Prologue – Indecisive Rodents
I was in a meditative state often brought on by hours of rhythmic pedalling, vibrating gravel roads, flowing thoughts, and controlled breathing. We were on a rolling soft gravel section between Campbell’s Bay and Ladysmith, Quebec when suddenly, upon a fast descent, on a fully loaded bikepacking bike, I had to respond with nimble precision. An indecisive rabbit darted into and out of the road about three to four times within less than a metre of my straight-line trajectory. Should I come to a hard stop, suddenly veer off to the left or right and risk losing my wheels in the soft gravel, or keep my line and hope the rabbit’s own instincts would save itself from a T-bone collision with my front wheel? I think my heart rate jumped 30 beats. I knew at 35-40 KM/hour, on a bike that weighs 27 kg, any sudden moves on soft gravel would be risky. My own instincts told me to keep my line. The rabbit’s instincts saved itself, but not before getting within centimetres of my front wheel. Shortly after the close collision with the bunny, we stopped to orient ourselves. David and I laughed about the bunny and the many indecisive rodents that scare cyclists every day. Luckily, no incident to report!
We were on day four of the Log Driver’s Waltz, a bikepacking route that explores the forestry history across the Ottawa and Gatineau valleys. And soon we were to say goodbye as I had to turn back toward the city while David ventured on to complete the entire route.
Bikepacking – Another Chapter Begins
Bikepacking has grown exponentially in popularity during these pandemic times. With bike races limited in number of participants, cancelled, or postponed, cyclists with a sense of adventure have gravitated to a new kind of cycling experience. However, not only racers are challenging themselves with bikepacking events and routes but so are cyclists of all ages looking for a new type of adventure on two wheels out in the open and away from crowds. Many cyclists also attempt what is called Fastest Known Times (FKTs) for the honour and recognition of completing pre-defined routes with the fastest known or recorded time.
Well, this is not a story of the fastest known time on the Log Driver’s Waltz; it is a story of my rediscovery of bicycle touring, now commonly called bike packing or bikepacking, making new friends, and my journey to the Slowest Known Time on the Log Driver’s Waltz (LDW).
It took me 87 days to complete the route with six days of riding. In total, I did 939 KMs to complete the route, about 140 KMs more than the official route. And if you are wondering, no, I didn’t live in a tent somewhere along the route for several weeks. More on that later.
The Log Driver’s Waltz is a route created by Jen Adams and Eric Betteridge, veterans of the Ottawa valley endurance scene, accomplished athletes, inspiring community leaders, and extremely kind and humble people. The route is a 797 KMs meandering journey around the Ottawa Valley that pays homage to the original pioneers who created the forestry industry in this region. The route traverses old log driver camps, forests, rivers and old pioneer roads on the Ontario and Quebec sides of the Ottawa River. The route also traverses entirely within the unceded territories of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg and the Anishinabewaki and Mohawk’s territory on the Quebec side. Overall, the route has 7160 metres of climbing and can be reasonably completed in 4-8 days. Although, the fastest known time of 2 days, 7 hours, and 10 minutes is held by Thom Unrau. Normally the organizers plan a Grand Départ where droves of people head off on the journey with a big wave of energy and enthusiasm. In 2021 COVID-19 restrictions prevented Eric and Jen from arranging a Grand Départ. However, they are planning one for August 20, 2022 and you can sign up here.
In my twenties, I spent a lot of time in a tent on backpacking trips; exploring the Adirondacks, Alaska and the Yukon, or on short bike touring trips around Ottawa. Soon my career, marriage, and kids took over and I did the odd camping trip as a family but continued riding and running in between work and family obligations. My running was limited to a few half-marathons and my longest rides averaged between 75-100 KMs. Throughout, I maintained good overall fitness and endurance, but I never lost that spark for adventure and pushing my limits.
In late 2020—and in the remaining months before my 50th birthday in January 2021—I made plans to turn 2021 into a series of epic events on my bike. Over the 2020 Christmas holidays I was thrilled when David Wright, a long-time local cyclist, member of the Euro-Sports local cycling team, and impressive endurance athlete suggested I join him on the LDW in 2021. That was motivation enough for me to learn as much as possible about the LDW and to refresh all my bikepacking gear. More importantly, the invitation gave me the motivation to train and to ensure I would be fit enough for the trip.
To prepare for the LDW and the other events I planned for 2021 I committed myself to at least 8-10 hours of riding per week and hired a cycling coach. The first few months I was stuck inside due to breaking my arm and hand in a November 2020 MTB accident. Once I got the green light to ride outside, I rode my fat bike and my gravel bike as much as possible, however, the indoor trainer remains a constant to work on intervals and power.
