It was the Summer of 1962, in France, when Porsche won its first and only F1 race as a constructor with Dan Gurney at the wheel. Nearly 10 years later, Dan and Brock Yates drove from NY to LA just under 36 hours (albeit in a Ferrari Daytona) to win the first official Cannonball ‘Sea To Shining Sea’ Memorial Trophy Dash. With the inspiration of these legends and moments in time, the Nickelball ‘Bay to Shining Bay Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend’ Run was hatched – with a start and finish under 36 hours.
As luck would have it, the weather Gods were on our side, with sun filled blue skies and temperatures perfect for the time of year. We were very excited! Pfaff Porsche brought their street version of the GT3 Cup race car fully decaled to join our pack. Pfaff was also very generous in lending us a new Boxster S, manual (naturally), which we were looking forward to drive, with its metallic charcoal exterior, drop top and tan leather interior.
Once we had all our Porches together, introductions were made, paperwork was completed and instructions were given. Each car was given a list of directions, meeting points, some local trivia questions to answer and a road atlas of the Northern Backroads, just in case anyone got lost or wanted to come back and explore the area another time. The plan was to navigate through local scenic points of interest en route to Sudbury, where we would meet for lunch. The best was yet to come!
As soon as the morning briefing in the parking lot was over, we all hopped into our gleaming cars and followed each other in a Porsche parade down the main streets of Parry Sound. All heads turned as we drove past, our cars’ engines’ getting warm for the pulls ahead. Within moments we were entering onto the smoothest, 4-lane highway in the province, with its perfectly manicured off and on-ramps. Every opportunity was taken along the route to use these man made wonders, perfectly suited for Porsches, to practice our cornering prowess. Part of our tour included the last untouched two lane section of Hwy. 69 that cut through the rocky Canadian Shield and surrounded us with the brilliant colours of fall leaves, in russet, green and gold. The day could not have been more perfect. It was simply amazing and tranquil, not to be missed.
Our first stop was a quick one at the Moose Lake Trading Post to do a little shopping. The Trading Post is a quaint log cabin, full of everything bear, moose, fish, wolf, loon, fur and fun. It was the perfect place to find a furs, moccasins, porcupine quill baskets – the ideal souvenirs to remember our northern adventure.
Next up after a nice morning cruise is the French River Visitors Centre, where an street sign tell us to “Brake for Snakes”. The Visitors Centre is a modern glass and stone building, perched on the high cliff above the French River, with the suspension bridge over this section of the river. Photos taken on the bridge, and inside the centre, we admired the realistic displays of celebration of our Canadian heritage. For history buffs, the French explorers of the 17th century, including Samuel de Champlain, and the Algonquin people who called this place home, worked together to survive in this harsh wilderness, to trap furs, trade in goods and build canoes. Together with the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers, the French River formed a major part of the water highway from Montreal to Lake Superior until about 1820 and is still used by adventurers to this day.
Getting back onto the highway, we are only a few kilometers from the newest stretch of four-lane highway with even more amazing curves and esses to enjoy as we get on and off of it. The sheer immensity of this continuing construction project is all around us – with hills of granite reduced to gravel,creating the road bed and its expected completion in 2020. Passing the Killarney Provincial Park turnoff, we see something unique to Ontario – an animal overpass that is used regularly by moose, dear, wolves and lynx which in combination with wildlife tunnels have significantly reduced wildlife collisions. We’ve all settled into the drive and know those behind us can’t wait to see what’s next.
As we approached the southern entrance to Sudbury, we switched it up by doubling back to a secondary highway that took us to Hwy. 17 and the Eastern approach to the city. It was all a bit unexpected for our group, as they felt disoriented from the linear direction we had been taking. However, the diversion took us past the site that NASA had used in the 1960’s to test the Apollo Lunar Rover which made its way to the moon! The Greater Sudbury Area has similar in topography to the moon (whether treed or not), with its vast rocky terrain. However, that rocky terrain is harder to see today as Sudbury has undergone the world’s greatest re-greening effort, something which is being studied and replicated. The topography of Sudbury is something to behold, with more than 330 lakes within its city limits and has the largest city lake(s) in the world.
