Category Archives: Tours

2015 Ontario Parks, Tours

2015 Ontario Parks Tour: Day Five

Houston, we have a problem

Silent Lake to Ferris Provincial Park – 106km
(8:10pm, Sept 23)

Today’s ride was pretty smooth compared to yesterday – the scenery was lovely, the terrain was flatter and we made good time despite our tired legs. Unfortunately, the one mishap we had was a big one and may – time will tell – end the whole trip.

I slept better last night than any other night on this trip – I pretty much put down my pen from writing yesterday’s diary entry, reached for my e-reader and just passed out. We both overslept by about 45 mins from when we usually wake up (6:30am) – likely a sign of how exhausted we were from yesterday. Rather than have breakfast at the site we agreed to grab something an hour or so into the ride, so after waking up at about 7:15 we were packed and on the road by 8:2. Not too shabby.

It was just four degrees again this morning but for some reason it felt way warmer – for the first time in a few days I headed out wearing shorts instead of long pants.

We stopped for breakfast at a little town called Apsley about 20km from our site. We made it there in about an hour despite very tired legs, which surprised us. Breakfast was a sausage roll, breakfast sandwich and coffee – a breakfast of champions! – which we got from the general store.

From there we headed out into the usual rolling hills, although today they seemed less frequent than usual (after we reached the end of the day’s ride I checked our elevation graph and realized the day was almost flat overall – in fact we actually lost about 200m in altitude throughout the day).

Another hour in, we stopped for a break opposite a derelict community centre called “Twin Lakes.” It was right in the heart of cottage country and the scenery was stunning – we sat by the side of a lake and saw dozens of lovely cottages that reminded me again why people do “the cottage thing.” There was an entertaining sign at the break spot (a ‘community park’) – it looked like someone had tried to match two safety warning signs together but failed, and it was quite unintelligible.

Shortly after we re-started – after stretching and some snacks – I noticed that something on my bike was rubbing. A little investigation revealed that a spoke on my back wheel had snapped – likely thanks to yesterday’s escapades – which prompted Father to unleash just his second F-bomb of the trip. We did a little roadside maintenance – taped the loose spoke to another one and tweaked a couple of others with a spoke wrench to offset the buckling – and continued on. From that moment on I felt like I was riding on eggshells, avoiding every possible bump and flinching when I couldn’t avoid them.

Happily we made it to lunch another hour along, at a town called Havelock (I think it was called Courtyard – the restaurant, that is). We both had chicken caesar salads – I think we were craving veggies after several days of carbs, protein and junk food.

From there it was pretty much a straightforward blast to the finish. I dropped the hammer without really realizing and next thing I knew I couldn’t see Father any more. Along this stretch we both saw a coyote, and I saw a heron sitting on a tree stump in the middle of a lake. Father also let me know he saw a garter snake by the side of the road.

We pulled into our campsite near a town called Campbellford, at around 3:30pm. After looking around for someone to buy wood from, we realized the park is only manned Fri-Sun now – same as Silent Lake by the looks of it, although the latter had a park office for a few hours per day. Regardless, we found we could call a number to have wood delivered, which we promptly did and he arrived swiftly. I also called Caralin and gave her a heads-up that if all doesn’t go well with the bike then we may need a taxi service tomorrow. Fingers very much crossed that that doesn’t happen.

We rode back into town for dinner – another 5km round trip (Father’s version of “it’s just a 1km walk”) – and ate at a place called Riverview, with… wait for it… a view of the Trent River. It had free WiFi so I lost Father to his phone for the duration of the meal. I joked that there was a table of teenagers next to us who were all happily chatting with each other, while we sat in silence. Typical. Dinner was nice, though – some kind of fried potato and ham “roasties” followed by spaghetti, meatballs and a pint or two.

We’re now sitting by a ‘was roaring, now happily burning’ fire – Father with his sudokhu puzzles; me writing this; both of us with two cans of beer in front of us.

Tomorrow is another short (ha!) day – about 80km to Emily Provincial Park before a long last push back home for the last day.

Hopefully the bike is up to it.

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2015 Ontario Parks, Tours

2015 Ontario Parks Tour: Day Four

Mount Son-of-a-B!&ch

Mew Lake to Silent Lake – 152km
(9pm-ish, Sept 22)

What a day! Not only was it about 20km further than we planned, but it was also every bit as hard as we thought it would be.

