It was a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of June. Some five hours after having left downtown Toronto I was approaching Port Hope on a traffic-free stretch of the Waterfront Trail that hugs the north shore of Lake Ontario. (The Trail starts at Niagara-on-the-Lake and follows the shore of the lake for some 780 kilometers all the way to the Quebec border.) The wind was at my back and it was a beautiful day, even with the threatening clouds. It felt great to be taking in the world from the vantage point of my Brooks B-17 saddle!
(All images enlarge in a new window with a click; all clicked blue text leads to a new page.)
If you want to see the post where I describe route planning and what I packed, click here.
I had picked up the Trail in Newcastle, just east of Bowmanville, after having left the east end of Toronto via the Kingston Road (a road which takes on many different names as it passes through Pickering, Ajax, and Oshawa). It was at this point that I finally got the wonderful feeling of being on a bike tour- and away from the never-ending urban sprawl that is the GTA (the Greater Toronto Area).
For the next week, I’d cycle my way across eastern Ontario, stopping in to visit old friends in a number of spots along the way. The map below summarizes the route- including the warm-up spin from London to Toronto a couple of weeks before.
The fact that I did the Toronto-Oshawa stretch early on a Sunday morning had definitely helped in terms of traffic but if there is a next time it will begin with a one-hour GO Train ride from Toronto to Oshawa just to get past the urban sprawl! Either that or I’d go back to using the Waterfront Trail all the way from Toronto, even if it maddeningly dipsy-doodles its way at times!
Port Hope is, as a slogan by the town’s tourism folks once proudly proclaimed, “the town that radiates charm” as well as the small-town Ontario of 100 years ago. My visit there included a guided tour of some of its key landmarks. It is famous for more than the nearby nuclear reactor. Here is a pic of the playing fields of Trinity College School, an elite private school open since the 1860’s-
We also visited Port Hope’s golf course, very nicely nestled on the shores of Lake Ontario-
A mid-afternoon shower put some sparkle on the streets as the sun reappeared.
My bike was nicely tucked away on the covered porch of Ken’s century-old house-
As we left Jim’s Pizzeria House on Walton Street, I took my first of many shots of the waterfalls and rapids I would pass along the way. This first set was a rather humble affair- the Ganaraska River just before it finally enters Lake Ontario.
A good night’s rest at the Comfort Inn at the north end of town and it was time to head northeast to Peterborough and then on Burleigh Falls, the destination of Day Two’s ride.
Days Two and Three proved to be a bit of a challenge; headwinds of 15-20 km from the NE meant that I had to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to be zipping along. Parts of the undivided single lane each way highway also lacked even a foot of paved shoulder so it got kind of interesting at times, especially when traffic coming at me was met by truck traffic coming up from behind!
Fortunately, the traffic was overall fairly light and the surroundings made up for any of the stresses that arose. Sometimes there was even a generous paved shoulder!
As I approached downtown Peterborough along Lansdowne Street I was presented with an incredible bonus- the Canadian Canoe Museum, the veritable mecca of canoe fanatics was right there, just off Lansdowne! (I will admit to being even happier on a canoe seat than a bicycle seat!) I ended up making an impromptu 90-minute stop to check it out. It definitely put me in a totally different space for a while- a great tangent.
George Street and Water Street took me through Peterborough and I cycled on to Lakefield for a Day Two late lunch- a Greek salad at the Lakeland Restaurant. Somewhere along the way, I cycled by one of the locks of the Trent-Severn Canal that passes through the area-
My day ended at Burleigh Falls. I had booked a cottage at Marrick Landing Resort- the $100.+ tax would have been a better deal had I not been travelling solo. Burleigh Falls is right on the southern edge of the Canadian Shield in this part of Ontario so I was looking forward to my first real set of rapids. I was not disappointed-
And then it was time to head to the cottage on the other side of the bridge. The owners had gone to town but left the cottage open for me. It was very clean and inviting-
It was a Monday night in early June so, as you might have guessed, it was not very busy; in fact, I was the only guest that night. (July and August are the two big months for cottaging in Ontario.)
