The 2021 RAP Tour ("Round Algonquin Park") started off, for me, in Cumberland, Ontario. Driving on the 417 is never much fun on Matsch, my trusty CRF250L, but it needed to be done in order to get to Almonte, the official start of the RAP, in an expedient manner. As my co-riders had work commitments, I knew that I would ride the first 2 days alone and since I didn't know exactly what would be in store for me, I didn't want to waste any time. I left fairly early.
The first leg of the journey saw me hitting multipel 500 series highways, which, though paved are nonetheless fun. I also navigated gravel roads and tight ATV trails. The map below shows the average speed I was able to achieve in various legs of the journey. Full red means 80-100km/h, while green means 10-25km/h. Yellow indicates something in the middle.
The first hurdle started around Hopetown. As you can see on the map below, there is a gas station there and the next one is in Snow Road Station. My CRF can do about 180km on a tank of gas, which is 7.7l of fuel. Much to my chagrin, there was no gas station in Snow Road Station, just an old stone crusher that only served to crush my spirits. At this point, my odometer read 170km and the next gas station at Palmerston Lake was over 20km away. Oh boy! As I didn't have much of a choice, I proceeded and did my best to be as efficient in my driving as possible. I rolled past Ompah and the odometer read 190km. Finally I arrived in Palmerston Lake and filled up at the marina. There was less than 500ml left in the tank!
The next hurdle came after I turned off Buckshot Lake Rd on to a twisty ATV track. The following sign greeted me:
Visions of an ambush danced in my overactive imagination. As it turned out, I had nothing to fear from our military. This steep, boulder-strewn hill was another matter. I arrived upon it while riding at a spirited pace and bounced down the rocks. Matsch was bucking like a bronco and I found myself face-down in the dirt at the side of the track. This is when I learned the first of 2 valuable lessons during this trip: When you're going down a steep hill that has many boulders, don't touch the front brake and scoot your butt as far back as possible.
It was now past 6 and I still hadn't reached Bancroft. The plan was to camp on the other side of Bancroft somewhere on Monk Rd., but in September the days are getting markedly shorter and I realized I wouldn't make it in daylight. I started hunting around for possible campsites but was getting frustrated. Finally, I drove on to the Hastings Trail, a larger ATV through-way. A few hundred meters later I spotted a small muddy track heading up to a ridge on the left. Matsch, (the German word for "Mud") made short work of the muddy incline and we decided to camp on this ridge some 50m away from any track. Thank goodness for hammocks! Note to self: buy a duck blind large enough to hide Matsch and my hammock from view.
The day started with a quick breakfast consisting of granola and dried apples. Once out of the forest, sunshine greeted me on the Hastings Trail and I reached Bancroft in short time. My OSMand map reminded me that Bancroft has the Eagle's Nest, a pretty lookout situated high above the town. I decided to drive up and walk the final 300m to the lookout. A splendid view was my reward, along with interesting interpretive panels that explained that the spot behind what is now Tim Hortons on the York River was likely a seasonal hunting camp that was in use for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
The road out of Bancroft, Monck Road, is a designated "scenic route" and offers plenty of vistas and twisty turns. Passing Cardiff, I found myself back on Highway 28 for a short while just until I turned off onto Eels Lake Road. This forest access road quickly became smaller but was still smooth enough that I was able to make good time on Matsch. At one point I was humming along at about 50km/h when I entered another forest. In doing so, I surprised a female moose who decided the best course of action was to gallop alongside me, not further than 10m away, for a stretch of 50m, or so. Finally, she veered into the forest and came to a stand-still some 50m away, giving me a sullen "stink eye" for surprising her so.
Next up, Eels Lake Road challenged me with a number of increasingly long and deep water crossings. I managed to ride through the first, but the second gave me cause to pause -- I was riding alone, after all. Which reminds me, Zach, one of my co-riders and the person who motivated me to plan the trip and who couldn't leave Ottawa until Friday (so today), had texted me that he was camped out just south of Bancroft since this morning. "That's where I spent my night!" I thought while trying to make sense of his claim that he had done the trail and "wasn't it marvellous". Turns out my intrepid friend drove through the bush *all night long* until 5am, when he could stave off sleep and weariness no longer. He camped at the side of the road somewhere and wanted to catch some shut-eye before meeting the 3rd rider, Corey. But back to my mud holes.
