The Allure of Motorcycle Camping
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With the peak of Razorback Mountain looming in the distance and the sun dipping behind it, I’m fumbling with poles, stakes, and my tiny ripstop-nylon bivvy for the first time in my life. Equal parts exhausted from the day’s ride from Bella Coola and excited for my first night under the stars, I still find it hard to believe that it took thirty-six years for me to hunker down into a tent. My inexperience shows as I’m the last of our group to set-up despite having the simplest of structures. Regardless, I’m elated to have my modest home ready for the night.
More than that, there is an extra sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that the entirety of my humble abode — tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow and even some cooking gear — all emerged from a set of side cases fastened to my motorcycle. While the stunning backdrop of BC’s interior didn’t hurt, there is something about this self-sufficiency that taps into the nomadic part of my soul. The experience cements a decision that motorcycle camping will become a lifelong pursuit.
My latest trip had my cousin Jeff and I plotting a four-day loop through northern Ontario. There are a smattering of roadside attractions we wanted to check out as well as some towns and roads that sparked interest. So, with that in mind, we book campsites in Temagami, Timmins, and Tobermory. Our “Crossing T’s Tour” had life.
It started as a drizzle around Orillia, but by the time we pulled into The Screaming Heads of Midlothian we felt fully submerged. Admittedly, the sombre and weeping skies lent some atmosphere to the art installation in Burk’s Falls. Hundreds of concrete sculptures — some in the form of dragons, others as spiders but most as screaming heads — dot the landscape of artist Peter Carmani’s 130-acre home. An impressive site that’s well worth the ride, it even offers land on which to pitch a tent for the night. I make a mental note of that fact for a future adventure before posing with my bike in the gaping maw of a “head” near the exit.
The rain is relentless as it follows us to our campsite at Finlayson Point. During check-in, I notice the two puddles our sopping-wet gear is depositing while the ranger marvels that we still plan on camping. It’s the last weekend the park will be open for overnighters but this weather has caused many cancellations. Needless to say, we’re the only motorcyclists on the register.
Our campsite overlooks Lake Temagami, and in the distance, I spot an enlarging speck of blue sky. The ground is sodden but the showers relent as tents unfurl and gear unburdens. With dinner cooking on the campfire, I’m hoping that the clouds blow out and we’ll be rewarded with a soul-warming sunset. Mother nature doesn’t exactly disappoint, although she did toss in a short sun shower.
With the sun shining the next morning, we quickly consolidate camp into our panniers and make tracks towards Earlton and our date with a nine-ton bison. Measuring nearly 6m tall and 8m long, Earl the Bison is a metal monster complete with Christmas lights and an impressive set of, um, prairie oysters. Our next campsite is only a few hours away, so we ditch the main road and meander towards Iroquois Falls before stopping in Kirkland Lake and scratching our heads over the fact that there is a town named Swastika in Ontario. As if on cue, the rain began to fall as soon as we left Earl and followed us through each town before relenting at Kettle Lakes Provincial Park, our home for the night.
Much like the night before, we have the park to ourselves, save for one bold and curious chipmunk. We take turns battling it and the smokey fire our wet wood is producing. Snuggled into my tent, I set an alarm for the morning. With a ferry crossing in the afternoon, we won’t be left with much time to sightsee.
The morning air is crisp, to say the least. A quick camp coffee gets us both warmed and moving as we’re greeted by more grey and heavy skies. Thankfully it didn’t rain overnight but our day of riding looks like it will be in keeping with soggy tradition.
Highway 144 runs 271 km connecting Timmins and Sudbury. It is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ridden in Ontario. Lined by boreal forest, lakes and hulking chunks of Canadian Shield the scenery is breathtaking as it undulates across the Northern Divide. We make a quick stop at The Watershed for some strong hot coffee and a gooey butter tart.
The skies finally clear as we drop onto Manitoulin Island. Highway 6 is another magical ribbon of asphalt and every dry curve feels indulgent. It’s been years since I’ve ridden the Big Canoe at the end of the road, but the artfully wrapped MS Chi-Cheemaun is a familiar and welcome sight. One of the benefits of motorcycle travel is that we riders are the first on and off of the ship, but that plus is trivial in the grand scheme.
Sitting around our final campfire in Bruce Peninsula National Park, surrounded by RVs and car-campers, Jeff asks if I’d ever consider doing this same trip in a car? I looked at him quizzically before we both broke out in laughter and I dismissed the thought. In the same way that a hotel will break up or interrupt the flow of the road, a car or truck does the same to the camping experience — it takes you out of the very elements you’re seeking. With motorcycle camping, that isn’t the case, the adventure never ends.