Stefan” was looking at next weeks schedule . Maybe try to get up to Orangeville weds night . Eugenia and Collingwood Thurs, camp in Barrie and back for 1pm on Friday. Will try to make as off road as possible.”
Wayne “ Sounds dope, I’m keen”
Stefan” we can practice race sleeping, lol “
Stefan”Http//www.bikepacking.com/routes/central-ontario-loop-trail/ Think we can do it in like 24 hrs? ride to somewhere btw Lindsay and kinmount first night….. we have 43 hrs from when we leave the shop weds to get back by 1pm on Friday . 105km to the trail , 450 for the loop and 105 back . it would not be easy. Or we could do an easier ride up thru mono?
Wayne “Im down lets take the Pain Train . Chooo Choooo”
Stefan” Ok Pain Train here we come!!!”
The plan was set. Stefan would get off work a couple hours early giving us about 48 hours to complete the ride, an advantageous plan to say the least. This route had all the makings of an epic adventure.
The COLT (Central Ontario Loop Trail) was a tourism initiative promoting a shared use regional trail system passing through five counties in south central Ontario. The route uses was primarily rail trail, with connecting roads that consisted primarily of dirt roads with a few paved stretches.
Wednesday Nov 1
The forecast does not look great, 80 % rain for Wednesday and Thursday, with temperatures hovering around 12 degrees. We were not about to let a little rain hold us back, riding in the rain had become something of a norm for us lately, and we both had great rain kits. We enjoy riding in challenging conditions, pushing the body through adverse conditions seems to make it that much more interesting and fun. (That being said, I would never go bikepacking without my Dexshell Waterproof socks and gloves)
4:48 pm Stef arrived at my place on his fully packed, black and purple superfly and we were ready to roll! Within minutes of leaving it started to rain , we were not surprised but you always hope the forecast does not come to fruition when it calling for rain . We left Toronto and headed north to escape the traffic and quickly made our way to Uxbridge(60km) via paved roads, arriving just after sunset (with only one stop to pump my tire, more on that later). There was going to be no shortage of night riding on this adventure, and Uxbridge was the official start of the off road party.
The COLT loop as laid out uses the Victoria rail trail from Dranoel to Lindsay then travels north to Kinmount. We began with a section of rail trail that went east, from Uxbridge to Lindsay, where we would get on the COLT loop and head north to Kinmount. We would follow the loop clockwise.
We stopped at the trail entrance to have a snack and take some pictures. We have ridden this rail trail many times previously. It was smooth, packed limestone and fast, always making for a great ride. Luckily the rain had not yet saturated into the trail. Since the railtrails are almost completely straight, no matter how powerful your light, at night all you could see is a black void. Kind of eerie, but that is why night riding is so much fun. It has this mesmerizing tunnel vision effect. I was just hopeful the frogs were not out tonight as they were on another night… That was a bad night for the frogs!
It was a great ride to Lindsay(100km), Fast ,fun and dark. No frogs. We came through at about 11 pm. Still raining but not dampening out spirits. We made a fast stop for snacks and coffee in Fenelon Falls and pushed forward to Kinmount. If we had any chance of completing the ride we could not waste any time.
The ride up to Kinmount went super smooth, cruising down the rail trail at a good clip. I had my music playing so I was in a trance like state, grooving to the beats as the trail flowed effortlessly under my bike. I love the night rides, so peaceful and magical. Although still raining it was a beautiful night for a ride.
We arrived at Kinmount (155km/8:45hrs) at 1:30 am. We hoped to find a covered area, where we could sleep unhindered from rain. Lucky for us, as we exited the trail we found one. An amazing wooden gazebo right by the rivers edge, with our very own private security! We quickly set up, or more appropriately, laid out, had a bite and went to sleep.
