First Time Bikepacking: Cannonball 300
When my housemates first suggested a bikepacking trip, I was hesitant. So many firsts - biking with gear, doing a predominately gravel route for two days on a road bike or even just doing a multi-day bike trip. I didn't have any of the proper bikepacking gear, but eventually curiosity got the best of me and I was ready to go on a little adventure. I borrowed some gear from my housemates and packed my bags.
Ah yes. Packing my bags. What a time and a half that was. A 47cm (or extra-small) aero frame does not particularly allow for a ton of space to put bags. With a makeshift fender as a rack I set up my bike to *just* fit everything - at least for the start of the trip. Tip #1: definitely do a small practice trip to make sure your set up works and get a feel for how your bike handles with everything!
Bright and early on Sunday morning at 6am we embarked on the Cannonball 300 route. Touted as an introductory bikepacking route in southern Ontario, it was never too far away from a nearby town in case we needed to stop for food or water and mainly brought us through rail trails and paved roads with a couple singletrack areas.
Departing from Mississauga, we first had to make our way to Dundas Driving Park, the starting location of the Cannonball route. From there, the first chunk was along the Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail. Some pedestrians here and there but nothing too busy though! The trail was nicely shaded by trees which made the first half of the day a lot more comfortable. We made a quick pit stop in Brantford to fill up on water and were on our way! Tip #2: on multi-day trips, drink lots of water and eat lots of food even if you aren't hungry, because you're fueling for later hours and days!
Our next chunk was the Toronto-Hamilton-Buffalo Rail Trail (TH&B for short). It was pretty open so we definitely felt a couple gusts of wind while riding and there were many more people strolling about but still very enjoyable to ride. You could also see far into the fields on either side of the trail (I was probably too busy not blowing over to take photos here). Apparently, the rail trail follows the trail bed of the former TH&B Rail Road!
And...cue three very hungry stomachs. We rolled into Port Dover ready to eat! Again, this is where I realize I mucked some very delicious perogies before I got to taking a photo of them. But food truck food is REALLY GOOD, especially when you are hungry! During our lunch break a group of cyclists came up to us in a bit of a pickle having had their third flat of the day, and my housemate was able to help them out and get them on their way again. Win win!
Back on the road, we had a nice tailwind rolling towards our campsite at Rock Point Provincial Park. It was around here that my baggage started to rub the rear wheel...yikes! We passed many friendly groups sitting on porches outside their house enjoying the nice weather. At this point, we were pretty excited to go for a swim in the lake once we arrived at the campsite. A patio dinner in Dunnville and grocery pit stop to pick up some chips and Five Alive, and we were on our way to the campsite! There was a slight mishap with a mud puddle on an ATV trail which left everything quite muddy in those last 10km of the day too!
We set up (well, my housemates taught me how to set up) our tents and got everything ready for the night. A nice swim in the lake and change of clothing (since the showers were closed due to COVID-19) later and we returned to the shore to see an amazing sunset! Somehow, I didn't get the memo that we were all going to wear yellow shirts. But then again, I'm pretty convinced that my two housemates are long lost twins anyways so that just adds to my hypothesis.
We'd started off the day by Lake Ontario and made it down to Lake Eerie. Just over 220km and 9 hours of riding on Day 1! I downed a ton of Five Alive and Pringles in an effort to replenish all the fluids and salt I'd lost throughout the day about an hour before we went to bed, and this would come back to haunt me during the night. Not one, not two, but three bathroom trips were made! Before we went to bed though, we made another trip down to the beach area to watch some stars despite a partially cloudy evening. It's not something you get to see in Toronto, that's for sure!
The tent and sleeping bag set up ended up being quite comfortable despite not having a sleeping pad. Or, maybe I was just too tuckered out to notice I was sleeping on the ground!
We packed our bags and were on our way again. We couldn't replicate the elaborate set up I had yesterday, so my housemates helped me out with taking some of my stuff! Our first little blip came bright and early in the morning when we realized we forgot to buy instant oatmeal at the grocery store the day before. So, some instant coffee and Clif bars it was for breakfast until we biked about 30km to Port Colborne. Tip #3: caffeine can do wonders for long days in the saddle. We have a Queen's Cycling tradition of going for Starbucks Double Shot Espressos when we are feeling bonky, but do whatever works best for you! Our original intention was to book it to Port Colborne and have a big meal, but then we got a little distracted along the way!
Here we were minding our own business along the trail and a cat came along super eager for some belly rubs. Tip #4: stop and take time to enjoy the places you visit. It's worth the extra time. Seeing this lil fella definitely made me miss my cat at home even though we were only gone for about 24h though. A 20 minute break later we were on our way to food again!
This is where things started to go a little downhill. I thought I was super super hungry, but when it came time to eating I found myself not being able to stomach a whole lot of food! This would be the case for majority of the day, until my appetite came back and I wolfed down a bunch of pancakes I had packed up from breakfast. Of course, this also resulted in me being pretty bonky for majority of the day because I didn't have the same energy levels I usually did. Thankfully my housemates were very patient and took the day super chill with me!
The route took us along the Welland Canal where we saw a couple big boats and some cool water features like the one in the photo! This was predominately paved but also very quiet. We even saw a lone rower in the canal. Somewhere along the way we realized we had passed the Cannonball 300 mural, and had to do a detour back up the road on a bit of a kicker.
Another personal highlight for me was the Defasco 2000 trail that we hopped on a little west of Grimsby. Some cool boardwalk sections (although, would've been nice if there weren't moths everywhere) and singletrack! At this point of the trip my energy was back up a little bit, especially since I could see the end of the tunnel and was determined to see it through. We made it back to Hamilton where we visited the Devil's Punchbowl and cut through a nice trail on the escarpment that overlooked the city. No photos from the trail, but a surge in energy did mean a little bit of an effort and a Strava trophy!
We made it back to Hamilton around 8pm and there were still three beaming smiles on our faces. I personally was less exhausted than I expected (good ol' adrenaline to keep me going), although it definitely hit me the following day!
10/10 would recommend going on a bikepacking trip, especially while a lot of us have more flexibility in our schedules as a result of the pandemic. Even if you don't have all the right gear, you can make it work! Grab a couple of your buddies and see what's out there. I honestly was so surprised at what southern Ontario had to offer - it was super scenic and we also rode through lots of different types of trails. I would also highly recommend the Cannonball 300 route for a first trip - it can be broken up into a couple days, is pretty flat and is ride-able on pretty much any bike!