Parry Sound 400 … or … a longer ride than Kathy’s

From Dave Thompson:

Having just read Kathy’s ride report on the Oak Ridges Morraine, I’m spurred on to write mine.

Five brave souls headed out on the inaugural Parry Sound 400k on Saturday.  A new route, largely un-scouted, what would we encounter !?!  An ugly weather forecast faced us as well – warm and dry to start with a tail-wind, lots of rain, dropping temperatures and a head-wind for the trip back.  Remembering what the first day of the Rocky Mountain 1200k was like a couple of years ago, I warned everyone what to expect and told them what I’d be wearing.  They listened.  We were all heavily loaded down to start … we were wearing it all at the end.  Heavy jackets and rain pants were ready to shut out the elements.

Albert Koke, Henk Bouhuyzen, David Pearce, Martin Cooper and I were the brave souls.  We all finished although I’m sure that Albert was using a substitute bike with a motor for part of the ride as he finished about six hours ahead of the rest of us, who rolled in at 5:17 a.m., just beating the dawn and just shy of 24 hours.

The Route

First off, the route is fabulous.  I’d originally called it “cottage 400k” because that’s what it is, a sight-seeing tour through cottage country.  We saw more granite that day than we did on the entire Granite Anvil.    Cottages perched high above the water to deep cuts for the roadways to steep drops from roadside to water’s edge to expanses of flat, bare granite in the Torrance Barrens as we headed north towards Bala on Southwood Road  / District Road 13, 33.5 km of nature designed roller coaster.

From Barrie through Orillia to Bala we lucked out and stayed dry but we could feel the temperature dropping.  Three of us had a hot breakfast; Dave Pearson joined us having coffee; Albert was out there ahead.  North on 169 and Lake Joseph Road to Clear Lake Road was good riding, traffic somewhat busy at times.  It was shortly after Bala that Henk’s wheel problems started … more on that later.

Clear Lake Road … ahem … gravel … remember that none of this route had been pre-scouted.  I was by myself at that point, trailing the others.   It had rained but wasn’t raining at the time.  Thank goodness for fenders, which kept my drivetrain mostly clean. It was slow going and seemed to go on and on, mostly because I had no idea how much more gravel there would be before Parry Sound.   Hitting 141, which is paved, was heaven, but, we only ride 141 for a km or so.  I prayed that the next road would be paved … and it was … that made my day !

It was along Tally-Ho Swords Road that I caught up to Henk, now walking.

518, Hunter Drive and Oastler Park then take us into Parry Sound for lunch, not half the kilometres completed, but taking into account the gravel, probably half the riding.

The route back to Barrie shares some of the same roads except that we turn East on 141 after Tally-Ho Swords through Rosseau.  That too is worth the price of admission !  South on what becomes Manitoba St and to Gravenhurst, we run parallel to Highway 11, cycle restricted at that point because it is 4-lanes.  We then loop back towards Bala on 169 and take Southwood Road’s roller coaster, now back on familiar territory but not really, since it’s dark.  We bypass Orillia on the way south – that’s a part of the route that I will examine as it meant that we had 130kms from the Gravenhurst Control to the end.  Having now ridden the route, I can also pinpoint Controls.

The Weather

I do have to say that we lucked out with the weather.  It wasn’t as bad as predicted.  How’s that for Randonneur Logic ??

We got a fair amount of rain, but never torrential.  It didn’t rain while we were on the gravel road.  We had a SW cross tail-wind as we headed north, which had gradually turned into a NW wind by the time we hit Parry Sound which then helped us for the ride back.  Having the wind partly at our back also meant that we were a little warmer than we would have been with  a headwind.

That said, we were cold but functional.  Dave, Martin and I stopped at a restaurant about half-way between the Parry Sound and Gravenhurst Controls, an oasis of hot coffee.  It didn’t help physically for long, but did help mentally.  We were looking forward to something in the Orillia area but didn’t want to go off-route to find it.  By the end we were cold.  My hands weren’t working very well and it took a long time to get packed up and on the road.

Dave had checked the weather forecast when we were in Parry Sound and reported the wind prediction, which was accurate, and 30% chance of rain.  Well, that cloud followed us, lost us for a while when we stopped for coffee, picked us up again later but allowed us to roll back into Barrie and pack our cars being dry.


Randonneurs Ontario needs a new medal for sheer determination.  Henk would win it hands-down.  Having had a ride-busting problem with his rear hub the prior week, I think that he would have walked the entire route to finish if he’d had the time.  It started off easy … ping … a spoke gone on the front wheel.  Being a low spoke count wheel, it had too much of a side-to-side wobble to turn.  His torx spoke wrench turned out to be the wrong size.  I pulled out my little pliers but there’s so little leverage and so little grip, that I could barely turn the spoke nipples to make a correction.  Henk, however, is a better man than me, or at least has a better grip J.  He managed to loosen the two opposing spokes and slightly tightened others so that the wheel would turn with a slight wobble and a hop.  No one would notice the hop on these roads anyway !

Shortly afterwards, he noticed his rear hub occasionally not engaging.  Yes, that’s the hub that was repaired two days before.  It started out slow then he would have to stop and bang the wheel and finally, 20+ kms from Parry Sound, utter failure.  I’d been dawdling and caught up to him walking towards Parry Sound.  In actual fact he’d only have to walk half the distance because the other half would be downhill and he could ride.  I called my wife Sandy as we have a Parry Sound phone book and she found that there were two bike shops in PS.  Walking, however, would get him there after they closed.  I suggested that he hitch-hike or stop at a house and ask for a ride; he did the latter and passed me sometime as I rode to Parry Sound, trailing the others by a fair bit.  Albert also passed me at this point, but he was already on his way back to Barrie.

While I was helping Henk, all of a sudden my cranks wouldn’t turn.  What ?!?  I figured out that my cassette had loosened and was binding, clearly I need to keep on top of bike maintenance, not having checked that in months.  I tightened the lock-ring by hand, getting quite greasy and dirty in the process, but was rolling again.  Once into Parry Sound, I visited one of those bike shops and they graciously let me use their Shimano lock-ring tool.  I’d pictured myself re-tightening it in the dark and thought that this was the better approach.

Coming out of the bike shop, there was Henk at the convenience store across the street.  He had visited the other bike shop and not only fixed the rear wheel, they lent him a new Mavic Kysrium front wheel, which is what he was riding.  No charge.  He has to go back to Parry Sound to retrieve his wheel, of course, but that’s a small price to pay.  Determined to finish this ride, he set out back down the course to where he picked up the hitchhike ride, then rode to back Parry Sound, then back down the course.  40 kms behind us at that point if you count the back-and-forth, 20 if you only count the route, he would catch up to us before the end.  We saw him shortly after his turnaround point, heading back to Parry Sound.  Me ?  Bail ?  Not Henk !


A great route that I will put on the schedule again.  I will tweak it to break up that long stretch between Controls and see if there is something that can be done about the gravel section, but I doubt it.  There are very few roads in that area that actually go anywhere.  7.3 km of gravel is not too bad, considering the area, especially if you know that’s all the gravel and you won’t be hitting it again on the way south.

I rode my own pace, as usual, and my riding partners waited for me which wasn’t necessary but was much appreciated.

Thanks to Henk, Martin, Albert and Dave for a memorable ride.

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