Look at the date of the last journal entry... February 2020! In a month, it will be four years! How did that happen? Has nothing interesting happened in my life since 2020? The last thing I wrote was my personal elegy to my friend Ian who caught a nasty case of cancer and died shortly after. Have we been without Ian for four years already? I can answer that last question with one word.... Yes. Sadly, we have. As for these other generic questions, I will need to elaborate.
It seems all my contemporary stories require a trip back in time. This time, I am dialing the clock way back. It is often lamented by those who've known me from the beginning, that I like to tinker. Everything I've owned and probably half the gadgets my family's owned have been taken apart, inspected and reassembled. Sometimes with modifications, for better or, for worse. But, I was number five of five in my family and as many can attest, I had plenty to observe. From my Dad too, he could do nearly anything; carpenter, electrician, plumber, handyman, mechanic, electronics repair, accounting, singing, poetry, the list goes on and on. So I helped out (got in the way) and observed and learned some trades at a very young age. My two-wheel obsession would make me handy among my friends as I would fix their bicycles, and later, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and even cars.
"We drove Michael to Sault Ste. Marie and he beat us home".
When I reached college age and I had to decide what to do with my life, all I knew for sure is I did NOT want to be a mechanic. Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it. Time to move on. I decided that because I love the outdoors, I might like to be a conservation officer. I signed up for a forestry course at Sault College but I changed my mind before even going. I liked the idea of conservation, but not the "officer" part. I went to college anyhow and switched programs. I went from forestry to computers. Did I mention I was lazy academically? I took easy courses in high-school and lacked the math credentials to make it in the computer program, so I dropped out by thanksgiving and went home. My dad's rant regarding my short stint at Sault College was something to the effect of "We drove Michael to Sault Ste. Marie and he beat us home". Mechanic was starting to look pretty good.
I was an 18-year-old college drop-out living at home and working at the family business. During that winter, a guy named Dave Dusome stopped in for coffee. He worked for OMC and was looking for a place near Atikokan to set up an Evinrude dealership and he figured Quetico North was just the place so, he signed us up. I went to Waukegan Illinois and took a two-week course. I learned everything I needed to know about Evinrude motors and embarked on a career in the Recreational Marine Business. At 18, with years of mechanical experience under my belt, mostly fixing dirt bikes, I quickly became a revered marine mechanic. I moved away from home a few years later, settled in Eastern Ontario and worked for another 10 years as a marine mechanic. In that time, I got married and started a family. Motocross had taken a back seat, I had no place to ride and nobody to ride with, so I sold my bike.
Ten years busting my knuckles was enough. I got an office job working for Bombardier in Valcourt Quebec as a Sea-Doo, Ski-Doo service representative. I only lasted a year at Bombardier due to their French language requirement, but during that year I broke my leg. Ironically, after all the years of action-sports participation, my first broken bone happened while crossing the street. This led to me spending a couple months at home so I bought a 486 IBM compatible computer with Windows 95 and a 14Kbps modem-- I got online and learned a new trade.
I had no desire to bust my knuckles as a marine mechanic ever again so I combined my old skills with the new and started making websites for marinas. My brother Jim and I, with help from our brother Pat, became Internet Service Providers in Atikokan. We put a bunch of servers in my Dad's laundry room. This solidified my transition to Information Technology, a career that lasted about 25 years and then all hell broke loose.
So what does any of this have to do with dirt-bikes? Not much actually, but this is a story of change and knowing some of the backstory will add context. My new career introduced me to Mark Hurst of Hurst Marina. He comes from a family of motorcycle fanatics, his father Peter, as far as I know is still road racing and he's as old and English as the Rolling Stones. Mark invited me out the ice races. I had not been on a bike in 10 years but it all came back rather quickly. For safety reasons, the front brake lever is removed from ice racing bikes and when I saw my two braking fingers reaching out for a lever that wasn't there, I knew that this sport was in my blood and I was negligent not owning a motocross bike. Joanne bough me a subscription to a Motocross magazine and that was all the approval I deemed necessary. I soon owned a 2000 CR125, then a 2002 YZ 250. I was racing in the Vet Masters class in the local scene and doing alright with consistent podium finishes-- several on top.
After a few years and bunch of injuries, I sold the Yamaha motorcycle and bought a Yamaha guitar. Joanne likes to recall my "I quit" rant that spilled off my tongue while she drove me to the emergency room to have my neck X-rayed. "That's it! I quit! I'm selling the bike, gonna dedicate my life to music..." Quitting motorcycles didn't stick, but the music did. I remain a passionate, yet under-skilled, dirt-bike riding musician to this day.
