It’s amazing what a guy will trip across while meandering the back roads of New Brunswick with both time and a V-Strom on his hands.
Maybe it was reading George Orwell as a youth, who knows? Or maybe it was the Cuban Missile Crisis or a suddenly attractive young lady teasing me as a young Junior High school student. I can’t remember exactly. What I do remember are fragments of stories and dreams of an idyllic life in a far off earthly kingdom called Utopia. It’s true. Utopia exists. And I should know because I was there. This is how that happened.
Recently my younger daughter Lisa and her husband and toddler, moved across this vast country to start a new life in Rothesay, New Brunswick, while my elder daughter has relocated to Seattle with her husband to continue their work in architecture. My two girls have certainly wandered far and wide. Who knows where this wandering spirit comes from?
Even though I had spent 10 years living in the Maritimes, the demands of operating three motorcycle shops and raising two precocious young girls didn’t allow me much spare time. Apart from a few road races at Shubie and some MX at Riverglade, most of my traveling was to, or from my stores. Of course in those heady days as a young man transplanted from Alberta, I had lots of energy but woefully little spare time to ride and explore. Like the saying goes, “The mechanic’s car saw little work.”
During a visit with my niece Liz, at Lisa’s new home in Rothesay, the timing of their upcoming western trip came up in conversation. Seems there was a wedding in Kelowna in the cards. Having new digs, a rather large dog and of course the compulsory feline in a Simon household, I asked nonchalantly, who will be looking after everything while you guys are away?
The glances at one another confirmed the subject hadn’t been given much thought, there were some rumblings about doggy hotels but nothing about the kitty cat, so without waiting for a reply, I added, I’ll do it.
And so it came to be, that with that simple thought, although I was stupendously clueless at the time, I had placed one wheel on the road to Utopia!
As the appointed time was creeping up for their departure, I had the bags on the Suzuki packed… and with bills paid, a kiss for my wife prior to departure, I was off and headed for the bridge.
If you have never ridden here on the east coast, I think you would be pleasantly surprised. The Maritimes offer striking riding for anyone on virtually any motorcycle. There are the equivalents of freeways if you’re simply clocking miles, excellent secondary roads, numerous triple digit country lanes, and gravel roads or even trail to tackle.
There is open ocean (the Atlantic), incredible bays the most famous being Fundy of course, huge rivers such as the Miramichi or the St. John, and if you happen to have a good mid-displacement dual purpose bike, your opportunities for getting lost are pretty much endless.
Maybe the big advantage to riding the east coast or as some say, the ‘right’ coast, has to be the close proximity to something, everything and anything. Besides covered bridges, tiny ferries crossing shining lakes and inlets, the remnants of the oldest mountain range on earth, and vast forests, we’ve got history!
The weather report was looking good, each night there would be a secure garage for the bike, I had a soft bed to return to, Netflix on the tube and two grateful furry and hungry creatures to spend the evening with. What more can a man ask for?
I anchored my GPS system to the inside of the windshield. Once over the Confederation Bridge (the longest open span bridge in the world) I picked up a map at the Cape Jourimain, NB point of entry.
Yes, a map! You remember those paper things with the coloured wavy lines that never fold up the same way twice, kinda like your factory tools and tool pouch.
Of course one of the benefits of taking a map along is they attract attention. Invariably, as I sat at a roadside picnic table with an old locomotive or information board as a backdrop, soaking up the sunshine on route 850 or after a fill-up in Sussex Corner, or a burger at Dairy Queen in Quispamsis, someone would approach me and ask if I need help which generally, when it comes to Maritimers, is code for telling you stories!
“Yes… the great flood of ’89 that washed out every one of those bridges to Alma…” or the time “Mama was giving birth a month early in a February blizzard and we drove to St. John during a whiteout so bad… we couldn’t see the dashboard!”
