Putin Canada Motorcycle Tour - Puttin' Around For Putin

An Eastern Canada Odyssey

The concept of a quest is perhaps as old as humankind, a hero's journey to attain something elusive and desirable, whether real or spiritual. The Odyssey by Homer told the tale of a man seeking respite from the wrath of the Olympian gods. Homer of The Simpsons tells the never-ending tale of a man seeking donuts. Sir Galahad - and Monty Python - sought the Holy Grail.

I sought putin. No, not Vladimir Putin, current prime minister of Russia. No, I sought the real putin ("poo-teen"): French fries with melted cheese and gravy, popular in eastern Canada. Who says America has all the haute cuisine?

Enabling this Arthurian quest were Harley-Davidson and Best Western. In 2007, they joined forces and created the Gold Crown Club International Ride Rewards program. Members-membership is free-receive 10% off of their hotel stays and also earn points redeemable for free rooms, airline travel and more. There are also more than 1000 Best Western hotels that are now "rider-friendly" and, at a minimum, provide cleaning towels and a place for riders to wash their bikes. H-D's Ride Planner, on the Harley website, shows all of the Best Western hotels that are on a rider's planned route.

After flying in to Toronto, Canada, my quest companions and I rendezvoused a few miles outside of Toronto, in Orangeville, at the local Best Western. Besides our hosts from Best Western, there were six other journalists from the U.S. and Canada. Dinner was at The White Truffle, a restaurant that would fit right in to Napa Valley with its California cuisine offerings.

The fun and games really began the next morning. Harley-Davidson Canada provided us with a selection of bikes. None of the touring bikes were to be found but this wasn't quite so odd considering that there would be a minivan (oh, the indignity of motorcycling with a minivan!) shlepping all of our gear and freeing us up for lightweight touring.

Prior to our arrival in Ontario, there was record rain all summer but our weather was sunny and heading for the 80's-we were lucky to have it for the whole trip. The roads were pretty straight as we headed south on Highway 404, skirting most of the congestion of Toronto before going east on Highway 401. It was a lovely bit of road with Lake Ontario to the south and farm fields to the north spanning the gaps between small towns. Most of the fields were growing corn for animal feed, the food corn having already been harvested. After a nice lunch in Port Hope, we continued east on King's Highway 2 to Trenton, with a dip south on Highway 33 (aka Loyalist Parkway) to Wellington.

There began the next challenge on the quest: kayaking. Fine, there were no barbarians attacking us and the waters were free of sharks, but it was a new experience for most of the group-so there! Bernie Gray and his crew of one guided us on a sunset tour of West Lake, a small lake protected from Lake Ontario itself. No one capsized and all were in fine condition for the post-sunset ride up Highway 62 to our lodging for the night at-where else?-the Best Western Belleville. We headed across the street for dinner at Mexicali Rosa's. Like everywhere in Canada, the staff was friendly and attentive. That said, Canada has never been known as the premiere destination for Mexican cuisine. Due to our late arrival in Belleville, the next morning's departure time was pushed to 10 a.m....and I used every extra minute counting sheep.

Our destination for Day Two was Montreal, which meant that my high school Spanish would be useless in the French-speaking province of Quebec. From Belleville, we rejoined Highway 2 heading east to Kingston...no, not that Kingston, as this one seemed to be reggae-free. The road was nice and smooth, cutting through the countryside and an endless series of farms. One thing that became apparent is that Canadians take care of their lawns. Not only were they all green-no surprise given the summer rains-but all seemed to have been mowed within the past week. I've never seen so many riding mowers in my life! Further, while the average Canadian house is smaller than the average U.S. home, there was also a higher degree of upkeep, too. A lesson that we could learn down here south of the 49th parallel. But this ain't Better Homes and Gardens, is it?