Our family ended up settling in Dunrobin Ontario, just a few minutes from Port of Call Marina, a place I had worked in the late 1980s when Joanne and I first met-- we actually met there. I continued to grow my IT business, play ukulele, ride dirt-bikes and enjoy my family, friends and neighbours. We were pretty comfortable in Dunrobin, we figured we'd be there until we were carted off to the the nursing home but things don't always work out as they're planned.
At some point, a series of unplanned situations arose and life became somewhat stressful. Pat and Cathy lived in Merritt at this time and being the supportive siblings that they are, extended an invitation to visit them in BC. So Rose and I flew out there. Rose hung around with her cousins, I learned how to ride single-track in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains by day and played music by night. It was a good time and with some decompression, we found some perspective and pushed on. Fortuitously, the BC family single-track ride became an annual event.
As life became more complicated, the lack of focus on my business and tech's fast pace of change led to a pretty extreme case of burn-out. The business was at a crossroads. It was too busy for one person, and it wasn't worth taking the risk to expand. I needed to reinvent myself again at the age of 50, this was not at all what I had planned. Mark Baskin called me. He still owned Port of Call Marina, just down the road, and he asked me if I was interested in working part time at the marina. It had been 30 years since I worked for him and 25 years since working directly in the marine business. I never planned to ever work at any marina again and I especially didn't want to turn wrenches. But it sure seemed a lot easier than learning the LAMP stack which would be obsolete by the time I learned it. To my surprise, I enjoyed working at the marina and after a couple years, it turned into a full-time job. I would work on my own business in the winter months and return to the marina in the Spring. In the fall of 2019, I took a job working for Northwind Wireless, our local Wireless ISP. I wanted to keep my technology skills sharp and have some reliable winter income.
During those years, I still continued my love affair with dirt-bikes. I bought a 2017 Beta 250 RR Race Edition. I raced a few motocross events, did the annual family BC adventure, did some trail riding with friends, and I went to Patagonia on a motorcycle oriented fundraiser. Then along comes a pandemic.
The pandemic had very little affect on me. At the Marina, it was business as usual although we had to wait for government approval before putting the boats in the water. For Northwind Wireless, ISPs were considered a necessary service and business flourished. In the summer of 2021, I got an email regarding a website that I had built and host for a marina on Lake Simcoe. The marina had sold and the new owners were looking for admin access for making changes. Being busy working at the Marina, I forgot all about the email and a few weeks later I got a call from Derek Lubert. Derek introduced himself representing Maple Leaf Marinas, the new owners of Lake Simcoe Marine. I apologized for ignoring the email request earlier explaining that I work at a marina and just got too busy.
Derek and I had a polite conversation where he asked me what I do at the Marina, they are always looking for marina managers and if I was looking for a change. I suggested that if he wanted me to work for him, he should simply buy the marina I work at. He paused for a few seconds thinking about that option but stated that it's just too far away from their base of operations. I didn't consider that conversation anything more than amusing, I was happy where I was at-- the house, the neighbourhood, family, friends, hobbies. The kids were on their own, life was good, the only nagging issue was the mountain of debt that accumulated since 2014. That and working at a marina really interferes with riding dirt-bikes.
The pandemic resulted in skyrocketing home prices and I fantasized about selling our house and cashing in, paying off all the debts and living in a shack in the woods somewhere. Then I got to thinking about that phone call with Derek. What if they had a marina that required a live-on-site manager. We could sell the house and live on the water with money in the bank, we would never pay interest again. I sent Derek and email suggesting we talk. One thing led another and I accepted a position with Maple Leaf Marinas and we committed ourselves to moving to the Muskokas.
Making the decision to move was easy. Actually moving was excruciating. When the day came to load up the van I borrowed from Blake with the essentials for a trial move, I dragged my ass. It turns out I had grown pretty fond of my life in Dunrobin. I had tears welling up and I had a very hard time finding the up-side. But I persevered. Joanne stayed behind, she remained the back-up plan should tings not pan out. She was also left in charge of purging our belongings and prepping the house for sale.
Maple Leaf Marinas had been on an acquisition spree and one of the marinas they purchased is Wawautosa Trading Post on Six Mile Lake. Six Mile Lake is in the Muskoka region but it is not part of the big three Muskoka Lakes; Joseph, Rosseau and Muskoka. It is a beautiful lake nestled in the granite and conifer trees of the Canadian Shield. This is where they decided to station us. I grew up on the Shield and moved to the Ottawa Valley in my early 20s. Arriving at Wawautosa was almost like returning home. When I left Atikokan, Quetico North was home; store, restaurant, gas station, canoe outfitting, motor repairs and a residence all nestled among the granite and conifers on highway 11. Wawautosa is a store, marina, gas station and residence. The biggest difference is choice. Both Quetico North and Wawautosa are in the woods and a bit of a hike from anything that resembles civilization. From Wawautosa, I can easily access Midland, Barrie, Bala, Parry Sound, Port Carling and Bracebridge. Even Toronto is just a 90 minute drive. Quetico North on the other hand was the community hub, Atikokan is a half hour away and beyond that... not much.
