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Exploring Eastern Ontario on the Westport 400 Km
by E.W. (Wim ) Kok


Randonneurs like to explore inner and outer worlds, and for that reason I 'd venture, they are always on the lookout for new routes and regions. Since work took me to the nation's capital in May 2009, I saw an opportunity to ride the Westport 400 km Brevet with the Ottawa chapter of the Ontario Randonneurs. This brevet with 6,523 feet elevation gain was rated as moderate on the club's website [see The Route]. I had contacted Peter Grant beforehand to find out a few details. The 2009 route would start at Ottawa's Carleton U, take us through the ever expanding urban sprawl of Nepean and Stittsville into the quieter areas of rural Ontario through towns like Almonte, Lanark, Westport and beyond. As the route progressed the landscape would subtly change from the St. Lawrence Lowlands onto the Frontenac Axis, that rocky spine and link between the Canadian Shield and the Appalachians. Once across it, the route would briefly descend into the Great Lakes Lowlands from where it would take us back to the start.

A second reason to ride this route was an opportunity to connect with the past. When my wife and I emigrated to Canada in 1973, it was in this area where we 'landed' and as such gave us the first impressions. Many a family from my rural neighbourhood in the Netherlands had seen members leave for Canada during the post-WW II emigration wave. Quite a few settled in the Eastern Ontario. An uncle of mine spent his initial years in the Perth/Balderson area (famous for its cheese and curds), only later on to settle just outside Smiths Falls. These places and others like Jasper, Kilmarnock, Merrickville, S. Elmsley, Perth, the Rideau Canal and Lakes became part of our vocabulary and sense of place.

In addition to studying the route sheet - for whatever that's worth - I also obtained a copy of the Back Roads Map of Eastern Ontario. My experiences during the 2001Lonneker 400 in the Netherlands and Germany - where I did have a road map, and that of the 2005 Oak Ridges Moraine 400 where the route sheet was incorrect and I did not have a road map, underscored the value of maps.
[for the Lonneker 400 go HERE], and Oak Ridges Moraine go HERE].

The Ride

On brevet day six riders appeared at the start. For five it also was a reunion as we had participated in PBP 2007: Peter Grant, Vytus Janusauskas, Guy Quesnel, Trevor Stocki and myself. Mark Scott was the sixth rider. Colleen Janusauskas was there to see us off. While the weather in the preceding days had been rather wet, the improved forecast looked promising "occasional showers ending late morning; winds light". Forecast are indeed that: forecasts! No sooner had we completed the paperwork for the brevet, or raindrops announced the beginning of the first occasional shower. Somewhat reluctant I climbed into my rain gear, a good choice, can forecast the rest. As we left the parking lot the rain started in earnest; it was not long before it came down in buckets. A major squall dumped its excess moisture and would do so for most of the first 100 km. Cats and dogs!!! By the way, those forecast light winds were stiff breezes from the wrong direction. Notwithstanding that, we stoically continued in the rain to Ashton. Here the route sheet indicated: "up the hill," making me wonder why this slight rise had to be identified as a hill. For British Columbians such rises are often welcome change from the more serious ups and downs. In all fairness to the route organizers, the 'up-the-hill' reference unmistakably clarified the choice we had to make when we came to the fork in the road. While Yogi Berra's advice was "to take it," for us that wouldn't quite do it. So up and over that hill we went.

At km 64 we entered Almonte, boyhood town of James Naismith, inventor of basketball. Here a river runs through, the Mississippi with is rapids and falls creating a very picturesque site []. There were the buildings of the old textile mills, the economic base of the past. We descend into the valley - our tires making that squishing sound on the wet pavement - crossed the river and ascended on the other side. Cycled through the Tannery, Union Hall and continued to Middleville, another one of the many small settlements with almost as many denominations as there are people, at least judging by the number of churches. Then again the population appeared to be rather small and dwindling, yet sizable graveyards so richly decorated with granite and marble headstones told a different story. Hmm, where have all those people gone........? A exploration of the headstones might reveal the truth. While there was no time for that on this brevet, as an aside it did remind me of two books about the topic. Both are titled Once upon a Tomb, one with the subtitle Stories from Canadian Graveyards by Nancy Millar (1996), the other by J. Patrick Lewis with the subtitle Gravely Humorous Verses (2006).

