Getting ready for cross camp
Our family of four set a challenge to bike 200+ miles over 6 days from Oka National Park, just west of Montreal, to Ottawa, Ontario. A 70-mile gravel “bike path” attracted us to the route, and previous cycling experiences on Canada’s amazing La Route Verte, gave us the necessary familiarity to boldly plan and complete the trek. My wife, Llama, and I had my 13 year old son, Leif, and our 18month old daughter, Eleanor, along for the journey.
As of this year, I would proudly state we are a family of cyclists. Mountain biking has been my passion for many years, but as a family, this year we have been very committed to minimizing time in the car and completing most local trips by bicycle. Eleanor has been in the bike trailer since the age of 5-months. Teenage Leif’s attitude to riding is very positive. Llama, my wife, is one of the most amazing women in the world- so naturally she has taken to cycling, and on this trip, she fully leveraged her planning and navigation skills.
Below is the report of the trip with an overview of our bikes and gear to follow. Feel free to ask questions about the route, cycling with kids, gear, teenage energy, etc.
Big thanks to Hampshire Bicycle Exchange in Amherst, my mountain bike race sponsor and the best adventure-friendly bike shop in Western MA. The Salsa and Jamis bikes we had on this trip were purchased there - they were the ideal tools for the job.
The morning we left Oka: Two men and a baby. Ready to roll.
Llama on her Salsa Vaya fully loaded and color coordinated.
The Prescott Russell trail was the cornerstone of our route. The PR is a rail-trail extending 70km through Ontario agriculture land. We planned the rest of the route based on the appeal of visiting Ottawa and to stay along the river to avoid major elevation gains. To map the course, we used google maps, Canadian bike maps, and a few other trip-reports we found online. I wanted to ride with a Garmin GPS, but Llama, the luddite of the family, insisted in using actual maps. It was great to reduce the electronic dependence, although we did get lost a couple of times.
After the 6 hour drive the day before, we packed up our tents and had an easy day of cycling 25 miles to a national park. Our ride began with a picturesque ferry ride over the Ottawa River. Although the route said we would on a road with a bike-specific paved shoulder, we found ourselves in the road along a curvy river front community of homes. We chugged along with Eleanor falling asleep for the morning push. When she woke, we found a playground to rest, play, and eat lunch. This became a daily routine. We stayed at the lovely Voyageur National Park that evening, ate filling couscous with pinto beans and got to swim and relax at the campground.
Leaving Voyageur for Day 2.
This was our longest day of the trip. We had planned to do 49miles, but due to a mishap in our LPS (Llama Positioning System) and a very long park access road at Voyageur, we added 6 miles for a total of 55miles. We met up with the Prescott Russell trail - the 70 mile bike path that would bring us most of the way to Ottawa. It was dusty and rocky - more like a tame mountain bike trail than a bike path. Our speed dropped by half and we soon began charting an alternate course on farm access roads that paralleled the trail. Even though these were dirt, they were much smoother. We discovered that the Prescott Russell was more heavily travelled the further East it went. Conditions improved dramatically the closer to Ottawa it went. If anyone is planning a trip on the PR trail, we would be happy to relate our experiences on specific portions of the trail.
The trail was chunky and not maintained in these parts. Aside from the lower speeds, gravel is great to ride on- feels more adventure like.
The only town center we rode through, called Vankleek Hill, happened around 11am. To our pleasant surprise, a farmer’s market was in full swing. We were the farmers’ best customers, stocking up on wild mushrooms, fresh veggies, and fruit for dinner. We ate wild deer sausage and fresh empanadillas. Folks were super chatty and a local newspaper reporter even took our photo.
We fit right in at the farmers’ market with our Real Pickles jerseys.
After lunch we were directed to a local splash park - Eleanor’s favorite. He we met a touring family that made our trip seem like a walk in the park.
These Montrealer parents were touring with their **5** kids, on 2 tandems with 2 trailers, for 3 weeks! Bad-ass.
Leaving Vankleek Hill, we zig-zagged along the farm roads by the Prescott-Russell. We were all spent when we reached a perfect resting spot in the shade of a bridge over a small river. We could see the large fish jumping upstream - a place perfect for a big bear to do some hunting. All of our rests included diaper changes and plenty of time to romp, eat, stretch, and recharge. Giving Eleanor plenty of time to romp was a recipe for success. I rode a few miles to the nearest town and returned with water and ice-cream and even some rocket fuel- Coca Cola.
