Day 60 – Take Me Home, Country Roads…

The Brothers Jacobs

Our last full day of the road trip began with breakfast at the Ash Grove Inn in Barry’s Bay, right down the road from the Pinewood. Overlooking Kamaniskeg Lake, the restaurant serves not only hotel guests but local folks as well.

A beautiful quiet drive brought us to vibrant little Maynooth, where we were sad to discover the Sun Run Café was closed on Mondays. We made up for it though by spending a good long while perusing the overflowing shelves of the Old Peterson Road Gallery & Antiques and coming away with quite a few little treasures.

The historic Peterson Road, one of the best riding roads in Southern Ontario, begins in Maynooth. The long sweeping tree-lined curves meet the sparkling blue waves of Baptiste Lake and continues as Elephant Lake Road for another 15km to the small town of Harcourt. We’d thought the two roads would be the last of the great riding on the trip, but the beautiful new discovery of Regional Road 48/Dyno Road between highways 118 and 28 added another five kilometres of sweet, low, tight little bends, a sun-dappled green canopy overhead and tucked right up to the pavement, ending right at Silent Lake Provincial Park. We almost turned around and did it again, but we were already late for our rendez-vous with Daniel Jacobs of Bare Knuckle Records – the composer of much of the music for the Road Show.

At Dan’s cozy little studio on a quiet road in Peterborough, the Road Trip Band recorded our very own song, a Northern Ontario-themed cover of John Denver’s classic, Take Me Home, Country Roads. Figuring out the lyrics brought about a rapid-fire reminiscence of all of the great places we’d visited, the good food we’d eaten, and all the fun we’d had. With each take, and each reminiscence, it became necessary to include an additional verse. Although afterwards we were devastated to realize we’d forgotten to include the experience we’d rhapsodized about so many times – Alexe even dreamed of it one night – the spectacular, one of a kind, delectable poutine at Elk Lake Eco-Resort with the inimitable Pam Hamel. If anything, it deserves its own verse.

Dan invited us over to his backyard for a picnic of a few racks of the amazing smoked ribs from Muddy’s Pit BBQ in Keene. Each side is smoked for 24 hours, presided over by the owner himself. It was a perfectly messy and satisfying finale to all the great eating we’ve done on this trip, and there couldn’t have been better dinner companions than Dan and his lovely lady Emma.

Stuffed to the brim, we headed home to the Best Western Otanabee on the river for our last night of sharing hotel rooms!

Tomorrow – The last haul south…

Photos by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 59 – Peace in the Valley

We began our descent out of Northern Ontario with a late morning jaunt down highway 11 from Mattawa to Pembroke, where we hooked up with Ottawa Valley Tourism’s Melissa Marquart for an afternoon adventure in the land of the rushing rivers.

After a late lunch at the Pembroke Best Western, we headed west to check out the pretty little town of Wilno, the first Polish settlement in Ontario. We had been through the area in early June, but it’s always nice to have a local guide to let you in on all the little secret gems, and she took us to some great little spots we never would have discovered otherwise.

On the way to our evening accommodation, the Pinewood Inn in Barry’s Bay, Melissa took us to the lookout over Wilno, where from a low shady bluff the green hills roll away down the valley. A plaque commemorates the long Polish history and unique culture of the community.

We whiled away the heat of the afternoon swimming in Kamaniskeg Lake in Barry’s Bay, strolling in our bathing suits and towel sarongs along a grassy path down the hill right behind the Pinewood.

But the absolute best part of the day was the surprise that awaited us at the Wilno Tavern. An unpresuming white building tucked up on a rise along the highway with a beautiful folk art mural on the wall, we had passed it by on our first run through town on our way to Bonnechere in June, but it had appeared so quiet and sleepy we didn’t think much of it.

Opening the door we were swept into a bustling mix of local families and tables full of vibrant river rafting guides, everyone lining up for the brimming smorgasbord of traditional (yet uniquely local) Polish fare. Because Wilno was so culturally isolated for most of its history, and the Polish settlers all arrived from one area of Poland, the dialect and food of the Wilno area is quite distinctive.

It’s also totally delicious. For $17.95, we stuffed our faces with gigantic cheese, potato and bacon-filled pierogies with all the fixings, cabbage rolls, pickled whitefish, meatballs, sausages and fried onions, braised red cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy, salads, and even homemade lemon meringue and rhubarb pies.

The Tavern also hosts open-mike nights on Tuesdays, and the audience crams in from miles around. The Valley is home to several white water rafting companies, and guests and guides alike make the trip to Wilno to dance the night away accompanied by, as one guide put it, ‘lots of Polish beer.’