We started early – we planned to grab breakfast at the cafe near the campsite so that sped things up – and we were on the road by 7:45. Just four degrees again; hopefully tonight is warmer. After grabbing a tasty breakfast wrap at the cafe, we headed on. At first we intended to take a bike trail for a bit, but we couldn’t find it so we just hit the highway.

Thick mist this morning made visibility tough, but it lifted after 30 mins or so. Not too long afterwards, 16 – count ’em – OPP cars came screaming by as though the end of the world was nigh or something. No idea why (Note: we later discovered that it was due to a manhunt for a murderer). Lots of construction on the road today – not really inconveniencing, but a little nerve-wracking when the OPP cars were still coming by.

Anyway, we reached Whitney without incident, and grabbed a hot chocolate ahead of the off-road part of the day. We were about 37km in at this point, and had cleared the park (temporarily); we’d made good time and were feeling good.

HAY CREEK ROAD. That name will stick in my head. We turned onto it right by the cafe in Whitney, and it seemed nice… for about 35 seconds. That was when the asphalt ended and the dirt road began.

To call Hay Creek Road a “road” is to do a disservice to all other roads. This was mostly a track, at best. Sometimes a dirt track; sometimes a mud track; sometimes a rocky track. ALWAYS a hilly track. We were on it for 50km, which took us about four hours. It was brutal.

The road started out as mostly dirt, which logging trucks (we met a few on the way) had – in places – compacted with their wheels. We tried to stick to those ruts as much as we could, but sometimes they faded (go figure) or other things (rocks, potholes) interfered. Whenever that happened, our wheels would immediately be seized by deep dirt/sand whose only objective seemed to be to throw you off our bikes. Every so often the surface would get rockier which, while bone-jarring, was a little more predictable.

Eventually we branched off from the logging road and for several hours didn’t see a soul. Good thing neither of us got a puncture/had an accident/met another bear, as we’d have been hours from any sort of help (ok, a puncture would have been fine… but a buckled wheel would have been both disastrous and quite likely).

Eventually we came to a gate marking the entrance back into Algonquin, and from there eventually got to another as we left the park for the last time (there was about an hour of cycling between them).

Finally, after what felt like an eternity we came out to a real road. We were both tired and hungry so called in at a year-round campsite called Pine Lake, where our lunch consisted of a can of cola, a pack of Skittles and a freezie. Nice location; I grabbed a business card and may look to revisit some time.

From there the trip was fairly uneventful, although Father was “knackered” so instead of taking a slightly longer route via a store and the restaurant where we planned to have dinner we headed straight to Silent Lake (about 45-50km on from where we got off Hay Creek Road). There was, of course, a big climb to the campsite (as always) but we made it.

It was only once we put our tents up that we realized that skipping the restaurant on the way meant a 15km round trip for dinner, which we didn’t relish but managed. We planned to go to Mirrors Cafe in Bancroft, but it turned out to have been purchased by new owners and is now called the Lakehouse. Right on the edge of a lake, and it was lovely. Good service, food was tasty and after three dry days we could finally have a beer. We saw two deer near our campsite while on the way there too, which was nice.

After enjoying our dinner as the sun went down we had a nighttime ride back to the campsite which was blissfully uneventful. We both grabbed a shower at the comfort station… and now here we are.

97km to Ferris tomorrow. Feels like a short day which is crazy. We should be done by mid-afternoon though. Lord knows we could do with an easy day.

Today was fun in hindsight. Really tough at the time but looking back it was satisfying and enjoyable. Weird.

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2015 Ontario Parks, Tours

2015 Ontario Parks Tour: Day Three

Father vs The Bear

Arrowhead to Mew Lake – 92km
(5:20pm, Sept 21)

As expected, today was another hilly day. Beautiful scenery, though.

The hills started right from the beginning of the day, with a long climb out of Arrowhead and another as soon as we were back on Muskoka Road. Father had plotted the first 18km or so on back roads to keep it interesting. Unfortunately it turned out that, while the highway at least smoothed out the climbs, these back roads not only did not do that but also seemingly searched out the most ridiculous hills around. To cap it off, we finally re-joined the highway, right by the sign at the edge of Huntsville. Sigh.

From there on we had a very straighforward ride – 74km along the same road (more or less) to Mew Lake. We stopped at the Moose Cafe not too far along for a break and a proper breakfast. The staff there were really friendly; must go back there some time.

We had a bit of drama a few kms from the campsite, as a bear walked out of the woods as we rode by. I saw it first as I was out ahead, so pulled over a bit further along to warn Father. He was a few seconds coming, so I grabbed my phone and snapped a couple of pics of the two of them. We were just imagining what would have happened if he was 10-20 seconds further back, as the bear was pretty much on the road when he got there!

