Thursday, February 27, 2020

Cambridge Ontario to Sudbury Ontario

We were up at 6:00 AM. The snow had ended in Cambridge with only a minor accumulation, but a raw wind was turning the 21 F temperature into a nasty wind chill. The radar showed it was actively snowing from Barrie north. On Highway 24 to Guelph, snow was blowing across the road but visibility was pretty good.

Highway 24 between Cambridge and Guelph was snowy in parts...

...but not in others

After another convenient but carb laden stop for breakfast-to-go from McDonald's in Guelph, we continued on our way. There was a lot of snow blowing across 24 due to a stiff north wind with some snow covered sections.

Guelph streets

The plow was overkill

Hwy 24 between Guelph and Erin

Following a plow into Erin

Near Caledon

And then it was clear

Approaching Airport road

Highway 9 was clear and the traffic was moving along at the speed limit or better. Then the 400 North was the same until we got close to Barrie, where we stopped at the On Route for a bathroom break and fresh coffee.

Highway 400 North

More snow on the Holland Marsh than last week

Not the best day for road work

The secret to winter driving is to make no sudden moves. No sharp turns, braking or accelerating. The new vehicles with All Wheel Drive, ABS and traction control make it a lot easier easier but the real skill still lies in not letting yourself get into situations where sudden actions are required.

Once we left Barrie and passed the 400/11 split, the wind started blowing snow across the road. It went from not bad to more and more virtual whiteouts, with me eventually leading a few other cars at about 40 MPH with our four way flashers on. Slow and steady.

Getting into the blowing snow

Still able to pass safely

Snowmobilers are smiling

There is a car ahead of us

They already did the right lane

North of Moon River, the wind eased up, visibility became pretty good and speeds picked up. From Parry Sound home, the only problem was the snowplows. The first was a Tow Plow that swung wide at every passing lane. We managed to  get by it when there was a passing lane going the other way. The road was clearer ahead of it than behind it, but I guess they had to send the plows out because the weatherman predicted large accumulation (which we had, so far, not seen).

Line up behind us following the Tow Plow

Take opportunities where you find them

North of the French River, we got back to the four-lane highway but we couldn't pass the slow semi ahead of us because he planted himself in the middle of the two lanes. We weren't sure if he was new at this or he was just an ignorant PR...

Right down the centre line

Than we got behind a pair of plows. The first was plowing the left paved shoulder. The second was taking the remaining snow but was too far left to move it to the right shoulder. Instead, it left all the snow in the middle of the right lane. After miles of this, they pulled off near Burwash and we found the road AHEAD of them to be really clear.

Tandem plows blocking both lanes

They pulled off just after this

The unplowed road before the Burwash straight

It was 10 F and there was a fair bit of snow in the streets when we got to Sudbury about 1:30 PM. After stopping at Extendicare to see Sandy's mom Jan for a couple of hours, we got home around 3:20. The wind was whipping the snow around as I cleared the driveway with the trusty Cub Cadet. Then we went out for groceries before relaxing.

Several thoughts. There is a lot of plowing going on out there where it isn't needed and no plowing in other areas where it would do some good. And Ontario taxpayers are footing the bill.

Second, on a more positive note, this was our first road trip with the grandkids but I hope it won't be the last. Maybe a week on a houseboat in the Trent Canal? We'll think of something.

Today's Route (279 Equinox miles):

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Deerhurst Ontario to Cambridge Ontario

The alarm went off at 6:00 AM and I was at the front desk to check out at 6:45. Unfortunately, I was the only one there. In the absence of a desk clerk, I sent a text saying we were leaving and dropped the keys in a box marked for the purpose. A few hours later, they Emailed me a statement of charges.

I broke the no carb rule as we got breakfast at McDonald's on the way out of town. Weather radar showed the snow was heading this way but was still ahead of us.

No blizzard on Highway 11

Nothing yet

Snow started to fall as we reached Barrie but it was not very heavy. We passed through at 8:30 and then it started falling a little more heavily around Innisfil. I try to avoid multi-lane restricted access highways in heavy snow because of potential multi-vehicle pileups featuring big rigs. With this in mind, we got off the 400 at Highway 89 and worked our way through Cookstown and Alliston and on to Highway 9 via Tottenham Road.

A bit on Highway 400

This was a location in Season 1 of The Titans

The rest of the trip was uneventful. With all the doom and gloom about driving winds and heavy snowfalls, it was pretty much a walk in the park.

Highway 24

Plowing bare pavement near Caledon

Snow ended by Tottenham Road at Highway 9

We arrived at Kim and Mike's just before 11:00 AM. A few large fluffy flakes started falling just as we pulled into the driveway but they were melting on contact. Around 2:00 PM, the girls decided they would like to have lunch at Obie's Bar and Grill. On the way over, Franklin Boulevard northbound was closed due to some traffic incident, so we explored Clyde, Gore and Avenue Road on the way to the restaurant. There was still no snow.

Avenue Road - Cambridge Ontario

Obie's was a family favourite. They have a short but interesting menu. Sandy and I both had potato bacon soup (I gave Robyn my potatoes) and chicken Caesar salad. Robyn had fish and chips while Jolene tackled the intimidating Obie burger.

