In reflecting on the benefits gleaned through a life of passionate dirt biking, many formative experiences leap to mind. But I would have to state, without reservation, that the most significant blessings are the lasting personal friendships forged in the fires of adventure. Or sometimes misadventure. At its essence dirt biking embodies the spirit of adventure as much as anything else. Sharing personal challenge with likeminded people in any capacity provides for growth opportunity. And sometimes wonderful friendships come about in strange and unexpected ways.
The cover photo was borrowed from the OPP Museum website. There are many great pictures on that site, it was sure great to come upon it. Check this out when you get a chance.
A few years ago Mike Lewis arrived for a short stay at our B&B. It happened that this was his final trip to Pickle Lake in his capacity as a consultant for the Board of Education. As well as being a pal of my father's and thus a long-time family friend, Mike is a retired and much loved high school Principal from my home town of Atikokan. Mike had been one of three individuals to hold the position of Principal between 1969 and 1974. These happened to be the years in which I attended Atikokan High School. The high turnover rate in Principal tenure did not, as far as I know, have anything to do with me. The fact that Mike remained in the position for many years after my departure notwithstanding.
Joining Mike on this final journey to the far north were two other pals of my father's; Sandy Morris and Tom Adamcewicz. My brother Pat and I quickly realised that this was an auspicious occasion and so assembled a cooler full of icy beer and a guitar. The five of us gathered at the B&B that evening and shared stories and songs well into the night.
"you don't have to wait dad. It's only three miles to the cabin road from here"
Sandy Morris told a story about when as a young OPP officer in the summer of 1971 he came upon a kid riding down the highway on a small motorcycle without a helmet. You guessed it, it was me. The thing that precipitated this crossing of paths was that while out riding on the logging roads I had hit a sharp stone which punctured the rear tire on the Honda. This eventuality forced me to abandon the bike and walk a sulking mile or two back to the cabin to enlist help from my father. I found Dad flopped on the couch in the screen porch reading a book. I pestered him mercilessly until at last with an exasperated groan, he told me to go start the car. At that time the family wheels came in the form of a 1966 canary yellow Ford Falcon station wagon. A note of interest: Dad was always proud of the fact that throughout his life he had never owned a new car. It was a point of pride for him to always be driving a car manufactured in the previous decade. This in stark contrast to his brother Jim and brother in law Blake who seldom kept a new car longer than three years. But I digress.
We drove up to where the little Honda sat abandoned and loaded it into the station wagon. The repair plan we had formulated was to bring it to McLeod's Service Station at Sapawe Junction. This was only about a 20 minute drive from the cabin. Mr. McLeod looked it over and announced he was happy to complete the tire repair but it would be an hour or so before he could do it. Dad was not very enthusiastic about waiting around. He wanted to get back to relaxing on the couch with his book in the screen porch. I said "you don't have to wait dad. It's only three miles to the cabin road from here". The fateful decision being made, Dad headed off for the couch leaving me to wait for the repair. I was thrilled having been repeatedly warned to stay off the highway and thus never having ridden on pavement before. Dad may well have asked himself; "How could this kid screw this up? The answer was going to be expensive.
Mr. McLeod tightened and oiled the chain after mounting the tire and very soon the Honda was pinned wide open. I tore down the highway crouched low to reduce the wind drag and thus coaxing every bit of speed it would muster. The C100s top speed of 45 miles per hour was achievable only in ideal circumstances. The necessary ingredients included the combination of a downhill slope, a tail wind, a fresh overhaul and a good day. That day though, the little Honda was laboring along at just over 30 mph. Having recently run out of straight gas, I had refueled with outboard gas. Unlike today where mixed fuel ratios range between 50 and 100 to 1, in those days 20 to 1 was the norm.
"We are talking bottomless potholes, bedrock ledges and frost heaved boulders packed into a cobbled mixture of excavated road muck strained from the primordial ooze."
In the forward distance and to my great horror I glimpsed what appeared to be a vehicle with a cherry on top coming towards me at great velocity. Sandy and I locked eyes for one ten thousandths of a second in the instant the OPP cruiser passed by the Honda. The Honda and I were in the final kilometer before the turn onto the cabin road. Sandy noticed I was not wearing a helmet and also that thick blue smoke was billowing out behind me. He later said he thought I was on fire. I turned my head back and watched as his brake lights lit up. I knew then he was coming after me. If I had simply pulled onto the cabin road and stopped, it is very likely Sandy would have let me off with a warning. If only my brain was wired that way!
But, once on the gravel road and in firm custody of a decent head start and with the benefit of home turf advantage, I felt sure I could outrun him. This was a very, very rough road. We are talking bottomless potholes, bedrock ledges and frost heaved boulders packed into a cobbled mixture of excavated road muck strained from the primordial ooze. My uncle Blake refused to drive his car on that road. When visiting he parked at the highway and Dad had to fetch him and Aunt Elsie with the Falcon.