Meat stick break under the bridge on our long 55mile day
The rest of the day included riding through agricultural lands. Eleanor did great and only got frustrated about 8 miles from the campground. As we rolled into Camping Paradis, we realized we would be getting a strong dose of Canadian RV culture. This place was intense- except instead of tents, there were semi-permanent RVs with beer-drinking RVers slouching on oversized lawn furniture. Fortunately the tent sites were nestled in the woods. Heavy rains started right when we set up our tents, so we used the park’s community space to cook our orzo/bean dinner under in a dry structure. It was a long day that ended with mud and rain, but we all went to bed in positive spirits looking forward to the next night in the hotel.
Camping in RV Paradise
Leif enjoying his father’s orzo dehydrated black bean dish as it pours in Paradis. There is nothing like a full day of biking and limited menu options to help a teenager appreciate his dad’s cooking.
Day 3 biking; Day 4&5 in Ottawa
Ottawa City. We left Paradis and ventured back to the Prescott Russell trail which was a much smoother gravel. It brought us to the outskirts of Ottawa. It’s always exciting to visit new cities . It’s even better when you get to experience the outskirts- suburbia, then the industrial areas, a bit of strip malls, and finally the canals and glorious bike infrastructure of the urban core. Ottawa was really nice. As we rested and played in a park five miles from our hotel, a kind man brought us melon to snack on (!!) and even offered us to stay at his place. It was a great intro to the city.
Trailside luncheon as we got close to Ottawa
The Cartier Place hotel was fantastic. For a reasonable rate, we had a full suite (a necessity with a Daily Show watching teenager and a 6am rising toddler). Our bikes were in a bike storage room in the ride-out garage and there was a pool, sauna, and hot tub to rekindle our weary legs. We Yelped good eateries- the best coffee shop and taco stand were just a few blocks away. We decided to extend our stay to three nights in the hotel. Each day we explored the city by bike. We hope to be back to check out some of the Canadian national museums there.
The Ottawa streets
Nice locks. But where is the cream cheese?
No water park went unexperienced.
Waiting for a giant turkey burger showcasing the measuring cup water vessels.
Canadian government. This is where the socialist magic happens.
"Enough of this hotel crap, let’s get back on the bikes"
On the way out of town The Ministry coffee shop gifted us 8ozs of fresh beans to keep us well caffeinated in the days ahead.
Speaking of coffee:
Camping of any variety necessitates good coffee. Here is our setup- Aeropress, Japanese hand mill grinder, and water boiling contraptions. Llama- my dairy queen- even loved the black smooth cups we often made twice a day (*she still had sugar).
We crossed the river from Ontario to Quebec and made our way back East. We followed signs for the La Route Verte, the nationally funded cycling route. Several roads were closed and detours were sketchy. The sun was really hot so after Eleanor woke up we found refuge under an overhang of an elementary school with baby romping on the playground. Cans of sardines, oysters, and tuna with crackers gave us a good kick of needed salts and energy. We had 3 flat tires this day. After the last one, our tube supply was exhausted. The patch kit cement was dry so we were stranded. We were in a Quebec bumpkin villa and had no luck knocking on doors asking for rubber cement in the best Frenglish we could muster. Plan B was almost implemented: I was preparing to snag a front tube from Leif’s bike and ride the 60miles back to the car. Fortunately a pair of cyclists came by and gave us a skinny tube that did the trick. I mounted a larger volume tire on my rear wheel, swapping my worn 28mm Gatorskin with a burlier 32mm tire that Leif was riding so I could better handle the heavy pannier load and trailer towing torque. As we started the last 10 miles to the Parc national de plaisance campground, I could not stop staring at the ground in front of me to avoid glass and road side bolts.
Stranded but at least the baby is sleeping
Each campsite had some element of awesomeness usually involving the river, a lake, and/or a killer view.
