Close To Home

Story by Bert Powell// Photos by Bert Powell
August 1 2009

Sometimes the best roads can be found just around the corner.

It is a warm spring day and I am going for a ride. No, I am not going to a motorcycle nirvana in the Rockies, Alps or Australia. You see, I only have three hours available for this ride. Fortunately I live in Innisfil, about one hour north of Toronto, so I don’t have to be inconvenienced with a flight to some exotic place, a brand new factory loaner and a generous expense account. Not me! My nirvana is a nicely broken-in Honda ST 1300 and quick access to some of the best roads in central Ontario. I figure my situation is typical of many riders and you know what, it is pretty darn good.

My chosen destination is Muskoka Road 13, a 35 km serpentine piece of pavement that runs from Severn Bridge at the north end of Lake Couchiching, to Torrance which is east of Bala on Highway 169. Locally known as cottage country.

Heading out, I zip through the urban sprawl of Barrie on Highway 400. Like most of the major highways in Ontario, the 400 is a controlled access, divided piece of boredom designed to get cages from A to B as efficiently as possible. Don’t get me wrong, Barrie and Highway 400 are fine examples of what they are, but today they represent exactly what I am not interested in. I want a twisty road that takes me through the shadows cast by oak and pine trees, around lakes and across the Torrance Barrens. Highway 400 spits me out onto Highway 11 as I head north towards Orillia and Severn Bridge.

The ST 1300 is a fine machine for covering highway miles. It is smooth, quiet and offers great wind protection with its adjustable windshield. I can easily cover the 500 kilometres needed to empty the 29-litre tank in one sitting. This motorcycle is so comfortable that rider concentration can start to slip away. I often get into windshield philosophizing on straight roads and such was my state of mind when that fat shiny black SUV sidled up beside me. Not sure how long it had been behind me, but here I was travelling at 100 km/h in the left track of the right lane on a divided four-lane highway and my uninvited travelling companion, Godzilla the gas guzzler, was about two meters to my left. Why do so many drivers do this to motorcyclists? Don’t they realize blind spots are our nemesis and we are a very anti-social group when in motion? It is time to teach this motorist some highway etiquette so I speed up to 110 km/h creating some distance between us and hopefully conveying the message that I don’t want to travel beside him. Wrong! Godzilla speeds up and positions himself beside me again. I should have known better than to challenge the high speed performance of a shiny black SUV, so this time I slow down and place my travelling companion well in front of me. Now I can keep an eye on him. I wonder if the conversation at the supper table that night got around to how SUV’s can go faster than motorcycles?

Time and distance pass and I arrive at Ontario’s version of The Tail of the Dragon which is Muskoka Road 13. An exaggeration perhaps, but hey it took me less than one hour to get here and the real Dragon is in Tennessee, a two-day ride away. Time to scuff up those chicken strips. The ST is no sport bike, but it does a fine job as a sport touring motorcycle.

I am in the cottage areas of Sparrow and Morrison Lakes where a good measure of caution is called for because Bambi may pounce without notice and sand or loose gravel mid-corner is common. Many of the curves are very tight with some elevation change. Parts of the route are quite technical, offering the opportunity to trail brake into the apex and apply moderate throttle on the exit. I am mindful that it is a public road and stay within my comfort zone as I enjoy the sweepers and the tight turns, the sense of being alone, and the ever changing smells of the forest and farms (well, not necessarily all the farm aromas, but you get the idea). This truly is an entertaining stretch of road that is readily accessible from the Toronto area.

Towards the end you will come out on the Torrance Barrens. These barrens are a 1900-hectare parcel of land administered by the Province of Ontario. It is the first piece of land in Canada to be designated a Dark Sky Reserve, which means that the use of night lighting is discouraged throughout the area by the Township of Muskoka Lakes. Any necessary lighting is to be directed towards the ground thereby decreasing the light pollution of the pitch-black skies. This area is frequented by astronomy enthusiasts drawn by the unrestricted view of the sky from this remote place. There are hiking trails and interpretive paths leading from the parking lot. I take a break, have a stretch and gather my thoughts.

I continue on Muskoka Road 13 and it brings me to Highway 169. I follow it west to the town of Bala, which is where the Moon River flows out of Lake Muskoka on its way to Georgian Bay. I bet you didn’t know that Bala is the cranberry capital of Ontario and host of the annual Cranberry Festival on the weekend after Thanksgiving. I ramble around this quaint little town and visit the roaring Bala Falls and a Lucy Maud Montgomery museum commemorating a holiday she spent here in 1922.

Leaving Bala on Muskoka Road 38, a fluent route with sweeping curves that takes me back out to Highway 400. Towards the end of 38, I enter the Mohawk community of Wahta. Just before reaching Highway 400, an impressive wooden longhouse-styled administration building reveals itself from behind a curtain of trees. It is masterfully constructed out of cedar logs and it houses the Council chambers, meeting rooms, a banquet hall and a family resource centre. I am left with the feeling that this beautiful structure is a source of great pride and the hub of community activities.

Taking Highway 400 south unfortunately puts me back on a major highway, but it will get me home in an hour or so and does take me through some scenic Georgian Bay shoreline with impressive rock cuts—one of the better motorcycle highways in the province, if just getting from A to B is the goal.

For me this ride takes three hours and half a tank of gas, and makes for a great interlude in life’s routines. Sometimes there are gems right in your own back yard just waiting to be explored.


Copyright ©2002-2024 Motorcycle Mojo | Privacy Policy | Built by Gooder Marketing