Author Topic: Notes from a short tour of the extended neighbourhood of East & Central Ontario  (Read 1887 times)

John Saxby

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Well, "notes" is a bit generous.  Last week I finished my ride from Ottawa to Toronto and back, and the usual mountain of Domestic Admin--plumbing repairs, tree trimming--awaiting me has shoved the story to the side of the table for the moment.  Below are a few photos, mostly of water and sky 'cos that's the prevailing scenery.

My outward route went N and W of Ottawa through the highlands of Madawaska, Hastings, and Haliburton, to Orillia (west of Lake Couchiching) to Barrie, at the western end of the the long arm on the west side of Lake Simcoe, due N of Toronto. I took the commuter train into Toronto, to avoid the northern 'burbs. After a few days in TO, I took the commuter train eastwards out of the city to Oshawa. In Oshawa, I picked up the Waterfront Trail which runs between Niagara Falls and Montréal, along the N shore of Lake Ontario and then the St Lawrence River.

I had 10 days of riding in all, a distance of about 900 kms.  Only one morning of grotty weather--the very first day, Sept. 4, was cool, damp-wet-rainy. After that, the five days of my outward (westward) journey were sunny, and cool with stiff headwinds; and the four days on my return leg were sunny and warm with slight tailwinds.

More to come on the route and the stories.


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Class ,well done John super photos.



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Magic - thanks.


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Glad you got out for a short tour!!

Andre Jute

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"Early morning mist over Bay of Quinte from Adolphustown campsite, Sept 14.jpg" is so evocative.

John Saxby

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Thanks, Andre.  That's my favourite.  I was stumbling around, watching the tea water, etc., etc., then looked at the lake and said, Oh jeez, gotta get the camera!"  Sometimes you're just lucky.

This park, BTW, was the landing point of loyalist refugees coming to Upper Canada (as it would become in 1791) after The Great Unpleasantness between 1776 and 1783, just across the St Lawrence. A hundred years later, in 1884, a monument was erected to mark their landing.  These were European refugees: just west of here is Mohawk territory, sans monument.  The settlement of Adolphustown was founded by Quakers of German descent from Pennsylvania, who migrated in the mid-18th century.

It's a beautiful spot, and the fee per site for cyclists is just $13. The tenting area was an orchard until just recently, so I gathered a few apples for dessert.  They were lovely.

Andre Jute

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Don't believe anyone who tells you spring and summer are the best seasons in Ireland. It's definitely autumn. Today was 18 degrees Celsius, with a light wind and intermittent sunshine, ideal cycling weather. Rode a circle from home into the countryside, back into town at another point, and thence home. Out for two hours which is just right when you have things to do.

Funny you should mention apples and history, John. My pedalpal brought apples, presumably from his own orchard (I didn't ask -- he's an organic nut), and for a break we stood on a bridge and tried to guess if Robert Boyle's* land grand extended up the river, as a side issue to a discussion of whether there had been a tow path beside the river when the clock and bell in the tower of the church at Newcestown were barged up the River Bandon. (We heard about that from the barkeep in Newcestown, together with other fascinating history, on another ride.) I wouldn't eat the apples from my own orchard, because they're likely to have fallen in my foxes' and hedgehogs' lavatory...

*Yes, the Boyle of Boyle's Law. Besides being a scientist of note, he was also an aristocrat and major royal land grantee.

David Simpson

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My pedalpal brought apples, presumably from his own orchard (I didn't ask -- he's an organic nut),
I wouldn't eat the apples from my own orchard, because they're likely to have fallen in my foxes' and hedgehogs' lavatory...

Andre, that would make your apples even more organic than your friend's apples.

- DaveS

Andre Jute

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[Laughing aloud]

Andre Jute

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From my blog:
A year or three ago John Saxon, a chum from the Thorn cycling forum, published a photo of the backyard of his friends from just over the mountain where I was born, the mountain separating the two towns strikingly prominent in his photo. I promised to paint the scene but, when eventually I finished the painting, it was wretched, not fit for consumption by man or beast. If you think I'm joking, even my cat sneered at it. I've earned my living in the arts for too long to be sensitive to the vagaries of critics and, having been a critic myself, am only too familiar with the constant struggle to keep criticism pure from contamination by external considerations. But my cat keeps my knees warm in the winter, which no critic has yet offered to do, so I pay close attention to her opinion. Between my cat and I we buried that painting.

All the same, not wanting to offer John an explanation that starts, "My cat and I..." in the tones of Her Majesty's Yule tidings from herself and her Corgis, I was glad when he published another inspiring photograph, albeit from another hemisphere and a different continent.

John's first photo and my discarded painting are of the Karroo at Prince Albert in South Africa, the Karroo being a semi-desert area though John's friends live in a charming green spot on a river. John's second photograph is of the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, Canada, an entirely different milieu. Not that either painting is representational, because I can't be bothered with those when a superior camera fits in your shirt pocket and adds only a few grammes to your cycling paraphernalia.

As you can see, it's the inspiration that counts, with the two images serendipitously influencing the final outcome.

Andre Jute: Early morning mist over Bay of Quinte, watercolour and gouache on grey Ingres paper, A4, 2017

There's more about this painting on my blog.

