Of all 92 places on my list, this one is the most remote. Accordingly, I knew there would be some challenges associated with getting there….assuming a “there” exists.
I always knew Ombabika, Ontario (Verse 3 Line 1) was going to be one of the toughest places of the 92 to tackle. It’ hard to even define what it is. A bay of Lake Nipigon? Yes. An island in Lake Nipigon? Yes. A River? Yes. A town? Not anymore. An area? maybe. Before my trip started I was pretty optimistic about finding Ombabika. This is because of where Google Maps places it. It appears that there is a road near to the location.Ombabika lies (or lied, I guess) somewhere to the west of Auden. According to my research before the trip, the only thing that remains of the town is a cemetary. My Ontario map showed Auden, but the road to get there was labled “Closed during winter.” I knew I was going to have a rough ride.
Wednesday, July 26
Ombabika was not the goal for the day. I would only attempt that with a full day of light and a full tank of gas. I still had a few hours to ride before getting to the jumping off point for Ombabika: Beardmore. The goal for the day was to get as much info as possible about my obscure destination. Route of the day:
One last shot of Lake Superior, right before crossing back into Canada.
The border crossing was smooth, but they had never heard of Ombabika. Just before I rode off one of them asked if I had been to Winemucca yet (the first place mentioned in the song). “Soon,” I said. 🙂
Immediately after the border is an Ontario welcome center. I figured I would ask them about Ombabika. When I entered I was the only one there, so I was fortunate to receive the help of all three of the capable and interested employees. The most helpful thing was a backcountry map of the area which shows all of the log roads not present on most maps. They even let me take a picture of it.
This was a huge bonus and gave me so much more confidence about proceeding. I was so glad I asked for their help.
I stopped in Thunder Bay, which I knew would be my last large city for awhile, to use the internet. I tried to do some final Ombabika research. In 2014, an online community of motorcycle riders challenged their members to go to as many places in the song as they could (not sure what the high score was). They had some information about each of the places. This was their paragraph on Ombabika:
“Ombabika is listed as an area, an island, a river and part of a bay on, and near, Lake Nipigon in Ontario, Canada. Ombabika was never a town but we will accept any Ombabika sign from the bay, river or island in the area…if you can find one. There is an Ombabika Cemetery and we will take the sign for the cemetery …if you can find it. 🙂 We will also accept the Cemetery sign from the abandoned town of Auden, Ontario. This is a wilderness area. Plan for limited fuel stops, wildlife, and potential rough riding.”
My next stop was at the visitor center in Nipigon. I knew they were focused on tourism in their area, but figured it was worth a shot to ask them. They had not heard of Ombabika either, but I did get some valuable information from them. First, Beardmore had gas available. Phew! That eased my mind about one of the logistical concerns. Second: “Keep going up this road to Beardmore, go to the grocery store there -it’s on your left side-, ask for Mr. Melansen. If anyone would know about that place, he would.” Hmmm….the plot thickens. Once again, I was glad I had stopped.
I pulled into Beardmore around 5pm. Melansen’s grocery store was also the location of the gas pumps. I needed less than a gallon, but decided to fill up anyway. I asked the guy behind the counter if I could speak to Mr. Melansen and he said “that’s me…or my dad.” He introduced himself as Kevin. I began to tell him about my trip and about this remote place which I was trying to reach. He looked at me like he really wanted to help, but had no clue what I was talking about.
It turns out that I had a bit of a pronunciation issue:
(this pronunciation was used by all of the other locals I met too)
Once he knew my intended destination, he began to tell me everything he knew:
Ombabika the town was located on the Canadian transcontinental railroad. Once highways became the preferred method of shipping and receiving goods, many towns like this just dried up. At one point in his life, he had done some commercial fishing in the Ombabika Bay region of Lake Nipigon. He knew that the town of Auden would be accessible to me and said that the road was in decent condition “for a log road.” He warned me to be very cautious of log trucks. Apparently they communicate by radio and do not watch for any other traffic, least of all a motorcycle.
We looked at some maps he had and he also showed me a way that I should be able to get to Ombabika Bay. As far as getting to the town or cemetary he seemed a little less certain. I must have rattled off a dozen questions at him. He answered each one as well as he could and seemed content to continue answering as long as necessary.
I asked about camping and he recommended going 13 “clicks” (gosh it sounds cool when they say that) to the west to camp on Lake Nipigon. I felt like I needed a shower, so I decided to take his advice.
Only now that it has ended will I inform you of my impressive streak. This night marked the first time in 38 nights that I was paying for lodging. Much of that is due to the generosity of others, but I was able to fill in the gaps with free spots….with varying success, mind you. 🙂
When I arrived at the campground the staff were busy weed-eating. They told me to just set up my tent and settle up with them later. The bill came to $34 Canadian. I reiterated my needs: One person, one night, one tent, no hookups. The price remained the same. Ugh..
