There I was, on a hill, rear wheel buried axle deep in soft dirt and the smell of hot clutch filling the air when I eventually turned off the engine.
Other engines soon filled the void, a KTM flung itself against sanity, against gravity, up the hill I was now parked on. Soon other bikes followed, some stumbling, some falling, with other successful riders jumping off and running back down to pull the floundering machines upright … to try once more for the sky.
I was not on a KTM. Or a Beta, or Husqvarna or even a suitable adventure machine for that matter. No, I was on a rusty, underpowered, over-heavy Russian piece of something with one too many wheels, and one foot holding the rear brake with my body weight, watching and waiting for a break to re-join the uphill stream.
This was the middle of my weekend at the Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure Rally.
The beginning was a slightly desperate email from Editor ‘Arris, asking if I could fill in at an event for him, that I frankly didn’t know much about. While I’ve gone down more than one forest service road on the Ural, I’m not exactly a hard core adventure rider.
Still, I can never say no to ‘Arris. Not until I find a way to destroy the blackmail photos he has of me anyways.
The Overland Adventure rally is a 2-day on/off-road adventure rally now in its third year. Created by Lawrence Hacking — the first Canadian to finish the Dakar rally and a long time off and on road racer — the rally has attendees from several different countries and quite a variety of people and machines.
So Friday afternoon, accompanied by my wife Cindy, I found myself cancelling a planned cottage getaway and instead, heading to the Mohawk Inn/KOA Toronto West in Campbellville, Ontario.
The venue was an excellent choice – giving the option of either inexpensive camping or more luxurious indoor accommodation. ’Arris had snagged one of the KOA deluxe cabins as the CMG HQ for the weekend, though a change in plans meant that he wasn’t there to enjoy the two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, satellite TV, etc. It was almost a shame we wouldn’t be spending much time there over the weekend.
Registration was quick and included meals (dinner on Friday night, three meals on Saturday, and a final breakfast on Sunday morning), access to presentations, a T-shirt, camping and the main ride for $265. Or $249 if you registered early.
After unpacking, we went to see the Expo – where several rally sponsors had set up displays — that took up a substantial portion of the parking lot, with booths from organizations such as Motorcycle Mojo, the Ontario Trail Riders association, Twisted Throttle, Honda Canada, Yamaha Canada, Sturgess Cycle and more. Product demonstrations, examples of gear and equipment and various motorcycles were scattered around, giving attendees much to see.
Indeed one demonstration was constantly ongoing – the OSET electric trials bike could be seen stealthily sneaking around the Mohawk Inn for most of the weekend – usually driving on the tops of walls, tables, countertops, and occasionally slow-moving expo attendees. Despite this, we were assured several times that the driving was a demonstration of the maneuverability of the machine and in no way represented base hooliganism, though I was expected someone to shout out ‘Hold my beer and watch this!” at any moment.
Friday diner was a “Bivouac” style BBQ dinner, which was quite good, the outdoor dining certainly fitting in well with the style of the weekend. Post dinner entertainment was hosted by Jonny Harris (actor, comedian, and motorcyclist who plays George Crabtree on CBC’s “Murdoch Mysteries”) and included presentations by adventure travellers and Simon Pavey (lifelong motorcyclist, Rallyist and operator of an off-road training centre in Wales) ,
For me, the highlight of the Friday/Saturday evening presentations was Lyndon Poskitt’s speech on his ongoing around the world adventure. He took a break from his Races to Place tour and flew in from Australia — courtesy of Sturgess Cycle — to attend the rally. It was entertaining, informative and a great window into the world of the hard-core adventure rider.
Saturday morning included a breakfast of eggs and grilled meats at the Mohawk Inn, before the riders meeting in the Inn’s parking lot. Here we were introduced to the “Ride Leaders” who would be leading groups on either the paved or gravel road routes. Each had a different style from slow and steady to spirited – with Lawrence Hacking being described as “Doesn’t use a GPS, frequently turns around, loses much of his group and usually has to duck out early to get back to the start – experienced riders only.”
Given a choice of gravel or pavement routes, we decided to be adventurous and choose the gravel route – a 240 kilometers mix of pavement, gravel, and dirt roads. We swiftly found that a Ural isn’t the best machine for keeping up with Dual Sports in the turns – or the straights … or the in between bits for that matter — as they would swiftly disappear into the distance. Which was not unexpected, and we’d told them not to wait for us. Which they didn’t.
The “Rally Raid” style directions were very clear, and gave handy hints for some of the tricky bits of the route … though the one hill that saw our rear wheel dig in and us get a bit stuck halfway up might have needed a few extra exclamation marks.
The soft surface combined with a steep slope made it a challenge – in my case, the front wheel would get light and the sidecar rig head off to one side or the other as I lost steering. Which led in turn caused me to slow down, which lead to the rear wheel digging in and emulate a mole. We did make it up however — after a break to let the smoke that had formerly been clutch material, dissipate — and to let the gathering crowd of other machines get by.
The only other real challenge was a particularly deeply rutted trail – which, with a sidecar with a different spaced wheel track than the four wheelers that had dug the ruts — was “interesting” to get through. Especially since the ruts were deep enough to ground out the sidecar frame. But this was an adventure rally – if you don’t spend at least a few minutes in furious concentration while trying not to get stuck on something, it really isn’t an adventure.
Saturday lunch was in a field by a religious retreat in what felt like the middle of nowhere. 127 bikes were scattered across a large field, dirt-splattered machines next to shiny road bikes and riders in various states of disassembled gear lying around in the shade and talking to strangers.
Something that was notable about the event was just how friendly everyone was – you couldn’t sit down somewhere without getting into an interesting conversation, and you couldn’t park your machine without someone asking about it. There was no worry about what you rode – street bike or dual sport or adventure machine, KTM or BMW, Yamaha or Honda – it really didn’t matter.
Even with the organizers — despite how well planned and how well-organized the entire event was — you got the impression it wasn’t being done for any reason except to bring people out and to have some fun, and that having fun was the most important thing about the whole event. Lawrence Hacking’s ultra friendly and down to earth demeanor set the tone for the weekend too.
After lunch, we continued on our ride — for the most part on our own for the afternoon — though ironically we kept running into the group that we had started with, without us having any idea how we kept getting ahead of them.
We eventually ended up back at the Mohawk Inn, handed in our clue sheet, and went off for another Bivouac style dinner on the back lawn. This time being treated to some quite excellent BBQ steak and potatoes, just the thing to replace lost calories from having to occasionally push an overly heavy sidecar up a steep dirt incline.
After that, it was time for the Awards Presentation, which included quite a large amount of giveaways from the rally sponsors, including tires, gear, and a load of smaller items such as T-shirts and hats. This was followed by the evening presentations, and then a kind of slow motion collapse on our part back at the CMG cabin.
Time to go home
Sunday involved breakfast at the Mohawk Inn, some final goodbyes and then the (not very long) trip back to Toronto.
So what were my impressions of the rally? Keep in mind that this is an adventure rally, something I have limited experience with. My dirt skills usually just involve getting it on me, not the bike, though it must be said that the Ural does a decent job of collecting road grime even on pavement.
And yet, even with my limited experience in the off-road arts, and my limited exposure to the adventure riding world – I never felt out of place, and never felt that this was an event where I wasn’t quite welcome.
It was extremely well run, it was interesting, it was beautiful, and it had the occasional spot of badly maintained road to throw your wheels across. And most importantly, despite being anything but an adventure rider, I had a great time. So much so that I’ll be back next year.
And with luck, next year we’ll make it up that hill first time around.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.