John Saxby

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Super stuff, Andre! I'm flattered that you've used both of those photos.

As for your cat's opinion: don't take it personally. You know the joke, eh?- "Dogs have owners; cats have staff."

I've yet to finish my notes & photos from this tour--just too much Stuff Going On--but I have the rough notes and the photos are edited, so I just need a few hours to assemble the lot.

Had a superb ride up into the Gatineau hills today--21°, sunny and breezy--and I have a few photos with splashes of Proper Foliage, along with some landscapes which look like The Holy Ground (in my imagination at least.)  Will post those tomorrow on your "Rides of 2017" thread.

Cheers,  John

John Saxby

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Here's the first part of my story of my ride to Toronto and back in early Sept.

Notes on a wee tour of the extended neighbourhood: A ten-day circuit of East/Central Ontario

The where and the why

My outbound route took me westwards from Ottawa through the back country of the Lanark and Madawaska Highlands, to the Highlands of Hastings and Haliburton, and from there, south and west to Orillia and Barrie, north of Toronto. On my journey home, I followed the north shore of Lake Ontario to Prince Edward County at the NE corner of the lake, and from there, I angled north and east to meet the Rideau Canal, the 200 km waterway between Kingston and Ottawa.

Here are the two routes, with altitude profiles:

Sept 4 – 9: The northern route, Ottawa to Barrie GO Train station via Denbigh, Bancroft, Haliburton, & Orillia:   502 kms
Sept 12 – 15: The waterfront route, Oshawa GO Train Station to Ottawa, via Cobourg, Prince Edward Co., Adolphustown, & Delta:   415 kms

This is countryside I know and like. I grew up in the farming country, small towns and villages in the centre of the area bounded by my circuit, and I’ve lived in the two cities which are my start/finish and turnaround points. Yet, while I’ve travelled many of the region’s main and secondary roads over the past fifty-plus years, I haven’t cycled through the entire neighbourhood. This short tour would let me see familiar places in a new light. There were personal reasons for my trip, as well – a visit to our daughter, Meg, now living in Toronto; a visit en route to longtime friends in the Madawaska, W of Ottawa; and a visit to Bob Ormerod, a well-travelled cyclist whom I know via crazyguy. Bob lives near Orillia, and we met last year when he cycled a similar route from the western end. Lastly, I wanted to make the personal acquaintance of Alan Wu, the Rohloff agent for Canada. His bike shop, Spoke Wrench Cycles, is in downtown Toronto. I had arranged for him to inspect my hub after 11,000 kms, particularly to check the wear on the internal shifter cables and the condition of the seals and sprocket.

The ride, Pt I:   The northern route to Toronto

1st day, Monday, Sept 4: Ottawa-Sttittsville-Balderson-Paul’s Creek campground:  I left Ottawa on the Monday morning of the Labour Day weekend, taking a new route westward out of the city: bike paths along the Ottawa River, then a short link of arterial road to the cycling/walking/running trail to Stittsville and beyond. Stittsville is a small formerly agricultural centre, now a bedroom suburb of Ottawa. The trail has a well-made stonedust surface, and arrows straight west through woods, wetlands, and suburbs, eventually reaching the town of Carleton Place, about 30 kms from downtown Ottawa.

The day was cool and damp, with spitting raindrops driven by a westerly wind, but I was happy to avoid the arterial roads I normally use to exit the city. The trail is no quicker than suburban tarmac—it takes me about an hour to leave the city, whether to the east, west, or south—but it was peaceful. The morning became progressively colder and wetter, however. After a couple of hours, my jersey was soaked from perspiration, so I stopped at a gas station convenience store to dry off and warm up. (My usual stop, a village general store dating from the 1870’s, has closed down :( ) Changing into a dry jersey did the trick – the rain stopped, the clouds cleared, and the pallid sun became a real one. And, a very brisk westerly headwind sprang up too. The sun and wind set the pattern for the week, but I’ll take sun and a cool headwind over rain and ditto any day.

My first night’s stop is a mom-and-pop campground about 110 kms from Ottawa. The first two-thirds of the route is quite flat, the road running through farmland and beside rivers, lakes, wetlands, and cottages. The warming sun was pleasant. The 30-50 km/h headwinds were more of a challenge, and even on the drops I had to work hard to keep the Raven in 8th or 9th gear. A stop at Balderson helped greatly: the cheese factory, justly famous for its aged cheddar (even though the excellent six-year-old variety has been dropped since a Large Corporate Entity bought the factory), adjoins an Amish furniture store with a very good café. A fine home-made soup and a good-sized chicken-salad wrap improved my outlook no end, and I settled for a piece of five-year-old cheddar to take as a gift to my friends the following day.

The last 30-plus kms of the route leads into the hills of Lanark County (“Highlands” is the rather more grand term, but these are “highlands” only in comparison with the flatlands of the Ottawa Valley which border the river.) Between the hills and the relentless headwinds, I reached my campsite between an hour later than usual. I pitched my tent, rigged the tarp so that I had some dry space for cooking and packing the bike in the morning, and made a restorative cuppa with a good slug of condensed milk, a habit I mention only to other cyclists and hikers. Then, a monster thunderstorm blew in and raged for a couple of hours, but the Raven and I were snug and dry. (There’s a complex causal relationship between the tarp and an overnight rain: Rig the tarp, and there’s a very good chance that it will not rain. Don’t rig the tarp, and you will almost certainly have rain. Occasionally, when you do rig the tarp, the rain gods will send a downpour anyway, both to commend you for your wisdom and good judgment, and to keep you honest.)

