The first times

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#Motorcycle #TravelStories
Julie on her Royal Endfield motorcycle
We ride through a typical Belle Province landscape. Lakes, pines, deciduous trees. The low rolling hills offer some nice twists and turns in which the bikes lean from side to side, in a way that feels just natural. We let them slide in fourth gear, visors open, big smiles on our faces.
Aerial shot of Quebec - Photo by Jamshed Khedri on Unsplash

For now, we’re still in familiar territory. Just like every urban motorcyclist, we know by heart most of the routes inside a 2-day radius around our city: two days to go, two days to come back, doable in a long weekend. Yet, although the road is familiar, something’s quite different today: there would be no going back. (True, that does sound like a cheesy action flick from the '90s…)

The plan is to commit to one direction, the west, to follow the setting sun, leading to the unavoidable face-to-face with the Pacific Ocean. Only then would we switch direction and go south until… that part of the plan is still blurry, some questions remain. But, more than ever, we trust the road, it will provide the answers we’re looking for.

Industrial building, Mont-Laurier.

Before reaching the village of Montpellier, we make a right to follow the Chemin de la Baie de l’Ours, the back door to the Papineau-Labelle state park, a huge stretch of wildlands and forests located a hundred kilometers north of Ottawa. A nice, paved road circumvents the park and allows for easy access to the campgrounds on its west side. But we choose to use the east entrance, by a thirty-kilometer trail, to see how the loaded bikes behave on unpaved roads.

Soon, we reach the park entrance. In the middle of a narrow clearing sits a decrepit mobile home. The park Ranger collects a few dollars for the entrance fees and points us in the direction of the only open campground in the park, on the shores of Lake Echo, twenty-five kilometers away. It’s five pm, we should be there in half an hour. Perfect.

However, we soon realize that the trail condition has changed dramatically since the clearing: the nice, packed earth gives way to a thick layer of gravel and sand in equal proportions. A nightmare. The heavy loads on the bikes, unsuitable tires and above all our total inexperience on that kind of terrain make for an explosive mix. We lose grip on each curve, weaving ridiculously all over the place.

On a treacherous turn, Julie’s front wheel gets caught in a sand-filled rut and her back wheel loses traction. She can’t manage to take corrective action, and the bike highsides out of the curve, throwing her in the air. First day, first fall!

“You all right?” I’m helping her stand up. She’s shaking a bit, adrenalin pumping, inspecting herself. “I’m okay… A few scratches and bruises, probably, but I’m okay.”

Its nose in the rut, the bike lies face down on the middle of the trail. A trickle of gas flows slowly through the filler cap and forms a small puddle that soaks into the sand. We get her up and on the stand. I quickly inspect the forks, the steering, the front brake, the handlebars. Everything seems fine, the bike did not suffer too much. A few scratches, just like its rider.

“Don’t worry, there will be others!” I tell Julie. She doesn’t laugh. We get back on the saddle.

The rest of the trail does not get any better. Deep sand patches, gravel, water, mud. Our suspension settings are far from ideal. We feel heavy, clumsy. We move slowly, like we’re relearning to walk.

We reach the campground at 6.30 pm, exhausted. An hour and a half to cover twenty-five kilometers. Ridiculous.

“We don’t see a lot of motorcycles coming through this way,” says the lady, cheerful.
To which Julie mumbles “Now that’s surprising.”

Motorcycle camping in Canada.
Motorcycle camping in Canada.
Motorcycle camping in Canada.
Motorcycle camping in Canada.

For the very first time, we unfold the tent, spread out the inflatable mattresses and the sleeping bags. Smells like a brand-new car in there.

For the very first time, we unpack the small camping stove, the gas canister. Everything is clean, sterile, immaculate.

For the very first time we lock the bikes, turn on the flashlight, open a bottle of wine. For the very first time, we sleep like babies, head empty, arms sore, knees scratched, mind at peace.

Motorcycle camping in Canada.
Motorcycle camping in Canada.

Vincent Martinez
CEO & Founder Totem Moto Tours

Photo credits

Vincent Martinez & Julie Ledru
Aerial shot by Jamshed Khedri on Unsplash

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