I woke up on day 2 of the Cannonball 300 feeling fantastic. The remaining 130km would take me along the paved paths of the Welland Canal, as well as some lightly used roads through the Niagara Escarpment. From what I could recall of the elevation profile, the route looked both flat and fast. If everything went to plan, I would be back home in time for dinner.
As a quick FYI, this is the second of two posts chronicling my two-day bikepacking adventure, along Cannonball 300 bikepacking route. You can read about my experiences on day one by following this link, Cannonball 300 Bikepacking Route, Day 1 of 2.
Port Colborne to Thorold Along the Welland Canal
It wasn’t long after leaving my Airbnb that I arrived in the Town of Port Colborne, and the start of the Welland Canal. This leg of the Cannonball 300 was the section I was looking to forward to the most, and it didn’t disappoint.
The trail itself was great. It started on the road for the first few kilometres, before transitioning to paved path all the way to my turnoff in Thorold. It was fast, flat, and effortless riding, with some excellent views along the way.
Not much further up the road, I saw my first boat passing by Bridge 19 along the Welland Canal.
Just as I left town, the trail took me past the Robin Hood grain elevator, a historic grain elevator that was built in the 1940s before closing in 2008. According to Niagara This Week it has just recently been put back into full production, storing corn, soybeans, wheat, and oats.
Riding along a typical section of the Welland Canal.
About ten kilometres from the start of the Welland Canal I officially entered Welland and the Welland International Flatwater Centre.
The Welland International Flatwater Centre holds a special place in my heart. It was here that I completed the swim portion of the Niagara Falls Barrelman Half Ironman each of the last three years, including my first half in 2016.
Seeing the flatwater centre reminded me about the importance of taking a negative and turning it into a positive. Although it’s a little disappointing to do any races this year, I am definitely glad that I was able to pivot to bikepacking, and the Cannonball 300.
At Lock 7 another boat was making its way along the Welland Canal.
The Welland Canal made for a very visually stimulating ride. In my memory, it was only a few minutes later that I made it to the Town of Thorold. I see now it was closer to an hour later, 25km down the trail.
As an FYI to anyone considering the trip, the route had a very short out and back section to the Thorold Mural Project. If you want the namesake photo you will need to make sure not to skip it.
The mural honours the Cannonball bike which was made in the Town of Thorold, during the mid-1800s.
The first leg, or 40km, of the trip, was over, with only 90km to go. My legs felt fresh. I was moving at 25km/hr, well above my regular 19.5km/hr pace. I phoned my wife and told her that I’d be home before dinner, perhaps even with time for a swim.
St. Catharines to Beamsville
The first 40km of the day went perfectly, the next 40 would almost be my mental undoing. It wasn’t so much that this section of the Cannonball 300 was challenging, it was just that it was unexpected, and I made a few bad decisions along the way.
Just down the road from the Thorold Murals I officially passed into St. Catharines.
The route then followed the Merritt Trail for 6km, including one short section of unexpected singletrack. It wasn’t difficult to ride, but there was one drop that caught me off guard and had my Garmin trying to trigger a crash alert.
After leaving the Merritt Trail, I passed over the Burgoyne Bridge.
Where I promptly stopped at the next gas station to stock up on the essentials.
It was on this next section of trail that, for the first time this trip, adversity set in.
When planning for the Cannonball, I remember looking at the route, and thinking, that day 2 was my easy day. Based on the elevation profile I thought I would be riding along the base of the Escarpment for the majority of the way, before riding back up the Escarpment sometime before Hamilton.
Although not wrong, it also wasn’t right.
The route out of St. Catharines takes you along St. Paul St. W./King St. for about ten kilometres to the Town of Jordan. This part of the route had a series of unexpected rolling hills, with a minor headwind. I’m not sure if it was the heat, the headwind, the more demanding riding, or not knowing how much of this lay ahead, all I knew was it was taking everything out of me.
I learned something about wine country on this trip.
What did I learn, you ask? It’s that although beautiful, the serenity of it is continuously interrupted by bird cannons, firing multiple times per hour. From what I’ve read, they fire all day, every day, from late summer to fall.
What I also didn’t expect was this road closure.
In my experiences road closures typically only apply to cars. Bikes and pedestrians, typically not so much. With this in mind, I slowly made my way forward, to the edge of a deep gully, filled with construction equipment, and what looked like pipelines. From what I could see, there was no way through it.
Looking at my phone, I discovered two alternatives. The first looked longer but would stay on the road. Alternatively, a much shorter route, including a section of unknown trail, that wasn’t to far away.