The second day on the road, Tues., Sept 5, follows a route I know well. It snakes through the back country of the Ottawa Valley into the southern reaches of the Canadian Shield, traversing part of the watershed of the Madawaska River, a major tributary of the Ottawa and a splendid canoeing river. The road runs past rocks and lakes, rivers, marshes and trees, and through tiny settlements like Elphin and Snow Road Station as well as the villages of Ompah and Plevna. It also crosses the route of the old Kingston and Pembroke railway, the “K and P”, or the “Kick and Push”, as it was known by its passengers.

With the night’s storm over, I enjoyed a sunny cool day, the first maples turning in the woods beside the road. After some 85 kms, I will reach my friends, Richard and Kate, at their farmstead near Vennachar Junction, just west of the village of Denbigh. Their farm has been in the family since the 1860’s, when Richard’s forebears emigrated from Silesia (then in East Prussia). Its acreage is an indicator of the terrain: The farm covers 1300 acres, of which just 75 are arable. The rest of the land is forest or wetland. The farm was active for nearly a century, until the 1950s, but the family never had a tractor, as the fields were simply too small. Agriculture was a matter of labour by horses and humans.
Along the road, a cyclist sees farms on pockets of good soil. Most are now returning to bush, although some are still active as hobby farms, horse stables or alpaca ranches. The 19th century settlers—Irish, German, Polish, Scots—often worked in the lumber trade or in small mines to augment the meagre returns of farming. Both lumbering and mining are now radically diminished. Current economic activity along the route features sand and gravel, a less-than-exotic product of the last Ice Age, but one more plentiful than topsoil. Tourism and cottagers generate modest revenues, as do sugar-bush operations. (The latter produce A-grade maple syrup, but like so much else, are threatened by climate change.) And, artists’ studios are popping up, their occupants enjoying the quiet, the beauty, and low land prices. Precious few cafés, motels, or diners survive—on each trip, I notice another one has closed.

It took me about 5 hours of riding to cover the 85 kms of very hilly countryside. The last 20 kms to my friends’ farmhouse includes 12 tough hills in the 8-11% range. The repetitive climbs are tiring—another feature of this route—although the Raven’s 36 x 17 setup meant that I didn’t have to use 1st gear at all, even with 40-plus lbs of gear, food, fuel and water. I arrived in plenty of time for an evening of good food (with the cheddar a welcome addition) and talk, and an early evening in a large comfy bed (with no need for a tarp).

Here are a few photos from the first two days’ ride. These are on Dropbox, as I’ve never been able to embed photos in the text. Click on the tinyurl link and you should see them:

Day 3, Wed., Sept. 6: Denbigh-Bancroft-Wilberforce (approx. 105 kms)

After a good breakfast with my friends, I headed north into a cool morning, pockets of mist over rivers and lakes under a clear blue sky. The first 25 kms of the route are along well-surfaced secondary highways with wide paved shoulders. Near the end of that stretch, the road drops down a long 12% hill into a valley, the rapid descent followed by a slog up a marginally shorter 11% grade. The ensuing 41 kms on Hwy 28 into Bancroft cross easier terrain. There are plenty of hills, but in the 5 – 8% range. The road surface is deteriorating, especially at the edges, and the only stretches with paved shoulders are on curves and hills. Thankfully, traffic was light, and roadworks are under way, with resurfacing due to be completed in 2018.

The landscape is classic Shield country:

Tourism helps to keep Bancroft afloat, and after 65 hilly kilometres I enjoyed a robust lunch at the Eagle’s Nest diner, including some very good home fries. (Note for hard-rock mining wonks: Bancroft is a sometime mining town, named after the same geologist as the former Bancroft on Zambia’s Copperbelt, now Chililabombwe. The fortunes of Bancroft Ontario’s mining economy have been tethered to the price of uranium – a mini-case study of boom and bust.)

The last 35 kms of the day, north and west of Bancroft, took me along quiet back roads south of Baptiste Lake, and along a nicely resurfaced minor highway—both, happily, with only a couple of steepish climbs. The sky and the water, and the lack of traffic, made for a beautiful ride:
The brisk headwinds continued, but I reached my campsite in the small village of Wilberforce in good time, covering the 105 kms in a little more than 6 hours of riding. (Having bonked once during my prep rides, I was stopping each day for 2 or 3 generous snacks as well as lunch. That approach worked well.)

Riverbend Cottages gave me a bunkie for the night, a simple cabin with a comfy double bed, a basin, hotplate and a table, and space inside for Osi the Raven. I made a leisurely end-of-the day cuppa, did some laundry, had a nice warm shower, and made my standard one-pot supper on the picnic table in the gentle light of a late-summer evening. I turned in early, knowing that I would have a long-ish 120 kms the next day. As I dozed off, a steady rain began, and continued through the night. Beneath my sleep, I worried about the prospect of riding 7-8 hours in the rain, and wondered about motels on the lonely roads I’d be riding. I was relieved when the rain stopped about 4 AM.

