Words and photos: Gerald van Wyngaarden
This month’s Reader’s Story by Gerald Van Wyngaarden is his account of his 24-hour ride in the 2002 Blackfly Rally around northern Ontario and Quebec. But I just don’t get it.
Although I’m willing to do just about anything that involves a motorcycle, riding for 24 hours straight only to end up back where you started seems like a bit of an exercise in futility. What next? Ride around Toronto’s highways in rush hour just to see how many days it takes to get round once?
Okay, it’s not the same. And since all the people I’ve met that get off on the long-distance thing seem to have at least a semblance of sanity, I’m willing to concede that I might be missing something here. Hell, maybe I should try it sometime myself, just to check it out. After all, I once ‘competed’ in a 24-hour ice-race on a 50cc scooter (and had a blast!), so who’s to say who the fool is?
Anyway, time to make up your own minds. Pop some USAF-spec flight pills, climb on board the back of Gerald’s ageing Katana and enjoy the ride!
Cheers, Editor ‘arris
P.S. Since we’re looking to make Reader’s Stories a monthly experience on CMG I’d appreciate any feedback you might have on this story and the concept. For example, the photography on this type of article is generally … err, basic. But does a great story override the need for great pictures? What are the kind of tales that you’d like to hear from our beloved readership?
Let us know at RSFeedback@cmgonline.com.
|Riders meeting – Peter assures us “this is not a race”.|
It’s 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon in the parking lot of North Bay Cycle. This is the meeting point of the 2002 “Blackfly 1609.” People are lounging around laughing and telling stories, catching up on gossip and generally having a good time as the bikes are subjected to safety checks and riders go for a short ride to calibrate their speedometers.
The 2002 Blackfly is the third running of the biannual event—a 24-hour endurance rally consisting of a 1609-plus-km ride around northern Quebec and Ontario—hosted by Canadian Iron Butt hero Peter Hoogeveen and the very lovely Kelly Cornford.
|Repaired FJR with Mark Daub in centre and Dave Stewart on his immediate right.|
Between the newcomers and the regulars are two years of stories to catch up on. There are a wide range of motorcycles participating, most set up with GPS and fuel cells to help navigate and power through our remote route. I think my ‘82 Katana is the oldest bike in attendance. The ‘84 Suzuki GS750 of my long-time riding partner, Kevan Welch, is the smallest bike, and he doesn’t even have a windshield!
The surprise is the bike that 1998’s winner Mark Daub is on—a pre-production Yamaha FJR1300 that he has managed to borrow from Yamaha Canada. This looks like bad news for the rest of us as Mark won the 1998 event by riding his FJ1200 a total of 2400km in 22.5 hours.
Things start to look better for us when Mark rides off for his speedometer calibration and then doesn’t return. It appears that the FJR’s drive shaft has broken, but Mark isn’t about to write off the weekend ride.
He calls Yamaha, gets them to fax up a parts list for the rear end and then compares the numbers at the local Yamaha dealer. Unbelievably, the broken part has the same part number as an early ‘80s Virago! Mark phones the local bike wrecker, finds a 1981 Virago rear end and uses the parts to get the FJR going again. He even rides back into the lot in plenty of time to enjoy the burgers being prepared for the competitors and staff.
|A volunteer chastises Kevan.|
Rallymaster Peter Hoogeveen concludes the evening by outlining the rules and the five mandatory checkpoints that will define the required 1609km route. We will be riding east into Quebec, just north of Ottawa, then up to Val D’Or and back into Ontario and the town of Timmins, and then back to North Bay. We are issued maps of Ontario, Quebec, and … a separate one for Montreal?
The next morning at 8:30am we get about nine pages of optional bonuses—diversions off the main route that offer additional points. There’s also a page of exponential point bonuses—taking Polaroid’s of police stations all over the north gets you 25 points for the first, 50 for the second, and so on.
Five minutes before the start another option is offered: do all of the bonuses, plus only “one more” for an unbelievable 50,000 points. That “one more” bonus is in a remote town named Parent, approximately 300km north of Montreal, adding an additional 400km to the route. It’s not impossible, except the town is at the end of 175km of unpaved logging road. Getting the 50,000 points would almost guarantee the win—providing you are the only one to accept the challenge…and you can get back in time. Kevan and I decide we’d rather not go dirt biking.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
|What a place to sit for 24 hrs – Not your average long distance device!|
Nine o’clock arrives and 36 of us head east along Hwy 17 not to attract police attention. Having everyone on the same road doesn’t seem like a very good idea, but we don’t actually see many other riders until we stop to take pictures of the OPP station in Mattawa. The sheer audacity of this points program is incredible: ride as fast as you dare, try not to attract attention as you speed in circles around towns looking for hidden police stations, snap a pic and then speed off again.
The rest of the afternoon gets used up riding through the Verendrye Park in Quebec on wide beautiful roads in perfect weather.
We get side-tracked in Val-D’Or and spend a little time downtown. Sidewalk bars are big in this town—the general plan being to block off the whole sidewalk with a patio and build a pedestrian bypass in the street. I take a moment to look over a local muscle car “Show and Shine,” but the Blackfly doesn’t leave any room for tourism, so we’re soon off again.
|Would you cross this bridge for 25 bonus points?|
Back on the road and we haven’t seen any other competitors for hours now. It seems the north can swallow up 36 motorcycles pretty easily. The area up here is flat open farming country with roads like they were drawn with a ruler. We are now riding directly into the setting sun on one of these, through tiny towns boasting more failed businesses than working ones.
