A Short Bike Tour

The pandemic has definitely changed everyone’s vacation habits. Many have given up, while others have found different ways to get that lift that being somewhere new gives. As many of you already know, 2020 was one of my best years for travel. No joke. But one thing I had not done since my 2019 bicycle tour in India, is ride for more than one day. This summer I fixed that. There were some extra considerations, though.

The biggest consideration for me was, of course, getting sick. On a bike tour I usually ride 80-100 kilometres a day. This takes a bit of energy and fitness, of course, but it also goes without saying that it requires health. Pre-pandemic there was, of course, the possibility of sickness on the road but it would most likely be either a cold or food poisoning. This is something I could weather easily in a hotel for a couple of days. But what if I were three days ride from home or easy transport and got COVID. Inter-city (VIA) rail travel is no longer possible with a bike, Greyhound buses have stopped running buses in Ontario since 2018. So if I were to plan a trip, for example, to Montreal and got sick half way there I’d have to just stay in the hotel, accruing charges, not just until I felt better but until I were healthy enough to ride 6-8 hours straight – possibly for several days in a row..

So whatever I did it would need to have a quick exit strategy built in. And so it was that I built a quick two day ride that kept me close enough to public transportation that if I couldn’t ride home, I’d still be able to make my way home by bus and train.

With the help of a map of the region and a bus schedule I was able to find my way to Uxbridge. This was my second time in Uxbridge, the first time when I made an adventure of getting on a commute bus without looking at where it was going, riding it to the end of the line without watching where we were going and finding my way home.

This time, though, my plan was to head east, following the Trans-Canada trail to Peterborough. Once there I had no special plans other than to eat in a restaurant, stay in a hotel and enjoy a nice bike ride before heading home. While there are no direct commuter buses home from Peterborough if I were unlucky enough to get sick while there, there were close enough to catch a cab ride or if I weren’t feeling too terrible to ride an hour to get there. But fortunately on this trip this would not be necessary.

Uxbridge is a typical, small Ontario town, picturesque and peaceful

About ten minutes from where the bus dropped me off, I arrived at the TransCanada Trail. This trail stretches across Canada and up to the Yukon Territory. While some stretches are unfinshed, and others merge with roads or are more suitable for hiking than cycling with a touring bike, today’s stretch was a rail trail which for me is a heavenly way to travel. They’re usually smooth and well cared for, often bridges are available to go over roads but there’s also one less obvious plus point: trains are not great going up and down steep hills. So when riding a rail trail you can count on very gentle grades. There will be no grinding up steep slopes or bombing down the other side. The trail quality was reasonably good also: not paved but stone dust – very firm and not slippery and not too much drag.

Just a few minutes away I was reminded of my Library project. with a Trans-Canada Themed Little Free Library (and behind it, a “stick library” for dogs traveling along the trail)

The ride took me through some lovely terrain and as expected there were no hills to speak of. And barely any road crossings with many of the ones I did have, across nearly abandoned dirt roads.

What it’s like to ride along the trail – a little slow as I’m filming and steering one-handed!

I timed things pretty well for lunch, arriving in Lindsay Ontario, about the halfway point of my trip at lunchtime and there was even a place to get food. Mind you, it was only a Dairy Queen for a burger, fries and coke but on a 100+ kilometre ride I look at a meal like this a little differently. Fries are fuel, as is the cold drink (and it hydrates too!). The burger provides a little protein to keep me filled up. I’ll still need to eat lots of snacks along the way to keep me fueled.

Restrictions had recently loosened with no more mask or vaccine mandates in public places so there might’ve been a little more risk. On the other hand, there weren’t a whole lot of people in the restaurant though the one guy coughing was a little concerning. I ate and headed back out to the trail.

The latter part of the ride was a little more challenging as this turned out to be the longest ride of the year. Still, there was a lovely reward of some incredible views at Doube’s Trestle Bridge, built to provide a rail connection between Lindsay and Peterborough in 1881. Trains no longer run on this line but bikes and pedestrians make good use of it.

The ride from the bridge was a bit anticlimactic. It was delightful but after the bridge, things paled a little in comparison. I arrived in Peterborough in early evening a bit tired. 2022 was not as big a cycling summer as previous ones and I hadn’t done many long rides. But I still felt good. The hotel was a pretty nice find also. And as Daegan and I know well, the best thing about arriving at the hotel is the hot shower after a long dusty ride.

After a shower, I changed into normal clothes except for my cycling shoes – my touring shoes are really comfortable to walk in even with SPD cleats. At dinner, as is our family tradition for bike rides, I had a big order of fish and chips. Fuel for tomorrow:

Extra fries, scallops and of course more cola for hydration of course

Back at the hotel, I charged all of my devices and wished I had brought a light laptop as I’ve usually done so I could spend time in the evening with Sage. Chatting via phone is definitely not the same. Next time for sure. Just as I was getting ready for bed, though, a bar on the lake started playing live music which upset the dog in the neighbouring room who began to bark. Thankfully they were happy to move me to the other side. There was not a water view anymore, however there was a gorgeous sunset.

