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Biff’s Georgian Bay Road Trip

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

A friend of mine was recently looking for a good local road trip, but there was a lot to share so I thought I’d put it here so it can be tracked down, but also in case anyone else is looking. So Sheryl, here you go:

For the sake of convenience, I’ve started and ended the trip in Barrie and structured it as a pretty basic loop of highways and a series of side trips off the main route so you can customise as you see fit, or easily reverse the route. The basics are as follows:

  • From Barrie, head West on Bayfield Street which becomes Highway 26
  • Keep an eye open for a hard turn to the right in Stayner, and a series of twists and turns in both Collingwood and Owen Sound – they’re all marked but watch for the signs to keep on Highway 26 through these towns.
  • Highway 26 ends in Owen Sound. After the highway takes you around a left turn, look for a right onto Highway 6 or 10th Street – it’s two blocks away and the next set of street lights. Should be pretty obvious but keep an eye open here too.
  • Follow Highway 6 out of town and follow it North towards Wiarton.
  • Take the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Tobermory to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island – call ahead and book your reservation, it can be tough to get the sailing you want in summer and weekends
  • Keep North on Highway 6 until the end and turn right onto Highway 17 towards Sudbury
  • In Sudbury, turn right again to go south on Highway 69, which will become the 400 and take you right back in to Barrie

So now that you have the basics, here’s some of the things to check out along the way:

Historic Fort Willow

If you want to take in a little history, make a side trip to Fort Willow. You’ll see the fort walls along with what’s left of the old foundations of the store houses and other buildings along with some interpretive plaques giving you the history. To get there, look for a left onto County Road 43 (Snow Valley Road), follow it through a jog to the right then left, and straight through onto Portage Trail where 43 ends. Fort Willow has a small parking lot on your right just past a sharp 90 turn to the left where the road changes names to Grenfel Road. To return to the main route, go back the way you came, but turn left at the four way intersection onto George Johnston Road – that will take you back to Highway 26 where a left will get you back on track.

Wasaga Beach

Wasaga shouldn’t need any introduction, but if you care to pay a visit along the way it’s only a short jaunt to the East at the first roundabout on Highway 26 (Mosley Street)

Collingwood Arboretum

If you’re looking to get out of the car for a few minutes, Collingwood has a beautiful arboretum with paved and natural trails throughout the park. If you’re looking for a long walk (or trying to avoid one) look for the main trail right near the entrance – it’s an abandoned rail line that to the East will take you back to Stayner or to the West over 30km to Meaford. To get to the arboretum, turn right onto Cedar Street (at McDonald’s) and there’s a large parking lot a block back.

Craigleith Heritage Depot

You’ll pass mere meters from the Craighleith Museum in the old rail station. Inside is also a tourism information booth, though I’ve never been in, there are some great gardens and plaques explaining the history of the station.

Thornbury Fish Ladder

Yes, fish ladder. Early in it’s history Thornbury built a dam and mill on the Beaver River which has been rebuilt over the years – but the Beaver River is also a significant spawning grounds for salmon so more recently they’ve built the fish ladder. Essentially a series of small dams and pools letting the fish jump up from pool to pool until they reach the level of the river upstream. Park behind the town hall on Mill Street and walk past the plaques describing the town history on your way to the crowds sure to be gathered around the fish ladder.

Meaford

Meaford is one of my favourite little towns. Look for Grandma Lambes on the highway coming in to town for fresh apples right from the orchard out back along with lots of home baking and local produce. For a great meal check out the Leeky Canoe downtown, right across from the big apple (you’ll know it when you see it). Take a stroll down Bridge Street to check out the busy harbour. Or take a left on William Street, just past the Dairy Queen, and check out the Meaford Factory Outlet – the place is huge and sells almost everything – it can be fun to explore, but set aside some time.

Owen Sound Waterfalls

There are a number of great waterfalls in Owen Sound that are easily accessible. If you want to check them out, when you reach 10th Street and the street lights where you would normally turn right onto Highway 6 West, go straight through onto Highway 6 South to a right onto County Road 18 and another right onto Inglis Falls Road. There’s a nice little park at Inglis Falls where a part of the old mill still survives as well as a trail leading down to several viewing platforms to check out the falls. To continue the falls tour, go back out to County Road 18 and turn right to continue the way you were going, another concession and a half to the West and Country Road 18 will take a turn to the right at a major intersection, taking you back North to the main highway. You’ll come out to another set of street lights where Highway 6 turns north (straight through) towards Wiarton. Turning right here takes you back into downtown Owen Sound if you need any supplies, but straight through is another information booth, behind which is a roughly half kilometre trail back to Jones Falls. To return to the main route, turn right as you’re leaving the information centre to take Highway 6 North towards Wiarton. There are actually four main waterfalls in Owen Sound, these two are my favourites, but check out this site for information on all four falls.

