Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Said Fergus to Erin: "Wanna ride my trailway?"

Two weeks to the day since my last big ride (see my post on the Kitchener - Paris ride), I decided to test my faculties against another well known, somewhat local trail system.  The Elora-Cataract Trailway "was originally the route of the Credit Valley Railway. The main line was constructed in 1879 between Toronto and Orangeville, and the branch line from Cataract to Elora was built at the same time.

In 1883, the Credit Valley Railway was incorporated into the Ontario and Quebec Railway, and the following year it was leased to the Canadian Pacific Railway. It operated as the CPR’s Elora subdivision until 1988, when it was abandoned.

The Grand River and Credit Valley Conservation Authorities acquired the right-of-way in 1993. Acquisition of the abandoned CP rail corridor and its development as a Trailway have been made possible by the financial support of the Province of Ontario, the Grand Valley Conservation Foundation, corporate and private donors, service clubs, user groups, and by the support of local citizens." (

I was under a bit of a time crunch that day for two reasons.  First, I was meeting up with someone who I'd connected with on Kijiji, in Elmira to procure her Garmin eTrex GPS unit (details on that little device to come).  Second, the weather forecast for the day was predicting showers by around 2:00 pm; without waterproof riding gear, that trip could have ended up messy if I'd been running late.  With 75 km to cover, I needed to get moving.

I woke up at 6:45 with the full intent to be out the door within a half hour.  Elora from Kitchener is roughly a half hour away.  My goal was to be trailside by 8:00.  After some minor stops for some energy food (in the form of a carb-heavy bacon and egg sandwich and old fashioned plain donut from Tim Horton's) and some gas, I finally made it to Elora around 8:15.  Finding the trailhead was relatively simple - finding parking however, was a bit trickier.  Unsure about the possibility of having my vehicle towed on me for the ride home, I elected to proceed further down the road to Fergus, the neighbouring prou-to-be Scottish town, and another conduit of the trail system.

After winding my way through the suburban streets, I finally found my access point; and more importantly, an out-of-the-way parking spot for my car.  By 8:30, I was locked into the pedals and on the trail.

Straight and flat...perfect for cycling!
The trail is a multi-use system, as evidenced by the signage indicating that all means of non-motorized access was allowed during the summer months.  This included hikers, bikers, and yes, even horse riders (more on that in a bit).  In the winter, the old railway line becomes flush with snowmobilers.  Anyways, back to summer.

By the time I hit the trail, the temperature hit a balmy (insert sarcastic tone here) 12 deg. Celsius.  As the forecast was only supposed to hit 22 C (perfect weather for a long ride!), I was looking forward to pounding out some major miles, without dying from heat exhaustion (see my post on the Kitchener - Paris ride).  However, in a not-so-genteel way, Mother Nature decided to flip me the "big fungool" and thus provided a gusty crosswind that I would pay for later on in the ride.  The trail started out flat and would continue as such for the majority of the ride.  As the route made its way out of Fergus, side streets gave way to fields, ripe with corn, wheat, and countless other vegetables.

Sun over the fields
The trail itself was mostly hard packed A-gravel with some sections of gravel dust.  The condition of the trail was somewhat surprising due to the crazy weather we've been having.  Aside from a very small patch of mud southeast of Belwood Lake, the route was pleasantly dry.

Approximately 7 km outside of Fergus, I arrived at Belwood Lake Conservation Area.  According to the Grand River Conservation Authority:

Belwood Lake was created in 1942 with the construction of the Shand Dam, the first dam in Canada built solely for water control purposes. Conservation area visitors can stand on the top deck of the dam and see the vista of the Grand River valley below. A stairway along the face of the dam allows visitors to walk down to its base. The flow from the dam is used to generate hydroelectricity. The 12 km-long lake (7.5 miles) offers excellent boating, fishing and water-skiing, while a small spring-fed quarry offers an ideal spot for people to cool off on hot summer days.

I took these pictures on the return leg, but I think you get the idea of the true uniqueness of the area.

Belwood Lake

The stairway to the viewing area
Damn! Now THAT's a dam!

