Sunday, 31 May 2015

Touring the Counties Part One

I had several distance goals this year and was looking for a way to build up to them.  I was hoping to get a few metric centuries in by the end of June, a 170km ride in July and a 200km ride in August.  When I started to plan my rides, I realized I had access to a lot of great riding right in the united counties where I live.

My simple planning exercise soon developed into another milestone for 2015.  I wanted to visit every town and village in my county and surrounding counties.  The more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  Not only were the counties beautiful, they were also varied; rolling farmland gave way to dense deciduous and coniferous forests.  Marshes, wetlands and bogs could be found everywhere in between.  Last but not least, most of the county roads were in great shape with paved shoulders.

I decided to kick things off in Ingleside, part of South Stormont township.  Ingleside (and neighbouring Long Sault) were planned from their inception, a rarity in Ontario.  When the Seaway was being created, ten villages would be flooded; these villages are now called the Lost Villages.  Ingleside accommodated residents from Aultsville, Farran's Point, Dickinson Landing, Santa Cruz,  Wales and Woodlands.  When trying to decide on a new name, the residents quarreled over what it should be, as they wanted to retain their original community names.  The reeve at the time, Thorold Lake, saw the name Ingleside on one of the houses and proposed it as the name of the new community, which was then accepted by council and residents.  The names of the former communities can be found on street names in Ingleside.

If you find yourself in Ingleside with an appetite, I highly recommend Butler's Restaurant.  If I was to describe their food in 4 words, those adjectives would be: Fresh, Homemade, Delicious, Amazing.  The staff are always friendly and helpful.  They carry my favourite beer on tap (Beau's Lug Tread).  Whether you are having fresh pasta (made, rolled and cut there) or you are a suicide wing fiend like myself, you will absolutely love it.

While County Road 2 provided a more direct route to where I was going, I can never resist the Long Sault Parkway.  Considered part of the waterfront trail, it connects several islands created by the Seaway.  The traffic is slower than County Road 2 and is more friendly to outdoor enthusiasts such as cyclists and runners.  One end is in Ingleside and the other end was my next stop, Long Sault.

When the Seaway was created, Long Sault accommodated residents from the former communities of Maple Grove, Milles Roches and Moulinette Mills.  These names live on as street names in Long Sault.  The town itself was named after rapids that existed in the area; they also disappeared when the Seaway was flooded.

My next stop was a tiny spot right next to Long Sault called Lakeview Heights.  The Lost Villages Museum can be found here, with some of the original buildings from the Lost Villages transplanted here.  But outside of that historical gem, Lakeview Heights seems to be a small, quiet, residential neighbourhood.

After going through some rollers on county roads I found myself at St Andrews West.  Why "West"?  Well, back in the 1700's when Ontario and Quebec were known as Upper and Lower Canada, there was a St Andrews in each territory.  So the one in Quebec was referred to as St Andrews East.  That place is now known as Saint-AndrĂ©-d'Argenteuil.  But for St Andrews West, the name stuck.

One of the most iconic things about St Andrews West is the beautiful Church found in the center of the village and the ancient cemetery across the street from it.  The church was built in 1860.  Predating that was the Parish Hall, also featured in the photo.  The Parish hall was built in 1801  and is one of the oldest stone structures in Ontario.  It was primarily used as a church but had been converted to be a hospital during the war of 1812.

Across from those structures is the Pioneer's graveyard, thought to be one of the oldest graveyards in Ontario.  It has been closed to burials since 1915.  This is the resting place of the explorer Simon Fraser, who charted most of British Columbia.

I headed further northeast to South Glengarry and found myself riding on a rolling road surrounded by pristine farmland.  On the corner of one of the farms was a sign that said "SHARE THE ROAD!"  While I appreciate the sentiment, I'm pretty sure it was in reference to farm equipment.  Still, share the road!

Following this route brought me to Martintown.  One of the original town's founders, Malcolm McMartin made a wooden grist mill here.  His son Alexander build the replacement stone grist mill here, which you can see just a slice of in the picture.  The McMartins also had a saw mill and a carding mill.  Originally called McMartin's Mills, this picturesque village on the banks of the South Raisin River used to be the main hub for the entire area.

Martintown is a beautiful place with a rich history.  The only bad thing I have to say about it is the road; it's like a re-enactment of the lunar surface.  I hope it gets re-paved soon!

I backtracked back to South Stormont, following the Raisin River and crossed north again, making my way to the tiny community of Sandfield Mills.  I didn't get a chance to stop and check out the little side streets but I noticed some stone ruins as I passed.  I haven't been able to find much history on this place so far.  What I can tell you is the area is quite beautiful and the chip'n'seal road going through is relatively smooth and bicycle friendly.

I changed my bearing west and arrived in the small community named Bonville.  Originally named McPhail's Corners, the town was renamed to Bonville circa 1892.  It's name is french for "good town" and I can't disagree with that assessment.  The main road still bears the name McPhail.  No paved shoulders but very little traffic.  Right at the corner of McPhail and Highway 138 is a beautiful brick house.  The house used to serve as a post office and general store; nowadays it is a private residence.  As I made my way onward I discovered that there is a Habitat For Humanity set up in Bonville.