After dinner we went for a short digestive stroll down the old train tracks, along which the community has developed a beautiful homage to their history with a museum of old log buildings surrounded by flower gardens and the old wayfinding wooden crosses used to mark property boundaries when the area was first settled. The museum was closed for the day, but the photographic history of the area’s churches offered a fascinating glimpse of what life was like in this little Polish town.

Saying goodbye to Melissa, we headed back to Barry’s Bay and the cozy Pinewood Inn.

Tomorrow – Onward to Peterborough on the legendary Peterson & Elephant Lake Roads!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 58 – The Destroyers destroyed

What. A. Day.

The sight of the glorious thundering waterfalls of the stunning Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area was a great start to the day. We walked the 500m trail to the Gorge and the Amable du Fond River with Mattawa-Bonfield Tourism’s Jeff McGirr, and hung out in the trees overlooking the rushing water. The Gorge itself has a long First Nations history, and was used by JR Booth’s logging endeavours in the 1870s.

The afternoon was a crazy mash-up of classic Ontario rock and roll, heatstroke, and Thai Kickboxing as we explored the Mattawa Voyageur Days festival around Explorer’s Point on the Mattawa River, where a Hudson’s Bay post was built in 1837. The festival was first held in 1997, and has rocked the Mattawa River the last weekend in July every summer since. The town of 2,000 swells to 7,000 — a sold-out crowd — for the weekend of the festival, concert-goers coming from all over Ontario. We even ran into our Ride Manitoulin Poker Run dealer!

We were lucky enough to catch this year’s Saturday line-up — Platinum Blonde, the Northern Pikes, and the final act of the evening, George Thorogood & the Destroyers! We took in a few rounds at the festival’s kick-boxing tournament, and enjoyed some traditional Mattawa area dinner fare at the Senior’s Centre — Sea Pies! Similar to shepherd’s pie, we were served pies made with beef and pork, but traditionally they can be filled with moose and deer.

After a heat-filled afternoon at the festival grounds and exploring the boisterous streets of the town, it was great to settle back and listen to some old fashioned bluesy rock and roll as the moon rose over the river as George Thorogood & the Destroyers took to the stage.

Tomorrow — We head down river to meet up with Ottawa Valley Tourism’s Melissa Marquart and explore Ontario’s first Polish settlement in Wilno!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki


Day 57 – Crooners and cocktails

I don’t think I can adequately put into words the magic that happened at Partners tonight.

Exhausted by the long haul north on busy freeways and disheartened by the loss of our darling truck Willie Nelson, it was a sorry bunch who arrived at the Comfort Inn in North Bay this afternoon. Not even the air conditioning or operational stereo of the Subaru could cheer us up. We were so long-faced we didn’t even want to eat dinner — but we managed a quick trip to Wendy’s anyway, just this once. When karaoke time rolled around, I think we were all a little more inclined to keep napping instead, but we rallied and clambered into the Subaru to head for the bright lights of downtown North Bay, and the inimitable Partners Billiards and Bowling. Every Friday at 9pm, DJ Geo warms up the microphone for a night of all-request Karaoke hits. Our waitress Tanya said that most nights it’s packed by 11pm and late-comers don’t get to sing, but because of the big weekend party at Mattawa Voyageur Days, it was a little quieter.

There was a rotating roster of about six crooners when we arrived: Fern, with his off-kilter country classics, Vince and his golden voice, Georges Sr and Jr, and the boisterous ladies Tina and Tammy with their rollicking renditions of the hits of revenge and betrayal, and most of Madonna’s mid-80s catalogue. The disco ball sent slivers of blue and orange light shimmying across the floor and the crack of the pool rack breaking across the felt tables gave the place an air of bustle even in its relative emptiness.

Mike started off with a comparatively lacklustre Sweet Caroline to a lukewarm crowd response, and we were a little concerned about the evening’s direction, but then Alexe really warmed them up with her sparkling dance moves to Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again. After that, the UNORTs were on fire. The crowd-pleasing harmonies of the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann got the dance floor jumping, Alexe’s rendition of Mitsou’s French pop classic Bye Bye Mon Cowboy brought out the provocative questions, and when Mike channeled Elvis with the heartbreaking Love Me there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We even joined the dance-circle with a little fancy two stepping before making a break for it at last call, when the young turks took to the stage with contemporary pop-punk compositions.

