Exploring the Edges of Muskoka

Story by Ron Keys// Photos by Ron Keys and Virgil Knapp
July 1 2014

Even when the weather doesn’t fully cooperate, a great motorcycle trip can still be had

Muskoka’s maple leaves shine in brilliant hues of gold, red, yellow and orange. Adding a picturesque beauty to a perfect Muskoka experience.

With my daughter, Leah, as my pillion aboard the BMW K1600GTL, we head out to meet three fellow riders at Bayview Wildwood Resort on the southernmost tip of Ontario’s beautiful Muskoka region. In spite of the weather forecast, our spirits are not dampened. Bundled stiffly into our rain suits, we embark on a weekend-long path of back-road travels in an area known as Explorer’s Edge. This region is comprised of Muskoka, the Almaguin Highlands, Algonquin Park, Georgian Bay Country, and Loring-Restoule, and as we’ll find out, offers some outstanding riding.

Although the rain has stopped, the sky still roils angry and grey as we carefully make our way over the wet, windblown leaves carpeting County Road 13, otherwise known as Southwood Road. Winding and twisting, caution is the order of the moment, and we wish for conditions more conducive to rubber-asphalt adhesion.

Autumn Leaves MuskokaThe road rises and falls with nature’s undulations, and rocky outcrops appear intermittently here in the southern reaches of the Canadian Shield. Occasionally, we catch glimpses of dark blue lakes, reflecting ominous skies that threaten more rain. Emerging from the tunnel of trees, we meet Highway 169 and take the more travelled road south to Gravenhurst for a welcome lunch break. Just across the bay, North America’s oldest steamship, the RMS Segwun, quietly steams into port with a deck full of tourists as we enjoy a hot bowl of soup and sandwich at the Wolff’s Den, a European-style café.

The roads begin to dry as we leave Gravenhurst on CR 17, which winds along Muskoka Lake to CR 4. At Bracebridge, CR 4 takes us out of town and at Hwy 141, we hang a left. Suddenly, sweeping curves appear ahead on the now-dry pavement, and twisting the right grip, I heel the big Beemer over hard into the lovely banked curves heading down toward Lake Rosseau. The corners get sharper, and I hear a loud crunch as my centre stand hits the pavement, creating a shower of sparks. We speed along, left and right, between the high granite cliffs and the shores of Skelton Bay. It is over too soon, so we turn around and do it all over again several times, just for the sheer rush of peg-grinding exhilaration. What a treat! At the hamlet of Rosseau, we turn right onto Aspdin Road and tool along, each of us enveloped in our own rapture of the ride.

We enter Huntsville and glide downhill along its lovely main street to Hwy 60. A sizable doe standing on the lawn of a ski chalet catches my attention just before we arrive at our lodgings for the night.

Hidden Valley Resort, perched on a hill overlooking Peninsula Lake, is a lovely scenic location to conclude an afternoon ride that covered 100 km. After cleaning up we are transported by van and spend the next few hours enjoying the company of good friends and the fantastic fare at Spencer’s Tall Trees Restaurant. What a great ending to a wonderful day of riding.

Early the next morning, I wipe the night’s rainfall off my saddle before re-mounting the BMW’s saddlebags, and I head to the dining room to enjoy an impressive buffet breakfast while looking over the lake. In a few short weeks, the ghost-like, motionless ski lifts will be in full swing as winter in the snowbelt settles in and beckons skiers and snowboarders to the slopes.

We glide back down Hwy 60 and over to Hwy 11, where we head north for a quick blur of super slab to the Almaguin Highlands Information Centre in Emsdale. Looking east, I can see the edges of Algonquin Park, Ontario’s oldest and largest provincial park. The Almaguin Region covers over 7800 square km of pristine countryside with spring-fed, crystal-clear lakes and kilometres of trails. Today, we will ride along some of its many back roads.

Muskoka Attraction Another 40 km of slab takes us to Burk’s Falls on the Magnetawan River. Named after Oshawa resident David Francis Burk, the area was primarily settled for its logging industry. We follow the curving river along CR 521 and turn left onto Midlothian Road, a narrow artery that takes us past farms and over hills to one of Muskoka’s peculiarities, the Screaming Heads.