"I knew cops weren't operating equipment they cared anything about. These were guys to be careful of"
Sandy had turned the cruiser around, flipped on the lights and siren and came blasting off the highway and onto the cabin road. I pushed that little Honda for all it was worth but could hear the siren growing louder. He was definitely reeling me in. Sandy knew he was gaining ground because of the thickening smoke trail I left behind. I thought if I could just reach the beaver dam I would have the advantage. This was a deep puddle section where an enormous beaver dam paralleled the road for 100 meters. I could ride the shallow edge of the puddle very quickly and he would be slowed by the deep water. But when I came through onto dry land and looked back the cruiser was right there. The front bumper was pushing water like a tug boat. The next obstacle was a long hill with loose gravel requiring me to go down into first gear but Sandy was right on top of me. I was busted.
Sandy got out of the car and walked over to me. He put his hands on his hips and said "why didn't you stop"? I said "I did". I got in the cruiser with him and we drove the short distance remaining to our cabin. There was a scraping noise as the cruiser began moving and I noticed it was really loud. He had smashed the exhaust system to bits. Dad heard the cruiser as it pulled up to the cabin rumbling and clanking. It was the first time Sandy met my Dad. I stood there as they discussed the situation. Dad looked over at me and asked me why I didn't stop. I said "I did" They looked at each other and back at me. Mom fixed refreshments while the cruiser cooled down. Dad helped Sandy jack up the cruiser and together they wired up the busted exhaust pipes. It must be acknowledged that my siblings and in particular me, benefited greatly in life due to our parents ability to cultivate lasting friendships. They loved people and people loved them. Sandy told Dad that now that he damaged the cruiser he had no choice but to charge me with at least something. Dad said he understood and Sandy kindly wrote up charges for the minimum fines possible. In the end, an unexpected lifelong friendship born of adventure began. Sandy in his capacity as a policeman chased me and my friends around from time to time on our motor bikes and in our cars throughout my teens. But this event had been a good lesson for me. I knew cops weren't operating equipment they cared anything about. These were guys to be careful of.
I have just one shorter though non-moto episode to unfold on the subject of bonding through misadventure. Never an enthusiastic toady and being a less than stellar student, finding ways to stay on the good side of the Principal whilst maintaining self-respect could be challenging sometimes. With three different Principals in four years a kid like me really had to scramble. Martin Stamler and Larry Fontana both preceded Mike Lewis as Principals of the Atikokan High School. Mike and Larry carried themselves in such a way that any kid with any sense at all, just didn't cross them. Mr. Stamler on the other hand did not possess the same weight of personality and was therefore limited in his ability to wield the weapon of fear. He could make your life miserable for sure, but could never really scare you. His nick-name was "Chrome Dome". Mike's was "King Louis (Louie)" and Larry was mostly referred to as Mr. Fontana".
"the heavy flow of water had undercut the river bank making it impossible to gain a foothold."
Warming up to Mr. Stamler or for that matter having him warm up to you was a very challenging proposition. However, unexpected opportunities for personal advancement did arise from time to time. One warm, sunny afternoon in June of 1971 just such an instance ensued. The Atikokan River was running fairly high when Brian McDonald and I pulled our bicycles over on the Mercury Avenue Bridge (back when it was a bridge) to gaze at the water. Being 15 we were most likely on our way up to Ron's service to buy smokes.
As it happened, Principal Stamler and his wife had launched their canoe further upriver intent on enjoying a leisurely paddle downstream. They had run up on a partially submerged log and capsized. From the bridge we watched the swirling currents slip swiftly beneath us. Suddenly, our attention was drawn to something red and writhing in the water along the bank about 100 yards up stream. The something red was the Stamler's life jackets. Luckily they were still in them. Both were in the river clutching urgently onto the thick alder bushes growing along the bank. We learned later that the heavy flow of water had undercut the river bank making it impossible to gain a foothold. They were struggling to pull themselves out of the river.
Brian and I flew immediately into action. We scrambled through the deep grass along the upper bank until we came parallel to their location. We had to fight through the thick unwieldy alder and willow brush to get to them. Brian and I were both big strong kids and together executed an impressively coordinated "muckle and heave" to land them up on terre firma.
We noticed their canoe swirling in a back eddy a little further upstream. While they were recovering their equilibrium we bush-crashed over to where the canoe turned slowly in the current just out of reach. The bow line (or painter for you canoe types) danced just below the surface so we formed a well-timed human chain maneuver to capture it. We had soon hauled their canoe up the bank emptied it of water and carried it up to the bridge. The four of us chatted soaked and happy, warming fast in the bright sunlight. Now to say that Principal and Mrs. Stamler were grateful would be a gross understatement. Neither Brian nor I would ever abuse the warm feelings created through our heroics that day, but suffice it to say that Principal Stamler was like family to us after that. We had bonded. I wouldn't be surprised to find pictures of us on his bedside table alongside his grandchildren.
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