Ride Report from Charles Horslin:
I started with Randonneurs Ontario in 2015, having only ridden an imperial century and some bicycle touring experience, I think my longest ride up to that point had been a 180 km day on tour that was probably an all-day experience. I optimistically tried to complete a full series in my first season but a pulled calf muscle ended my 600 attempt. In 2016 I managed to get a full series completed, as well getting a bit faster on my other rides. 2017 started off with a miserable spring for riding and I quickly fell behind on my training plans… work got in the way of my plans for Devil’s week, but also ended up taking me out to Lethbridge for the month of June so I missed out on doing some of the brevets I’d wanted to do in Ontario. I instead focused on riding the steep hills in the river valley around Lethbridge as I was working 7 days a week, 10 hours a day I couldn’t get out for any real distance rides. My focus during this time became about accumulating climbing metres instead of saddle time. By the time I wrapped up my job in Lethbridge a heatwave had set in over Alberta and BC and I had planned a 10 day mini-tour to ride back to Calgary before flying home. For 8 of the 9 days I spent on the road the temperature was in the mid 30° with highs sometimes over 35. Luckily the air is so dry out there that I didn’t mind the extra heat at all. By the time I made it back to Calgary I’d done around 1300 km and over 10,000 m of climbing. I did this trip on the same bike I’d planned to ride the Granite Anvil with, including the same luggage setup and gearing so I figured I could probably make it through the GA, and planned to ride a conservative “full value” ride, hoping to finish around 89 hours and getting as much food and sleep into me as possible.
I also signed up to volunteer for the GA, so I was assigned to ride the first of the pre-rides with Bob Kassel. I’d never met Bob before though I’m sure we must have been on one ride together. I was lucky to have such an experienced randonneur with me and I picked up a lot of small hints and tricks from him over the next four days. Having spent most of my brevets riding by myself I’m pretty quiet during rides and tend to just enjoy the meditative side to cycling.
The GA started at 4am and we set out to begin the very gradual climb away from Lake Ontario and up to the Niagara escarpment. The first few hours roll through bucolic countryside where the humid air was heavy with the smell of corn. Luckily the air was very still and we experienced very little wind on the first day… unfortunately I lost a bit of my adaptation to the humidity in the time I spent out west and found riding in the damp Ontario air to be harder than I remember, and when the sun started to shine during our climbs up the escarpment I found myself wishing to be back in the Crowsnest pass where sweat actually evaporates and has a cooling effect! Luckily for us, Dick Felton and Peter Grant were waiting at a few points along the way with extra water as there are a couple long stretches without services on the first day. Bob and I are on opposite spectrums when it comes to eating, I constantly graze and drink water and he will have half a bottle in the same time I’d drink two. Doesn’t help I probably have 50lbs on him!
The riding into the evening on the first day was on some really quiet back roads that I’d never been on and I enjoyed it very much however I was starting to feel drained and self-doubt was starting to chip away at my spirit and it was during this point I’d begun to think that I’d never make it to Parry Sound, let alone the end of the ride. I was lucky that the control coming up was at a pizza place and I ordered up a nice pie without cheese, charged up my Garmin, drank a bunch of water and a Pepsi and was almost back to normal. We made the last push into Parry Sound along 169 and enjoyed the smoother road surface and low traffic. I think it was around 12:45 when we got there! I am fairly quick with the showers and instantly fell asleep when I got into the bed around 1:30. I think we’d planned to leave around 5am but it was probably closer to six by the time we got out the door. I ate some toast and cereal at the motel before we left, as well as a protein bar to round out the meal.
Day 2 starts with quiet roads that pass serene lakes but relentless small hills quickly become the norm heading out of Huntsville I noticed someone had spray-painted “shut up legs” on Britannia Road at the top of a short steep hill, my Garmin 500 said it was 12% but I think it over-estimates the grade a bit because I was still going 8 km/h! The quiet roads continued until Highway 60 where we had a decent shoulder for the most part through Algonquin Park. The hills in the park get a bit bigger and after every climb there seemed to be another just as high or a tad higher. The terrain seems a bit flatter in the sparsely populated countryside along Highway 127. We stopped for supper at a random country restaurant around 7pm but still had a ways to go to Bancroft. We had dodged many thunderstorms this day but knew our luck would run out before we made Bancroft. It was just around sundown, after we’d passed through Maynooth, that the lightning became more frequent and the skies just opened up for us. It was almost like a monsoon downpour. I didn’t have fenders and it didn’t matter, we were both soaked but my heavy MEC jacket kept the wind from chilling me too much. I very much regretted leaving my thick neoprene rain booties in my drop bag but I did have some plastic bags to put over my socks so I didn’t get cold toes, at least. We rolled into Bancroft around 11:30 or thereabouts and managed to get some newspaper to stuff into our shoes. A quick shower and I think I was asleep by 12:30.
