In Living Color: Exploring Ontario's Grey Bruce Region

Fall drives are best experienced on two wheels

story by Dustin A. Woods, Photograph by Dustin A. Woods, Created Jan. 27, 2012
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For most people who live in a climate that experiences four distinct seasons and also happen to enjoy motorcycling, the leaves on the trees changing color signals the end of the road for riding on two wheels. I am always deeply conflicted at this time of year because while it may be closer to the end than the beginning of the season, it is my favorite time of year. Just when my riding partners are storing their gear and hooking up trickle chargers to their batteries, I book my vacation and set off in search of adventure by myself.

Due to the fact that the climate can be somewhat unpredictable, I decided not to venture too far away from home and kept an eye on the weather forecast. Thankfully Ontario has no shortage of motorcycle-friendly roads to explore so there were plenty of options right in my own backyard. Having heard many stories about the beauty of Tobermory but never having the opportunity to see it in person, I decided to head northbound to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula and experience it for myself. Upon referencing http://www.greybruceescape.ca/, I planned my accommodations and used the Bruce Adventure Passport stops, Waterfall and lighthouse tours as vague destinations to stop, stretch my legs and learn a little about the areas I was visiting.

Grey Bruce Lighthouse Grey Bruce Landscape

Making the decision to take a much-needed holiday, leaving the city and work obligations behind, I closed my laptop and shut off my phone. Part of the reason I wanted to spend the week exploring small towns was also to escape the hectic and hurried pace of life. Logging some seat time always helps me reflect and regain some perspective.

Bruce Peninsula Fall Colors

Free of families travelling at a snail’s pace in RVs the size of small African nations, autumn also boasts cheaper off-season hotel rates and generally more favorable temperatures for those of us who wear proper protective riding gear and a full face helmet. Weather can be unpredictable however. While this Thanksgiving may have broken records for warmth, cool temperatures and frost are not outside the realm of possibility. This is easily combated by arranging your schedule to ride during the warmest parts of the day, packing extra layers and investing in riding attire that is more suitable for cooler weather. It is a small price to pay for being able to experience a literal feast for your senses. Not only can you witness the vibrant colors of the leaves as they change, but you also get to enjoy the crisp autumn air wafting through your helmet. It also makes sitting in front of a warm fire or slipping into a hot bath with a nice Scotch all the more rewarding.

My transportation for the journey was a 2011 BMW K1300GT, which turned out to be a perfect companion. Heated seats and handgrips were a welcome indulgence when the mercury dipped to closer to freezing, the power operated windscreen helped keep me dry when the skies opened up and unleashed their wrath while sophisticated electronic systems like ASC, three adjustable Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA II) modes, traction control and ABS instilled confidence over the course of the trip. Putting the ‘sport’ in sport touring, 160hp help this Beemer swallow miles of highway effortlessly and comfortable ergonomics meant that the usual stiff spots after a long days ride were ready for more. Capable of far more lean than one would expect, the K is as comfortable in the turns as it is on the highway. Remove the cavernous lockable and waterproof hard saddle bags and top case and you could give plenty of sportbikes a run for their money.

Motorcycle Riding Lake Huron

Being fortunate enough to have travelled all over the world, I am always amazed at how beautiful my own province is. Another reason why I wanted to visit Tobermory was the Fathom Five National Marine Park, which offers crystal clear water, grottos, fascinating rock formations known as “Rock Pillars” like Flowerpot Island , not to mention 22 shipwrecks. Once a bustling port, Big Tub Harbour is the deepest natural harbour in the Great Lakes which offered shelter during inclement weather. Old wooden schooners, freighters and tugboats from as early as the 1800s reside in their final resting places at various depths surprisingly intact due to the frigid temperatures and lack of Teredo Worms (termites of the sea) that don’t exist in fresh water. These eerie relics serve as reminders of a time when weather forecasting and navigation were far less sophisticated and effective than they are today.

Chi-Cheemaun Ferry

Perhaps the best known boat in the area is the Chi-Cheemaun, which I discovered means “Big Canoe” in Ojibway. Large enough to carry 143 cars and 638 passengers, the ferry travels between Tobermory and the Manitoulin Islands from May to October. I had no idea how large this ‘big’ ferry was and was surprised to see a number of transport trucks emerge from its raised nose upon docking. Had it been earlier in the season, I would have experienced a voyage myself but spots fill up quickly so if you plan on doing the same, book early.

I try my best to avoid franchises when travelling, especially through small towns, because finding hidden gems like the Bruce Steakhouse in Kingcardine, Green Door Cafe in Wiarton, Rocky Racoon's in Owen Sound or the Bootlegger Cove Pub in Tobermory are what roadtrips are all about. Eager to experience different landscapes on my way home, I decided to weave through Thornbury, and Collingwood, spending the night at the beautiful Westin in the Blue Mountain village. I spent the next day tossing the big bore Bimmer around twisty turns down to Flesherton but could have spent a week touring around the area as there were so many entertaining roads to explore. Reluctantly, I headed back into the city and was truly shocked at the amount of traffic congestion and aggressive tendencies of drivers that I hadn’t had to deal with all week. 

Riding BMW K1300GT in Ontario

The Grey Bruce region has much to offer the two-wheeled traveler; wide open roads, genuine hospitality, motorcycle-friendly accommodations and destinations as welcoming as they are diverse. Whether travelling alone or with a group, the area offers something for everyone. On your next adventure, take the time to discover the region’s unique geographic landscapes and fascinating nautical history – you won’t be disappointed. Enjoying some of the final days of the season, I can’t help but think of all the fun I had on this trip that all my fair-weather friends missed out on. Oh well, their loss.

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