We stopped in at the Metro supermarket on the way home to appease our re-awakened appetites, and nibbled on microwaved Pizza Pockets in the comfort of our hotel room while watching footage of ourselves slay the microphone on Bogdan’s computer.

Tomorrow — More hot times with Rock and Roll at Mattawa Voyageur Days!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 56 – And then there were none.

This was a very strange day.

After packing up the trailer and hitching it to the truck, I noticed that a front end-loader working on the water main replacement on Taylor Made’s street was making trips to the sand pile at the end of the road, and depositing rather sizeable mounds of sand at 4 foot intervals along the street. Sitting in the cab of the truck, I had a bit of a staring contest with the loader’s driver, trying to discern whether he would inform me first if he was going to drop a mound of sand directly in front of me before he did so. I got the feeling maybe he wouldn’t, so I made my escape before he had the chance, and parked around the corner, walking back across the field for breakfast at the B&B.

After another delicious meal, we set off on our 450km journey from Lion’s Head to North Bay. But after filling up in Ferndale, truck started to behave strangely — no guts when accelerating, which was unusual, and slowing down to almost 30km/hr on uphills.

Around Owen Sound things got really weird, and after playing around with a few things under the hood and test driving sans trailer, we decided to make a break for Toronto on the back roads and switch vehicles for the last few days of the trip. We lunched in the lovely little bluegrass-loving town of Shelburne — country-music capital of Ontario — on corn chowder and thick sandwiches on homemade bread at Jelly Craft Bakery & Cafe, running for cover in a thunder storm.

The rolling hills of highway 10 through Caledon really put the poor old truck to the test, slowing down to 10 or 20km uphill even in low gear. The poor old thing gave up completely as soon as we got into Brampton city limits, and we used Pete’s gift of CAA Plus RV for the second time this trip for a tow back to the Jacobs’ compound in Etobicoke. The 400-series highways were a real shock to our systems after two months of the quiet cruising roads of the North!

Once safely home, we cajoled the old beast into the driveway with the help of half a can (at least) of Quick Start and some serious pushing, then emptied both truck and trailer and repacked all our stuff into Pete and Joelle’s Subaru Outback. We used up their hot water tank several times over with a bunch of showers and a couple loads of laundry, and treated our tastebuds to something unseen in the north — Thai curries! from Lee’s Thai Spring Roll on Lakeshore.

This little moment of luxury was tempered with a sense of great loss and sadness at the strange demise of the pick-up, and we pondered what had happened every so often whenever a new idea occurred to someone. Hopefully she can be revived — but we don’t have time to stick around to watch it happen. We got parties to attend in the north!

Tomorrow — the long haul to North Bay, and Karaoke at Partners Billiards & Bowling!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki


Day 55 – Oeuf Wiedersehen

Barbara and Dave Wynd tout their morning fare as the “Best Breakfast on the Bruce” — and they ain’t lying. The long polished oak table in the plant-filled dining room is laden with a colourful spread Dave calls “Barbara’s German Breakfast,” but there’s a lot of Bruce Peninsula involved with local summer sausage, Barbara’s homemade bread and muesli, and veggies from their garden. Fresh fruit salad, a variety of cold meats and cheeses, pickled herring and smoked salmon, and deep dish baked apple pancake complete the spread. Barbara prides herself on offering guests the “perfect egg” boiled to order, and dressed in tiny handmade warmers. Carafes of strong hot coffee and tea are never empty, and Barb keeps an eagle eye on the dishes to make sure guests never want for anything. Nothing is greasy or fried, and whenever possible dishes are made from scratch. It’s a table to linger over with conversation and laughter, something the wisecracking Wynds are never short of.

Barbara and Dave purchased the former Taylor’s Bed & Breakfast on the quiet cul-de-sac across from trees and farm fields in 2004, and with a typical twist of humour renamed it Taylor Made — built by Taylor, and tailored to their guests’ enjoyment. With five spacious, bright guest rooms ranging from twin to deluxe queen with ensuite and a cozy guest lounge and foyer and backyard hot-tub, the B&B is a warm and welcoming spot for travellers to stay while enjoying the great hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, antiques and unique out of the way shops of the beautiful Bruce Peninsula. Barbara and Dave are both long-time riders and offer covered bike parking and seasoned advice on the best riding on the Bruce. Barbara owned a Bed & Breakfast in Norway for six years, and Dave’s spent many years managing hotels. They welcome guests in German, Norwegian, French and English!