Day Three gave me another opportunity to perfect my technique of cycling into a wind coming from the NE but the distance- about 75 km.- meant that a half-day on the road and I’d be in Bancroft knocking on the patio door of Ed’s place. The road was less busy than it had been on Day Two; it was also a bit hillier. Stretches of the road had been recently repaved with more generous paved shoulders.
You always know you are getting close to your destination when you see the service club display ahead of you on the side of the road- here is the one for Bancroft!
I had visited Bancroft once in 2005 but it was in the middle of winter and we had come up to climb the ice walls of the Eagle’s Nest. Looking at it now, all overgrown with bush, it was difficult to imagine me going up the wall with ice axes!
I also jumped at the chance to visit spectacular High Falls on the York River a few kilometres north of town. I don’t know what it is about rapids and waterfalls; maybe the amount of oxygen in the air is higher close to rollin’ and tumblin’ water and as you breathe it all in you just feel more alive.
Day Four cycling started a bit late; after our visit to High Falls in the morning we had lunch at the Market Cafe so I didn’t leave Bancroft until one. My experience with the winds the two previous days had made me reluctant to tackle Bancroft to Renfrew (135 km) in one long day so I decided to cycle as far as Denbigh on Day Four; that would leave a much more manageable 70 km or so for Day Five.
All I had to do is find a bed for the night! A visit to the Bancroft Tourist office turned up a b&b on Highway 41 just east of Denbigh so I all was set. The clouds looked a bit worrisome as I left but I figured that four hours and I’d be there, even if a bit wet. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be sitting here-
The rain lasted over an hour and was accompanied by lightning and thunder. As you saw in the video above, I had lucked my way into a perfect shelter from the storm and waited it out. A last look back at my good fortune and then it was back on the road.
I didn’t have to wait too long to “pay forward”, as the expression goes. As I was cycling over a bridge I came upon this scene in the picture below. I knew I had to stop and give the fellow a helping hand or he’d probably be run over by a vehicle in the next few minutes. In retrospect, I should have picked him up and carried him to the end of the bridge and brought him down to the river; I hope that my picking him up and dropping him down to the water didn’t shock him so much that he ended up drowning! Here he is-
This is where I’m hoping he is telling his pals about his crazy adventure on the bridge- I dropped him into the water near the bottom left-hand side of the image.
And then it was time for some serious pedalling to make up for all the drama of the day. This afternoon’s ride was the hilliest yet- but the traffic was very thin.
And then some bad news! It looked like I would be spending two or three hours to cover the next twenty km. I had cycled my way into a complete road reconstruction!
As I cycled past a few of the work crew I asked how far the repaving job went on. “Almost all the way to Denbigh” was what I got as a reply. According to my odometer, that meant about twenty kilometres of pushing my bike over the soft rain-soaked sand or riding slowly where I could.
And then- another surprise! Well- or even better- a reward for having negotiated ten kilometres of sand! Ten kilometres of freshly-paved highway with just me on it- all the way to Denbigh. It turned out that the workers had exaggerated the extent of the repaving zone; I have never ridden so much great pavement for so long. I went from this –
to the scene in the picture below from one minute to the next.
I kind of felt like an Adam who has just stumbled into the Garden of Eden from the desert; the grinding and uphill pushing and trudging of the past hour were long gone and here I was having a Zen-like WOW moment- after moment – as I whizzed towards Denbigh. Along the way, I passed a number of farm properties, including one with a few horses in the field-
After all that, I got to the b&b- Piper’s Rest– a few kilometres east of Denbigh by 6:30. It proved to be a very comfortable place to spend the night with hosts Mark and Susan making me feel right at home. As a bonus, the wifi allowed me to skype with my wife back home in Toronto with my iPod Touch.
