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The View from the Back

June 24, 2012

When my boys were little, we used to make the two and a half hour drive to my parent’s house (in a little lakeside community on Lake Huron) many times a year.  I’d keep them occupied on the journey by playing games like ‘count the cows’ or ‘how many baby horses can you spot?’  They would keep their eyes peeled for sheep and goats, the farm just past Hinton where two llamas lounged in the front yard, and the one at the turnoff near Tavistock where several donkeys roamed (my personal favourite).  Unfortunately, as they got older, they became less interested in playing ‘I spy …’ and spent the better part of the journey reading and/or listening to music with their eyes closed; I became the sole ‘lookout’ for animals during the last few years that we made those treks.

When my husband and I bought our first (used, but reliable) touring motorcycle (he’d had sporty bikes most of his life; I’d never ridden on one until we starting dating in 2000), the idea was that we would ride together to explore the back roads in and around southern Ontario, but that I would take lessons and get my own (smaller) motorcycle at some point.  New BikeWe ‘updated’ to a new (as in ‘brand spanking new’) tourer in 2010 (after putting a lot of miles/kilometers on the old one), but I had yet to sign up for a riding course, and I soon came to realize that it was unlikely that I ever would.  You see, unlike a lot of women I know – who are tired of riding behind their husbands and have gone out and purchased their own bikes – I’ve grown very comfortable just sitting on the back, and the appeal of being ‘in charge’ of my own almost-thousand-pound behemoth has waned.  And it’s primarily because I quite enjoy the view from the back.

With my husband in charge of all aspects of driving, I can simply sit back and enjoy myself.  I don’t have to remember what roads to take, worry about losing track of him and getting lost, calculate fuel consumption, or keep an eye on the speedometer.  The only thing I have to do is turn off my overactive brain and pay attention to the sights and smells around me.  I also get to play the old ‘I spy …’ game, and keep my eyes open for various types of animals – and over the past couple of years, I’ve seen an amazing array of species, including some that you simply wouldn’t expect to find in this ‘neck of the woods’!

Scottish Highland CowsThere are lots of cows, of course (Jersey and Guernsey, Holstein and Limousin, Hereford and Charlolais, and even the occasional Scottish Highland), and dozens of farms with horses (their own, or those being boarded by ‘townies’ who visit them on the weekends) in the fields (common breeds like Standardbred, Quarter Horses, Morgans, Pintos and Appaloosa, as well as various types of ponies, miniatures breeds, and a few enormous Clydesdales and Percherons). 

Donkeys in a FieldSheep are less common than you might think (and less common than I remember from my own childhood), and goats generally seem to be kept for the purpose of yard maintenance (contrary to popular belief, goats are picky eaters, but they do love chomping on shrubbery and good quality grass, so a goat or two could save you the problem of weeding and mowing the lawn).  I must say that I am personally shocked and appalled that I don’t see more donkeys on our travels (but that’s probably just because I’m somewhat obsessed with all kinds of donkeys, and I consider any ride we take a ‘success’ if I’ve seen at least one donkey along the way).

Some of the more interesting species I’ve seen over the past several years include:

  • Great Blue HeronGreat blue herons.  We often see them standing in rivers or streams, or flying over marshy areas near the road. Last summer we both got the fright of our lives when one rose up from a riverbed and flew right in front of the bike. You have no idea just how large these birds are until you find yourself ‘up close and personal’ with one on a motorcycle (they have a wing span of over six feet)!
  • White Tailed DeerWhite tail deer.  These are common in southern Ontario, but they are generally quite shy and like to keep to the woods, where they’re difficult to see. However, we’ve spotted several groups foraging in farm fields and they never fail to delight me. They don’t seem bothered by the noise of vehicles going by, but at least one of them is always ‘on alert’ and they will bound away if they sense danger. 
  • Wild TurkeyWild turkeys.  The first wild turkey we encountered flew out of a ditch on the side of the road and (like the great blue heron) damn near crashed into us (I joked afterwards that we’d almost had fresh turkey for Thanksgiving dinner – but considering the size of the thing, it would have done as much damage to the bike – and us – as we would have inflicted on it).  I saw another turkey in a field this morning (the first one was definitely a male; the one today was most likely a female).
  • LlamasLlamas.  Llamas – either singly or in groups, alone or mixed in with other animals like horses and sheep – are becoming more widespread in this area.  They are sometimes used as ‘guards’ for sheep or other livestock; they’re also raised for their fur.  I love the way they stand at the fence and watch us as we go by (I wonder what they’re thinking?)
  • OstrichesOstriches. Ostrich farming is big business (they say the meat tastes like chicken, the eggs are huge and have a unique flavour, and there’s quite a market, apparently, for products made from ostrich feathers, leather, and oil). They, too, can be quite inquisitive (but its said that you should never look them right in the eye because they see that as a threat). 
  • BisonBison.  ‘Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam’. I was genuinely surprised to see a herd of buffalo last weekend that wasn’t on a ‘reserve’ or in a conservation area. I suppose they’re being raised for their meat (although I tried not to think about that – just as I try not to dwell on whether the cows I see are beef cattle or dairy cattle).  The adults were HUGE and the babies were just adorable.  There were probably a dozen or so in the field and it was such a rare treat so see something we’ve come to think of as an almost extinct species (or something from ‘the wild, wild west’) only a few dozen miles from ‘civilization’.
  • Scimitar Horned OryxLions and Rhinos and Elephants and Giraffes … oh my!  Yes, I’ve seen all of these animals while out riding on the back of my motorcycle (today I saw several Scimitar Horned Oryx).  We live about a hour away from the African Lion Safari and in the spring (before the leaves come out) and fall (after the leaves have fallen), it’s possible to see some of the animals through the chain link fence as we drive by (on days like today, the views are much more limited, but there are two sections where, if I pay attention, I can spot an exotic species or two as we cruise past). 

Riding on a motorcycle is a completely different experience from riding in a car (even a convertible with the top down).  There’s something to be said for the freedom of having nothing around you but the sun and the wind (and, occasionally, the rain). The smells are more intense (especially dead skunk, freshly fertilized farm fields, and the pungent odours that emanate from a mushroom farm); the sights (trees and fields of green, rushing streams and rivers, vibrant gardens, and the many wildflowers that grow along the sides of country roads) are more vibrant and powerful.  And you never quite know what you’re going to see in the way of wildlife.  It’s become my favourite way to get in touch with the world around me, here on … the other side of 55.

If Beasts Were Gone

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12 Comments
  1. June 26, 2012 1:44 pm

    I understand your thought process about being a rider vs being a passenger. Sometimes I think I’d like to navigate my own bike, but for the most part I am happy riding on the back, watching the world go by. (We are Harley owners, having sold a BMW.)

    • June 26, 2012 4:33 pm

      I like not having to THINK when we’re out riding. It’s just so nice to let someone else do it for me!

      Margo

  2. June 25, 2012 3:49 pm

    Your bike looks awesome! I own a Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’ myself. I pleasantly surprised to read about your joy for biking. These car people never seem to understand the joy of riding along a winding road and it really is quite spectacular.

    • June 26, 2012 8:46 am

      There is nothing that compares to a motorcycle for really ‘experiencing’ a ride.

      Margo

  3. June 25, 2012 12:17 am

    Love the new bike… I thought about getting a Voyger instead of my wing. Kawasaki makes great bikes. Before I got the Wing all I owned were Kawasaki’s. The last one was 2000 Vulcan Nomad…

    • June 25, 2012 10:23 am

      We traded up from an old Yamaha Venture Royale and the new bike is AWESOME. We test drove the Goldwing but I liked the ‘fit’ of the Voyager better. I saw the photos of your Vulcan on your web site; you did a lot of work on it and I bet you were somewhat sorry to see it go.

      Margo

      • June 25, 2012 12:19 pm

        Actually I still have the Nomad but it is for sale. In some ways I miss it but the Wing is a really good fit for us. The Wing addressed some of the short comings of the Nomad so I’m not sorry. I would recommend the Nomad or Voyager to anyone looking for a touring bike… Ivan

  4. Cathy permalink
    June 24, 2012 10:27 pm

    What lovely images! I envy you your experiences.

  5. June 24, 2012 7:19 pm

    Great post… I’m looking forward to reading more… Later

  6. June 24, 2012 5:43 pm

    What an interesting piece! I loved reading about all the things that you see on your travels.

    • June 24, 2012 7:12 pm

      There’s always something to see, if you keep your eyes open!

      Margo

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