Finding Yonder: The Abitibi Trail
Ninety-nine percent of great adventures end happily, and serve to inspire each other to step outside of our beige tupperware boxes and go farther. Do more. The other 1% – the adventures we don’t like to talk or think about – end in epic catastrophe, like sawing your own arm with a Swiss Army Knife, or eating a sherpa.
As much as I try to think about the 99%, it is that one percent that lingers like the rotting smell of old sherpa as I ride through the Abitibi Trail – alone and untethered to the world by anything other than an iPhone that shows my location as a lonely blue dot somewhere in the vast sea of green that is Nopiming Provincial Park.
I was in Nopiming Park on a family camping vacation, you know, the kind where you cram your car to the roof with half the shit you own and leave the other half – the half you actually need – safely at home. After many years of similar family vacations, we have gradually moved from (me) “Uh, honey… um, I was thinking – only if there’s room – that maybe I could bring my bike?” to (him) “Which bike are you bringing?” Let me tell you, it is a wonderful thing.I found out about the Abitibi trail because of a tip from some folks on Twitter. I had mentioned being in the Park, and they knew the area. “Head east on the 315, then turn into Flanders Lake.” they instructed. “At the end of the road there is an old ATV trail into the backcountry. The fishermen use it to get to the remote fishing spots.”
And so, since it is my custom to venture alone into the wilderness on the advice of total strangers, I hopped on my bike and went to find the trail. My first attempt was unsuccessful and almost ended in a trespassing charge and a nasty case of lyme disease. But the next day, I found the trailhead
As fashionable as riding gravel roads is these days, five day of it is enough to make any self-respecting roadie go half mad. My pristine white Rapha socks were (gasp) dirty, and these old bones were getting a sound thrashing, given the fact that my tyres are never inflated below 200 psi. I am now of the firm opinion that washboard belongs on Chippendales dancers, not roads. Needless to say, I was happy for a break from the gravel and excited for some new scenery. The trail itself was lovely, and perfect for a cross bike, even one with less-than-ideal 25c road slicks. Rolling and wild, the mud, sand, rocks, and water made the gravel seem almost like pavement by comparison. Almost.
It was around this time I began, in spite of myself, to think about the 1%. Not with any more intention than anyone thinks about unpleasant things, like what their ass will look like when they are eighty years old. But I was essentially alone, in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a bike and a cell phone. I’m pretty useless with GPS technology, but if I ran into a bear I would certainly be able to document my demise through a series of great Instagram photos with artful sepia tone filters.
If you have ever had the misfortune of camping with me, you’ll know I have an irrational fear of bears. While they are naturally timid creatures, if you take one by surprise it could very well respond by taking your head clean off. I find this contradiction both curious and terrifying. And so, to announce my presence as I rattle down the trail I find myself whistling the first tune the comes to mind: The Lumberjack Song.
“I’m a lumberjack and I’m ok. I work all night and I sleep all day…” (Oh God please don’t eat me)
“I dress in women’s clothing, and hang around in bars….” (If I make it out of here alive I swear I will go to church. Sometime.)
“I wish I was a girlie, just like my dear Papa.” (Who will look after my bikes if I’m dead?)
After a while I started to calm myself down and feel better. I came across a pretty little stream that puddled across the trail and into a lush marsh surrounded by evergreens.It seemed so peaceful and serene I decided to stop for a moment to wash my now filthy bike and take a few photos, trying not to think about thirsty bears. I stopped and took my phone out of my back pocket and was immediately attacked by a swarm of ten million carnivorous insects. It is clear to me now how so many of our rugged and unbreakable ancestors went mad from the relentless buzzing and biting of these blood thirsty little vermin.
I had to remove my helmet to release the deer flies that had flown into the wind vents, become trapped in my hair and were now tearing chunks out of my scalp. I barely escaped with my life. This was the only picture I took.Helmet dangling from one hand, I hightailed it out of the Abitibi trail swatting the air with my free hand like a crazy person shooing away the voices that tell them to light things on fire.
I wasn’t thinking about bears anymore.
So why, you might ask, amid the risk of getting hopelessly lost, devoured by insects, or messily eviscerated by a bear, would someone venture deep into the backcountry on a bike? I’m not sure I’m best qualified to answer that. After all, the trail was only 3km long. It felt much longer. Perhaps you can ask Hal and Dan, who are down south right now riding the Colorado Trail Race, a completely unsupported 500 mile journey through the outback of the Rocky Mountains.
I’m 99% sure they know the answer.