4th day, Thurs., Sept 7: Wilberforce-Haliburton-Great Moose Adventures, near Washago ~120 kms

My hosts at Riverbend recommended breakfast at the South Algonquin Diner—the locally revered South Algonquin Cookhouse, a little way back along the highway, had closed down, and the owners had reopened in town. The diner served a pretty good eggs benny, and over coffee I chatted with other guests about my ride, the effects of heavy rainfall in a region full of rocks and wetlands (lots of flooded basements), and the blanket of cloud and rain to the east and south of us. Two pilots in the group were unable to fly to Maine that day—they couldn’t fly over the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. I commiserated, saying I was pleased to be riding westward into clearing weather. They said, eyebrows raised, “Maybe you know something we don’t…”

Fortune, it seems, sometimes favours the witless. The day turned out sunny and cool, the sunshine interrupted only by a couple of brief showers at mid-day. The roads were good, the traffic generally light-to-moderate, and the headwinds were brisk (do you see a pattern here?) About 20 minutes into my ride, barely warmed up, I plunged down a steep grade into the valley of the small and pretty Esson Creek—and immediately began the long 15% climb up the other side. This was the toughest hill I’ve done in some time. Down in 1st gear, I neared the top, sweating and heart pounding, and said, “Sod it.” I wheeled across the empty road and took a photo of a rusting old reaper-binder, identical to the one our neighbour used in his wheat fields, 60 years ago. Refreshed by a whiff of nostalgia, my heart rate subsided, and I twiddled up the remaining 200-300 metres in 2nd and 3rd.

From the Esson Creek road, I joined Hwy 118, the main East-West highway in the region, and continued westward into Haliburton. A pretty little town, it survives from tourism and cottagers, being closer than Bancroft, for example, to Toronto and the Trent-Severn waterway linking Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay. Easing into Haliburton, I was passed by three roadies out for a morning spin—the only cyclists I had seen since leaving Ottawa. I stopped for lunch further west at the small settlement of Carnarvon, at the junction of the 118 and Hwy 35, the highway which runs north from the lakeshore towards the west side of Algonquin Park. A highway junction seems an unlikely spot for a bistro, but I had an A-grade meal at “Rhubarb”, a definite cut above the usual diner fare along the road. A first-rate onion soup (with gruyère, thank you very much) was followed by a big chicken pot pie, loaded with potatoes, carrots, onions, and sweet peppers. The bistro is linked to a brewery, Boshkung Beer, but with several hours of hilly riding ahead, I made a mental note to visit again and linger over my meal. A cheerful young waiter told me that she had recently served a woman cyclist who was researching a Toronto-to-Haliburton cycling trail, so with luck, Rhubarb may become a fixture for touring cyclists. (A little bit of sweat and scruffiness might help to humanize a parking lot full of high-end German sedans.)

My excellent meal was good fuel for the 65-70 kms which followed. The 118 runs west towards Bracebridge, and for the three hours that I rode it, I saw little but rock and bush. The wide shoulders were well paved and the traffic was moderate, but the combination of hills and headwinds was tough, and 40 kms took me almost three hours.  I reached my turnoff to the south, the Uffington-to-Barkman Road, about 4 PM, and immediately found myself in good cycling country: a quiet back road with a decent surface, cutting south and west through wooded countryside, which gave blessed shelter from the wind. The road runs south from the rocks of the Shield into a transition zone with some farming and settlement. I covered the 25-plus kms in about an hour and 15 minutes, including a couple of stops to check my directions with local drivers. (One complimented me on my flashing Cygolite headlight. “I could see you from 400 yards away,” she said. “What a great help that is to drivers.”) 

I stopped for the night here:

Great Moose Adventures is an outdoor education centre, a private school run by three people in their 30s. My friend Bob, in Orillia, had suggested that I get in touch to see if I could camp on their property, as there are no camping spots along this part of my route—at least, none with showers and potable water. I did so, and they kindly offered me space to camp. GMA sits on a rural road in marginal farming country some 15 kms NE of the village of Washago at the north end of Lake Couchiching. It offers both kindergarten and elementary education to children during the winter months, and education and recreation camps in the summer, all of the activities based in or drawing on the setting of the Muskoka Lakes. Sonny, Deann and Brad had met one another as teachers in Korea and Romania. GMA is their joint project, born of their shared enthusiasm and commitment. They were personable, curious and switched-on, and generous in their welcome. They offered me the use of the lodge’s bathrooms and kitchen, and suggested that I use their bunkie, as rain was in the forecast. They were intrigued by my bike trip, and asked if I would like to talk about my ride with some of their students. I did so the following morning, and spent about 40 minutes talking with a dozen kids between 6 and 13 about my ride, the bike, weather and rain gear, Australia, wild creatures one could meet, parents with bikes, their own bikes, food on the road, hills and headwinds. I made a contribution to GMA’s bursary fund, and wished them well. I hugely enjoyed my hosts and my visit, and left with a light heart.

