I had a lot running through my mind as I pulled into Port Perry the morning of September 26. With a 160km distance, 1km of climbing (actually turned out to be 2km), gravel roads, and 7km of sand, my mind was racing, am I ready for this, am I ready for the 2021 Durham Destroyer – I’m Not Worthy?
I first came across the Durham Destroyer about a month ago while looking for another epic ride, after finishing the Cannonball 300, and the Simcoe County Loop Trail, earlier this summer.
For those not familiar with it, the 2021 Durham Destroyer – I’m Not Worthy, bills itself as the most challenging of the Durham Destroyer routes, explicitly calling out 7km of sand in the “Devil’s Sandbox”, and relentless hills.
It did not disappoint.
Do note, all distances are from the Walmart parking lot, and not the official route start.
May 2021 Update
I recently had the pleasure of completing the 160km Durham Destroyer – I’m Not Worthy gravel grinder for the second time in less than a year. Last September, I rode my 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 Hardtail. This past weekend I did the same on my brand new carbon-framed 2021 Norco Search XR C2.
This perfectly set’s up the big question…
Understanding that the Durham Destroyer is a true gravel adventure test, with gravel roads, punchy climbs, single track, double track, and 7km of sandy hell, was the upgrade to a gravel-specific bike worth the money?
Read the full story here, 2021 Norco Search XR C2 vs 2014 Rocky Mountain Vertex 930 on the Durham Destroyer.
Durham Destroyer Part 1 – 0-35km – Port Perry to the Trans Canada Trail
3.5km in, the warning signs were already in the air.
As you may recall from my ride of the Cannonball 300, a similar “Road Closed” sign ended with a detour along the Bruce Trail that nearly killed me, both mentally and physically.
After that detour debacle, this was the last thing I wanted to see.
Now here I am, the route hasn’t even officially started, and the mental games have begun, do I push on, do I hope to make a smart detouring decision, will there be a way through, is this a warning for what lies ahead, why wasn’t this posted?
I’m happy to report that 2km down the trail, I saw what looked like construction, but turned out to be a variety of parked cars, and what seems like a semi-permanent crossing set up for bikes and pedestrians.
Looking back, perhaps that sign was a warning. The 2021 Durham Destroyer comes at you quickly and comes at you hard, with non-stop rolling hills, and hard climbing.
Besides the sand, my biggest fear coming into the day was, would it be boring? After the Cannonball and SCLT, could it compare?
From what I could see, other than a quick tour through Uxbridge and Durham Forest, the rest of the day would be country roads, and cornfields. How exciting could that be?
What I didn’t expect were the expansive and breathtaking views. Like this one from the top of Marsh Hill Road.
Or, this one on Sideroad 18.
While riding north of Port Perry, all I could think was, wow, I’m in big sky country now.
Durham Destroyer Part 2 – 35-55km – Trans Canada Trail through Beaver River Wetlands
After 35km of rolling hills, I was ready for a change of pace, and welcomed the turn onto the Trans Canada Trail.
The 20km of the Trans Canada Trail is the only flat section of the day, serving as a good recovery point before the hills of Uxbridge, Durham Forest, and Lakeridge.
I rode this section of trail last year on my ride home from the cottage and it’s still my favourite section of rail-trail, thanks to the fantastic scenery of the Beaver River Wetlands Conservation Area.
According to the LSCRA, the wetlands cover 500 hectares of wetland and is one of the most ecologically significant natural areas in the Lake Simcoe watershed.
The LSCRA, also points out that the rail-trail itself was formerly a part of the Toronto & Nipissing Railway, famous for supplying the Toronto Distillery District with wood and wheat.
Durham Destroyer Part 3 – 55-94km -Uxbridge to Lakeridge
I want to give a special call-out to my friend Steve who joined me for the ride through Uxbridge.
Steve, thank you. Your company was welcome, and much appreciated.
It’s important to note that besides the natural springs at Lakeridge, Uxbridge is the only on route refuelling stop.
I should also add, that while riding through Uxbridge, I encountered frequent GPS errors, resulting in a few wrong turns, and not officially qualifying for the official Uxbridge Strava Segment.
If you are on this route, and you see signage for The Great Trail, my best guess is to follow that, as that’s what worked through Durham Forest and Glen Major.
After leaving Uxbridge, I passed by this quarry.
Then into Durham Forest, home of some of the best single track in Southern Ontario, courtesy of the DMBA.
If you haven’t ridden here before, you must come for a visit. Although the ride through today was good, it didn’t do Durham Forest justice, sticking to the Great Canadian Trail, and entirely bypassing the fifty-odd kilometres of expertly maintained single track mountain bike trails within.
As I rode through Durham Forest, I stumbled upon a couple who were also out exploring. The coolest part was realizing that we follow each other on Instagram, @kaylamae12345, it was great meeting you in person. If you don’t follow her, you should, she is one of the most avid mountain bikers I know of, touring great places, and posting on an almost daily basis.
Then back to the hills.
As I made my way up to Chalk Lake Road, the second most challenging climb of the day, I was hurting, but grateful in knowing that the days 1,000m of climbing was almost over.
The only challenge left would be the part I feared the most, the 7km of sand known as the Devil’s Sandbox.
After the climb, while pulling into the natural springs at Chalk Lake and Lakeridge Roads, something didn’t seem right. According to my GPS, despite being halfway through, I had hit the days 1,000m of planned elevation gain. Perhaps the rest of the route is flatter, but could it be that flat?
