Travel – Ottawa Valley Fall Colour Ride

Story by Terry Pitts// Photos by Terry Pitts
June 1 2012
Ottawa Bike Ride

Day Trip – Ottawa Valley 

Rays of sunshine trickled through the morning mist as Cathy and I swabbed the dew off the seats and our bike sputtered to life in all her ear-pounding splendour.

I found myself repeating over and over again, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” a phrase I’d used many times but never with more delight.

I’d been away from biking for several years, and this was to be the summer . . . I thought. I’d looked at several bikes, and they were more than Cathy and I were willing to spend. I’d given up on the idea and then, on a restless night, I tortured myself one last time and clicked on Kijiji to see what I couldn’t have. Hallelujah, there it was. A 2000 V-Star 1100, in great shape and at a price we could afford. In the morning I called, and someone was already going to see it — bummed again. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” I rationalized, telling myself that it wasn’t all that important anyway. Yeah, right.

Bike Day TripSometimes stories have happy endings, or in this case, beginnings. Through a set of minor miracles, she landed in our driveway and a glorious summer began.

As much as we thrilled to the hot summer, my favourite time of year is the fall. The bugs go away, the summer folk vacate and the countryside breathes a sigh of relief. Mother Nature might even have taken a well-deserved nap if it weren’t for those infernal two-wheeled monsters blatting down the highway.

Although we could have spent many hours in the charming villages we’d be riding through, I’d carefully planned our day trip to highlight the incredible scenery. The bike was cleaned and fueled, the camera batteries charged, the weather scrutinized, the work schedule cleared and the excitement level ratcheted up.

Now, I’m not sure if you know the glories of the Madawaska Valley in eastern Ontario, but all year there is little that can compare with its vistas of rolling hills, winding back roads and pristine lakes. Little, that is, until the frost of mid-September paints the forest with tinges of red, orange and yellow, so that each passing day a more vibrant symphony of colour emerges. Then, nothing else comes close.

Bike Day TourWe pulled out of the Hudson House, a wonderful B&B where Mecca (the owner) serves an awesome breakfast while you look over the mighty Madawaska River. We idled past the fantastic farmer’s market and through Combermere, the home of the Mayflower. I dialed on the throttle, shifted into fifth, and even on a day that promised sun and temperatures above 25 degrees, there was a nip in the September morning air and our cozy layers of clothing were welcome. With the wind in my face, crimson sumac at the roadside, the drone from our pipes and the pull of acceleration as I turned the throttle a little more, this promised to be a wonderful day.

We climbed out of the mist, and Kamaniskeg Lake emerged to our right, with wisps of fog dancing on the shimmering water. Our first stop was mere minutes into our ride, but we couldn’t miss the panorama of the lake, framed by fall colour on each side and capped with an azure blue sky. After a few photos, we fired up and turned onto Centreview Road to take the twisty back road to Barry’s Bay. There’s something special about leaning hard into a turn with your soul mate joyfully hoisting her thumb.

Barry’s Bay is an old lumber town turned tourist village, with great stores and restaurants. The lumber magnate of the late 1800s, J. R. Booth, developed the railways and the logging industry from Ottawa through the Madawaska Valley and on to Georgian Bay; the industry is still alive in the area, though long surpassed by tourism. Canada’s one remaining wooden water tower with a wooden base stands as a monument to the glory days of tough lumberjacks and belching steam trains.

We stopped to get some photos of the only flying Avro Arrow, Canada’s ill-fated fighter jet of the 1950s. Well, maybe it wasn’t “flying,” but the one-third scale model is reaching for the heavens from its pedestal in Zuracowski Park. Jan Zuracowski was the celebrated test pilot for the Arrow and, after black Friday on February 20, 1959, when the Diefenbaker government sadly cancelled the project, Jan promised his wife he’d never fly again. The family moved to Barry’s Bay and built Kartuzy Lodge, where Anna still lives. We motored on to Wilno, Canada’s first Polish settlement, and if you’re ever in “the Valley” on a Tuesday night, be sure to stop at the Wilno Tavern for blues night. You’ll get a delightful Polish meal, meet a few other bikers and hear some great music. I should add that, in the ’60s, the Wilno/Killaloe area was one of the premier destinations for draft dodgers and hippies, and several communes sprang up. Although most are now disbanded, the area boasts a wonderful, eclectic community of characters, many of whom you would also meet at the tavern.