Sauble Beach and Sauble Falls

Sauble FallsNot as popular as Wasaga Beach, but I like it more, Sauble Beach is an incredibly deep beach right on Lake Huron. The beach stretches for miles to the North and South and is so deep that you can actually park right on the sand (for a fee). It’s always a happening place with lots of small tourist shops along the back edge of the beach. Just to the North is Sauble Falls inside the Sauble Falls Provincial Park. The falls aren’t tall, but their main attraction is that for much of the year the water flow is low enough that you can walk right across the falls without issue. Plan on wading in and even sitting down and relaxing right in the middle of the falls if it’s a warm day. To get there, when you reach the town of Hepworth you’ll come to the only set of street lights in town. The main route turns right, but go straight through onto County Road 8 and follow it straight through until it ends right on the beach. To continue on to the falls, go back out County Road 8 to the main lights and turn left onto Country Road 13 (Sauble Falls Parkway. The park will be on the left hand side. To return to the main route, keep going North on Sauble Falls Parkway and keep an eye open for where Country Road 13 turns right towards Wiarton. Where the road ends, you may want to turn right and fill up on gas in Wiarton as it’s a little ways to the next good chance for fuel. Otherwise turn left and continue North on Highway 6.

Spirit Rock Conservation Area & The Corran

Just north of Wiarton you’ll see a tiny gravel road on the right that takes you in to the Spirit Rock Conservation Area (there’s a sign). Follow the road back to the parking lot near The Corran – a long abandoned set of ruins for a mansion built in the turn of the century along with the barn. I have an aunt who told stories of when the kids in Wiarton used to party in mansion and how amazing the library was until one night it burnt down. At Spirit Rock you can also follow the Bruce Trail a short way South to a great outlook over Georgian Bay. One word of caution, particularly here but for most of the rest of this journey, keep an ear open for rattles as you’re walking – the Massassauga Rattlesnake likes to call this area home.

Cabot Head Lighthouse Museum

Cabot Head LighthouseThis is the most difficult side trip thus far requiring about 10km of driving down a single lane gravel road. At the end of that road though is one of the early lighthouses around Georgian Bay that’s been converted into a rather interesting museum about lighthouses, shipwrecks, and early life that allows you to walk right up to the top of the lighthouse and look out for miles, or stroll the grounds to see all the support structures and hike up to the entrance to Wingfield Basin where ships would wait out bad storms and at least one sank. To get there, not far past the small community of Millar Lake and Millar Lake Road, Dyer’s Bay Road turns right of Highway 6. Follow that to a “T” intersection where you turn right, then take the next left – you’ll still be on Dyers Bay Road. Follow the road through the community and veer right onto Shoreline Drive and then shortly a right onto Cabot Head Road. Cabot Head Road is a long, single lane gravel road, be prepared to sneak past oncoming traffic. Back track to get back onto the main route and turn right to keep going north on Highway 6.

Mermaid Cove

If you’re looking for a quiet escape and beautiful view of Georgian Bay/Lake Huron then Mermaid Cove is the place to be. Just a short drive and stroll away from downtown Tobermory but hardly visited it seems. To get there, turn right onto Bay Street and take a tour through the downtown and Little Tub Harbour, then hang a right at the end of the road and follow that to the end and stroll a short ways down the trail. To get back, take Harpur Drive and Head Street instead of the one way Bay Street.

Big Tub Harbour & Lighthouse

Big Tub LighthouseWhen you think you’ve reached the end of the road, Highway 6 and the ferry staging area are just to your right, but to the left Big Tub Road circles Big Tub Harbour – another common port in storm and has quite a significant wreck mere inches below the water. Once upon a time you could see this wreck from the shore but today it’s all private cottages. Now the only way to get a good look is on one of the glass bottom boat tours. The light house at the end of the road is well worth a visit though and gives a unique view of the town of Tobermory.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil FallsIf you’re anywhere on Manitoulin Island, Bridal Veil Falls is worth the trip – it’s a true must see. Get changed into your swimsuit in one of the change rooms at the top of falls, then take the staircase down to the base where you can wade into the pool at the bottom of the falls or walk right behind the falls themselves. It’s a pretty magical little spot. You can also stroll along the trail down river learning more about the history of the community. And best of all, when you get back to the top – there’s ice cream waiting for you right across the road. To get there, turn left onto County Road 542 and follow that to Mindemoya where you’ll turn right on County Road 551 to go North to M’Chigeeng. Along the way you’ll see a small parkette on the left at Mindemoya Lake – from here you can see Treasure Island which is the world’s largest island in a lake which is on an island in a lake. When you get to M’Chigeeng the road will end in a T-intersection with County Road 540 – remember this intersection for later – but for now turn left and go to Kagawong. There will be a park on the right side of the road downtown. To return to the main route you can return the way you came or when you get to that T-intersection in M’Chigeeng just go straight through, staying on Country Road 540 to go to Little Current where you’ll rejoin the main loop. I prefer the latter as 540 follows the northern shore of the island and I think it’s more scenic, it also takes you right past the Cup and Saucer Trail.

