The Rideau Trail Beckons
The Rideau Trail is a 305km hiking trail that was developed back in 1971 and and it’s purpose was to link Kingston and Ottawa by trail much like the Rideau River links the two cities by waterway. The idea of the trail was proposed by Douglas Knapp while at a meeting of Kingston Field Naturalists and it was to be developed over a period of 5 years by volunteers. Life is full of surprises and I’m sure Douglas got one when he heard that some university students decided to champion the idea and so with some federal help and a whole lot of volunteers, the trail was built over a summer. To get a full run down of the history and details, you can head over to Rideau Trail Association website as they are the people who maintain the trail.
Note: Apologies for the smaller pictures but I lost a portion of my digital photos about 10 years ago and this is the only copies I had of this trip.
My friend Chris and I were looking for a physical challenge to do one summer so we decided that we should use our mountain bikes and do the Rideau Trail even though it is not really meant for mountain bikes (both as a trail rule and from a terrain perspective – more on that later). We figured that to do the full 305km, we would give probably need three days to do it. Yes, that was an ambitious goal but we were young, invincible and full of energy. It took us three attempts to actually bike the trail. The first year we biked it, we made it to Smith Falls and I got sick as I had been putting in too many hours at work and it caught up to me. The following year, Chris had a nasty spill on his bike a few days before we were supposed to leave so that kiboshed that attempt. So as they say, “third time is the charm”.
In preparation for the trip, Chris and I didn’t do anything out of the normal for it. I biked 35km/day on my steel framed bike as part of my daily commute and then did some trail riding on my Schwinn at night so that was enough for me. Chris kept in shape by doing a variety of other sports as well as riding occasionally. Chris and I did do one long day ride out in the woods off of Highway 7 to get a feel of the distance and terrain we would be covering. That little trip turned into quite an adventure that left me with a lifelong scar on my knee, a fear of hillbillies who have shooting ranges on their property and no desire to ever wade in waist deep swamps while holding a bike over your head.
Our plan was simple: Ride for three solid days and sleep over at 2 pre-determined locations where we left clean clothes, energy bars and spare bike parts. We broke down the daily distances as follows:
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- Day 1: 75km
- Day 2: 110km
- Day 3: 125km
By setting up the rest points, we could resupply at the end of each day and we would be forced to bike the distances we set for ourselves. Once we got to Kingston, we would arrange for a pickup and head back home to celebrate (while stopping at our sleepover locations to pick up our stuff). Easy peasy right?
Since the first day was a shorter ride, we left in the afternoon and biked the regular trails we normally did until we finally got into new territory. The Rideau Heritage trail is marked by an orange triangle in the trees to indicate the trail as well as indicate which direction we should turn to follow it. The going was a bit rough in some sections but not too bad, we eventually came to Marlborough Forest (not to be confused with Malboro cigarettes) and the trails were essentially washed out cuts in the woods roads for off-road vehicles. We happened upon the area during a particularly wet time of the year so we had to cross a few beaver dams and ride through some decent mud. The wildlife we saw was pretty typical, deer, squirrels, birds, but we were lucky and managed to see an osprey, a marten (we weren’t sure if it was an otter but Chris seemed pretty sure it was a marten). We dumped out onto Roger Stevens road and made our way to our first accommodation: Wayne’s house. In all, it took us about four hours to get there so we were making pretty good time. Wayne is an old fiend of Chris’ and he has a farm house out in the country. On our first attempt on the trip, Chris and I had made it this far on our first day and we had to wait outside for Wayne to get home for about 2 hours and we had quite the adventure with a kitten who just would not leave us alone (scratch, scratch) and a dog who desperately wanted to chomp on it. In the end, we found a hayloft and put the cat up in it to keep it away from us and the dog.
This time around, Wayne was home when we showed up which was good. His wife made us a good pasta dinner and we sat around and talked for a bit before watching “Remember the Titans” on TV. We turned in and I was given the same room I had been given the previous year. I used to voraciously read books in my younger days. I did it right up until I got a smartphone and then I started reading news on my phone while I’m bed and I’ve only read about 6 books over the past 4 years. Terrible really but back when I read a lot, I could easily devour a 300 page novel in about 5-6 hours. So here I was in the bed and I noticed a book on the shelf above me. I reached up and grabbed it and I instantly recognized it as a book I had half read on my previous visit. I’m thinking, should I read this or just go to sleep? I flipped open the page and quickly found where I had stopped reading the previous year. Two hours later, I was done. I forget the title and author but it was something about an evil spirit haunting this average guy in some American town. Fluff really but it was a guilty pleasure.
