Zigzagging to a weekend adventure in Ontario’s iconic provincial park
Story and photos by Richard Seck
Wherever I go on a motorbike, chaos seems to follow close behind. In recent years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Pakistan, and my last motorcycle trip, prior to being asked to leave the country, was to Southern Punjab’s “vacation capital,” Fort Munro. This all ended badly when I was purged out of town by the authorities and forced to ride some nasty mountain roads in the dead of night, “for my safety.”
At that time, I badly frightened my fiancée, Fatima, who was back home, waiting for my evening call to inform her that all was well.
Add to this the stories from my earlier single days of ancient, heavy dual-sport bikes, or large BMW sport bikes getting out of shape and then crash landing on me, thus breaking all manner of bones, puncturing lungs, etc. Well, frankly, this is not the stuff that endears one’s significant other to the sport of motorcycling.
Have Fun and Not Die
Back in my native Canada, however, I was determined to convince my now wife that we could have a lot of fun on a motorbike and not die, or be crushed.
Ultimately, what really helped in the process of getting Fatima on two wheels was something unplanned, and that was that my extremely-long-in-tooth VW Jetta had gasped its last breaths under our tenure, after successfully moving us from Winnipeg to Toronto in late 2012 (as in, we just made it). We had no transportation other than the bus, which can be a tad limiting.
Another deciding factor was that Fatima likes clothes and was attracted to all the cool gear that is part of the motorcycle experience. I knew I had to make the ride as comfortable as possible for her, but I felt we could be just fine on something with a modest capacity, especially since we’d be doing a lot of commuting around town. Actually, I was convinced that anything over 250 cc would be overkill for our Canadian travels. After all, Pakistani families of six pile onto 70 cc motorbikes and off they go, babies dangling in the wind!
Our Suzuki TU250X arrived in the spring of 2013 and it seemed to fit the bill just fine. In terms of comfort, the addition of the rack and our top box with a backrest was a definite asset for Fatima.
By the time the leaves were starting to change colours, Fatima was totally comfortable on the TU and we were ready to try something more adventurous.
Honeymoon on Two Wheels
We only had four days available at the end of September and I wanted to do something special with it, as we really hadn’t had a proper honeymoon. And what better way to honeymoon in this part of the world than to spend it in the ultimate Canadiana that is Algonquin Park?
To make the trip properly “honeymoonish,” however, we’d need some deluxe accommodations, and the Killarney Lodge, right in Algonquin Park, seemed ideal.
So, at 9:30 on a gloriously sunny – although a tad cold – autumn morning, we launched from Toronto, northward toward one of Canada’s most storied parks.
Years ago I had discovered that the best way to travel by motorcycle is to simply know the general direction you want to go and just meander based on which roads give you the best vibe along the way. This, of course, is not the quickest way to travel, but it’s the most fun and you discover all sorts of new things along the way. Such was the case on this fine day, as the rolling countryside that unfolded in front of us proved to be quite lovely.
On our shorter trips, Fatima and I had developed a formula to keep the journey enjoyable: We’d make frequent stops to take in the scenery, do some exploring, grab a snack, or simply fuel the bike and stretch a bit.
It’s a completely different approach than the balls out, overly ambitious tours of my younger days, which usually ended up with some sort of carnage. In those days, I’d be travelling with equally crazed bike nuts on unfeasibly fast motorcycles. This new approach to touring would be chilled, easy and very much carnage-free.
Our meandering took us through Port Perry and eventually onto Hwy 35 – a lovely and beautifully maintained road that just gets squigglier as you progress northward. Much of this road is carved out of the Canadian Shield, and the resulting massive Precambrian rock faces are truly impressive. This combo, blended with splashes of early fall colouring, created an afternoon of wow moments, and we realized again what a pleasure it is to get away from the city.
Our relaxed pace, however, meant that by the time we arrived at the west gate of Algonquin Park, the sun was getting low on the horizon and the temperature was dropping quickly. Upon finally reaching our accommodations for the next three days, we were in serious need of a thaw.
Thankfully, our character-rich red and black log cabin at the Killarney Lodge offered a soothing, hot shower, and soon we were functional enough to wander to the main lodge for dinner.
Actually, the term “lodge” is a bit deceptive here because it may conjure up images of Red Green’s Possum Lodge. The only thing comparable is that both are imbued with elements within the spectrum that is Canadiana. The Killarney Lodge would be on the more gentrified end of that spectrum – as in, not a strip of duct tape to be found.
We settled into a cozy section of the dining room and proceeded to enjoy all manner of gastronomical delights that use as many locally produced ingredients as possible. Yes, we were feeling spoiled, and rightly so. It was our honeymoon, after all!
Old Habits Die Hard
Despite the fact that we hadn’t had a break in our work schedules prior to leaving Toronto, and the previous day had been a long one, like a manic kid on Christmas morning, I was up the next day at first light, wandering around the peninsula trying to capture the beauty of a morning fog that hung over our valley.
As soon as the sun started to burn off the fog, I was back at our cottage, hot tea in hand, gently trying to shake Fatima to life. This proved to be a bit challenging, as she was obviously enjoying the ultra-comfortable bed in our cabin.
Truth be told, even though I was born in Canada and have lived off and on in Toronto for almost two decades, I’ve never really explored Algonquin Park, and I’d developed a sizable list of things we needed to see and do.
Trying to squeeze everything in eventually ended badly that afternoon on a washboard-rippled gravel road, which the TU and our spines were struggling with, one ripple at a time. We didn’t crash: the bike simply flopped over with Fatima on it while we were stopped to take a pic and recover from the pounding delivered by the road. This set off a major argument about how this was supposed to be our honeymoon and I was treating it like boot camp.
Needless to say, our schedule took a decidedly more relaxed pace following this episode. But it didn’t last; after experiencing the spectacular view from Lookout Point later that evening, Fatima decided that maybe we should indeed max out what we could do.
And max it out we did, including multiple trail hikes, a visit to the Algonquin Art Centre and Fatima’s first experience with the ultimate Canadiana: canoeing in Algonquin Park. The canoe ride resulted in an entertaining loop around the peninsula on which Killarney Lodge is located.
It was magic on a perfectly still lake with the evening sun keeping us warm, and loon calls providing the appropriate accompaniment. It all ended too quickly, as we were keeping our next day’s early morning start in mind. I steered the canoe up to the big rock in front of our cabin, and Fatima discovered the tricky part of canoeing –
With her right foot on the rock, she tried to push off the canoe with her left and, seemingly in slow motion, her legs spread apart almost to a complete split, the right side of the canoe tilting almost to the waterline. When she could finally stretch no more, she…