Cup and Saucer Trail

Cup and Saucer TrailCup and Saucer Trail is amongst the best known hiking trails in the province. I’ve only done it once, and even then not the full length, I just went up to the lookout and back, but the lookout is well worth the stop. Remember that Manitoulin is an extension of the Bruce Peninsula and in a large sense the whole Niagara Escarpment – that means a tall, shear cliff made of limestone – and with that limestone comes a warning. Limestone isn’t exactly the hardest, most stable rock, so don’t get too close to the edge, some sections over hang the exposure. But the view is phenomenal overlooking some the highlands farms and Lake Manitou – the largest lake on an island in a lake in the world. The hike up to the lookout is fairly short – took me about 25 minutes I think – but moderately difficult as a few sections take you almost straight up it seems. Bring a pair of good hikers and some water. If you’re coming from Bridal Veil Falls, go straight through the intersection  in M’Chigeeng to stay on Country Road 540 and look for Bidwell Road on the right. There’s actually a large bill board pointing the way to the trail when you’re coming this way. From here I would certainly turn right back at the 540 and follow it on to Little Current to rejoin the main loop there.

Little Current Swing Bridge

Right on the main route is the only land connection to Manitoulin Island. The bridge is only a single lane and was initially built by the railway in 1913. In 1946, Canadian Pacific Railway and the Ministry of Transportation struck a deal to convert the bridge to accept both rail and car traffic and for the first time you could reach the island by car without the ferry. By 1980 the rail line was lifted and today it is an auto bridge only but still a single lane and swinging open for the first fifteen minutes of each daylight hour to allow boat traffic through.

Northern LaCloche Range

From Little Current on, Highway 6 passes through the northern edge of the LaCloche mountain range. The road dips, dives and twists, but keep an eye open to the left and right none the less for some spectacular views of the white Quartzite mountains.

Note to the Main Route

When you reach Espanola, I recommend filling your tank and stocking up on any supplies you need, particularly if you’re going to the Chutes, as you’ll be on a more barren stretch of highway than you’ve travelled thus far. The next good chance for supplies is Sudbury, 70km away if you go directly.

The Chutes

Upper ChutesAt 60km round trip, Chutes Provincial Park is one of the longest side trips on this route, but I’ve grown a fondness for the little park. It’s a pretty commercialised park and camping, particularly RV camping, is the biggest part of the park. However it’s wrapped around a pretty spectacular set of half a dozen water falls in a row known as The Chutes. The largest fall is right at a parking lot with a beautiful and always changing beach right at it’s base. The beach is on an oxbow in the so it’s always changing minutely, but if you take a stroll up the well maintained trail you’ll come across viewing platforms and higher up shallow falls that you’ll be able to walk right into if you’re warm. To get there, when you reach the end of Highway 6, instead of turning right to go towards Sudbury, turn left towards Massey, and then turn right in downtown Massey onto County Road 553 (Imperial Street). The park will be on the right just a few blocks in. Just retrace your steps to get back on the main route and carry on Highway 17 towards Sudbury.

Sudbury

When you reach Sudbury, there’s lots to do. This is the home of Science North and the Big Nickel – but I’m not going to go into any of those – partly because there’s no shortage of information of those attractions just a google search away, and partly because I’ve never been and mostly just treat Sudbury as a resupply point along the way. That said, if you’re continuing on this route, I very, very strongly recommend re-supplying in Sudbury. Beyond here you’ll be faced with some pretty barren stretches of road and though there will be periodic gas stations along the way they are mostly on native lands so they’re not stations you’ll be familiar with and the prices are typically higher. When you’re coming in to Sudbury, take the exit onto County Road 80 and keep right to go into Sudbury. You’ll reach a major intersection between Country Roads 80 and 46 known as The Four Corners. Within a stones throw of here you’ll find gas, a grocery store, restaurants and hotels. To resume the journey from this intersection, go South past the Southridge Mall on County Road 46 which just go straight onto Highway 69 South where you want to be.

