The other day while riding home from work, my mind started wandering. I got to thinking how great it would be to go on a road trip, somewhere exotic and amazing. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is nearing; maybe I could make a quick five-day trip there. The only issue would be coming up with the $5,289 needed for a weekend of partying in Sturgis.
I climbed the slope of Garven Road, with ancient pine trees and lush evergreen oaks towering on either side, shading the road in spots to almost complete darkness. This is the area I call home. Gravel pits break up the forest. When I putted past the swank Pine Ridge and Elmhurst golf courses, there was a smell of fresh cut grass and fertilizer in the air. As I turned onto the gravel road leading to our place, a neighbour’s horse lifted its head and watched me thump by.
So it occurred to me that instead of packing up and heading far from home, I could find plenty of amazing places to explore right here in my own backyard.
Yes, the roads in Manitoba are notoriously crappy. This is true. It’s tough to find a highway with perfect blacktop; it’s more likely you’ll find potholes large enough to swallow your front tire in one big gulp. I think it makes us better riders. There aren’t a lot of hills and although there are a few turns, it’s a sure bet when you do make a sharp one, there will be wildlife milling about on the road. The mosquitoes are as big as hummingbirds and the weather can change for the good or the bad in the blink of an eye.
Perhaps this picture may not have you planning a motorcycle trip here anytime soon, but there is beauty in this province. Beautiful scenery and beautiful people, unrivalled anywhere in North America. I know this because like the song says — I’ve been everywhere, man.
Thanks to the biker friend that is Facebook, I sat down at home and found a few local events to choose from that promised epic rides, so I planned a pretty good day: a poker run put on by a local motorcycle club on Saturday morning, meet up with my brothers for an afternoon cruise to Victoria Beach on Lake Winnipeg, and then head south for an evening ride to Steinbach for a big motorcycle rally complete with bands and biker games. My plan was to pack all this into the one day.
PACKING TO RIDE
The night before a big day of riding is always a bit magical. I like to sip a cold beer or two and play the radio low while inspecting and cleaning my bike. I take my time and make sure every area of the motorcycle is touched. I ride a 2011 Harley-Davidson Road King. Internally it’s stock, running a 96 cubic-inch V-twin engine and a six-speed transmission. I’ve done a few modifications to it, swapping out the rims and tires with a new set from a Harley Street Glide. I also run a Street Glide front fender and seat.
I call my bike the Street King and couldn’t be happier with it. To me it’s like a big dirt bike: nimble enough to get me into and out of trouble, yet plenty comfortable for the long haul. It came with a windshield, but I don’t use it, preferring the wind in my face.
After making sure everything was clean as a whistle and tight as a drum, I emptied out my saddlebags. You’d be amazed how much junk one can pile into those Harley hard bags. Found a T-shirt I was looking for rolled up in my rain pants. Not sure how it got there. Also found one missing glove and about 17 packs of gum with one piece left in each. With the bags finally empty, I repacked them carefully with rain gear and my roadside tools.
My gear of choice is Harley-Davidson’s FXRG brand. The jacket and pants, although a bit heavy, are completely waterproof and ultra-comfortable. On my feet, I wear leather army boots with a Gore-Tex liner. I carry a man purse loaded with all my essentials including Band-Aids, Aspirin, sunscreen and spare glasses. I also packed my trusty blanket from Mexico.
Sleep came easy, and I was awake without an alarm clock Saturday morning by 8 a.m., and on the bike full of breakfast and riding by 9:30.
INTO THE WILD
My first stop was the town of Oakbank, just a short ride from my door. A local motorcycle club was hosting a poker run to raise money for STARS, a helicopter air-ambulance service that helped out one of their members when he crashed earlier this summer. According to the STARS website, they assist folks living in rural communities, working in remote areas, travelling on highways or being transported from community hospitals to major medical centres. Thanks to STARS, we receive the very best in critical care in helicopters staffed and outfitted as mobile intensive care units. It’s good to know they are there for us.
I made my donation to STARS, met up with a few old friends and rode with about 50 other bikers for a few clicks before veering away to meet up with my brothers.
When I walked into the 59er, a roadside truck stop, restaurant and lounge on Highway 59 about 30 minutes north of Winnipeg, a few of my brothers were finishing breakfast. Try the blueberry pie. There are many bears and many blueberries in Manitoba.
We milled around there for a while, then lined up our bikes on an access road and kept our eyes peeled on the highway. About 30 of our guys were coming our way after meeting up in the city. Long before we could see them, the thunder rumbled in the distance and before I knew it I was riding mid-pack with the sun shining, surrounded by a sea of chrome. It’s cool to ride along with 40 other people and know every one of their names.
Music is a big part of my riding experience (legal disclaimer: only one ear bud) so with my iTunes set on random, I cruised along tapping my feet on the floorboards while listening to the likes of Waylon Jennings, Bruce Springsteen and the Barenaked Ladies.
The spot we were headed is Victoria Beach, basically the end of the line on Highway 59 and at the tip of the 24,514-square-kilometre Lake Winnipeg, the tenth-largest freshwater lake in the world.
Legend has it a guy who used to ride with us and who will remain nameless won the lottery a few years back. The number I heard was $12 million. Each year he graciously hosts an epic beach party. He’d reserved special parking for his biker brothers, and when we pulled in all dressed in black we were quite the contrasting sight compared to the other partiers in bikinis and Hawaiian shirts. The reggae band and the fake palm trees totally sealed the deal. The food was terrific, the company was fun and the sun was shining. What more could a prairie biker ask for?
We hung out there until about 5 p.m., and then a few of us rolled out in a smaller pack because some of the boys were camping at the beach. I felt the wind nip at my nose right before getting on the bike, and it was at that exact moment I should have put my rain gear on. I didn’t.
About 20 minutes into the one-hour ride, it started pouring really hard. The rain stung my face like needles and eventually a few of us found a side road and pulled over to suit up. Back on the road and in rain gear, we hammered through a torrential downpour for about 40 kilometres. Riding in the rain with good gear on helps, but it still sucks.
We rolled into Lockport at about 6 p.m. and stopped into the Lockport Inn, a local biker hangout that was the end of the line for the poker run I’d joined earlier in the day. Those guys got soaked too. I stood under the canopy of Sonia’s Stand, a greasy spoon that shares a parking lot with the hotel, ate a delicious burger, drank a lemonade and watched the wet riders roll in. A few of us got invited to a buddy’s shop nearby where we checked out a new/old truck he just picked up. Shop tours are always fun and it was neat to finally see where a guy I hang out with hangs his helmet.
END OF THE ROAD
The rain let up and we were back on the bikes and on the way to Steinbach for the final stop. As the sun set on my back, the soothing sounds of Gordon Lightfoot filled my ears…I mean “ear”.
The code of the road dictates what happens after dark remains there, but I will tell you I had a terrific time, slept under the stars wrapped in my Mexican blanket, and rolled out just after sunrise.
It may not have been a trip to Sturgis, but for about $75 including food, fuel and a couple of donations — all in less than 24 hours — I managed to pack on more than 400 kms, hang out with some amazing people, watch some great bands, eat some good food and barrel down some crappy roads in the pouring rain.
I suppose you could say I’m living the dream, right here in Friendly Manitoba.