When I arrived at Wawautosa, there was already a management team in place. Brian Skalitski who sold the marina to Maple Leaf decided to stay on as manager. The company stationed me at a marina in Honey Harbour to work but I lived at Wawautosa. In the late summer, Brian left and I took his place as General Manager. Joanne was back in Dunrobin getting the house ready for listing. I was on my six-month probation period to see if I'd be a good fit for the job. The Bank of Canada was raising interest rates, the real estate market was cooling so we decided to pull the trigger and sell the house before it all tanked. In the end it worked out pretty well. The price of the house had doubled in just two years and we sold it fairly quickly. Closing date was October 30, 2022 and that fall was spent packing and moving 30 years of belongings from Ottawa to Muskoka. In all fairness, Joanne did all the packing while I was learning how to manage a marina. We did all the moving ourselves, making numerous trips. It was exhausting and stressful and we were quite happy to see the winter come so we could unwind.
Prior to the move, Joanne and I lived apart for seven months. She kept her job and spent her off-time packing, purging and painting. Our house was blessed with about 2000 square feet of wrap-around deck that was in dire need of a facelift. Against my advice, Joanne embarked on this facelift but in the end, it was worth the effort. Things were much easier for me than for her, all I had to do was put in my 8 hours and come home to my unfurnished apartment. I would spend my evenings cutting trail. The marina is surrounded by crown land and I decided there needs to be more single-track. I actually didn't do much cutting, it was more tossing dead-fall out of the way. I now have a 4 km trail that circumnavigates a small lake between the marina property and the 400 highway. There is a lot of area where I can make more trails, it is very rugged though.
I did get out for a few rides that first summer at Muskoka. I joined the The Simcoe County Off-Road Riders Association (SCORRA) and rode a few times at Orr Lake. I also managed to visit the Deaf Camp near Parry Sound for an evening of Motocross riding. The Deaf Camp opens the track to the public every Wednesday through riding season and it is a decent little track. I promised myself I'd ride there more the following season, but I didn't get out once this year. My position at the marina leaves me with few days off and weather permitting, Joanne and I would go sailing instead which is also a great way to unwind and it's something fun we can do together.
Last summer, (2023) was my first full year working as General Manager at Wawautosa. It was a pretty good summer, there is a lot to learn and it is a very busy spot, on the weekends especially. Busy season starts in April when we start pulling boats out of storage and continues through the summer. There is about a week of calm and then we start pulling boats out of the water again for winter storage. We also have a general store and a gas dock. In the summer there is upward of 15 people working there. Joanne has been enjoying retirement, but has been studying online to embark on a new career. Alli is the official Marina Dog, a role she's had pretty much her whole life. She just had surgery to repair a blown out knee and she'll be back to full strength come Spring.
The people on the lake have been very welcoming and we are starting to make new friends. As luck would have it, I am now part of a group of old guys who ride dirt bikes. One morning in September, I was in the store and a customer stopped in for ice and drinks. He asked about the Beta dirt bike parked beside the garage. I told him it was mine. "Do you ever go riding?" he asked. I responded "Very little, I don't have any friends cool enough to ride." He said "you do now!" and introduced himself. I looked in parking lot and there was a KTM 300EXC shining in the back of his truck. As it turns out, Craig just lives down the road from me and he was on his way to go meet up with some friends for a day of riding somewhere near Horseshoe Valley. I took the rest of the day off, loaded up the bike and went riding with him and his friends. It was a such fun day, I met some new people, we rode our asses off I and was added to their WhatsApp group where we plan more rides.
Through the fall I managed to get out for five rides with my new riding buddies. Each time was to a new place. My second ride out was with Dave (plenty of Daves) who also rides a Beta. It was just the two of us, I got a bit lost trying to find the pit area so Dave went off without me to warm up while I got ready. As we set off he asked about my abilities. I told him "I'm good, I will go as fast as you need me to." It turns out, that was also as fast as I was comfortable going. The trails were awesome, the weather was cool, but we worked up a sweat in no time. It was so much fun. The next time out there were more of us; a couple Daves, Craig, Gord and Me. The time after that, there were even more, as many as ten old guys ripping down the trails at a crazy pace. Life just became a whole lot more complete.