Another revolution around this bright star.
Eternally dreaming of exploring places near and far.
A birthday wish, granted by the best:
Bikes loaded up for a Haliburton quest.
A piece of cake rating, this bikepack did not score.
But an overnighter nonetheless, I truly did adore.
Over the years it has become a tradition of mine to spend my birthday on two wheels. Last year my bike ride centred around a horse which was rumoured to have rainbow hair (sadly its hair had been washed by the time I made it out for hellos). This year I was grateful to be joined by friends on a different type of adventure, one I have dubbed ‘Haliburthday’. The Ontario gravel scene has been on fire lately, with so many good routes and photos posted by the cycling community. Some of these posts had me yearning to get up north to venture around. I reached out to Thom, my friend’s brother-in-law who lives in Haliburton, and asked him to put together an overnighter route. It did not disappoint! And the hospitality provided by Thom and his wife, Sue, was next to none (they are Warmshowers hosts also!).
Overall the route looked spicy, but nothing our group hadn't tackled before - 245 kilometres and almost 3,000 m of elevation gain over two days. Little did we know that most of that elevation on the first day was from perpetual small climbs, often combined with sand. Add in a couple GPS errors, and it made for a long day.
Around 10 am, Lise, Mike, Stephen and I hit the rail trail, a stone’s throw from Thom’s house. The morning drizzle at the start was quite refreshing. After meandering through Haliburton proper, we took a main arterial road northbound for about 20 km and then branched off, following the shore of Haliburton Lake. We missed our first ATV turnoff and so the pavement ended with two ATV trails to choose from… we chose incorrectly. After a quick out and back on some BT 700-worthy terrain, we hopped on the other trail, and so began the rowdy portion of our program.
From there, things continued to escalate, literally. We entered Haliburton Forest which was full of punchy climbs and descents. I think we all anticipated the day feeling like a steady climb, but this was just hill after hill, after hill. The added bonus of sand really tuckered us out. I was thankful to have birthday wishes pouring in as extra motivation to crest all of those hills.
P.C.: Mike Galasso
We had a few more navigational errors where the route on the GPS didn’t quite match our observations, resulting in some hike-a-bike and out-and-backs. The forest was so pretty though! I was happy to be lost in there, even if it meant getting ambushed by mosquitoes. (As a side note to anyone reading this, don’t wear socks with vertical polka dots! The mosquitoes might mistake your ankles for a tasty deer, like they did mine.)
We eventually surfaced from the forest just in time for 5 o’clock lunch. Boy oh boy were we excited that the Haliburton Forest Cookhouse was open and we just beat the ‘dinner’ rush. We stayed here for an hour or so, replenishing our energy levels with some off-bike rest and delicious food. The Cookhouse was lovely and kept bringing out glass bottles of water for us.
I also took some time to perform surgery on my bladder hose. I had a bit of a blunder with my hydration hose that made it into my front wheel. I pulled over almost immediately as I thought a stick was stuck in my rear derailleur. Good thing I stopped! My hose was pooched though; the force had sheared the hose at the connection point and the rotor cut through the bite valve. I trimmed the connecting piece and electrical-taped the hole near the mouth piece. Not so proud of letting the hose enter danger territory but pretty proud of the resulting repairs.
Stephen and I took some fries to go, loading up our feedbag/ top tube bag. A little survey here - is this gross or genius?
At this point, we decided to cut a 20 km chunk out of our route, opting for some daylight back at camp. Our ride back was welcomed as it had less technical gravel and 20 km of pavement followed by rail trail. Mike did get a flat on the pavement though. What's a bikepack without some mechanicals? A little roadside repair, and we were back up and pedalling.
Before we knew it, we were back at Thom’s house, excited to settle in for the evening. We managed to get our tents set up before sunset and gathered around the mosquito repellent dispenser (our makeshift fire due to a fire ban). We caught Thom up on our day over some barbecued food. As luck would have it, Thom and Sue’s neighbour is a phenomenal baker and my friends surprised me with a gourmet birthday cake.
We weren’t up too late, knowing that we had another day ahead of us. I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of my setup! This was my first time sleeping in my Big Agnes Fly Creek tent. It was a great sleep. I woke up around 4 am to go to the washroom and spent some time responding to birthday messages. My eyes grew tired again and I slept well past the sun rising. When I awoke, I took Stephen's hammock for a little test. I think I see one in my future as a bikepacking option.
After a light breakfast and reloading our bikes, we hit the rail trail once again, this time with Thom in tow. The day was so nice. With Thom showing us around and our GPS off, we were able to recover… mentally at least. The day still proved to be full of climbs, but not as punchy as the first day. We were rewarded with some long and flowy gravel descents.
We made sure to stop lots, taking in the scenes. This included multiple river and lake stops (Burnt River, Gooderham Lake and Little Glamor Lake) as well as a good stretch and lunch in Gooderham. Note the spring roll holder that is my shoe… I feel bikepacking brings about a certain comfort level with being grimy and doing disgusting things out of necessity.
Thom showed us around some hidden gems deep in cottage country - trails seamlessly connecting the gravel roads. We had a blast. We arrived back at the base, just in time to get freshened up and listen to Sue on her radio broadcast, while we sipped some drinks and ate leftover birthday cake.
A weekend I will not forget. Thank you so much for all that made this birthday so special!