Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Gripping adventures in Rainbow Country


Got a flat on my motorbike yesterday. 

I was southbound on highway 400 near Barrie, Ont., and seconds after I passed a big sign that said "Staples," I ran over one. Or a nail. Or something. 

I had often wondered what it would be like to have your front bike tire blow at highway speed. For the record, it's pretty undramatic, which is, on balance, a good thing. (Get it? On balance? Sometime I surprise even me!)

If you must get a flat on your bike, do it at around four in the afternoon near a big city. Summer and having a cellphone help. CAA coverage always cushions the blow(out) also. (Thanks to driver Dan and his colleagues at Classic Towing.)

Another not-so-downside?

The tire blew at almost the very same time as -- 100 kilometres south -- my daughter Ria was winding up her first day at her new job as a funeral director. Done work, Ria could come pick me up. (At least she didn't fetch her old man as part of her new job.)

TRANSLINE MOVING: I  found this image on The
Transline Moving Company's website. They probably 
know this road really well.

And finally, as I just said to my sister Norma, things could have been a whole whole lot worse.

Yesterday's trip home from Barrie was just the final wee leg of a longer, 3,000 give or take kilometre ride I was on from Toronto to Thunder Bay and back. My daughter Ewa is biking to B.C., so I accompanied her part way. (Ontario is one really fat province, btw.) 

So after she and I parted ways at The Lakehead, I headed home, east along the north shore of Lake Superior, which I had gone west on with Ewa the day earlier. 

I'll probably blog more about my and Ewa's adventure but first I want to tell you about how what must be one of the longest stretches of middle-of-nowhere highway in Canada makes my flat tire so bearable.

All across the north shore of Lake Superior, on the Trans Canada, at one moment you're on a HIGH way overlooking the water and then heading down around curvy hills to the shore. Superior really does seem to go on forever; the road turns and twists and frankly "the legend lives on from the Chippewa on down to the big lake they call Gitche Gumme," insists on worming its way into your ears. (My friend Dave once told me that during the '70s, if you were driving through small-town Canada and The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald came on the radio it meant the deejay had to leave his post to go number two. Dave is immature. And I digress.)

This time of year, Northern Ontario skies are almost psychedelic; dark clouds bump up against fully white ones with miles of beautiful clear blue around them all. So across Superior, you cruise down into one sunlit valley only to find yourself driving up out of it.

NOT ONLY  is it a Great lake but
a Superior one at that!
Forty nine seconds later, you're in a downpour. 

It reminded me of of my grade-nine science-fair project. I got a D.

At certain points, I pulled over and even though I couldn't get shelter; I just stood on the side of the road and let the water fall down on me because it was more comfortable than moving through it.

But then the sun would come out again; and I'd forget how awful the rain had been. (My life, in 17 words.)

Saturday, I'd been riding for about six hours through the above conditions. It was dusk, I was getting tired and realized I was approaching the Montreal River Hill (MRH).

Here is how Northern Ontario Business magazine once described the hill:

"It is problematic in that it is the scourge of the trucking fraternity. It causes long delays and is particularly dangerous during the winter. The hill is closed over a dozen times each winter due to serious accidents or because it is impossible to navigate. In most cases, the closings only serve to cut off Wawa from its southern cousin in Sault Ste. Marie. The hill and the area around it also happen to be one of the “10 best drives in Canada” according to the Canadian Automobile Association. The stretch is promoted by several Northern towns, including Sault Ste. Marie, Wawa and White River. The hill’s notoriety was exponentially increased on August 18, 1980 when Terry Fox traversed its three-kilometre length with a t-shirt that read “Montreal River Here I Come” and “I’ve Got You Beat” on the back."

I hit the top of the hill, and the rain started. 

RAIN'S WORLD: For protection on
precipitous roads

In my rear view mirror: a tractor trailer. And splashing everywhere. 

No place to pull over. 

I knew the hill was winding,windy (I'd been up it a day earlier) and slippery. I downshifted and wished I had a little sign to hold up, like the Road Runner might, informing the trucker, "I'm an old biker and just downshifted and hope you enjoy going down this hill slowly because slowly is how we're going to go down." 

Down down down and around the corners I drove, gingerly; and the Montreal River Hill is so twisty that at one point, even though you are theoretically heading eastwards,  the hill actually turns completely west--and at 7:30 p.m. in late August, that means you end up looking straight out your wet visor into a great huge blinding ball of SUN!

It gets better.

At the bottom of the hill the whitecaps hit the shore and double-soak the roadway. (Cue Gordon "The lake it is said never gives up her dead," Lightfoot.) The water looks angry. 

I drew this myselfie. 


The eeriest thing happened. The storm, the clouds, the rain, the sunshine and weird weather conditions created a fountain of rainbows. There were rainbows over the shore line; there was one huge arc ending right in the middle of the bay; and another across the power lines. 

I was driving across a Candyland boardgame. I'd never seen anything like it!

I would have stopped for a photo but like I said, pulling over was too dangerous. (Being extinguished by a truck while photographing rainbows is sorta like choking on four-leaf clovers.) 

Plus I would have been more soaked and---I almost forgot--my phone/camera was dead. I'd checked back in Wawa. 

So this selfie-portrait will have to suffice. 

Anyway, you get the picture. It would have been a crappy time to get a flat.

Yesterday's, in Barrie, was almost welcome.


  1. Peter...... equal amounts of relief and respect (for your riding skills) that the front tire blowout was "undramatic'.
    'Gripping Adventures in Rainbow Country" indeed !
    And given the argent color of your newest Sporty and her stormy baptism of rain down through the twisties of Montreal Hill Road , perhaps "The Silver Surfer Rides Again" would have been a fair assessment too!

    1. Thanks Kevin. Another thing I forgot to mention? My bike doesn't have a gas gauge. But guys like you and me, we don't need no stinkin' gas gauges right?

  2. No gas gauges.
    No maps.
    No problems.
    Happy trails!