Ontario's Tail of the Dragon

Riding Hwy 129 in the Mississagi Valley

There it is again, a sound so sweet to the ears of every motorcyclist at one with their machine and revelling in the beauty of their environment. It's such a beautiful sound; footrests gently kissing the asphalt through another bend, as the laws of physics are briefly challenged. And then the bike is lifted upright once more and prepared for another turn. It's a truly delightful moment in motorcycling, made perfect by the scenery through which this blacktop snakes and twists.

I'm on a fairground ride, lost within a Jackson, Lismer, or Carmichael painting of the Canadian great outdoors. This is the landscape that provided the inspiration for the famous Group of Seven artists and it's easy to see why, but for the modern rider, it is proof that highways constructed in Northern Ontario haven't all used might to overcome the topography. On Highway 129, reaching due north from Thessalon, the engineers have followed the contours, constrained by the Mississagi River and the vagaries of the surrounding muskeg and rocky outcrops.

Who said that roads in Northern Ontario couldn't entertain the rider as well as the tourist within?

Fall motorcycle ride on Hwy 129. (Photo credit: Paddy Tyson)

I'm caught by this moment in time, glimpsing forested hills and clear blue skies between the dark clouds, and it's a moment of delightful loneliness. Bathed in glorious sunlight one minute and then plunged back into the duller grey of shadow, I negotiate another series of challenging turns over blind crests -- it's motorcycling nirvana.

I smell the pine and yet being surrounded by the kaleidoscope of fall colours as the highway does its best to hug the banks of the mighty Mississagi. The serpentine twists of the road match those of the river and I strain to watch the water tumble over the wide and ever-changing gravel bed or rush through the narrows between mini gorges, where it has carved its way through the granite of the Canadian Shield for thousands of years. I want to ride it again and again, to view the sights from every angle and yet to luxuriate in the technical challenge of the route.

(Photo credit: Paddy Tyson)

I may seem alone, lost in my own wilderness and with my fuel light flashing, but this is no terra nullius, this land definitely belongs. It's Algoma Country and just before the junction with Hwy 556, which could take me southwest to Sault Ste. Marie, I stop at the wonderfully named Black Creek Outfitters, a tiny gas station and supply hub for hikers and hunters. The solitary gas pump sits beneath pines that have liberally shed their needles to create a soft carpet and I don't care that the price is hardly competitive. I've travelled an hour north of Thessalon and if I'd refuelled there I could have made it all the way through to Chapleau but then I wouldn't have sampled the fantastic flapjacks.

This tiny oasis isn't on the grid so I'm grateful there's power enough to fill my tank and provide the hot water I need to savour a refreshing cup of tea. It offers a low-key but genuine welcome and one typical of the north, so I loiter to savour the atmosphere. The tranquillity is infectious and I price a cabin for the night even though the day is still young. But I'm caught between the desire to sit on the front porch and watch for bears or just to keep riding, which the owner senses, so she selflessly gets on the phone and enquires about accommodation for me a few hours away.

(Photo credit: Paddy Tyson)

Snow flurries encourage me to saddle up, but I can't resist the beauty of the valley I'm in and decide to retrace my route; to view everything from a new perspective and to have another go at the 129. It's minutes before I'm back in the groove and the bike's undercarriage is making a groove of its own.

As Algoma leaves its mark on me, so I endeavour to repay the favour.

Learn more about the Grand Algoma Tour at www.algomacountry.com

About Paddy Tyson

Traveling the world by motorcycle since the early 1990s, Paddy writes for various motorcycle publications in the United Kingdom and North America. His articles provide light-hearted entertainment; he has previously been a lecturer, journalist, political campaigner and dispatch rider. Paddy now edits Overland Magazine, is an advisor for The Ted Simon Foundation and a director of Shuvvy Press Ltd.

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