Squint slightly. I think there's a little Brando in writer Clark's eyes. (Squint harder.)
Squint slightly. I think there’s a little Brando in writer Clark’s eyes. (Squint harder.) Click image to enlarge

by Michael Clark

If only I could have learned this trick in junior high.

In those simpler times, entertainment wasn’t supplied by iPods and cell phone gaming. It was all about the prank. Popping someone’s binder rings open for an unplanned looseleaf dump. Vaseline on the doorknobs. And the classic thumbtack-on-the-chair. How we would dance when that tack went through our acid-washed jeans. After a 450-kilometre run on my Yamaha Virago test bike, I could have sat on 5 tacks, and wouldn’t have noticed them ’til I had to change for Phys Ed.

It was last week’s meeting with Edmontonian Keith Krueger that got me thinking; could I eventually consider making a 14-hour trip on two wheels? Possibly, however my little tank bag was at it’s maximum with the addition of a Vanilla Coke. Another issue to consider was the tank size; 9.5 litres, or 2.1 Imperial gallons for my Dad and his buddies. With what the good folks at Winnipeg Sport and Leisure were telling me on fuel efficiency, I was looking at about 200 kilometres cruising range. Tops.

When it comes to summer weekends, most Manitobans make a bee-line for the Lake of the Woods cabin country. Kenora, Ontario is the nerve centre of the region. (That means it has a Wal-Mart AND a Tim Horton’s.) And according to the sign heading out of Winnipeg, it was 196 kilometres away. I set my internal nav system and pointed the Virago east down the TCH.

My cabin memories centred around a 6 PM departure on Friday night, getting to the lake just in time to trip while carrying the cooler down the hill in the pitch dark. Lives are busier today, and so was the TCH. The winds had plenty of new and interesting wallops for me. I knew the dangers of driving past an approaching semi; in fact, I downright preferred it to following one. Even moving to the outside of my lane did little to calm the windwash. It wasn’t just the wheels of 18 that bounced me around the asphalt. Sport-utes, minivans, and half-tons with trailers fought with the Virago incessantly, and they all had a different technique.

Somehow, 'crossing provincial boundaries' doesn't sound as cool as 'crossing state lines'.
Somehow, ‘crossing provincial boundaries’ doesn’t sound as cool as ‘crossing state lines.’ Click image to enlarge

I kept a quickened pace, wanting to erase the buffeteers as quickly, and legally as possible. I had to keep a constant eye on my mirrors, for it wasn’t too long until the 140 Club made its entrance. These are the jokers who remember pinning the needle when our newly-metric speedos only went up to 140 km/h. The problem is that they like to do 140 in the right lane. I spotted the silver Accent in the mirrors, hell-bent on voiding his warranty. The black Avalanche “came out of nowhere”, which means I hadn’t been paying close enough attention. (For the record, that’s what that phrase always means.)

Things were pretty quiet up to Hadashville, with the exception of the odd “thwok” on the helmet. Think of your whole body as a windshield. Now think of how a windshield can get chipped. I’m not sure of the phylum, however this particular Saturday must have seen the annual migration of bugs with plenty of green goo in their bellies. The splats occur all over, and they show up quite nicely on a black jacket. I had heard stories of wasps and hornets getting into sleeves and pant legs for a stinger of a party. Something did hit me square in the neck. The first thoughts were of a half-dead yellow-jacket, poised to deliver a stab that could have caused a flinch into the ditch. Whatever it was, it didn’t stick around for the post-mortem.

I decided to top up at the nearby Shell station, to ensure that I wouldn’t be doing any reserve tank fumbles when the TCH grew curves and dwindled to a lane a piece near Falcon Lake. There’s a mother of a hill near the provincial boundary, with a steep downgrade followed by an equally steep upgrade. Ever gotten onto a roller coaster, then made the realization at the top of the first plunge that you should have stuck to getting fleeced by the carnies? My eyes were stuck on ‘wide’ as I sped down, remembering about halfway into the plummet that I could just ease back on the throttle.

The stretch from Falcon to Kenora has plenty of curves, approaching big rigs, and a few dim-bulbs who skipped Passing 101 in Driver’s Ed. An oncoming Ridgeline crossed the double line, nipping back into safety with about two car lengths to spare. I had moved to the outside of the lane to avoid him, trying to figure out how to safely offer up the international gesture for ‘wise decision’, without my left hand leaving the bars. He may not have caught it, but I threw it.

Scott Lovell, a relative newcomer to two wheels, has two years experience under his boots.
Scott Lovell, a relative newcomer to two wheels, has two years experience under his boots.. Click image to enlarge

A quick scan of the mirrors registered two Harleys coming up from the rear. I caught up with the owners at the Kenora Timmy’s. Scott Lovell and daughter Cara Sweeting have been riding together for the past two years. Sweeting had obtained her learner’s permit before the now-mandatory Gearing Up courses at the Manitoba Safety Council, which Lovell attended. “There were a lot of little tips and hints that I thought were valid,” said Lovell. “It’s mostly geared towards control of the bike.”

His hog of choice is a 2005 Sportster 1200, while Sweeting drives the ‘Hugger’ version of the 883 Sportster. Lovell makes a point of riding almost every day of the season. Their Daddy-Daughter outings have encountered some impressive stupidity by four-wheeled motorists. “There was one guy who passed me on the shoulder,” said Sweeting. “You’ve got to be really well aware of your surroundings.” Dad agreed. “You’ve got to be defensive, defensive, defensive,” said Lovell. “Be aware of what’s around you and who’s around you, because there’s a lot of people out there that aren’t paying attention.”

I left Lovell and Sweeting to their double-doubles and started the trek back to Winnipeg. I decided on taking Highway 44, which cuts through the Whiteshell Provincial Park. There are some glorious curves through the tree and rock, however the road surface is a yin-yang of fresh-smelling blacktop and bumps that are so severe that your mouth can’t contain the grunts. Pins and needles in the glutes turned into a dead mass; the nerve endings had left for the day. I was planning on topping off the tank in Whitemouth, however the Virago had other plans. I was ticking along at about 100 km/h when the power dropped out. I fumbled for the reserve, but it was too late. Luckily, there was no one to the rear as I coasted to a stop on the shoulder. I’m already putting the tank switch practice into my daytimer.

I was about 30 klicks from Whitemouth. The question was whether or not the reserve had 30 klicks in it. I experienced no sputters as I rolled into the sleepy hamlet’s only filling station. How close was I to empty? Let’s just say that I didn’t smell any fumes when I opened the tank. Nine dollars later, I was on my way home.

I fidgeted in the seat as much as I could without inviting wobble or jerks to send blood to the cheeks. Even with my various rest-and-stretch periods throughout the day. I knew I was beat. The varying degrees of handlebar grip had brought the pins and needles to the fingertips. My latest sports injury was flaring up in the heel of my left foot. And my contacts felt like dried raisins. I felt great.

I rolled into the driveway, by this point opting for a stall to bring the Virago to rest. I looked down at the odometer. 450 new kilometres looked back. Every one of them was worth the hobble into the house, in search of a very comfy chair. I sat with eyes closed as I wrapped my head around the number. Four-fifty. And not just any four-fifty. A confidence-inspiring, head-clearing, get-out-of-my-way-world-’cause-here-I-come four-fifty. There’s more to come. A lot more.

Read Michael Clark’s entire series!

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