Hey all! I figured I’d do up a ride report for the slightly longer version of the Cannonball I attempted this weekend with two of my friends. Both are fairly new cyclists, and have never done bikepacking of any kind before. The cannonball being what it is, I figured it would be an excellent first ride.
Here’s a map of the route, cut down a bit to the main sections: Cannon Ball 420 - A bike ride in Kitchener, Ontario we rode a bit of extra distance to our accommodations, bringing the total up to just under 450km planned.
Having done most of this route two weeks ago with Chris during his Cannonball XL route, I had a good idea what to expect for most of this ride. I decided we should also leave after work on Friday, in order to arrive at our first warmshowers host in Port Ryerse at a reasonable time. We left Waterloo at 3:15 pm from the University of Waterloo, after some mechanical issues with one of the bikes.
Tubeless troubles fixed, we headed off. We made good time from Waterloo to Brantford, stopping briefly in Cambridge to get some Gatorade for the road. We remarked it seemed a little warm - we had no idea what we were in for two days later.
Once we hit Brantford, we stopped again for some more supplies and dinner, and continued down the rail trail to Simcoe. Here our pace slowed considerably, as the lower fitness of my friend started to become an issue, as we were headed into a headwind on a slight uphill. Eventually though, we rolled into Port Ryerse shortly after 9pm.
Our stay with our warmshowers hosts was excellent - we had brought camping gear expecting a nice grassy area to set up in, but were instead greeted with offers of an air conditioned cabin with power. The best part? They provided beer! We slept real easy that night.
The next morning, we were invited over for coffee and toast for a little chat. This pushed our departure time back by about an hour, but it was awesome getting to know our hosts. We weren’t in any real rush today, with only 150km to ride and the whole day to do it. After a short break in Port Dover for second breakfast, we hit the road.
We had a strong tailwind, to the point we were roughly 2kph faster along the lake than me and Chris two weeks ago. It was some of the best and easiest riding I have ever done, and we were on cloud nine.
Eventually though, we had to turn away from the lakefront views and cool breeze further inland, to Dunnville. Here we made our second stop of the day, refilling our bottles and scarfing down some junk food. We hit the road again, eager to put the monotonous rail trail between Dunnville and Port Colborne behind us.
Before the rail trail, though, we had to deal with the doubletrack. one of us decided to opt out and take the road instead - already tired from the day before, he decided it was best to save his energy for later in the day. It went smoothly except for one spectacular crash (no injuries except a cut finger) and a particularly annoying dirt biker.
Once on the rail trail, we dialed the pace back a bit and settled in. After two thirds of the rail trail was done, and felling thoroughly tired of the flat, boring route, we decided to hang a right and rejoin the lakeside roads. A bit hillier and busier than the early stuff, it still made for an easy ride into Port Colborne for lunch.
We left Port Colborne in high, if tired, spirits and continued along the waterfront path. Here that strong tailwind abated a bit, and the hilly nature of the trails once again sapped our energy. We took a quick break under a tree, safe from the rapidly warming air and sun, and then hit the road for one last push. We made it to the cannonball mural with relative ease, and braced ourselves for easily the worst part of the day: climbing the escarpment into Niagara.
Now, this hill really isn’t that bad. It’s a bit long, but it’s not steep and there’s a decently wide shoulder. But after an entire day of strong tailwinds and easy riding, this hill was, by comparison, basically impossible. I don’t think I’ve ever climbed something so brutal. The strong tailwind we’d had all day was blasting squarely in our face now, and my heart rate blew past 180bpm for the first time that day. Eventually we made our way to the top, and was only 4km or so from our friend’s house, who was nice enough to put us up for the night.
We rolled into the house, exhausted and sore. After a few hours of rest and recuperation, our friends were nice enough to cook us a barbecue and make sure every calorie burned that day went right back in. It was an excellent meal, all the more so because of the long ride beforehand. We sat contentedly on the patio outside, not daring to think about the monstrosity of a day we had ahead of us tomorrow.
Day 3 required an early start. Staring down the barrel of a humidex of 36, and two air quality warnings along the route, we knew we needed to get as many kilometres out of the way as possible in the morning. Here to help in this respect was our friend and her 70(!!!) year old father, who was ready and willing to sit on the front into a headwind for 40km to deposit us in Beamsville. And BOY, did it work. Less than an hour and a half of riding later, we were in Beamsville, buying coffee and baked goods for our breakfast. He had pulled our sorry asses 40km at an average pace of 29kph. It’s really difficult to overstate how much easier this made the rest of the day.
However, it did come at a steep cost. My friend, who was already feeling pretty awful from the 250km already done (his previous one day record was 143km, and we did more than that just on Saturday) decided he had enough. His body was screaming at him to stop, so he decided to drop out in Beamsville and get a pickup. He had far surpassed his own expectations for what we could accomplish.
Down a man now, me and my roommate forged on. Fresh off a break in Beamsville, the climb back up the escarpment was actually pretty easy, all things considered. That done and dusted, the road to the Defasco 2000 trail was quickly disposed of - while we missed our friend greatly, we could significantly increase our speed and eat up kilometres. Without any major issues, we found ourselves on the outskirts of Hamilton.
We made a quick restroom stop, and noticed there was a splash pad next door. Naturally on such a hot day, we made a beeline for it and drenched ourselves in the ice cold water. It put new wind in our sails, ready to conquer Hamilton.
The trails through Hamilton were completed without issue. We stopped at Fortino’s for lunch, and began our buying spree of fluids. At this point, the heat was baking us. It was easily over 30 degrees, and we were sweating like crazy. The rest of the day would be a battle not between us and the wind, or us and the elevation, but us and not dying of heat stroke. We bought six bottles of Gatorade, a big bad of ice, and filled our bottles. With the leftover ice, we stuffed them in ziploc bags and kept those in our jersey - the ice cold bags against our skin helped cool us, costing us only a bit of mild frostbite (a particularly amusing injury to get on such a hot day).
We moved on to the Hamilton-Brantford rail trail. In his ride report, Chris said that he “barely noticed” the climb out of Dundas. I know now he is a liar.
Every kilometre was hard won. The climb came very close to killing our ride - we stopped extremely frequently to cool down and rehydrate. The heat meant we needed to keep our effort low lest we kill ourselves, which meant we took the hill really slowly, which just prolonged the suffering. I honestly wasn’t sure it would ever end.
But eventually, it did. We made it to the outskirts of Brantford, and eventually into Brantford proper, where we stopped for one last refuelling stop. We picked up eight bottles of Gatorade, refilled our bottles and stuffed the extra in our jerseys, refilled out cooling bags with more ice, and hit the trails.
By now, the temperature was at its peak. Our spirits were slightly lifted by the fact we were almost out of the worst of it. We got to Paris and after a quick snack at Starbucks, we hit the rail trail.
Some combination of being well acquainted with the route, our sated appetite and the tree cover helped us set a strong pace from Paris to Cambridge. We stopped at the cold spring just before Glen Morris and dipped our feet in, then made it back to Cambridge in a flash. We took the urban trails through Cambridge into Kitchener, then suffered our way over the last few days to home.
Looking back on the ride, it was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated, that mostly being due to the really awful conditions on Day 3. I felt pretty great about the other two days, but Day 3 was pretty rough. I still think the route was a great one for a first trip, and I’m glad I got to introduce my friends to bikepacking. Hopefully they’ll be up for more adventures in the future!
Up next is the GNR, I think!