Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip: Sioux Lookout to the Ottawa Valley

We’re back, somewhat rested and alive after our crazy two-week, 10,000 km cross-Canada motorcycle trip. We went from Sioux Lookout to southern Ontario, then out to Nanaimo and back. I suppose it’s not a true cross-Canada motorcycle trip as we didn’t go east of Ontario, but it sure felt like we covered a lot of road.

Leg One of Our Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip

Our trip started Wednesday, August 10, bright and early after a really late night spent packing and organizing. We got about 45 minutes down the road before I lodged a complaint against the rear suspension, as I was being bumped around all over the place. Matt attempted to fix it up only to find that the cigarette lighter power supply on the Goldwing was still not working, despite his best efforts to fix it the night before.

We drove another hour or so down Highway 17, our friend for the next two days, to Ignace, where we lost an hour of time pumping up various parts of the bike with air, eating, and fueling up again.

A point about our bike — it’s from 1981, so it’s not exactly one of the state-of-the-art Goldwings you see these days with the cup holders and heated everything. Our radio is pretty crackly and we don’t have communicators in our helmets (something we are definitely changing next time). This meant that I had to entertain myself through the whole trip. Throughout Northern Ontario, that meant Wendell Ferguson’s song Rocks and Trees played in my head, for obvious reasons:

Rocks & trees, trees & rocks
If you’ve driven 17 you’ve seen lots
Though I dearly love this land
I’ve stood all I can stand of
Rocks & trees, trees & rocks

I think if Wendell had written that song on the back of a motorcycle he may have changed his tune, however. I quickly realized that lots of things become noticeable when viewed without the confines of a car. Animals, wildflowers, idyllic wildlife scenes — everything seems prettier when you can really, really get a look at it in the open air.

It was relatively smooth sailing for most of the day — until we hit construction. Highway 17 into Thunder Bay is a cesspool of orange signs right now. We hit our first major snag just outside of Shabaqua.

Rocks & trees, trees & rocks
Motel signs, hydro lines and a flattened fox
Oh construction site machinery
Is a welcome change of scenery from
Rocks & trees, trees & rocks

Funny thing about being on a bike– everyone thinks you know something. I hopped off the back to stretch and the next thing we knew people were getting out of their cars all over the place. Matt got back on a few minutes later and fired it up again, and bam, everyone’s rushing back into their vehicles.

It was stop-and-go for awhile, but we managed to make it to Kakabeka Falls for a quick break. Unfortunately, this is where we realized that Matt really should have been wearing sunscreen the whole time as he was turning a rather gruesome shade of crimson.

Whoops. After a pit stop for gas and sunscreen, we continued into Thunder Bay, where we stopped to buy camping gear. We loaded up the bike even more in the parking lot of Canadian Tire until it resembled something out of the Beverly Hillbillies.

I believe I mentioned something to the effect that we didn’t actually need to buy any of this stuff yet because we were planning to stay in a hotel that night anyway. Famous last words.

We were in Nipigon for dinner, as Matt was starting to feel a bit loopy after driving so many hours without stopping. As soon as I actually sat down in the restaurant I realized I was starving, dizzy and tired. The food was… interesting. We each ordered two entirely different things but the waitress didn’t know which was which, and neither tasted like what it should have tasted like.

This is also where Matt pondered, “It’s like having a school bus in your yard is a prerequisite for living here.”

The sun set quickly as we made our way south. By the time we hit Schreiber, we had to stop and don extra jackets and sweaters. I, for one, was terrified to be riding in the dark. It was my first time on the bike past sundown and I knew we were in major moose territory. Though we had planned to get as far as Wawa that evening, we had to stop in Marathon thanks to a combination of exhaustion, soreness and cold.

That plan to stay in a hotel? Completely failed. Despite it being a random Wednesday, every single room in Marathon was booked. Our options were to ride another 45 minutes south, or try out our brand-new camping gear.

At the campground, we pulled up at a site next to two bikers who were making their way from Alaska. They told us we were insane for attempting our itinerary, then offered to hook us up with some chili dogs and beer at their comfy campfire that had clearly been blazing for quite awhile. These guys knew what they were doing. We didn’t.

Sadly for us, by the time we got the site paid for and our gear unpacked and set up, it was well past midnight and we knew we had to be up at 5 AM the next morning, so we couldn’t hang out with our neighbours. Somehow, the next morning, they managed to peel out of the site a solid half hour before us nonetheless.

What a miserable sleep. We set the tent up in a weird way in the dark so the slope was all wrong, and having bought the cheapest gear Canadian Tire sold, we suffered for it. Everything was covered in dew the next morning, and the sleeping bags didn’t do a wonderful job of keeping us warm.