After that Father got a new burst of speed (adrenaline will do that…) and we hit the last few climbs with no issues.

Oh, we also stopped at the Portage Store for coffee about 15km from the end. Lovely views from there, as always.

We’re at Site 94 at Mew Lake. The fire pit is a bit of a mess, but otherwise it’s lovely. Right on the lake and flat. There’s a loud group two sites down from us; we’ll see how loud they are later. #grumble

After we got set up here we headed over to the nearby cafe (about 1km away) for a coffee. We both ordered an ice cream – we figured we deserved it – which turned out to be HUGE… Father’s face when he saw his was quite entertaining. He used the word “ridiculous” about five times, and “insane” once. I’ve never seen someone so grumpy about getting a big portion… he wore a good amount of it in his beard, too 🙂 – sadly I didn’t get any pics of that.

On the way back we stopped to pick up firewood. Father offered to carry the big bag and left me with the kindling, which made for some comedy as his bag bounced around on the back of his bike on the bumpy road. We made it ok though – only fell off twice (the wood, that is – not Father).

Tomorrow is likely to be the toughest day – 133km and about 50km of it on a gravel road. We’re both tired and my knee is still getting worse. We’ll see how it goes. Stretches helped yesterday evening so will repeat tonight.

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2015 Ontario Parks, Tours

2015 Ontario Parks Tour: Day Two

Hills, bloody hills

Bass Lake to Arrowhead – 129km
(Sept 20, 8:15pm)

What a day. All of the upsides you could hope for in a ride through Muskoka – lovely scenery, great weather and (generally) quiet roads. Oh, and hills. All of them.

After a long day yesterday we left Bass Lake at around 8:10am and headed back into – and then out the other side of – Orillia. Along the way we managed to hit just about every red light possible – frustrating but what can you do?

Before too long we turned off the main road (Hwy 12) and onto back roads as we headed towards Muskoka. Shortly thereafter the scenery began to change and we started to see lovely houses on quiet lakes that reminded me why people live up here.

Father smartly pulled his camera out for some pics before too long; he nearly paid the price for trying to be a bit too artsy not too long thereafter – I heard a commotion behind me, turned around and saw Father struggling desperately to avoid falling off the road an into a ditch. He’d apparently been trying to snap a photo of me, lost control and rode onto the shoulder at the side of the road, which was covered in deep gravel and just made things worse. Happily he got the bike back under control and we continued along our way.

We said hi to a couple of locals who were out for a mountain bike ride; they seemed impressed when we told them how far we were going that day.

A short while later it started getting hilly. Really hilly. And it never stopped for the rest of time the day’s ride. We stopped around 10:30 or so at a general store (Summertime’s, I think), where Father got his mandatory coffee (as did I) and a bacon/egg sandwich. One of the great things about riding these distances is the lack of guilt for eating this kind of food.

After a short break we headed on, with the rolling hills continuing on for the next couple of hours until we reached Bracebridge. We stopped for lunch at a place named Bill’s Pizza, where we ironically both ordered pasta which was delicious.

The rest of the ride somewhat blurs together in my mind. The hills were a constant but the beautiful scenery made up for it. One spot – I think it was called Muskoka Lakes or something like that (that sounds like the name of an area, not a place…) – stood out, both for the lovely view across a lake and for the long, steep hill away from it. I snapped a pic of Father as he got to the top.

For some reason our route zig-zagged back and forth across the busy Highway 11. Happily our crossings were uneventful, but I didn’t relish doing them.

Eventually we came into Huntsville, where I picked up a cold compress for my IT band which is getting sorer and sorer. Also grabbed a support for my knee; don’t know if it will help but worth a try.

Eventually we left Huntsville for the final push to Arrowhead. Another big hill after we crossed Highway 60, before we descended to Arrowhead Road and made our way to the entrance to the park.

We thought we’d made it to the end, but then found ourselves with 1.5km to go to the office – all of which was up the biggest hill of the tour so far! It was a monster, especially on tired legs and with a fully-loaded bike.

Once we arrived at the park office we were confronted with a somewhat under-trained and very sloooow clerk who couldn’t figure out how to give us a $9 refund that he’d offered us for Father’s senior citizen discount. Eventually he called a park warden who figured it out. In the meantime, having decided there was no way we were going to climb that hill again, we looked around for food. Not a great selection – the park store was closed for the season and the office only had a few things – but we grabbed a couple of cans of ravioli, two snickers bars, some peanuts, pepperoni sticks, ginger ale and a bag of chips. Dinner of champions!

