By Chris Tiessen
It’s a Tuesday in early June. Just before noon. As our small yet mighty crew rolls into the charming hamlet of Milverton, I am ready to take a load off. ‘Not too much longer,’ remarks Taylor, our ride lead, before adding: ‘Our lunch spot’s just ahead.’ Phew.
I coast the final hundred yards before we stop at a small park in the middle of town shaded
by a canopy of mature trees and dotted with colourfully-painted picnic tables. The drone of my idling Industry Nine freewheel buzzes above the sound of birds and conversation. ‘Like a swarm of angry wasps,’ I recall renowned bicycle frame builder Hugh Black telling me when I picked up this custom True North Cycles monster from his workshop just a day before. Just my size. An epic gravel- grinding beast replete with handbuilt titanium frame, drop bars, mountain gruppo and brilliant metal flake paint. And those Industry Nine wheels. I get excited just writing about them.
Our trek: an ambitious eighty-five kilometre daytrip along the Guelph to Goderich (G2G) rail trail from Elmira to Blyth’s Cowbell Brewing. A bit of a haul, but such a lovely adventure. Especially with this motley crew who’ve come together for a full day of two- wheeled ecstasy and, well, agony. There’s Taylor – our (aforementioned) ride lead, serious wheeler, and Sales Manager at Speed River Cycles in downtown Guelph. And Lee – an owner at Guelph’s Paramount Ski & Sports and also an accomplished cyclist. There’s my TOQUE business partner, Cai, and her wife, Sonia – both new to the world of cycling. And my sweetheart, Liz, and good friend, Ryan – also green on bikes. And me – a collector of
Bike Magazine since its inaugural issue, gear addict, and sometimes cyclist.
‘Hey. There’s Kristine,’ Cai calls out – pointing toward a TOQUE-branded Toyota Rav Trail pulling up. Oh yeah, and Kristine. From The Danish Place. Our lovely support for the ride. As we roll up, Kristine’s already unloading a couple of coolers.
‘Lunchtime,’ Sonia pipes up. ‘There’s bagels and local summer sausage. Hummus. Mountainoak cheeses. Fresh fruit. Kombucha. Beer. And water. Lots of water.’ I pick up a bagel, lop off a hunk of summer sausage, crack open a kombucha and grab a seat at a picnic table beside Ryan. He’s checking Strava on his phone. ‘We’ve traveled about forty clicks,’ he announces. Almost halfway there.
The park’s like some magical oasis. As a welcome breeze cools us off, a handful of Amish children – accompanied by their mothers – laugh and play in a covered gazebo. Across the street, at the town store, shelves of potted flowers form a colourful background for this most serene tableau. I sit in the friendly shade and recall the highlights of our eventful morning. Meeting up at the trailhead in Elmira for final bike checks. Revelling in pre-ride excitement. Setting out. Cycling past bucolic Old Order Mennonite farmland, through shimmering forests, over picturesque bridges spanning creeks and streams.
Traveling on two wheels offers up south- western Ontario in a completely new, and wonderful, light. Especially via rail trail – relatively flat routes spanning neighbourhoods, cities, regions. ‘Over the past few years especially,’ Taylor informs us, ‘advocacy groups have been working hard to transform disused tracks into cycling and hiking infrastructure, and trails are popping up more and more.’ Like the Galt to Paris rail trail, for example – a beautiful forty kilometre out-and-back that begs a stop in quaint Paris mid-way for a pint, coffee, or lunch overlooking the Grand River. And the Hamilton to Brantford rail trail – an epic seventy kilometre round trip. And this: the
G2G – which palpably demonstrates, alas, that turning rail to trail really is arduous work. Indeed, beyond Milverton we discover the rail trail is overgrown and unrideable. Fences block parts of the trail. Bridges are down.
So we resort to dirt roads. And, before long, under the hot sun and dusty conditions, our two-wheeled adventure becomes a war of attrition. At the sixty kilometre mark, just twenty-five kilometres from Cowbell, Cai rubs wheels with Sonia and goes down hard. About five kilometres later, Ryan – who’s been hauling drone gear the entire trip – begins to slow. At the seventy kilometre mark Kristine is called in for support. We load Cai and Ryan’s rigs onto the back of the Toyota, say adieu to these battered and exhausted souls, and keep trekking.
The last fifteen kilometres are an endless series of rolling hills. Up and down. Up and down. Before long, with Taylor and Lee in the lead, we roll into Blyth. And there, rising up like some medieval fortress, is our destination: Cowbell Brewing Company – a massive timber frame building with soaring forty-five foot ceilings built with over six hundred renewably sourced timbers from BC.
(And, most impressively, a facility on track to becoming the first carbon neutral brewery in North America.) We’re greeted at the door by Cowbell’s Grant Sparling and (my old friend) Tyeler Walker, who are quick to get beers in our hands and food on our plates.
Pints of ‘Boxing Bruin’ India Pale Ale, ‘Lorna Bray Fly Girl’ Nitro Oatmeal Stout and ‘Kelly’s Contraption’ Hefeweizen soon make the rounds – as do an assortment of delicious pizzas. (The ‘Royale’ – with rose cheese sauce, burger meat, shredded lettuce, thick cut bacon, shaved pickles and burger sauce drizzle is a must-order.) And the showstopper: Cowbell’s thirty-six ounce, bone-in ‘tomahawk’ steak. Aged forty-five days. Ontario prime rib AAA Angus.
And so we eat. And drink. And reminisce about our day’s adventure. A bit of a haul, to be sure. And certainly not without challenges. But absolutely worth it. Especially now – here – at the finish line. Beside me, Liz and Sonia commiserate over those grueling last kilometres. At the end of the table, Lee and Taylor, apparently unscathed, chat bikes. Cai and Kristine laugh about something while I help myself to another chunk of steak and Ryan grabs another slice of pizza.
Outside, my True North – nice and dusty and broken in – is locked to the brewery’s bike rack. Along with all the other rigs. Just itching for its next big ride.