The excitement was in the air as I pulled into the parking lot of the Hamilton Air Force Association early on Saturday, August 22. Greeting me on my arrival were several other riders preparing for the grand depart of the Cannonball 300 bikepacking route.
If you are not familiar with it, the Cannonball 300 is a beginner bikepacking route that takes riders from Dundas to Brantford to Port Dover to Port Colborne to St. Catharines and back again. Covering about 320 kilometres of scenic, rail trail, waterfront trail, and side roads.
After getting my bike setup, I was given directions to the official start, which took me on a straight climb up through Dundas’s Grove Cemetary.
Steep climbing already? Cemetery? Was this a warning for the road ahead?
Preparing for the Cannonball 300 Bikepacking Route
The big question coming into the day was, am I ready?
After breaking my heel in early March I have been slowly ramped up my training, and although it’s gone well, it hasn’t been perfect.
My biggest challenge so far has been bonking either during or right after my long rides. Whether that’s been hitting the wall on the Simcoe County Loop Trail, or falling apart after any ride I’ve done over 100k, it hasn’t been pretty.
My fear, of course, is if I bonk on day 1, what will day 2 look like.
The mission for today, avoid the bonk.
That said, lessons have been learned. In the past, I would focus on hydration, but not always what I was drinking, or how many calories I was consuming, leaving that part more to feel, then some sort of plan.
If the Simcoe County Loop Trail taught me anything, it was that by the time my body lets me know it’s hungry or thirsty, it’s already too late. After the SCLT, I realized that although I have always felt like I was eating and drinking more than enough, I’m obviously not, and if I plan to survive the weekend I will need to be very regimented in my habits.
My plan was to drink a minimum of one bottle of fluid an hour, switching between Gatorade, and Nuun infused water. Along with some sort of snack, targeting about 400 calories each hour, not including any extra calories consumed at lunch or dinner.
I would like to make a special callout to my wife, and her amazing gluten-free banana bread that powered me throughout the day.
Dundas to Brantford via the Hamilton – Brantford Rail Trail
Upon arriving at the official starting line at the Dundas Driving Park, I was welcomed by several other racers. Most people were planning a two-day trip, with some machines planning to do the whole thing in a single day, and some taking the time to enjoy themselves over a more relaxed three-day journey.
After exiting the Dundas Driving Park, we quickly transitioned onto the Hamilton – Brantford Rail Trail. This section was fast, scenic, and unlike a lot of rail trail was visually stimulating all the way to Port Dover.
Looking back my Garmin shows that we did a gradual 150m climb over the first 10k. With the adrenaline pumping, a set of fresh legs, and the excitement for the day ahead, I didn’t even notice the climb.
I never paid much attention to graffiti in the past, but I’ve now discovered that it does make for some nice bike shots, like this bridge as you enter into Brantford.
Brantford to Port Colborne via the LE & N Tract
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the whole idea of bikepacking is new to me. In the past, I’ve focused on running, triathlon, and mountain biking. With COVID and a lack of races on the calendar, I’ve been forced to find seek out new adventures, like bikepacking.
What I like about bikepacking is that allows me to explore things that I never would have otherwise. Sure you can drive places, but when you’re cruising by on your bike at 20km/hr, you appreciate it in a whole new way.
Take this stretch of Brantford to Port Dover for instance. I’ve seen it on a map, drove by sections of it at times, but really, I know nothing about it. I didn’t even realize how impressive the Grand River is, or even where it went.
One word of caution, there are many connecting trails in Brantford, with options to go to Paris, and beyond. My Garmin 930 was very confused during this section, creating just a bit of frustration along the way.
After arriving in Brampton and successfully navigating five or six Garmin routing issues, I managed to get back on the track. With routing issues on my ride home from the cottage last year, and some minor annoyances this year, I will be giving Ride with GPS an honest try on my next adventure.
If you’re planning on doing the Cannonball, take note, there will be a Shoppers just off the trail, which will be your last near trail refuelling stop before Port Dover.
Apparently, you need to pass through graffitied bridges before entering and leaving Brantford.
About 25km later, I passed through the town of Waterford, and the Waterford Pond Black Bridge. This 166m long, high-level, rail bridge, is a relic of the old Lake Erie and Northern Electric Railway, where you’ll see some fantastic views of the Waterford Ponds. If you are ever in the area, the views are amazing.
A few kilometres down the trail, just before entering Simcoe, I passed by these buildings.
I had no idea what they were at the time, but after too much time on detective work, I am happy to share with you what tobacco drying kilns look like.
Upon arriving at in Port Dover, I was greeted by Marc, the organizer, and his family. They were kind enough to layout refreshments to support us on our journey. Despite being passed by numerous riders on the course, it was motivating to see that I wasn’t that far behind.
My wife has always told me that the best fish and chips are in Port Dover. I’m guessing this fishing company might be why. Although it wasn’t in the cards for this trip, I do look forward to planning a day trip next year, when hopefully COVID has passed, and their beaches are opened back up.