I rode as far as the Moncton outskirts on the TCH before beginning my back road adventure. With so many roads, the place is literally crisscrossed—one can get lost, but one can’t stay lost, certainly not with 500 kilometres worth of fuel aboard!
I have several bikes capable of doing such a trip enjoyably, and for this ride I chose my ’09 DL 650 V-Strom, or as everyone on the planet knows them, the Wee Strom. The choice of this bike was simple. It is factory equipped with good quality detachable luggage, has slightly more suspension than the average street bike, which is necessary for the lumpy paved roads and occasional gravel roads I was targeting, and pretty good weather protection and besides, the Wee has a 22-litre fuel tank. I could have ridden half way to NYC on a tank of gas.
I could have arrived at Shipyard Road covering the 300 kilometres in three hours, but it took me six. The ride had been tremendously pleasant; temperatures were and would stay in the mid to high 20s for the duration. Even my one rainy day, was wet humid and warm. The weather report was so accurate I went out and bought myself a lottery ticket!
Not at all like several years ago as my wife Brenda and I embarked on a clockwise trip of NB, during which we were caught in the tail end of an Atlantic hurricane that actually forced us to return to the safety of our island. This was my chance to make up for that aborted trip. To say I was stoked would be like me telling you a Douglas fir was like just another Christmas tree.
I took the evening to get my gear sorted and studying the map looking for my first day’s ride. I didn’t really have destinations in mind; this wasn’t one of those kinds of rides. Nope, this was the old fashioned, ‘well I wonder what’s there?’ kind of trip.
Sometimes I’d find myself having ridden 40 kilometres over hill and dale only to arrive in the same place from a different direction, as I had been an hour before.
Sometimes I would be following the Fundy Coast, which if you do nothing else ever in your life, is a must do.
And, others. Until you see Hopewell Rocks or Cape Enrage, you haven’t lived. But I digress.
Unseen forces were calling me like the siren of the sea (which in my case, certainly wasn’t far off) to my appointment with destiny. Little did I know as I cruised to tiny and pretty Gardener Creek and on to St Martin’s, Hanford Brook, Hillsdale, and Upper Word’s Creek, that before this trip was done I would have found my Utopia.
My first day. As so often happens when I’m happy, the sun is shining and I am sitting atop a motorcycle, a freedom machine, throttle twisted, gears shifted that “everything is right with the world” feeling. As so often occurs, when I have no particular place to go and no particular time to get there, I found myself first on a tiny road caressing the Bay of Fundy, then two hours later, miles from the ocean and crossing under my first of many fabled covered bridges somewhere near Plumweseep.
That first day would see me and Wee-Vee cover nearly 350 kilometres of back road NB, just toddling along, humming a tune inside my helmet.
It had been a long day and I was tuckered out. The next six days would be much the same. Get up at 6:30 am, feed the feline and the pooch, take pooch for walk, don appropriate gear, push button, and point V-Strom out garage door. Repeat.
My second riding day saw me headed north toward Cambridge Narrows, one of many arms of the mighty St. John River, which flowing wide and fast or gentle and molasses slow, dominates much of the landscape of New Brunswick. Unlike the sand bar I live on, these are tired granite mountains, the Appalachians, the oldest mountains on Earth.
Once at the Narrows I made a point of taking in Jemseg, Shannon and Wickham, then Kars and Hatfield Point, Springfield and was somewhat disappointed when passing through Norton, I saw not one of the fabled English twins…
Riding the countryside, I found little need for 200 bhp when I was using barely 25 or 30. Pulling away from the ferry I rarely exceeded 70-80 kmh. Must be getting older or smarter! Maybe all those dudes on Vulcans and V-Stars and V-Rods know something the rest of us don’t. Heck even I was riding a V-Twin come to think of it. I was just happy to be alive.
I gently crossed placid waterways on the Quispamsis, Crystal Beach, the Evansdale ferry and a dozen more. It only takes minutes and I found myself doing it time after time for a week. Free, always friendly and reliable as a pet rock, there is something magical about watching the water endlessly splashing by, foaming. Reminded me of the times I crossed Arrow Lake at Fauquier, BC. In fact the operators were beginning to call me by name!
