Riding The Highlands: Then And Now
My first introduction to the Ride The Highlands area was in 2004, where finding good riding roads in the massive province of Ontario was by word of mouth, looking at paper maps, and your own exploratory trial and error. It was my very first group ride, and it was organized on the GTAMotorcycle.com forum.
I’ll never forget that August day: blue skies and hot but not too hot. It was my first time riding highway 35, Buckthorn Road (aka “The 507”), Elephant Lake Road, Peterson Road and many others I had never laid eyes on before that point. My eyes were opened wide to a whole different kind of riding: instead of a road with just a couple mediocre twists, there were long stretches of twisty roads; instead of waiting at stop lights and dodging cars, there was just scant traffic; instead of houses and industrial buildings, there were gorgeous lakes, forests, and the iconic Canadian Shield. I was in heaven! This kind of riding was exciting, I leaned my bike more than I ever had before, and we shared an amazing sense of comradery. Some more experienced riders left me behind like I was standing still, but they were still willing to give me tips on how to improve my riding technique. As I rode home that day, I was exhausted yet exhilarated.
That huge grin lasted for days. You know, the same kind of feeling you get with your first kiss. I’m still good friends with many of the people I met on this ride. From that point on, these “Northern Rides” (aka “North of Toronto” Rides) proved to be my favourite and my friends and I revisited the area numerous times, often bringing along people who like me, hadn’t ridden on “real” roads.
Fast forward 13 years: I was on a group ride with a few people I’d never ridden with before. The skies were blue and we hit Highway 35, the 507, Elephant Lake Road, Peterson Road, and more roads that were new to me and my wheels! This time I didn’t spill my chocolate milkshake from Kawartha Dairy on my shirt, although I did spill coffee on my pants—apparently you can’t take me anywhere!
These days, planning a ride in this area is much easier with resources like the Ride The Highlands website, where you can find pre-planned routes, attractions and accommodations, all motorcycle-friendly. They’ll even send you a free paper map with everything highlighted!
This time though, we did more than explore just the riding roads: we took the time to (literally) soak in the area. We enjoyed a two-night stay at the Bonnie View Inn, right on Kashagawigamog Lake (somehow listening to loons call at night helps you sleep better). We rode around the lake on a giant water banana pulled by a power boat and relaxed watching the sun go down on their lakeside patio.
We also learned a little about the history of the area by meeting some road builders and their beautiful pair of Percheron/Canadian hybrid horses, specially bred for this type of hard work.
We were blown away by Terry Craig, a glass blowing artist at Artech Glass Blowing Studio. We watched him make scotch glasses using the old traditional methods. He adds his own twist by making pointy protrusions at the bottom of the glasses to represent the thorns of Scottish nettle.
Our experience was also gastronomic as we had some really good smoked barbeque ribs and beef brisket at The Olde Ridge Authentic Barbeque, which is ideally located at the bottom of Elephant Lake Road! The real unsung hero of that meal was the hot freshly baked corn bread!
We even stopped by The Little Tart for a tasty butter tart treat, recommended to us by Terry from Artech. We had fun watching Casey, our American friend, try a butter tart for the first time! He didn’t quite have the technique right and the filling oozed right down his hands!
If you like taking photos, the area is rife with photo ops such as the locomotive and Lockheed T-33 jet in Haliburton, moose along the Highway 60 corridor in Algonquin (especially ubiquitous in the spring), panoramic views from the Dorset Fire Tower (best but most crowded during the fall colours), the Avro Arrow in Barry’s Bay, just to name a few! The natural landscapes by lakes and Canadian Shield are also photogenic and you won’t find them in the city!
For me, though, the Highlands area will always be about the roads. I’ve ridden to the Arctic Ocean (James Bay), to Key West Florida, and the east and west coasts of Canada, but the Highlands area will always have a special place in my heart.