Day 3

Day 3 was probably the highlight of the trip. I got some good exploring in.

Map of the third day of motorcycle tour on my Triumph Bonneville into Ontario

A little thunderstorm blew through an hour or so before dawn, and the day started with a silver lining. I sat at Tim Hortons a bit looking at my phone and figuring in my mind how many more nights I had on the road. Caribou Falls was on the north end of a minor road. I had noticed it looking at maps before the trip and I knew there was an outfitter up there. I figured I'd ride up there and then spend a second night in Kenora, in a hotel room this time.

So on the way out of town I stopped at the motel and he assured me he'd have a room for me so I headed out.

I took the short side-trip to Minaki hoping to find another cup of coffee. No luck. Not that much there except a marina with lots of boats. And a fairly good-sized parking lot on top of the hill. Plenty of people heading out from there for extended boating trips it would seem. Nice enough lady in the little grocery store at the marina, but no cups of coffee, so I pressed north.

I stopped at a hydroelectric dam and watched the water torrent, and the pelicans. There are a lot of pelicans up in this part of Ontario. I started seeing them a bit south of Kenora, and they were a common sight from there. Lot's of water and fish for them I suppose.

It was just a fun road to be on. Started out as good pavement, and then worse pavement, then chip-seal types stuff then gravel, it just got smaller and rougher as I went. But it's a good motorcycle road with nice curves pretty regularly and good scenery. About the only other vehicles I saw were the white pickups of the guys working at the damns. I'm sure they wondered about me, I looked out-of-place on a motorcycle in the land of pickups.

I listened to some Jefferson Airplane recorded at Woodstock for a while while I rode. "Morning maniac music, believe me, yeah". Realized that the good music happens towards the beginning of a 12 hour drug-frenzied bender, not during tail end dregs of it. They kinda sucked really, and I went back to riding in silence.

This rock formation was interesting with the leaning pillar. And at the top of it was a opening with a nest built in it. When I see stuff like that I wonder if it was a sacred place for the early natives, or just another thing.

Eventually I came upon an Indian Reservation. There was a pulloff where the Ontario snow plows turn around I expect, and the reservation takes over. And a welcome sign. And in the woods a few feet pieces of fabric, rags, hanging from tree branches. I wasn't sure what that was about. I'm still not.

The Indian Reservation was fine, I came to a fork to go to Whitedog or take a dirt road up to Caribou Falls, and I headed to the falls. And I ran into the strangest thing. I hadn't seen a house or a person for miles and miles. Actually, I don't think I'd seen a dwelling in over 50 miles. And a piece of litter rolls across the road in the wind up ahead. I mean, that wasn't the strangest thing, but really there was no litter up there to this point. Not enough people to leave any. But I start seeing more and more and then I come around a corner ... and it's a burning dump. I mean, not an organized dump, just a place where people drive to and throw their crap next to the road. Acres of it.

It was so out of context. It reminded me just a bit of when the patrol boat in Apocalypse Now reaches Do Long bridge. This road I was on ... as it deteriorated as I got farther north ... what was at the end. Was it the end of civilization as I knew it?


Well, actually, it was just a dump.

From here there were a number of decisions I made that I second guess. I got myself up to Caribou Falls Lodge. I really did feel in the middle of nowhere by the time I got there, especially after navigating the half-mile long soft loamy drive to get there. I had messed up my kilometer to miles conversion. I could make it back to a gas station on the tank I had, maybe even without touching the extra half gallon I had in by saddle bags, but it was going to be closer than I liked. So when I pulled into the resort and found the owner and asked if I could get some gas for my bike ... well he didn't really look at me and my bike with awe and admiration. More of a quizzical are-you-ok-in-the-head? look. I have a feeling that while adventure riders are pretty proud of themselves, most of the world thinks we're nerds.

But he was a real pleasant guy, if a bit quiet. It was a pretty quiet spot on the planet. He has a bunch of good-sized cabins on this beautiful spit of land, and you look out at these islands covered in pines and granite outcroppings and floats of pelicans lazing about. He has a fleet of fishing boats. The idea is that it's about as far north as you can go by wheeled-vehicle, and a cheaper alternative than taking a float plane to the lakes even further north.

So, questionable decision number one was to see if he had a bed for me there. It was a glorious day of comfortable temperature and blue sky. I had a book, I could easily lay around in the sun reading, maybe take a short hike or something. But it was well before noon, it would be a lot of time to stay in one place and off the motorcycle. I ended up pushing on, that could have been a mistake. But I can always go back one day.

The owner had some advice for me. I had noticed Sand Lake Road coming up and I asked him if that was a good road to explore. He said no, it didn't go anywhere and the conditions were poor. I told him that I was going to ride down to White Dog, and he said not to bother, there was nothing to see there. And it was kinda a sad place, lot's of poverty and all that. And he told me the road up to Red Lake, a spot on the map to the east and even farther north, was a good motorcycle road.

I got gas from his pump at the docks and after a period of uncomfortable silences interrupted by me saying this and that, I headed back south. First I went up Caribou Falls themselves. It seems up in Ontario they name hydroelectric dams after what would have been there if the hydroelectric damn hadn't been built. Kinda like how they name new subdivisions, like "Frolicking Meadows" or "Majestic Oaks", after the stuff that would be there if they hadn't build some fresh suburbia over it. Caribou Falls aren't falls at all, it's a damn. And north of the damn is a huge lake. Seems like no matter how far north you go, you find yourself at the south-end of something.

