Many surprising things can happen on a trip from Ontario to New Brunswick.
I’d just returned from a great ride in Nova Scotia when I sat down to check my Facebook account. The first thing I saw was a post made by my old buddy Lloyd that asked if anyone would like to join him on a ride to Moncton, N.B., to watch his grandson Ryder race at Riverglade MX Park. Always eager for an adventure and recently retired, I said yes – of course. After all, the bike was washed and ready, so why not?
The only hitch to all of this was Lloyd’s bike. It was a recent barn find. He’d had his eye on a 1982 Gold Wing covered in pigeon droppings and straw and sitting in the haymow in a barn in Gooderham, Ont. The asking price was $1,800. However, the licence plate sticker was 14 years old so, with a bit of dickering, the bike was Lloyd’s for the princely sum of $500. Ambitious Lloyd used his elbow grease and a few miscellaneous parts, and soon after we were off to the Maritimes with Lloyd proudly astride his reincarnated antique.
A trip of any distance requires carrying various necessities of comfort, and with no saddlebags that can be a challenge. Lloyd’s bike looked like it was being held together with bungie cords as he lashed down all his belongings for the trip. The first and only casualty of the trip didn’t take long to happen. Somewhere along Ontario’s Highway 401 lies a battery side cover for a 1982 Honda Gold Wing.
After travelling on the 401 to Ivy Lea, we crossed into New York State at the Thousand Islands Bridge, just east of Gananoque, Ont. We’d had enough of superslabs and exited Interstate 81 to get us onto some back roads on our way to Adirondack Park in upstate New York.
Danger in a Small Package
We rolled into Fine, N.Y., but I soon realized it’s not so fine. The speed limit is 55 mph, so I set my cruise control at 60 mph. As I rounded a slight curve, I saw two fawns about 20 metres ahead, one standing back by the fence and the other almost on the shoulder of the road. I grabbed for my brakes just as the lead fawn bolted. I can still hear the sound of crunching bones when I think about it. The poor little guy collided with my front wheel, pushing the bike leftward. As I bounced over him, I touched down with my front wheel and reflexively hit the road hard with my right foot to regain my balance. The bike gyrated a bit, corrected itself and I eased onto the shoulder and stopped. Lloyd, from his ringside seat, said, “I’m sure we won’t forget that for a long time.”
As I went to work cleaning the bike and myself off, Lloyd gently pulled the carcass to the shoulder; dinner was served for Nature’s scavengers. A quick survey of damage and I discovered only three small dents in my right header pipe, but about 15 cm of hairy DNA was stuck between my front rim and tire and would remain there until I changed tires. The fur serves as a reminder whenever I clean my bike to always be cautious. I mumbled a short, quiet prayer as we cautiously rode on to Tupper Lake, where I used a convenient car wash to clean off the bike and me.
From Tupper Lake, we followed Hwy 3 over to Saranac Lake and on to Lake Placid, where we stopped to pay homage at John Brown’s farm, located behind the Olympics’ ski jumps. Brown was an avid abolitionist who, after the battle at Harpers Ferry, was captured by Robert E. Lee’s troops. On the way to the gallows, Brown sat atop his coffin in a horse-drawn wagon. John Wilkes Booth witnessed the hanging, ironic as that may seem.
From Lake Placid we parallelled the Upper and Lower Cascade Lakes, then watched the roadside where Cascade Brook plunges downward into Keene. We continued alongside Lake Champlain to Crown Point and then over the Lake Champlain Bridge, which took us into Vermont, followed by a relaxing afternoon cruise up Hwy 17 to Addison and historic Vergennes.
Here, at the base of the falls, the U.S. Navy was built on Lake Champlain. With ships’ timbers still fresh and oozing pitch, the Americans completely surprised and defeated the British at the Battle of Plattsburg.
In the late afternoon, we arrived at Colchester, just north of Burlington, which placed us in a good spot for the beginning of tomorrow’s adventure on Vermont’s Hwy 15.
Lloyd takes some time to look over his vintage barn find from front to back, and everything is good – so far. Lloyd informed me that in order to get the bike roadworthy he had to free up all the brake calipers; when he went to pick up the bike, a front caliper was seized. He cleaned the carbs, had the fuel tank coated, changed the spark plugs, oil and filter, and the battery to make the bike mechanically sound and ready to ride.
I always like to ride a few miles before breakfast, so we loaded up to try to find a nice little Dutch pancake house I know of in Stowe. Following the gently winding road through the Appalachians, every corner opened another curtain to display a kaleidoscope of verdant meadows, lush farmlands and green mountains. Taking a right at Jeffersonville led us up the winding Hwy 108 through Smugglers’ Notch, then the road plummets downward, and we had to carefully ride around boulders the size of a school bus and into the valley where Stowe lies. Unable to find the pancake house, we rambled on through town and headed north to Morristown before stopping.
It’s summer and lots of construction interrupts our fun, but c’est la vie. At scenic Danville, home of New England’s largest corn maze, we said goodbye to Hwy 12. Danville’s maze covers 24 acres and stops admitting people two hours before closing to ensure everyone gets out. New Hampshire beckoned us, and N.H. Hwy 2 ushered us through the White Mountain National Forest and into Maine – but not before a heart-breaking stop along the way.
Just past the cut-off for Randolph, Vt., we crested a gentle rise,and American flags, pictures and mementos lined the shoulder for 100 metres or more.
On Friday, June 21, 2019, several motorcyclists belonging to the Jarheads, a USMC motorcycle club, left their motel, which is just over the hill. They were on their way to a charity event in Gorham, Me., when an approaching truck crossed into their lane and seven lives were instantly snuffed out.