I have to admit...the scenery on the ride was truly magnificent.  I had heard people talk about this trail and now I had the chance to experience it myself.  After leaving the Conservation area, the trail looped around the southern tip of the lake and proceeded to follow the shoreline to the easternmost entry point of the Grand River.  Rich dark greens were complimented by the bright kelly greens accented with the rays of sunlight that could barely penetrate the heavy forested canopy.  Riding through the dark wooded tunnel, the birds and crickets provided the soundtrack to go along with the continuous whooshing of the tires on the gravel.  I emerged on the other side in full view of the sun and the incredible tapestries of colours provided by the neighbouring farms.

Horses, elpacas, and perhaps the largest cow I had every seen engaged in their morning routines of grazing, oblivious to this two-wheeled stranger jetting through their turf.  I think you'll recall earlier in the post that I indicated that the trail is often used by horseback riders.  This was quite apparent as I had to consistently dodge past strategically placed "trail bombs" (aka heaping piles of horse dung).  Funny enough, the signs marking the trail suggested only to dog walkers that they provide "poop and scoop" maintenence when their canine companions chose to relieve themselves.  I can just picture saddle jockeys descending from their perches to pack up the superfluous piles of fertilizer.  OK...moving on.

As the lakeshore gave way to more farmland, the trail responsibility transferred from the Grand River CA to the Credit River Conservation Authority.  I stumbled upon a rougher patch of the trail by this point, converting from the the now familiar hard pack, to doubletrack Jeep trails and the odd singletrack...nothing difficult, just rougher.  Fallen branches strewn here and there provided enough obstacles to keep me focussed. 

The trail eventually opened up again to some of the most stunning scenary I have ever laid my eyes on.  Rolling fields of wheat and corn emerged in a quiet, isolated, and tranquil setting.  The colours were so vivid.  I can only imagine what the view from 10,000 feet on the GDMBR would be like.

Postcard-worthy views from all angles of the trail jumped out like living Tom Thomson images.  The beauty however, was found in the solitude.  There was NO ONE around.  And this is why I like hopping on the simply get away.  Had I not been on a time-trial of sorts, I likely would have stopped to "smell the roses" for a bit.  It was that incredible.

Enroute to Erin, I passed through the "spot on the map" community of Orton.  Not much to see...only a road to cross.  Next up would be Hillsburgh, where to my surprise existed a rest area of sorts at the trailhead, including several picnic tables and a traveller's most welcome friend...the Port-o-Potty!  At this point, I began to check my time.  I had only 20 minutes more to go until I reached Erin, but with time ticking away, I needed to make sure that I had enough time to return to Fergus, allowing for an extra half hour to make my commercial rendezvoud in Elmira.  Hell.  I had come this far.  I had to finish it, and so I did.  The last stretch into Erin saw the trail surrounded by rows upon rows of wildflowers and creekbeds.  Foot and bike traffic was starting to build, as well as the obligatory dog walker; one of whom almost spelled a certain end to my ride when she let the 6 dogs she was "caring for" roam free on the trail ahead of me.  There is nothing like flying 20 kph down a trail trying to dodge a hyperactive Fido whose idea of good fun involves its teeth on your tires. 

Fortunately, I missed the dogs and proceeded towards the last remaining kilometres leading into Erin.  Because of my time restrictions, I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy the main street of Erin.  Having driven through it on four wheels several times, I can truly attest to its beauty and century-old charm.  The main street is lined with boutiques, ice cream shops, and diners.  Large hanging baskets of annuals hang from lamp posts showcasing the area's agricultural link.  Truthfully, Erin is a town I recommend that everyone takes the time to visit.

Aside from the head and crosswinds I had to endure on the way back, the return trip was fairly uneventful.  My body was starting to tighten up and it seemed once again, that the trail was a phantom uphill battle.  I made it back to Fergus hungry and exhausted...but in time to make by Elmira-based appointment.  I finished it.  One more notch on the seatpost towards achieving my dream.

I will definitely ride this trail again.  Hopefully with time on my side, I can extend the journey to Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and perhaps beyond.  Unfortunately, with the long weekend coming up and a family trip up north, I won't be on the bike again for at least a week.  Time enough to rest, recoup, and plan my next long distance assault.


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