Now we’re sitting by a campfire at our site. It’s warm here, but step away from the fire and… not so much. It was 9 degrees when I woke up this morning and I expect it’ll get colder tonight. It was pretty cold and hard to get out of bed today; think I’ll stuff tomorrow’s clothes in the sleeping bag to keep them warm overnight.

Shower at the comfort station here at Arrowhead was LOVELY. After two days I was pretty ripe.

Algonquin tomorrow. Yay!

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2015 Ontario Parks, Tours

2015 Ontario Parks Tour: Day One

Off We Go…

Toronto to Bass Lake – 140km
(Sept 19, 8pm)

We had a generally nice start to our tour today.

We left home and had a largely uneventful first section out of Toronto. The only notable challenge was on a section of trail (the Newtonbrook Creek Parkway) that I hadn’t ridden before, right before Finch & Bayview.

After a REALLY steep climb up out of a ravine, we promptly descended back into it (to Father’s disgust), only to encounter Mount Son-of-a-bitch shortly thereafter. Both of us took one look at it and got off to walk up, but it was so steep that even walking was a challenge. It wasn’t all that bad, I guess – we were both winded but we also saw two deer in the area so there was a silver lining to the early quirk.

The rest of the morning was uneventful. We rode pretty hard until around 1pm, then stopped in a little town called Stroud (near Innisfil) for lunch, at a place called Flapjacks. As we were eating the skies opened – rain pouring down and being blown almost horizontally. We waited until we thought the worst had passed and then headed out. Sadly we were wrong – the previous rain was, apparently, just a warm-up. I remember Father pointing at a large flock of birds that all took off from an electricity wire at once, and said “it’s about to rain.”

Sure enough, we were soon caught in a Noah’s Ark-level downpour that continued for about an hour and soaked us both to the bone. The rain was heavy enough that we were riding through what felt like mini-rivers, and I was having to blink a couple of times per second just to be able to see.

Happily, the rain cleared as we hit the lakeshore in Barrie and we only had light showers (really just a few raindrops) after that.

The rest of the ride went smoothly. We had a looong stretch of 20km on a gravel trail – the Oro Medonte Trail, I think – that looked like a disused railway; it felt like it would never end. Funnily enough, when we did finally turn off we did so at Carthew Siding – I grew up just a mile or so from a place named Carthew in England!

From there it was only about 10km to the campsite. We hit a few ridiculous hills near the end – ridiculous for gradient and length, but also because for three (I think) consecutive hills we hit the top and immediately dropped back down! Sigh.

We set up camp at Bass Lake with no issues, although there was one last steep climb up to the Hillside Campsite itself. Dinner was at Montana’s in Orillia – about 4km of unwelcome rolling hills away.

Father is exhausted – this was 50% (ok, 40%) longer than his previous longest ride of the year. I have a feeling he’ll be asleep before too long. I’m fine – I actually found the day quite easy – although my left knee is getting quite sore (I think it’s the IT band, which has played up in the past). I’ll stretch that out before bed. (note: in hindsight I didn’t, and it cost me the next day)

It rained again right after we got back to the campsite – we cut that one fine. Managed to rig up clotheslines inside my tent to dry out my gear, which in some cases (socks) is still soaked and in others (jacket) is damp. Shoes will be wet for days, I think. I used the elastics that I’ve used to fix my tent to the bike as the clotheslines.

Our neighbours are playing music but don’t think that’ll matter – we’ll both sleep well tonight.

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2015 Ontario Parks, Tours

Our 2015 Ontario Parks Tour

On September 19 my Father and I headed out on a seven-day tour of southern Ontario.

Each night we camped at a different Ontario provincial park – Bass Lake, Arrowhead, Mew Lake, Silent Lake, Ferris and Emily. After we stopped each night, I wrote down my thoughts on each day in a diary. I’ve never been much of a diary keeper – I’ve always found it feels weird to write to yourself – but for some reason this time it felt easy.

As the tour progressed I started to wonder about posting the diary entries publicly – this was the genesis of this site. As I publish each post I’ll update the list here:

This was the first tour I’ve done like this. Having completed it I can say with certainty that it won’t be the last. I’m already thinking about what can come next; with the winter soon approaching I expect the next one will have to wait until next year so I’ll have plenty of time to plan for it.