Not wanting to risk this extended water crossing I scouted around for alternatives. I found a steep incline off the trail to the right that looked like something hikers and bicyclists were using to circumvent the water. At the top was a splendid cliff with a fire pit -- a prime location for making camp in the future. I stayed on top of this cliff for a bit, enjoying my own company and a snack. I finally continued on my way only to hit my next mud hole. This one wasn't particular long (see 4th picture below) but I couldn't see the bottom -- only muddy swirls on the surface. "That's not good" I thought to myself. I coaxed Matsch into the puddle and was barely half way through when it felt like I had accidentally shifted my bike into neutral. I was standing on the pegs and Matsch wasn't moving. Balancing precariously I slipped the clutch and fed more revs into the engine. Finally Matsch pulled himself through the goopy mess!
When I was reading Frankenbuffer's account of the RAP, he had mentioned a prime swimming spot at Furnace Falls. Deciding it was a good time to wash off the accumulated sweat and grime of the past 2 days, I headed for the farthest corner of this park and plunged into the cool waters. My mapping application, OSMAnd, allows me to display water falls as Points of Interest -- this wouldn't be the last time I would locate a suitable swimming spot using these POIs
Moving on, I was looking forward to crossing BigWind Provincial Park, a non-operating park between Dorset and Lake of Bays. My folks have a rustic cottage near Mathiasville Dam not too far away, but over the past 30 years I have never explored this nearby park. The park offered plenty of wild camping possibilities and there were lots of RVs and tents already set up. However, having spoken to Zach again I found out that he and Corey were on their way now and that it would be my job to scout a camping location near Huntsville, as per my original plan. Therefore, I had no time to dally.
Okay, there was a bit of time to dally as I reached Huntsville in short order. OSMAnd showed an interesting view point on top of a hill near a golf course. I proceeded to the top without incident. However, on the way down I decided to veer off the beaten path and found myself on a field with all these strange yellow balls on it. My gaze was drawn to my left as a high-viz golf ball screamed by my head -- I found myself on the end of a driving range! I don't believe I've ever turned Matsch around so fast!
While scouting for the camp site, I got lucky and found a suitable location in a hidden spot just meters from the ATV trail. The ATV trail consisted of a series of challenging rock "stairs" that I was able to navigate quickly on my light CRF, but that left me wondering how my cohorts would fare on their bigger bikes. Zach is a masterful rider, but he drives an Africa Twin while Corey rides a Yamaha Tenere. As it turns out, I didn't have to worry. Zach and Corey made it to camp around 6:30pm and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and good camaraderie.
As good as the previous night's camp site was -- it had a large area covered by lush moss that made for a perfect bed -- it was missing a water source. The next morning, our first order of business was to stop at a lake and replenish our supplies.
A short ride later and we found ourselves on this old railway track running alongside one of the original colonization roads in the area, the Old Nipissing Road. The railway trail was in a poor state of repair and featured plenty of "whoops" -- undulating "waves" of dirt that made riding in a sitting position untenable.
The trail continued for many kilometres like this until we hit a long "water feature"!
Before my brain could scream "whoa now let's just think about this for a minute" Zach had already guided his iron steed into the long stretch of water. None of this "let's walk it first", we were going in and that's that! As my boots are far from water-proof, I put on contractor bags that made my lower half look like the Michelin Man. However, visual assault aside, they proved quite functional. Unless I fell, of course. I entered the water tentatively in 2nd gear and almost regretted that decision as once again, Matsch came to a virtual stand-still. I had to slip the clutch and roll on plenty of throttle to get him moving again, but move he did and my contractor bags assured me dry feet.
Next, we found heaven at the side of the road in the unlikely metropolis of Powassan, population: 1,343. In this chip truck, they prepared the most delicious poutine imaginable. Crispy golden french fries with a fluffy, soft interior. Lightly salted. Curds of the most delicious cheese overflowing the top of the container. Meaty gravy -- not drenched -- accentuated this homage to fattiness. In fact, hang on, I'm riding out there right now to get another helping! Be right back!
