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2019 – My first Great Waterfront Trail Adventure (GWTA)

By Elinor Major

In the fall of 2018, Margot (a WFT veteran) mentioned that the Waterfront Trail in 2019 wasn’t going to be along Lake Ontario’s shores. It was to be along the North channel of Lake Huron! Sault Ste Marie to Sudbury, ‘Cycle the North’! I quickly googled it. My father always said “you have to see the north”. What better way to see the north but on a bike! I was hooked.

December 2018: I was so excited – I had booked my accommodation at the three stops on the route (Bruce Mines, Blind River and Espanola) with my good friends Glenna and Roy and Diane and then we registered for the GWTA in January 2019. Margot’s preference is the tenting option, used by the majority of riders. All five ‘3C’ members are really committed now!

During June and July, with the biking season in full swing, I kept thinking of the 400 km ride up north – I better get out and do some training, and do some really long and hilly rides to train for the WFT ride. Later in July, we got an email about how much gravel there would be. Eee gods...and the kms which would be ridden on busy Hwy 17! Yikes! I was a bit apprehensive – can I do it? Yes, I can and I did!

Day 1 – was a bit wet but it didn’t stop anyone. We cycled past 7 riders dealing with flat tires. Luckily Roy, Diane, Margot, Glenna and I were ok. We cycled by such beautiful scenery, the lake, the shield rock, a farm with buffalo, a Mennonite farm with wagon and horse. The lunch stop was in a community/arena centre in the town of Desbarats. They had a fiddle group playing while we ate lunch! How great was that! Onward we went by shuttle back to St Joseph Island, a huge cycling destination we all wanted to try out. What wasn’t shown on the cycling routes though, were the hills. We got around the island, hills and all and it was lovely, as was the patio at the end of the route at Hilton Beach. We were glad to have a shuttle from there to our first night, in Bruce Bay. The four of us had opted to stay at Bruce Bay cottages rather than the camping option. The cabins were so quaint and the sunrise on the lake in the morning was pristine.

Day 2 – our chance to experience the gravel roads and some more hills. After this, who minded cycling on the newly paved wide shoulders on Hwy 17? No one, although it was a bit loud. There were rumble strips on the paved shoulders, and although there was constant truck traffic going at 90+ km, we actually felt safe with our single file riding. They had their lane, we had ours, and we were “sharing the road”.

Our dinners, as well as the catered lunches and breakfasts, were amazing but here in Blind River what was so surprising was to find out that the nice petite lady who greeted us at the doorway, was in fact the mayor of Blind River. We always felt so welcome. And the food? Well, I don’t think anyone lost any weight while cycling 100 km a day with all the food that was at every breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as water stops.

Day 3 – This was our longest ride it seemed. There was an option to shuttle past the newly created 16 km trail through some really nice woods, and then get back on the secondary roads. But no, Glenna, Margot and I were determined to complete the full kms so we ventured first thing in the misty, crisp morning on the new trail. Well, you have to know it was newly created when we encountered a couple of graders on the trail, one was actually manned and working on fixing a very sandy corner, just for us folks! But we got through it. We met up with the others who had shuttled the 16 km (and we told them that they had nothing to be ashamed of by taking the shuttle). The rest of the day had other rather interesting road conditions. We were stopped by a flag man. Up ahead was a large grader, a water truck and a roller. The flag man apologized, but said the road was in such bad condition they had to do something for us so if we didn’t mind waiting a few minutes. It seemed that the sand they were putting down and wetting wasn’t the best but the guy said, the pot holes were so bad that this was 100% better. We took his word for it and trekked up that sandy wet hill and down the other side.

What a ride! We then arrived in the lovely town of Espanola – tired and thirsty! Today was the only day our dinner was not catered but we were kind of thankful. We were able to stay at our motel to relax, eat, and sleep before yet another early start in the morning. Beautiful!

Day 4 – Our last day. Was I happy? Was I sad? Let’s just get the day’s ride in and I’ll decide later. Today’s ride was much less hilly, no real obstacles to ride through, and today was the day we would arrive in Sudbury! By early afternoon we started to see signs of a larger town/city. We were on city streets now (every house had a basketball net at the end of the driveway, guess the Raptors were a fan favourite in the north as well!). Next we were on some lovely city trails that wound their way around the city of Sudbury and before you knew it, we were at the finish line! Medals were placed around our necks, and I remember the best part was the blueberry fudge, so yummy.

After looking back on the trip, I thought at the time it was really hard, it was grueling, but it was also amazing. I am so glad I did the ride. I want to go back to see the interesting things that we missed by cycling and I definitely want to do another Waterfront Trail Adventure Ride! Rumour is the ride in 2020 will be…well, just a rumour, we expect to hear about it later this year. Yessssss!

COMMENT A lot of work had been done ‘behind the scenes’ in the organizing of this Great Lakes Waterfront Trail Adventure. About 150 cyclists had registered, and there were additional volunteer support riders, as well as volunteer drivers for the shuttles and rest stops. Staff and volunteers worked with so many communities along the route, with the First Nation / Indigenous people, and with the MTO. Daily maps and itineraries were provided. It was good to meet so many other enthusiastic fellow riders. There was a sense of good camaraderie – the cyclists preferred to talk, not text! Elinor had not participated in such a cycling event before, so we were interested to ask for her thoughts on the experience. Further information can be seen on their website: Diane Crooks

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