Sunday 16 April 2017

Trophy Wives, Velocoraptors and Riding North of the Wall

Every once in a while events conspire to drop you out of the world's daily routine.  As everyone else is scurrying to work with worry lines on their faces I was disappearing into the countryside on two wheels, unfortunately the Weathernetwork had gotten the forecast wrong and my day of George was going to be more like Scott to the antarctic.

I knew it was going to be cold in the morning, but it was supposed to warm up to double digits later in the day.  Anything over 5°C and I can go all day, but under that core temperature eventually gets to me.  I got over to the Forks of the Credit before 9:30am and it was still only just above freezing.  Higher Ground on a weekday morning is a magical place full of millionaire retirees and trophy wives; I like to soak up the vibe.

"I'm sorry, we're running out of change.  Everyone keeps paying with hundreds," the girl at the counter apologized as an elven woman with a lovely Mandarin accent who had just gotten out of her Range Rover tried to pay for a coffee.

As I warmed my hands on a coffee (the heated gloves were warding off frostbite but not keeping them warm), a group of conservative retirees sitting on fat piles of cash (they all arrived in German SUVs or touring sedans) were lamenting the lack of gumption in their millennial children, all of whom were described as directionless and unwilling to make the kind of money their parents did.  "By the time I was that age I already had kids and owned my own house!" one outspoken gentleman declared, "and we worked hard for every penny!"  Of course, back then the pennies weren't all being held by a generation that proceeded them.  The other favourite topic was 'those damned liberals'.  Man, do those people ever hate Justin Trudeau.  If you ever have a chance to spend an hour on a weekday morning in Belfountain, you'll enjoy the 1% watching, just try not to gag on their sense of entitlement.

Warmed up on excellent coffee and with sensation in my extremities again, I headed back out into a one degree warmer day.  At this point we'd already missed the forecast by a couple of degrees, and it wasn't going to get better.  I rode up and down a completely empty Forks of the Credit, enjoying the curves without worrying about any four wheeled chicanes.  On my way back I pulled off on the side road to Brimstone.  The Credit River was spring runoff swollen and looked spectacular.  A kingfisher was working the river further up but never came close enough to catch on the camera.

I eventually wound my way up the single track road to where it ends. As I sat there with the engine off a dozen wild turkeys crossed the path a couple of hundred yards ahead of me up the closed trail; I dropped the kick stand and grabbed the camera.

These things were enormous! They picked their way through the forest looking very prehistoric.  After ten minutes of turkey watching I walked back to the Tiger and packed up the camera.  Before I got on the road again I needed let that coffee go, so I stepped off the trail into the woods.  Have you ever had that feeling that you're being watched?  
Standing there rather exposed, I felt that prickle and looked around to see the massive lead turkey not five feet away watching me intently - I almost jumped out of my skin.  He looked at me.  I looked at him.  I finished up and he just stood there watching me climb out of the ditch.  He then turned around majestically and walked back up the path where his crew where waiting for him before leading them away up the hill.  My advice is do not mess with that turkey.

After my close encounter of the turkey kind I headed north, following the escarpment's winding roads. Spring runoff was a theme of this trip with all of the streams and rivers swollen with melted snow. Up in Hockley Valley I fought the urge to keep riding the roller coaster and stopped to grab some images of the exposed red clay.

When I got back on the road it was behind a pile of traffic backed up behind a pensioner on their daily Tim Horton's coffee run. Rather than fight the demographic I took a right hand turn up Hurontario Street
Down where I grew up Hurontario is the main drag through a city of half a million people.  Up in Hockley it's a single lane, twisty dirt road that winds its way up the escarpment.  The three older guys following the line of traffic on the paved road on massive Harleys got to keep enjoying the parade, but I was able to turn onto that dirt trail on my Swiss Army knife-like multi-purpose bike and enjoy some solitude.

I rounded a corner to find a Dufferin road works van on the side of the road. He waved me through as he was just removing the road closed sign from the winter. The gravel track coming out of the river crossing is very steep and untended. Getting up it in the winter would be a challenge for anything on wheels. He told me I was the first one on the road this year, which felt a lot more special than the tarmac parade I'd left behind.

I'd originally intended to bomb up Highway 10 for a stop and then ride back down through Mono Centre where I still wish we'd bought a house; this back route up Hurontario was better in every way.  The Tiger is such a capable road bike that I keep thinking about going with purely road biased tires next time around, but unexpected turnoffs like this are why you keep a multipurpose tire on the thing; the Metzelers handled the soft gravel and mud with ease, even on the unpassable hill.  Lightness is the goal off road, but these big adventure bikes are surprisingly capable if you're conscious of their size and don't try and ride them like a mountain bike.

It's only about a hundred and twenty miles, but in freezing temperatures it's an adventure!

Winding my way north through the Hockley Highlands put further lie to the weather forecast.  Rather than warming up to ten degrees it instead dropped back down to three degrees above zero, and the wind was picking up.  Up and down the rollercoaster that is Airport Road across the Niagara Escarpment, I eventually found my way to Side Road 20 and the backdoor to River Road.