The next morning, Chris and I loaded up on a good breakfast and headed off towards Smith Falls via a series of trails/access roads and fields. As we traveled, the trails, we noticed a lot of “No Trespassing” and “Keep Out” signs on the side of the trails. I have my suspicions on what people were growing on their lands and figured it would be best to follow the instructions as best we could. At one point, Chris and I were in some deep growth and were making slow progress when all of a sudden, I saw four furry legs running through the brush ahead of us and then suddenly a husky type dog emerged and was snarling and growling at us. We got off our bikes pretty quick and kept them in front of us to to keep Mr. Snarly at bay. About 10 seconds later, this guy carrying a coffee mug emerges from around a tree and eventually calls off the dog. He goes on to say that he leaves his dog unleashed on the trails as he never sees anyone. He then goes on to say that we shouldn’t try petting the dog because it doesn’t like people. So much for friendly dogs.
After making sure the dog was focused elsewhere, Chris and I got on our bikes again and made our way into Smith Falls where we decided that it was too early for lunch so we kept on going. We quickly learned that the Rideau trail was not entirely comprised of fores trails as one would envision. Instead it is a mix mash of dirt roads, short stints of highway, farmer’s fields, ATV/snowmobile trails and hiking trails. While we made good time on the highway portions, we were slowed to a crawl in the farmer fields because of all the hidden divets, rocks and cow dung we had to avoid. As well, we had some tough going in some of the thicker vegetation and we were constantly getting off our bikes to get through or untangle everything that got stuck in our chains. Chris and I both had blood drawn on our legs several times when we zipped through a unseen raspberry patch or two. Our legs got so scratched that it would hurt just to go through normal grass. We eventually made it through a bunch of trails and came out on a road near Perth and we were starved so we headed into town to eat. We happened upon a place called The Courtyard Tea Room and we sat down on the patio and ordered some soup, a sandwich and a big piece of lemon meringue pie. It was good. Really good. I’ve been back a few times and never been disappointed by the food there.
So with our stomachs full, the realization that we were behind schedule and about 60km left to go, we set off at a slow pace on our bikes. It took about 20 minutes for us to get the food worked into our system and we hit our stride again. We were getting near the trail systems of Frontenac Provincial Park and we started seeing some interesting sights. We came across old Mica mines and the equipment that was used to get it out of the ground. It had just been abandoned in the forest, left to rust for decades and known only to a small number of people. We were running into rockier terrain and having hiked through Frontenac Provincial Park before, we knew what was in store for us (and dreading it). We came to one section that had the largest beaver dam I had ever seen and someone had rigged up a system where you would pull on a rope and it would pull a raft across the pond. The raft was small enough that we had to do it one at a time (with our bikes) but we made it across without incident and I thought the whole setup was well engineered. Kudos to whoever set that one up. We had eventually hit a cottage road and started riding down a few hills when suddenly I heard Chris yell out for me to stop. He had earned his first flat tire. While we worked on his tire, it was then we noticed that his pack under his seat has opened at some point and he has lost his spare tubes and a few other goodies. We had to use one of mine and it got me a bit worried that if something happened to mine, we could get into some trouble. I double backed on our trail for about 2-3 minutes and found a few of his supplies (like his patch kit) but the tubes were long gone.
When I got back to Chris, he had his bike up and going so we continued along the cottage road and it dumped us out onto the highway. We followed it for a short distance and saw the entrance back into the woods. We knew the terrain was pretty rocky as the contour lines were pretty crazy and then we looked at the time and knew we had about 1.5 hours left of daylight. We guesstimated the time required to do the trail and we figured we would get in at around 10pm which was too late for us as we didn’t want to be biking on the trails at night. We made a quick decision to take the road into Westboro for the remaining 20kms and started off. To continue our streak of good luck, Chris lost one of his water bottles which made us more vigilant for water refill locations for the remainder of the trip.
