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This is a story about a road.
This was supposed to be a story about the Ottawa Magical Mystery Tour. The unusual border crossing, the giant elk by Morses Line, partying in Montréal til 3am, the pre-ride BBQ, ninety percent of the ride itself … all of it paled in comparison to The Road.
In fact, the camera didn't even come out of the bag until The Road. Unlike a Holbrookian Magical Mystery Tour, Msr. Henderson's wild ride didn't have any observation points to stop and photograph. Even the sign cheekily proclaiming Wilberforce to be the Geocaching Capital of Canada didn't bring out the camera.
The tale of The Road picks up about an hour past having gotten back on the proper route after a 50 mile mistake resulting from a very unfortunate new sign in Maynooth. As we motored up route 12 from Dorset on the second optional portion of the ride, the somewhat familiar silhouette of One of Us appeared coming the other way. The rider signaled to us to turn around, by which I inferred that we wouldn't be able to make it that way and should return to the main route.
I slowed and pulled to the shoulder to discuss the situation with Sarah, and the other rider turned around to talk to us. It was Richard Perrin, and he advised us that after making several water crossings he'd reached a spot where the road was washed out. He'd started to try to cross but after putting his front wheel down in the gap decided the better of it and turned back.
Now for those of you who don't know Richard, he's earned a bit of reputation as a Paul Bunyanesque Canuck who could ford the St Lawrence River with a big blue ox across his shoulders. His decision to turn back, on a bike more suited for an offroad expedition than mine, did not bode well for Sarah and me to make it through.
At that I would have been fine with turning around. Sarah had suffered a few hundred miles on frost-heaved roads as a passenger on my bike with its aging shocks, and ridden nearly eight hours that day to get to where we were. Before leaving Richard, I offered to her three times to make a u-turn. Three times she said we should go ahead at least to see it.
Bidding Richard mon Dieu — I mean, adieu — I pulled away. Several other riders heading back almost universally indicated we should turn around, but we pressed on. In a few miles the pavement ended and with it route 12. Turning on to Trout Spawn Road, The Road, it initially didn't seem too bad. The dirt was a bit deep and loose in places but otherwise fairly well graded. Descending a hill we emerged on the shore of a beautiful, wild mountain lake, where I commented to Sarah, "well, when we turn back at least we have some great scenery to see again".
After the lake The Road quickly deteriorated. In the first few hundred yards large rocks had sprung up, moguls formed, and puddles dotted the way. In little more than a quarter mile we crested a small rise to see two large puddles spanning the entire width of The Road. It then disappeared around a curve into the woods with no way of telling how much worse things got.
I stopped the bike and started contemplating whether this was the point to turn around. Before I could get far into that thought, I heard Sarah say, "Would it be easier if I got off?" Without even waiting for my reply she hopped off the bike. At that point how could I turn back?
The water was clear enough to see the bottom, which had relatively few slippery large rocks to avoid. It looked to be maybe 6" deep, which proved to be underestimated as I eased my way across and the water came up to my foot pegs, a foot off the ground.
Between the two puddles I stopped again to wait for Sarah to wade through the first. This finally was time to pull out the camera. As I was getting ready to snap some shots, a couple on an ATV appeared from the way ahead, smiled and laughed at the silly couple with the street bike, and continued on back the way we'd come. We didn't have the opportunity to ask for information. They'd be the last people we'd see until we finally arrived at the end of the tour.
Perhaps the ATVers were laughing not at our bike but at the monkey. I suppose the monkey bears some explaining. In brief, Jaye, a four year old friend of ours, wanted to keep up on our adventures of the summer. Jeremiah the monkey was her connection to our tale.
As we continued up The Road, we crossed many more puddles. Some were flowing like streams, some were muddied to hide any obstacles in their depths, some were even deeper than a foot and some were dozens of feet across, more like ponds than puddles. Parts were deeply rutted or covered in the gravel of large, loose stones — and parts were both. Sometimes Sarah rode on through the puddles with me, but every once in a while she'd tap my shoulder as I approached a hazard and ask to walk. She also started letting me know, "I want chocolate."
Several miles and at least a dozen water crossings in we came to the spot that Richard had warned us about. Water had opted to not use the culvert which was installed for it and instead flowed freely across The Road, cutting a deep trench. By the look of the deadwood that had been dragged in to fill the breech, it had apparently been that way for quite a while.
For some inexplicable reason, I didn't pause much this time to consider the wisdom of proceeding. Maybe it was the time already invested in how far we'd come. Maybe it was that Sarah didn't express any doubts of her own, trying even half-heartedly to inject a note of sanity. I started dragging some of the wood from the deep part of the trench up to the shallower end, while she started scavenging more from the woods.
It was hard, hot work. I took off my helmet and riding jacket and was immediately set upon by nasty biting bugs. Quickly putting the gear back on I figured sweating off a few pounds was a far better alternative to having it sucked out of me.
