FOTC: Bruce MacDonald and the Simcoe County Loop Trail

Bruce MacDonald, Fatbikes, Dad Jokes, and the Simcoe County Loop Trail

My pal, Bruce from PEI, rode the Simcoe County Loop Trail a few weeks ago, so I reached out to him for a dispatch.  The SCLT is a 160k bikepacking route that “starts” is in Barrie (although it’s a loop, so well, it’s a loop), and nails Midland in the north, Orillia in the east, and Barrie in the south, kissing the shores of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe along the way, and a whole bunch of land in between.

It’s a classic Southern Ontario gravel grind, crated with an overnight (or two), and since it’s a bikepacking route, Bruce and his batch rode it in one day…

On fatbikes.

Wait, what?

Yup, one day, 160k.  Nice work.

Team-colin.jpg

In true poetic fashion, he even chose the longest day of the year to do it.  So you can add “Summer Solstice” to the title of this post.

Okay, out of the gate, I gotta ask:  SCLT?

To compare, we’ve got:

The COLT (Central Ontario Loop Trail)

Cannonball 300 (a 300km route named after the eponymous bicycle manufacturer)

BT 700 (700km…and butter tarts)

And The SCLT.

Seriously, the Sclut?

Enough of that.  Horrible name shmorrible name, it may not roll of the tongue, but with 160k of sweet bikey goodness, I hear it’s a beauty…but you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here’s what Bruce has to say:

The Simcoe County Loop Trail on Fat Bikes

I always find it exciting getting prepared for a new type of ride experience. This was definitely going to be one. I hadn’t ridden in this area before, didn’t really know too much about the route, and this would be my longest distance on a fat bike.

I should mention now there is a great resource put together on CycleSimcoe.ca, covering;

  • things to do
  • places to stay
  • where to eat
  • a YouTube video
  • a GPX file for you to download to your GPS

The GPX file of the route has a start point of Snow Valley Ski Resort, just outside Barrie, and the route default direction is clockwise.Riding towards Orillia

For whatever reason, we decided we would go in a counterclockwise direction (and we weren’t sure if Snow Valley Ski Resort parking would be available due pandemic closure), so we also adjusted our route to start in Barrie, at the Canadian Tire parking lot. (Thanks CTC!)

We were “wheels rolling” just before 7:30am on the longest day of the year.  It also turned out to be one of the hottest so far in 2020, with temperatures over 30 degrees, and a humidex that exceeded 35 degrees.  Our starting goal was to finish with a riding time of under eight hours and a total elapsed time of nine and a half hours, giving us 90 minutes for photos, snacks, and breaks.

Barrie to Orillia:
It’s a fast downhill coast from the CTC parking lot to the Barrie waterfront. I  wasn’t planning to use my fat bike over the summer, so I hadn’t removed my studded tires, and the sound of studs rolling downhill on the asphalt at 45 km/h made the bike sound like a dump truck rolling into town.

Barrie Dream Catcher
Our first photo op was the Barrie “Dream Catcher”, a cool giant sculpture that was created for Expo ’86 in Vancouver, and later relocated to Barrie (right on the waterfront, at the bottom of Bayfield St.)

Cycling along Kempenfelt Bay in Barrie was very pretty, and quite busy at that time of the morning, with many walkers and dogs.

Kempenfelt Bay Kayakers
Before leaving Barrie, some nice photos can be taken of the many kayaks and paddle boards out on the calm water.

The route between Barrie and Orillia is like most rail trails:  tree lined, shaded nicely, peaceful, and occasionally you come by others on the trail. We were riding a relaxed pace, and even with all the slowdowns where the trail crossed roads, our average speed was just over 22 km/h as we rolled into downtown Orillia.

Orillia to Coldwater:
In Orillia, you have to do a small section of road cycling to stay on the route, but nothing major. I previously asked for some advice about rest stops on the “Ontario Gravel & Adventure Riders” Facebook page, and a number of people recommended a stop at the Mariposa Market in Orillia.  It was still early though, and we wanted to make some time before it got too hot, so we kept pedalling.

Orillia
The ride through and out of Orillia along Lake Couchiching is very picturesque.

After leaving Orillia, the next major stopping point is the town of Coldwater (about 26-27km from Orillia and about the halfway point between Orillia and Midland). We were given many rave reviews about stopping at Em’s Caféin Coldwater but were later advised that it was still closed due to COVID-19.  We were still feeling fresh and decided to push on for the remaining 25km, to be in Midland for lunch.

