Ride Report - Northwest (Burns Lake to Wisteria)
Weather cleared up today, blue skies and dry pavement called to the soul and I was there to answer. For anyone who lives in the Northwest you know there aren't many roads around to enjoy a sportbike on, and for those who pass through the odd time looking for a side trip here is a little secret I will happily share with you now.
From Burns Lake you head to Francois Lake, a 30km stretch of pavement in perfect condition that climbs up to the plateau where the big lakes sit around Tweedsmuir Park. This stretch has a lot of traffic and a LOT of police presence, so keep your wits about you as the curves tease you up and around into the heart of the early pioneer areas beyond. Several long sweepers taunt you along the shores of Tchesinkut Lake (reputedly one of the coldest and clearest freshwater lakes in the World) but keep it in your pants because the popo hand out tickets like Halloween candy along these moderately populated spots.
It isn't long before you dip down to Francois Lake, a very dark and ugly sea that cuts like a wound across the province as one of the longer and bigger natural lakes in the area. A good sized ferry leaves every 40 minutes or so directly across the lake, and as it chugs across the lake you feel yourself slipping out of the modern World and back in time - as early as 1920 a ferry ran pioneers across the lake to provide access to the rich rolling farmland beyond.
Immediately upon leaving the ferry at Southbank the road climbs hard, a 3km long double lane sorting out a variety of traffic heading to points yonder. Don't be surprised by aggressive locals hauling ass around the corners here - they know the ferry schedule well and also know that the popo is probably left behind on the other side of the depths of Francois. The surface of the highway here can look patchy but it is solid - expect zero shoulders from here on out too. The road climbs through a couple of settlements that have been around forever but still don't hold more than a handful of people, there is a store with gas but don't count on it in these kinds of out of the way places.
This highway heads to Takysie Lake, but that isn't where we are heading. About 20km along you will come to a big intersection and big right with signposts pointing to Wisteria and Ootsa Lake. It is about this time you notice that you aren't on pavement at all, but rather a top notch sealcoat job that is so good I would rate it as an A- surface overall in nearly perfect condition from here on out. This is where the fun begins, and for the next 20km or so the road dips and twists as it humps along down the hill towards Ootsa Lake.
This is the kind of road where none of the corners are especially sharp, but they are grouped nicely with transitions linked together perfectly to form a pattern that adds up to some serious high speed hi-jinks. On the way out you keep it sane and the odd place makes you spook as the road twists out of sight for a moment or dips in a funny way. The roads bobs and weaves through rolling, rugged country that makes you appreciate the people that settled this area almost 100 years ago, until all at once the pavement comes to an end only a couple of clicks away from Ootsa, and it is here at the Wisteria Community Hall that you turn around and park to collect yourself for the real thing.
By now you are warmed up, just starting to enter the zone and feeling the call from the shoreline. After a quick stretch and some contemplation about life's vissisitudes it is time to climb on and buckle your seatbelt for the real thing. Something about the return trip changes, and immediately you feel yourself falling into that state of mind where everything starts to happen in slow motion and things just... fall into place.
You better have your shit sorted out, the corners are never sharp enough to stress your tires proper but this is the kind of road where you get right into the song of your powerband in the perfect gear and stay there all the way through. PACE doctrine gets nudged out onto the ledge as you feel yourself just mildly stuffing it into the corners with a caress of the front brakes, everything goes quiet in your head and you see Yoda nodding from the sidelines as he mumbles "There is no try, do or do not", because there is no halfway at these speeds. The centre of your lane looks dirty but it isn't, but this is the stuff where you are nailed to that perfect line about 20 inches from the centre line with no excuse to ever deviate and you wouldn't want to.
You don't ride this road sitting up, without even realizing it my ass was right off my seat, and I was on my toes with my knees clutching my tank so hard it almost collapsed. You want to be focussed and disciplined to ride this kind of road like this, so you better bring your A-game or stay home playing dressup with your girlfirend. There is a sawmill up this way (hence the reason this road is so nice) so expect possible traffic of some kind but there are plenty of places to do what is necessary to keep this from being a nuisance.
We don't have too many roads like this up in the Northwest, so forgive my dripping expose on the matter. This piece of road is unique in that as long as you are in the groove things stay somewhat sane because you simply can't override your visibility - you get to 'the' speed and stay there more or less. The corners come quick enough that covering your front brake at all times becomes a necessity, so you are already in the perfect position to deal with any surprises like deer that may come along. In general the ditches are broad and deep, with plenty of warning for that kind of thing. Once you get into play-time you will definitely take advantage of a couple of nice places to stretch your bike's legs, I bounced my Rex off the rev limiter in 4th a couple of times for example... And where else do you get the opportunity to cross a cattle guard at 120mph+?
From the Town Pantry in Burns Lake it is pretty well exactly a 100 mile round trip. Sorry, my bike is American. Don't expect gas along the way so fill up before you head out. There are a few side trips one could take like the road to Takysie, as well as the road that follows down along Francois past the ferry on the North side that ranks as one of the more beautiful fall rolls one can experience but we are talking about a Strom/supermoto lane with old, rough pavement here. Police *do* head out to Grassy Plains the odd time, and in fact I have in on the down low that one of the members of the Burns detachment lives across Francois, but... From the turnoff to Wisteria it feels as though you are in the middle of nowhere for good reason. To that end, don't expect a cell phone to work in these here parts but there are houses here and there right to the end of the road so in an emergency a phone isn't too far away. Expect colder than normal temps in this area, you are climbing up out of the warm lakes district valleys and there is almost certainly going to be a cool wind licking up off of Ootsa and fighting you all the way in.
I'm still wired from my ride today, and plan to head out there again a few times this summer to take advantage of this stretch of road that pushes the limits of the soul and the sanity if you want it to. As always play safe and ride smart, know your limits and keep your eyeballs peeled.