Drew, Dave and I had planned on doing GNR on the May 24 long weekend for some time now.
Created by Matt Kadey and his partner-in-crime and “Super-Long-Time WCC Founding Member” Tabi F….they have put together the BT700 and many outstanding routes for people to try adventures for themselves….including the Grand Nith Ramble (GNR). A 350k 2-day route down the Grand River to Dundas valley and back up along our most famous roads West of Waterloo along the Nith River.
The lockdown had initially scuttled our plans. But, then came the announcement from the Ontario Government late last week that beginning at 12:01 on Saturday morning, outdoor activities were open….so we hatched a plan.
Dave was unfortunately tied up this weekend, but he told us to seize the opportunity. So Drew and I quickly took stock and packed all of our gear. And when I say quickly…I mean slowly. Considering every last item right down to how many bandaid’s should I carry? 2 or 3? That extra one will add weight? Hmmm???
But by 7am on Saturday morning….we were ready.
Our rigs are different, but they both weighed over 50lbs. Here are the contenders on Saturday morning.
Salsa Cutthroat with Arkell 15 Saddle Bag, Salsa Full Frame Bag, Salsa Top Tube Fuel Bag, Porcelain Rocket Harness and Handlebar bag. TWO x 1.2 litre bottles on the forks and a 750ml spare water bottle under the downtube. List of things in the bags is the same as on my list in my original post. "Big Rubber" Adventuring - #4 by Francqlife
Lynsky Ti Gravel Bike with FULL Ortlieb Saddle, Frame & Handlebar Bag Kit with Dual water bottle cages on the downtube, one bottle under the downtube and one in the handlebar bag.
We rode out to the start at the Red Tractor at the Eco Cafe in St. Jacob’s, took this pic…and we were off.
Let me start off by saying, our phones were tucked away in our front handlebar bags. The only way to access them was to fully stop. There were zillions of landmark bridges, pristine waterfalls, flowing trails, quaint towns, abandoned quarries, lively forests and friendly people along the way. But, alas…we couldn’t stop and reach for our iPhone every 20 minutes…so we really only captured a few pics, which I will share with you here to give you a flavour.
But like Morpheus said to Neo. “It’s one thing to know the path…it’s another to walk the path.” You can’t explain it…you have to do the GNR to understand and experience it for yourself.
If you want to see what the GNR is like, I recommend that you skip the rest of this post and just watch the 3T Team who featured the GNR on their show…complete with film crew, drones, funky music and post video editing.
If you are still reading this…then here is a bit more about our adventure this past weekend.
I’ll start by saying…it’s really a gift, to be in a position to take a couple of days off with a friend, with the support of your families, to just ride with nothing to care about but the next view around the corner for 12 hours straight.
We started at sunrise at ECO and rode along the Grand River for almost 50km over 3 hours. It took forever to get out of town. We were only at Conestoga College by noon !!! This is behind the old Len’s Mill store around lunch. We must have passed 1000 people on the trails with a ring of the bell and a wave of hello. “Thanks for the Bell!” they’d say.
The GNR has a lot of crushed gravel surface, Some challenging single track where a MTB might be the better weapon of choice, and some hills and climbs where it’s better to get off your bike and hike it.
In this picture, you can see more coarse gravel….er…cobbles…where Drew washed out.
And super neat scenery and hallmarks of days past.
Not long after was the infamous Lafarge Trail. A weird 12km straight shot of trail with boardwalks, 20% climbs (and descents), highs & lows, grass fields and eventually it emerges in Dundas.
After walking up to a house in Dundas and asking for a refill of water bottles from their garden hose…it was getting late…and we calculated that we would have to cut out a good part of Dundas Valley, if we had any hope of getting to our planned campsite between Brantford and Paris by dark. So, we B-lined it for Brantford on the rail trail.
Contrary to popular belief…Brantford was a King City….with marvelous trails infrastructure and when we saw that there was a Burritos Bros on the route…all of our carefully planned dehydrated dinners that we were carrying went out the window for a 1200 calorie all in, fully topped, pulled-pork burrito and Guava Soda that hit the spot like pig roast at an Oasis in the middle of the Sahara desert.