For lunch, the Nickelballers gathered at one of the most amazing viewpoints atop a rocky hill in Sudbury, at Royal Canadian Legion 76. This location was simply breathtaking! At any time of year, one can see for miles overlooking this city lake, to Laurentian University, Science North and the CP Rail line that famously allowed surveyors to discover the immense high-grade nickel and precious metal ore body that makes Sudbury the mining capital of the world. With our cars shining in the sun, we took photos with the backdrop of the blue waters and then enjoyed a simple and hearty meal at the courtesy of the Legion. Friendships were formed as we reminisced about our morning adventures over lunch and laughter. Afterwards we prepared ourselves for the afternoon travels and set off in another Porsche parade through the city to the Big Nickel. In the reflection of the car’s mirror, we could see the line of beautiful Porsches behind us, as we wound our way through town and up to a giant Nickel that gleamed in silver against the blue sky.
The Big Nickel was the idea of local Ted Szilva in the 1950’s. He put forward the suggestion for a major tourist attraction featuring a giant five-cent coin and began to make this dream a reality by scouting out the highest hills in Sudbury. The location selected was perfect as it overlooked the INCO complex and the nightly slag dumps of hot red and orange molten rock! Today, the Big Nickel (a 30 ft replica of the 1955 coin that the Canadian Mint created in Sudbury’s honour) and Dynamic Earth (an underground experience describing the meteor crash) sit on this wondrous location. It sits in the shadow the giant Superstack, a chimney the same height as the Empire State Building. The Nickelballers get their pictures, a group photo and we’re off.
Our afternoon schedule was a little different in 2017 from 2016. We will find a way to make it unique again in 2018. In 2016, we headed directly West to Espanola on Hwy. 17 and then South on Hwy. 6 to spend the night in Little Current on Manitoulin Island. Being on Manitoulin Saturday night allowed us to enjoy the hospitality of this island town, ready to traverse the island on Sunday from East to West and back to get to the ferry. In 2017, our group headed North in the afternoon to the A.Y. Jackson Lookout where we hiked the short trail to see one of the famous Group of Seven painted waterfalls. We rode a fantastic series of uphill corners to the town of Cartier – and then back to Sudbury for our overnight. In Sudbury, we had a a most spectacular ‘family style’ Italian meal at the famous ‘Respect is Burning’ in the city’s downtown. Sunday we awoke to a sun-filled morning driving through the white LaCloche Mountains to Manitoulin across the one lane swing bridge which is the only year round connection to the island. The Island has a spirit that can be felt as soon as you step onto it. Both years we made stops at local first nation shops and breathtaking scenic views. Each of us had different moments to experience the ‘Spirit Island’ without the bustle of vacationing crowds.
Our driving tour concluded the 1200 km journey within minutes of the time needed to be at the dock in South Baymouth for our ferry reservations back to the mainland. Some of the group decided to stay a few extra days on Manitoulin to enjoy its splendour and their cars on their own, while the rest of us grabbed an ice cream and waited to board the ship. The Chi Cheemaun is huge! And the only other way to drive onto or off of the island. Like a giant whale, it opened up and orchestrated the loading of our delicate cargo, a group of finely tuned, low riding Porsches. While not NY to LA, we bested Gurney and Yates time with our own coast to coast trip in 35 hours in the cars we love and with experiences to remember for a lifetime.
Special thanks to Pfaff Porsche for their support and all of the Nickelballers who enjoyed the trip together. So enough words. The only way to see it, is to join us this year September 29 – 30, 2018. And for a visual enticement of what you missed (or can enjoy), go to: www.oldenburginc.com/nickelballrun