My First Official 2021 Bikepacking Weekend – May14-15, 2021
In early May, I did my first official bikepacking gear test with an overnight trip to a farm in Eastern Ontario. The route was simple, relatively flat, and mostly followed the Prescott-Russell trail, an old rail line converted into a multi-use light gravel path. I did this trip alone as I had no idea how the ride would unfold. I finally left my house around 1 pm on my fully loaded gravel bike and covered the 95 KMs to the farm in under four hours. I was surprised how well the bike handled and how high a pace I could keep. Luckily, I had a tail wind for most of the ride.
It felt glorious to finally ride my bike with the fully loaded bikepacking gear. I could sense a new beginning and passion.
Once at the farm, I got to know my gear in real use; my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, stove, etc. I was so grateful to have this overnight trip to build confidence in my ability to cover the distance with all the gear and to learn how to pack, spread the weight, and what to bring or not bring. As it was still early spring, the night got down to 8 C so I had more warm clothing for the evening and sleeping than I would in August for the LDW. The second day I left early to avoid the higher afternoon headwinds riding west to Ottawa. I changed my route to add more gravel roads as per a recommendation by Louis Cormier, a young, kind, and strong cyclist from Eastern Ontario. However, with the increasing headwinds and getting slightly lost due to a closed road that even Louis didn’t know about, my pace was slower, and I got back home in 4h40m. However, I was happy to cover the 195 KMs in about 25 hours and to feel strong on both rides.
Riding with new bikepacking gear and bags takes a few attempts to get it right and to learn what works or what you need or don’t need. In the comfort of my own home I like sleeping with multiple pillows. After this first bike packing trip I bought two more inflatable pillows to add more comfort while sleeping which helped a lot on the LDW. I also discovered it’s best to bring instant coffee pouches instead of a mini coffee brewing machine to save weight and time. Other than these two discoveries I felt the gear test for my first bikepacking trip was a success.
However, I’ve yet to master good navigation. Following routes on my Garmin Edge often leads to little detours into farms or dead end roads and trails. With tight turns, and trails on some routes, I find it hard to navigate and my Garmin is constantly recalculating. David believes I should buy an eTrex which is dedicated to navigation. Luckily, David offered to run all the navigation for us during the LDW. That took the stress of navigation off my shoulders.
The Long-Distance Anxiety Ride – May 24, 2021
D: 186.19KM, E: 1173M, T: 8h15m
On May 24, David arranged an epic ride with another long-distance cyclist named Darius Arjang. The ride distance was announced at anywhere from 180 to 200 KMs. This was to be my first ride with David and I saw it as a test to ensure ride compatibility and endurance ability. I hadn’t done this distance in over 25 years so I had no idea how well my body would respond to the gnarly gravel roads and single-track ATV trails over that distance. I wanted to convince David I could cover the distance and be a good partner for the LDW later in the summer. Sometimes, my anxiety gets the better of me and I spent most of the night tossing and turning. So, on very little sleep, David arrived at my house around 6 am and we embarked upon our epic spring ride into the deep gravel roads west of Carleton Place. We met up with Darius along the way and then spent a thoroughly enjoyable 8-9 hours meandering along David’s route. I kept wondering when I would blow up, bonk, or fade, but luckily my body kept pushing out power and I was able to complete the ride without any issues.
It was an epic day with several water crossings, lots of laughs, and great conversations. I ended that ride feeling even more confident about my ability to ride long distances and was grateful to continue building my relationships with David and Darius. I also couldn’t wait to start the LDW.
Bike Setup Test and Another Epic Ride with David – July 1, 2021
D: 111KM, E: 1672M, T: 6h12m (but total time was more about 8 hours)
Part 1 https://ridewithgps.com/trips/70359626 ( I had to stop my Garmin and restart on a different ride setting as the single-track vibrations dialled my emergency contacts)
Part 2: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/70381931
From LDW rider reviews, I knew my gravel bike wouldn’t be enough for the adventure. The gnarly gravel roads, the old ATV trails, and the steep climbs called for a bike with bigger tires, a wider gear range, and front suspension. Luckily, my old carbon 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper Hardtail was compatible with my bikepacking bags and had a wider gear range on the upgraded 12 speed cassette. The bike was originally designed for XC world cup racing and is super light with carbon wheels. It’s a fun bike for short rides on flowing MTB trails but I wasn’t sure how I would feel on the bike for longer than two hours. Also, with the front suspension and wider tire clearance I felt it would be more comfortable and forgiving on longer days. Before embarking upon the LDW route we had to test out the bike configurations and do one more challenging ride.