The next morning after a big breakfast I was ready to go.

Today’s route would be different. Instead of taking the rail trail back to Stouffville, I decided to head southwest to Whitby where I could pick up a commuter train to Toronto and ride home from there. In my mind, I figured that because I was quite some distance from Lake Ontario which should be the lowest elevation in the area I’d have a mostly downhill route. I’ve had better theories…

Instead of being mostly downhill, what I found were a number of rolling hills that, oddly enough seemed to be heading upward and not downward. That is, until just before Millbrook. There, on the way into town was a big downhill. I entered the town at over 50 km/hr. This may or may not have been in excess of the posted speed limit.

With no clear sign of any decent sized towns between Millbrook and Whitby and another 60 kilometres to go, I stopped at the local grocery store – possibly my last chance to resupply. There I picked up Gatorade, a bag of cinnamon raisin bagels (a passable substitute for an energy bar), several small snacks, and a package of hummus and pita for lunch.

As I left the town the fun really began as the road turned upwards for almost 20 kilometres of climbing with only a few breaks.

At the top of the 20 kilometre hill a brief jog took me onto the worst stretch of road on the trip. There was barely any shoulder to be found except gravel on the side that wasn’t really rideable. But guess what? I’m going to be walking there because there were massive dump trucks with trailers flying by filling my face with gravel. Fortunately that stretch was short and it took me onto a quieter dirt road.

The hills were still there but not as steep though a little gravelly so it was slower. When I stopped at a quiet spot on the side of the road to consult my route and have a snack, I was soon joined by an Ontario Provincial Police officer in his car coming from the direction I was going to. After some awkward small talk about all the damage the recent storm had done, he got to the point of why he was stopping. “A little ways ahead there’s a guy in a grey Hyundai. He’s pretty upset and agitated. I think he’s living in his car. We asked him to leave but if he’s still there, give him lots of space and don’t engage him.”

Well, that’s comforting. I was on edge for the next hour or so feeling like I was just at the start of a horror film. But fortunately, from the looks he did actually leave and all was well.

Once I’d gone far enough away that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t run into him I decided it was long overdue for me to stop and have some lunch. I was still far enough from any town that there were no parks or picnic areas to be found. Much of the land was posted as “No Trespassing” and sometimes even had fences around it. But finally, I found a small patch of dirt next to a field where I could pull in and sit on the dirt. I had a great view all the way down to the lake. Not only that, while it was still 30-40 kilometres away, it was absolutely downhill.

The remainder of the trip was still an exercise in persistence and a reminder that for me, the first thing I need to work on in endurance training is the mental aspect. I had to override my inclination to stop and rest many times knowing full well that 10 two-minute stops loses at least 20 minutes and likely more when you factor in momentum. The downhill stretches were definitely a reward in and of themselves and pushed me all the way up over 65 km/hr at times.

The outskirts of Oshawa were not bad for cycling but once I got into the city proper it turned into my worst nightmare for suburban cycling. Six lanes of fast moving impatient traffic and no bike lanes. Ride in the road and you get passed closely enough to hip check their side view mirror if you’re so inclined. So this, friends, is why many cyclists, including myself, will take the sidewalk in places like this. Fortunately it’s so unpleasant to walk on streets like this that often there are few to no pedestrians. So I go slow (slower when humans are close by) and be incredibly careful at driveways and intersections. Fortunately this stretch was only about 3-4 kilometres and then it was back into better infrastructure and I could get back on the bike path and speed up, taking me finally to the Oshawa GO station. A quick ride to Danforth GO station in Toronto and a nice ride through the city and I was home.

In the end while I loved being out on my bike, I do have to say that it did feel like a bit of an excessive expense for a moderately entertaining rail trail ride and a challenging ride home. It doesn’t hold a candle to a proper bike tour with interesting destinations and more importantly a reason to be going to those destinations.

So as long as the pandemic continues I’m likely to stay close to home and most likely not take on any overnight trips unless a good reason or destination comes to mind. And of course longer rides between cities will not really be possible as I mentioned above until the risk of getting sick on the road is lower or the means of getting back home without cycling a bit easier.

On the other hand, I’m actually looking at this with a bit of excitement. After all, if you look at the map of our region in the picture below, you can see where I’ve been on my bike in blue. (This ride is that big loop on the right). All of the area that is not blue? I’ve never been there on my bike. Even if you look at Toronto, where this app tells me there are 6653 KM of road, I’ve only been on 1049.2 of that. I’ve seen less than 16% of the city from my bike. There’s a lot left to see. And now, with the recent GoPro purchase I’ll be sure to take you all along with for some of it.

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