We both awoke to the sounds of our alarms and the relentless pouring rain. A quick check of the radar maps showed it that it should ease up soon, so we slept for another hour. We said we liked riding in the rain, but to be clear we do prefer NOT riding in the rain. And starting the day cold and wet was not a motivating factor, especially in my beautifully warm and cozy sleeping bag. After about 5 hours of sleep we got up and quickly headed out in lighter precipitation. From Kinmount we took the rail trail another 15 kilometres north and then made a turn onto some dirt roads that travelled east towards Gooderham.
We stopped for breakfast just past Gooderham (192km/16 hrs 30 min). There was a small local restaurant joint just off the highway. We loaded up with a huge breakfast and multiple cups of coffee, eager for the long day ahead.
We have ridden most of the rail trails throughout southern Ontario and know that they are well maintained and closed to motorized vehicles, which keeps them ideal. We expected the trails north of Kinmount would probably be rougher since they were open to motorized vehicles. After breakfast in Gooderham we entered the IB&O rail trail, which took us to Wilberforce. And as we expected the trail was worked. Rutted and rough, with an endless supply of whoops created by the ATVS and dirt bikes. Fun but not easy. I love riding my road bike with small tires on gravel but definitely not on these trails, I was very happy to be on my touring MTB with 29×2.0 tires.
The rail trail ends in Wilberforce (214km/18:50hrs). From here the route takes quiet backcountry gravel roads all the way to Bancroft. The road was an awesome gravel stretch of rolling, hilly, terrain. It had stopped raining, the sun was up and the scenery was beautiful. The trail was taking us on small logging roads along the lakes and rivers. With all of the rain we had there was no shortage of puddles along the way. Little did we know at the time that mere puddles were nothing compared to the bogs and impromptu rivers we would have to contend with in another 12 hours or so. It was amazingly remote and quiet. We had seen only one person on the trails since Uxbridge and one car all the way to Bancroft.
One mistake I had made on this journey was mounting a new tubeless tire the night before. I thought I had learned this lesson before, but I guess not. My tire went flat within the first two hours of riding and I probably had to stop almost a dozen times at this point pump it up. Always saying to myself, this time it will hold. At this point I think it’s finally holding.
We made it to Bancroft (260km/21:30hrs) at around 2pm. This was a first time being here for both of us. We were greeted with an amazing cliff line that runs along the main road in town. There are so many amazing places and new things to see in Ontario, and distance cycling has enabled me to see and experience things I never would have known about.
The day was going awesome. A quick stop at the grocery store for food and we were to rolling again. Stef was pushing me hard to be quick, but I really wanted coffee. He obliged, and we visited the local Tim Hortons!
After Bancroft the route takes Hastings Heritage Trail. This would take us south to Marmora which would be our potential sleep spot. Within the first few km’s my tire was flat again. I had enough; it was time to put in a tube. Anyone who rides tubeless knows the feeling of having to dump the fresh sealant out and put in a tube. Maybe this time I will remember this lesson. The Heritage trail was the toughest yet, and about as soft and bumpy as they come. Similar to other rough rail trails in Ontario, but it definitely had its own flavor. It was making my eyeballs rattle in my head! The rain was still holding off, but the closer we got to Marmora the more bogs and puddles we had to cross, once again dealing with the aftermath of the rain the night prior. We were prepared for wet trails, but this was surpassing our expectations by far! The puddles we more like rivers, some being over 50 ft long and up to a foot deep. Now we were really having fun!
The stretch to Marmora was long and tough. We had hoped to be there before dark, but that was not going to happening. Stefan was feeling good and cruising, while I was fading out a bit. We were close to Marmora, so I told him to go ahead and that I would meet him at the Tim Hortons in town. It was getting dark now as I watched his flashing tail light vanish in the distance ahead of me. I pushed along for a little while and the slowly the river like puddles turned into impassable looking bodies of water. The edges of the water disappeared in the darkness well out of my view. This was crazy. I was genuinely worried. I was alone, it was cold, dark and it just kept getting deeper. It was supposed to be 6 km to Marmora, but I had already gone 10. Then I came to the biggest crossing yet. It was a lake; I couldn’t even see the other side. I went for it. It was deep but I made it! Just a few minutes later I had made it to the road. And then my Garmin mysteriously decided to shut off! I pulled out my phone and realized I had passed Marmora 5km ago! How on earth did I miss the turn? When I got to the road I had somehow turned the wrong direction and headed a further 4 km away from town. I stopped to get my bearings, only to realize my tire ( the one that I just put a tube in) was flat. And my phone was about to die. I took a deep breath, pumped my tire hoping it would hold, and quickly pedaled into town.