Coldwater to Waubaushene:
The trail continued to be in great condition, and as we got closer to Waubaushene a lengthy portion of it is paved. At Waubaushene we had travelled nearly half the loop and still had less than 100 meters elevation reading on my Garmin. I knew the entire loop had over 500 meters elevation gain, so I realized we had it extremely easy up until this point. Even with our easy pace, we kept the average speed greater than 22 km/h.Fat Bikes in Waubaushene

The scenery along the shoreline trail through Waubaushene is fantastic. There were lots of local cottagers out walking and cycling on the trail. We stopped a few times to take photos of the views overlooking Georgian Bay.

Waubaushene to Midland:
From Waubaushene, there was just over 20km to go to get into Midland for lunch, and to refill our water bottles. I was on my last water bottle but with easy pedalling; didn’t feel it would be a problem.

Midland high lake level
High lake level near Midland

Riding into Midland, the paved path around the shoreline is beautiful. Lots of great looking homes on the one side and the beautiful bay on the other. The ride along the water provides a nice cooling effect, and it goes for a couple of kilometers.  At the Marina, the town had a large filtered water refill station set-up right across from an ice cream store, and a “Misting” tent that you can stand in and be cooled off.  Nice touch!

We were advised that stopping at The Grounded Coffee Company (directly across from the marina), was a great place to get a fruit smoothie and a peanut butter on peanut butter cookie. This was good advice. Sadly for my co-riders, I bought the last cookie while they were at the misting tent (Snooze-you-lose. Ha!).  According to my Garmin, we had covered approximately 95 km, with a little over 100 meters elevation.   So, we had only 65 more kilometres to go, and a lot of climbing still ahead.

Midland to Penetanguishene:
We only stopped for about 30 minutes in Midland because we wanted to press on, knowing the heat would soon start to really slow us down.  After Midland, the next town is Penetanguishene. The wooded trails near Penetanguishene are fantastic. They are heavily wooded, providing great coverage from the sun, and the terrain is awesome rolling hills with numerous little bridges crossing streams.

Barred Owl
In the woods around Penetanguishene we came across an enormous barred owl. I think this is the only time I have seen an owl in the wild.

We had been cycling a little over five hours and were now anxious to get back to Barrie. We still had one more important stop and that was the Elmvale Spring. About 90 minutes south of Penetanguishene.

Penetanguishene to Elmvale:
The Elmvale Springis a unique and busy spot. It’s not far off the trail, and they have a small open building (Water Observatory?) where the natural spring water flows out of stainless steel pipes for passersby to fill their jugs.

Elmvale Springwater
What’s so special about this spring? According to Canadian Geographic, this is the purest water in the world, containing less lead than 5,000 year old arctic water samples–by a factor of five.  Wow!

Elmvale to Barrie:
Once through Elmvale, our GPS reported about 35km to get back to our cars.  It was a really fun day and we were able to take-in a number of major points on the loop, but we were all pretty tired from pushing the fat bikes all day in the heat.  In our minds, the ride was mostly completed, with just a little task of riding another 30km in the scorching heat, which at our current pace would take about 90 minutes.

Now, the final trail section surface became interesting:  It’s a bit of a blur exactly when the rail-trail became a mix of ground-up, soft, and dusty, but that’s what we are riding on. I was later told a portion of this trail section between Elmvale and Barrie is shared with ATV’s and that’s why the surface is all ground up. I must say, this being the end of the ride, we were all a bit tired, a bit sore, and mostly wishing we were finished.

It was a dusty and bumpy ride for what seemed like 15km (or more), and I was thinking, if I had started the route clockwise (and rode on this surface early on, without knowing exactly when the trail would improve), I might have turned back.  Riding fat bikes definitely helped absorb some of the bumps, and improved float over the loose sand and gravel.

We rolled into Barrie around 5PM, having gone through the wooded sections, with a couple of steep climbs, around Snow Valley Ski Resort, and we had a final moving ride time of 7 hours and 45 minutes.

What a blast!

Conclusions:
This is an awesome route and for me it is definitely a “ride it on one day” excursion. I can totally appreciate though how some cyclists would want to overnight in one of the nice communities on the loop. When riding again, I will definitely go clockwise in order to get the “heavy lifting” out of the way early on.  By going clockwise, the more difficult trail and elevation is completed before one gets tired, and you get to load-up at the beginning of the journey with Elmvale Springwater.  I think for comparison reasons I will also ride it next time on the gravel bike (although, definitely the fat bike was a fun option and I will use the fat bike again on some of these long rides). One of the things I really liked about this ride is that it is a circuit and you don’t cover the same terrain twice as compared to a number of “out & back” rides I do on a lot of rail trail.    

