“Someone once told me, time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.
— Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), True Detective, Season 1: The Secret Fate of All Life
Pulling into Adair’s Wilderness Lodge, I was asking myself why I, and all the other Fundy Adventure Rally returnees, were back for another year. In a world that focuses on convenience and ease, why was I planning to spend a day blasting around New Brunswick’s back roads and gravel tracks for 500 kilometres? Why attend an event where even the preliminary, just-for-fun rides result in wrecked bikes?
The navel-gazing vanished quickly as I unloaded the bike and started meeting and greeting the 2019 crowd. Many familiar faces were back; a few long-timers had to miss the event, but they’d been replaced by an all-new group of keeners, many from the eastern US. Friday night’s dinner saw the riders’ presentation and a very quiet evening as everyone hit the sack early, waiting for the first non-rainy Fundy Adventure Rally in years.
The easy ride
After last year’s failed attempt to tackle the rally’s toughest sections, I was up for a more relaxed approach this time, and joined up with The Unstoppables. The other two members of the team were Hilmar and Chris, middle-aged German ex-pats riding a Honda Africa Twin and a BMW R1200 GS respectively. I was on a Honda CRF450L, so I’d have an easier time on the trails, but was definitely going to be less comfortable.
Everyone was agreed: finishing the full 500-km route was our prime objective. The other riders had to ride their bikes home to Ontario, so they didn’t want to beat them up too badly, and with vacation starting Monday morning, I didn’t need to break my ribs Saturday. So we settled on stringing together all the rally’s easy A routes, and set out.
Even when you take last year’s 10 centimetres of rain out of consideration, this year’s ride was a lot different from the challenging C routes. Without tricky uphills or water crossings, we were clear to ride as fast as we wanted, as long as we could see through the dust. We kept speeds to a sensible level, but as we were the first team to head out on the A routes, we didn’t have to pass anyone, and had a fantastic day of fun pavement and (mostly) easy fire roads.
(Below, you can get a rough idea of this year’s route, which ran from Adair’s to Head of Millstream, then Connell’s, then Salisbury, then Alma, then back to Adair’s. Of course, A, B and C routes all took different roads and trails, but this was the basic layout.)
I must give credit where it’s due here. In his years as rally master, Eric Russell has done a great job of building where Editor ‘Arris left off. Even though I’m very familiar with the territory between Moncton and Saint John, Eric’s route still sent me down roads I didn’t know, and I spent much of the day amazed at the beautiful scenery I hadn’t discovered in all my years of riding through here.
The not-so-easy ride
Meanwhile, things weren’t going so well for everyone else, at least on the difficult C-rated sections. Despite several days without rain, the Synton road sections that have proved so difficult in past years were once again flooded. Some riders hit trouble in areas flooded by beaver dams, where taking the wrong line meant the difference between axle-deep water and waist-deep water. And there were flat tires all around, with one rider shredding not just his tube, but his whole tire carcass, up in the wilderness around Caledonia Gorge. That’s about as far from Rally HQ as you can get — help’s a long way off.
As always, the riders rose to the challenge of sorting out their mechanicals. One team ended up doing an oil change in a stranger’s shed after a water crossing went wrong. A volunteer had to dodge through moose fence on the highway with his KLX250 in order to bum a gallon of gas off another stranger. Another rider nursed his bike home for dozens of kilometres of bad gravel road when his rim decided to start destroying tire tubes. No matter what it took, people were determined to finish.
The Curse of the Forty-Five River Bridge
And now comes another Tale of CMG Misfortune. Last year, I experienced a ride-ending mechanical failure at the Forty-Five River Bridge, but this time around, everything was going smoothly. Hilmar and Chris were rolling along with Teutonic efficiency. We kept our gas stops to a minimum, didn’t faff about with mid-route breaks, and our bikes were running well. By the time we left Alma on the last leg of the route, we knew things were good.
Then, while passing a bunch of ATVs on a trail, I saw we’d missed a turn; the other two riders were focused on making a safe pass and didn’t see the GPS track. I chased them down, said we’d better check it out. After much dithering, we determined we’d missed a section of the route that took us through … the Forty-Five River Bridge (cue the Outer Limits theme).
We also discovered that we were actually the team that was farthest ahead at this point. The rally is not a race, mind you, but it’s always nice to be the first team back, right? All we had to do was backtrack a few kilometres, make up the missed section, and we’d be on our way, rolling back into Adair’s to adulating hordes, who would no doubt throw garlands at us and demand our autographs.
Alas, as we backtracked, we met team after team that hadn’t made the error, and was now ahead of us. We didn’t dilly-dally on the way home, but by the time we reached the parking lot, there were no cheering crowds, and about a half-dozen other teams had arrived before us.
I wondered: Had the Forty-Five River Bridge somehow worked against me again? Was it cursed? I resolved that next time, I would carefully avoid going anywhere near the Forty-Five River Bridge. At least that’s the plan: I wonder if an eerie, irresistible force will somehow draw me back to the bridge again, and malevolently cause another minor disaster next year? Is time a flat circle? Will history repeat itself?
After a long evening of rescuing other downed bikes in my pickup, I had one of the best sleeps I’ve had since my two kids were born. Sunday morning saw the usual awards presentation, and during the carryings-on, I figured out the answer to Friday’s question: Why do we do it?
For years, the rally would award a Gold, Silver or Bronze certificate, depending on your score (which is determined by the difficulty of the routes you complete). Then, in 2017, Eric introduced Bitcoin status, which is even higher than Gold, and only attainable by bashing a multi-cylinder adventure bike through all the toughest sections. Before this year, only one team had achieved it (the Awesome Players, in 2017).
This year, four teams managed to achieve Bitcoin status. One of them even figured out how to earn enough points while riding single-cylinder motorcycles. Sitting there, with my lowly Bronze certificate, I was immediately envious and decided I need to earn at least a Silver next year, maybe a Gold.
That’s when I realized what the rally’s hook is, what keeps people coming back: It’s about friends and fun, sure, but it’s also about getting better. Those other teams that hit Bitcoin status — they set a goal to exceed the previous performance, and hit it. For me, I’d done the Scavenger route, I’d had a Did Not Finish last year, and this year I wanted to finish the rally. Now I want to go back, and prove myself in the tougher sections. It’s a dangerous addiction, motorcycling, even for a non-competitive person like myself, and that’s what makes the rally so great: you can always set a new goal, a tougher objective, for next year.
And now for some sad news. At the end of Sunday’s presentation, Eric and Terri Russell announced they’re ending their participation at the rally. They’ve run it since 2016, and done a fantastic job, but due to other commitments, they can’t keep it up.
This doesn’t mean the end of the Fundy Adventure Rally, but it does mean some other person or business will now have to step forward and run the event, if it is to continue. I hope someone will take this on; the rally’s come through too much difficulty already to end now. Plus, I bought a mountain bike on the way home from this year’s rally, so I could get in better riding shape for next year. So someone needs to purchase the rally and run it — I’ve already got money invested in my 2020 attempt!