5th day, Friday, Sept. 8: GMA to Washago and Orillia    40 kms 

The run-in to Washago from GMA is an easy 15-20 kms along the Cooper’s Falls road, passing through the old village of the same name, its 19th-century bustle long diminished:
I met Bob and one of his cycling buddies, Nynka, at Washago’s coffee shop, and we rode together across the River Severn (the outlet from L Couchiching) to Bob’s house in the farmland west of Orillia. Nynka is planning to purchase a light touring bike equipped with a Rohloff (a Thorn reference point would be a Mercury with drop bars) to carry her across Canada in 2018 on a supported tour with two friends. I described my own wholly positive experience with my Raven-mit-Rohloff. Much talk ensued of chains and belt drives, gear ratios, chain rings, and wider tires, and of the benefits of cycling for the minds and bodies of people d’un certain âge. Nynka expects to order her bike from True North Cycles, a custom shop near Guelph, a couple of hours’ drive SW of Orillia. Bob also told me about the custom road, touring and randonneuring bikes built by Mariposa Bicycles of Toronto. Mariposa built a bike for Clara Hughes, the Canadian Olympian, for her cross-Canada ride in 2016. The ride and the bike were vehicles for her public education and advocacy on mental health. Their bikes are beautiful (and expensive) examples of our simple machines. Happily, I can admire these bikes without feeling any urge to buy one. I’m not in the market for a derailleur touring bike, especially one with gearing that’s some way higher than my Raven’s. Been there, done that, doesn’t work for me.

Bob is a few years older than I am, and a strong and experienced cyclist. We are both emigrants from the UK, I in the mid-50s, he in the mid-60s; he from the North of England, I from the South. I spent a delightful afternoon with Bob, pottering around Orillia, scanning the problems and follies of our epoch, collecting supper from an exemplary take-home Italian restaurant (Bob knew the proprietors) and food for my onward journey from a very good bakery. On a crisp and sunny Saturday morning, I thanked him and his wife Alison for their generous hospitality, and for Bob’s advice on the best route to Barrie, where I would pick up the commuter train to Toronto.

(To be completed tomorrow.)


John Saxby

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The tale continues --

6th day, Saturday, Sept. 9: Orillia-Barrie, and by train to Toronto     45 kms by bike

In planning my trip, I decided against cycling into and out of Toronto via its northern and eastern suburbs. Instead, I chose to take the GO Train from Barrie to Union Station in the heart of downtown, an hour-plus train ride; to begin my homeward journey, I would take the train to Oshawa, an hour east of the city.

Bob recommended that I follow the rail trail from Orillia to Barrie. It avoids the busy roads between the two towns, and as it merges with the waterfront bike paths in Barrie, leads directly to the GO station there. After one or two steep climbs on back roads, I easily found the trail, and it proved to be a comfortable and peaceful route to Barrie: 
I covered the 45 or so kms in a little more than 2 hours—amazing the difference level terrain and no headwinds can make—and relaxed in Barrie’s spacious and attractive bayside park before boarding the 11:00 AM train. With the train far from full, there was plenty of space for my bike and myself.

It would be nice to report that my passages on the trains were a brilliant success, but that wasn’t entirely so. The Saturday train took me to Union Station on time, quietly, and comfortably. Three days later, the mid-morning train from Toronto did much the same in delivering me to Oshawa. The advertised fare for the two trips was reasonable—just over $12.00. BUT. Having an Ottawa transit card which works on Toronto’s transit system and on the GO Train network surrounding the city, I decided to use my card rather than do the simple thing and buy paper tickets for my two fares. (That would have been soooo twentieth-century.) In the event, the computerized system charged me more than $30.00 for my two rides—no huge sum, but nearly three times the advertised fare. After my return to Ottawa, I made four phone calls to GO Train’s customer service office; no-one was able to sort out the problem, nor even to send me a message on the subject.  So:  5 stars for the trains, –10 stars for “customer service”. 

Pt II of the ride:   The Waterfront and Rideau route to Ottawa

An urban interlude:  I passed a delightful weekend in downtown Toronto with our daughter and longtime friends. They all live in my old neighbourhood when I was a graduate student forty years ago, so I revisited old haunts while we ate our way around the world, as one can and should in that city.  Alan Wu pronounced my Rohloff to be in good nick, and saved me the chore of flipping the sprocket, which was beginning to show some wear as it neared 11,000 kms. I’ll replace it around the 18,000 km mark. He also recommended keeping the Easyset in my spares kit while on tour, and simply replacing the internal shifter wires when one finally breaks, rather than changing them (at, say, 20,000 or 25,000 kms) before they break. We’ll see what happens: if the 25,000 mark coincides with an end-of-season oil change, I might change the cables as a preventive measure in the comfort of my workshop.

7th day, Tues., Sept. 12: Toronto train to Oshawa-Newcastle-Cobourg-Jubalee Park, Haldimand Twp.,  95 kms

The Waterfront Trail runs from Niagara Falls to Montréal, close to the shorelines of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. It comprises bike paths and public roads, most of the latter quiet rural roads, although there are some sections on the old Ontario Highway #2. The Greater Toronto Area (the GTA) is an enormous conurbation, in my not-in-the-least-humble opinion a ghastly creation, and the Trail seemed like a good way to go eastward along the water while avoiding the crush of traffic. I took the train to Oshawa, an industrial city built around General Motors, and picked up the Trail there.