Somehow Leif slept through animals stealing food from his vestibule. They carried a jar of peanut butter a few hundred feet and fully devoured a load of trail mix. We decided it was a collaboration between the red squirrels and the beavers. We left the river-side campsite and made our way to the touristy town of Montibello. On route, I split off to ride 8miles north, into the hill country, to find a tiny bike shop to resupply us with tubes. Fortunately he had the proper presta tubes. I bought a bunch of a tubes, a new patch kit and a schrader/presta converter (most floor pumps we encountered were schraeder only - perhaps a Canada thing, or a rural non-biking culture thing) .
This man saved us. His small shop housed a repair station and not much else…except tubes of all varieties.
Leif taking a reflective moment on the river
Day 8 biking, 9&10 in cabin outside Montreal
Our final stretch was from Camping Brownburg-Chatham back to Oka, where a 3 night cabin rental awaited. Restocked with tubes, we continued to enjoy playgrounds with the baby, great bike paths and rural roads, and awesome views of the Ottawa River.
Leif Armstrong putting the power down
Our last day of riding we were on some nice pavement for a while. A path paved by Hydro Quebec, apparently.
A french bakery just miles from our final destination, Park Oka. We totally overdid the pastries.
The last three nights we stayed in this swanky cabin. We still rode our bikes every day. The beach at the campground was very popular with Montrealers. We rode to the beach, and of course the playground. The cabin was a real piece of heaven.
I find Jesus in the woods. Fat bike rentals were 1/2 price for campers! Super fun times hitting dirt after so many road miles.
On August 10, we went to Montreal for my birthday. Llama and kids drove and I biked. A wrong turn and poor french directional understanding turned my 30mile ride in a 50mile ride. That birthday dinner near Atwater Market was well-earned and fantastic.
The trip was a super success. Our family grew a lot together by expanding our physical and mental norms through adventure and exploring new places. Touring with kids is a blast. To see the world through Eleanor and Leif’s eyes, and lead a fairly relaxed pace, added to the rejuvenating sense of the trip. Just last night, Llama was perusing google maps perusing next summer’s cycling vacation.
Life is too short to not do awesome shit.
3 Nights Before Departing:
Two brave parents, a teenager, and a toddler (in trailer) bike 200 miles in a 10 day summer vacation.
Our route is posted on Ride With GPS here.
Biking – Day 1
Leave our car and campsite at Parc national d’Oka
Take the Oka/Hudson Ferry across the Ottawa River
Camping at Voyageur Provincial Park, Ontario.
Biking – Day 2
43 miles along the Prescott and Russell Trail
Brunch/Lunch in Vankleek Hill
Camping at Camping Paradis
Biking – Day 3
29 miles – along the Prescott and Russell Trail
Arrive in Ottawa!
Hotel room at Cartier Place Suite Hotel
Ottawa visit – Day 4
A second night in our hotel room.
Biking – Day 5
Camping at Parc national de Plaisance
Enjoying the Ottawa River – Day 6
Biking – Day 7
Camping at Camping Municipal Brownsburg-Chatham
Biking – Day 8
Our return to Parc national d’Oka
Post-touring luxury: 3 nights in a cabin, with day visits into Montreal
Some of our favorite Montreal sites we plan on visiting:
The Atwater Market
Hardest race yet. 12hours on the singlespeed. Decided to let that guy win (animal was fully rigid on a 32x17) I was up 40min going into the last lap. Nausea and shivers got worse so I bailed to keep the experience “positive” . Now there’s a goal for next year. #realpicklesracing #millstone12
…or maybe it should be titled, “Sweating with Naked Men: My New Training Regiment.”
The Night Before
The night before the 2014 Horror at Harding Hill mountain bike race in Sunapee, NH, I attended my buddy’s bachelor party. No we didn’t go on bender in Montreal or get stupid at Foxwoods. Jacob is way too cool for that. 9 hours before the race start, we were next to a sawmill, diving under a bonfire in the middle of a murky pond, digesting venison cooked to perfection on the open fire, and taking turns entering the sweat lodge with six naked manly friends. There was lots of beer and ol time fiddling too. It was a great time.
The Gear Choice
Fortunately I had the foresight to put on a light cog out back - 32x19. A ‘spinny’ gear for a flat course is necessary when you stay up late consuming several too many alcoholic beverages. There is a careful equation for proper singlespeed gear selection. Up late with beer + lots of meat for dinner + chilling with naked men >/ = conditions similar to a sustained downpour right before the race = large cog (light gearing) .