Back out in the countryside I found myself on Myer's Road, which gave me a mix of forest, countryside and residences.  The road rolled along several hills and had very low traffic.  At the end of the road I hit County Road 15, aka Avonmore Road.

When it comes to hilly roads in Stormont, Avonmore Road is top shelf.  I'm positive a large chunk of my climbing muscles were birthed in the pain of going up hills on this particular road.  There were a few communities north of here, including the village that shares the name with the road.  But my time was running a bit short and I headed south instead.

Harrison's Corners was my next stop.  Literally four corners with a few buildings!  I believe Harrison's Corners got its name from one of it's earliest inhabitants, one Henry Harrison, who served in the War of 1812.  It was here I parted company with Avonmore Road and headed west on County Road 18.

Soon I sailed into Lunenburg, a place that gets its name from a district in Hanover, Germany, where many of the original Loyalists settlers came from.  Today at the four way stop the most prevalent feature is Crazy Dan's.  It appears to be a car dealership, corner store, combo ice cream stand & fast food, and a garage.  I don't know where he got the name, but I feel like Dan is crazy about being an entrepreneur.

Heading further west along County Road 18 brought me to my last stop in Osnabruck Centre.  Like Lunenberg it was named after a town and province in Hanover, Germany.  When entering Osnabruck Centre, County Road 18 continues north at the intersection.  At that point you can see a large brick building on the right hand side which used to be the original general store and post office.

Not bad for my first go!  Not only did I get to see some beautiful places and get a decent 70km on my bike, I'm getting to know the history behind the area.  It really does add to the experience.

I'm already looking forward to my next tour of the counties!

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

My First Group Ride

I've been a notorious loner for most of my cycling exploits.  Sometimes it's due to prevailing weather; I still haven't found someone willing to go biking with me in the winter time.  Sometimes it's due to distance; outside of perhaps 2 people, most people I know are casual cyclists that can't fathom riding further than 10 or 15 km in a go.

This year, in an attempt to try a group ride and meet like-minded individuals, I went looking for a cycling club.  There's none very local to me, but I was able to find one in a neighbouring city.  They offered to host me on a couple of development group rides without a membership.  That way I could see if it was for me, without having to pony up any member dues.

I showed up for my first group ride early by over an hour.  I had intended on being early by 30 minutes but the departure time wasn't exactly what was scheduled.  It gave me a lot of time to observe others showing up and what sort of gear they had.  It looked like everyone had road bikes with clipless pedals and shoes.  Some people were talking about how to save weight on their bikes.  Needless to say my bicycle rack stuck out like a sore thumb.

One of the first things I learned was the use of hand signals.  A finger was handy to point out hazards like potholes while several wriggling fingers could be used to describe an area with gravel or loose rock.  A pointed finger moving back and forth behind a rider warns of an upcoming railway crossing.  The real trick is being fast on the timing.  After all, if you don't warn the person behind you about the pothole, they'll hit it, and so will everyone behind them.

I also learned a bit of rural road protocol when it came to cycling.  Anytime there was no shoulder, we would ride in single file.  If there was a spacious paved shoulder, we're ride two by two.  Cars were pretty good about giving us space or waiting until safe to pass.

When I heard the paceline was going to be about 25km/h, I figured it would be easy to keep up.  My average speed on many rides is like that.  I didn't take into account that my average speed was made up of slow uphills and fast downhills.  Maintaining close to that pace uphills left me pretty winded.  It felt weird to ride my brakes downhill instead of blasting away.

Speaking of brakes, I probably used my brakes more in that one ride then I ever had by myself.  Usually when I'm solo, stop signs are few and far between.  In a group ride, you're constantly trying to keep the group speed; frequently this means applying brakes and pedalling harder in equal measures.

One of the things I found so much easier was dealing with wind.  When I'm by myself I feel like a great big flying brick, constantly trying to fight with the wind.  In a group you are shielded from that.  While we weren't a very strict paceline, we did practice drafting and it made such a difference.

The ride was considered a learning ride (development) as well as a social ride.  So one of the things I got to experience was chatting along the route.  The conversation inevitably rolled around cycling; what gear people had got or were getting, races and rides they had done, fun places to go for a ride, and so on.

It just so happened this particular group was a little chaotic and the front half of the group got separated from the back half of the group.  I was in the front half and we looped around county roads looking for the rest of the group.  Eventually we had to get back to town; it was getting dark and it seems like I was the only person who had a bike that was legal to ride at night.  We got back into town around sunset.  The intended route was going to be 35 km but we ended up doing 55 km.

The club has many rides during the week but they're a much faster paceline and a more organized group.  I will need more development rides under my belt before I'm ready for those.  But I've already made up my mind, I'll be joining the club.  Looking forward to tomorrow's development ride!