows at you.

Wills Store

Will’s General Store in Chelsea, Vermont.

While we were disturbing the peace, another group of ADV riders came along. When they saw us they decided to take a break and introduce themselves. It turned out that they are Canadian too, from the Ottawa area, and were doing the PDR the other direction with the plan to complete it by the end of the day. And we thought we were being ambitious!

Chelsea Bikes

Lots of mighty KLRs in this group, and fellow blogger ADV Joe.

One of them flooded his KLR upon restarting, and while the motorcyclist’s code of honour is never to leave a motorcyclist stranded, we had to get going up toward the border; it was our last day and we wanted to get home before dark. He wasn’t alone, however, and Danny, who had a KLR for years, was confident that it would be running in no time. Those things are unbreakable. We decided, in the interests of time, to leave the PDR soon afterwards and ride up through Smuggler’s Notch, which is always nice and had been closed through the early season for maintenance.

Riding solo has its advantages, but so does group riding. The tricky part of group riding is finding the right fellow riders. You have to be compatible not only in riding but also in personality, which is not easy. Mike and Danny have been riding together for a while, so I was a little apprehensive going into this since I was the new kid on the block. There’s also that saying about two being company and three a crowd. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I think we are a good fit. I hope this is the first of many trips together.

GreenMtn View

View of the Green Mountains from the PDR south of Chelsea.

The PDR is luxury adventure touring. The riding provides a taste of dirt but is relatively easy. You are never far from amenities or asphalt, and can pop out anytime to refuel the bike or the body, or to cool off by riding Vermont’s equally enjoyable secondary highways and backroads. The campgrounds are great, and Americans are always friendly and helpful. The only thing it’s lacking is some more sustained technical terrain, and by the end of the weekend we were hankering for a rocky hill climb or water crossing. Perhaps next summer we will do that planned trip to northern Ontario or a section of The Trans-Canada Adventure Trail. With the mid-winter holiday over, it’s almost time to start planning for next season.

Silver Lake Camp

L to R at Silver Lake State Park: Mike and Danny.