I pre-rode for about 10min and quickly changed my gear back at the car. I surprisingly felt feeling pretty good- must be the detoxing sweat lodge.
Horror at Harding Hill isn’t very scary . It’s an excellent singlespeed course with a couple of perfect smooth double track sustained climbs broken up by some singletrack with ample rootiness and rocky lines to keep everyone honest. There a few downhills that beg for bombing, until they the bottom gets chunky. In essence there is a little of everything.
It’s not my favorite course do to the long double track road sections, but it was super fun.
The mass start is a great way to go. About 1 mile in I passed the entire expert field and held 2nd or 3rd place overall. As usual I went hard the first lap, negating any concept of pacing. On lap two I felt the dehydration kick in. Cytomax in the bottle wasn’t doing the trick. Fortunately at the mid-point , I picked up a gell flask of dill pickle juice. This really helped flush my body with needed salts and my light-headedness cleared right up. At my juice pick-up I pelted a bystander with my wallet, which I was carrying for no reason at all..fortunately he found me at the end of the race.
Sensing I had the SS win in the bag, I slowed down a tad, but was aiming for top three overall. I just missed it- 4th overall, expert - SS win, by a lot. It’s a haul up to that neck of NH . Race promoters: how about The Pinnacle and Horror at Harding Hill back-to-back . Saturday and Sunday showdown. I’d go every year for sure…especially if there is a sweat lodge happening in between.
The woods were wet so I took the Casseroll on a 17mile jaunt up Mt. Tom this evening. First time on the bike after family vacation in ME - haven’t ridden for 5 days, and that includes coffee runs with Eleanor ! There was some great fresh pavement up the mountain and then a chunky forest road to Goat’s Peak (I think that’s it) . I couldn’t resist dropping a few PSI and hitting a short stretch of singletrack on the way home.
I spent all last week super focused on a big work project so couldn’t ride my Selma in the woods. The lack of sleep and semi-poor eating (I’m a cookie fiend) gave another lesson in balance: take care of yourself, even if you just have small moments to do so. Remember what makes you strong and feeds you energy. Even when stress is mounting, focus on getting over the hump - so you can ride again!
I’m super looking forward to having a CX bike with discs brakes for this kind of romp- hopefully by summer’s end. For now the 26lb. Cass does pretty well, though the canti brakes blow.
Found this gem of a play structure at the small park on the top of the mountain:
It was my first time to Rutland for the TVR race. My team mates ‘had to work’ and my teenage son had other stuff to do likely involving an ipad or sleeping late, so it was a solo adventure. Overall it was a fantastic venue, well organized, and super fun.
My goals of the race were to have fun, ride some new trail, and try to get my endurance back (3mile baby pull trips to the store isn’t doing it). In the morning I mounted a light gear, put on my race wheels, and drove the long pretty way from Northampton, MA. I was too nonchalant to take 15min to change my Magura TS8 fork form 80mm to 100mm… laziness that I suspected I would regret, and did.
Clashing blue bibs through the river.
In the spirit of the Boy Scouts, who’s land hosted the event, It was with positive attitude and focus that I ended up winning the single speed class, finishing 2 laps in 2hour 19minutes.
The second lap was much better as I knew where to run and could trust most of the lines folks had made on lap one. Focus and resilience is what racing technical trails is about . Once you starts swearing at your faults the body tightens, you get tired faster, and shit just starts to suck. I focused on maintaining momentum and looking ahead on the trail. This helped me feel more relaxed as the race went on.
I also credit real food- not energy gu crap- for giving me the energy needed to maintain. Real food for race energy is something I’m experimenting with. High quality pickle juice and dates seem to pack all the minerals, electrolytes, and energy that I need. I still ride with one bottle of Cytomax, but the real food provides a lingering sense of nourishment. Riding with salty garlic pickle taste in your mouth is way better than gu sugar crap.
Real Pickles waiting at the 10mile midpoint.