At dusk we find ourselves in the Macamic Town Square, reading the plaque to find out how long the town has been there for an extra 120 points. Kids surround us on 50cc scooters, zooming around the square and main intersection of downtown Macamic. It seems that every northern town is filled with these scooters being ridden enthusiastically, but rather unskilfully, by underage youth.
There’s a bright red sky at sunset (red sky at night, motorcyclist’s delight?), but the red ball of sun is soon replaced by a tiny sliver of moon. It’s going to be very dark in the woods tonight.
By 11:00pm we are back in Ontario looking unsuccessfully for an invisible OPP station in the deserted village of Virginiatown. We can’t find the ore-car bonus in downtown Kirkland Lake either.
|An appropriate bonus at the end of a long remote road. It was closed.|
At 2:30am we finally meet a bunch of fellow Blackflyers at a Tim Horton’s in Timmins. A couple of them have given up trying for points and are just looking to find the quickest route to the last two mandatory checkpoints. There aren’t many options though, and no gas stations around for a long while, even if heading straight south on Hwy 144 to Sudbury. The alternative, high-point route down the remote Hwy 560 has an unnerving 381km before the next gas station in New Liskeard.
Fortified by some of Tim’s finest brew and with gas and auxiliary tanks filled, we set off.
We don’t see another vehicle or even anything else living for the next 130km—just bugs that suddenly appear in the headlight before they hit the bike. Kevan is fading by the time we get to Gogama to read a dump sign and photograph yet another police station. We decide to stop and walk around in the pitch black at the junction of 560—considering our options and trying to get revitalized.
We opt for the 560 and one hundred and fifty kilometers of the nicest, twistiest, most remote tar and gravel road. Our next obstacle hits us soon afterwards: 10 km of construction. This is rapidly becoming no fun, but we’re now too tired to care.
I’m leading, trying to keep Kevan’s headlight in my mirror while maintaining a steady 120km/h. I glance in my mirror and there he is, then suddenly a line of lights light up the whole hill he is descending. Someone is coming, and judging by the speed it isn’t any normal tourist. I hug the shoulder as the road illuminates around me and am overtaken, first by Mark Daub on the FJR and then Dave Stewart on a CBR 1000. They rapidly disappear into the distance as quickly as they appeared and we’re back to struggling through the dark once again.
|Cliff pays the price.
Oh, we were supposed to be taking pictures of police stations, not police cars!
As the first light of morning is colouring the sky, we arrive at Elk Lake to find Mark and Dave standing in the closed Yamaha dealer’s yard. I look at Mark’s bike. It’s clean. Maybe he didn’t do the Parent bonus after all. The CBR on the other hand is dirty. The fairing is flapping and the bike needs a push in order to start.
We get the Elk Lake cop shop bonus and head to New Liskeard at a fuel-safe 135 km/h. We’re soon passed by Mark and Dave, and once again they quickly disappear into the distance. There are large bonuses to be had near the end of the route—when you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to stop anymore.
The last mandatory checkpoint is a gas receipt in Temiskaming. It is now 8:30am. We have 30 minutes left and there are 64km between us and North Bay. The young attendant doesn’t speak English, and is calmly serving coffee to sleepy locals when we rush in, demanding to buy a $2 gas receipt without actually buying gas. He isn’t getting it and it only gets worse when other riders barge in asking the same. He wants to know when we’ll be back for our gas.
As we leave, an unmarked police car passes us coming the other way. This isn’t good for any riders behind us. If he sets up his radar it’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. Although no-one admits to having been caught in this trap, the stories will come eventually.
HOME SWEET HOME
|Mark daub chats with the “R7-kids” ( Jo Harvey rode an R6 and John McCormick an R1).|
We finally roll into the North Bay Cycle parking lot 12 minutes late, having decided to trade the latecomers 20-points-per-minute penalty for 800 points gained by a Polaroid of the North Bay OPP station. Exhausted riders are standing around talking and drinking coffee while the crew do check-in and tally scores.
One by one the riders arrive until everyone is accounted for. No one has crashed or vanished. One rider has a minor injury, apparently having clipped a barricade—in a bicycle path!
We find out that Mark and Dave did go the 350km of gravel to Parent after all. But then so did another eight people! They must have realized this as they passed the other riders that it wasn’t going to be enough to just go to Parent. They would have to stop for the other bonuses like the rest of us, which is why we ended up bumping into them.
|Do I look like I was speeding for the last 24 hrs?|
In total, 36 people travelled an average distance of about 2000km each, on unfamiliar roads, for a grand-total of about 72,000km. All done in 24 hours, without incident, and a good time had by all. If only every motorcyclist could enjoy such a good safety record.
In the final tally, Mark Daub was once again the well-deserved winner and his riding partner for the event Dave Stewart was second. I wonder if they actually stopped for a beer in Parent?
I finished 11th, Kevan 12th.
Local guy and Blackfly regular, Henry Darling sums it up best: “Its all over in 24 hours, and now I have to wait another TWO YEARS?!”.
Gerald van Wyngaarden
P.S. Luc, we missed you.