We came in the North side of Westboro and if anyone has come in on Hwy 10, you know how steep that hill is. After 11 hours of biking, it was a nice way to finish off the day. We pulled in to where we were staying, the Toy Box Bed & Breakfast, and quickly showered and changed so we could head out and grab some food as we were starved. Chris and I were quite sore after the long day of riding so we eventually made it into down doing what we called the “retirement shuffle”. We were being passed by elderly couples who were out for their nightly walks. We were hurting. We found a local diner that offered every type of food you can imagine, you know the type: Burgers, pizza, subs, spaghetti, manicotti, lasagna, soups, salads, steak, ribs, fries, club houses and pitas to name but a few of the items. We didn’t care if it was good or not. We needed food and it was open. We dropped into a couple of seats and ordered some pasta. Can’t remember if it was good or not but I do remember eating all of it. We shuffled back to the B&B and soon passed out.
The next morning, I woke up bleary eyed and looked around the room. I didn’t really get a chance to check out the decor the night before as I was so tired. I was quickly creeped out by what I saw. The bed and breakfast was called the Toy Box because of the fact it is decorated like a child’s giant toy box. There were stuffed bears everywhere. Everywhere. On the bed, in the washroom, on the shelves, in the hallway, on chairs, on the fireplace mantle, on the kitchen counters, on the breakfast table and sitting in the living room corner. They were small, big, shaggy, furry and smooth. It may sound like I’m reading a verse from a Doctor Seuss book but no, I am not. I wondered if any of the bears had cameras hidden within them but I quickly dismissed the thought after spending a few minutes talking to the owners. They were quite pleasant and had relocated from the UK many years before. Our hostess, who was the one obsessed with bears, asked us what we wanted for breakfast and the conversation unfolded like this:
Hostess: What would you like for breakfast? We have toast, pancakes, oatmeal, bacon, muffins, fruit, milk, juice.
Hostess: Yes to what?
Darcy: All of it.
She was a bit surprised by our responses but Chris and I were famished. We assured her that we were hungry and she went away and started whipping up some food. An hour later, at the end of breakfast, Chris and I were stuffed but knew we needed a lot of food for the coming day. We did surprise the owners though by eating all the food they had cooked up. After thanking them for everything (and finding more bears stuffed into every nook and cranny I came across), we packed up and hopped onto our bikes for the final leg. It was a slow and sore start for about 30 minutes but we finally got the aches stretched out and the food digested. The rest of the day is a bit of a blur. We covered the remaining distance by doing the same thing we had done before. Roads, farmer fields and forest trails. It took us 9 hours to get to Kingston that day as and I think we lost the trail at one point but we did end up cutting through this one farmers field. It was at that point that Chris was showing signs of dehydration as he was exhausted (a rarity for Chris) and he had a headache. I gave him the rest of my Gatorade and told him that we should get out of the sun for a bit and rest. We pulled over in the middle of the farmer’s field and sat under the only tree in the entire field. I sat there, my back propped up against the trunk, watching life go by as Chris laid on the ground and recuperated. It was one of those moments that has stayed with me and it seemed like something out of a Mark Twain book. I remember the sun shining down on the field and could feel the heat in the air. The ground was a mixture of grass and hard dried mud so while it was not the most comfortable to sit on, it did the job. Ants crawled on the tree trunk, foraging for food and busy doing some unknown task. Chris and I talked a bit but for the most part we were silent and just took it all in. We just knew we were close and had to push on so after 30 minutes, we decided to push on. Chris was feeling better so we were sooner riding through the field towards the next section of the trail. We soon found it and were quickly back to trail riding with minor road stints in-between sections. Eventually, we made it to the Cataraqui trail system which was very well groomed/used and I was recognizing parts of Kingston and knew we were close to the end of the Rideau Trail. The trail dumped us out into a parking lot and we found the start/end sign for the Rideau Trail. Chris and I high-fived and congratulated each other and then called our ride in Ottawa to come get us. We had about 1.5 hours to wait so we went to a nearby convenience store and I bought a large chocolate milk and just guzzled it. Not sure why that meant so much to me but I remember it being extremely satisfying.
Our ride showed up and we traveled back to Ottawa while telling stories of what we had experienced on the Rideau Trail. We had done the trip in early September and for the first time ever, I did not have any desire to bike for the rest of the season. The following Spring, I was happy to feel the itch to get back in the saddle. Aside from wishing we had a few more supplies at our stop overs (extra tubes, patch kits and water bottles), we were well prepared for the trip. Our fitness level was good, the bikes held up and our attitude never dipped into the negative zone which was important. I don’t think the Rideau Trail Association would have looked kindly upon us for biking the trail as the trail guide does not include mountain bikes as a method of transportation allowed on the trail (motorized vehicles are prohibited). That being said, aside from the guy with the savage dog, we didn’t see another soul on the Rideau Trail.