After their daily duties keeping the B&B sparkling — and ours working away on our assorted blog-related creative endeavours — they took us to their favourite fish & chip spot for dinner. DNA take-away is housed in a turquoise and fuschia trailer on highway 6, and Dave raves about their lightly battered fresh whitefish — swimming in the morning, frying in the evening — and thick homemade french fries. The Lone Wolf drive-through coffee shop complements their offerings with cold and hot beverages — Dave and Mike rolled through in make-believe choppers, much to our delight.

A quiet evening in Barb & Dave’s cozy kitchen telling stories over nips of bourbon and herbal tea wound the quiet rainy day to a close and we retired to the trailer to get ready for our 450km jaunt to North Bay tomorrow.

Tomorrow — North Bay Karaoke! We’ve been practicing all week…

Photos by Alexandra Sawicki


Day 54 – On the Big Canoe

Our day started with an early morning ride to South Baymouth. A beautiful place at any time of day, the early morning is when Manitoulin shines with promise. At every turn, a new treasure: The night’s dew still glistening in the deep grass as the sun rolls over the fields; deer picking their way gracefully along the breakfast buffet of the roadside; queen anne’s lace and purple primrose peering out of the gulches; and cows grazing along the weathered logs of pioneer split-rail fences. Big Lake, Lake Manitou and South Bay wink through the trees along the winding country roads.

The ferry line-up in South Baymouth was just starting to grow when we arrived, and after parking the bike at the front of the line — motorcycles on and off first! — we headed into the Pierside Diner right across from the line-up for a quick breakfast before loading. We entertained ourselves with sampling the entire line of Manitoulin Island jams, jellies and spreads that are open on every table. From hazelnut chocolate spread to pecan coconut butter to the Island specialty Hawberry Jam, Hawberry Farms makes it all — right on Manitoulin Island. The adjoining gift shop sells the entire product line if you’re looking for a unique treat to take home. The Chi-cheemaun dock is one of the most highly trafficked areas on the whole island, and there are several comprehensive gift shops lining the road for last-minute purchases while you wait for the boat.

The hour and forty-five minute ferry ride from South Baymouth to Tobermory on the MS Chi-Cheemaun went by in a flash from our sheltered perch starboard aft ensconced in brightly coloured adirondack chairs. Georgian Bay was at its absolute bluest, the sky clear and light with one or two fluffy white clouds. In the distance, the north shore of Lake Huron to the north and the northernmost tip of the Bruce Peninsula to the south are grand and rocky with cedar forest stretching inland, small whitewashed lighthouses with the requisite red roofs guiding the way.

The Owen Sound Transportation Company has operated passenger ferries between Tobermory and South Baymouth since 1931, starting with the small, wooden vessels the MS Normac and SS Kagawong. The diesel powered MS Norgoma and SS Norisle were added to the fleet in 1963, and 1974 saw the maiden voyage of the state-of-the-art MS Chi-Cheemaun, the anglo-phonetic spelling of the Anishinaabemowin word for Big Canoe.

Landing on the Bruce Peninsula, we stopped to explore Tobermory and let the ferry traffic drift south down the two-lane highway 6 ahead of us. A summer-only tourist town, Tobermory is a bustling harbour lined with gift shops, ice cream parlours, fish & chips and adventure outfitters. The gas stations close early, so fill up in Ferndale on the Peninsula or on the Island if you’re heading to or from the ferry after 8pm. If you’ve got time to explore, tours to Flowerpot Island and Fathom Five Marine Park depart several times a day aboard glass-bottomed boats, and the lookout tower of Bruce Peninsula National Park is only a few minutes away.

Half an hour south of Tobermory, we said hello to our hosts Barbara and Dave Wynd of TaylorMade Bed & Breakfast in Lion’s Head and set up the trailer in their RV spot. An afternoon swim at the sheltered sandy beach by the Lion’s Head Marina welcomed us, and Alexe and I spent a lovely afternoon reading books under a tree on the much-widened original breakwater looking out over the cliffs and turquoise waves of Georgian Bay.

We capped off our gorgeous day with an evening ride along the water with Barb & Dave and their Harley-riding guests, and enjoyed a big homemade spaghetti dinner on their well-appointed deck.

Tomorrow — The final ‘work day’ of the trip in lovely Lion’s Head, and fish & chips with Barb & Dave!

Photos by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 53 – I Heart P0P

Father/son owners and management team Greg & Jack Adams of Mindemoya Court

We decided when we first arrived on Manitoulin that we would stay a day longer than our itinerary prescribed, and then remain in Lion’s Head for an additional day as well, skipping over southern Georgian Bay in favour of more in-depth coverage of the Island and the Bruce Peninsula. The hectic pace of the first 50 days was catching up with us, and we realized staying in one place for a little while would do wonders for our flagging energy.