David selected a popular route in Gatineau that follows the single-track trails through the Gatineau Park up to the fire tower near the Luskville falls. From the fire tower we walked down the Luskville trail carrying our bikes as the trail is for pedestrians only. It wasn’t an easy hike down with the trail packed with Canada Day hikers. We made lots of room for them, were patient, and thanked every person and family who let us by with our bikes on our shoulders. We also used this opportunity to test our water filters and refill our bottles at the actual falls. With the long days on the LDW we knew filtering water would be the only way to remain hydrated along the route.
The hike down the Luskville Falls trail is a little over 1 KM and we lost 150 metres in elevation. The ride file makes it look like we fell off a cliff. The last time I did a similar ride and hike on this trail my quads cramped on the way home. So I was a little nervous the same would happen with more than half the ride to go.
From the bottom of the Luskville trail we headed northwest along highway 148 and turned right on to the Eardley-Masham Escarpment Road and followed the long climb up another 200 metres on gravel and single track turning right on trails 56 and 50 that led us back along Taylor Lake, Lac Philippe, Lac Mousseau (private lake with our Prime Minister’s summer residence), and through the centre of the park to pop out near Meech Lake. The original route was to rejoin trail 1 in the park, but it was getting late, and we were low on food. We decided to meander back into Ottawa along the paved roads. In total, the ride was about 8 hours door to door, and we covered over 1600 metres of climbing. Just another epic ride with David.
And my Specialized worked beautifully with the extra bags and aftermarket fork mounts. Although, I had to find a way to keep my water bottles from rocketing out of my suspension fork mounted water bottle cages. I think David stopped twice to collect bottles that flew out of my cages. Thank you David!
So with this final bike gear test complete, I felt confident and ready for the Log Driver’s Waltz.
The Log Driver’s Waltz – The Slowest Known Time
In total I rode 939.52 KMs to complete the 797 KM official route. Unlike others who complete a few segments or do the entire route in one go it took me six days of riding across 87 days. The original plan was to complete the entire route in four days covering an average of 200 KM/day. We were to leave on Tuesday, August 3 and complete the route by the end of the day on August 6. It was an ambitious plan for two guys that had yet to complete the course or understand the undulating nature of the constant rollers and the forces of real life back at home. The following is the story of how it all unfolded.
LDW Day One: August 3, 2021 – The long and winding road
Ottawa to Sharbot Lake
D: 207.14KM, E: 1853M, T: 10h24m
The official starting point of the LDW route is in Almonte, Ontario but David and I live in Ottawa. We didn’t want to drive to the official start and luckily, the route meanders through Ottawa so we marked Dow’s Lake (a point along the route) as our official starting point. I left my house at 6h40am and met up with David at Dow’s Lake around 6h55. We took the perfunctory photos and started the ride. Our pace was efficient, not rushed and not easy, but manageable. We figured we would be in zone 2 for most of the route. About 30 minutes later we picked up Darius along the Ottawa River path, who was to join us for around 30 KMs as a send-off to our LDW journey.
We were blessed with beautiful blue skies and the forecast for the next few days called for more of the same with ever increasing heat. Our biggest challenge was going to be eating, drinking, staying cool, and refilling our water bottles.
We stopped in Almonte for lunch. After lunch we kept moving, only stopping a few times for snacks and to refill our water bottles somewhere between Middletown and Lanark. We each had water filtration systems and with all the waterways in Ontario we were never at a loss for water.
We noticed quickly after Almonte that the LDW not only shares the same name as the song written to commemorate the log drivers on the various rivers in the Ottawa region but that the route itself is a waltz. After Almonte there was barely a straight line or a flat surface. This is a theme we think Eric and Jen purposely weaved into the route. At times we cursed them at other times we rejoiced in the welcomed rest along the descents.
I think the most challenging part of the first day was the Bathurst Line Trail, which is barely a road and should be classified more as an ATV track or snow machine trail. It was a very technical 25 KM section that gradually climbed 50 metres. The line itself is rich with history and we appreciated the old stone walls and wooden fences buried beneath the second and third growth forests that hugged the line. While the section was technical and challenging, it also came after 170 KMs of riding and after about 8 or 9 hours in the saddle. We stopped a few times along the line to refuel, check-in with each other, and check our gear and bikes.
The first day was fantastic. We achieved our planned distance of over 200 KMs, had no mechanical issues and rode well together. But as a long-time road cyclist I had to accustom myself to riding within our own rhythms. We didn’t always ride in single file or side by side. Either I would be ahead by several hundred metres or David would surge ahead for a while. At first it felt uneasy, but over time, I came to accept this as normal for long days on fully loaded bikes. Each person will have their own energy rhythm that will spike up and down throughout the day and throughout the trip.
