Unspoiled delights

I’ve never understood Ontario’s inability to promote tourism in the far north. The government in the south takes billions of dollars from the north by means of the forests, mines and water (in the form of hydro electricity). All the government basically has to provide in return is a paved highway, and this in the form of the TransCanada highway, which they must provide in order that goods travel across the country.

For decades, the unspoiled nature of the province, from the Manitoba border to Sault Ste. Marie, has sat around just waiting to be noticed. Unfortunately, no one has had the foresight to promote the area as the largest unspoiled and accessible-by-road nature preserve in the world.

Are you driving through the area? Where are the washrooms and toilets? Why, just pull off the road anywhere you like, but preferably at a snowplow turnout, and deposit your trash and urine in the pit bordering the turnout.

Are you looking for a scenic spot to have lunch? Well then, why not look for a small brown sign with an arrow and hope for the best? If you’re fortunate, and you don’t speed on by because the signage is small and indeterminate, you’ll miss it all.

Might there be tables? A toilet? A scenic view? You’ll never know until you pull in and have a look for yourself. But then, you’ve sped on by, and, too late now, you drive on to your destination, having missed out on spectacular views, lakes, streams, rapids and picnic tables.

And only the occasional outdoor toilet.

Roadside assistance for the distressed

I’m still on the north shore of Lake Superior.

It was cloudy and cool this morning.

Having only 140 miles to go, I took my time and got on the road by 0900. Unfortunately, I had to stop to put on the rain pants since the highway was wet. There was only the occasional drop of water on the windshield, so it must have rained much earlier.

At about the 20 minute mark I was flagged down by a kid out of Manitoba on an ’84 Yamaha two-banger. He was heading south also, but his engine died. Without tools, he couldn’t do much. I loaned him some of mine (the ones he could use, since I don’t carry metric) and he drained his two fuel bowls.

Clear and bright.

The plugs were good. The plug leads were a tad sketchy (thanks for that word, Kayla) and broke off in my hand.

That’s normal, sez the kid.

Well, okay, I guess. It’s his bike.

He’s done all the work on it to date. He’s got a nice hand-made spiderweb lower fairing. It’s not actually a fairing, but if it were covered, it would be.

Eventually, he manages to get to the fuel filter. It has fuel in it, so he thinks it’s okay.

Not necessarily, I tell him. Why not pull it, drain some into that empty Tim Horton’s cup and see what it looks like?

I’ll do that, sez the kid.

Hmm. Grass. How did green lawn grass get into the fuel filter, I ask?

Dunno, sez the kid.

The fuel line gets reconnected, the kid engages the starter, and away we go.

Problem solved.

During this series of events, an interested OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officer drives by a couple of times, passing in both directions and obviously on his highway patrol, giving us the eye. Finally, he can stand it no longer and pulls in behind us to see what the hell is going on.

He turned out to be a pretty nice guy, actually, giving helpful advice and offering clean gas to the kid.

I don’t know if the kid accepted or not, because once the motorcycle turned over, I collected my tools and got back on the road.

It poured for the remainder of my 100 mile ride.

My thanks to Aerostich and their Darien rain gear. It’s kept my ass dry for decades now.

*     *     *

Not too many riders stop for a motorcycle by the side of the road any more. There are too many RUBs out there who think a cell phone and a trailer can solve all the problems one might encounter.

Even if one of those guys were to stop, his assistance would be limited to going for gas, or to make a phone call. Mechanical help wouldn’t be an option, I’m certain. Tools? Why carry tools? I have a five-year warranty.

Unfortunately, in the boondocks (believe me, the north shore of Lake Superior is the boondock nation), a rider stopping to offer help and support is a welcome relief. The look of gratitude on the kid’s face when I pulled over was all that I needed to see, even without his immediately knowing whether I could help or not.

Fortunately, this time, I could.

Bear country

For the past two days I’ve been riding through lake country – mile after mile of evergreen and coniferous forests, uninterrupted but for lakes and rivers and streams and the occasional road or railway track.

Yesterday I saw a huge black bear with one of the shiniest coats I have ever seen. He was by the side of the road, feasting on a moose that had been hit by a vehicle – probably a semi, since there were no car parts in the vicinity. Ordinarily, I would have stopped for a picture from a distance, but I was fearful of a mother with cubs nearby and didn’t want to take a chance on coming between the two. Had I been in an auto, I would have stopped and remained inside while I took the pictures.

I also managed to stop at the Burger Scoop for another great burger and ice-cold milkshake. Now why can’t other burger joints be this good? When I pulled in to the Burger Scoop, two bikes were approaching the parking lot. I gave them a sign indicating that the food was great here, but they pointed to the sub shop across the highway and went in there. They had absolutely no idea what they were missing.

North shore bonanza

This scares me. I may have nightmares tonight.

This scares me. I may have nightmares tonight.

The north shore is still amazing.

Why that vast expanse is not publicized as the largest pristine wilderness area in the world with unlimited public access is beyond me. The tourist operators are missing the boat on that one – but that’s typical of Canadian small business. They’re too busy concentrating on the obvious – a goddamned cement goose, for crying out loud – to see the benefits of an enhanced effort to draw people to a huge expanse of wilderness virtually untouched by anyone.

Keep ’em coming down the highway and let ’em stop at the gawk and go. Sell ’em a t-shirt that says ‘I was here’ and then shove them out the door to make room for the next. Perhaps they’ll use the washroom that reeks of urine and buy a donut while they’re here.

Yeah. That’s the ticket.

Lake Superior’s North Shore

Forestry and mining dominate this part of the world. All of the towns are one-industry, or, if fortunate, two-industry, with mining being the second of two evils. Forestry prevails from here west to the border with Manitoba but there are scattered production mines for gold or other metals.

Easy Blue

Easy Blue

The road isn’t the greatest, although it is well maintained. It’s all two-lane blacktop at best, with the occasional passing lane to break the monotony. Straight stretches are at a premium, and during summer the ‘Bagos, boat trailers and semis are tough to get past.

Deer and moose prevail. Hitting a 1,200 pound moose is no picnic, and although the deer are much smaller, at speed they too will make quite a mess out of a car.

Fuel isn’t a problem along this route. There’s plenty of every kind you might want to buy, although you may have to spend some time looking for a particular octane in town.

North of Wawa the road heads inland for 116 miles and then Marathon comes into view on a peninsula into Lake Superior. There are three gold mines east of Marathon, but you won’t be stopping for a tour to see the sights. You’ll never get in.

Since the road now follows the shore, fog and rain are a problem any time the wind is out of the south or southwest, and then it becomes just another road to get past. When the sun is out, as it was today, it’s a beautiful ride along some of the most scenic roadway in North America.

There are plenty of small communities along this part of the Trans-Canada Highway. Any time you want a scenic overlook, just pull off the road into one of them and you’ll be delighted by the view. Depending on the size, you might even be able to get a coffee or a meal – but don’t count on it.

Sleeping Giant

The Sleeping Giant

By the time Thunder Bay came into view it was late afternoon and time for a break.

I lived here for ten years when I was flying for a living. It’s a jewel in the middle of nowhere, a lunch-bucket town with grain elevators and paper mills located at the head of the lakes. In former times it was a huge shipping center for both lakeboats and salties to traverse the Great Lakes through the lock system at Sault Ste. Marie and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Stone Chapel, circa 1885

I made a quick stop at the Terry Fox monument for a view across the bay to see the Sleeping Giant in all its glory. In twenty minutes I’ll be chowing down at a tiny little Chinese restaurant in the west end of Ft. William on Aurhur Street, not far from where I used to live.