Once through Kingston-which really was a lovely looking city-we headed up north on Highway 15 to Smiths Falls. I'm not sure if there are more Smiths or more falls, but it was another picturesque city with pedestrian-filled sidewalks and a vibrant downtown area. We lunched at Norm's Diner, engorging ourselves on pizza, Italian food, and chicken. Note that while the food is quite good, you better not be in a rush to eat because their tomato sauce is served at the same temperature as lava. From Smiths Falls, we made another long cross-country dash east on Highway 43, south onto Highway 34, then east on Highway 401 (which becomes the 40) into Montreal.

Of course, the first sign that one has crossed from Ontario to Quebec is that all of the road signs are suddenly in French, as are the names of the towns. Our stop for the night was the Best Western Europa-Downtown. There was some very interesting architecture on the inside, very Mediterranean, complete with a large, scaly man in a fountain, surely turned to stone by Medusa.

And then it happened: upon being seated for dinner at Les 3 Brasseurs (The 3 Brewers), I spotted the long-sought putin on the menu. At last! After devouring several orders (as well as a broad selection of the restaurant's microbrewed beer), the verdict was unanimous-Long live putin! Seriously, it's delicious but repeated internal applications will eventually result in cardiac arrest-you've been warned.

After a night full of dreams of paddling a French fry kayak across a lake of melted cheese and gravy, I awoke to yet another bright sunshiny day, perfect for the conclusion of our cross-country trek to Quebec City. Once past the urban sprawl that is Montreal, this was the most enjoyable day of the trip. We rode along Highway 138 which was smooth and a bit on the curvy side, more Scarlett Johansson than Kate Moss. 138 follows the St. Lawrence River, which is not your run-of-the-mill river, flowing over 800 miles from Lake Ontario north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Parts of the river are over a mile wide and it is a major shipping route through the northeast part of the continent. So to the right we had the river and to the left were more scenes of agrarian tranquility, with towns ranging from quaint to small interspersed along the way.

It may have been the last day of riding, but the day was hardly over when we arrived in Quebec City. After a quick change out of our armor (aka riding gear) and washing off the blood and guts of our enemies (read: "insects that committed suicide attacks against said riding gear") at our-class? anyone?-Best Western hotel, we jumped onto a shuttle bus to informally tour Old Quebec City. This is something not to be missed. Founded by the French in 1608, some of the original buildings still stand and it feels like being in an old European city, complete with cobblestone streets. The location was chosen for its steep, tall hill which overlooked the St. Lawrence River and provided a defensible location. That lasted until 1759 when a battle on the Plains of Abraham, adjacent to the walled city, resulted in the French surrendering to the British. Aside from the Old World charm of centuries-old buildings, it's also the capital of Quebec Province, with many government buildings, small hotels, fine restaurants, and its most famous feature, the hotel Fairmont Le Chteau Frontenac, towering over the Old Quebec City center.

And dinner to celebrate our successful quest? Our hosts treated us to one of the finest meals I've ever eaten. The restaurant, Aux Anciens Canadiens, is housed in a 333-year old building and specializes in game, fowl and fish. Naturally there is a French country element to many of the dishes and the restaurant has an extensive wine list. I had the escargot for my appetizer and it was superb. If you do get the opportunity to eat there, do not pass on dessert, though I doubt you'd have room to eat two.

Over the course of the trip, the bikes all ran great and were problem free, though some lack any options for attaching saddlebags or other luggage. And for those considering a Sportster 1200 Nightster, unless you're a masochist, don't even think about going on all-day rides, let alone a three-day tour. It was universally loathed by all present.

The only downside to the tour was that we didn't have time to see Toronto, Montreal or more than a smidgen of Quebec City. Adding one day for sightseeing in each city would make it an even more enjoyable trip. Enjoyable? You betcha-smooth roads, great riding companions, pleasant scenery, and welcoming accommodations. Most of all, the quest was successful and putin was devoured by all.

Vive le putin!

St. Lawrence River
Trompe-L'oeil of Old Quebec City's important historical figures
Fairmont Le Chteau Frontenac