A weekend escape from flock and family leads to two-wheeled enlightenment in a sacred place
Story and Photos by Will Ingram
If author T.S. Eliot was correct in observing that “April is the cruelest month,” then it might be equally true that September is the most beautiful month – at least for riding in Ontario that is. The air has begun to cool, the days are bright, the roads are free of salt, and the leaves are beginning to hint at the changing colours of autumn.
As a member of the clergy in a busy downtown Toronto church (and a single father of three amazing kids), the chance to get away for a weekend is a rare opportunity. However, when I realized that there was a weekend in late September when I had no vocational or family responsibilities, I decided to plan to get out of the city for a long ride. Those who do not work on weekends sometimes take such opportunities for granted, but where to go?
One of the great blessings of southern Ontario is the number of fascinating destinations that can be easily accessed by motorcycle. A ride through Prince Edward County, or down to Niagara Falls, or up into the Caledon Hills, or even into the Finger Lake district of upstate New York – all are wonderful possibilities.
However, an elderly friend had been to Manitoulin Island in the summer and mentioned how beautiful it was. Though she was not a motorcyclist, she knew that I had recently learned to ride and suggested that it would be a good place to go.
Full disclosure – I am a newcomer to the world of motorcycles. I took a training course just over a year ago, at 45 years old, and shortly after was offered the chance to buy a reliable (and inexpensive) 20-year-old Yamaha Virago 250, which has been a pleasure. On various journeys around Toronto and its general proximity, and a long ride to a work-related course at the University of Chicago last June, it has offered a smooth and comfortable ride, or at least I think that it has – without any other motorcycle experience to compare it to, I will assume that it’s smooth and comfortable until I learn otherwise.
HOME AND NATIVE LAND
Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater island in the world, and the traditional home of a number of different First Nations communities, including the M’Chigeeng, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Aundeck Omni Kaning, Wikwemikong and Zhiibaahaasing. Numerous cultural centres can be found throughout the island and are worth exploring. As Canadians – who are only starting to learn about the history and culture of our First Nations peoples – it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to learn about the history, heritage and ongoing influence of our national ancestors in their own words. We have a long way to go toward truth,
reconciliation and understanding, but taking the time to listen, and to learn, is a good step along the way.
The trip began on a Friday at noon under overcast skies as I headed up Highway 10 toward Owen Sound. A fine, misty rain fell as I was leaving the city, but by the time I was past Owen Sound and onto Hwy 6, the sun had broken through the clouds. The air was cool, but with a few layers of clothing on, I had no complaints. Although it would have been interesting to stop in some of the towns during the ride up the Bruce Peninsula, I was aware that the Chi-Cheemaun ferry out of Tobermory was leaving just after 6 p.m. and I didn’t have a reservation, so I wanted to be there in good time.
It was fascinating to ride the motorcycle onto the ferry. Motorcycles are the first on, and first off, and I was fortunate that some other riders – incredibly friendly and more experienced than I was – showed me how to tie the bike frame down in case the ferry encountered any swaying or rocking that might otherwise topple the bikes. One of them pointed out that having a side stand was actually an advantage over a centre stand (as he had), since the leaning weight of the motorcycle meant that the bike only had to be secured on one side for the ferry crossing.
In the fall season, the ferry runs twice a day, except on Friday nights, when there is an evening crossing – which turned out to be nothing less than spectacular. The gently moving waves, the rugged islands in the distance, the gorgeous sunset, the image of a little sailboat gliding over the waves – all were breathtaking views from the deck. Sailing is another one of the attractions of Manitoulin Island, and there are areas around the island, including the North Channel, that are reputed to be among the best freshwater sailing in the world – future adventures await!
By the time the ferry arrived in South Baymouth, the sun had set and I pulled into one of the first motels I found. A reservation might be wise in the busier season, but there did not seem to be any difficulty in finding a vacancy by mid- to late September.
Saturday arrived bright and early. I rode north on Hwy 6 toward Little Current, stopping along the way in Sheguiandah to take a short hiking tour on the Lewis Twin Peaks Trail. The trail, which is quite short and easy, offers lovely views out over Bass Lake and the North Channel, and was well worth the time.
After stopping for a coffee at a small shop in Little Current, I began riding west along Hwy 540, passing through villages such as Kagawong, Gore Bay and Evansville. The westernmost point on the island is a little hamlet called Meldrum Bay, and it seemed like a good destination. Along the way, a stop at beautiful Bridal Veil Falls was certainly a worthwhile break in the journey.
A few hours and a few stops – to look around, to breathe deeply, to think about life, and to learn – later, the Virago and I reached Meldrum Bay. I walked out along an impressive stone and gravel breakwater that juts out into the bay for a few more moments of reflection before getting back on the motorcycle in search of Mississagi Lighthouse. It was disappointing to discover – after a long ride on a gravel road – that access to the Mississagi Lighthouse was not possible, though it was not clear from the sign whether it was permanently closed or simply closed for the season.
And so the journey continued. By that point it was getting late in the afternoon and I’d decided that it was time to find a place to stay for the night. Riding east and then south, I first stopped in Providence Bay, and though beautiful, there was nowhere to…