Upsizing the Grand Algoma—The GTA to Wawa
The value of time varies considerably between activities, but when it comes to motorcycle touring in Ontario, time might just be the most valuable commodity. Here you are dealing with a land area that is larger than many countries; here you can expect to tick through 1,000 km on your odometer just getting anywhere.
Take the District of Algoma, for example. It contains some of my favourite moto roads, including the famed Grand Algoma, but from my home in Toronto, this gem of a destination located along the north shore of Lake Superior will eat up a two-day weekend just getting there and back. So what’s one to do? Beg, borrow, and save time anywhere you can get it!
We managed to secure a five-day window courtesy of employers and family and, without letting any of it go to waste, we planned to ride and see it all.
Day One - GTA to Elliot Lake - 600 km
Day one begins with decision time right of the bat. Typically my preferred way to make my way north is via the Bruce Peninsula and the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry. Today the ferry schedule and our departure time do not jibe, so it’s option two. Using the Georgian Bay Coastal Route, we follow the eastern shore the bay and hug the North Channel as we head west. Under a blue sky and on a Monday, it’s an easy and pleasant two-coffee-stop experience. Turning north on to Highway 108 marks the beginning of Algoma’s Deer Trail Tour and the official start to why we’re here.
The reason for the Deer Trail’s moto touring popularity instantly becomes evident as the big swiping curves put smiles on our faces. We stop to stretch our legs at the Miners' Memorial in Elliot Lake. The memorial is engraved with the names of miners who died of workplace accidents or occupational illnesses, and it pays tribute to the area’s mining history. Then it’s onto our final destination for the day, as the road narrows and the sun dips behind the trees.
The Laurentian Lodge greets you with an impressive log cabin and a truly serene Northern Ontario setting. Offering accommodation options to suit all, from cabins to cottages, or in our case a lakeside room. As impressive as the setting is, after a long day in the saddle it's food we are after, and we are in luck as a spectacular dining room and the skills of the chef do not disappoint.
A couple of things to keep in mind. The kitchen hours vary, so call ahead; as for gas, a chance to refuel is 40 km back or 80 km ahead, so come prepared.
Day two - Laurentian Lodge to Wawa - 400 km
Day two begins like so many days in the North, with a slow rise of the sun over a glass-calm lake. We linger over breakfast and coffee as we watch the wind slowly tease the lake into a froth. Today's destination: Wawa. There’s no direct way to get there and that’s just the way we like it.
The Deer Trail continues as we roll 80 km west and south along Highway 546, the traffic count on this mid-week morning: zero. We top up our tanks in Iron Bridge and join the masses as we continue west along Highway 17. By masses, I mean way less than we are used to down south, but more than we had to deal with this morning. No worries, the share-the-road experience is short-lived as we turn north again. We could have avoided Highway 17 by taking Highway 564, which offers a link between the Deer Trail and Highway 129, and picked up gas at The Tunnel Lake Trading Post—but in my opinion, we would have missed the opening scene of one of the best roads in Ontario.
Highway 129 is often referred to as The Tail Of The Dragon North. Now, if you’re familiar with the southern version of the namesake road ,you will know that it’s all about the curves—and many of them. I love how the ride plays out. Turning off 17, big sweepers lead you through rolling farmland. The road then drops into the river valley, the landscape tightens around you, and the turn radius decreases. Soon you are zig-zagging between a river on one side and a rock wall on the other. Eventually, the road straightens and the vast expanse of Northern Ontario presents itself. There you have it, 200 km of motorcycling bliss; we lost the count of curves early on and the traffic count topped out at six cars.
Three hundred km into our day, we stop in at “the friendliest town in the North,” Chapleau, Ontario, and take the opportunity to satisfy the fuelling needs of both machine and rider. We play tourist with a giant locomotive at the Chapleau Museum and Tourist Information Centre in Centennial Park, where the steam engine known as Iron Horse #5433 is a testament to Chapleau's railroading past.
Our final 100 km west from Chapleau to Wawa are somewhat anticlimactic along the primarily straight stretch of Highway 101. We set up home at the Bristol Motel, nicely located in downtown Wawa with all our worldly needs—aka gas, food, and beer—within walking distance. Judging by the wall full of photos featuring ATVs and snowmobiles, this place is no stranger to the rumble of an engine. All settled in, we set out exploring to find a spot to end the day as it began, with the sun going down over a Northern lake. Mission accomplished, courtesy of a gravel road and Lake Superior.
Two days in, 1,000 kilometres of awesome riding, and now a sunset over Lake Superior. I’d say things are rolling along nicely.
To be continued…