David suggested getting a hotel on the first night would be the best way to settle into the LDW route. Despite having tents, sleeping gear, and food we felt the first night in an air-conditioned hotel would be a better way to sleep and refresh our bodies. We were able to check into our hotel without any issues, but unfortunately, we arrived late in Sharbot Lake on a Tuesday night during the COVID-19 pandemic and all the shops and restaurants were closed. Fortunately, we had meal provisions, fuel, and cooking gear to make dinner on the back patio of the hotel.
Despite being in a hotel, each in our own beds, my mind and body were still racing from the memories of the day, the anticipation of the unknown in the days to come, and I had a hard time falling asleep. Eventually I dozed off only to wake at 5h30 to get the second day started.
LDW Day Two: August 4, 2021 – You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it
Sharbot Lake to Calabogie
D: 137.5KM , E: 2030M, T: 7h54m
I grew to appreciate David’s efficiency and his drive. Like clockwork David would wake at 5h30 and get right to it. I prefer steeping in my sleepy thoughts for five to ten minutes before rushing into the day. But I think without David’s energy I may have slept a lot longer.
There is a little restaurant called the Cardinal Cafe across the street from the hotel in Sharbot Lake in a converted church. We scouted it out the evening before as a perfect spot to eat breakfast before starting the second day. David noticed they were playing Hell’s Bells and remarked this is the only time he thinks he heard that song in a church. After breakfast we hit the route along the K&P trail that heads north out of Sharbot Lake. The hills and forests were steamy with humidity. We knew we were in for a hot day.
Our plan was to ride the route past Renfrew to stay the night at David’s mother-in-law’s cottage. I think it wasn’t until about 1pm that we had to reassess that plan. The route from Sharbot Lake is meandering with tonnes of elevation gain on challenging trails such as the K&P trail, ATV trails, and rougher gravel roads. But it wasn’t until we found ourselves on the Arcol Road in the North Frontenac Highlands that we had to truly reassess our ambitions for the day.
It was already over 30 C, and we stopped to orient ourselves to the route GPS coordinates and David said – “I think this is the slowest 100 kilometres I’ve ever done.” The Arcol Road through the Frontenac Highlands was a series of steep rollers with ATV tracks connecting different sections. At one point we found a paved section and thought we were in the clear, but in fact, it was only paved in that one section as the grade approached 20%. We figured it was paved by the local township to avoid the road washing away in the rain. Beyond the paved section the inclines became less steep and the rollers longer. It was a refreshing change to the legs.
The other issue is that there are no refuel points or villages between Sharbot Lake and Calabogie to buy food, stop for lunch, or buy other amenities. With better knowledge we could have veered off the route and ridden to a village and then turned around to rejoin the route. But I think David and I are wired the same way, once we are on the route, it is “go time”. We were fueling on gels and cliff bars. We used our emergency meals in Sharbot Lake the night before. Other than gels and some oatmeal we didn’t have much food until our next provision stop. By the time we arrived in Calabogie it was shortly after 4 pm and I think hunger redefined our expectations for the day. We decided to stop there and only covered 137 KMs but had climbed over 2000 metres with over 9 hours on our bikes.
We found a cheap motel, checked in, bought provisions before the shop closed, and headed for the restaurant. Over dinner we replanned the route expectations. We figured we could easily get to Campbell’s Bay the next day and camp at the truck stop that permits free camping, has running water, and a toilet. Beyond Campbell’s Bay it would be another 90 KMs to a camping destination. We already knew accomplishing the route in 4 days was probably not going to happen.
The heat was also becoming a challenge. It was forecasted to go above 30 C on the third day as well.
In retrospect, I wonder if we had only stopped at the restaurant in Calabogie and refuelled, could we have continued the remaining 60-70 KMs that evening to the cottage and kept to our original plan? I didn’t ask David, but I wondered if he felt he could have continued on, and was he relenting due to my hunger fatigue?
LDW Day Three: August 5, 2021 – Hot, Hot, Hot!
Calabogie to Campbell’s Bay
D: 132.58KM, E: 1043M , T: 6h30m
I think day three was the easiest day. The route between Calabogie to Campbell’s Bay felt like a transition stage. It was 130 KMs with around 1000 metres of climbing along beautiful rolling farmlands and through two rural “cities”, Renfrew and Shawville. This section of the route has a rich history from mining to forestry, to high tech, and agriculture. At one point the route follows a road called Magnesium Road where once thrived a magnesium mine. The farm roads, villages, and dams along this section of the route were pretty with wide views across fields and over rolling hills. Near the base of Magnesium Road, one could see for miles across the Ottawa River valley into the Gatineau Hills and the route and challenges to come!