After 5 hours of solid sleep we set out around 5:45 on a cool damp morning with grey skies. Day 3 promised even more climbing in the Ontario Highlands northeast of Bancroft; it delivered on those promises, there were some lovely quiet roads to start the day off with some good climbs but many large climbs, starting with one on Highway 62, then Centreview Road and finally a doozy on Siberia… and that was just the start, many more lie ahead; Schutt Hill and a big one on Highway 28 that had 2 big vicious white dogs at the top that gave chase… they both met my pepper spray and backed off but that was the most dangerous thing on the ride. After a stop at the corner store in Palmer Rapids and a refuel the rest of the day was more downhills than up, but the terrain provided many smaller hills in the Vennachar area to keep the legs working hard until Sharbot Lake and a well-earned supper. We popped in a restaurant and I had a good veggie burger. For most of the day we’d dodged numerous thunderstorms that passed by us but as we ate supper the sky opened up for 15 minutes. Luckily we’d decided to eat that meal in the restaurant instead of doing a snack-and-go. That meal kept me going for a couple more hours, thankfully it didn’t rain on us again. The energy from supper didn’t last and by the time we turned off Highway 38 and we decided to grab 15 minutes of sleep in front of a church in a tiny town called Enterprise. This was such a good idea and that quick nap gave us enough energy to make it to Napanee at a much better pace we’d managed in the hour before. That nap time bought us a few hours of sleep at the very nice Hampton Inn.
Day 4 started off with the nicest hotel breakfast of the ride and I made the most of the vegan options and put a good feed on before we set out. I was relieved that most of the climbing was behind us and that we’d have a beautiful scenic ride along the lake. To start the day off there’s a little climb over a bridge on Highway 49 over to Prince Edward county and thankfully we didn’t take the road all the way to Picton as that’s another little bump I didn’t want to climb… however Gomorrah Road had a little surprise for us hill-wise though it was quite scenic and short so I didn’t mind. We plodded through the county and stopped for a coffee near Consecon but Bob suspects we were served decaf as it had little effect on our spirits and pace. Despite this, I was still feeling pretty good for having a 1000 km in my legs and we made a nice ramble of the rest of the ride. I had a front tire flat just before the control in Colborne, luckily just a small piece of glass that made for a slow leak. The flat at this point made me glad I carried a full size frame pump as I don’t know that I’d be able to manage a 150 strokes on a mini-pump. The control was at a Mac’s so I got a Pepsi and a Cliff protein bar, which seemed to be my magic combination to keep on trucking. We ambled along the lake and enjoyed many scenic views along the ridges. We’d planned a stop in Port Hope at a burger joint voted “best in Canada” and they had a decent portabella mushroom burger so I was happy with that. With some fuel in the tank we set off for the last 65 km of the ride and we had about 7 hours to do it so with the last bit of energy in our legs we set off and endured a bit of a slog up and out of Port Hope and continued along Lakeshore road savouring the views. There’s a defunct oil-burning power plant in Wesleyville that has a tall stack looming but otherwise farms and orchards with views of Lake Ontario made up most of the next 40 km or so. The route criss-crosses a mainline railway along this stretch and there’s one rickety old bridge that looks like it was built a hundred years ago. There’s also a couple of neat little tunnels under the railway too. The ride finishes up with a gentle climb up the ridge that is the old shore of glacial Lake Iroquois, which brings us to the finish at Durham College.
I had some doubts about finishing a 1200 but with good support from Dick and Peter and a great riding partner in Bob Kassel I made it through. Having one 1200K under my belt feels pretty good and I didn’t experience any acute injuries from riding, just a general soreness and some very minor saddle sores… I think I am done with the Brooks Cambium, it just doesn’t seem to be comfortable enough for me but it didn’t hurt me enough to ruin the ride for me either. My Dill Pickle brand handlebar and saddlebags worked really well but I think I should have got a medium sized saddlebag instead of a large for rides that use drop bags. Overall the Granite Anvil route is amazingly beautiful and really shows the diverse geography around southeastern Ontario. I would guess there is maybe 10 km of really rough roads and a few kilometres of unavoidable gravel, but thankfully the gravel was pretty smooth and not a problem on 28 mm tires.
A big thanks to all involved in planning the GA route, and especially Dick Felton and Peter Grant for the support at controls along the way, and of course to Bob Kassel for riding with me all the time on my first 1200K.