With blue, icicle fingers I unbuckled my helmet and cracked my frozen knees as I ungracefully dismounted in the Terra Nova Public House parking lot. The sky had gotten darker and what had been sporadic, light rain on my visor earlier now looked distinctly flurry like. I staggered inside with my nose running and a wild look in my eye.  They quickly got me sorted out with soup and what may be the best roast beef sandwich I've ever had. The TNPH is one of those places that are common where I'm from (Norfolk, England) but rare in Ontario - a pub with character that looks like it grew out of the ground and has always been there. As the heat worked its way back into me and my blood started pumping again, I could feel the zombification recede.

My vague plan was to work my way up the escarpment, perhaps all the way to the southern shore of Georgian Bay, but my photo/warm-up stops and the general misery of the weather made me aware of the fact that I'd reached the apex of my journey in Terra Nova. As I was looking over Google Maps the day before I'd worked out twenty one of the least boring kilometres you could ride in Southern Ontario, so the new plan after lunch was to do the loop both ways and then head back home.

Using TNPH as the start/end point, the idea was to hit the windiest parts of River Road and then come back around on the most interesting roads available.  It takes about fifteen leisurely minutes to make the loop, but when you're not in a corner you're enjoying elevation changes and some beautiful escarpment scenery.

Reinvigorated from my roast beef sandwich I did the loop backwards to scope it out and then forwards before following River Road one last time back out of the valley and onto a long and windy ride home.

You seldom spend much time on the crown of your tire.  Riding a motorcycle feels like flying most of the time, but bending one into a corner has a multiplying effect on that goodness.  When you aren't leaning into corners you're enjoying some whoopdeedoo elevation changes and the scenery is about as good as it gets, even on a winter-like early spring day.  You'd do a lot worse than making the ride up to Terra Nova for this bit of pavement.

After a couple of loops all the warmth from lunch was long blown away and I was dreading coming back out of the sheltered valley I'd been enjoying.  A last ride down River Road to Horning's Mills (another place I wish we'd bought a house) had me ignoring the swollen streams because I didn't want to stop the roller coaster ride.  What did finally bring me to a stop was the overflowing waterfall out of the mill pond in Horning's Mills.

After this last stop I made my way through the quiet village and up onto the Shelburne Highlands where fields of wind turbines do their business.  Up on the heights sixty kilometre per hour gusts were knocking me around in addition to the plunging temperature wind chill.  The partially sunny high of ten had turned into a cloudy and windy high of three.  The windmills were spinning fiercely as I passed through them, and that's when the snow started.  A few flakes suddenly turned into reduced viability as snow snakes eddied across the pavement.  I clung to the heated grips but the blasting northern winds hitting me in the side meant double the wind chill.  I couldn't go much further like this.

I ducked behind the windshield when I could, grimly soldering on as the sky turned metallic and the wind gusts increased to over seventy kilometres per hour.  I usually make the sixty-six kilometre push back home from Horning's Mills to Elora in about an hour, but not this time.  Riding into Grand Valley I knew there was a coffee shop on the main street and for the second time that day I staggered into a warm shop with a running nose and a wild look in my eye, this time with snow on me.

Half an hour later, and while snow swirled around the trusty Tiger outside, I'd restored feeling to my fingers and caffeinated myself for the final leg of what had turned into a much shorter and more difficult ride than I'd planned.  As I walked outside an old guy coming in looked me up and down and said, "nice day to be out on a bike..."
"All I can say is that The Weather Network lied to me!" I replied.  He laughed.

South of Grand Valley I was in the Grand River valley and off the Shelburne Highlands, which meant a break from the chronic wind and snow.  Heading south also meant the wind was at my back instead of trying to dismount me.  I finally got my frozen carcass home and stood in front of the fireplace forever, trying to get heat back in me.

After feeling returned I discovered my wedding ring had fallen off my senseless fingers at some point when I pulled my gloves off.  We're nineteen years married this summer and I've never lost the ring before.  I couldn't find it in the obvious places so emailed my various stops hoping it had showed up.  It took a second search the next morning when my brain had warmed up to find the ring in the bottom of my bag where it had obviously fallen out of my gloves at some point; good save there.

As painful as it was, I still feel like this trip cleared away the cobwebs of a long Canadian, caged winter and let me look upon the world in a way that any car trip wouldn't.  I didn't just go for a drive, I did something genuine and difficult and have a tale of trophy wives, dinosaurs and snow snakes to tell from it.

If it was easy everyone would do it.

Some other pictures from the trip:
Over the Credit River watching kingfishers

Hockley Valley Road.

At The Terra Nova Public House ready for another lap.

Harleys are great on the road, but that's the only place you'll ever use one.  Right after this I turned onto gravel and avoided the pensioners parade.

Winter runoff in Hockley River.

Horning's Mills Run Off.

If you like the twisties, the loop out of Terra Nova is a keeper.