It was mid-summer. I was eighteen years old with my own car and eager to hit the road. I was full of youthful energy and ignorance as I planned my first big “away from home” ride. After some discussion with my riding buddy, we had set our sights on the well-known Hardwood Hills Mountain Bike Center near Oro Medonte.
I called ahead and made a reservation using their “bike and camp” package. The thought of going away to some new strange trails and doing some overnight camping was overwhelming. I made lists and checked them multiple times, serviced every part of my bike, and verified my camping gear was in good condition. I can still remember my worn out 1990 Cavalier (the good Cavaliers with the V6 engine) packed tight with gear in the trunk and back seat, the rear of the car nearly dragging on the ground. Atop the car were the instruments of our adrenaline fueled hobby – my 2003 GT Avalanche and my friends 2003 Specialized Hardrock, both only a few months old. Each one of the bikes was worth more than the car.
I can remember a brief through to myself. It was along the lines of “Is this car going to make the trip?” I’m sure it mostly had to do with my mother’s multitude of warnings and trying to convince me to ride closer to home, but I was determined to get there and back, while having the time of my life.
The drive up was without issue. The trusty old Z24 buzzed along spiritedly, the engine singing along around 3500 rpm as it took advantage of everything the little 3 speed automatic could give. Large bumps in the road were followed by a repeated bounce, like a yelling voice echoing in a tunnel, as the worn out shocks fought to keep the car on the road. I would drive while my friend was on navigation duty. We followed a highlighted route that spanned multiple pages of my Ontario map book (this was back in the days before GPS). I remember the odd rattles and clanks in the car as I sped up the 400 towards Barrie, comparing them in my mind to the rattles and clanks that must have been present in the Apollo space crafts as they hurled out of our atmosphere. I felt like a real adventurer. I was going into my own uncharted territory.
After some time, we pulled into the parking area at Hardwood Hills. We went to the chalet, got our bike passes and camping details then geared up for the trails with a map in hand. That first day we rode Fun, Serious, and Sidewinder trails. The trails were great and we pushed ourselves hard, trying all the rock features and man-made obstacles on the way. Exhausted, we packed our bikes back on the car and headed to the Barrie KOA for our camping. We enjoyed a nice meal of Kraft Dinner before sitting around the campfire and packing it in early. Our second day was more of the same, doing more trails at Hardwood and even participating in a weekly race series event. That evening we headed back to the KOA for another meal of gourmet Kraft Dinner. Good thing we brought enough money to eat real food for lunch at the Hardwood cafeteria.
Our 3rd day had ended with more riding but our legs were shot. We were tired but all smiles as we finished off our trip on Sidewinder trail while getting some serious speed on the ‘Coffee Run’ section. It was time to repack the car and head home, our glorious first mountain bike road trip behind us. We felt invincible. That’s when things took an interesting turn.
While buzzing down the 400 south, back towards Toronto, I noticed that the car was getting a bit louder. I chalked it up to the handy-dandy coat hanger that was holding my exhaust must have come loose. “No problem” I though as we charged on. Shortly after getting onto the 401 West the coat hanger let go and the muffler hit the pavement. I remember the Pontiac Grand Prix in my rear view mirror locking up his brakes, the car nearly doing a nose stand, as exhaust parts flew out from under the Cavalier. What hadn’t flown out the back was now dragging with a loud steel-on-asphalt sound and my car now 100 times louder. It was like driving a derby car in Toronto traffic…. Actually that’s pretty much what I WAS doing. I got off the highway and into a parking lot. A quick trip under the car and I had the muffler (what was left of it) and the coat hanger in hand. A quick toss into the nearest fast-food chain garbage can and we were back on the road.
Conversation was strained now, as we had to nearly yell at each other over the noise of the exhaust. I remember a little kid giving me a ‘thumbs up’ gesture, thinking the sound was cool. No worries though, what could possible go wrong now that the exhaust was out of the way? That’s when I noticed the engine temperature was getting pretty high, and I already had my bypassed manual-controlled fan running. I kept on going, while watching the gauge, until I could smell the anti-freeze. I remember thinking "as long as it doesn't overheat" and kept driving while slowly loosing coolant. What could go wrong?
Coming off the 403 onto highway 24, so close to home we could taste it, and we hit a small construction zone. The crew had ground down a section of pavement but left a substantial lip at the end of it going back up onto the existing pavement. I must admit that I was going a little quick for the impact, but regardless, the bump jarred the entire car. The difference was immediate. I could feel that a belt had broken in one of the front tires as the car shook violently at 65 km/h. The thumping of the tire was barely audible over the muffler-less exhaust but I could sure feel it. I held tightly and sped up to 100 km/h where it smoothed out nicely.
I pulled into home, the car thumping, loud, and steam bellowing out from under the hood. I parked the car and unpacked. I did a quick look over of all the post road-trip damage. I would need a new exhaust, new radiator, and new front tires. The poor old car was a beat up lump, but it had taken me on my first road trip adventure. A bit of cash and TLC got her back into fighting shape again, all while planning my next adventure. You would think that I would have learned my lesson, but I could only hope the little car would fare better next time.
The Bric...._ mountain biker, road rider, heavyweight gear abuser. Built like a brick sh*thouse. No bike is safe.