Content in our malnourishment, we continued along a former railway bed. Perhaps the lingering thought of gravy caused me to miss the danger because before I could yell "look out below" we found ourselves on a railing-less railway bridge over a 100m chasm with a lonely creek running through the middle. I made the mistake of looking down -- what greeted me between the 4" beams of 100 year-old rotting timber was a vast emptiness that seemed to stretch on forever. I could just make out the tops of trees directly below us! Only one thing to do: look straight ahead and resist the temptation to succumb to the rising wave of panic. Once on the other side we stopped and tried to make sense of what we saw. If I recall correctly, Corey pointed out that this bridge did not seem to conform to regular safety standards. As we tentatively walked on to the bridge, he helpfully remarked "better not drop your phone now". Thanks, Corey!
Sunset had come and gone and we still didn't have a camping spot. Corey and Zach used their satellite overlays to find a remote marshy lake with what appeared to be a suitable clearing for a camp. After Zach's drone was able to confirm that we were, in fact, the only visitors to the lake on this particular night, we erected our hammocks and tents before rain set in. At this point, we were hoping to see the last of our group who was coming directly from Ottawa on his own CRF250L: Ben! I'm not sure how Ben did it, but he managed to find us in this remote location in the rain with darkness falling. Truly a heroic effort by Ben who had been riding non-stop from Ottawa. Unfortunately, he suffered a tarp failure in the middle of the night during a downpour. Not wanting to wake his co-riders, he instead opted to quietly depart the camp-in-the-middle-of-nowhere in the dead of night and head into Mattawa, where he ended up spending a good 5 hours at a Tim Horton's. Apparently, the hand dryer in the bathroom worked well to pump heat into the poor guy.
The next morning we were blessed with incredible riding weather. Pleasant temperatures, wall-to-wall sunshine, and flowing gravel roads that varied from regular country lanes to 2-track. It was during this phase of the ride that I learned my second important lesson: To ride gravel quickly, you have to skid the motorcycle in a predictable fashion. I had tried this unsuccessfully during our previous "Abandoned Ranger Station" camp-out and in the process nearly laid the bike flat. The key ingredient that I had been missing was to counter-steer as the rear wheel lost traction. Here I was finally able to master this skill and it drastically increased my riding confidence and my speed. At one point, Zach and I were egging each other on and left the other two so far behind that we had to wait a good while for them to catch up.
Once again I made use of OSMAnd's incredibly powerful POI list to spot the Bisset Creek waterfalls. The trail to these was somewhat hidden but because we knew what we were looking for, we managed to find them. These waterfalls are made of an interesting black granite stair case that one can explore.
For us and Ben in particular, it was a perfect place to dry sleeping bags, vent boots, and get naked. 'Nuff said
Once at Deep River, we made the decision to use the highway in order to make up some time. We had really wanted a camp site at a lake but if we had stuck to the original route, our camp site would have been in Forest Lea near Pembroke, which has no water sources.
The route to our last camp site proved to be challenging. The muddy trails did not look like they had seen much traffic and the recent rains had left boulders wet, muddy, and very slippery. One gnarly hill, in particular, stands out in my memory. I had managed to guide Matsch to the top of this boulder-strewn muddy mess, only to have him topple on top of me when I put a kickstand out and attempted to dismount. In the process, Matsch's kickstand had become firmly embedded in the soft mud and required a herculean effort to free him. While I collected myself, Corey and Ben forged ahead but not for long, as the next downhill was just as gnarly as the up-hill, full of boulders and not offering any clean lines. Remembering my previous lesson about downhills, I scooted as far back as I could and used only the back brake. I'm sure it did not look elegant, but both Corey and Ben were dumb-founded to find me in one piece at the bottom (and in record time) -- they had resorted to waddling their bikes down. Despite these challenges, we persisted and were rewarded with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, as we happened upon the most beautiful camp site imaginable at Middle Long Lake near Killaloe. We had this gorgeous lake to ourselves and even the encroaching darkness did little to dampen our spirits.
I'm sure that even if I live to be a 100, I will never forget the "midnight madness" of that particular evening, especially with Zach's moodful "Sky Rim" music playing in the background.
I woke up at 6:30am the next morning and this was my view out of the hammock This truly was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
Clearly Matsch has been through a few mishaps, but other than a stuck throttle, which was easily resolvable, he was fine.
The road back to civilization was fairly uneventful. There were more interesting trails until about Griffith. We enjoyed a marvellous lunch followed by twisties as we navigated past Calabogie. Finally, we parted ways, though in an odd twist of fate, I rode up a small side trail in Calabogie and who did I meet? Zach and Corey. Both had similarly decided that the trip wasn't over yet. There is always another trail waiting to be discovered.