I just want to take a pause and make a special callout to Scot at North Shore Cycle. While prepping my bike on Friday, I came across my chain ware gauge and discovered that my chain was in urgent need of replacement. I phoned Scot up, he got back to me in minutes, and he agreed to meet me just off the trail to put on a new one. Thank you, Scot, you may have helped to avoid disaster, and your hospitality was welcomed. I highly recommend him if you are ever in need of repair.
Port Dover to Dunnville via Lake Erie’s Waterfront
After exiting Port Dover, the Cannonball 300 Bikepacking Route followed Lake Erie’s waterfront for 60k before reaching the town of Dunville.
The 60k out of Port Dover was fast, on a variety of lightly used roads. Along this section of road Lake Erie basically looks like an ocean in the Caribbean, with blue water, and beautiful, albeit generally private, beaches.
Although fascinating in its own way, the only blip on this scenic journey was just before the town of Nanticoke, and the Stelco’s Lake Erie Works plant. I may not have gotten a picture of it, but it’s safe to say its main structure dominated the horizon from miles away.
Not too far out of Nanticoke I passed by Selkirk Provincial Park.
Then not too much further down the road a potentially interesting lunch spot, if only I had my bathing suit to access it.
Cannonball 300 Bikepacking Route Hydration Warning – There Are No Stores From Port Dover to Dunnville
It was around this time that my fluids began to hit critical levels. I had been rationing my last bottle for more than an hour. With thirty degree weather and full sun, this wasn’t going to work out well.
Leaving Port Dover I fully expected that with all the housing along the way there would be somewhere to stop for food and drink, there wasn’t. I was beginning to fear that I may need to drink some Lake Erie water, even though it may end up causing to me make frequent stops for a variety of other reasons.
Finally, in desperation, I pulled over and asked a family if they knew of any stores coming up. Only to discover that the next one was 30k down the road in Dunnville. Like everyone I meet along the trail, these were great people. They were amazed by my adventure and were kind enough to give me a few bottles of water to keep me going.
Dunnville to Port Colborne via the Gord Henry Trail
The town of Dunnville sits at about the 160km mark of the Cannonball 300 bikepacking route. Dunnville is the first of many overnight stopping points along the next 40km of trail. The other popular options are Rock Point Provincial Park just outside of town, Long Beach Conservation Area about 15km down the road, or Port Colborne about 40km away. For myself, I had arranged a room via Airbnb just outside the Town of Port Colborne.
As I entered Dunnville, I made my final crossing of The Grand River.
Then promptly entered into downtown.
Another little bit of warning for anyone considering the Cannonball, the cell reception along the Lake Erie waterfront was terrible. In addition to not planning water, I also didn’t think to write down the address of my Airbnb, creating some angst that I may not be able to find it.
Luckily it did improve as I entered into town, but you may want to take this into account, depending upon where you are staying, or how badly you need to be connected.
I’m not a morning person, I say that because most of the events I do start early, and are typically far away. Wanting to ensure I am starting the day out right, I usually look for a highly rated, albeit inexpensive, Airbnb to stay at.
When booking Airbnb’s, I typically encounter three types of accommodations. The investment property, the room with a separate entrance where you never see the owners, and the room in someone’s house.
Logic would dictate that the last option is probably the most uncomfortable one, and surprisingly this has generally proven wrong. I’ve met some fantastic, welcoming people this way, people who let me in, treat me like family, and are usually just interested in meeting new people.
My hosts on this trip were precisely that. Their property was fantastic, their hospitality was equally as lovely. They even had egg-laying hens on site.
As I was leaving Dunnville, I updated my host Sandi with my arrival time and asked about food delivery options. They suggested Super Marios Pizza in Port Colborne, while also offering me a pizza from their freezer if it was easier for me.
I appreciated the offer but decided to give Super Marios a try. FYI, their gluten-free pizza was fantastic, I ate almost the whole thing, and their cajun wings were the best I’ve had, more drumsticks then chicken wings.
As part of the stay, breakfast was on offer, although I really wanted to accept, my gluttony from the night before had hit me hard.
Instead, Sandi was kind enough, to pack me a bottle of pure grape juice from grapes they grow themselves, as well as a bottle of homemade maple syrup for my kids to try.
If you are ever looking for a place to stay near Port Colborne you should definitely give them a try, Nature’s Beauty by the Lake (with breakfast).
Wrapping up Day 1 on the Cannonball 300 Bikepacking Route
Day 1 of my adventure on the Cannonball 300 Bikepacking Route was in the books without issue. I went in concerned about timing and lack of room I had for error, but the course was flat, fast, and generally painless, save for the water issues after leaving Port Dover.
My day 1 pace was about 20 km/hr. I had time to take pictures, stop and enjoy the views, and make it to my destination with ease.
With that in mind, I figured Day 2 would be just as easy, with only 120km to go, I told my wife and kids to expect me home for dinner.
I was wrong.
Day 2 of the adventure can be read by clicking here.