Colorful Countryside: Riding the Explorers’ Edge
A place where traffic moves aside to let you pass, the vibrant colors of fall leaves fill your field of vision, roads are open and inviting… my Northern adventure was full of good times. The best parts? Doing it all on the BMW f650GS, and being in great company.
Morning arrived and I pulled myself out of the comfy hotel bed- 9am local time for Toronto, and a painful 6am home time.It didn’t matter- I was chomping at the bit to rail the 2012 BMW f650GS on the Ontario, Canada roads I’d heard so much about. We picked up David Burbach of Road Runner Magazine at the airport and made our way to meet Graeme Jones (Inside Motorcycles) and Ron Keyes (Motorcycle Mojo).
A quick change into my gear, a look at the map, and we were on the road.
It wasn’t actively raining, but the roads were coated with a layer of water from earlier in the day. It made no difference to the GS- eager to please and cutting into corners with little effort.
It was infrequent that the road surfaces weren’t on the higher end of the maintenance scale, meaning the BMW K1600GTL and 2014 Harley’s the boys were riding were suited well for the terrain my adventure bike seemed to gobble up happily.
That was one of the beautiful things about the Explorers’ Edge routes, they had something for everyone (or every type of bike).
The roads started to dry up as the route got more technical, large but tight corners leading down into a funnel of fall leaves before bursting out next to a lake with cliffs on both sides, sweepers leading you through the landscape.
It was magical- and not just because of the crew I was so fortunate to be riding with.
It was a visceral experience- even within the first few hours.
I felt at home and a stranger all at once which is to me the best feeling in the world. You’re alone in your head with your bike, little clue as to where exactly you are except for in the grand scheme of things.
Little traffic, and those few others sharing the road seemed to regard other vehicles with much more respect- moving over to the right to allow you to pass, generally being more aware of their surroundings. I don’t know what it is about us Americans but we certainly seem to think we own the road or whatever lane we happen to be occupying at the moment. I got goosebumps when we got on the highway momentarily and I witnessed multiple cars pass on the left and then return to the right travel lane. Purely amazing.
We hit 141 to and stopped at the Wolff’s Den in Gravenhurst for lunch. Mike Jacobs (one of the scouts for these routes from What A Ride) picked out restaurants and accommodations known for their quality and he definitely delivered. Road trips often yield a sort of get-it-while-you-can dining and gas approach that leaves you with gut-rot or sleeping in a dingy bed in sketch-ville. Not even a little bit of that happened this whole trip (which I attribute entirely to Ontario Moto Roads planning and route scouting/mapping). I had a brie sandwich on a bun with coffee which regenerated my energy perfectly before we carried on with the rest of our beautiful road filled day. We arrived at the Hidden Valley Resort in Huntsville hours later, our proverbial cups happily full from taking in the twisties and fall colors.
The next morning I was greeting by a breakfast buffet with all the bacon, eggs, and sausage you could eat (seriously, I know it’s insane but it’s true).
We did some photo and video with Adam and Virgil down the hill from the hotel.
Virgil took sneaky photos of us while we weren’t looking, naturally.
Graeme was onto his tricks, though.
Big thanks to Virgil for the swanky photos!
We then climbed onto our bikes and set out on day two through the Almaguin Highlands where we had two specific stops marked along the way. First was the information center which had a cool sweater tour going on, the host was very nice.
Second was a stop at the very interesting and completely unique Midlothian Castle (alternatively referred to as the Screaming Heads).
A somewhat eccentric bloke erected the entire cinderblock castle and surrounding sculptures just to suit his fancy.
He shares the land with some farmers who work the crops for/with him and then sell it to curious passers-through.
The house is very interesting.
The ‘Screaming Heads’ begged me, jaws agape, to photograph them with my weekend Motorrad.
Dual sport tire equipped, I couldn’t resist riding it off into the grass for a quick photoshoot. Mike suggested I take it through one of their portal-like mouths and I simply had to oblige.
Up the road a ways we stopped so that the the photographer Virgil Knapp and videographer Adam Wood get some footage of us coming over the very fun hills- oranges, reds, and yellow trees galore swirling around us.
Off we took, leaving the crew there to pack up their gear while we got some good riding in with a plan to meet at the Maple Island general store.
We made it to the two building-town where their General Store was also the post office and the home of the lady who runs it.
They were generally out of everything- all the chips were expired, no public bathroom, it became apparent we were indeed slightly off the beaten path. The owner was nice enough to open up shop when she heard our bikes, and told us all about the town.