Don’t get me wrong, I have no ill feelings towards the campground. Any business should charge as much as they can for their services, right? Baby boomers with big rigs are a lucrative market and they set the price curve for everyone else. I guess that is the price for a “lodging experience,” whereas I’m just interested in acquiring “sleep the commodity.”
Additionally, I now had to contend with blaring speakers, whining children, yipping dogs and thumping diesel engines. My ear plugs could only block so much. I wondered if I was better off sleeping with the bears.
Ok, someone tell me to move on before I ruin this post 🙂
It was a pretty spot, though.
Thursday, July 27
Ombabika or bust!
I felt as ready as I could be. I had no clue what the day would hold, but approached it with a decent amount of confidence. I was glad I had spent the previous day focused on preparation.
I rode a short distance on pavement before turning onto “Road 801.”
One of the first things I saw was a warning sign about log trucks, similar to the admonition Kevin had given me previously.
The road….hmmmm……how do we describe the road. Maybe I will try to recreate how I imagine the conversation about its building:
Gravel Store (GS): “Hello. Welcome to the Gravel Store. How can I help you?”
Road Builder (RB): “Yeah, how ya doin’. So, I need to build this dead end road in the middle of nowhere.”
GS: “Oh yeah? Where to?”
GS: “Whoa there. What did you call me?”
RB: “No, no. Ombabika is a place. Like I said, it’s in the middle of nowhere so I’m looking to build it as cheaply as possible. What do you have on sale?”
GS: “Well we got a sale on dust, just 37 cents a ton, and let’s see…what else…We got a special bonus on large rocks this week, buy 63 get the 64th free.”
RB: “Hmmmm…that sounds good. Just load me up with a bunch of those two things.”
GS: “Are you sure? Usually people also buy some medium rocks, some small rocks and some gravel. It will be a pretty rough road without those things.”
RB: “Yeah that’s fine, man. It’s not like there are going to be any cars or motorcycles on this road.”
GS: “As you wish. We’ll get that shipped out by Tuesday.”
So….yeah…the road was not great. 20-25mph was my normal top speed. Had I thought of it sooner, I would have removed all of Annie’s cases and left the excess weight back in Beardmore. I think that would have helped a lot.
My first few encounters with log trucks were pretty unnerving. One didn’t see me until we were about 10 yards apart. We were close enough that I could see his jaw drop and his other hand reach for the steering wheel. After these trucks passed I had to pull to the edge of the road and wait for about a minute while the dust cleared. They really kicked it up. I was too cautious to attempt to get a video of these interactions.
This was some other kind of truck who saw me early and slowed way down:
Each time I hit a recognizable landmark or intersection I logged my miles to try to ensure that I would not get lost. I knew I had all day, so I went slow and took a lot of breaks. The bars on the right were my fuel consumption.
About half of the way up, 801 road ends and the Auden road begins. I think I only saw one truck after this intersection. This road was pretty bad in some locations. “Dust pits”, for lack of a better term, became more and more prevalent. Most of these spots would feature at least one tire track of firm ground, enough for a motorcycle to get through without getting stuck, but I soon reached one that stretched the entire width of the road.
I knew I needed to choose the perfect speed. Too fast and the front tire would dig in, most likely tossing me forward. Too slow and the rear wheel would start to spin, leaving the bike stuck. I picked a good speed, it was almost perfect, just a touch too slow. My front wheel made it out of the pit, but my rear began to spin.
Thankfully, I recognized what was happening fairly quickly. I was able to dismount and attempt pushing Annie out of the pit. I heaved with all of my strength….no luck. I backed her up just a bit to get the kickstand down. I wanted time to consider my next move cautiously and to remove my jackets to keep from getting all sweaty.
The only option was for me and Annie to work together. This sounds obvious, of course, but it’s actually a tricky technique. It requires one to put full, even strength against the handlebars. While doing so, the left fingers need to work the clutch and the right wrist needs to twist the throttle. The mixture of using big muscles and small muscles together is difficult for me. We got unstuck this way, but Annie almost ran away from me after I was late disengaging the clutch. Disaster averted!
This spot had actually claimed another vehicle fairly recently. A derelict VW Jetta sat helplessly on the side of the road. It looked like it had nosed into the pit and had its oil pan punctured by one of the rocks hidden in the dust. Ouch. This broken down vehicle was the only non-truck I saw on these roads all day.
I debated leaving this post a cliff-hanger, with me stuck in the pit, but I’m just not that dramatic. Tune in next time to see if I get to Ombabika!
Part 2 is up! CLICK HERE