selfied over the gelert river

Cottage Ride Home via the Haliburton Rail Trail and Victoria Rail Trail

I decided to try a different way of coming home from the cottage last year. Rather than driving with everyone else, I passed my mom the keys, hopped on the bike, and started a two-day, 225 km ride home from the Haliburton Wolf Sanctuary via the Haliburton and Victoria Rail Trails. The ride had five distinct parts, both in name and experience. They were, Haliburton Wolf Sanctuary to the Haliburton, Haliburton Rail Trail, Victoria Rail Trail, Uxbridge to Lindsay Rail Trail, and finally the ride home from Uxbridge.

Haliburton Wolf Sanctuary to Home Garmin Map via the Haliburton and Victoria Rail Trails.

Why?

It all started with a visit to MEC in early 2019 while dreaming of summer adventure.

While there, I met a lady, Christine Laflamme, selling her book, Flip Flop Fantasy. Christine introduced me to her incredible story, a 2,600 km solo ride in summer of 2016 from her home in Toronto to the end of the Cabot Trail.

Her story amazed me for a couple of reasons. First, how she was able to pick an adventure, throw caution to the wind, and accomplish a dream. Two, she did it solo.

If you enjoy reading about adventure, you will enjoy her book.

I usually read two to three books like this a year, and nothing has ever inspired me enough to take the next step. Being from a local author, riding a local route, really made me question my thoughts about the accessibility of adventure, and how it truly is just outside my door.

The story almost ended there.

Then one day, early last spring, while perusing FaceBook I came across, Matthew Kady and a bikepacking route he built, the BT700. The BT700 is a 760km mostly offroad route from St. Jacobs to Lake Huron to Collingwood and back, with a grand depart scheduled for July 2019.

After a few weeks of obsessing, I decided that for a variety of reasons, it was too much too soon. Instead, I committed to finding a shorter route, allowing me to gauge my speed and ability.

It was during this research that I discovered a trail system not too far from our rental cottage running from Haliburton to Uxbridge, and the adventure was born.

How I planned

Unfortunately, I could not find anything online to validate the trails were even rideable, except for one YouTube video from someone who rode Uxbridge to Haliburton and back in 2011. I only took one picture during my ride, so if you are curious about what I saw you may want to give his video a watch.

What I did know was it existed, its a trail, someone did it before, it must be possible, and its time to take a leap of faith that everything will turn out alright.

My day one plan was to take me from the cottage to a friends place in Uxbridge, 165 km away. If I did that I would also accomplish my first hundred-mile ride. In case things didn’t go as planned I also booked the most affordable Airbnb I could find, in Lindsay, at the 120 km marker.

It looked like there would be a few nice stops along the way, to rest, relax, and take in some history, including the Kinmount Railway Station and Museum.

The only thing that gave me pause for concern was riding 100km through deep forest, solo, and the potential for bears.

Haliburton Wolf Sanctuary to Haliburton

The weather was perfect, with little wind, full sun, and decent temperatures with a forecasted high of 25, and a low of 16.  

After helping everyone pack up, I was on the road for 11, and the adventure began.  

The first 33 km of the trip followed cottage roads to Eagle Lake before eventually turning onto 118 for a short and fast dash into Haliburton.

Although by far the hilliest part of the trip, my legs were fresh, the spirit of adventure was high, and I was feeling fantastic. 

I made a quick stop at Baked and Battered in Haliburton for a few of their amazing treats, a quick coffee, then got ready for the real riding, the Haliburton Rail Trail.

Haliburton Rail Trail

The Haliburton Rail Trail is a 38 km of trail running from Baked and Battered in Haliburton to Kinmount.

This stretch of trail is owned and operated by the County of Haliburton, the trail then turns into the Victoria Rail Trail which is owned and operated by the City of Kawartha Lakes. This change in ownership ended up being the lifesaver that made finishing the ride even possible.

The first 18 km out of Haliburton was perfect, hard trail, allowing for a fast and effortless ride.

Then just before the town of Lochlin, the trail took a horrendous turn for the worse. The hardpack instantly turned into 6 inches of deep beach sand that was barely rideable. I hoped this would be a short section of bad trail, that things would improve, that I’d be back to smooth sailing soon, I was wrong.

That first 18 km into Lochlan took just over forty minutes of fast, flowy, and scenic riding. That last 20km took an hour and half of the some of the hardest most grinding and mentally exhausting riding I’ve ever done.

The whole time I wanted to quit, to turn off at the first road, and move on, but that would mean giving up, and adding many a km of much hillier road riding instead.

If anyone is ever considering this, I was riding a 29″ hardtail mountain bike, with 2.25″ tires. If you are riding narrower tires, this will be impossible. Just this past week someone commented on my Trailforks Trail Report noting how they had to turn off the trail after coming north through Kinmount.

Neither option seemed good. So I made a plan, I’ll push through to Kinmount and hope that Kawartha Lakes does a better job of trail maintenance, if not I’ll have to turn off, as another 55km of this would be impossible.  