At the starting line, I noticed a few of the 10 or so SSers had stiff gears and seemed pretty fit. These were either roadies or bad-asses. I suspected bad-asses, so resigned myself to focus on a mid-pack finish. A few hundred meters in, I passed a few guys knowing they weren’t a threat. A few miles in and another fast(looking) dude with a carbon fork was messing with his carbon wheels. My strategy was to put as much space between us as possible to psych him out- mind games do work sometimes. I thought there were 2 or 3 more guys up ahead until I inquired at the start of lap 2. When the time keeper stated I was first or second, I ate a garlic pickle, chugged some pickle juice (Real Pickles, vinegar free of course) , downed a few dates, and pocketed the figs in lieu of the Gu- I was ready to put the hammer down.
In my mind I was chasing a humble guy on a gray steel rigid bike. I may have never actually seen him - he could have been a ghost, or a vision of a hipper version of myself with mad skills. Regardless, I was in the hunt and riding the hills better than on lap 1 and feeling more confident as I ran the super chunky sections instead of bumbling through them building frustration and tension. A highlight of the race was riding with Crystal Anthony, elite rider, for the last 5 miles or so. We switched places a few times and her relaxed technical abilities helped keep me calm and focused. Another highlight were the volunteer water givers at the giant boulder - thank you kids! Sometimes a good head soak is the perfect energizer.
Crossing the finish line I still thought I was in second. Apparently my time was pretty good and I took 1st. Too bad our Real Pickles/ Hampshire Bike Exchange team kits are just days away from being in.. I’d look a lot sharper on that podium stump.
A dip in the lake is the best recovery for muscles.
Book hotel while driving 80mph at midnight
Llama, Eleanor, and I drove 880miles each way to Asheville, NC for Thanksgiving week. The target was Llama’s brother and family. Eleanor got to meet her sweet cousins Olivia and Maggie for the first time. I road my bike some, we had a successful AIrbnb experience, and all was good.
10month old Eleanor is a traveling rockstar. The key to success is long stops to romp about, and having a parent sit in the backseat for playtime with plenty of toys and snacks. We used Yelp and hotels.com to find great stopping points along the route. Yelp is my favorite app - it kept us well fed and off of highway food. I drove until I got tired, then booked a hotel from the driver’s seat using hotel.com connected to paypal. Tech has changed how we travel for the better (though we still sing and listen to books on digital device, NO TV screen in the car)
Asheville North Carolina - so many foodies and breweries
Asheville is cool place. Aside from the interstate intersecting neighborhoods making urban design severely flawed, there is strong neighborhood character, beautiful mountains, and a laid back artisan vibe. The bounty of delicious eateries and micro breweries is curious as the economy is fueled by the tourist and services sector. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of mid to high income jobs here that typically supports a vibrant restaurant community.
The mountain biking - backcountry all mountain not so good on a rigid
First I must say that I have an awesome wife- she encouraged me to get out twice on my bike.
On Thanksgiving morning, I rode my rigid singlespeed at the famous Bent Creek area on the edge of Pisgah national forest. Despite the rain the day before, the trails were in great condition. The climbing was awesome , though compared to Western MA, the trails lacked technical features. Due to it’s close proximity to Asheville and ease of navigation, Bent Creek is a must ride for any mountain biker visiting the area. One day was plenty to get a sense of all it has to offer - I covered 20miles in just over 2 hours.
Strava map of my ride:
The day after the deep fried turkey feast, I had the opportunity to digest in style, riding some of Pisgah’s more remote offerings . Thanks Shanna of Endless Bike Co. for the ride recommendation!
The Laurel Mtn loop was much more remote than what we have in Massachusetts. Because I was alone and out of cell phone range, I took it easy. As the trail went up the snow and ice cover increased. The views were stunning and the silence refreshing. The downhill trail, called Pilot, was too nasty for my rigid bike. I took it easy and opted to walk a bunch instead of falling off the mountain. As I got back to my car, two singlepeeders were heading on the loop!
Pisgah is truly amazing for adventurous type mountain biking. The map by Pisgah Map Company showing the huge trail network, makes me want to spend a few weeks bike-packing in those mountains.
These trails also shift my perspective on full suspension bikes. Instead of never swaying from hardtail singlespeeding, now maybe I’ll take one - when I’m 50.
Go to Asheville. Ride your bike in Pisgah. Eat and drink . Bring the kids. Travel safe. Be happy.
My brother in-law, my niece, and I got to tour Industry Nine . Above are some sweet hubs in the raw. Below are the finished goods.
The extent of my black friday shopping: