Pride The Highlands!
When I accidentally rode in the World Pride parade in 2014, I never realized how it would change my life.
My assignment was to write about the Dykes On Bikes that had been leading Toronto’s Pride Parade since its inauguration in 1981. My plan was to shadow my friend Heidi as she rode the route, snapping photos from various vantage points on the sidelines.
As plans usually go, it didn’t quite work out the way I wanted. I dallied too long at the starting area and found myself not being able to get me and my scoot out as everything started rolling. I threw my helmet on and went with the flow, which proved to be the most fun I’d ever had!
This was my first contact with the Amazons MC, flashing smiles and revving revs as they crawled Yonge Street, flanked by a throng of a million spectators. It took a while for me to get to know them, but I knew right away that they were a great bunch of humans.
Every Pride since, I’ve always looked forward to the invitation to join in, including the parade-that-wasn’t in 2020, when the world was locked down. My partner Georgette and I made friendships with many LGBTQ+ riders, their visibility within the motorcycling scene growing as the decade progressed. We also learned many things about allyship and its importance in the ever-changing landscape. In nine short years, my horizons expanded both geographically and culturally, my bikes being a window to inclusion.
“Mondo, how far of a ride is Minden?”
“Not too far, Georgie. It’s in the Highlands somewhere...”
She had heard that Minden showed their Pride in a unique way. Their parade, instead of running down Main Street, meandered down the Gull River in a colourful flotilla.
We definitely had to check THAT out...
As last-minute impromptu trips went, it was smooth sailing for our scooters, hers a Vespa 300 and mine, an Aprilia 200. North, then east on 48, the roads were pretty straight until we hit Highway 35, when the start of the curves and elevation changes made the riding more interesting.
We arrived mid-morning as festivities were starting to roll. On Water Street, a rainbow of vendors was set up, a sprinkling of food, awareness and local wares. Oh, and there was free Ice Cream - perfect for a sweltering day! As we queued up to the Kawartha Dairy booth, we were met with a gruff, yet familiar voice:
“What ya want?”
As our diminutive server looked up, we gasped as recognition set in. It was Sue, the Benevolent Dictator of the Amazons MC...
“What are you doing here?” “What are YOU doing here?”
Turns out, Sue’s twin sister lives in the Highlands and she makes the trek up to help with the proceedings every year. She introduced us to the organizers and we circulated among the celebrants. Great lunch at the Dominion Hotel Pub, then settled on the riverbank to literally watch the floats float by. A perfect flag-wavin’, hoot-and-hollerin’ afternoon, with cheers of “Happy Pride” wafting across the water.
After caffeinating at Up River Trading Company and grabbing more ice cream (you can never have enough) at the Minden River Cone, we bid Sue goodbye. “When you come up next year, bring floats and you can float down the river too!”
Looking at each other with a sparkle in our eyes, we went into planning mode...
Late August couldn’t come quickly enough. Georgie and I had already ridden this year’s edition of Toronto Pride, but we were looking forward to a more mellow, less commercial celebration. Minden Pride was perfect and we would make the most of it, knowing that the sweeps and dives of the Haliburton Highlands beckoned as well.
Day 1 – 209 km
Packing a couple of unicorn floaties, we set off from Toronto on a Wednesday, hoping for a few good days of riding and as many nights celebrating. Georgie was again on Coco, her trusty Vespa, but I decided to hop on Tetsuo, my more powerful Yamaha TMAX 500 with its cushier ride and better storage. We aimed for the Minden Hills and made great time, with only one pit stop at the Beaverton Timmies. We jawed with some adventure riders in the parking lot, learning that there was lots of construction on the 118 and to avoid it.
The Highlands Motel and Lodge was to be home base for a few days. Modern and spotless, it was perfect for our length of stay, with a full kitchen in the lodge building and barbecues in front for our use. It was also a 5-minute walk to the public beach on 12 Mile Lake, and steps away from three great eateries in Carnarvon.
We just made it in time before the Pepper Mill Steak and Pasta House closed for the evening. The helpings were huge and we had to pack our excellent Schnitzel and Smoked Chicken Carbonara for our return to base.
Day 2 – 90 km
The scoots were fuelled the next morning, but we weren’t, so we walked over to The Mill Pond for good, old-fashioned (and very reasonably priced) bacon and eggs.
Our destination today was nearby Haliburton. We wanted to catch Story Hour at the Public Library and maybe get some thrifting in. Easy-peasy riding...or so we thought.
Sometimes, the most direct route to your destination isn’t exactly the most suitable. And sometimes, Google isn’t your friend. Blairhampton Road seemed like a good idea, until rough pavement gave way to ever-deepening gravel. Now yesterday’s adventure bikers would have loved this road (and I highly recommend it to those with knobbier tires and higher clearance), but on smaller scooter wheels, it became a daunting proposition. After what seemed like an hour trying to find the most navigable tire track, we gave up and turned around. Continuing south via Minden and northeast on 21, it was a good, smooth ride full of the signature curves that the Highlands are known for.
Finally arriving at the library, we ambled toward the Pride Tent, where we introduced ourselves to Sue’s spitting-image twin Jackie. Inside, Auntie Plum entertained us with her motto: “Be a good human” and we posed for pictures with her.
Late-afternoon temps were dropping, so I found a hoodie as an extra layer at Thrift Warehouse and talked Vespas Past with an older gentleman in the parking lot, then took the 118 back to base camp, only being hindered by construction twice.
It seemed that we were on a mission to Eat The Highlands as well! Checking in at Rhubarb up the street, we shared duck confit poutine and apple, beet and goat cheese salad. We took home half the poutine, as well as some Montreal Bagels in their adjacent grocery shop to have for breakfast in the lodge.
Day 3 - 349 km
Rainclouds threatened to put a damper on our big riding day as we got up. I was hoping we would at least get to our first destination — the Dorset Lookout Tower, only 40 km north. Highway 35 between Carnarvon and Dorset was spectacular, giving me all I wanted in a Highlands road. Big sweepers that you really didn’t have to slow down for and great ups and downs that presented a new view as you crested them. The roads stayed dry and, arriving in Dorset, we found out that we had the Tower to ourselves.
After the climb and rewarding vistas, we set out to find some Ride The Highlands anniversary patches, which were apparently in short supply. The friendly gift shop clerk overheard us and pointed us in the direction of the Parkway Cottage Trading Post on 60, just west of Dwight. Hopping the scoots, we headed to our destination, where we said hello to Tony the proprietor. All patched up, we decided to go the long way back through Algonquin Park, stopping for lunch at the Sun Run Cafe in Maynooth and of course, a little thrifting at Foxfire Antiques and Nomad Vintage.
Skies were still grey but it remained dry on our journey back through Peterson/ Elephant Lake Road. Past Haliburton, we discovered that construction was done on the 118 and we had smooth new tarmac to zip on.
After a quick nap, we headed back towards Haliburton to Sir Sam’s for a night of comedy. We joined power Amazon couple Sue and Stacy to laugh the night away. The sun had already set when things wrapped up, and we city mice had a harrowing ride across the 118 in the dark. Leery of wildlife jumping in our path, we gingerly crawled back to home base, making it safely to our beds.
Day 4 – 172 km
Things are definitely changing in the Highlands and it’s not just the leaves! Strolling historic Haliburton, we were accosted by a fashionable teen goth, who invited us to a Pride Dance the next evening at Russell Red Records. They made a beeline for us because, apparently, we were dressed too colourfully to be your typical tourists and stood out. Who’da thunk?!?
The town was awash in activity. It was a Saturday, so the roads were full of bikers who did double takes as Georgie’s Vespa roared past them. We decided to hit the main drag, scoring a pair of pleather pants at Lily Ann Thrift Store, with a Balzac’s coffee at Up River Trading completing our Haliburton adventure.
We still had the afternoon to enjoy so we decided to gas up in Minden, then scoot to Bracebridge. Once more, the Google Gods cursed us by routing us through Bobcaygeon Road on the way to the 118. In an epic deja vu, we had a repeat of our prior offroad adventure, though the surroundings were at least prettier under sunny skies. After what seemed like an eternity, we decided to stop by a roadside pond and at least take in the view. Checking my phone, I found out the end was only 800 meters away. No turning back this time!
The newly paved Hwy. 118 was a relief. In my rearview, I watched Georgie carve the turns and marvelled at how far the Vespa could lean as we sped towards our destination. Our first time in Bracebridge, we parked the bikes on Manitoba Street. Poked around Daughters Of Indie for vintage stuff but scored big at the Salvation Army Thrift Store down the street which was having a 50% off sale. Late Mexican lunch on El Pueblito’s dog-friendly patio gave us fuel for more twists and turns as we headed back.
At home base, we gussied ourselves up in our best pride finery and caught a ride to the Haliburton Legion and the Diva Dance Party. Sashaying to Dani Doucette's stylings, we reflected on what a great few days of riding it had been and how much more inclusive the Highlands could be when viewed through a different lens.
Day 5 – 196 km
Minden was abuzz as the Rainbow Street Festival ramped up. Upriver at Rotary Park, we inflated our floaties and set off down the Gull. It was a slow, meandering ride downstream, sometimes having to hand-paddle to stay in the current and avoid the eddies. Mixed with the cheers of onlookers and more Amazons who rode up for the day, the sound of motorcycles traversing Hwy. 35 cannonaded off the riverbank – the perfect soundtrack that we relished in our zen moment as we meandered on our unicorns.
Back on dry land, we joined friends old and new for the ritual deflation of the floats. With an assortment of cans from the Boshkung Brewing Company stored under our seats, it was time to point our scoots home.
It was the most unique Pride we’d ever experienced, far removed from the commercial and chaotic party vibe of big city events. I’ve had more than a few friends in Toronto mention “Pride Burnout” over the years and Minden’s cozy celebration is the perfect antidote to that same-old-same-old. Small enough that revellers can bond in affirmation, but still two tons of fun!
And the roads! Those roads! What more can a rider ask for?