The Trail near Oshawa zigs and zags, but is generally well signposted. It bears east through parks, wetlands, fields, woods, high-voltage electricity corridors, and past old factory sites, all bounded by the lake to the south and the multilane 401 to the north. There’s really only one way a cyclist can go. Leaving the station about 11:00 AM, I eased through parks full of children, seniors enjoying a warm sunny day, mums with toddlers, and the occasional recreational cyclist. (“You’re going some distance, man!” said one.)  Stopping for lunch at Darlington Provincial Park, a small park abutting a nuclear reactor, I had only a few ducks and seagulls for company. After a few kilometres on a service road cheek-by-jowl with the noise and ugliness of the 401, and the frisson of existential despair that highway always induces in me, the Trail returns to the waterfront where it belongs, and to the first of several “Lakeshore Drives” near Lake Ontario, and later, the St. Lawrence. These are old roads, close to the water, bordered by farms and the occasional orchard on the inland side, with some houses—an increasing number of them very upscale—on the lake side. Traffic was light during my journey, just a few motorcycles, cars and pickups. I had forgotten how peaceful this part of rural Ontario can be, despite the proximity of The Big Smoke and one of the busiest highways in the world. It felt almost quaint, and as I eased along with a mild tailwind, a guy in a nice cream-coloured T-series MG puttered by, its slightly flatulent exhaust note discreetly muted.

A few typical lakeside landscapes:
Rolling through this pastoral countryside, I saw a cyclist up ahead, and as I gradually caught up, I could see a flag and bulging panniers. Xavier was his name; he was French, living in Montréal, and in the latter stages of his ride from Vancouver to St. John’s, Newfoundland. He had begun his great adventure later than most, leaving Vancouver on July 1st. Did I think he could get to St. John’s before the bad weather set in? His route would take him through Québec to New Brunswick, and to the ferry from Cape Breton to Port-aux-Basques. I said that three to four weeks should get him there, but that it would be best to finish his journey before Thanksgiving, the second weekend of October.

Xavier was having some difficulty with his drive train—it appeared to be a front derailleur problem—and asked about bike shops in the area. I said there might be one in Port Hope or Cobourg, an hour so ahead. If not, then there was a good one in the village of Bloomfield in Prince Edward County, a day’s ride hence. I was stopping for my mid-afternoon snack, and as he pushed on in search of a shop, I wished him bonne chance, and told him about my planned campsite east of Cobourg, in case he was stuck for a place to stay.

I paused in the small town of Cobourg, where I had spent the early years of high school, and rode by the house we lived in, all those years ago. We had planted a maple sapling in our front yard; it is now some 50 ft tall, and shields the entire house from the afternoon sun.

The Trail shares the roadway with a few kms of old Hwy 2 (now County Road 2) both west and east of Cobourg, but the shoulders were reasonably wide and smooth, and the traffic was manageable, especially east of town. The ripples of the GTA Effect, it seemed, had finally run their course.

While planning my trip, I had contacted the owners of Jubalee Park, a campground some 15 kms east of Cobourg, to see if I could camp for a night. They assured me that I could do so. As a rule, they accept only seasonal tenants in trailers and RVs, but being on the Trail, they welcome cyclists. I reached the park just after 5:00, and pitched my tent under a spreading willow in a wide grassy meadow beside the beach:
Touring in early September has real advantages, especially on a mid-week evening—there were only 3 or 4 other guests. I showered, made my supper, and asked the owner about critters, especially raccoons. Indeed, she said, we have raccoons – just two weeks ago, four German cyclists had had their Ortliebs ripped by raccoons. So, I put my food bag into the men’s bathroom. Two campers invited me to join them at their fire, fifty metres or so from my camp, and I readily accepted their hospitality. They were from a village just further east, and had bought their trailer (moored there fulltime) earlier in the summer. She was retired, he would be soon, and this was their summer holiday. We chatted, and they were tickled to learn that I had gown up on a farm not far to the northwest, and that we had gone to the same high school down the road.

And then, just as it was growing dark—voilà!—Xavier rolled into camp. He quickly pitched his tent and started to make his supper; but another camper appeared, and offered him a meal, and he joined us at the fireside. Our neighbours were generous, sharing their food and drink and warmth. He had had no luck yet with a bike shop, so I gave him the details of the Bloomfield shop, and cautioned him about the raccoons. He stowed his bags with mine, and a good thing too—a couple of hours later, as I was dozing off, a family of raccoons a hundred metres away made a prolonged and noisy fuss. Perhaps they had found some edibles near another campsite; in any case, there was nothing in our camp to attract them.

8th day, Wed., Sept. 13: Haldimand-Brighton-Prince Edward County-Adolphustown   ~85 kms

The night was cool, down to 6° and comfortable for sleeping, and the morning was clear and crisp. I was glad to have a pair of woollen gloves for the first hour or two. The Trail runs east from Jubalee Park along the lakeshore through farmland and tiny settlements. At Colborne, it joins the old #2 for a few kilometres. This is still productive farming country, with active apple orchards, and I treated myself to a couple of splendid fresh tomatoes from a farm stall for my lunch.