Still, what a view! Breakfast was in White River, where we drank the worst coffee ever and a man with a very fancy new Goldwing gawked at our beast in the parking lot.

The drive along Lake Superior’s shores was absolutely breathtaking, but I didn’t manage to get any photos — it’s sort of hard to coordinate cameras while you’re on the back of the bike! Next time I will be bringing one with a wrist strap so I can have it at the ready. Regardless, I can honestly say that I saw Lake Superior in a whole new way on this trip, from all angles, with the road flying by under our feet.

Somewhere around Sault Ste. Marie we started thinking about a sheepskin. My dad, who made a very similar trip with my mom when his ’82 Goldwing was nearly new, told us we really needed to get one before we left as it apparently makes for a much cushier ride. There’s a huuuuuge sheepskin place maybe an hour and a half away from our house but… I simply forgot to get one before we left. Our biker friends at the campground told us the same thing — all the way from Alaska with sheepskins and their butts weren’t sore at all. We made it our mission to find one along the way, and if not, get one at the sheepskin place near us on the way back through.

Just before Blind River, I spotted a billboard advertising gifts and fabric. We stopped in town at the store, Vegas Fabrics, where the lovely owners told us that they didn’t sell sheepskins but they might know a place where we could buy one. What followed was a flurry of phone calls and Googling which led us to a little place outside Sudbury that said they had sheepskins and they would be open until 9 PM. I believe I need to buy a set of sheets from Vegas Fabrics now because they really saved our butts (literally).

In Espanola, we hit even more construction, followed by what appeared to be an accident, putting us behind by at least an hour. We made it into Wahnapitae, the town with the sheepskins, just before dark. After buying the skin, eating, and fixing a broken headlight, it was pitch black outside — bad news, as we were still over six hours away from our destination, and we had to get there on a deadline as I was to be a bridesmaid in my dear cousin Andrea’s wedding on the 13th.

It was a long, long haul into North Bay, but our new sheepskin (affectionately dubbed Sheepy) made it a bit less like torture. In North Bay, Matt asked me if we should fill up on gas. Now, he had told me the day before that our reserve tank would last us about an hour, so I did the mental math and said, “I think we’ll be okay to fill up in Deep River — if not, we can always pop into Pembroke.” Famous last words, again.

The hours slipped by as we both started succumbing to exhaustion. It was around 2 or 3 AM when we rolled into Deep River on reserve fuel, Matt so tired he could barely function. We headed into Tim Horton’s for coffee and to inquire if there were any open gas stations, as the only pay-at-the-pump we had seen had their pumps turned off. Unluckily for us, nothing is open at 2 AM in Deep River except for Tim Horton’s, so I texted my Dad and asked his thoughts on what would be a better idea — try to roll into Pembroke, or try to roll into Petawawa. This is when Matt informed me that the reserve fuel was actually less than he thought it was and he wasn’t sure if we’d make it to either town.

Dad opted to meet us along the highway with a jerry can of gas. In my addled state, I accidentally sent Matt the back way into Pembroke so we completely missed Dad, who, when he couldn’t find us, assumed we broke down and drove all the way to Petawawa. Luckily we made it to a gas station in time, and, after locating everyone, we met up with Dad on the side of the road about half an hour from his house, our destination. I declined his offer to ride in his vehicle, as I didn’t want to cop out on any of the trip (hah) and we shivered our way to the house, crawling into bed as the sun was rising at 4 AM — a 23 hour day.

If you count ‘wear sunscreen’ as our first common-sense lesson, then this was our second — as my dad put it, “Always assume the last open gas station you see is the LAST ONE.”

We only slept for about six hours before dragging ourselves out of bed. I had a bridesmaid dress to get steamed, as I had stuffed it into my backpack in a little tiny ball, and Matt needed wedding clothes. Still exhausted, I managed to lose my bank card, but we got everything sorted out and I made it to the rehearsal unscathed. I left Matt with my family and joined the wedding festivities that night.

The next day was Weddingpalooza! The bride was beautiful and everything went off quite smoothly — I even caught the bouquet! When I met up with Matt after dinner he informed me that nobody liked red wine but him and I should cut him off if he started speaking with a Valley accent. Sadly, we had to leave the party after the bouquet tossing and garter flinging. I really wish we could have stayed ’till the end to celebrate with Andrea and Nathan, but we had to get back on the road bright and early the next day.

Next: Cross-Canada Motorcycle Trip — Ottawa Valley to Lake Superior National Park!


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