Everyone has a backyard to play in, no matter where they live.
For those of us who like taking the roads less travelled, we dream about exotic adventures such as riding the Baja, exploring backcountry roads in British Columbia or that epic “Around the World” odyssey. I applaud those who have followed their ultimate adventure dreams. Realistically, most of us are limited by time constraints, family commitments and/or financial limitations, so even squeezing in an overnight ride once or twice a year is difficult.
Although I have been fortunate to experience a few longer riding treks in the past, they required at least a year of planning and budgeting in order to make them happen. Not to mention the graciousness of my obliging and co-operative spouse who, having ridden motorcycles in the past, understands my need for the occasional escape. The rest of the time, I settle for the adventure being a little closer to home … and that’s not a bad thing.
Which Direction to Head In?
I live in south-central Ontario, approximately 100 km north of Toronto. Although the community and surrounding area has been subjected to urban growth over the years, I’m fortunate to be close to some great adventure-type riding on beautiful rural roads. I’m easily able to experience a variety of pavement, gravel, double- and single-track routes during a one- to two-hour ride. With many areas to explore, it is just a matter of deciding which direction to go.
A 15-minute ride from my home brings me to the first stretch of gravel and dirt. I get up on the pegs and navigate past a few rutty sections while admiring the sunlight filtering through the deciduous forest canopy. I make my way slow and steady, choosing my line carefully and testing my skills. I’m surrounded by a mix of agricultural land and deciduous forest, with a tract of county forest to the north. The added bonus with riding in this area is that there are ample opportunities for single- and double-track riding in designated forested areas.
For a nominal registration fee with the Simcoe County Off-Road Riders Association and the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders, you can access numerous trails. I have ridden some of the trails on my Suzuki V-Strom and while I had fun, they are better suited for dual-sport bikes.
The Man. The Legend
Once you begin to travel further afield from the urban sprawl and vehicular traffic, off-road options become more abundant and, depending on the route, more difficult. Heading up a hill and up on the pegs again, I track a straight shot while encountering rutted mud sections that may prove to be quite challenging when conditions are wet. If you are lucky, you may encounter Clinton Smout passing through these parts. I had the pleasure to make his acquaintance in the past while riding this stretch as he was on his way home from S.M.A.R.T Adventures, his off-road rider-training centre. I highly recommend Clinton’s training programs, as I have had the pleasure of taking one of his courses in the past. The man truly is one with his bike, and just listening to him impart some of his vast knowledge along with a few of his riding stories makes taking a course worth every penny.
I proceed along a few kilometres of pavement, then find more gravel and slice my way through another lush forest environment in which I often stop to take in the surroundings, which never fail to impress. Over time, with more exploration and frequent recon rides, I begin to string together many circuits that mix pavement and gravel that provide a stimulating variety of riding experiences – such is the best description of adventure riding, in my opinion. With a keen eye, I look for posted signs that read “No Exit” or “No Maintenance Beyond This Point” or, my favorite, “No Maintenance Use At Own Risk”. How could any adventure rider resist these enticing invitations!
There are many paved concession roads in my area that offer wonderful twisty and hilly routes flanked by rolling pastureland and stands of deciduous forest. As I follow the many concession roads, regardless of whether they are paved or gravel, I note there is a definite grid pattern, which can be traced back to the survey practices of the mid-19th century settlers and makes for predictable road accessibility while exploring.
Springtime is Challenging
As I continue on one of the longer gravel stretches on my route, I experience multiple hilly sections that require my attention. Depending on the time of year, the conditions can be quite challenging, as the township doesn’t assume this particular segment during the winter months. Riding it in the spring can be messy and unpredictable due to soft rutting and steeper sections being prone to deep erosion from rain and meltwater. I appreciate these conditions because they force me to test my skills as a rider. I don’t consider myself an off-road, Dakar-busting master like Toby Price – to which my 52-year-old body can attest – but I do like the occasional riding challenge, as it makes me feel more engaged with my motorcycle and I am always looking for an opportunity to improve my skills.
While out on my local rides, other recreational options present themselves, as the surrounding area has many opportunities. There are numerous tracts of forest adjacent to the routes I travel – in particular, the Copeland forest: a 4,400-acre resource-management area with many options for hiking and mountain biking. There are numerous creeks and streams for the avid angler; on occasion, I have packed my collapsible fishing rod and dipped a line. There are also camping opportunities in a few provincial parks and conservation areas that provide local overnight riding opportunities. On a few occasions, I have packed camping gear and slept under the stars. Sometimes I do that to test new equipment, practise my packing and camping skills or just have some quiet time to myself.
The Fun of Getting Lost
The endless network of rural back roads and trails allows one to practically get lost. Losing your sense of direction on occasion confirms that you are doing things right. Depending on the time of year, you can be rewarded with wildlife sightings, narrow cart paths covered by thick tree canopy, beautiful warm days or a collage of stunning fall colours. I meander past meticulous farm homesteads and rolling fields.
Ontario is elevation-challenged when compared to some other provinces in the country. The elevation in my area is approximately 250 metres above sea level at its lowest point and the highest point is approximately 544 metres above sea level, which is on the Niagara Escarpment, approximately 40 km to the west. Although elevation changes are modest, there are enough to challenge the most seasoned off-road riders.
I have a grin on my face in anticipation of the next off-road part of my journey. Although this portion is short, it is challenging. Sand and dirt dominate the road surface, along with ample elevation changes. The sandy section requires all my technical ability and the occasional foot dab, regardless of whether conditions are wet or dry. This section does not get much vehicular activity and is left to the mercy of the elements. Ruts are common and sandy sections can be tricky. On some days, covering just a couple of kilometres takes a surprisingly long time –amazing how much fun going so slow can be.
An Important Piece of History
I emerge from the forest and arrive at another paved country road. I pass through the historical hamlet of Edgar, then turn southeast toward home. An old African Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1847, stands near a quiet rural road intersection along this route. Some of the African settlers were part of the Loyalist militia, who fought in the War of 1812. The area is considered one of the oldest African-Canadian settlements in what was then Upper Canada.
There is an unmarked cemetery adjacent to the church that contains some of the area’s settlers; it is an interesting stop for those passing by this way. There are many cultural and historical sites sprinkled throughout the area that add unique experiences to my rides. Not to mention the numerous artisan shops, craft breweries and amazing local restaurants located throughout the area – and I have visited many. I truly believe in supporting our local business owners and economy.
The final leg of my journey takes me along a paved, gently winding road that passes through small communities and by baseball diamonds and country stores. As I roll to the west, breathing in the summer evening air, I admire a perfect sunset in the distance, which caps off another local adventure trek. I finish the final few kilometres of my circuit, admiring monstrous homes of the financially fortunate and enjoying the signature V-twin tone of my faithful steed.
My travel distance on this day was approximately 90 km. Within this distance and time frame of 1.5 to 2 hours, I have experienced beautiful forests, nice fishing spots, county walking trails and a little bit of local history. Of course, I have barely scratched the surface of all the riding opportunities that are two- to three-hour circuits from my home.
For those of us who ride motorcycles, regardless of what type, there is a common thread that binds us, and that is the desire to explore and the appreciation of the bikes we ride. Many of us have great riding options close to home, regardless of whether we live in rural communities or the big city. You just have to get out there and find them.