Monday 30th June I woke up an a motel in Sioux Lookout and was very pleased to look out of the window to see my bike still there! I’m not sure if the town really deserves the reputation it’s got but I can’t say I was sad to leave. I was also hoping this was going to be may last day in Ontario. At nearly two weeks to cross this one province, I was finally getting my head around the fact that Canada is big, I mean REALLY BIG!
I had a lot of miles to cover to get to the Manitoba border and so I knew I had to get to the next town, Ear Falls, by soon after lunch time. At 280km, this would only be possible if the logging roads were good. I was in luck and most of the road appeared to have been recently used and was in good condition. By now I was getting a good feel for the handling of the bike on these fast gravel logging roads and was quite happily racing along at 70mph or even 80-85mph on long straight sections. Still, with so much weight on the bike I had to really drop the speed in corners otherwise the bike would want to carry on in a straight line. This had already lead to a few heart-stopping moments much earlier on the trip.
However, despite all my experience, disaster struck about 50km before I got to Ear Falls! I had recently passed an active logging area, so knew I was getting back to civilization. As I approached a left-hand corner I started slowing down. Recent rain had given the surface a uniform grey colour with gravel in it but as I entered the corner the actual surface changed to a fluffy sand and the bike lost all traction for braking. There was a ridge on the outside of the corner that lorries had built up that was my last hope for making it round the corner in one piece. Unfortunately the ridge had no real substance but instead caused the bike to fish-tail violently, first to the left, then the right and as it came back around to the left I was thrown off and the bike rolled completely over sideways – it happened so quickly I only worked this out from the marks on the road afterwards!
Now, I don’t know if I was knocked out or not but I found myself in the ditch on the side of the road. I’m pretty sure I hit my head as everything was tinted blue and green for a few moments as I ran through a few basic checks. Breathing – check! Finger a toe movements – check! Arms and legs – check! Ability to stand up – check! OK, I seemed to have passed the basics, now what about the bike. Thankfully the bike had managed to stay up on the road, although the back wheel was hanging over the edge. That was definitely a better situation than if the bike was also down in the ditch! However, the front brake lever was damaged and unusable. The throttle grip was damaged and unusable. The screen was pretty much broken off. Both the panniers and topbox were pretty beaten up and the lid had been ripped off one of the panniers.
Having just passed an active logging area, I knew that someone would come along the road sooner or later. I figured that rather than doing myself an injury, I’d flag down a passing truck and get help to move the bike. So I sat down to wait. I also made very good use my DeLorme InReach to get in touch with my girlfriend to let her know that I was fine but that I’d had an accident and would update her soon.
Whilst waiting and resting on the side of the road I’d done a more thorough check of myself for injuries and the only one I could detect was concussion. That morning it had been threatening to rain so I’d put the rain coat over my bike jacket. The rain coat has a hood that rolls up into the collar. This has annoyed me in the past as it restricts the movement of my helmet but this time I’m sure it acted as a neck-brace and literally saved my neck!
After half an hour I got bored and decided to pick the bike up. I unloaded it and dragged it around to get the back wheel on the road to finally get it lifted up. I waited another half hour and still no one came past, so I started wondering what would need to be done to get the bike going again. I used duck tape that I’d got as one of my leaving presents from my last job to patch over the broken front brake lever so it wouldn’t leak more brake fluid. I took apart the throttle grip and figured out the bits of metal that could be bent back into shape or removed to get the throttle usable – although it was stiff to get it to return. The screen was cable-tied so it wouldn’t flap around and lastly the pannier was held together with the straps that I’d kept from the shipping crate for getting the bike into Canada!
After waiting an hour and a half in total I gave up and started riding slowly towards Ear Falls. Despite the active logging I didn’t see anyone until I got to the junction with the paved road, at which point rather than stop I carried on to Ear Falls on the bike. When I arrived in the town I was still rather dazed but I found a motel with a restaurant and they also gave me the password for the WiFi so I could also start sorting out how I was going to get the bike fixed.
I immediately got in contact with my insurance company, Motorcycle Express. They were very supportive and, as I’d already figured out that the nearest BMW dealer was in Winnipeg, they said they’d be in contact as soon as they’d found a tow company to come pick me and the bike up. With nothing else to do I ordered some food and got chatting with the other people in the restaurant. I explained my story to the waitress, although she couldn’t believe that I’d want to ride across Canada on dirt roads when there’s a perfectly good highway I could be using. She then relayed this story to each subsequent customer that came in. With each telling of the story my bike changed from a BMW, to a Porsche, to a Mercedes. One trucker who sat on the table next to me leaned over and quietly asked if it was my bike outside and “isn’t it a BMW and not a Mercedes?”. I said that it was but that I was too British to correct her, and she was having fun recounting it to more people.
The insurance company got back in touch with me and had some bad news. I had crashed my bike the day before Canada Day, 1st July. The only tow company they could find that could pick up a motorbike to take it to Winnipeg wouldn’t be able to get me that night so I’d be stuck in Ear Falls for at least two days before they’d get to me. That’s when I had a brain wave. Ron, who I’d stayed with in Thunder Bay, had told me of him helping adventure riders in Thunder Bay who had asked for help on the ADVRider forum, so I thought I’d give that a go. The insurance company were happy for me to give this a go – after all, it would save them money.
After posting my call for help I only had to wait 4 minutes for a first reply and within two hours a complete plan was in place in which Garth from Dryden (dryden_rider_54) and Greg from Winnipeg (BackRoader) would team up to get me to Winnipeg. This was great news as during that time the waitress and trucker in the restaurant had been telling me that the whole of Ear Falls would be shut down the next day for Canada Day.
Next morning I was glad to discover that I hadn’t died during the night as a result of a head injury, so I could have hit my head that hard. With Garth not being able to pick me up until 2pm, we’d agreed that I would ride my bike slowly down to the main highway so he would have to make a 200km loop up to Ear Falls and back. Setting off early I had to ride slow to avoid having to brake suddenly for any deer or bears on the road. Only having a back brake meant that emergency stops were out of the question. With it being Canada Day there was virtually no traffic on the road, although that may have been because Ear Falls isn’t on the top of many people’s holiday destinations, so the ride was really pleasant.
I found the location I’d agreed to meet Garth at. It was called Fort Vermillion and wasn’t hard to miss – it was literally a wooden Fort! With a coffee shop inside. Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait before Garth arrived. We loaded up the bike on his trailer and headed off in the direction of Manitoba. The plan was that he’d take me to the Ontario/Manitoba border, where we’d meet up Greg and transfer my bike to Greg’s trailer for the to take me to Winnipeg.
Everything worked out perfectly and, having thanked and apologised to Garth for the umpteenth time for messing up his Canada plans, I was soon getting my first views of the Prairies from the comfort of Greg’s SUV rather than the saddle of my bike, as I’d expected. On the way Greg explained that I would be staying with him that night but the following night he had a full house, so another ADVRider, Daryl (GreatWhiteNorth) had offered me a bed for a couple of nights. This was way beyond anything I had expected.