Brendan developed a late-summer addiction to gravel grinding, and shares his experiences exploring the gravel and unassumed roads in rural Ottawa. You can follow him on twitter at @brendangorman7 and on Strava:
I've always been a pavement guy. I've had some forays into cyclocross, mountain biking, & gravel roads but mostly I've avoided anything of a technical nature. However, getting back into cycling this year & living out in West Carleton, a rural part of Ottawa, caused a serious detour from the pavement for which I became extremely addicted.
Having been curious about some local unassumed roads & motivated by finishing in the top thirty of Almonte-Roubaix (which uses them) I decided to take the leap & do some exploring. I had a decent cyclocross bike after all. Might as well get some use out of it & keep things fresh.
My first experience was Ramsay Con 12, a left off Panmure Road, a couple km south of me. It's a farm road for a few km before you come upon the infamous yellow sign(s) I was to see much of over the next few months, "UNASSUMED ROAD, USE AT YOUR OWN RISK." I live on what is called an alvar. It's basically an area where there is little to no topsoil on top of the bedrock. Ramsay 12 was no exception. I was basically riding on rock the whole time & part way through the ride I realized I hadn't brought a pump or tube with me. Oops! I scared a fawn, was taken by surprise when I saw some illegal campers, then came to a fork in the road & went left. I came out on Ramsay 11 that eventually took me to the traffic circle in Almonte. I realized that Ramsay 12 had been the fork left so I road up 12 on the other side from March Road until I got to the unassumed portion where there was a significant swamp blocking my way. Good thing I forked right!
My next experiences were the unassumed roads off Old Almonte Rd, namely Howie. I got to the end of Howie at the power lines and saw the road continue through a giant puddle and on the left there was a giant berm. I scaled the berm got lost a few times and made it out through a road that eventually took me to a cabin that was marked as a firing range. Hmmm? Thankfully nobody was around but I still didn't feel good about my situation. I couldn't figure out how to get back to the road but somehow found my way back onto an unassumed road that turned out to be Beavertail Rd. The road came upon a fairly deep swamp & that's when I finally gave up on my goal of staying dry then, & for the rest of my adventures. I got up past my knees in water, made it out to civilization & back to my parked van. A solid 20km in 2 hours. I wasn't going back there anytime soon! As it turned out that was a good thing. A Bushtakah employee in Stittsville informed me that the owner of the land had put up the berms to stop trespassers & that he had been personally threatened with a shotgun by the owner when riding back there. Yikes!
Next on the list was the Rock Coady Trail which like Ramsay 12 was just south of me off Panmure Rd but to the right. Again very rocky but rideable eventually coming out on the Trans Canada Pipeline tree cut out, weaving back into the trees, coming to a no trespassing sign (signs I learned to take somewhat less seriously), hopping a gate & coming out on Timms Rd which led to Kinburn Side Rd. The second time riding it I very briefly saw what looked like a bear cub running very fast away from me. My heart sank into my stomach, "Where was momma?" The very last time I did it this year was with a fellow West Carleton cyclist I met at the Almonte OBC TT's. He lived just on the other side of the Carp Ridge & we had decided that at some point we would go exploring. By this time I was merely showing him what I had already found & Rock Coady was first on the menu. As we started coming up on the pipeline section we noticed a pick-up truck just ahead. We caught up with it in the open section & I calmly road past. I could hear the boys inside chuckling like Beavis and Butthead but didn't think much of it at the time. My companion hung back? I wasn't sure why until an hour later he mentioned that they had had a shotgun hanging out the side which they promptly pulled in before I noticed it. Yikes again!
My biggest misadventure was probably Murphy's Side Rd over the Carp Ridge. I knew that I likely wouldn't be able to get all the way through (although a teammate of mine miraculously did a few years ago) because of swamp but I wanted to ride both sides & measure the gap. Starting in Carp I rode the first side, got to the end, turned around & followed a snowmobile trail to the left thinking I'd come out on Huntmar Rd by the old Crazy Horse. It soon became apparent that this trail was extremely rocky and I spent more time walking than cycling. As I was wondering if I was ever going to get out alive I came upon a sub-division. Taking this as a good sign I kept going but eventually came to an impassable swamp. Not wanting to retrace my steps back I started looking for a way into the sub-division but most of the homes were extremely well fenced in. Finally I found a non-fenced in home and not caring anymore I decided to trespass my way out of there. I came upon a kid playing basketball in the front, explained my situation, & thankfully he was very understanding. Although I probably should have given up there I decided to ride the other side of Murphy's Side Rd off Marchurst. I got to the end turned around, followed March Rd back to Carp and called it a day. I accomplished my goal of measuring the gap, 800m but I was very sore the next day from all the scrambling and jumping over rocks.
As the season went on I had many more experiences, most of them very pleasant and rewarding, and a few I would like to forget. I traversed km of swamp, got lost multiple times, & came upon unsuspecting illegal hunters who warned me about the upcoming hunting season. Later on I took some trips to Lanark County & discovered unassumed roads that were in extremely good shape & I finally tried California Rd for which I had heard so much about. These were the rides I enjoyed the most. Very scenic, twisty & narrow but you could basically drive any vehicle on. Eventually I had to get down to the business of fall hammer rides on the pavement & I left a lot of exploring on the table. But I'm not going anywhere so plenty of time over the next years to explore my newfound passion. It almost makes riding on pavement, my first love, seem boring after awhile.