For ride and pictures see : https://www.strava.com/activities/1654869408/ (accidentally paused my Garmin for a portion of the ride hence the straight line) or https://www.strava.com/activities/1654869198 for the full route.
Exploring is an important part of gravel riding. You fail more times than you succeed BUT a successful discovery makes everything worthwhile. Very early Friday morning the "Gravel Guys" made the short drive to Burnstown with two exploring goals along the route. My purpose was recon for extending my "Around Hurd's Lake" route I did November 7th last year. (https://www.strava.com/activities/1265814819) Alain's was to have an awesome ride and I delivered just that!
Burnstown is a great place to start. Not far from Ottawa, there's parking, cafes, and spectacular scenery including the mighty Madawaska River running 230km from Algonquin Park. A short trip across the Burnstown Bridge took us to the very hilly Spruce Hedge Road. At its highest point you get a spectacular view of the Madawaska Highlands in the distance. There's no flat on this road, just endless gravel grinders. Alain said it would make a great start to a cyclosportif that would splinter the field immediately into smaller groups. In other words, not a great road for a light spin.
Last year while exploring Google Streetview from satellite I noticed an obscure road called McHugh was lit up. Surprisingly it had Streetview for the start of it even though it was a dead end gravel road in the middle of nowhere. The views looked amazing and you never know, maybe there's a trail out of there? Although there's no unmaintained road sign I'd classify it as one. It has well maintained portions but the majority of the road I wouldn't want to drive a minivan down. There's some "gravel boulders" on the road that make vigilance a key aspect of riding it. After many ups and downs passing hunting lodges and multiple trails leading off into the woods we came to a hydro line with a trail going to the right. We followed it a bit but decided to leave that for another day and continued to the end. (I discovered on Tuesday that the trail becomes too rocky for bikes) At the end was a makeshift bridge over a swamp and a dead end sign. Curiosity got the better of us and we continued a little further to another lodge before the trail became too grassy which my fear of ticks forbids me to do. Wanting to be home before dinner we decided to turn around. Getting lost in the bush wasn't an entertaining thought with the bugs in full force. Thankfully bug spray works very well and I had a solid layer on that Alain could smell even when riding fast behind me. I don't recommend it as cologne!
After exiting back onto Spruce Hedge it was time for exploring goal number two. I could see from the satellite that a trail existed at the end of Spruce Hedge all the way to Calabogie. If the trail was decent my plan was to include it on my "Around Hurd's Lake" route. Bugs in tow we rode this tricky rocky trail all the way to Calabogie. Success! On the way we saw another trail veering to the left but with time constraints you have to be comfortable leaving things for another day.
The original route plan had us taking the K&P Trail to Ashdad Road skipping Murphy's Road but I find rail trails boring and decided to jump off at its second intersection with Murphy's Road. As it turned out that was a very good idea as it was back to the weaving and bobbing of the Canadian Shield. Wanting to get Alain back in time to take his wife to a triathlon in Mont Tremblant we decided to pick up the pace. Legs and lungs burning from all the short sharp efforts we discovered we weren't as energetic as we thought and had to back off a bit. Not a problem as we were able to enjoy the canopy of trees that lined the road providing shade and green that picturesquely contrasted against the clear blue sky. The next road Brydges I'd done the opposite way last year but with leaves this time it was like discovering it all over again. The tunnel effect of the trees made 30km/hr seem like 40.
I can't remember whether the original plan had us taking Calabogie Road back to Burnstown but regardless we took the convenient Springtown Bridge across the Madawaska River and back to Spruce Hedge. A busy paved road with no shoulders or a scenic gravel road with no traffic? It wasn't a difficult decision except for the grinders that we knew awaited us, the main one being a 2km step climb at an average gradient of 3%. It hurt!
We arrived back in Burnstown with that satisfied feeling we're now accustomed to after experiencing such a breathtaking ride. We didn't find a way out on McHugh but the Spruce Hedge success and the rest of the ride more than made up for that. A euphoria of heavenly bliss masked the fatigue of constantly riding steep rolling terrain and endless high watt efforts. Alain and I had done it again. Another wildly successful gravel ride. The best part is we get to do it all over again on an even better route when we go "Around Hurd's Lake".