The Unforgettable Beauty of Ontario's Algoma Country
Earlier in my ride back east in Lion’s Head when I had breakfast at biker haven and bed and breakfast Taylor Made B & B, the owner and all around good guy Dave Wynd told me the story about Neil Young and Mort. Many decades before I started by own ramble across Algoma Country, Neil Young was on a very similar adventure in a 1948 Buick Roadmaster Hearse that he had named Mortimer Hearseburg or “Mort” (French for death) for short. Young had driven his hearse all over the North American continent, famously from Los Angeles to Toronto.
Young immortalized his beloved Mort when he wrote the song “ Long May You Run” in dedication to ol’ Mort. And long did Mort run across Canada and the US until one fateful day in Blind River when Mort broke down and Young famously abandoned him on the side of the road and just kept on going. Rumor is Mort still resides there until this day lingering around the landscapes of Blind River. I never did find ol’ Mort, and Dave told me he never found him either, but I have to tell you it made the ride more memorable, like searching for buried treasure. With a grin hidden under my helmet I gave up on the search and continued on my bike through Blind River not totally unrewarded as I felt I had learned that these roads were Young’s secret muse and Mort was just his fateful ship across them. Long may you run indeed.
Setting out into Blind River and putting mileage between myself and all that was before Algoma country I headed onto St. Joseph Island. The ride only continued to escalate into higher levels of beauty. As I ascended the bridge to St. Joseph Island the sunset shimmered across the water, letting me know I was more than welcome.
As my day drew to a close I bedded down at the Hilton Beach Inn. I didn’t stick around to check out my room for long because the sunset beyond this waterside inn was striking. It was one of those times I needed just a few more minutes of riding before I could park for the night.
When I finally did call it a day I headed to the adjoining Island Bar & Grill that shared the same owner, Natalie Allard. It came as no surprise that Natalie owned both the Hilton Beach Inn and the Island Bar and Grill because my experience at both was top notch. Awesome rooms that all overlook the water, the best poutine and pickerel of my trip, and delicious local beer on tap. This place has got it all. But is it biker friendly? Natalie was telling me about how just the next weekend she was getting ready to throw here own small biker rally on Friday the 13th, mimicking the rally that is growing in prestige over in Port Dover held on the same date. She threw the event last year and had over 100 bikers show up and expected this year to be even bigger. She goes all out making biker hats and t-shirts for the event. She also supplies enough BBQ and beer to feed an army, which might just show up.
After dozing off to the sounds of the lake, the next day I rode off into the very heart of Algoma Country. As I roared onto Hwy. 17 things were not looking good – dark clouds were sweeping in off the lake and I had my rain gear strapped on and ready to go. I was admittedly discouraged by the weather and rode with a cautious sense of impending rain doom. As I headed west suddenly the trees on the left disappeared, the view opened up, and Lake Superior laid spread out before me. All my weather concerns quickly vanished as my first real views of Lake Superior awed me into total appreciation.
This is when the road goes from cool to incredible as it brushes right up against the lake and many times right over the edges of it with it’s many small bridges. Throw in the curves that wind you through dense pine forests and over gradual hills and you find yourself cruising from picturesque view to picturesque view. Each bend and the edge of every hill revealed another surprise that left you wanting more.
Needing to take a break, gas up, and have a stretch I pulled into the rest stop to end all rest stops, Agawa Crafts. Miles before you ever reach this stop in Pancake Bay, you know it is coming and your interest is peaked by the signs that precede it for miles and miles. Once you make your way past the Esso gas station out front you’ll find a mecca of souvenirs and crafts. There are wood carvers, moccasins, every type of Canadian tourist t-shirt and key chain imaginable, local made candies, jewelry and on and on. If you need to stretch your legs, take a break from the rain, or burn a few hours souvenir hunting, this is your joint. I’m guilty of buying a few irresistible things here myself to take home to my nephews to re-enforce my cool uncle status.
Ending my Agawa Crafts safari I slapped my rain gear back on and continued west. Even in the rain and having just stopped it was hard to ignore the many awesome scenic pullovers I encountered heading west on Hwy. 17. There are three specifically that stand out in my mind, Alona Bay lookout, Old Woman Bay and Magpie Falls. All three were stop-worthy destinations, but if I had to pick one as my favorite it would be Magpie Falls. Like the other scenic stops, I followed signs that led me off the highway. As I crept through the downpour down a dirt road that I honestly wasn’t sure was leading me anywhere, it finally showed itself like a marvelous vision. Yes, the rain sucked, but if you get to ever see a raging waterfall in a rainstorm, take the time and check it out. Even now I can hear those falls roaring in my mind. I can’t tell you how long I sat in the rain admiring them, but it certainly wasn’t a quick peek.
Water logged and road worn it was finally time for me to bed down so I pulled into the Best Northern Resort. While my room was nice and the shower hot, what makes this place great is the food. Being chilled to the bone by hours of rain riding, the European owners presented me with an authentic bowl of borsch that warmed my very soul. After nearly chugging the food coma-inducing borsch, I headed back to the room and passed out.
The next morning I packed up and skipped over to the nearby Wawa to check out the famous Wawa Goose. It is a big, big goose and has the qualities of a can’t miss roadside photo-op. Who doesn’t want a photo in front of a gigantic goose? The coolest thing I got from stopping to see the Wawa Goose was learning that “Wawa” is the First Nations word for Canadian goose. It was one of the many reminders during the trip of this area’s rich history.
Rocketing out of Wawa the ride starts getting pretty interesting. The mountains get bigger, the roads get snakier and curvier, and the lake grows ever more powerful beside you. Throw in a mixture of cliffs, bays and an array of other smaller picturesque lakes beside Superior and this becomes a pretty special riding experience to conclude the Algoma Country portion of my ride.
There is, however, one more place that I believe is noteworthy and it lies just outside of Algoma Country’s western border – Aguasabon Falls in Terrace Bay. I caught wind of these falls before I ever started the trip and they were something that I was keeping an eye out for. Simply put, they Aguasabon Falls are unbelievably beautiful. On a ride across Ontario where every mile brings another inspiring sight, I believe that the Aguasabon Falls were the most beautiful. When you reach the pull off and follow the walking trail down to them, what is revealed to you is a view that not only overlooks some of the most beautiful waterfalls you will ever see, but also miles of forest that drift into several more miles of Lake Superior that disappears into the horizon. If you are anywhere near this area, don’t miss out. Find the time and pay close attention to make this one happen – it’s most definitely worth it.
Onward from Algoma Country I set off into Northwest Ontario away from the lake and into the wilds, but the mark was left on my mind of the ride behind me. I could still hear Neil Young’s voice singing in my head, “With your chrome heart shining in the sun, long may you run.”
For more info on planning a ride through Algoma Country and around Lake Superior check out these immensely helpful websites that I used:
More by Stephen Bischoff