On a ridge of land, Peter Camani – teacher, artist and thinker – has indeed created a curious site of sights. Midlothian Castle (a.k.a. Camani’s home) features a bathtub perched high atop the roof, a tower in the shape of a face held between two hands with windows forming its open mouth, and gargoyles and dragons adorning the corners. A small, mythical creature sits quietly on a fencepost, deep in thought, with its chin resting on its arm while peacocks and chickens roam about an organic vegetable stand with wonderful fresh produce for sale. The Screaming Heads, however, are the main attraction.

Camani, like most artists, intends to provide the vehicle for beholders to arrive at their own understandings. More than this, he aims to invite interpretations that are inclusive, multi-layered, and changeable, much like the ideas that influence and inspire him. The towering, concrete Screaming Heads arose from a fascination with opposites – light/dark, good/bad, life/death – also revered by the ancient Druids. They are placed intentionally and meant to stimulate the imagination. It appears Camani has achieved his aim, as I quietly observe other visitors gazing at the structures, lost in thoughts spurred by these unusual structures. We are all rather speechless as we ride away.

Still following the Magnetawan River to the hamlet by the same name, construction diverts us to Dunchurch on CR 124. We take a break at the Maple Island General Store and are met by a holler. “Be right there! Was going to close, but I’ll stay open for a bit.” The voice belongs to a woman in a housecoat and curlers, apparently about to close up and head into town for some shopping.

Probably a good idea, considering most of her stock is expired, and she offers it up free of charge. The twists and turns of the pea-gravel blacktop and the evergreens mixed with the fall colours provide a great medium for a relaxing ride as we follow the gentle curves of CR 520. Turning left onto the “Bunny Trail” – the name piqued my interest. The next several kilometres turn out to be the most fun of the entire weekend: ups and downs, lefts and rights demand my attention to detail as I anticipate what will come around the next corner. The 1600 GTL Beemer is a big bike, but it handles like an oversized sportbike on this type of undulating and twisting road.

For many kilometres, we follow this awesome ride as we head south toward Parry Sound. At CR 124, sadly, the Bunny Trail ends. We turn right and head to the Trapper’s Choice Restaurant for a hearty lunch, much needed after 140 km of morning merriment. We enjoy a relaxing ride north along Hwy 69 to Grundy Lake Provincial Park, where we take CR 522 across to Port Loring. Without the constant curves, this stretch of road allows us to de-stress and enjoy the scenery. At Trout Creek, we head south on Hwy 11 and make our way back to Magnetawan on Hwy 124.

Victoria Street leads to a short gravel road and the entrance to Woodland Echoes Resort, a unique getaway where a lovely rustic cabin awaits, complete with a hot tub and shower. Gazing past our deck overlooking Ahmic Lake, I settle back on the couch and let the day’s activities and the afternoon’s 238 km sink in. We are soon summoned to dinner. A fish fry of shad from Ahmic Lake, cooked over an open fire and accompanied by a buffet of homemade salads and sweets; this meal is fit for a king.

As I look over the well-stocked lake, my only wish is that I had brought along a fishing pole. The next morning, we are ready to ride after a robust breakfast. Returning to our cabin in the slight drizzle, I mount our saddlebags, hoping that the clouds will move on. This does not bode well for today’s ride. Making our way to Hwy 11, our hopes of a dry day are dashed as the drizzle changes to a downpour. We take exit 248 and ride over to Sprucedale, where we convene – completely soaked and cursing failed rain gear – and unanimously decide to head straight to Gravenhurst as quickly as possible. We return to the super slab, sorely disappointed to miss the ride on CR 518, another phenomenal bike road.

However, such is motorcycling—at times, the weather gets in the way of the ride. Our flight down Hwy 69 is more suitable for a jet ski than a motorcycle, but we manage to make the 137 km journey safely. Drenched, frozen, and hours before check-in, we flood the Marriott Residence Inn lobby, where we strip off our wet gear, grab a hot coffee, and wait for a warm room and a hot shower. It’s times like this that I appreciate being able to easily remove the side cases from the GTL and unpack in the room, instead of standing in the rain and possibly getting our only dry clothes wet in the downpour. That evening, we are escorted once again by a van and are driven to Bracebridge for our final meal together.

Just as they are about to close their doors, the kind folks at the Andreas Steak and Seafood House take us in and give us the royal treatment. With the place to ourselves, we savour the good food and great company; warmed by conversation with like-minded people we call friends. No one wants the evening to end, but all too soon it, and the ride, become history. MMM To plan your riding route, weekend or vacation getaway, go to ExplorersEdge.ca or GoRideOntario.ca


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