That’s the last Inukshuk, Highway 17 has been lined with them the past two days. These human forms, some classic in design and others more avant-garde, have been my constant companions as I cross Ontario. Whenever I’ve been feeling a bit low I glance up the highway’s stony embankments, and there is an Inukshuk. My imagination gets the better of me, fancifully wanting to believe that these signs of the traveler are the work of a lone soul wandering hwy 17 by foot marking their travels.
The more probable explanation is almost as enticing. This meme’s propagation by travelers stopping by the roadside at all hours, climbing hills and embankment, and assembling their contribution to road culture.
Peoples from Alaska to Greenland use the Inukshuk as markers for navigation. Highway 17 seems to have been marked along it’s entire length in Ontario. Strangely, given the sheer number of these stone human forms, I’ve haven’t spotted anyone building an Inuktshuck during the ride. That makes them a minor mystery and constant comfort. The magic of knowing other travelers have been here.
Atikokan is a rough-worn town of winter broken pavement and run down buildings. Across from the closed SAANs soon to be replaced by a Bargain Shop, I stop at the least offensive looking of the local cafes.
CBC, the thin thread that connects rural Canada, plays on the radio. This is the other Ontario, the one you don’t see from the highway. One of thin coffee, thick potato bacon soup, worn plywood, cracked vinyl, faded photos, taxidermy fish, faded photos and laughter.
Meet Ontario, the “have not”. Two tables over a senate of seniors jovially debate the upcoming election. The waitress jokes and teases the regulars. Atikokan is strangely friendly, the waitress keeps the coffee and the small talk coming. A local couple eye the Ducati through the front window, then get up from their booth to ask “What is it?”
They reckon there hasn’t been another bike like the Italian “Adventurer” (and face it the bike has earned this moniker) through town before.
On the way out of the coffee shop an elderly woman in a pink and white parka tinged with grime stops me on the street.
“That’s a very odd looking motorcycle. Where have you ridden from?”
“Toronto to St. John’s Newfoundland, and now I’m on my way back to Vancouver.”
Through dark sun shades over glasses, there’s a twinkle of laughing eyes, “You must have a lot of energy.”
“Not any more”, I respond.
There’s a dry frail laugh, a pause as she leans on the cane, a moment of embarrassment plays across her face and she asks if I could walk back to the restaurant and get the door for her, “It’s quite heavy.”
Before I close the door behind her, she puts a hand on my arm, “Enjoy your trip.”
The 622 dries eventually and the Multistrada sweeps thru the road’s easy undulations. Eventually we reach regain the 17. Cross the whole of Ontario, nearly three days, the cold has been a problem. At one gas station in a shiver-blurred Ontario town I stop to wring out my sock, feet so cold they feel wet… they aren’t.
You get through though. You put on a 1000 km stare, looking forwards into a the warm September weather. At the end the day there is a shallow version of yourself in the hotel mirror, but also a sense of accomplishment. And hope, the modern motorcyclist oracle, the Weather Channel, reports an unseasonably late and hot fall across the prairies. The Multistrada and I storm onwards.