The Grand Nith Ramble is the newest bikepacking route in Matt Kadey's collection. I was fortunate enough to beta test the 350km route (with some liberties) this past weekend before Matt released it to the world. He had completed the loop Friday and was kind enough to update the route file with tweaks and send it my way along with tips the same night. Fast forward: it's another gem.
My friend, also named Matt, was tagging along for the adventure, in somewhat spontaneous style. He agreed to the route a couple weeks before - with me only providing him a screenshot and approximate distances for each day. His primary focus is running, with some 'shorter' gravel rides under his belt (less than 100 km). Bikepacking has been on his list to try so when he heard of my plans, he was immediately on board full-well knowing this bikepack was only three days after his return from the West Coast Trail. Giddy up.
Grand River Trail (GRT)
With the route being local, we could just ride from my place and hop on. We chose to intersect the route along the GRT close to Hidden Valley - technically we should have been on the other side of the river at this point but we hit some single track to balance out the swap.
Mill Run Trail
We joined up with Fountain Street and were finally on the official route. I had to fight my brain on auto-pilot through Galt as Matt K. had us on the opposite side of the Grand River from where I normally ride - really fun to see alternative segments. We popped out in Hespeler and stopped by The Hub to say hi. Cliff was in and offered to top up our water and told us about the fresh spring on Beke Road that we should take advantage of when in Ayr. We jumped back on the Mill Run Trail, an easy-going rail trail.
Little and Puslinch Tracts
Shortly after, we found ourselves biking through Little Tract - I don't remember much about this area; it must have been relatively smooth sailing. Puslinch Tract was up next. The route had us on mostly double-track, skirting some mountain bike trails with technical features. We weren't in here long, but I was loving the flow, even with my bike fully loaded.
Fletcher Creek Ecological Preserve
There was some solid road grinding before we met up with Fletcher Creek. I had never been to the preserve before but it's a quaint little area; adorned with reeds and boardwalks. It was a nice way to break up the road sections.
And so the fun began. The Lafarge Trail was a little nutso - but that was part of the fun - some loose gravel climbs and descents. For a couple of descents, I actually dragged my right foot, fully ready for a topple. My heart skipped a little even with hydraulic disc brakes. Matt was riding cantilevers!
Christie Lake Conservation Area
The hard-packed single track with berms in Christie Lake were a riot on two wheels, even on a cross bike and fully loaded. I loved Christie Lake so much - I will definitely go back to ride my mountain bike there.
The Spencer Adventure and Bruce Side Trail
I got a kick out of this trail title. The Spencer Adventure was flowy and fun; I enjoyed every minute of it on my bike. I was not so much a fan of the Bruce Side Trail however. Fortunately it wasn't crazy busy with walkers but I still didn't feel comfortable riding my bike on a trail not designated for riding. That bit transitioned into a non-designated trail but the irony was that the steep downhill staircase made of stone and rocks made it unrideable.
Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail and Dundas Valley
We were excited to hit up Detour Cafe in Dundas which apparently caters to cyclists... They took Matt's order while I watched the bikes outside. I then went in and stood behind one other customer before I made it to the front of the line at 3:02 pm. The fella at the counter told me the kitchen closes at 3 pm and even though my friend just ordered I was out of luck. The poor customer service really killed my mood until the lovely staff at Waypoint Games and Cafe made me a sandwich.
Once we both had food in our bellies, we hopped onto the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail for a bit and then into the black hole of Dundas Valley. For the most part this was flowy single and double-track, but there were some good climbs. We welcomed the transition back to the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail after almost 20 km in the valley on dirt trails.
The rail trail went through Mohawk Park Pavilion, where we filled up on water. At the park, we met a man who was living out of his van due to a recent layoff. In addition to his cockatoo he had two cute 4-month old kittens scurrying around the park near him. Once I learned that they had not yet been named, I tried to convince him to call them 'Grand' and 'Nith'.
The trail led us right into Brantford where we stumbled upon two other bikepackers going from Aldershot to Long Point. They were sitting on a bridge eating Chinese food that looked mighty fine.
Brantford to Paris Rail Trail and Single Track
There's a mix of paved pathway and rail trail that runs to Paris from Brantford - but that's not the style of the Grand Nith Ramble. The route brought us down to the riverside when possible, hitting the single track. The sun was beginning to set but I was giddy on these new-to-me trails.