On Thursday morning, five days seemed to stretch on forever. But today we all felt the pangs of ‘the last day’ — granted, maybe me more than most since I have 30 years of experience not wanting to leave Manitoulin at the end of the summer — and took the afternoon off to just enjoy the peaceful island pace, sunshine and sand. Except Mike; he never stops working.

He, Kelly and Jamie headed to Little Current in the morning for Chris Hughes‘ Motorcycle Tourism presentation, and I gathered everyone’s laundry and trotted into Mindemoya to get that out of the way early, stopping in at the Espresso Bar for a delicious iced cappuccino while the clothes were drying.

On my return, Alexe, Bogdan and I piled into the truck with our swimsuits and went to the big beach at Providence Bay. We’ve been driving past it almost every day, since the Ride Manitoulin event took place at the Prov Fair Grounds, but we haven’t really lounged around and gotten swimmy with it. Providence Bay is one of the nicest public beaches on the Island with clean white sand stretching out in a several kilometre shallow horseshoe, flat Lake Huron rocks stepping in to the water at the eastern end of the Bay. The Prov sand dunes are unique to the south shore of the Island, formed 3000-4000 years ago from post-glacial lake deposits. An elevated wooden boardwalk traverses the dunes, heading east along the beach from the interpretive centre and playground.

Picking up another round of absolutely delicious fresh fish burgers from Lake Huron Fish & Chips two minutes from the beach, we picnicked in the sand then hung out neck deep in the rolling waves for a long long time. On a hot hot day there is absolutely nothing better. Except maybe ice cream — which we grabbed from Three Boys and a Girl in Mindemoya, and lingered over on the little beach at the Ketchankookem Trail turnoff on the way back to Mindemoya Court.

When Mike returned, we barbecued our homemade hamburgers at the cookout patio as the sun glowed orange and purple over the lake. After chatting with Greg and Jack Adams — owners and managers of Mindemoya Court for 26 years! — Mike and I jumped into the windy lake for a wild last swim in the waves as the sun set.

Goodbye P0P! (The postal code prefix for Manitoulin Island)

Tomorrow — The Chi-cheemaun ferry to Tobermory, and TaylorMade Bed & Breakfast in Lion’s Head!

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 52 – Smashing sunset fish & chips

Foolishly, I opted to hang out around Mindemoya today with an old friend who has a cottage nearby and was up for the weekend. But I should have known he couldn’t possibly compete with the fun the others were having in Manitouwaning, watching gently used ancient beaters smash into each other in a race for the gold at the Summerfest Smash Up Derby. I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for missing that.

I did, luckily, get to have some fun today, because we went out for a big UNORT family picnic dinner at Lake Huron Fish & Chips in Providence Bay, and watched the sun set on the flat rocks at the east end of the beach.

Tomorrow — Laundry! Beach! And packing up…

Photo by Alexandra Sawicki

Day 51 – Ride, Manitoulin, ride

This morning we all headed to the Providence Bay fairgrounds for the Ride Manitoulin event. After wandering the grounds and checking out the wares, we signed up for the Poker run and rambled east on Government Road to the first stop: Ward’s General Store in Tekhummah, established in 1922 and still holding on to a bit of the original merchandise.

The run took us along some of the nicest roads on the Island, and to some of the tastiest places to visit. From Tekhummah we ended up at the Manitoulin Espresso Bar in Mindemoya, chatting with other Poker Run riders in the line-up, and getting a coffee to go with the stamp. In fact, two people in one day mentioned that the Bar serves the best iced cappuccino they’ve ever had! So I’m definitely going to get one tomorrow to help me through laundry day. Next on the itinerary were the Manitoulin Chocolate Works in Kagawong, the Shell station in Gore Bay, and Buie’s General Store in Spring Bay.

Mike, Alexe, Bogdan and Pete hung around to experience the Motorcycle Games at the Ride event, while I headed back to camp to prepare for Alexe’s birthday gathering — a ‘Hot Times at the Fiesta’ themed dinner, with chicken fajitas, rice and beans, and homemade salsa and guacamole, and a spice cake with cream cheese bourbon icing.

Jamie, Kelly and Boggie decorated the campsite with balloons and streamers, and it was the most festive clothesline I’ve ever seen. New and old friends joined us for drinks after dinner, and we topped it all off with a midnight swim in our underpants. Viva la 28!

Tomorrow — Summerfest Smash Up Derby!

Photos by Alexandra Sawicki