The Crack, LaCloche and Killarney

Granite RidgeThis is a long side trip down Highway 637 at 140km round trip (you did fill your gas tank to the brim in Sudbury, right?) but it’s one of my favourite spots in the province. The town of Killarney was inaccessible by road until this highway opened in 1962. As such the town developed in a unique way along the water front, but the area was always visited by adventurous types, perhaps most famously as one of the main areas of inspiration for members of the Group of Seven – it’s the white quartzite mountains that draw us in. Downtown Kilarney offers the best fish & chips I’ve ever had at Herbert Fisheries as well as a few simple hiking trails. Inside Killarney Provincial Park are two trails that I highly recommend (as well as several others I haven’t yet done). The Granite Ridge Trail is right across from the main office at the George Lake Campground – it’s an out and back trail about an hour long total but of moderate difficulty – a few sections seem to go straight up. The magic of this trail is that because of it’s relative short length and the fact that it goes up to two great lookouts over the mountains and of Georgian Bay, with an early start the mountain lookout is an incredible spot to be for sunrise. But the crown jewel of Killarney is really “The Crack.” Part of the much longer (10 day hike) LaCloche-The CrackSilhouette Trail, the hike to the Crack is an out and back that you don’t want to stray from beyond the day hike section unless you’re prepared with several days worth of food. Bring lots of water and some good hikers as the Crack is a difficult hike with several, long, near vertical stretches and the last climb up to the Crack itself literally being a climb over large fallen boulders between the two pieced of the cracked ridge. Many sites I checked recommended not going if it had been raining as the rock can become quite slick and they make a big deal of having to be quite fit to tackle this trail and only do it from an early morning start. That said, I did it with someone who only had a few short hikes to her name prior this and we took about 5 hours hiking time – that said she was shot for the day once we reached the car again. Once you make it to the top though, the view is absolutely stunning – it is so worth the trip to get up there, just be prepared with enough water and take your time. Extra tip: never stop right at the top of a difficult climb else the blood will rush to your head and could even make you feel ill. Once you get up one of those long, steep sections, keep walking, even if it’s super slow, for a few more minutes before resting. If you do get into a jam for fuel while in on Highway 637, Killarney Outfitters has a small, above ground tank of fuel available – it’s expensive and you don’t know who supplied it, but it’s the only source fuel along this entire highway.

The French River and Recolett Falls

Recollet FallsThere’s another small park just on the South side of the French River and it’s worth a stop. Walk out onto the snowmobile bridge to get a good look at the mighty French River, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, there’s a short (about 45 minute) and fairly simple hike to Recollet Falls

Parry Sound Lookout Tower

I haven’t actually made the trip up this tower myself, but it’s on my to do list. Located right downtown is a ten storey former fire lookout tower that gives a commanding view out over Parry Sound the town and the bay. There are some great photos out there of the train coming through town taken from the tower. Exit into Parry Sound on Bowes Street, then just before crossing the river hang a left onto Great North Road and another left onto George Street. The tower and the West Parry Sound District Museum are on the right at the top of the hill. You can retrace your steps back to Highway 400 or go further in Bowes Street to explore the downtown core.

Depot Harbour

Depot Harbour RoundhouseDepot Harbour is the ghost town at the end of the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway. It was a happening place at the turn of the 20th century hauling lumber out of Algonquin Park and grain from the prairies on to Ottawa. The town was built here by the railway company after they determined that land prices in Parry Sound were too high when they took advantage of a provision in the Indian Act that allowed railways to expropriate native owned lands. At it’s best, there were trains in Depot Harbour every twenty minutes, but by the time a rail trestle in Algonquin Park washed away in the spring melt the rail line wasn’t profitable enough to justify rebuilding. The town slowly faded until World War II when the site was used to store explosive cordite for the war and towards the end of the war the grain elevators exploded destroying the port. What was left of the town was slowly removed and today only the foundations and part of the roundhouse remain, but for those interested in history it’s pretty interesting. It’s pretty easy to find Depot Harbour at the end of Old Tracks Road on Parry Island, however I’ll be a little vague here as there are steps to take before stopping in. Depot Harbour has reverted back to native land and before paying it a visit you should have permission – I’d recommend getting in touch with the Wasauksing Administration Office. If you choose to ignore this advice, at least treat the land and people with respect, remember you’re a visitor at best but can easily be viewed as a trespasser without getting permission first.

Big Chute Marine Railway

Ever watched a boat climb over a rock? It happens daily all summer long at the Big Chute Marine Railway. It’s an interesting invention that consists of a single, very large rail car of sorts that dips right into the water. Boats can then float onto the rail car which then cradles them in giant straps and lifts them up out of the water and up a height of 60 feet of rock past the falls to continue up the Trent Severn Waterway. Also on the site is an observation deck, the old marine railway dating back to the early twentieth century, and a sort of museum in the old hydro electric station. To get there, get off the 400 at County Road 34 (White’s Falls Road) and follow 34 across the highway and short jog back North before turning East towards Big Chute. At Big Chute, Muskoka’s County Road 34 becomes Simcoe County Road 17 (Upper Big Chute Road) and you can either follow that to Coldwater and Highway 12 West to get back to the 400, or retrace County Road 34 the way you came in.

Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons & Martyr’s Shrine

Sainte-Marie is a glimpse into the more distant past – it’s an extensive recreation of a French community and mission built in 1639 right over top of the original community. It’s quite an attraction and a trip here is a ritual for most of the local public schools. Right across the road stands the Martyr’s Shrine – one of only two national shrine’s in Canada built in 1926 in honour of the 8 Jessuit missionaries working in the area in 1649. It’s a massive building and the architecture is quite impressive. If you’re coming here from Coldwater, just keep travelling Highway 12 West. If you’re coming down the 400, exit for Highway 12 West towards Waubaushene and Midland. Both attractions are right on Highway 12 as you first enter Midland, before crossing the river. To get back on track you can return to Highway 400 the way you came, or for a more scenic route, continue following Highway 12 West until it ends at County Road 93 (Penetanguishene Road) and take a left, following that road all the way back into Barrie.

Getaway Jeep Rolls On

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

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There was more than a little delay in this project, but things are moving again. While wire brushing the frame I found some a weak spot hidden behind the frame mount for the lower control arm. I fabbed up a quick reinforcement plate, but since the shop I’m working in has some electrical issues I wasn’t able to plug in a welder. I had to wait on a guy with a portable welding setup who did some great work but took a while to connect with. With that cleaned up though, I put in a drainage hole to prevent future issues and coated the rear half of the frame with POR 15 – a rust preventative and paint that’s supposed to be great and is looking very promising so far.

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First up was to get the axle back into place – a job easier said than done. Choosing to go with more flexible and more tunable adjustable control arms adds some ability and precision to the truck, but adds more work. Instead of just bolting them in and hoping the Jeep engineers chose a correct enough length even after my modifications, the axle can be setup to the new correct location. First centreing the axle on the bump stops and squaring it to the frame, then setting up the bump stops to maximize the travel of the shocks without damaging them. One final step is to set the angle that the axle meets the driveshaft but can’t do so until I have the actual driving weight on the suspension.

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The final hiccup in the axle installation was the trackbar. Used to keep the axle in the correct location left to right. With the lift in place the trackbar needs to be relocated so that it’s fixed length holds the axle in the right place. However that relocation moved the bar into contact with the frame rail that supports the fuel tank when the axle reaches only half it’s suspension travel. Of course a few months ago I passed on a new second hand adjustable rear track bar that would have solved this problem, but at the time I didn’t see the value in that – now I get to pay full price before putting the truck on the road – oh well.

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The next step was to bolt in the exhaust – a stainless steel system from MBRP that should last a good long time and happens to have a nice rumble to it without being too loud and seems to give a nice little power boost at the same time. This went fairly painlessly with only a small modification to move the rear most exhaust hanger from the outside to inside of the frame to give a touch of clearance around the after market shocks. If you’re sharp and know Jeeps well enough you may have also noticed the bolts holding the transmission support/skid plate in place now go right through the frame. It’s a known weak spot that the existing bolts that secure to captive bolts inside the frame strip out. A quick and elegant solution I found online is to simply drill through the frame and use a longer bolt with a standard nut on the top side. These bolts are a little long and they were later replaced with shorter ones once I found them hardened to be strong enough, but given that I’m later installing a small body lift as well, adding more space between the body and frame, it probably would have worked anyway.

And with that I finally got to turn the truck around and start work on the front half. Yes, I skipped putting in the fuel tank as I’ll be using the tank out of my second, parts donor truck and there’s no need storing fuel in the garage in the mean time. I also skipped running any of the fuel or brake lines yet as I have a bit of work to do to the body tub before it gets bolted in place. Should that work take longer than expected and this frame ends up sitting longer, I’ll want to re-evaluate the brakes anyway before hitting the road with it.

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20160505_195653All the while doing the rear section of the frame, through all the delays, I kept reminding myself that the front would go quickly. After all, I had little more than to unbolt the axle, clean everything up and paint it, then start reassembling again. But then I unbolted the steering box.

Yes, that is a big rip in the frame where the torque from steering oversize tires tried, and nearly succeeded, in pulling the steering box right off. I initially considered a simple fix and simply accepting that the life span of this frame would be somewhat more limited than I thought. In the end though I settled on a proper fix.