David grew up in Renfrew and riding this area clearly brought back a lot of memories. At one point the route passed his childhood home. He entertained me with stories of rides in his youth, high school memories, history of the town, and stories of his parents and grandparents. It was a great way to get to know him better. He was also proud that his knowledge of the region influenced the LDW route to follow a tunnel beneath Highway 17 now called David’s Tunnel.
The only real challenge on day three was the heat. With 100 KMs in our legs we stopped at the market in Shawville. David went into the market first while I watched our bikes. It was over 33C and as I sat in the shade, I noticed my legs were shaking; like I was shivering. I figured I was approaching dehydration and needed to drink as much as possible and quickly. Once David came back, I went in and bought a lot of water and food. We sat and drank a bunch and refuelled. I quickly started feeling better and we got back on our bikes to finish the last 25-30 KMs to Campbell’s Bay. It was a lovely stretch along the PPJ Cycloparc line, another converted rail line and another pleasant discovery thanks to the meticulous research Eric and Jen put into the route planning.
I was happy to camp for the first time on the LDW and to use the fancy new lightweight gear I bought earlier this year. I really enjoyed sleeping outside and slept better than I had the two previous nights in the hotels.
By the end of day three we rode 475 KMs of the LDW. We had another 322 KMs to go. David figured we could finish it in two more days which meant extending it beyond the four days we had originally planned. Luckily, David had managed this contingency with his family, but I had commitments with my kids to keep. The plan was to follow the route to Mont Sainte Marie (145-150 KMs) and camp outside at the base of the ski hill, and then ride the final segment back to Ottawa from Mont Sainte Marie (about 175-180 KMs).
Going to sleep that night I knew a decision on bailing or continuing had to be made before Venosta. The route heads northeast from Campbell’s Bay but then at Venosta turns north. If I were to make it home by the end of day 4, I would have to turn south at Venosta.
LDW Day Four: August 6, 2021 – Decision Day
Campbell’s Bay to Home for me; and to Mont Sainte Marie for David
D: 152.28KM (75KMs on the official LDW route), E: 1246M, T: 7h36m
After a solid night’s sleep, I felt rested and strong, but knew I had to get back to Ottawa to be with my family. David and I didn’t talk much about it, but David being a father and husband understood and respected my decision. However, I felt terrible for not completing the entire route in one trip with him. Deep down I felt I was not holding my end of the bargain. Rarely am I the guy who throws in the towel. In fact, in most situations people ask me to stop, or wrap it up, or quit. I won’t let something go. So, we planned to ride together until Venosta and then I would turn south for Ottawa as David would continue to Mont Sainte Marie.
As we packed up our campsite at Campbell’s Bay, I paused to admire the view of the valley and to the meandering Ottawa river to the north and south. I reflected on the history of this land from the original indigenous peoples to the European settlers and wondered what the future may hold with climate change and long-term cultural changes as a response to the coronavirus. The pandemic has been hard on everyone, especially on my kids. Online learning is tough and undermines socialization and play which are so important for developing minds and bodies. As we headed off on our bikes I couldn’t stop thinking about my daughters.
We were blessed with another gorgeous morning. The sky was clear, and the air was fresh compared to the humidity from the day before. The gravel roads and secondary roads along the route were wide, in good shape and quiet. The route also took us through Ladysmith, a small village with a wonderful corner store owned by Gerda and Wally Bretzlaff, who have since passed on the store to their children. I hadn’t yet developed the appreciation for Gerda and Wally’s special touch and relationship with the community. Gerda was incredibly friendly and let me use the store’s restrooms which were impeccably clean. While lingering in the store I observed Gerda’s interactions with her customers. They were friendly, kind with a twist of humour built on years of friendship. Stopping at their store was a highlight of the route. Wally and Gerda made you feel at home.
After Ladysmith the roads are rolling and fast. We rode along old farms and homesteads that triggered my imagination for the ways of the pioneers. We stopped in Alleyn-et-Cawood for a sandwich and a drink. The homemade sandwich was delicious, and I couldn’t remember having a better sandwich in years. Maybe it was the hunger, but it hit the spot.
Within an hour we arrived at the decision point. I was still struggling with the decision and wondered if I would change my mind at the last minute to continue with David. At Venosta where the route turns north along the Veloroute Des Draveurs we stopped to wish each other luck with the next phase in our respective journeys. Fortunately, there was a nice couple who graciously offered to take a photo of us before we said goodbye.
David had another 70-75 KMs to Mont Sainte Marie and I had about the same back to Ottawa. However, I didn’t realize how far north Venosta is from Wakefield. I thought it was only 15-20 KMs, but it was over 30 KMs along highway 105 with harrowingly narrow sections and high speed cars and trucks. I had a massive headwind and it made for a hostile ride to Wakefield. I regretted my decision on the route, but it was the most direct line home.
Once in Wakefield I stopped at the Ma-Boule ice-cream shop for a sugar fill and water. While sitting on their lawn chairs I saw a friend ride by. I yelled out his name, but he was long gone. I then texted him and called him, but his phone was on silent mode buried deep in his pocket. I had a wishful thought that he could help me ride home by protecting me from the wind.
The route (not the official LDW route) from Wakefield to Ottawa is about 45 KMs and hugs the Gatineau River on an old road that merges with a converted rail line. The route is beautiful and popular with local cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts. Along the converted rail line my chamois began irritating my behind. I stopped to apply more anti-friction cream, but I had mistakenly not cleaned my cycling shorts well enough the night before. Chris Isaak’s lyrics from Wicked Game kept rolling through my mind, except I changed the chorus to “my ass is on fire and no one can save me butt cream. It’s strange what desire will make foolish cyclists do.”I eventually made it home and was so happy to see my family. I cleaned up and joined them for a wonderful dinner. On the side I kept checking Strava for David’s ride. I was curious to know how the rest of his ride went. His ride on Strava eventually popped up and I was relieved to see he made it. The next day I kept watching his social media feeds and Strava for any updates and to learn how the last segment of the ride unfolded. Turns out, the fifth day was probably the most epic day on the LDW. The route from Mont Sainte Marie back to our official starting point in Ottawa is 192 KMs with over 2800 metres of climbing through very technical trails in the Gatineau Park. David had to bypass a black bear and fireworks, but he made it. I was so happy for him.
LDW Day Five: October 23, 2021 – The Final Day, or so I thought
Venosta to Meech Lake Parking Lot
D: 228.05KM (202km on the official LDW Route), E: 2843M, T: 11h22m
The first four days of the LDW were phenomenal. The weather was fantastic, despite the heat, and the route was awe inspiring. However, I still felt a sense of loss for not completing the entire route. I had a void to fill, and I didn’t want the last 250 KMs to remain incomplete in 2021. However, with work, family and other committed cycling events such as the Ghost Gravel ride and the 8 Hours of Hurtin’ in Haliburton I wasn’t sure when I could complete the route. With days getting shorter I was hoping to find a weekend in late September to do the last 250 KMs in one go. But work and family took an strange turn. Ultimately, I decided I could no longer be the father, husband, or cyclist I wanted to be with the mounting work stress. Most sane people would recommend I ride less, but I made a surprising decision to leave work. The culmination of work stress, home stress, and pandemic stress meant I needed to take something off my plate. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate a smooth and rapid transition out of work.
With wrapping up work, and settling other matters, I couldn’t fit in the final 250 KMs until late October. I had originally selected Thursday, October 21 but the risk for hyperthermia was too high with heavy rain and cold temperatures in the forecast. Saturday, October 23’s forecast looked ideal, sunny and a high of 9 C. So that became the new day for the ride.
David graciously drove me to the exact spot in Venosta where we split ways on August 6. Fortunately, the drive was only 60 minutes, so I didn’t have to wake too early and with a good sleep I felt refreshed. I thanked David for the drive, he wished me luck and sent me off. I pressed the start button on my Garmin at 7h45 am. Immediately I felt a sense of elation for embarking upon the final leg. I had no clue if I could complete this ride slated for 255 KMs with a little over 3300 metres of elevation gain, but I was buzzing with energy.
Within ten minutes I had to stop as my toes were freezing. I had plastic bags in my frame bag to use as an extra layer for heat. My thicker socks and neoprene booties weren’t enough in the 0 C weather at that time of day. With bags between my socks and booties, I was back in the saddle. With every pedal stroke I felt alive. It was incredibly quiet, other than an occasional farmer, a squirrel, or a truck off in the distance, I felt utterly alone, and it was wonderful. The first 30 KMs head north, in the opposite direction of the finish line. It’s a strange feeling when you have such a huge day ahead of you.
With the sun rising, warming my cheeks, my spirits improved. In fact, the whole day I felt a constant exhilaration. It was freeing.My Garmin navigation was the only source of grief. I probably covered an additional 1000 metres thanks to missing a cue or my Garmin misdirecting up the wrong path. Fortunately, I downloaded the route on RideWithGPS and whenever my Garmin lost its way, I used the app to confirm the next turn or confirm I was on the right road.
About every 20-30 kilometres the landscape’s character changed, from flat and open farmlands to thick forests, to rolling hills, and to river and lakeside roads sprinkled with cute cottages and little villages. The route north of Wakefield was a lovely waltz across the communities to the northeast side of the Gatineau Park. I felt like a kid again, rediscovering why I fell in love with the bike’s ability to help me explore and get unsettled.