The third day I was in Hampton, Kingston, Springfield, Belle isle Creek, and Centreville, turned around at beautiful tree lined shady and “I could live here…” Petitcodiac! Then ran the DL up to the ton just for the heck of it on the short stretch of Trans-Canada to the junction of 111, where I turned south to Poodiac.
Now I don’t speak French short of saying ‘Bonjour, je m’appelle Francois’ nor do I speak any known dialect of Huron or Mi’kmaq and English isn’t even my first language, but I can tell you I loved riding through all these wonderful back roads with their quaint villages.
Imagine yourself with some time, motoring through Apohaqui, Beaver Dam, Cape Tormentine, Cape Spear and a hundred other Capes, and then having lunch at some place like The Miramichi, or Tynemouth Creek or Alma, and you just start to get the picture.
Twice I was near Fredericton, the province’s pretty little historic capital on the banks of the St. John River and the third time after two hours of covering very little mileage but enjoying myself immensely, I again skirted the city, crossed the river on a magnificent iron bridge which certainly rated a picture but didn’t offer a viewpoint from which to do so and struck off toward Chipman.
I turned off 105 at McGowan Corner north. The sun beat down while I scarfed a sandwich at Lakeville Corner then rode the Lake District on yet another three-digit road, 690.
Shades of an early Okanagan Valley in the 1970s, this was like a step back in time if it weren’t for the plethora of new F-150s, Mazda 3s and BMW Z something or others cruising around.
After getting lost and running low on fuel, I eventually found the main drag taking me to a huge Irving mill in the pretty little burg called Chipman. The V-Strom was showing 513 kilometres since my last fill, leaving me on the last flashing bar of the speedometer-mounted graph.
As the final days approached I scouted the map for that last ride. Like all things, my house/dog and cat sitting days were numbered at least for now, but I was fortunate that my one rainy day allowed me to choose one final route.
Taking Highway 100 south of Rothesay and crossing Kennebecasis Bay on the Summerville ferry, Wee and I rode up Highway 71 to the junction at 101, which took me to Central Blissville, where I blissfully stopped in the mid day heat for a cool drink of water from my canteen.
I had a choice of north toward New Maryland, or west towards Harvey, but for some reason I got as far as Fredericton Junction, where I had a visit with Lord Beaverbrook (not THE Lord Beaverbrook). While consulting my map after filling up at the local Irving gas stop, (this of course is their back yard if you hadn’t already guessed), I decided to turn back.
There was something calling my name… ‘Francois… Francois…’
Having reached Blissville for the second time today I found the obscure junction of Highway 785. This would turn out to be a very little traveled highway worthy of its three-digit status, a lonely road of seemingly endless curves, plenty of hills and lots of sunshine and trees. There was me, the Wee and this road with hardly a car in sight for many miles, until I came to another huge mother of an Irving paper mill on the side of the road.
After a brief photo-op, I was back in the saddle before the guard had completely left the guardhouse, I think no doubt, to welcome me to snap a few more pics. (Not bloody likely.)
I climbed a last hill and there it was, a sign on a simple country gas station. I had to rub my eyes in disbelief. It was true there had been magnetic pull on me all along, and it had finally brought me to this place, after 62 years of life.
Not sure myself what I would have expected, after all the dream was sketchy at best and had been rooted in the psychedelic 1960s but here I was, in the middle of the roadway, with two houses to my left and a fuel stop and convenience store to my right.
Okay, at first glance it left something to be desired—after all one does develop a certain vision of what Utopia should look like though you or I may see things entirely differently. Perhaps back in the day this was the idyllic location in New Brunswick, but hey… on this warm July day… I had finally found UTOPIA!
by Frank Simon Canadian Biker Issue #334