The journey continued the next morning; at 8:15 on Day Five I was back in the saddle and on the way to Renfrew. It was about 75 kilometres and I would get to the Comfort Inn on the eastern edge of town by 1:00. As was the case the day before, there was little traffic to deal with on this stretch of road- just lots of beautiful vistas to take in.
And finally- up ahead- the Service Clubs’ sign and I knew that I was indeed in Renfrew.
After checking into the motel and resting a while, I spent an hour walking back into town- along a truly dreary stretch of road filled with recently-arrived box stores taking up acres of land. As I walked along Raglan Street., Renfrew’s main shopping street, I was struck by how dead it was shortly after 5:30 p.m. This store sign cleared up the mystery-
I was on my way to see the waterfalls and the McDougall Mill on the north bank of the Bonnechere River. I also got to cross the “Swinging Bridge” as I tried to find the right angle to get a good shot of it all. Eventually, I was standing on some rocks in the middle of the river- here it was only early June and not much water coming down.
A return to Raglan Street and a bite to eat at the Chinese restaurant- and then a cab ride back to the motel and that was Renfrew, Ontario. I found out that Ted Lindsay, one of my favourite hockey players in my youth, was born here. (To be expected since he played for my fave team, the Detroit Red Wings!)
Day Six was a long day- south of Renfrew I cycled on Country Road 6 (Lochwinnock Road) until I hit Country Road 1 and followed it south into Arnprior. I finally checked in at the Econolodge on Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa at 4:30, having cycled about 115 kilometres, most of it on empty secondary country roads and, for the last twenty kilometres into Ottawa, an incredibly well- maintained and signed bike path.
Given the waterfall theme of this bike trip, I did stop in Arnprior to get a shot of the seriously-tamed waterfalls there. Little evidence remained of the natural state of the river as the following pic makes clear-
South of Arnprior I cycled east on the Galetta side road until I came to Carp Road, which I followed SE all the way to Richardson Sideroad (although I should have turned left on March Road- the stretch of Carp Road to Richardson Rd on a Friday afternoon was the worst 30 minutes of my trip in terms of traffic).
After a night on Rideau Street at the Econo Lodge, I headed back along the bike trail to Cyril’s in Kanata. I would spend a night with Cyril and his wife reminiscing about past canoe trips and bike trips he and I had done in the 1990s. Cyril had also dusted off his bike so that he could escort me through Kanata the next morning to the Trans-Canada Trail. We said good-bye on Terry Fox Boulevard at about 9:00 a.m. and then I turned onto the gravel Trail which took me all the way west to Ashton Station Road. Then it was south into a bit of a breeze towards Merrickville for lunch.
My arrival coincided with that of riders doing the annual Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour which goes from Ottawa to Kingston on Saturday and returns on Sunday. Well, it was Sunday and here they were, enjoying the south wind blowin’ them back to Ottawa!
I pushed on to Brockville to end my 102 kilometer ride for the day- and to end my 600+ kilometer ramble through eastern Ontario. The following map shows the route through some pretty scenery- and surprisingly empty of settlement.
After a night spent in Brockville, I caught the train heading for Toronto the next morning at 9:30 and by noon I was on Front Street. While it did cost $20. to have my bicycle taken on board it is nice that on some trains VIA no longer requires the bike to be taken apart and put into a bicycle box; there are now bike racks in the baggage car. It means that when you get to your destination you don’t have to put everything back together again.
So ended my leisurely ride through southern Ontario- starting with my warm-up run from London to Toronto a couple of weeks before I headed east to Port Hope, Peterborough, and on to Renfrew and down to Ottawa and Brockville. I had never quite seen this part of the province the way I did over the eight days it took to cover the distance- so it was a real positive eye-opener. I learned yet again that you don’t have to go very far from home to see something new! There’s a whole world out there on the roads of backcountry Ontario that makes for excellent cycling adventures.
The following post has more about the route I took, the stuff I took, the bike I took..etc.