Happy, full…we carried on along the Branford trail system until we hit our “secret” spot. Which happened to be THE busy trailhead where EVERYONE passes on their way home after a ride on the trails. But, we managed to get there just at sun down, so it was quiet.
And what a spot. Recommended by Matt on the GNR map. It was open. Right by the river. Big trees. There was even a fire pit. And it was free. Drew and I have the same MSR tent, stove, and other stuff….so we were testing them all out for the first time…including our nifty headlamps.
I can’t really tell you how good it feels to reach into a cool river after 12 hours in the saddle and splash your face with water and wash the dirt of 190km off your legs and just listen to the river flow and the birds and the crickets as the sun sets. I managed to capture this pic of Drew doing just that.
After that “baby-sized” burrito…all we had room for was the two 500ml Cabernet Sauvignon tetrapack carton’s poured onto our plastic and tin cups. That might as well have been a bottle of 1959 Chateau Phillipe Rothschild in crystal chablis goblet’s. We were Kings for the night.
The next morning…we pulled out the MSR Pocket Rocket Stoves that we bought … and neither of us have ever tried. It was a game of survivor to see who could boil water first. 2 cups of oatmeal and coffee…and the engines were fired. After a long time of messing about breaking down camp…we were off.
Not 30 minutes later we were in Paris. And took our sweet time ordering French Breakfast Croissants and easing our way out of town…until we met Sebastian. “You guys doing GNR? He said. Mind if I tag along for a while…I’m vaccinated…and doing GNR lite”…he says. Sure…we say.
And then there were three.
We got to know Seb. And his family. And his history. By the end, Drew invited him to join WCC. We’re now following each other on Strava, so we are bound to meet him again. Bound…by the GNR.
There were some sections leaving Paris…in particular the railway sections….where you are riding down the middle of railway tracks or on the side of the railway ties with sharp, fist-sized limestone rocks for a surface. I was SURE that was the end…and I was going to get a sidewall tire slash. But….we survived…and the tires rolled on.
I think that is part of the adventure. You encounter so much on these trips. Even just a simple overnighter that covers 350km. It feels 10x harder (and slower) in terms of time and distance. You just keep encountering, overcoming, resetting, and pushing through town after town, train after trail, km after km.
Day 2 was actually a bit of blurr. We just kept pedalling….stopping for water and a sandwich, here and there. The headwind was strong. Thank goodness I had aerobars. I am usually in them 90% of the time. Mostly because I can rest….no need to use back or wrist muscles….just lie down and go to sleep. But, on occasion…they are helpful to duck out of a headwind. And this helped a lot for about 5 hours on Day 2.
This description doesn’t do any of the gravel, sights and sounds any justice. The green leaves on the trees, the burgundy rusted bridges, the silver water, the stoic churches, the champagne gravel…the singing…
Yes…after a while…anything goes to keep you moving forward. Even Drew’s rendition of “Oklahoma”. Seemed to keep us going for a stretch.
After a few hours…we came to a 4-corner intersection. Our President, Kevin Gibson, calls it his favorite intersection in the land. And it is. A perfect four corner intersection with nothing but gravel roads into the distance in every direction you look. We were feeling pretty good, and this pic captures a high point in the day at that intersection.
It just keeps going on. Beautiful gravel road after beautiful Bucolic vistas.
By this time, we were 10 hours into it. We wanted to get home to our families and have a good Sunday dinner. We rolled into St. Jacob’s around 6:30 yesterday to take the requisite “Finisher’s Pic” by the Red Tractor. A little thinner, sunburnt, wind blown and covered in a fine layer of gravel dust.
We rode back to my place, where Drew parked his car….to my family greeting us with pictures and congratulations.
Before Drew left, I pulled an old railway spike out of my bag. I picked it up near the beginning of our trip. There are hundreds of these things lying at the side of the old forgotten railways that make up the GNR. Before Drew jumped in his car to head home, I nailed the spike to the wall of my garage and dated and had us both sign it. An experience well worth the effort. And a memory that will live in our minds forever.