Growing weary from the labor, I went to the bike to begin pushing it across though the far-from-ideal fill. I stood on the down-gorge side while Sarah, in her high-heeled boots, took the other side to help balance and provide a little extra oomph when needed.
Gettng the whole bike into the trench was comparatively easy as gravity was in our favor. Getting it back up the other side, that was another matter. Weighing in at around 550 pounds or more with our luggage on, muscling it up the edge of the other side of the trench wasn't happening. So I goosed the throttle just a little to help. The rear tire immediately kicked to my side on a wet, slippery log, coming just inches from dropping off the log toward the steep drop into the deeper chasm. Needless to say, this was not a positive development.
Wait, with the luggage on? What the hell was I thinking? I stabilized the bike as best I could on the uneven pile of branches and logs and asked Sarah to come around and get the luggage keys out of my pants pocket, a non-trivial task given how I had to brace myself. She managed to get the keys and got the bags off, shaving a good few dozen pounds and getting them out of way of the tail.
Resuming her position on the other side, again I tried a little application of the throttle to help us up out of the trench. It was hard fought ground we won, gaining an inch at a time, but we managed to get the bike to the other side. At which point Sarah declared, "I definitely want chocolate."
I'm not sure the pictures really do the job justice as it can be difficult to show the height of drops adequately, but I tried a few different views after we were safely across.
"I really hope we don't have to go over that again." I don't even remember which one of us said that, but the sentiment was shared. We were both recalling a similar adventure we'd had two years earlier in my Outback, where after crossing one difficult obstacle we were thwarted by an impassable one and had to turn back. I tried to connect the north end of Eagle Ledge Road in Elmore, Vermont, to its southern end in Worcester. That track was arguably in worse shape. After we'd piled up scrap to get my car roughly across a steep ledge we then came to a crater, a good 25 yards across and 10 feet deep. No piling of material would make it passable and we had no choice but to return over that ledge.
Similarly, it really would have been morale crushing to get to a point on The Road where we had no realistic option but to reverse course, something that we probably should have given more consideration to before making the crossing. Greg's pre-ride instructions had said, "Low ground clearance bikes' riders are advised to carry a 2 foot section of 2 x 6," though, which suggested that the trench we'd just crossed was probably the worst of it (despite being a bit wider than two feet).
We remounted the bags and I put the luggage keys in my chest pocket for easier access. Continuing on, there was mostly just more of the same water hazards, rocks and ruts with which we'd already been dealing. Fortunately though the way forward was quite clear … until we came to a fork in The Road. Both choices looked nearly equally traveled, with the left looking ever so slightly better than the right. We headed left, hoping for the best.
Eventually we came to another serious washout. Water rushed across the road, and the stream bed of large rocks with a lip on each end persuaded me to once again push the bike through rather than ride. This time around we took the bags off first; I fetched the keys from my chest pocket and set the luggage on the ground.
We again took up our pushing positions, with me on the downstream side and Sarah opposite. To me this crossing was much less difficult, and significantly less anxiety producing, than the trench had been, but Sarah considered it to be harder. In any event, with judicious use of the throttle we were safely past it in just a few minutes.
"Hey honey, did you happen to see my wallet?" I asked in a surprisingly calm voice.
"Ummmmm ... noooooo," she replied with a dubious tone.
The chest pocket in which I had put the luggage keys also held my wallet and our garage door remote; I had neglected to close the zipper before starting the heaving and hoing of the bike. Sarah began walking back on The Road to look, but I suspected they had most likely fallen in the stream. Starting where we'd pushed the bike across I began walking down it, breaking through the brush into the woods.
Some 20 yards or so into the woods I was fortunate to glimpse an unnaturally dark shadow on the bottom of the creek. It was my wallet. Major, major relief. I didn't even bother looking more for the remote as I figured the chances of a thieving moose making his way to Vermont to burgle our home via garage access was pretty low. For one, he'd probably have to fix the short-circuiting of the submersed remote. How's he going to do that without opposable thumbs?
We then had two difficult crossings behind us that would need to be done again if we reached an impassable obstacle. We were hot, sweaty and plumb tuckered out. Around two hours had passed since we started The Road and the directions from the route sheet indicated we still had about four miles to the end.
This number was suspect, however, since there had been little errors in distance on several segments of the tour, and a substantial error in the segment just prior to The Road. The real distance remaining could have been even greater. I started calling out to Sarah every half mile of the (supposed) distance to the end.
"Three and a half miles to go …" The challenging parts were becoming easier and farther apart.
"Three miles to go …" I noticed pickup truck tire tracks and was no longer concerned about reaching an impassable obstacle.
"Two and a half miles to go …" "I want a lot of chocolate," she responds.
"Two miles to go …" We passed the well-used entrance to a gun club and though The Road was still rough, picking a good line was no problem.
"One and a half miles to go … ohmigod I see pavement!"The leg mileage had been wrong, but in our favour.
Per the last instruction of the Magical Mystery Tour I turned left at "big paved road", highway 60, and in just two and a half miles we were finally at our destination.
Next Up: The Camp
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