West Carleton: A Gravel Grinder's Paradise

(For pictures and descriptions https://www.strava.com/activities/1600175991

Seven years ago my wife and I escaped the close quartered suburbs of Kanata. We bought a great townhouse and loved the interior. Unfortunately outside was a cramped concrete jungle!  

With West Carleton right beside us we eventually got an agent and the search for peace began. When our agent originally showed us the listing for our current home we thought she was crazy! We wanted to escape suburbia badly but didn't want to live in the boonies! It seemed like visiting urban Ottawa would be an entire day trip in itself. Regardless we drove out. We're open minded and you never know. To our pleasant surprise it wasn't that far, being just off the 417 interchange of Panmure Road. The lot was treed and the neighbours weren't right on top of us. Score! We bought the house that evening. Boom!

I didn't ride gravel at the time and I wasn't racing. However, I saw there was plenty of paved roads, little traffic and lots of scenery. I'd done a bit of riding in West Carleton while living in town but now this was my neighbourhood. Every time I saw a road being paved I thought, "Cool I can ride that now," 

When I ran for City Council in 2014 I canvassed every road, paved and gravel on my road bike. So many breathtaking back roads available to those wanting a more quiet and serene ride. Being more hardpacked dirt and smooth I had no trouble riding them. 

Then last year after I got back into cycling again everything changed. I wrote an article last year on my team website nine2fivepro about my gravel grinding addiction that spread like wildfire. The knowledge I'd gained canvassing paid off in full. Now when I see local roads being paved I think, "Nooooooo."

Today I did a ride that took in the best of the roads in the south west of West Carleton. These roads I remember canvassing but problem was barely anyone lived on them. You can go forever without seeing a driveway. Not a problem when gravel riding!

First up is Breezy Heights. This is an interesting road because it becomes paved in the middle and uses a part of Old Highway 17 that was cut off when the 417 was expanded beyond Panmure Road. It climbs up to a Quarry and provides a great view of the Pakenham Hills. You can see an old sign for the Antrim Truck Stop and the wide shoulder where transport trucks would park to rest. Clearly visible is path the road used to follow towards Arnprior until it was cut off. The road becomes gravel again and goes past a trailer and a mobile home park until it connects with Upper Dwyer. 

Continuing on Upper Dwyer to Kinburn Side Road into Pakenham you'll encounter another jewel just before the famous stone bridge. Turning right on Darks Side Road it starts off paved and gives a great view of the Pakenham Falls. Once you climb up a hill it becomes gravel and dips serenely a few times over streams through green splendor. Any stress you were feeling quickly evaporates. Changing to Hansen Side Rd at the City limits it brings you to Upper Dwyer and back to civilization. 

Crossing the Mississippi River on Upper Dwyer (another peaceful spot, albeit on pavement) you arrive at perhaps the most peaceful and sparsest populated part of the area. Turning left onto Ritchie Side Rd and then right on Ivy Acres you discover that the roads are essentially there for tractors. There are basically no homes except for farms. Again your mind dissolves into bliss as civilization seems non existent.

Eventually you arrive at Galetta Side Road, go over the highway, into Galetta and encounter my favourite spot in the entire area. Turning right onto Mohr's Road you ride alongside the Mississippi River. Again the colours of blue and green create that endorphic feeling so difficult to get on busy paved roads. You go under a narrow railroad bridge, cross a narrow bridge onto an island and then cross another narrow bridge. All the while the blue Mississippi River flows peacefully beneath you. After climbing a grinder into Mohrs Corners, (a ghost town along what used to be considered Highway 17) you can take a left onto Riddledale. Starting with a great view, the road takes you down past a gravel pit and back up. It crosses a railroad and meets up with Loggers Way. Loggers Way is one of the nicest paved roads in the area but more importantly it connects to many of the best gravel roads, Yucks, Rabbit Path, and Hunts that connect to even more gravel roads. 

Taking Hunt Line to Farmview you can go right and check out a short unmaintained road that unfortunately is a dead end. During my campaign I discovered that there was a small cemetery there named after the Hunt family. The date on the cemetery gates is 1832! Going left on Farmview you ride another road that makes civilization seem non-existent until you reach Kinburn Side Road. From there I turned right and went into Antrim.

Highway 17 is the longest highway in Ontario at 2000km. Over the years it's been shortened by the 417 expansion and downloading. Today a small stretch remains inside the City of Ottawa that's become disconnected from the main body. Last year it was repaved and once a new bridge over the Mississippi is completed it will be transferred over to The City. For now it's still officially a Provincial road with a 90km speed limit. Going east on it from Antrim is interesting. It passes the old Antrim Truck Stop that's seen better days. (Now it's in Armprior but wasn't renamed) The road is very wide at that point and the resurfacing kept the wideness. In the distance you can see how the road historically went across the extended 417 and onto the part of Breezy Heights I mentioned earlier. Now this extremely wide road goes down to one lane, veers left and turns into a small gravel road called Grants Side Road. Weird but I get a kick out of it every time. 

Grants is one of the best gravel roads in the area. The trees are right up next to you and except for a few homes you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere again. It's goes past a quarry and then comes to what I call "The tunnel." Just before you come to Donald B. Munro you come to a part where the trees are tall and cover the entire road. You literally feel like you're in a tunnel and the temperature drops a few degrees. It's too bad there weren't more spots like that. Simply amazing! 

Now I'm only a few kilometers from home and unfortunately it's all paved. Had planned to do more but my Garmin broke and my cellphone battery was almost dead. 60km of riding for which I only did a tiny fraction of West Carleton's gravel roads. The entire ride was in a small corner of The Ward and I was never outside of a 15km radius from home. As I make the final approach to my subdivision I get that familiar feeling of satisfaction that you can only get from the peaceful serenity of gravel riding. West Carleton is my home and I'm not going anywhere.