Obie burger

Chicken Caesar salad

After lunch, we returned to the house and waited for Kim and Mike to get home. We visited for a while and then drove back to the Travelodge. Snow had been sticking for a while but was still light and we saw a plow on Hespeler Road leaving a trail of sparks as it ran blade-down on bare pavement.

The weather channels were still preaching imminent disaster so I set the alarm for 6:00 AM one more time and went to bed.

It was a short road trip but I have to say the time with Jolene and Robyn was very enjoyable. We will have to do it again some time.

Today's Route (182 Equinox miles):

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Deerhurst - Snowmobiling

It was Pancake Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday aka Mardi Gras. The last day before the beginning of Lent.

In recognition of the day, we drove into town about 9:00 AM and went to Wimpy's Diner. This retro diner, named in honour of hamburger gourmand J. Wellington Wimpy of Popeye fame, was packed on this Tuesday morning. I asked if that was usual for a Tuesday or because of all the pancake offerings on the specials board. Our server said it was that way pretty much every morning.

Wimpy's Diner - Huntsville Ontario

While the ladies had pancakes and French toast, I avoided the carbs with a meat lover's omelette and sliced tomatoes. It was all very good. Wimpy's is a chain that appears to have grown all across southern Ontario just like Chuck's  Roadhouse. While neither have any presence in Northern Ontario, I am pretty sure that either one would be very successful in the Sudbury market.

Strawberry French toast and pancakes with whipped cream

Pancakes were light and fluffy

A men's room sign with a sense of humour

Back at the Lodge, we dropped Sandy at the room and then headed over to the skating rink on the lake. As predicted, the overnight chill had refrozen the ice. Unfortunately, it had not been flooded and every gouge and irregularity was frozen solid. There was a small stretch down one side where Jolene and Robyn were able to skate but, if they went too far, a layer of water and bubbles were visible under the top ice surface as it cracked. After a little while, we gave up and headed back to the suite.

The Pavilion

About 12:30, we walked down the hill to the building with the Yamaha sign. We met our guide, Bob, and selected riding gear from a wide selection of jackets, pants, boots, gloves and helmets. We were joined by Glen from Scarborough, who sold his last sled ten years ago when he left Peterborough for the city.

All suited up

Even kids sizes

The operation here belonged to Yamaha and was designed to give non-sledders a taste of what the sport is all about. They hoped that, if the beginners liked it, they will consider buying a (you guessed it) Yamaha. Because the experience was aimed at first-timers, it would be quite dull for more seasoned rider. That said, our objective was to give the grandchildren a snowmobile experience and not be too rough on Sandy.

We met the machines. They used 2020 Yamaha RS Venture touring sleds. These featured 1,049 CC four stroke engines and the Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCCT). Of the Entry, Touring and Sport modes, these were set to Entry (a wise choice for beginners). The suspension was luxurious and they even had electric power steering. The kids did not grasp that these were not their grandfather's snowmobiles. If they break down, do you call CAA? The price of these 2020 machines started at $15,399. Yikes!!!

Bob gave us a brief course in the field with emphasis on leaning to keep the 700+ pound machines upright in turns and on uneven ground. He went so far as to tell me I wasn't leaning enough. After it was over, I told him I leaned as needed and he said he was teaching at the beginner level where everything was emphasized. We both laughed about it.

With Jolene on behind me and Robyn on Sandy's second seat, we road some of the Muskoka Snowmobile Region trails. The snow was soft and the groomer had ripped up some base but, in my expert opinion, they were doing the best they could given the conditions. I was surprised to find that Yamaha was still mounting the heat exchangers under the floorboards, a less than ideal setup in hard packed conditions. To keep the engines and our feet cool, Bob packed the boards with snow. My old '95 Ski-Doo Formula Z with the exchanger in the tunnel and 96 1" carbide tipped studs in the track never overheated.

At the turnaround point

Jolene ready to start back

On the return trip, I kept dropping back so I could go a little faster through the turns. Despite the poor trail conditions, I could see the potential for fun on a colder day. On Fairy Lake, we got a lesson in the limitations of the YCCT Entry mode. Top speed was 75 KPH. Back in the field, Sandy almost tipped over in the last 100 yards. She hit a bump with one ski but shifted her weight in time to save it.

Back at the ranch

The second part of the adventure was for Jolene and Robyn to have a half hour riding junior sized Yamaha Snoscoots around a course in the field. Bob gave them some instruction and then had them follow him. Robyn had said she was a little afraid at the beginning but said afterwards that she got over it quickly.

With the sledding adventure over, we went back to the room and got the girls' bathing suits. At the pool, Sandy and I just watched as they played in the water. It was fun to watch the two of them get along so well together.

Grandma at the pool

Rather than look for something new, we went back to Chuck's for supper. Sandy and Robyn again split chicken fingers and fries. Last night, they found the fingers were pressed chicken instead of the real chicken breast they had in Cambridge. They thought this might have been a regional variation but the real meat was back tonight. A question revealed they had run short of their regular chicken yesterday.

Back at the room, we packed up as much as we could and I took it down to the car. My original plan had been to check out as late as possible and spend the afternoon driving back to Cambridge. However, all the weather services were predicting Snowmageddon, a severe blizzard with strong winds caused by a low pressure system originating in Texas. I figured that, in the odd chance that the weatherman was right for once, an early start would probably be safest. I set the alarm for 6:00 AM before we turned in.