Bikes were parked helter-skelter on the shoulder of the road as we approached. It’s a sobering sight, and we took a few minutes to pay our respects. We are involved in a dangerous pastime, but whether or not we are motorcyclists, every one of us is but a single heartbeat from exiting the gene pool. However, upon reflection and as most motorcyclists would say, the benefits outweigh the possible negatives, so we rode on and tried to enjoy our ride and shake off our sombre thoughts
With the town of Dover-Foxcroft, Me., just up the road, the gravelled Garland Road led us to our economical Airbnb, a lovely old farm. During the evening, a couple of local boys engaged us in conversation about world events – and their Second Amendment rights. After saying goodnight, a shaky two-by-four stair railing in the garage guided us up creaky old stairs to our Spartan accommodations that were on a sagging chipboard floor. It’s US$40 for the night for two, including breakfast, so two cheap old bikers can’t complain. Nights are cold here in Maine; where we are is several kilometres north of where we live in Ontario. And it’s so quiet I can hear my heart beating.
The morning dawned, and the temperature was just a few degrees above where you see your breath. We gingerly climbed down the stairs and wiped the morning dew from our bikes, then found the kitchen. Our absentee hostess had told us to help ourselves and that everything in the fridge is fair game for our breakfast. We cooked up a great feast that more than filled the void and we hit the road again.
Happy bellies, fresh morning air, the sun on the rise and Lloyd’s barn-find Wing is, unbelievably, still purring like a kitten. What could be better? We crunched along the gravel road back to Maine’s Hwy 6 which led us to Vanceboro, Me., then Canada. It’s a two-hour ride and, in some sections, the logging trucks and winter frost damage had us weaving back and forth to avoid spine-jarring bumps and potholes – no problem, as we are from Canada and used to weather-ravaged roads. I was riding a BMW R1200GS, which is designed to absorb the bumps somewhat, but I couldn’t help wondering how Lloyd’s Wing was doing. Probably bottoming out at every bump. Occasionally, he lagged behind and I would slow down so he could catch up, but he was still hanging in there. Northern Maine’s raw beauty kept us gawking to the left and right, watching for wildlife as much as taking in the scenery. One deer strike per trip is enough for me.
We meandered around rocky outcrops to a gently curving bridge over the St. Croix River, which leads to Canada. At the first town, McAdam, N.B., a huge stone train station, a monumental entrance to the village, arrested my reverie. Construction on the station began in 1900 and it became an important stop back in the heyday of railway transportation. The building resembles a Scottish castle more than a train station, as it is constructed of local granite. A 20-room hotel on the second level and a canteen and restaurant on the main level served well-heeled guests en route to the ever-popular vacation spot in St. Andrews By-the-Sea, also known by Qonasqamkuk, its Peskotomuhkati First Nation name. From McAdam, Hwy 640 led us to Fredericton, followed by two hours of superslab to Moncton.
Once a Racer, Always a Racer
Morning arrived and it was a scorching hot day at Riverglade MX Park. After we found a spot in the grandstands, I told Lloyd that I was going to see if I could get us some better seats. With a bit of luck, I located the track owner at the Start/Finish line during the practice session and introduced myself. I retired from riding motocross 45 years ago, so I was not expecting his comment: “I remember you. I used to watch you race.” Nice that someone remembers that far back, but I was much more thankful that he arranged for us to watch the day’s activities from the shade of the VIP hospitality tower.
Watching the bikes fly by six metres above the ground, I was transported to my memories of racing. Motocross bikes in the ’70s had about 10 cm of suspension, and we’d have been hospitalized if we tried jumping as high as riders do today. I’m always surprised at how dramatically motocross has changed since those days.
Ryder doesn’t do great, but that’s okay: motocross isn’t really his area of expertise. He’s an enduro and cross-country rider, and to date he has won the Off-Road Ontario Pro Class in cross-country competition and first overall in the World Ontario East Class.
Scenic New Brunswick
When the racing was finished and Sunday arrived, we wondered what to do with our day off? Go for a ride, of course!
Lloyd gave his bike a once over before we headed out. That was when he told me that while he’d ordered tires, he didn’t get around the changing the rear tire – meaning he was running on, at minimum, 14-year-old rubber. Regardless, the old Wing was running as smooth as the day it was new and was a testament to the reliability of a Honda. However, an old phrase came to mind: “Here but for the grace of God go I.” I sure hoped Lloyd’s luck would continue.
After riding for few kilometres south on the Trans Canada Highway (TCH), we arrived in beautiful Sussex Corner, N.B. From here, Hwy 111 rocks and rambles through backcountry New Brunswick. I spotted another deer and slowed down, but he saw me and fled, thank goodness. We couldn’t leave St. Martins Sea Caves without enjoying the delectable and world-famous fish chowder. Once our bellies were warm and full, we followed the scenic Fundy Parkway high above the Bay of Fundy. Eventually this scenic byway will be connected with the coastal road at Fundy National Park, but on our ride, the road ended after 22 kilometres.
Backtracking to the TCH, we found Hwy 114, which led us into Fundy National Park. The brilliant ochre-red muck, visible with the receding tide, is unique to Eastern Canada and is visible for miles along the Petitcodiac River, which is often referred to as the Chocolate River. In Moncton, we enjoyed our final meal of fresh fish at Skipper Jack’s Maritime Restaurant. The trip was a great one and the barn find, and its old tire, performed admirably. Three more days of two-lane roads through Canada, and we would be home.
Lloyd is one tough guy – at age 76, he is still riding enduro bikes and does a lot of work each year laying out the route for the Corduroy Enduro, Canada’s toughest ride. However, by the end of this trip, that Gold Wing kept right up with him.