As this internal debate continued, far from the nearest road, a dirt bike went flying by, one of only a handful of people I had seen on the trail so far. He went up passed a bend, then two minutes later came flying back towards me, where he quickly stopped to warn me “hey, you may want to turn around, just up past the bend I saw a big momma bear and her baby on the middle of the trail”. I asked if he scared them away, he says they didn’t seem to want to move, and that he was turning back, warning me you don’t want to mess with a momma bear.

Now the real debate begins, do I turn around, ride the terrible trail back for 5 km to get to the nearest road, in bear country. Or, face my biggest fear, and hope momma was scared away. So I grabbed my bear spray, rang my bear bells, sang at the top of my lungs, and proceeded cautiously forward.

I’m not sure if it was my voice or his motorcycle, what I do know is neither were seen by me.

A little later on I did manage to get my only selfie of the day, as I passed over a high bridge with a bunch of people bridge jumping into the depths below. I was hot, and it was tempting, but no.

Victoria Rail Trail

Riding into Kinmount was like riding into heaven, with about a km to go the trail was back to fast and effortless hardpack.

I hopped into the general store and bought two of the most delicious Cherry Cokes I can ever recall having, called my family with an update, and set up for a rest just outside the railway museum.

Running an hour behind, with a set of dead legs, I decided to skip the museum, put my feet up, and relax in the little bit of shade I could find.

Luckily, the next 55 km was not memorable in the same way as the previous 38 were. The trail was fantastic. I made good time covering the path in a little less than two and a half hours even with a couple of quick pit stops along the way.

This part of the trail was busier and far more scenic than the Haliburton section, basically eliminating my fears of any further wildlife encounters. Where the ride so far had been through deep forest, once I hit Cameron Lake and Fenelon Falls it was like I entered a beach town, with lots of life, people to look at, boats to watch, and things to keep me distracted.  

I stopped to eat and rest at the locks in Fenelon Falls, definitely a place to people watch, and for people to hang out who want to be watched, a complete 180 from everything else I had experienced on the ride so far.

Realizing I was back to making good time, I decided to push on at all costs to Uxbridge. The only catch, I would need to maintain my 20 km/hr pace over the final three and a half hours, without rest, to make before dark.

Here’s to hoping the trail doesn’t go to bad again.

I should add that the Victoria Rail Trail was by far the most scenic trail I rode that day, with many a Kodak moment to be had. If I wasn’t so off schedule I would have stopped, enjoyed the views, and taken a bunch of photos.

Uxbridge to Lindsay Rail Trail 

The ride from Fenelon Falls to Lindsay continued at a good pace with some minor saddle discomfort setting in. I made Lindsay on pace to hit Uxbridge before dark, with no room for error.

After exiting the Victoria Rail Trail in the North end of Lindsay, it took about twenty minutes of road riding to link onto the Uxbridge to Lindsay Rail Trail, at the South end of town.

My only memories from this trail are that I hurt, and everything was terrible. Generally speaking, I can ride for hours in the saddle without issues, but when I put in hard efforts, the saddle pain can get pretty intense. That effort into Kinmount nearly killed me, and the pain was incrementally growing throughout the day. By the time I hit Lindsay, it was unbearable, perhaps I shouldn’t have pressed on, but I wanted that first hundred miler and to knock off as much distance as I could from my day two ride.

Although I recall a scenic ride through the marshes of Scugog, my lasting memory of the day was the most intense saddle pain I’ve ever felt. For those last two hours, it was a never-ending repeat of shifting weight, sitting, standing, and just hating my life choices. Watching those last 40 km tick away, over two hours, was like watching water boil, then realizing an hour later, you forgot to turn on the element.

Looking back I’m sure this would be a very easy and enjoyable 40 km for most. For me, and where I was that day, it was the most unenjoyable riding I’ve ever done.

I rolled into Uxbridge, minutes after sunset, with my friend and his family greeting me with a warm welcome, including immense hospitality, a warm shower, a relaxing hot tub, and a super comfortable place to sleep.  

Thank you, Steve and family, you are an awesome friend, and your hospitality was much appreciated.

Uxbridge to Home

I woke up on Day 2 feeling somewhat refreshed and invigorated, although far from perfect, my back end was improved enough that I was able to hit the road and manage through the return to home without incident.

The Aftermath

I’m pretty sure I swore off ever doing this again, but then, of course, this year came along. We went back up to the cottage, I briefly debated the ride home, but this time my wife was kind enough to step in and allow a saner mindset to prevail.

Instead, I decided to sign up to ride the Cannonball 300 in August.

If you are ever considering the Uxbridge to Haliburton ride, I would highly encourage it. You will get a variety of amazing experiences including farms and marshes to Lindsay, the excitement of busy lakes and cottage towns in Fenelon Falls, and a taste of some great forests up through Kinmount. I would then highly advise you turn around in Kinmount, or have a Plan B in place to switch to roads if things haven’t improved.

Thank you for reading.

Cory

2 comments

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog. You’re brave to do this ride all the way from your cottage to your home. It sounds a challenging ride but at the same it is once a life time experience. Great job Cory!

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