A FOUR SEASON ADVENTURE
The Parry Sound area of Ontario sits high on a ledge of rock and water - the great Canadian Shield. It's a spectacular assemblage of geography that combines rugged Georgian Bay shoreline with hundreds of thousands of lakes the glaciers left behind in their haste to head south. No wonder the passion for exploration has permeated the culture here for hundreds of years. Today, the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV), or quad, is one of the area's most popular past times that combines this culture of exploration with a helping of adventure and a healthy dose of adrenalin.
There are several makes and models of ATVs, but they all have the common ability to take people on paths and routes ordinarily inaccessible. The pleasures of finding a secret lake or a picturesque ravine with the perfect panorama once belonged only to the fit and hardy souls that could backpack their way into the far reaches of the wilderness. Now, those delights can be shared by everyday folk with the same passions. The extraordinary carrying capacity of an ATV means that a trailside lunch or access to a camera or fishing pole is just a reach away on the racks in front of the rider. Family outings, far from the hustle of urban life, are gaining in popularity as the ATV readily adapts to its "all terrain" moniker.
There are several ATV touring companies that operate on the Canadian Shield and many of them operate year-round. There are more ATV trails opening each year in the Georgian Bay area, and the sport is benefiting from organizations dedicated to its enjoyment.
The excitement of ATVing is in the ride and the stops and then the ride. A four-wheeler that can step over a fallen tree, traverse a granite-faced hill and plunge through a deep puddle offers an amazing journey. Unlike its two stroke brethren, the outboard motor, the snowmobile and the Jet Ski, the four stroke ATV purrs down its trails without any trailing blue haze. Its design trades off speed for surefootedness in any season.
And speaking of seasons, Parry Sound, situated on the great Canadian Shield, is blessed with four very distinct ones. They wouldn't be called All Terrain Vehicles if they couldn't be used year round. The Parry Sound region offers superb conditions whatever the season.
Summer is perhaps the most popular time for ATVing because of its agreeable weather. All ATV tour groups operate in this season and finding one is not difficult in Parry Sound. In summer's heat, riders can cool off as they blaze down a trail with the wind in their hair and head toward a remote destination that would otherwise have taken hours or days to hike to.
Or travel back centuries to find out what life was like for Canada's pioneers and the hardships and joys they shared by discovering abandoned log cabins, hidden gravestones and ghost towns. There are numerous trails, many of which served as colonization roads in the early 1800s that will lead riders back to a time when freedom was literally wrenched from the ground.
Imagine emerging from a glorious green canopy of leaves into the bright sunlit meadow of a long forsaken farmer's field. Just how many piles of stones and tree stumps had to be moved to eke out living back here? Travel a little further and find a gurgling stream under a towering oak tree. Find an old wagon wheel maybe a fence line long ago incorporated into the trees it once skirted. Picture what the virgin pine forest might have looked like 200 years ago and see a few rare survivors of that period.
While summer may be the most popular time for ATVing, the other three seasons should not be forgotten. With the varieties in climate come differing scenery, paths and challenges that makes each season a worthwhile exploration.
Autumn gives a haunted feeling to the trails. Every hue of orange, red, yellow and brown adds an exclamation point to this mysterious season. Crisp cool days offer a hint of anticipation and tweak the explorer in all of us. And what better way to explore than on an ATV? Riding alongside ink black lakes, brilliant sunshine and migrating birds beckon riders to discover the paths deep in the backcountry. There is a wonderful aroma that comes from the unsettled leaves on the trail and there are no distracting insects. The dust of summer is subdued by the rain and frost of autumn evenings.
Adrenaline flows freely, when cool air hits the face of ATVers. Bumps, hills, rocky creeks, crevasses and wide-open Canadian Shield framed trails all normally inaccessible, are available to explore.
The feeling of squeezing an extra weekend out of the cottage or cheating the calendar adds to the thrill of the ride. Mud splattered boots and pants attest to the explorer's adventure. There are always lazy rest spots to catch the Indian summer warmth before the sun flees south with the ducks. The element of change is never closer than a November afternoon. Don't those look like snow clouds?
Later in the season, frost and snow dusts the land. A variety of wildlife leave their tracks, often choosing the same route in search of their own adventure.
All too short, the autumn is a much-cherished time. The ATV permits riders to take in much more of this precious period-the fresh air, the smell, the colour, the wildlife and the camaraderie of friends.
It is said that there are many names for snow. This is certainly evident in Georgian Bay. There is marvellous crunchy frost that spikes up early on the trails, the white dusted mirrored black ice that seals the puddles each night and yields to the sun the next day, the slush that sprays riders in their wake and the frigid powder that squeaks. On a good frozen trail the bumps and rocks are all grouted with a deep layer of snow and ice, but four-wheel drive makes trips effortless.
The advent of the snowmobile and the evolution of the ATV have given riders many creature comforts that allow for a full warm winter experience. Snowmobile clothing coupled with electrically heated handlebars and packsacks stuffed with goodies make ATVing in winter a joy. Comfort is a main factor in determining whether or not to venture into the winter wilderness. So is safety. Most late model ATVs are equipped to provide both.
It is always advisable that ATVers travel in groups, know exactly where they are going to travel and carry gear, such as cell phones, tow straps and survival supplies. In addition, riders should let someone know which trail system they are following as well as what time to expect them home.
Night riding highlights the wondrous aspects of the glittering snow, but brings other challenges. Unexpected cold snaps or wind chill may cause a turn around earlier than anticipated. Ice build-up needs to be monitored to ensure that none of the mechanical attributes of your ATV are threatened. These precautions sound ominous but a little due diligence and common sense is all that is needed.
There are plenty of places to ride an ATV in winter in the Parry Sound/Georgian Bay area, but OFSC snowmobile trails are not one of them. Tires and traction leave a streetcar track like path in the snow that is detrimental to the snowmobile trail surface. Touring a snowmobile trail is also a safety hazard, in that the speed between the two machines is vastly different and a sure recipe for a collision.
Snowmobile Clubs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each season preparing, grooming and signing their routes. Private property owners who have given permission to snowmobilers have not necessarily granted those same rights to ATVers.
Trickles of water and maple sap mark the advent of this glorious season. Sunshine and lengthening days convert the snow banks and ice packed paths of Georgian Bay into crystal-covered fascinations.
It's not long before trickling creeks turn into gushing rivers and the ATV adventure now includes fording streams and avoiding newly formed swamps. The winch becomes as intimate as the throttle and rubber boots replace their oversized, felt lined winter cousins. Trilliums and assorted greenery start popping up on all sides of the passage and the warmer weather beckons. The trails take different detours in spring, often to avoid the temporary wetlands.