It was about 9:00pm (352km-28:50) and we were both pretty tired. We got a soup and a sandwich to warm up and fill up and left to find a place to sleep in town. The plan was to get a few hours of sleep have an early start the next day. The bikepacking gods were smiling on us, they had answered our prayers with another covered pavilion for the night, and once again right by the rivers edge.
We set up quickly and were sleeping by 10. We planned to sleep for about 4 hours. We knew it was going to be a challenge to get back by 1 the next day.
It was an early and cold start to the day. It had rained again overnight ensuring the wet ride would remain so! But the forecast for the day was looking great. Should be sunny and a balmy 15 degrees. We were moving by 2 am. From Marmora we continued on the Hastings rail trail for another 10 km or so and then the route takes the Trans Canada trail south to Quinte West. The remaining trail was just as rough as the previous day. And the puddle crossing campaign reached a full crescendo. It was another 40 km of dark endless water crossings. As we peered up the narrow corridor ahead of us, all you could see was our lights reflecting off the river of water. Each crossing had us questioning whether we would make it to the other side but we charged forward. This was turning out to be the epic ride we had envisioned only better! The rough trail and water crossings had finally subsided at the end of the Trans Canada trail, just outside of the small town of Glen Ross. We were happy to be past the hardest sections of rivers and rough trail, but these sections were the most adventurous and by far the most fun! From here the route turns on to the Lower Trent trail. This section of rail trail runs for 17 km, and ends in Trenton. Conditions of this section were a pleasant respite from the physical assault the previous 200 kms of trail provided. As you approach Trenton it runs along the Trent river with some great views. The Trent trail is a maintained trail , closed to motorized vehicles, making it smooth and fast.
We reached downtown Trenton(405 kms,37.5hrs) at 630 am. From Trenton we planned to take the Lakeshore Trail, which consists of mostly paved park paths, some gravel and roads. A great route free of cars. We reached Lake Ontario just past Trenton. As the darkness of night was fading we were greeted at the lakes edge by an amazing sunrise. It was a great moment, we stopped to take it in and appreciate what a great ride we were having. It was symbolic in how we just finished our battle with the weather and the trail to emerge from the darkness into the glorious morning of a beautiful and calm day. From here we rode some nice quiet gravel and paved roads to Colborne(440,39.5hrs). We didn’t really have time to stop, but gummy bears and nuts were not going to get us home. So we stopped for breakfast at Captain Johns. It was a nice quiet restaurant in downtown Colborne.
It was the final push back to the city. The sun was shining and compared to the weather thus far it was glorious. Neither of us had ridden the lakeshore trail beyond Oshawa. It was an interesting route with great views of the lake and some great paths and roads.
We pushed hard for the rest of the morning. By noon it was obvious that Stef would be late. We rolled along at a good pace for the rest of the day, finally making it back to the city around 5:30.
An epic journey to say the least! The COLT loop is supposed to travel through Ganaraska forest. We had to skip this section due to time. So we did not officially finish the loop. But we intend to finish the complete loop next time around. We have to thank Miles Arbour for writing the article which inspired and routed our ride, if not for him this would have not been possible. We had not even heard of the Colt a week prior to our ride. A huge thank you to Miles!
Strava activity https://www.strava.com/activities/766112327
Written and ridden by Wayne Bernknopf and Stefan Sojecki