For full route and pictures: https://www.strava.com/activities/1642476644
Every once in awhile you do a ride that completely blows your mind. This Saturday departing from Hopetown with my trusted gravel companion Alain Villeneuve was one of those rides. I'd done two solo rides in the same area late fall last year after the leaves had fallen and was completely stunned by what I discovered 30min away from my doorstep. Riding many of the same roads Saturday was like a rediscovery as we were now covered by a canopy of trees and green for most of the ride. Above the canopy was the hot humid sizzling sun and below was a refreshing shielding shade.
My extreme enthusiasm for this area is in the seemingly endless abundance of high quality single lane treed unmaintained roads. I was accustomed to the muddy, rocky, swampy unmaintained roads in my neighbourhood of West Carleton or the ones used in the Almonte-Roubaix. The most hard core off road vehicle would have problems traversing them. In Lanark the unmaintained roads are absolutely pristine in comparison. The overwhelming majority you could drive a minivan on! Add to that the high quality maintained gravel roads and the "no winter maintenance" gravel roads and you've got the perfect recipe for an overwhelming experience. I tried to keep my enthusiasm in check leading into the ride because I didn't want to over hype it to Alain but I couldn't help myself. It turns out no matter what I said I couldn't have prepared him enough for what lay ahead.
Hopetown has three breathtaking unmaintained roads in very close proximity, Lammermoor, Stewart Gibson and White Cemetery. Waddle Creek is another jewel close by but doesn't make it into the unmaintained category. Moot point anyway as it's an amazing road. I decided to hit Alain right away with Lammermoor and Waddle Creek so he could get an immediate taste of what was to come. As expected he grinned with glee bombing down hills, weaving around corners in a tunnel of trees and shade most welcome on such a hot day.
As we exited back onto 511 and then turned onto Tatlock we were getting close to the part of the ride I was most ecstatic for. Last year I'd noticed this road on google maps and became mildly obsessed with it. I HAD TO TRY IT! It's name was New Rd! My first foray last year I missed the turn and went all the way to the hydro line cut over extremely jagged rocks on Darling Conc 6 after it became unmaintained. After I'd turned around I got a flat tire on those jagged rocks and had to use my only spare. Always a risk taker I decided to continue. After making a second wrong turn towards Kate's Lake I finally found the New Rd turn and it was as cool as I had hoped. It has all the characteristics you'd want in an unmaintained road. It's peaceful and serene even when you're bombing steep descents or climbing a steep grinder. This year I didn't miss the turn and was able to enjoy the whole road knowing I still had a spare tube. Unfortunately these roads don't last forever and we exited back onto the highway again.
When you know what awaits up ahead a few km on paved roads seems like a lifetime. Next was Campbells, another road I saw on google maps last year and obsessed over. It's a road that doesn't get any winter maintenance and there is a sign indicating that. I always struggle to define such roads because whether a road gets plowed or not in the winter makes little difference to a cyclist after the snow is gone. Nevertheless it's another road with one of those yellow signs. Early on there's a long 3km grinder and when you get to the top you get a great view of the Lanark Highlands. What goes up must come down so after admiring the view it's a fast decent back down.
When you see the topography from a higher elevation you could swear you were in the Appalachian or Adirondack Mountains in Vermont or New York. One thing that boggles my mind is why some drive 5hrs to a supposedly exotic location when we live in the Ottawa Valley. For there to be a valley something else has to be present! That something else is the Canadian Shield which includes the Laurentian Mountains. This range extends across Quebec into Ontario and I can see its beginning from the 417 overpass by my house towards Pakenham. These are among the oldest mountains that can be found on earth and used to be as tall or taller than the Himalayas. Significant erosion has worn them down but regardless the terrain provides roads and scenery that make it completely unnecessary to travel long distances from Ottawa. If you want to spend 10hrs in a vehicle burning time, gas and hotel dollars be my guest but never discount what may be in your backyard. But I digress!
After Campbells it was a short jaunt to Black Creek and the infamous Black Creek Gravel Climb. I'd done this road in early September last year from a cottage my brother had rented in nearby Ompah. Along the way we climbed the 5km long grinder with an average gradient of 3%. Doesn't sound like much but 3% on gravel is like 6% on pavement. A solid 15min climb! Somehow Strava failed to recognize that I'd done the climb again, perhaps because I'd paused to take a picture?
After a short distance on South Lavant Rd I was into new territory on roads I'd been salivating over for months. Adrian Grant organizes the Hopetown Hoedown on many of the same roads and a couple of my teammates have gone through this area on their "Humble Pie" route. Although I didn't get to do the number one road on my list, Ranger Camp, I still got to knock a couple off in Umphersons Mill and Lodore. This specific area has to have the highest concentration of insanely awesome single lane roads closest to Ottawa. Again you have endless treed, weaving, bobbing heavenly roads that are almost incomprehensible to describe. You really have to see it for yourself.
Nearing the end I had planned to take Conc 3, a paved road so as not to overlap on the route but thankfully I forgot that and kept going to Conc 2. More serene gravel, what a pity. Alain said it was the best route mistake I could have made!
The last two unmaintained roads were White Cemetery and Stewart Gibson. Strange emotions of simultaneous glee and sadness started to come over me as we entered the home straight. We were riding these two amazing unmaintained roads but at the same time I knew the ride was coming to an end. Sometimes you wish time would just stand still and this was one of those times.
The drive back to Almonte was filled with euphoric endorphins that kept the fatigue of the ride at bay. My mind was still trying to catch up to what had transpired and I was certainly in some kind of twilight zone. I had trouble communicating verbally after experiencing such a zen cycling experience that was as close to nirvana as cycling gets. Alain was having similar thoughts too I think! As the season progresses there's more zen to be had as I put last years exploring to work. Alain's in good hands as I have all the routes set until the fall, many I'll be retracing and others I didn't get a chance to do before the snow came last year. Although it's impossible to put too much serenity into a bike ride we came as close to achieving that as you can on this adventure.