I ignored the advice and rode down to White Dog. Back through the dump then a right down into town. First sign I was getting close was a pile of wrecked cars rusting. I mean piled high. I guess it's not worth the gas to haul them to a metal recycler?

The reservation is like most Indian reservations, or First Nation as they call them in Canada, poor and without a lot of obvious hope. A few houses were kept up really well, but for the most part stuff looked neglected. Not much looked insulated enough for the harsh winters. Poor decision number two wasn't coming down here, because it was worth seeing. But I didn't take any pictures, and I wish I had some. I stuck out like a sore thumb, white guy on a motorcycle loaded with gear. I just really felt uncomfortable, like I was gawking. Pulling out my camera just felt too much. I just kept moving. Too sensitive on my part, I probably should have taken a rest at the community center and chatted with some locals. I didn't, a questionable decision.

There was no other way back but the road I came up on, which was OK with me because it's a fun road. And riding the same road in the opposite direction is nearly the same as discovering a new road. Questionable decision number 3 involved Sand Lake Road. I passed it by without even trying it out. In retrospect, I think the guy at Caribou Falls who said it was too rough was too worried about my safety, and didn't know what I considered "good road". I may have been able to get all the way to Red Lake on it. I would have had enough gas. Maybe not if I had to turn around much past halfway though. But still, I had camping gear with me and a satellite SOS device if I needed it, food, water and no place I needed to be. I should have given it a go. I bet I do one day. But I screwed up not doing it that day.

Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht. Plans are fun to make, but shouldn't be admired too much. The plan I made that morning was to spend a second night in Kenora in a motel, but by the time I got back to Rt 17 it was too early to be done. I took a short side trip along some side roads to kill time. Another poor decision, but not a big one. It's OK not to have plans, but I was just flailing around a bit. I should have made a plan so I at least had something to ignore later.

After the flailing I finally decided I could get to Vermilion Bay down Rt 17 and into a motel by about 5PM. Then I could grab a quick dinner and ride up to Red Lake and be back to the hotel not long after dark. Summer is fun, dark comes pretty late. The guy at Caribou Falls said the road to Red Lake was a good road. and I should get some good wildlife sighting riding at dusk, even though it's not the smartest thing for a motorcyclist to do. But that's what I did.

That wasn't a bad decision, although Sand Lake Rd may have been a better alternative. The motel was perfect. Little mom/pop place with some age on it but well cared for. Northside Motel in Vermilion Bay, highly recommended. And next door is the Comfort Table Bakery which has all sorts of eats and good coffee too. Also highly recommended. I had some dinner there and headed back north.

The road up to Red Lake was smooth. It was efficient. Nice and straight. Must be a nice road to sit in your car with cruise control set and listen to some music and zone out. But the guy at Caribou Falls was wrong, it's not a great motorcycle road. Motorcyclists don't need efficient and straight.

Still, parts of it were simply beautiful with these aged mixed-coniferous forests. And green swarths of grasses and sedges running along the road. I can look at Indian Paintbrush on the shoulder of northern roads forever and never tire of it.

I saw one red fox down in the sedges, and it was so healthy it looked like it had been groomed. It looked like it was painted in an old Disney movie like Bambi. I rode quite a while thinking about that fox, and another I had seen earlier in the summer at a county park zoo in Iowa. That zoo is special to me. Every summer we drive down to Missouri for a get-together with friends, and when our kids were young we always stopped there and enjoyed the animals through our kids eyes. Haven't been there for years, but wife and I stopped there this summer. And I realized it wasn't actually as happy a place as I remembered, it was kind of sad. First you see a wolf there and are impressed. Then you realize it is alone and caged. Then you realize it is thin and its coat matted. Then you realize that it's pathetic. The contrast between that healthy wild fox and the dirty pacing fox at that zoo ran through my mind for a while.

The contrast between Red Lake and White Dog was striking too. There were a lot of First Nation folks at Red Lake. I'm not sure of it's status, but it had the government-issued reservation community center and water tower. It seemed to have some First Nation reservation status. But there were a lot of business and non-natives around too. It was a healthy community, while White Dog reminding me of that caged fox at the zoo.

Not sure what caused the difference between those communities. Probably having a healthy industry, and Red Lake appears to have the industry of flying fishermen up to fishing resorts up even farther north. Float planes were everywhere, and they even had a statue for one. Maybe that brings in enough cash to make the difference.

I got gas and headed back south. I wandered around town a bit first, but I didn't spend enough time. Had to keep going. That's the problem with packing in more miles, it leaves less time to linger. Back on the road my bike stumbled hard. The motor totally cut out, then started back up. Five minutes later, it happened again. That had me worrying for a while, and considering contingency plans. But it never happened again, and I still don't know what it was. My ignition switch was giving me trouble on the trip, I'd have to jiggle the key to get the bike to start pretty often. It's a problem that cropped up on this trip, and cropped up on last year's long trip, but only then. Water in there? Probably should disassemble the thing this winter to check.

But, I made it back to the motel not too long after dark. I didn't see much wildlife, but didn't hit any either. I got cleaned up, had some beers and some salty snacks and watched some bad TV. I could have made different decisions, but the day was a success.