She pointed us to the community center with a public bathroom across the street, which happened to be having a thrift store sale. Five bucks got you a garbage bag full of whatever clothes you wanted.
The corner leading up to the town center was quite lovely, so we set up some shots there as well. Adam had very creative and effective ways of getting nice moving footage without a lot of gear, it was fun to watch.
Many lovely miles later, we stopped at the Trapper’s Inn for food. Their beef was all local so I went ahead and had a burger. It was so so good.
After taking off from lunch we went and hit some other long, lovely, curvy roads and pit-stopped at a little one store town to hit the can and look at the map. Virgil snagged us for more photos.
Here’s Ron from Motorcycle Mojo Magazine and his daughter, Leah.
Graeme Jones from Inside Motorcycles Magazine.
Virgil brought seemed to bring out the model in us.
David Burbach from Road Runner Magazine.
Meanwhile, 6’5”ish tall Adam Wood from Motorcycle.com shoved himself in the back of the minivan so we could do some rolling shots.
Seemed to work rather well!
After we split off from the van the group ended up having trouble finding the Woodland Echoes Resort (we were actually about a half mile away). I took a nap on the GS while waiting for addresses to be received via text and GPS to start pointing us to the right place (don’t always trust your GPS, people).
I got a five or ten minute power nap in and then we made it the short distance down the gravel road to the Woodland Echoes. Seriously, this was a highlight of the trip for me. Both a cabin in the woods and on the lake, it was quaint and comfortable.
Aaaaaand there was a jacuzzi.
If I were going to be there more than one night their full kitchen, bathroom, and BBQ on the porch would come in handy.
Over in the main hall they started up a fish fry for us around 7:30. It was delicious.
There was beer, Hockey, and cozy seats. They asked me if the US had a beer called AMERICA or USA and I told them, “no… but practically every one of our primary distributors puts American flags on their cans.”
I did some laptop work back in my cabin, enjoyed my Scotter Lager and a smoke on the boat dock in the dark and hit the hay.
The next morning we all sat down for breakfast- more fruit and sausage for me. Plus lots of coffee, naturally.
This is where the trip got less luxurious but more interesting, perhaps even a bit exciting. It’s all part of the adventure! It started raining when we headed out around 8a, at first a sort of misty sprinkle that makes you have to physically wipe off your visor constantly. We did some riding, and then it started dumping on us. Torrential f***ing downpour style. At first it wasn’t so bad, since I was equipped with full rain gear. Anyone who’s ridden for an extended period of time in a real downpour knows that you’re going to get wet, somewhere, some way. Full rain suits can help (which I didn’t have) as well as goretex socks, duct-taping plastic bags over your boots and pants, etc… but I was dressed for general rain. Not this. When we hit the highway to expedite the process, I got as low on the bike as I could comfortably manage to deflect some of the water spray from the roads. All of a sudden the minivan is on the left of me taking pictures, I burst out laughing in my helmet.
Sometimes you just have to embrace it.
“If you don’t ride in the rain, you don’t ride.” Ain’t that the goddamn truth? What, are you going to pull over and whine about the water touching your skin? Press on, people!
The other riders didn’t get nearly as wet as me- a perk of the touring style BMW and the Harley cruisers. Plus they had thicker and longer rain gear. You’d think being from rainy Portland that I would have been the most prepared. I think that is precisely I was the least, I am used to just going home and drying off or finding a place to lay low for a while. Instead of opting for parking and taking a break, we decided to press on to the hotel (I was excited to dry out my boots). The Elsinores fair very well in wet weather, but they don’t stand up to two hours of highway speeds being blasted with loads of water. This is the first time my feet have gotten wet!
The group warmed up in new Explorers’ Edge fleeces and coffee.
A little bit more footage and we’d be done with work stuff and could go get our lounge on. It’s amazing what riding through intense rain will take out of you.
That night we set out for steak and cocktails- my only requirement was the presence of a decent whiskey. We ended up getting amazing flambé steak (amongst other things, like Lobster for some). It was a great end to a great weekend.
At the hotel in Muskoka that night, I looked in the side table drawer out of curiosity. Look at how impartial Canada is (well, at least Ontario).
Side goodbye to the BMW and got dropped off the at the airport as the sunshine rolled back in. Amusingly enough, it was sunny in Portland while I was gone and rainy in Toronto and surrounding areas. Usually it’s really, really beautiful there this time of year. Maybe I accidentally did a rain dance.