This is the story of a two-day, 250km bicycle adventure from Huntsville to Toronto (both in the province of Ontario). I had done something similar with a university buddy of mine back in '98, but in cooler springtime weather and with some unfortunate route choices. I felt the need to exorcise the Ghost of Bike-Trip Past, so I convinced a long-time friend of mine, Adam Fidler, to strap on a helmet and cover a whole lot of ground atop a pair of the most energy efficient vehicles known to man.
I love this comparison! A sixty pound girl on a bicycle expends a scant 24.5 kilocalories travelling an entire mile, while an electric car expends almost ten times that amount and a sports utility vehicle (SUV) expends over 100 times that amount of energy.
Source: Claire Anderson, 2002, in Mother Earth News.
Alright, let's take off our nerd caps and get down to some adventuring! The early mist of dawn shrouded the stillness of the early morning, interupted only by the incessant hacking of Adam "The Smoke Stack" Fidler. My family used to have a '77 Thunderbird without a muffler that sounded better than he did that morning. After convulsing on the side of the road for the second time in that first, thankfully unauspicious hour of biking, he declared that he was henceforth giving up cigarettes forever!
Fidler is sufficiently recovered to pose for a picture in Bracebridge.
We stuck to the backroads as much as possible, both to avoid traffic as well and to see the country. Lonely paved roads were a favorite of ours, being fast and direct, but they were by no means the only paths we took...
Fidler tears up some pavement near Gravenhurst.
By mid-morning we had made Gravenhurst. Fidler was at the height of his enthusiasm here, taking time out of his busy peddling to pretend he was a frog.
Frog Man in Gravenhurst.
Unfortunately just past Gravenhurst we ran out of road. Sure, we could have detoured 30km out of our way, or we could have biked along an extremely busy four-lane highway (#11), but neither option was especially conducive to maintaining our morale. So we cast about on our map for an alternative and discovered a rather bumpy track that suited our needs...
Alex biking along a railway track south of Gravenhurst. While technically illegal, I maintain it was by far the safest route possible.
OK so we eventually ran out of railway track too.... Why do all my bike trips always end up with me pushing my bike through forest and field? Anyway, this very minor detour put us back on good quality roads. I'd say we did about seven kilometres on the tracks and probably less than one actually off-road, saving us some considerable time.
Alex's perplexed look is only for show: rest assured that he knows exactly where he's going....
Still off-roading, but only just: over the hill is a rock cut through which raced a torrent of dangerous traffic. Common sense dictated that we avoid adding the impediment of ourselves to the bottleneck.
Fidler is still in high spirits, but be sure to compare this happy expression to those that follow: they progressively become less and less enthusiastic...
From Washago (a small town at the end of our off-roading stint) to Orillia we bicycled through what Fidler repeatedly, frequently and incessantly refered to as a wind tunnel. But to Fidler's credit he persevered, although the toll of his efforts is visible on his expression.
"It was no fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee..."
-extract from a poem by Robert W. Service
Actually, come to think of it, it was around this point that Fidler started smoking again...
South of Orillia we stumbled serendipitously upon an old railway bed that had been converted into a multi-use recreational trail all the way to Barrie. I'd bicycled between Orillia and Barrie before and was not looking forward to the many large hills between them. Fortunately railway engineers liked to cut their lines along the flatest route possible, saving us some considerable exertion at the end of the day.
A Rail-Trail between Orillia and Barrie saved us the bother of tackling many a hill.
We came upon Barrie from along Lake Simcoe, and instead of the faceless sprawl of suburban strip malls, warehouses and big-box retail complexes that usually heralds my approach to Barrie I was impressed to discover the town had a more stately and civilized end to it. To Fidler, who by this point was reciting our plans to spend the night in Barrie like it was the very Gospel itself, it must have seemed like some sort of urban oasis rising out of the deserted distances that we'd covered.
A little sun-burnt but happy with our accomplishment, we take the time to indulge in a pint or two and let our muscles unwind.
Two rugged adventurers at the end of their exertions. If you're good at reading body language you could interpret a "Thank God it's over!" expression from one individual, and a "That all you got?!" expression from the other. Try to guess which one is which!
Well, the second day was quite a bit less of an adventure than the first. Sure we covered a lot of distance and got a lot of sun, but York County is not exactly an exotic locale in which to be travelling. So I'm going to gloss over that little segment of our journey and come right to the climactic conclusion of our epic adventure: we survived! I guess we just have to find ourselves more of a challenge...