With no racing for a few months, I was itching to challenge myself somehow. As COVID-19 restrictions started to ease in Ontario it was looking like a trip would be a reasonable thing to do.
Considering this was going to be a solo trip and my first, I tried to keep the route pretty risk-free. The plan was to do a big loop through southern Ontario, and stop by a few friend’s houses on the way to catch up after a few months of lockdown. I ended up planning for almost 1100km, and would try to get it done in 5 days. The ride was almost entirely paved, but after riding it and seeing how my setup handled the slightly rougher sections, I think the next trip will involve a bit (a lot) less pavement.
You can see the full route here: https://www.strava.com/routes/28208437
I went pretty light on the gear, as I would be spending most of the nights visiting friend’s houses. My camping setup included a small stove, bivy sack, inflatable sleeping mat and pillow, and a light sleeping bag. All this was able to fit into a pretty big touring saddle bag and bar bag. I threw on some bigger 28mm tires that handled everything I rode great, and everything else was standard. If there’s one thing I’m going to change for next time, it’s to swap the bivy sack for a real tent, and grab a half frame bag to make up for the room it takes up.
Day 1: 266km 8h19m 1200m – Route
I knew I wanted to go straight to Kingston on day one, which was going to be a long one. To save a 60km commute across Toronto, I loaded my stuff into my dad’s car, and hitched a ride to his office in Markham to start the ride. Packing the car and anxiously running through my mental checklist to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything important felt just like the race mornings I’ve been missing this year.
My dad rode out from the office with me, and after 15km he turned back and I was alone. The day flew by, riding through a ton of towns and farm fields all day. After a few gas station stops for water and some snacks (Ms Vickies salt and vinegar) I had made it to Kingston. I was still feeling pretty good, mostly thanks to a nice tailwind.
Day 2: 200km 6h38m 1100m – Route
I woke up after one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had in a long time. Rolling out of my bed I was feeling the day before enough to worry about the 200km ahead of me. Upon checking the weather I learned the nice wind that pushed me to Kingston would now be a full day of headwind, capped off by thunderstorms at night. Nice.
I stopped for a footlong, and for the second day in a row, a bag of salt and vinegar chips breathed life back into my body.
This night was the only one where I was camping out on crown land, so when the skies opened up 5 minutes after I made it to camp, I had nowhere to hide. I don’t think I’ve ever been caught in a stronger downpour, and it all happened too fast to set up any of my gear, so it all got soaked. After about 20 minutes of lying in my bivy sack to stay warm, the rain passed and I was able to spend the rest of the evening focusing on making some food and trying to light a fire using only wet wood.
Day 3: 194km 6h18m 1340m
(I know I was really tired today because I accidentally saved my ride twice)
Woke up early after what can be described as a rough sleep. Fortunately, last night my friend Luke joined me, so I was able to sleep in a real tent instead of my wet bivy sack (some people swear by the bivy, but for the next trip I’m definitely ditching it in favour of a tent). Packing up camp was slow going, so I made a tea with three tea bags to feed my need for caffeine. I left camp around 9am, jersey hanging off my saddlebag to dry out in the cool morning air. This might be my favourite memory of the whole trip, cruising out of camp heavily caffeinated in my t-shirt on some beautiful roads.
Riding from the Kawartha lakes into Muskoka, the scenery had completely changed from the farm fields of the first two days to rock walls and small lakes everywhere. I’ve always loved riding through areas like this, and no matter how rough I was feeling physically, mentally I was happy as a clam. I cruised into Bracebridge excited to catch up with another friend from university and after a little kayak paddle and campfire, it was time for bed.
Day 4: 221km 1950m 7h29m – Route
It seemed that I was catching a second wind on this trip, or my body had just accepted what was happening. This day was special because after 3 days of nothing but my thoughts for company, I got my earbuds working and would have some music.
Day 5: 210km 1180m 6h39m – Route
For some reason I crave the feeling of being completely empty after a ride, so I was really looking forward to this one. The other days I had to be careful to not go so hard that I’m screwed for the next few days, but right at the end there’s nothing holding me back from completely emptying the tank. Gunnar and I rolled out on some rail trail for the first 30km before he turned back home, and I pushed on into the wind.
Another standout moment in the trip came today, on the gravel descent following the only real hill on today’s route. I tore down the descent, got real loose, and very nearly took it to the ditch. Not many feelings beat getting to the bottom of a descent with a huge grin after what feels like a near-death experience.
After riding through some of my favourite local-ish roads in Terra Nova and Belfountain, I was back in my hood, and had enough energy left for one big dig home. The last 35km basically became a full gas TT into the headwind. It’s great to return home after what feels like the longest 5 days ever, but I’m already dreaming of the next one.
Bikepacking is what you make of it. This one wasn’t spent camping in remote places or riding through complete wilderness, but getting to catch up with some friends I haven’t seen in a while and riding some new roads along the way is just what I needed.