The catch came next. The steering box mount is a simple but fairly precise piece. It would take some work to build one from scratch in my somewhat limited shop. So my first step was to look to the online parts catalogs where I found no end of ready to bolt on steering box mounts for Jeep CJ’s and YJ’s where this seems a fairly common problem – but no where could I find a TJ mount. Maybe I’m just ahead of the curve on this problem.

Steering-Box-Mount-2So I started taking some measurements and let my inner engineer come out to design a new, stronger steering box mount and sent the plans off to a friend who runs a machine shop known for doing the impossible with great precision. With that part out for production I’m again at a bit of a stand still on the Jeep, but after wire brushing and cutting off the factory steering box mount it was pretty clear that this was the only route to go. Given the amount of material missing, you really have to wonder how it is that this truck passed a safety certification just before I bought it.

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In the mean time, I’m starting some work on the body tub – it needs some attention to the floor supports before moving on to where the truly custom work begins. Other than that, I’m thinking that this project needs a proper name but haven’t found one I like yet – any ideas?

Wanderlust

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

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Wanderlust. It should be recognized as a disease whose treatment is fully funded by worker’s compensation. And recently, I’ve had an awful bout with the disease. Too much time behind a desk wears at the soul and a three day weekend with no commitments was just what I needed for a little treatment.

I had no concrete plans for the weekend, but knew I wanted to go north and that I had a small list of places to check out; mountain bike trails that appeared on a map but I had never otherwise heard of, waterfalls and scenic lookouts that sounded interesting but were just too far off the beaten path to work into most trips, and stretches of highway that I hadn’t yet seen. So armed with my small checklist and some gas money, I loaded up the truck with a little biking gear, some hiking boots and some minimal camping equipment and hit the road. I would keep SPOT on the dashboard or clipped to my waist for the weekend and left a note on crackbook inviting people to follow along and steer me in new directions if they had suggestions along my path.

As with most of my trips – something came up in the morning as I was trying to leave that pushed my whole day back. My landlord asked if my camera and I might be able to hang back a little to document his first harvest of honey. Getting a little fresh honey for myself just sealed the deal, but soon I was off and following the page of a friend who had seen the expedition call on crackbook whom I hadn’t visited nearly often enough recently. A fact that was beaten in to my brain when I pulled up to her “new” house only to find she had moved back down the street to the old one without my realizing. Make time for your friends boys and girls.

I had hoped to steal her away for a quick spin on the bikes since the first mystery trail on my checklist was only a few minutes drive from there but it seems not everyone can get random Friday’s off work. So after a short visit I was twisting the jeep through some poorly marked backroads towards the promising sounding Dead Horse Trail – a long stretch of trail winding right along the edge of Algonquin Park that with a detour onto the nearby Twentyseven Lake Loop Trail and Ridge Road Cycling Trail could be turned into a twenty or so mile loop. With the late start I opted to drive in as far as I could then cycle from that point.

Best laid plans however have their own path and it seems the time and money I had invested into improving the off road abilities of my Jeep turned it into more than enough vehicle to drive the entirety of Dead Horse Trail. My cycling plans had been thwarted for the afternoon but I still enjoyed winding over and around some great terrain and paid visit to a couple bears along the way. It’s amazing how something like a bear sighting on the road can be such a great occurrence miles from town on a sunny day but be such an annoyance when you’re rushing to work in the morning. Almost surprisingly given the terrain I was driving through though, there were no moose sightings today.

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With a quick top up of the tank in South River it was off along some long forgotten roads built around the turn of the century as the Nipissing Road first brought settlers into Ontario’s North. Years of research had shown me much of the history of the Nipissing Road, culminating in a cycling trip with my friend Mat down the historic ‘Road of Broken Dreams’ a few years prior. At one point on that trip we discovered that our Bob trailers loaded with camping gear would float as we waded knee deep through a wetland that had consumed the road decades prior, but today I was discovering some of the roads those pioneers had built around that problem spot and unwrapped another little piece of the history for myself. This trip stayed mostly dry though with just a few stretches of mud as the trees narrowed in around the little used wagon paths.

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By that evening I had made my way over to Killarney and probably the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. Something about being cooked by the fishery likely makes the difference. After an evening camped out in the truck I got an early start and headed up a trail in the provincial park under flashlight. Winding through some low lying swamps and spruce stands before starting up the slopes of the quartzite LaCloche mountains. I’ve always found the white mountains fascinating but was a little surprised by the hike straight up their face. I’m used to park trails claiming to be tough but actually being incredibly sanitized paths ready to race golf carts through. Instead I was racing the mosquitoes while scrambling over and around the rocks – it was a great early morning workout. I reached the top not too long after sunrise – the light was great and the elevation gave a good perspective of the park and town.

