A rare beautiful day in November is the chance to “steal” one away from winter, and to mourn the loss of a friend.
Talk about guilty pleasure! Riding in November in 20C weather feels stolen. And I was not alone—though I headed out solo. By afternoon, even the back roads were filled with bikes. For my friend at work who asked when I put my bike away, the answer was, when it snows, or when it snows consistently. I may sneak in a few odd rides through the winter. But, 20C in November?
The clocks have changed and for a time, I’m on the old schedule. That means I wake up well before I should. Pitch black outside. I had no sense of the time but that it was early enough to make a fast decision and start packing. And because it was my first cold weather ride, that took work.
It’s amazing the amount of gear one needs to gather. For me, that includes finding my poggies, or hippo hands. They attach to my handlebars and protect my hand from the wind. I’ve stopped using bulky winter gloves because of them. Makes my grip so much better, and my hands much more comfortable. I did use the heated hand grips on my way out of town—a major bonus—because the start of a 20 degree day in November is five degrees, maybe eight. In either case, it ain’t warm! But it would be, which is why it was such a pleasure. Electric vest. Chaps. Tall Wesco boots. Good to go!
It was also a bereavement day for me. Another friend lost the battle. It was the day after the news, and the morning after a fire in the backyard, joined by friends, sharing stories, sharing grief. The morning after that I really needed a long ride alone. And 20 degrees? I went to blow the proverbial cobwebs from my brain, to reaffirm the joys of living, and go to my happy place.
Muskoka. From the moment I see the welcome sign I’m smiling. It’s a place where the Canadian Shield is scantily clad in moss and soil, where shallow roots of trees reach into the cracks for purchase and where water flows ferociously in spring, wearing down the iron-rich, rose-coloured granite with veins of clear quartz. The rock bed of the rapids, exposed and mostly dry in summer, but really dry in fall is amazing to behold. The story it tells is of time immemorial, so far beyond our brief lives.
Riding up the 400, I was hungry. I kept waiting for my exit, the Big Chute. Finally it came, and I was in cottage country. Just seeing cottages peek out from the forest made me feel a pressure drop. I stopped at a spot on crown land where water flows from a higher lake into the Severn River, and carved a beautiful path in the rock. It’s an excellent spot to eat breakfast, I have found. But I also found I was surprisingly stiff, walking like I had peg legs. That alone made me feel cautious. Then I noticed the wet, slippery rocks that the sun hadn’t yet dried. It’s not at all like that in summer. I enjoyed my breakfast: a thermos of tea and pumpkin pie.
Casper and I didn’t get very far before we made a U-turn. There was this road that I rediscover from time to time. It services the hydroelectric towers. All of those towers have some sort of access, though only some is rideable. I headed down that stretch, thinking, if I fall, no one knows where I am. So when I came to a big puddle, I stopped. I simply must return with enduro riding friends in the future. I rode back to the road, and to the place where I connect with the snowmobile route. And even there, I could only go so far before another big puddle—one that I would have ridden around if I’d not been alone.
I parked my bike, changed into hiking boots, left my riding jacket behind and set off, with nothing but a camera for my adventure. And at first I was stiff. It would take time for my muscles to relax. This is not an issue in summer, be sure. But when you ride in the cold, it changes things. Even riding the forest path is more challenging when muscles aren’t warm. If I’m not walking right, I’m not trail riding right either.
I decided to do something new, and took a new path that would lead me to the back doors of cottages that are normally accessed by water, those on the north side of the river. That was fun, though a bit hard to follow. Leaves of yellow and brown blanketed the forest floor, obscuring the path. It was a lovely hike in the woods with no one around.
Then I backtracked to the path I normally take to Pretty Channel. It sure is! Goes from the Severn down to Six Mile Lake. It’s crown land. People party. People camp. Sometimes I ride all the way in, and camp. There are no services. That’s the way I like it.
Once at the river, I had to be careful again. Wet rocks are treacherous! I was heading toward an island that is accessible any time but spring. It’s never wet and slippery like late autumn. I made it across and spent time wandering about, gazing at the beauty around me, in particular the weathered stone. That’s when I found it! It’s been here forever but I’d never seen it before: an enormous protrusion of quartz crystal that made my eyes open wide. Sun shone directly on it, making it glow. It looked like a place I had to stop and enjoy.
I sat on that rock, with the sun on my face, thinking of my friend. It seemed the perfect time and place. As I began to get hot I realized that it was warm enough in this alcove to sunbathe. In November? I could have stayed for hours, but I had plans to meet a friend that evening. I could see where the sun was, but what time was that? The ‘change’ always confuses me. My camera said 2 p.m. Time to go.
I took the back road to Coldwater, then tried to get back on the 400 but my bike took an alternate route. Highway 12 through Orillia and around Lake Simcoe is not the fast way, but is a scenic route through farm country rather than the big slab.
The end of my ride had the sun in my eyes: extra harsh in November. But what a ride! I could not believe my luck. It was still warm after the sun set. I was barely out of my riding gear when my friend rolled up on her BMW. I put the kettle on. It was nice to visit one good friend, having lost another. It was that kind of day.