At Brighton, the Trail turns southeast towards Prince Edward County. A peninsula, "The County” feels like an island. A narrow neck of land links it to the north shore of Lake Ontario just SE of Brighton. An ancient portage across this neck links the Bay of Quinte to the east with Lake Ontario to the west. The Murray Canal, built in the 1880s, now joins the two bodies of water:
The County is ideal cycling country, with attractive rolling countryside, modest distances between its settlements, light traffic on all but a few main roads, and a burgeoning wine industry that has also spawned some very good eateries. On this day, I skipped the more scenic route, Hwy 33 around the south-west and southern shores (the Waterfront Trail), opting instead for the more direct CR 1 across the centre of the County. I wanted to make a shorter day of it, about 85 kms to my stop at the campground in Adolphustown, on the “mainland” just east of the County.
I had a couple of cafés at wineries in mind for lunch, but the downside of touring the County after the summer months is that such places are rarely open on Wednesdays… I made good use of my fresh tomatoes instead, and enjoyed the visual tricks of this sculpture at an outdoor gallery:
I had noticed a fair amount of barn art on the northern route to Toronto, and there was more on display in the County. Some of the designs were stylized Canadian flags, others variations on the points of the compass. I particularly liked this imagining of a quilt on a barn:  (It works much better, sez I, than a kilt on a bairn.) (Ah jeez, they say, did he have to?)

The ferry to the mainland leaves the northeast shore of the County just east of Picton, the small town which is the main centre. It’s a pleasant 10-minute break from the road network, across a narrow stretch of the Bay of Quinte. To the west, the water- and landscape are marred by the brutalist grey towers and cylinders of an enormous cement plant. As ever, it seems, there is a contest under way between residents who want to preserve what remains of Picton Bay’s shoreline and fishery, and the plant's owners, eager  to expand its production and their profits.

The Adolphustown UEL Heritage Centre and Park is just a few kms beyond the ferry dock. The Park has a fine campground, and advertises “Family camping since 1784!” It is located where a group of refugees landed after fleeing the outcome of the Significant Unpleasantness across the river between 1776 and 1783. Later, they and many others like them became known as United Empire Loyalists. The County, and much of the surrounding mainland, includes “Loyalist” in its roads and institutions, and Union Jacks are a common sight. (When I was growing up, the pointed comment about the County was, “When you go there, turn your watch back 20 or 30 years.”) Whatever. The campground is a bargain, its spacious lots costing only $13.00 for cyclists, no matter how many there are. And, the tenting area of the park includes an abandoned orchard. The apples were very ripe, just for my arrival, and I ate several. Not sure of the variety—Empire, perhaps (as you might guess)—but they were superb, and went well with the cheddar in my pannier. I pitched my tent in late afternoon in a lovely spot:

The view the next morning was more beautiful still:

9th day, Thurs., Sept. 14: Adolphustown-Odessa-Battersea-Delta   112 kms

The Waterfront Trail continues east along the St Lawrence from Adolphustown, towards Kingston, Gananoque, Cornwall, and eventually Montréal, but I chose to take a different route, angling north-east inland towards the Rideau Canal waterway between Kingston and Ottawa. I would stop for the night in Delta, a village on Lower Beverley Lake, about 120 kms SW of Ottawa. Quiet tarmac and gravel back roads led me through well-tended farmland north of Adolphustown to Odessa. North of the 401 I made an easterly arc toward CR 11, the north-south Battersea Road linking Kingston, Battersea, and the canal locks at Jones Falls, the height of land between Kingston and Ottawa.
The weather had been getting warmer through the week, and it continued to do so. With a nice tailwind building behind me as the temperature rose into the mid-20s, I made good time. I stopped for lunch at the estimable Glenburnie Grocery, at the junction of the Old Perth Road. There were fresh local apples on offer, Paula Reds, and they too were superb—crisp and tart.
CR 11 leaves the marginal farmland just north of Kingston and takes a cyclist into the up-and-down hills of the Rideau Lakes. The dwellings are modest—it has long been, and remains, so hard to make a decent living here—although there a handful of much more handsome places, recently built. The old village of Battersea sits beside a creek which leads west into Loughborough Lake. Its marina remains a mooring site for fishing and pleasure boats, and offers a shady spot for a picnic lunch, but seems to be quietly fading away:
With the continuing southwesterly tailwind perfectly matching my northeast bearing, the ride through the rollers north of Battersea was easy enough. At Jones Falls, I turned east towards the village of Lyndhurst, with my campground at Delta only another 15 kms further along. A cyclist appeared in my mirror, going a bit faster than I was, so I waved him by. But, he wasn’t wholly sure of his direction—he was coming from a cottage on a lake 20 kms to the west, and was part-way through a 50-km loop—so we rode together for several kms. I noticed that he was riding a Bertrand, a bike built by the local Gatineau shop, GM Bertrand, and complimented him on it. Christian (his name) is, it turns out, originally from Montréal, and has been living in Ottawa since the mid-1980’s—about 500m from my place!  Such a small world.  We exchanged numbers and parted at Lyndhurst, Christian to get back to his cottage, while I stopped at Petra’s Place, a very good take-away spot. There, I bought a big salad with a side of cheese curds from the local factory at Forfar—the steady diet of carbs and protein on the road had left me desperate for leafy greens.
I reached the campground at Lower Beverley Lake Park in Delta with plenty of time for a leisurely set-up, found a grassy, well-treed site, and…was immediately engulfed by hordes of mosquitoes. WTF?? It’s mid-September, for Pete’s sake, what are mozzies doing here, and now?? Of course I hadn’t brought any bug dope, nor my veil – it’s mid-September, for Pete’s sake. Muttering and grumbling, I threw my tent together, chucked my sleeping gear inside, fled into the nearby showers, and then dived back into the tent. So much for a relaxed evening meal in the last rays of the sun. I wolfed down my greens in the tent, loving every minute. Food in the tent is against all my established rules, but bears are rare here, and my food bag went back into the washroom for protection against resident raccoons. I guess the mozzies so late in the year are a product of an exceptionally wet summer, and our bizarre-but-wonderful September temps in the mid-to-high 20s.