Already being tired from the rolling hills of the Escarpment, I decided to give the shorter trail a try. How hard could it be?
Let’s start by saying I have always wanted to hike the Bruce Trail, but it’s a big commitment and not something that I would be able to find the time for.
Recently I have wondered if it was possible to mountain bike it instead. Well, today, I discovered you can’t.
This section of the Bruce was definitely not made for riding and took me up and down the Escarpment too many times. By the time I was finished, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
At the time, it felt like I was in there for at least half an hour, if not more, I see now it was more like ten minutes of pure hell.
The worst part, I discovered a little while later, had I pressed along the closed road I would have found a construction access bridge at the bottom of the gully. Or, that looking back now, I see that if I took the time to measure both detours, I would have discovered that the road detour was only 2km longer.
On the flip side, I sometimes find that the moments where I faced the most adversity and managed to overcome them, are the moments I look back at with the most fondness. As of now, that’s holding true, and I got a great picture out of it.
By the time I was out, I was mentally exhausted. The ride out of St. Catharines had been much slower than expected, and my dreams of being home for dinner had faded away.
Thirty minutes later, my Garmin’s battery died, due to a faulty charging cable I used the night before.
I quickly checked the map on my phone and realized that with all the turns ahead I had no choice but to pull over and charge my Garmin, causing another unexpected thirty-minute rest break.
I was now almost three hours off my planned pace, and was wondering if I would finish before dark.
In the end, the additional thirty-minute delay worked out well. Once my Garmin was reasonably charged, I hopped back on the bike, where the route immediately took a turn off of King Street and began a 4km long climb up the Escarpment.
On the final push to the top, a group of riders caught up to me and they were kind enough to let me join them for the ride home.
Beamsville to the Finish
Although I had ridden with other groups for short sections, so far, the trip had been mostly a solo adventure. When planning the trip, I had fears that it may be too long to be done solo. The great thing about living in the age of technology is that I was never too far from a friendly face whenever required.
That said, riding with the group was a welcome change. The distraction of conversation got me out of my mental pity party of pain and had me riding strong again.
Now there is one problem with riding with others, and that is sometimes they blow by places that you want to stop and explore. Like this place along the Dofasco 2000 trail, just as you enter if off of Smith Rd.
Does anyone know what this otherworldly spot is?
At the time, I thought it was some sort of satellite graveyard. From my Google detective work, I now know that it must be a newer installation, still under construction, but nothing that indicates what it’s for.
A few minutes later we arrived at the 1.7km Dofasco 2000 Trail Boardwalk, taking you through the Vineland South Swamp.
The 10km of Dofasco Trail ended with a short out and back to the Devil’s Punch Bowl Lookout. The views from here are amazing and definitely a highlight moment of the trip.
Although you can’t see it on the sign, both Space Balls and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure are playing on screen 3.
There was one last bit of drama on the day. After leaving Devil’s Punch Bowl, we went through the Heritage Green Sports Park. The final few meters of trail, just before it ends at Echovalley Drive, was under construction.
The only option to bypass the construction was by hugging treeline and the edge of the fence. I led the group through this section, with my two new riding partners following closely behind. We must have upset a bee’s nest while in there because although I got through unscathed, the other two had five or six bites each.
They say that Hamilton is the Waterfall Capital of the World with over one hundred waterfalls within the city limits, including the picturesque Albion Falls. While I stopped for pictures, my new riding partners had dinner plans and continued on back to the finish.
While there I had a chance to chat with one of the guards who was telling me that it’s a $100 fine for jumping the fence, and a $10,000 fine if they have to rescue you. He told me that typically they issue multiple fines a day and perform several rescues a year.
FINISHING THE CANNONBALL 300
The ride from Albion Falls, was straight downhill for the next 6km along the Escarpment Rail Trail, freshening up my legs for the final push through Hamilton and into the Dundas Driving Park.
The frustration of being three hours off my pace had long since past. Instead, I was filled with the pride of knowing I finished the Cannonall 300 Bikepacking Route.
The ride was everything I wanted it to be, and it gave me memories that will last a lifetime. Including, perhaps my favourite memory of the trip, the road closure before Jordan, and the resulting hike a bike along the Bruce Trail.
Looking back, everyone I met along the trail was fantastic. The route itself is very well put together with an abundance of amazing things to see.
As our license plates used to, “Ontario, Yours to Discover”. It was both a great slogan and so very true.
Now, it’s time to figure out the timing of my next adventure, the 160km Durham Destroyer, later in September.
Thanks for reading,