It was like riding a painting.
With each pedal stroke,
A new layer on the canvas awoke.
The gravel road beneath our tires,
A stippled foreground full of desires.
The muted horizon pulling us along,
A grey wash across the sky whispering a song.
Ensconced between the tall trees,
Dabs of amber and garnet rustling with ease.
An autumn ride; ours to discover.
A medium like no other.
This summer has been a season of growth, both personally and in the bikepack realm. With the world gone topsy-turvy with COVID-19, friends and strangers have taken to loading their bikes up with gear and heading out on self-sufficient adventures closer to home; some veterans, some first time bikepackers. I have found myself doting over Ontario landscapes and excited to see so many others taking to their bikes.
Fast forward to September, any route, whether old or new, becomes enchanting when leaves on the trees are changing colour. A group of us planned a bikepack up near Burk's Falls at the end of September, hoping to catch the peak hues and have one last hurrah before the cold weather swooped in and the volume of bikepack gear doubled.
Our friend Tiago had recently put together a 147 kilometre route that traverses through the Almaguin Highlands (Mississauga and Omàmìwininìwag Anishinabewaki lands). For the easy pace we had planned, the Burk's Falls gravel loop was perfect. It would let us enjoy the fall colours and offer up the opportunity to sleep on Crown land.
Day 1 - Moose Calls
We drove up to Magnetawan and stayed at Birchwood Camp Friday evening so we would be ready to roll out early Saturday morning. We had such a great stay down by the lake that we debated sticking around the campsite all weekend and hanging out with the owner Joe instead.
After a gourmet camp breakfast, and application of our temporary bike gang tattoos (Potassium Pirates - a story for another time), we set off down the gravel road.
We picked a great weekend to meander through the trees. The leaves surrounding us were vibrant: amber, garnet and burnt orange hues weaved across the horizon. With such quiet roads, we found ourselves stretched out, chatting as we pedalled in the unseasonably warm weather. As we rode further along Forestry Tower Road, the number of ATVers increased swiftly. We found ourselves in a few mini dust storms as some zipped by.
P.C. Thomas Willington
We pulled off the gravel road and spent an hour or so resting near a creek that ran beside Forestry Tower Road. From looking at maps, I'm not quite sure what the creek is called as it seems to have many basins empty into it. Perhaps a tributary of the Tim River? Regardless of its name, it was a beautiful spot.
After the stop, we headed north along some ATV track. Although more technical, it was a nice switch-up in terrain. We emerged from the bumpy track to find a group of ATVers and their dog, Hank (so cute!). We explained that we were out here following a line on our GPS screens, blindly. They were out hunting and riding through some pretty messy tracks. They offered up some water and beer; a very generous group. After learning that they had hunted moose before, I was eager to learn some moose calls. I think I did okay for my first go. Much practice is still to be had.
We played a bit of leapfrog with the ATVers. They passed us as we were repairing a flat; we passed them as they were pulled over taking a break; then they passed us for good and we were back to being the only ones along the quiet stretch. Our chill pace was enjoyable, however, as the evening approached, we realized that we needed to pick it up a bit if we didn't want to be settling into our Crown land spot in the dark.
We made it to the town of Sundridge and collected some food at the Foodland - the first store we had seen all day. After that, we detoured from the route to our camp spot. I had found some Crown land on the shore of Horn Lake through an online policy atlas, however access to the spot proved to be difficult as a private property was nestled between the end of the road and the land.
We doubled back and found some other Crown land adjacent to a marsh. Had this been earlier in the summer, the bugs here would have been a nightmare. We pitched our tents and hammocks just as the sun set and washed up in a nearby creek. The space here was mighty tight, meaning that we couldn't have a fire. Thankfully the warm air and us gathered close on a rock kept us warm.
Day 2 - Party Pace
In the morning we awoke, having our first real glance of our surroundings; a marsh indeed. Our camp breakfast wasn't gourmet this morning - it mostly consisted of oatmeal, bananas and pop-tarts. The first day we had managed 120 km and 1,400 m of elevation gain; meaning that our second day would be rather short in comparison. A mere 55 km and 715 m of vertical.
P.C. Lise Munsie, Mo Alhaj, Thomas Willington, Mike McMahon
Coincidentally, Thiago was in the area and met us en-route to Magnetawan. We found a small diner and loaded up on enough calories to help us finish the route.
P.C. Lise Munsie
Our last stop was Screaming Heads - a bizarre collection of concrete sculptures on a 300 acre property open to the public. A retired school teacher, Peter Camani, has been sculpting these statues for decades and carefully placing them on the land. Apparently they are in a shape of a dragon when seen from up above.
We wrapped up the day back at Birchwood Camp in time for a dip in the lake. It was frigid but quite refreshing.
A stellar weekend with friends. Looking forward to the next season of bikepacks and all that it brings - adventure, camaraderie and more time with nature.