(To be cont'd)

John Saxby

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The final section -- last day of my ride, and some notes on my bike and gear:

10th day, Friday, Sept. 15:  Delta-Toledo-Merrickville-Ottawa     120 kms

My ride to Ottawa was a long-ish 120 kms or so, but I rode much of the distance on easy terrain close to the canal, supported by a tailwind. From Delta, I followed back roads to the crossroads hamlet of Toledo, and from there NE to the old stone village of Merrickville on the Rideau Canal. Along the roadside there are reminders of a once more lively rural economy. This 19th-century wooden house, now a fixer-upper, awaits your attention to recover some of its past grandeur:

Happily, the ride into the city was quiet and uneventful. If only the roads were always like this: 

The temps just went higher and higher, however, reaching the low 30s on my last day on the road. This trend continued into early October, befuddling plants, animals, birds and humans – September became the summer we never had. 

A lovely time to spend a couple of weeks on the bike  :)

Some notes on my bike and gear:

1)   Drybags on the front rack:  I left my front panniers (Arkel T28’s) at home, and used instead two 13L drybags fixed to my Arkel low-rider rack. I fixed each bag in place with (i) a Rok-Shok adjustable strap mounted vertically, and (ii) an adjustable Knot-Bone carabiner-style bungee mounted horizontally. The very first photo above shows this set-up.

This arrangement worked quite well. I stored clothing (other than rain gear) and my sleeping bag, mattress and pillow in the drybags, which swallowed everything nicely. Each one weighed a little less than 5 lbs, and I saved a little more than 4 lbs, i.e., the weight of the two T28s with their rain covers.

There were two disadvantages. First, the drybags are more fiddly to mount than the T28 panniers, and once they are mounted, their contents are less readily accessible. They also lack the T28s’ handy external pockets. Secondly, on several downhills (not all), I noticed a slight “ripply” feeling through the Raven’s handlebars – not a shimmy but a soft, low-frequency “wave” that I’d never felt before (including an overnight trip in W Qué, on which I was also using the drybags). Was it because I had not enough weight on the front forks? Some imbalance in weight, either side to side or up and down?  I have no idea.  Weird, but not really worrisome.

Next steps: Next year, I’ll try a slightly different setup. I’ll opt for the greater convenience of panniers fore and aft, and accept a slight weight penalty for doing so. Thus:

•    I‘ll move my 32-ltr Arkel Dauphin waterproof panniers from the rear to the front rack. These hold more than both the drybags and the T28s, and weigh slightly less than the latter. The Dauphins will hold my clothing, sleeping bag/mattress/pillow, and off-bike shoes, with a little space to spare. Weight of these panniers and their contents?—say 8 kg/17 lbs.

•    I have purchased a pair of Arkel Dry-lites (28 ltr) to be my rear panniers. These weigh just 540 gms (1 lb 3 oz), and they’ll take my foods, cookware, cosmetics, electronic bits, notebooks, etc. The resulting total weight will be very similar to that of the Dauphins at the front, about 8 kg/17 lbs or so. I’ll continue to put my tent on the rear rack, but changing the panniers will shift some weight (4-5 lbs) from the rear to the front of the bike.

The tweaking continues…

2)   Tires: I used my 26 x 1.6 Marathon Supremes, and they were very good in every way. I reduced the front pressure to a little over 50 PSI (perhaps thus contributing to The Mysterious Ripple?), and used about 62 at the rear. These pressures were very comfortable over variable roads, but were especially good in absorbing road buzz on some of the cracked and/or chipseal surfaces I found in the early part of my trip. I did find a slight slow leak in my rear tube (a Conti), which I later traced to a Presta valve core on which the open-and-shut stem was not sealing properly.


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Your ride brings back memories for me.  If you had gone down on the other side of Lake Simcoe you would have passed through Keswick, where I used to live for two years.  I had given up the bicycling at that point in my life but constantly puttered around with my then wife on our two Ninja Sportsbikes, all over that area.

Were I lucky enough to have been in your Shimano shoes, I would have put off the waiting realities of home, made a right turn at Barrie to hwy 26 and made my way up to hwy 6 slow and straight to the Bruce peninsula. That part of the country is strikingly unique and beautiful. Bruce peninsula National park is my idea of scenery from heaven.  For those unfamiliar with the landscapes to ben seen there, it's worth googling. 

Dang, you are living the life I want to live. It's a new year, I better start to dream bigger.