By the time I arrived in Wakefield it was just after 4 pm. I had about 2.5 hours of daylight left and about 90 KMs to go. Once you get to Wakefield the next 60-80 KMs along the LDW are on steep and rolling single and double track trails through the Gatineau Park. I wanted to make the best use of the daylight and decided to keep pedalling. Even though I had been riding for over 8 hours I still felt strong. My nutrition plan was working, my stomach was solid, and I felt well hydrated. I checked my water levels and had enough to not bother stopping in Wakefield to resupply. Also, I had my water filter with me in case I really needed water later in the evening.
There is something about leaves, rocks, roots, moisture, and darkness that make single track riding a real challenge, especially at night. From about 4 pm to 6h30 pm I rode as fast as I could, but the distance was long, and it was inevitable that I would be stuck riding the single-track trails in the dark. I had a fantastic light with me, but light can’t see through leaves and around corners. By 7 pm I popped out at the O’Brien parking lot by Meech Lake after completing the 40 KM section of single track from Wakefield. It was pitch black with an overcast sky and the temperature was dropping. I had covered over 200 KMs and almost crashed three times in the last 2 KMs. My friend Emily was on her bike riding up from Ottawa to meet me to ride the last 35-40 KMs together. Emily wants to complete the LDW in 2022 so she has been following and supporting my journey with curiosity and enthusiasm. The conditions were unsafe, and I didn’t want to put Emily at risk on 40 KMs of additional single-track. And for my own safety, I also decided to abandon the official route and make my way home along the paved roads. Had I stayed on the route there was another 500 metres of climbing and 40 KMs of additional technical single-track. With a thick layer of wet leaves covering the roots and rocks I felt it was too risky to attempt in the cold weather that was approaching 0 C.
I phoned Emily, chatted about the new plan, and we decided to meet along Chemin de la Mine, an old road that hugs the east side of the lower Gatineau Park. We would not miss each other thanks to our lights. Once the new plan was in place I followed the roads through the park, along the edge of Old Chelsea, and then along Chemin de la Mine. Within a few minutes I saw Emily’s bright headlight and smile. It felt wonderful to have someone to chat with about all the fun details from the day. She brought me a few treats and we had a great time catching up and riding through the deserted late night roads in the Gatineau Park. Emily was kind enough to accompany me home where we finally arrived near 9pm. I was then concerned about her making it home as she still had another 30 KMs to go. Fortunately, she made it and texted me confirming her safe arrival.
In the end, I only rode 202 KMs of the LDW route but completed a total of 228 KMs with 2840 metres of elevation gain. Yet again, I had to finish the last 50-55 KMs. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit in the ride on Sunday but was able to plan the final leg on Thursday, October 28.
You’ll note from the photos that I opted to use my gravel bike with my 650B wheels. I wanted a lighter bike with more water bottle mounts. The 650B wheels were perfect for the single track. The only lesson is that they are lower than my 700C wheels and I hit my pedals more often along the single track. You can see photos of the bike on this Instagram post.
LDW Day Six: October 28, 2021, The Actual Final Day!
Meech Lake Parking Lot to Dow’s Lake
D: 81.97KM (55.97 on the official LDW route) E: 1083, T: 4h06m
I was elated to wake to a beautiful fall morning. All I had to do was ride the easy 26 KMs to Meech Lake and regain the official LDW route back through the Gatineau Park. Several friends met me for a send-off and rode with me until Old Chelsea. They wished me well and smiled as they waved goodbye. As I approached Meech Lake a massive deer with antlers paused on the road and stared at me for several seconds. My iPhone was buried in my frame bag, and I didn’t want to startle the deer to capture a photo. I stopped pedalling and observed its grace and beauty before he effortlessly bounced off the road and disappeared into the forest.Moments later I regained the LDW route and set off on officially riding the remaining section. The road along Meech Lake was surprisingly busy with cars passing in both directions. I eventually got to trail 40 and began the steep 5 KMs climb up to the Ridge Road and the highest point in the park. From there the route was mostly downhill with some short rollers. It was a glorious morning and I felt so grateful to be riding through this majestic and protected national park (Gatineau Park) in our own backyard.
At one point the route takes you on to a remote, rolling and flowing single track. I kept coming across flocks of birds and other animals. At one point my Garmin rear radar beeped, and I wondered what could be behind me. I remember David telling me he came across a big assertive black bear in this section. I looked over my shoulders but couldn’t see anything.
This section of the Gatineau Park is majestic. It was late autumn, and some trees were still emanating a wonderful tapestry of oranges, yellows, and reds. I had the park and all its glory to myself.