We powered up the hill and passed the magnificent St. Mary’s church to our right, and then on to the Wilno lookout where you can see Round Lake, Golden Lake and seemingly forever. Wow! Next it was on to Killaloe, another quaint village, and then south on Brudenell Road through Old Killaloe with its mostly intact grist and lumber mills as well as the remnants of the Getz General Store. The road wound its way past one magnificent display of nature’s splendour after another. Brudenell Road ends at the ghost town of Brudenell, which shrouds its shady past with a stately old stone church, Our Lady of the Angels, as well as a fire station and a few residents’ homes. The Opeongo Line was one of the “colonization roads” created by the government of Upper Canada in the 1840s and ’50s to develop what is now eastern Ontario. During the flurry of settlers and lumbering activity in the 1880s, Brudenell blossomed with a store, a blacksmith shop, a racetrack, and three hotels offering gambling, alcohol and other unmentionables.

The so called “sin bin” soon dwindled, as starving European settlers who had tried to farm the rocky forest abandoned the hollow promise of fertile land. We turned onto Letterkenny Road, a wonderful combination of hills, curves, lakes, open fields and splashes of fall colour. Near Quadeville, we passed through the area with an old log home, rumoured to be a hideout for Al Capone and his gang. Apparently, a local man supplied the lumber for the cabin and was never paid, so he drove all the way to Chicago to collect and, after a warning, scurried home with empty pockets and wounded pride.

We turned east on County Road 515, a well-maintained ribbon of asphalt winding up to the hills of Lyndoch. Our world changed from beautiful to incredible. Our Star snorted her way up the hill past flaming red, orange and yellow, and then the vista burst wide open ahead of us. Golden fields and hills ablaze with colour spread out forever. We stopped for pictures and to soak in the warm fall sun, then set out again past the old church and rows of round hay bales awaiting winter. I love the smells as you pass through the countryside: the pungent odour of decaying leaves; fields, each with their own signature smell; someone baking oatmeal cookies or barbecuing lunch. It’s something we never think about as we traverse the countryside in our four-wheeled bubbles.

We carved the curves back to the Opeongo Line at Foymount, which claims to be the loftiest populated community in Ontario at 500 metres above sea level. We took a side trip up to the town site and through the mothballed military base that the Air Force built in the 1950s as part of the Pinetree Radar Line for the detection of nuclear bombers coming from the Soviet Union. It was closed in 1974 because more powerful radar installations overlapped Foymount’s coverage. In spite of the wonder of the endless view, I am always saddened by the wasted, decaying structures with no chance of rescue. From there we took County Road 64 toward Dacre, another hill-and-curve paradise for motorcycles — of course, far be it from me to scrape the floorboards on some of those delicious bends. We turned right onto Highway 41, left onto 132 and stopped at the friendly little gas station in Dacre for a shot of joy juice and a rest for our numb bums.

With tummies rumbling, we set our sights on Calabogie, taking Whelan Road to the south. This was the only stretch of gravel we encountered on the whole trip, but that was okay too — it brought back memories of my dirtbike days. Calabogie is a tourist town on the northeast corner of Calabogie Lake, and it’s home to Calabogie Peaks Ski Resort, a golf course, and to Calabogie Motor Sports Park, a paved racetrack with a full schedule of car and motorcycle racing. We pulled into Pinky’s for a quick and delicious lunch, and relaxed while we basked in the sun and revelled in the view over the lake. We pried our behind parts off the chairs, fired up for the home stretch and turned east on Calabogie Road and then onto Centennial Lake Road. The colours through this stretch were not as spectacular, but the scenery, curves and hills made for a thrilling 50‑kilometre ride, and then, with a quick stop for a drink in Griffith, we headed south on Highway 41. We had been cruising the smaller twisties all day, and the wide-open main highway was a pleasant interlude.

I’m sure we all have our favourite stretch of road, but, for my money, the most perfect piece of motorcycle highway is Hwy 28 from Denbigh through to Hardwood Lake and then 515 out to Combermere. There are lakes and rivers; fields and incredible vistas; tall pine and hardwood forests; smooth twisty roads and very little traffic. Add to that the vibrant fall colours and all I can say is, yahoo! We pulled in to Combermere and dragged our stiff carcasses off the seats, having travelled 320 kilometres over exciting and beautiful roads, through intriguing villages and hamlets, and past breathtaking vistas, all while surrounded by sunny warmth and bathed in fall splendour. Cathy and I were weary, but filled to the brim from an incredible day. And, yes, it doesn’t get any better than that – sun, colour and curves.


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