From there I made my way around to Manitoulin Island to check out the Cup & Saucer Trail. I’d heard good things about the trail and it offers a view from the highest point on the island. It was supposed to be a moderately challenging trail as well, but given the number of ill prepared tourists coming out of the trail in flip flops I thought I’d be safe with just a bottle of water and go. It was a fun, if short, trail but the lookout was definitely worth the trip up.

In fact the whole ridge running across Manitoulin between M’Chigneeg and Sheguiandah made for beautiful terrain as I drove through the farms towards the Eastern shore. I made that trip after a quick stop at Bridal Veil Falls in Kagawong and getting crowded out by the tourists. Another trip to the falls later in the season while it was quieter showed the magic of walking behind the falls and it’s a trip I recommend, but the crowds can be insane and it’s probably best timed for a weekday if possible.

For this trip though it was on to the Eastern Shore of the island and, since there were no spaces left on the ferry, back up across the converted rail bridge and back through the mountains. In the past few years I’d been discovering the La Cloche mountains through Killarney Park but I have to say the views of the mountains along the highway north of the island are incredible right from the car. It has definitely made it amongst my list of the best roads to travel. I want to come back some day soon and try to follow the old rail line weaving around the ponds and bays by bike.

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On getting back up to the ‘17’ the truck was pointed further West to see The Chutes in Massey. The Chutes is a kind of cool park where you can take in a series of waterfalls, walk right into some of the upper falls, and swim off the sedimentary sandbar at the base of the final falls. It’s not a outdoors persons park though, the trail around the falls is short and very sanitized, but still worth taking a look on should you ever find yourself slipping by and needing to stretch your legs.

A more interesting trip in this area though is one I chased down some narrow and forgotten roads into Fort La Cloche and the La Cloche Provincial Park. It’s a long and narrow road that often makes you wonder if you should turn back, that is if you can even find the road through the native reserve after climbing a steep and rutted out trail – it’s definitely not a trail for an economy car to take even if I did see a minivan in there with it’s driver trying hard to rip the undercarriage off it. It’s a nice little park that very few I think have ever seen and it’s a road trippers dream – the journey is worth more than the destination.

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On my way back towards home I had one more adventure to take in – I went looking for a set of water falls that had been into a hydro project at the turn of the century but had long since been abandoned. Some online research had promised great exploration of the old industrial buildings and infrastructure. The problem is all the roads had seemingly changed since the printing of the maps, or maybe the online directions had the falls placed incorrectly. Regardless, after two hours of searching and more than a couple wrong turns and u-turn corrections I had found the driveway. A long and dusty road with little upkeep but a sign pointed the way and promised to find the ruins just a few kilometres up the road. As I came around the corner and saw the first building though there was still one problem. Between me and the falls was a twelve foot high chainlink fence plastered in ‘No Trespassing’ signs and signs pointing out Valé’s security cameras. So it was a minor failure but at least I did find the where to find what I was looking for and found a great new road into Sudbury on the way out.

Some time in the near future I want to do an epic cycling trip through some of the logging roads in this area and see what can be found. Hiccups like this fence are bound to come up along the way and become long detours by bike, but that’s all part of the adventure. The promise of all that land that is barely developed, winding through all the lakes and rivers, it’s just too tempting to ignore.

I went out looking for a cure for wanderlust, but as I’m travelling down the highway late at night on my way back home I have to realize that wanderlust can’t be cured – these trips just keep the symptoms under control. But maybe that’s not a bad thing.

A White Suffer-Fest

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

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Several years ago my friend Mat and I both made our way out of the race scene at the same time and found ourselves enjoying just riding again. For both of us that meant covering big distance and new terrain so bike packing became a natural. We made a commitment to make an overnight trip once a month during season. Over the years though life gets in the way and this past season we only made a few trips together. Add to that though a shockingly mild autumn and a plan was hatched to do a late season trip into some unexplored country. All we needed was to wait for hunting season to release the back country again and we had a date set. Of course going on a cycling trip in late November in the snow belt is sketchy at best so we had back up plan, just no desire to use it.

Leading up to the trip the weather remained mild almost to the last when suddenly there was a snow squall in the works bringing 4-6″ of snow. Still very doable for fat bikes so with some last minute scrambles on my part to get some new rubber thanks to Algonquin Outfitters we were back on.

Saturday arrived and we were still without any consequential amount of snow, but some detours and errands still meant a late start. We were heading to explore some forgotten logging roads near the border of Algonquin Park around the Rain Lake access and just saw a few flakes as we parked the truck and got our gear organized. Late start or not we were off.