Final words:
Get on your bike and go riding in Simcoe County! If you don’t own a gravel grinder than you can definitely ride this loop on a fat bike.Penetanguishene

Decent ride eh?  I totally missed an opportunity for a stud joke near the beginning of this post, but it’s the Time of COVID and maybe I’m not thinking right…

A Bit About Bruce:
Wait, who is this Bruce guy?  Well, he’s not just a Friend of Team Colin, he’s also a pal of just plain Colin.  Also, as luck would have it, Bruce gave an awesome introduction to this post, and it’s a great story.  Check it out:

If you are reading this, then you are obviously a follower of the Team Colin Cycling Blog. I became acquainted with Team Colin just before my first ever bike race when I was searching for race reports on the P2A race. This was early 2018. I immediately had a lot of great laughs reading Colin’s stories, reports, incidents and just his general fun writing style. I later met Colin at the Howling Coyote race at the end of 2018. Now, I always seek him out for a “Hello” and nice chat at every race we both attend.

As part of sharing my experience of riding the Simcoe County Loop Trail on fat tire bikes, I was hoping I could somehow dig deep and come up with some really amusing anecdote to share or at least one or two “Dad jokes” on cycling. However, it turns out the review is really just about a great day riding with some friends on a great circuit and having chosen to use our fat bikes instead of gravel grinders.

I’ve only been riding bikes now for about 3 years and, like many others; I have become a serious cycling enthusiast. I have somehow accumulated six bikes including: Mountain, Road, Track, Gravel, Trainer Bike and Fat Tire.

So how did I get to the place of riding the Simcoe County Loop Trail?

In February of this year, I was fortunate to participate in an amazingly unique bike adventure and fundraiser, “The Ice Road Challenge” which involved riding Fat Bikes 110 km from Red Lake to Pikangikum First Nation including over an ice road in minus 30 degree Celsius temps! The Ice Road Challenge was an initiative of the Ontario Provincial Police (and their “Project Journey”), and New Hope Community Bikes out of Hamilton. A big part of this adventure was to supply the Pikangikum First Nation Youth with Fat Bikes!

It was on the Ice Road Challenge that I became acquainted with many cyclists from Simcoe County, not surprising when the OPP headquarters is in Orillia and many of the police officers had volunteered to be part of the Ice Road Challenge initiative.

As most of you will already appreciate, when you get a bunch of cyclists together, they often talk cycling. Over the few days in Red Lake and Pikangikum First Nation, One of the consistent things I heard from this great group was; cycling the Simcoe County Loop Trail is a fantastic gravel ride.

I had immediately added this ride to my “Must do in 2020” gravel list.

Back in Oakville, while being mostly cooped-up in the house due to a little thing called a Global Pandemic, I reached out to my regular gravel riding group in April and mentioned this ride. As a group, everyone was interested. What was undecided in the group, due to the pandemic, was:

How many of us can ride together?
When will hotels open?
Will restaurants be open?
Is it a two day or single day ride?

It’s June now as I type this and we still don’t have all those answers for a large, possibly overnight, group ride.

I started thinking an investigative one day ride of the loop was in order.

Now, who can I get to gravel this with me?

I regularly mountain and fat bike with a guy named Paul Newby but he doesn’t own a gravel grinder. I have another fat bike friend, Jason LeBel, who likes to gravel grind and he had previously done the loop but his gravel bike is out of service.

About a week earlier, I saw that a guy I follow on Strava, Jeff Shikaze, did the loop on a fat bike.

My ride was starting to come together…

While I was mountain biking with Paul at Turkey Point, Jason suggested in a message he was considering using his fat bike. I spoke to Paul about us all using fat bikes and voila!

We agreed to do it the next weekend on our Fatties!

And so, the blog post Bruce MacDonald, Fatbikes, Dad Jokes, and Studs, on the Simcoe County Loop Trail During Summer Solstice was born.

Boom.

Thanks for the report Bruce (and Jason and Paul).

Ride.

One thought on “FOTC: Bruce MacDonald and the Simcoe County Loop Trail

  1. Don’t forget the Grand-Nith Ramble it GNR route. Another route put together by Matt Kadey. The link is on one of the BT700 menus.

    (I call this the GunsNRoses route… GNR. See what I did there?)

    Like

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