Eventually the route made its way into the city, along the back side of the Canadian Museum of History on the Gatineau side, then across the historic Alexandra Bridge to Ottawa, then along the National Art Gallery and Major’s Hill Park with beautiful vistas of the parliament buildings, and then on to the final few kilometres along the Rideau Canal, a world heritage site. The canal led me to our original starting point at Dow’s Lake the morning of August 4. I stopped and snapped a few photos.
There was no finish line, no champagne, no well-wishers; only the knowledge that I had finally completed every kilometre of the Log Driver’s Waltz. I’d get kudos on social media later. However, I felt a sense of accomplishment and I earned (partially – feeling somewhat unofficial) my spot on the finishers list.
Epilogue – Slowing Time
This may be the story of the slowest known time on the LDW, but it’s also a discovery of how to slow time on two wheels and to appreciate the wonders of our local geography, history, cultures, and the beauty in suffering and adventure. I learned a lot about my own physical abilities and how to overcome several self-limiting thoughts. My confidence on the bike grew exponentially this year. More importantly, I made new friends and developed bonds that will deepen over time. I also grew an overwhelming appreciation for what it takes to build a route from Eric and Jen’s years of accumulated knowledge. Planning and doing the journey is also cathartic and addictive. You never want to stop the slowing of time.
This is only the beginning of my bikepacking journeys to come. I still need to complete the LDW in one trip; and I will.
Acknowledgements and Thanks
Thank you David Wright for asking me to join you on the LDW and for your support and friendship. I thoroughly enjoyed riding the Log Driver’s Waltz with you and all the epic preparation rides. Thank you Jen Adams and Eric Betteridge for designing The Log Driver’s Waltz, an incredibly challenging and gorgeous bikepacking route that explores Ottawa and Gatineau’s pioneering history. Thank you Emily Lafleche for your continued support and enthusiasm. I so appreciated seeing you and your huge smile late in the evening on October 23, 2021. A huge thank you to Meaghan Hackinen for reviewing this story, your wisdom, and the many contributions to making it better. Thank you to my local bike shop Full Cycle that has been incredible in supporting my constant last minute requests in 2021.
Thank you to my wife Laura and daughters Audrey and Clara for your never ending belief in my dreams and for your unwavering love.
Bikepackers are always curious about how others fuel their journeys. In my experience eating real food is the only way to sustain long efforts that span multiple days. Real food such as fruit, vegetables, sandwiches, cheese, high-fat foods, hard-boiled eggs, etc. provide nutrient dense meals that can sustain long and consecutive days in the saddle. However, there will be times when the body needs an immediate glycogen boost. On these occasions I love to use products like Endurance Tap and sometimes I supplement with hydration or electrolyte tablets. In addition, I often take mult-vitamin tablets to help boost my mineral stores.
Bikepacking Gear List
Bike: (Primary bike used for the four core days of the LDW)
- Frame: 2015 Specialized Stumpjumper Expert WC Carbon
- Fork: Custom RockShox SID 29″ fork w/ Brain damping and 90mm travel for race-ready XC performance
- Wheels: Roval Control Carbon 29″ wheelset w/ Zero Bead Hook, 32 spokes
- Tires: 29” Continental RaceKing 2.1” Rear and 2.2” Fron
- Crankset: Custom SRAM carbon PF30 crankset, PF30 BB, Eagle 34 Took Chainring
- Pedals: Shimano XT
- Cassette: SRAM Eagle XX1 10-50 12 speed
- Derailleur: Rear SRAM Eagle XX1
- Brakes: Magura MTS hydraulic disc brakes w/ Storm SL rotors for total control and performance
- Shifter: SRAM XX1
- Saddle: Specialized stock saddle but later replaced with a Brooks C13
- Other Accessories: Deda Aero Bars (I won’t use again on the LDW as there is too much up and down and very little opportunity for aero bars)
- Garmin Edge 530 and iPhone, spare battery pack
- Front Bags: Apidura Expedition Handlebar Pack (14L) and Expedition Accessory Pocket (4.5L)
- Frame Bag: Thief Bikepacking custom frame bag
- Rear Bag: Ortlieb 16L Seat Bag
- Accessory Bag(s): Lezine and Topeak top tube bags
- Sleeping Mat: Therm-a-rest Uber Light WV Sleeping Pad
- Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket 2
- Pot: MSR Titan Kettle
- Utensils: UCO Titanium Utility Spork
- Sleeping Bag – Therm-a-rest Vesper 0C Down Quilt
- Tent: MSR Carbon Reflex 1-Person Tent
- Water Filter: Sawyer
- Sea to Summit collapsible plate and cup
- Tool Kit