Along the singletrack, Matt floated the idea of sleeping in Paris instead of Ayr. We checked in with his friends and let my friend Kate know that we had a Plan B in the works. She insisted on Plan A 2.0 - picking us up in Paris and driving us to the farm in Ayr.
Honestly, I felt a bit defeated with a pick-up, even though we had just biked 150km, with a large chunk being trail. If I was solo, I probably would have been stubborn and chugged along in the dark. It took the hilarity of the situation to crack me. Kate showed up with her husband, two dogs and farm intern in the cab of their truck, with a giant fridge strapped down in the truck bed - the perfect surface to strap our bikes to, one on each side.
We had grinded away all day with our camping gear strapped to our bikes - I guess as practice? Kate convinced us to lodge inside after having a warm shower and being fed. The hospitality of Kate and Ben are second to none. And bonus - two doggos to snuggle with.
Brant-Oxford Gravel Loop
Kate offered to be our domestique - riding back with us to Paris in the morning and looping back to Fresh Ayr Farm to complete most of what we skipped the previous day. (We did miss a small section of single track just past Paris; I'll have to get it on my next GNR adventure!) After 50km of mostly gravel, we were back at the farm. I tried to trick Matt into mentally resetting and pretending we were just starting our day... I'm not so sure it worked.
Sudden Regional Forest and Dryden Tract
These sections were bomb diggity on a cross bike. I especially enjoyed the covert entrance to the Dryden Tract where you had to follow the corn crop perimeter to make it into the forest. This was the last bit of trail for some time - it was time to get our gravel grind on.
Gravel, Gravel, Gravel
Almost as soon as we hit the gravel, the rain came down - thankfully just light rain, but it persisted for the better part of the day. At least the temperature didn't dip so our wet bodies were warm enough to continue on. (Although Matt K. joked that we packed enough to go fishing, neither of us actually packed a waterproof shell because the forecast was looking grand. I did have a water-resistant vest though.) We chugged along, taking in the lovely overcast scenery on our way to New Hamburg. When we stopped for food Matt was toying with bee-lining back to Kitchener. Then the weather gods shined down. The radar looked like things would clear up in a couple of hours. He was back in!
We zigzagged up to Millbank on gravel roads and then came across the entrance to the Chalmers Forrest Road bridge. The signage suggested that we should not enter (without potentially incurring a fine), so we detoured around. Matt K. let me know later that the bridge is accessible and that the signage refers to the surrounding property.
Goderich to Guelph (G2G) Rail Trail
After the little detour, we hit the G2G Rail Trail going east. The rain was letting up, and we felt like we were honing in on the finish; spirits were high. We made it to St. Jacobs before we knew it (the official start/end location), and snapped a photo since we knew it would be dark when we actually finished. Matt grabbed a beer from Block 3 Brewing Co. as a post-ride reward.
Health Valley Trail (HVT)
The beauty of riding with Matt was that he was always down to stop and eat, take photos, to enjoy what the route had to offer - including hanging out with horses! I've been on the HVT several times and have never come across horses grazing. The young ones were quite friendly, checking us out but we didn't stay long because the mom was not overly fond of the interaction. Several of them were frothing at the mouth with apple juice, having just been snacking!
GRT - Again!
After a short stint near RIM Park on paved roads, we found ourselves back on the GRT for the final push. I wanted to get as close to where we jumped on the GRT as possible, but not so much so that we had to backtrack home - Ottawa Street was a good compromise. We made it past the Kiwanis Park section and made a quick pit stop at a convenience store for some water. The sun began to set as we made it up the first big hill near Spring Valley. We made it to Bingemans - it was already pitch black so we took a good break so Matt could function again - he was feeling a little wonky at this point. After some electrolytes though, he got a third wind and just blasted the rest of the way, I had a hard time keeping up!
Although we didn't complete the route down to every dashed line on the map, it was another great bikepacking learning experience - one in which you need to stay flexible and be ready for all sorts of scenarios.
If you're looking for another fun bikepacking adventure, with some twists and turns, Matt and Tabi have put together another great route. Pack up your bike, hop on your saddle and giddy up!