This ride took place on 09-10 August 2021
By Timothy Ormond
I love this route. I first did it in August 2014. It was then my second 600k ever and it confirmed my belief that the 600k distance is the best. Seven years later, I still think 600k is the best.
I was eager to do this route to resurrect it. It’s name comes up from time to time during planning because it has similar terrain to PBP. Ultimately it is always dismissed because of the potential for riding through the night without any possibility of getting water or food. Back in 2014, there was a 24-hour Tim Horton’s in Minden. Even if everything was closed in Haliburton, you could count on the two controls in Minden to save you. That Tim Horton’s is no longer open for 24 hours. If you miss the closing times and you haven’t arranged for accommodation, it’s possible you will ride from Buckhorn to Bobcaygeon without the chance to resupply (a distance of roughly 280 km).
I came prepared for this possibility. I brought a “pocket rocket” and ISO fuel I use for canoe camping with a small 600ml pot for boiling water. I brought noodles, oatmeal and other food. I also brought a spork (aka fpoon). I didn’t want to boil water from lakes or streams, but I was prepared to do this in an emergency. Also, for emergency, I brought my SOL bivvy (which stands for Stay Outside Longer, not the other meaning of SOL, no matter how accurately it might describe circumstances).
So I was well prepared for most problems, but I also had a ridiculously heavy bike. The other big challenge was the extreme heat. These two factors combined made me perspire furiously at the crest of every hill. Soon I decided to walk up the giants. There is a part of me that really dislikes walking my bike up hills, but I wanted to avoid heat exhaustion. Before long I accepted that walking was going to be a thing on this ride. It forced me to admire my surroundings a lot more.
Working with Erin and Dave, I suggested a few significant edits to the 2014 version. Originally it began and ended in Markham. I suggested changing the start and finish to Rouge Hill GO. It also used to have a control in Peterborough. I suggested moving the control to Lakefield and bypassing Peterborough completely. The final edit was Erin’s suggestion for the leg between Bobcaygeon and Lindsay. I didn’t manage to check this portion of the route because I DNF’d.
I had forgotten how relentless the land is between Toronto and Peterborough. Constant up and down without any flats for getting into a good gear and cadence. My heavy bike really highlighted this. Nevertheless, it is gorgeous countryside and a good challenge (just bring a lighter bike!) I was really happy to avoid Peterborough. I remember it being very busy in 2014.
Lakefield is a great control. There is a Foodland with lots of fresh fruit and a park directly across the street with lots of shade. The public library next door gives free wifi. I had a good little supper there (though I was concerned that it was already dinner time and I was only 160km into the ride!)
After Lakefield comes Curve Lake First Nation, Buckhorn, and then Flynn’s Turn. After that is the amazing 507 road. Once upon it, you know you have left the lowlands and entered the Shield. It winds endlessly, and around every bend is the type of terrain where beavers and moose thrive. It’s 40km from Flynn’s Turn to Gooderham. I don’t recall seeing a single car. Dusk was falling gently. I considered stopping to boil water for noodles at the trailhead to a skidoo track. No traffic there today!
But the mosquitos said that the price of my having a meal was that I would have to give hundreds. Supper could wait until dark. I pedaled. The mosquitos could not bite while I was riding, but there was plenty of evidence that they wanted to: dragonflies escorted me, bouncing of my shoulder, face, and sometimes getting caught in my spokes. Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, the dragonflies disappeared. The crepuscular food chain had completed its course for the evening.
By now I was at the control in Gooderham. Nothing was open. In any case, all that there is an LCBO and a Chinese restaurant. I don’t know if I arrived too late to eat there or if it’s permanently closed. Hard to tell in these COVID days. I had to make do with what I had. And if I couldn’t get to Minden early enough, I may be forced to boil water from some unknown river, pond or lake…
With the sun going down, it was now time to put on my reflective vest. It was still so hot that I decided to take off my jersey. It felt great to have the night air on my shoulders and arms and no sun. It’s funny how much attention I pay to the sun when I’m cycling, especially when it’s hot or chilly. It’s almost like randonneuring is a branch of astronomy.
Which leads me to my favourite thing about this ride. The stars, the planets and the Milky Way. There is virtually no light pollution in this area, much less than I’m accustomed to. Being a city slicker, I can go years without seeing the Milky Way. Both times I’ve done this route I saw it clearly. Thank goodness there weren’t any clouds and it was a New Moon. It reminds me of those stories about a voyage into darkness that turns out to be a journey to wholeness, you know, like Dante’s Divine Comedy. I dunno, it just seems to me that there is more to riding a bike than just spinning wheels, hammering cranks and counting kilowatts and kilometres. You’re out there, pushing yourself to your limit, under the cosmos (which is always there anyways, but you don’t get to see it because of Rayleigh scattering).