And here is a photo of me discovering that no, no, it wasn’t. It seems that the Durham Destroyer did want to destroy me, for the next 72km, not only would I have 7kms of sand to deal with, but another 1,000m of climbing as well.
To anyone planning this in the future, the Durham Destroyer website correctly calls out 1,994m of elevation gain, but Komoot incorrectly displays 950m.
Durham Destroyer Part 4 – 94km to 110km – Lakeridge to Byers Road
It was now 3:24. I had 72km left, with 4 hours of daylight. I was willing to ride a little into the night but I didn’t want to ride for long.
Where the first part of the journey was about taking my time and enjoying the day, the mindset for the back half was strictly to finish and finish fast.
As I pulled out from Chalk Lake Springs it was like the Durham Destroyer knew I was feeling weak. If you look back at the photo of the Chalk Lake Springs, you will notice a very steep hill in the background, and that was precisely where I was heading next.
With 57m of gain, over 600m, Crow’s Passage was the single most brutal climb of the day, and of course when I got to the top, what did I see, but this trail closure.
In the end, I’m not sure why. The trail itself was in excellent condition, not on private property, and instead passed through Crow’s Pass Conservation Area.
Another one of the views that continued to wow.
Bypassing an Elk Farm just outside of Crows Pass Conservation Area.
It was while looking North to Port Perry, that self-doubt, and thoughts of quitting began to seriously creep in. My mind started to race, 106km is a good day, it’s getting late, sands not even fun, why are you doing this, what do you have to prove, go home, go see your family they miss you, have a beer, and all that good stuff.
Instead, I forced myself to push on, knowing that I could easily make that short turn if I allowed a saner mindset to prevail.
Durham Destroyer Part 5 – 112-127km – Byers and Boundary Road
Not even fifteen minutes later, it began. When I started the day, I kept telling myself how bad could it be, it’s probably way overblown, really just talked about to add to the allure of the day, I’m sure it’s all bark, no bite.
As soon as I saw Byers Road I knew I was wrong, in fact, it was worse then I feared, with six-inch deep beach sand, and no options to avoid it. Was this even rideable?
As I mentioned before, I prefer not having the option to short turn, but instead, here I think knowing I could, saved me, by giving me the will to push on, knowing that there will always be an exit if and when it becomes too much.
It was 4:40, and I knew that this next section of trail was only a couple of km’s. I figured no matter how bad it seems I might as well give it a go, I can always walk, then quit at the next opportunity if required.
Although Byers was rough, the views were interesting, with solar power in the foreground, and Canada’s newest cash crop in the background.
The ATV Trail that’s also known as Byers Road.
If it wasn’t for my 2.2″ wheels, the sand might have been impossible. Instead, I moved at a snail’s pace, only having to push my bike a few times, over the next 3.5km.
All I could think was, I’m through, is that it? Will it be smooth sailing from here on in?
I guess I should push on and find out.
At 5:30, it was time for one last quick rest and the final slice of the chocolate walnut banana bread my wife baked for me the night before. Thank you, Jen!
The 6km past Byers Road was smooth sailing.
My spirits were up, hoping that the worst was behind me.
Then it happened, the turn onto Boundary Road, and shortly after that, another 3.5km of soul-sucking sand.
I want to take this opportunity to call out the responsiveness of whoever runs the Facebook page for the Durham Destroyer. By the time I exited Boundary Road, I was done. I picked up my phone, opened up Facebook Messenger and reached out with the following exchange.
With that, I took one last look back, and one more photo of the sands of Boundary Road.
I should also add that in hindsight, it wasn’t that bad, and the sand wouldn’t prevent me from doing it again.
For me, the worst part is just not knowing what to expect, or if and when it would end. Now I know, and I would welcome the challenge.
When I look back, for the most part, you can ride it, albeit slowly, it’s tough, but it ends. The route wouldn’t be the same without it.
Although I still had 40km and two big climbs to go, I knew I had won.
The hardest part was behind me. No matter what, this final 40km would be, and was, a victory lap to the finish.
With 20km to go, the sun had set, and an hour of night riding began.
If you read my post about bike safety, you may be wondering about my night light setup. I had a steady rear light on my seat post, a flashing light on my helmet, two lights upfront including one constant and one flashing, and a light-up flashing armband.
It’s safe to say I was the brightest thing for miles around.
As I pulled into Port Perry and the Walmart parking lot, a sense of contentment washed over me. Today, I had done what was perhaps the most challenging single-day event I’ve ever done.
Was it more difficult than a half-ironman? I can’t say, but maybe. I can safely say the mind games that the hills and sand played on me were some of the worst I’ve ever had.
Of course, where there’s pain, there’s reward, and today was a great day. Durham Destroyer – Today I was worthy!
In the end, I set a few records, with 1,950m of climbing and twelve hours in the saddle.
I went into the day wondering if the route would suck, and it definitely did not. If you have never ridden near Port Perry, or the Durham Destroyer isn’t on your list, add it, you won’t be disappointed.
Now, what’s next? I’m thinking the Burks Falls Loop, perhaps later this month.
Really enjoyed the writeup, “I’m not worthy” has to be on my list now for 2021. I did the Rookie and it kicked my ass in the summer heat. All worth it at the end.
Thanks, it was a devil of a day that nearly kicked my ass as well, despite that, those are usually my best memories.