The trip started pretty easily with better trails than we had expected. And some steeper ascents. Central Ontario isn’t exactly known for big elevation and our entire trip would fall between 1400 and 1800′, but this pocket is amongst the highest elevations in the province and some of the steepest slopes. Add on some gentle snow as we ride and as strange as it seems at this low elevation we soon crossed the snow line. Suddenly we couldn’t see the next ridge over for the snow and the ground was white.

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We pressed on but the snow kept getting heavier.

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Around 3:30 we came to a creek crossing that had been permanently closed by the logging crews. It wouldn’t have been a terrible challenge to cross but given that we were having trouble seeing the trail through the snow and fogging glasses we opted to set camp. With sunset coming so soon we knew it was important to set camp before it got dark then ride a little more to explore further without hauling all our gear along.

By the time camp was set though my fingers were frozen and we were in four inches of snow. In the time it took to set out my bed roll my tent was covered in snow. It was just dinner and an early night to bed.

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I had never been winter camping before that night. I just hoped my sleeping bag rated to zero plus the fact that I sleep warm would be enough. Turns out it just was enough but I wouldn’t go out again with a light weight sleeping pad – the air holes in my pad meant a series of cold spots if I feel into them all night.

But a good night’s sleep wasn’t to be regardless. Every few hours I’d wake to something pressed to my face. My tent was collapsing under the weight of the intensifying storm. At one point I actually had to shovel some snow away from my tent so the fresh snow fall had somewhere to go. This didn’t seem promising.

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We woke in the morning to 10″ of snow at camp. My tent with all the snow and ice barely fit back into my saddle bag even without the other gear and my poles were frozen together. I have more to learn about winter camping.

More importantly though was that at this point we were 11km from the truck. We were suddenly happy for the short day the day before because 10″ of powder makes riding fat bikes up hill near impossible. By the time we got to the top of the hill at 1700′ the snow was up to my hubs – 14″ – and the bikes would stand in their own track even with all our gear hanging off them. Pushing bikes through this much snow for 11km was going to take most of the day.

After an hour and a half we got back out to a logging road off the skidder trail we had been following. At least now we could put our foot down through the snow without wondering where it would actually land. It also meant we would make a little better time and that silenced the coyote barks I kept hearing behind us.

Another hour of slogging through the snow put us into a small valley and below our snow line from the previous day – suddenly there was only about six inches of snow. In no time we were able to cover a few kilometers by actually riding our bikes. The trip didn’t seem all that bad anymore.

After one more push back through more deep snow up over the tallest, steepest ridge of the trip we had what should have been a fast downhill back out to the main road. It should have been smooth sailing from here but even still the snow was too deep to ride. I cruised along for 300m without any issue then without warning found myself on the ground. This trip just wasn’t going to let go so easily. That’s probably why even when we got to the truck it was stuck in the snow bank.

It was one of the toughest trips we’ve ever done and I had no intentions of doing another winter bike packing trip. After making it home and getting a warm shower though pushing a bike through knee deep snow sounded a little more appealing. At least it left a good story.

Who’s coming on the next one?

What’s Happening?

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

If you’re a regular here you’ve no doubt noticed there’s not much happening to the website lately. That’s all tied in to a question I’ve been getting a lot lately – what are you up to these days?

Well the answer is that I’ve stopped taking on new work for now to focus on another opportunity that crossed my path. I will be accepting some interesting and fun projects should they pop up (so if you need some help, drop me a line and pitch your project) as well as wrapping up a book project and continuing the annual calendar.

I’ve also got a couple software projects that I hope to be releasing some time in the near future. I’m hoping to fill a hole in the current offerings for mid size member organizations as well as a project for tracking storage for commercial clients.

Stay tuned

Comparing Dirt Drops

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

So I’ve been working on rebuilding my bike in anticipation of doing the Tour Divide next year and loved my Soma Junebug bars. Unfortunately, I put them on my landlord’s road bike to make it more comfortable for him leaving me without my choice bars. And on trying to order up a new set, I find there is no longer a Canadian distributor.

So thinking about my options of course I think to the Salsa Woodchipper bars, which I’m sure I can find here, but not sure they’ll be as comfortable. So I got looking for some photos online comparing the shapes of the two and had no luck. So why not create something?

I don’t attest this to be accurate, as I didn’t have the bars myself or technical drawings to work from, but I did find front and top views of the bars and redrew them for an overlay. Of course I can’t attest to how accurate each photographer was in taking my source photos for this, but it does give some general indications and maybe that will make things a little easier for anyone else trying to decide.

If you happen to have good quality photos of any of these bars or, even better, access to technical drawings, I would love to hear from you to update this graphic. In the mean time, I hope it helps someone.

EDIT: Turns out someone was visiting this on a tablet and the embed didn’t work correctly – if you can’t see the side and top views, go here.