Whenever I muse like this, I get weird looks. I once suggested to another randonneur that riding the landscape around Belfountain was like being an ant crossing a pair of corduroy pants. The look on this person’s face… you’d think I said something offensive. But I digress. I will return to this report.
I arrived in Minden at midnight. I thought for sure I’d be stooping to the river to get water to boil. But, no. There is a Pioneer gas station open for 24 hours there. I suspected something would be open and I was happy that I was right. I bought more water than I could carry.
Three young men, locals with extremely red necks, were hanging out at the Pioneer as I sipped a Coke.
“Sure picked a hot one.”
“You can pick your day; you can’t pick your weather,” I replied.
I rode over to a picnic table, boiled my water, and made my noodles. Wow, noodles never tasted so good. I was glad to be getting all that salt too. I’m fairly diligent about getting sodium, potassium and magnesium into my system on a hot day’s ride. I’m not sure how much of a threat it really is, but I certainly want to avoid hyponatremia, which can happen if you only drink water without any minerals/electrolytes. About 40 minutes later, I could feel the impact of the broth and noodles. I really got my second wind.
This was on the so-called Bobcaygeon Road (which does not lead to Bobcaygeon). I really enjoy this road too. I’ve never seen it in the daylight, but at night it feels very rugged and remote. You turn off your lights and it is absolute night in the deep forest. It seems to me that it was a dirt road in 2014, but I’m not sure. It is paved now, but there are some very rough patches. It is a real roller coaster ride and totally worth the price of admission.
Despite joyriding on Bobcaygeon Road thanks to broth and noodles, I was still making very slow progress. I arrived in Haliburton at 4:30am. I was pretty sure there was no way I could finish the 600 in 40 hours. I lay down next to the public library and decided to make a choice when I awoke. I used my bivvy, not because it was cool, but because I was so damp from perspiration. It also kept the mosquitos off my body. I used my rain shell to cover my face.
When I awoke around 6:30am, I was still undecided. I had until 10pm. I didn’t mind the idea of going longer than 40 hours, but then I thought about then next day. Two whole days without proper sleep. I had to work on Wednesday and I had a major drive to Sault Ste Marie on Thursday. I decided to take the quickest route back to Lakefield, catch the bus at Trent University, and then take the train from Oshawa back home.
This was a mistake. Or at least insisting on taking the shortest route was a mistake. This meant passing through Bobcaygeon on roads we had not designated for the ride. Between Kinmount and Bobcaygeon is horrible. Between Bobcaygeon and Flynn’s Corner is even worse! I stopped for a snack and asked for some advice on using secondary roads. The locals were surprised at my question; I was even more surprised at the response! They seemed to think that bicycles had no business on the road, and, for reasons that are unclear, they blame cyclists for closing their shop for two hours. I didn’t even ask. All I could think about was how pointless it would be to tell them about the sections on bicycles in the Highway Traffic Act and the fact that the Ontario Legislature endorsed cyclists with the right to ride on roads in the late nineteenth century. I just smiled and nodded and got out the door as quickly as I could.
I rode back to Lakefield into a moderate headwind. With morale pretty low, and my new and uninspiring insight into the locals’ mentality, I felt a little fed up with the traffic. I longed for the late night hours when I had the entire road to myself. I got another picnic at the Foodland. I caught the GO bus on the Trent University campus and then the train from Oshawa back home.
I was a little disappointed that I didn’t finish, but I was just taking far too long. If I had more free time after the ride to recover, I would have just pushed through regardless of the time limit. The biggest learning lessons from this ride:
- Pack less! I used do 600k rides with only a pump and tubes and sunscreen. This time I think I was carrying the equivalent of a second bicycle.
- Cottage country traffic can be scary, especially on Sunday evening, but work traffic during the week can get pretty heavy too. Large trucks are particularly noticeable.
And what was good about this ride:
- The stars, Milky Way and Mars
- Certain roads (see above)
- The park in Lakefield
- The animals: I saw four deer, one wild turkey, countless turkey vultures, I nearly hit a porcupine and a skunk, countless goldfinches, and I helped a painted turtle safely cross the road. Oh yeah, and those dragonflies at dusk were pretty amazing too.
- spoon/fork, fpoon, spork. I will probably not ever bring my stove on a brevet/perm again, but bringing an eating utensil — yes. You can eat yogurt, soup, fruit salad etc.
I don’t know if this route will ever get formally put on the schedule. It is a little unruly and unpredictable. Sure, Minden was open 24 hours this year, but what about next year? Despite its flaws, Haliburton Highlands certainly offers a unique experience. And for the Toronto Chapter it is definitely the wildest route we have on offer.