In Lanark [Control # 1: Km 96 @ 08:55am] we dropped our rain gear, enjoyed an extensive
breakfast, and resumed under improving weather conditions. The old weather lore "rain by seven, dry by eleven" definitively had some truth to it. As we moved on the Axis, the forest cover changed as the did the surface characteristics. Farms were now interspersed with forest, marsh, and lake. Shorelines covered with ragged cattails provided shelter for waterfowl and other winged friends. Red-winged blackbirds purred their peaceful ' conk-ah-reeh' sound - but as we approached - only to switch to a more alarming and rapid rhythm, much like a blacksmith's hammering on an anvil. Perceived danger.

As we cycled along, both route sheet and road signs revealed interesting tidbits about the region's settlement geography and history. The route sheet made reference to the Hope 'Side Road' and the '9th Line'. At many intersections there were signs marking 'concession roads', which carried names such as Dalhousie, Lanark, Ramsey, Sherbrooke, and were numbered 1 through to 12 or higher. What we were looking at was a land sub-division system, firmly embedded in the landscape, on road maps and route sheets. During pre-Confederation the Colonial government of Upper Canada took a systematic approach to land settlement and development. It created administrative units known as districts. These were divided into counties, each of which was subdivided into township. At that level concessions were created, pieces of land about two km wide and up to 16 km long. These concessions were subdivided and surveyed into lots up to 80 ha in size. Ultimately these parcels would become private land holdings, so that a legal a description of one's property might read Lot 7, Concession III, Montague Township, County of Lanark. A township would have up 10 or 12 concessions, each separated by concession roads. Roads laid out perpendicularly to concession roads were called side roads or sidelines. The first concession road was often known as the baseline road, while the townline represented the township boundary. With the super imposition of a geometric system on a natural area that is anything but geometric, strange shapes are the result, as shown maps of Eastern and Southern Ontario. Carefully reading (of) the landscape can indeed reveal much of the past.

Somewhere around Maberly we crossed Hwy #7. A youngster took a break from mowing ditches. Judging by his facial expression he appeared very bored with the chore. In the olden days such boredom would have been chastised with a veiled warning to go dig ditches. Since these were already dug, his task now was to mow the ditches. Go figure! Down the steep hill into Westport Peter and I sailed into and through the place, concentrating on the corner at the bottom of the hill. We failed to hear the call from Vytas and Guy, who somewhere in a bakery were sampling the goods. They tried to get our attention. We thought they were ahead of us and focused on reigning them in. When we briefly stopped further on, they reigned us in. Between Salem and Fermoy we cycled between a rock face and wet place (Wolfe Lake), one of the most scenic sections on the ride. As we approached Godfrey there was commotion on the road: a horse on the run, bringing traffic to a near halt. We slowly proceeded, letting the locals deal with this issue.

Not that far past Godfrey, we turned left and went another 10 km or so to Desert Lake [Control #2: 206 km @ 3:00pm] This section had lots of short snappy hills. I called it 'lumpenland", not in derogatory terms, but on account of those lumps. The contractor must have been looking at how he could best could connect every hill and hollow. The result a road weaving back and forth, as well as up and down. Riding along this section felt a bit like a ship on stormy seas, rolling and pitching. Did not get land-sick. It did however tests one's strength and disturb any rhythm, because it meant shifting to bigger gears when flying downhill, then quickly into smaller gears when climbing, so as not to lose that precious momentum. The lumpy section was finished as suddenly as it had started, for when we hit Sydenham, a scenic place on a lake with the same name, it was over. When we turned on to CR 5 toward Harrowsmith there they were: the head wind and the long hill, which I had been warned about. "You can see it a long way in the distance; you won't miss it!" Considering the earlier lumps, this hill was actually a (headwind) breeze. The rock cut along the road revealed a neat pattern of horizontal strata, evidence of the sedimentary rocks of the Great Lakes Lowlands.

At the Harrowsmith [Control # 3: Km 230 @ 5:00 pm] we briefly stopped. By now we had been 12 hours on the road. Thirty minutes later we were back in the saddle, and surprise: a pleasant tailwind pushed us as we cycled to Godfrey. A nice reward after slogging it out in the first half of the ride. We wished and hoped that wind direction and route orientation would continue to cooperate for the remaining 170 km. And they did. The power of wishful thinking. At Godfrey we turned onto the Westport Road into now familiar country. While I had been looking forward to a bite to eat in Westport, others expressed an interest in making it to Perth before 9:00 pm, so we continued the extra 50 km or so. Of course there was that climb out of Westport, the last of the challenging bits. After the turn to Perth the route became more or less level. More -meaning a bit uphill, less - a bit downhill. Combined with a steady tailwind we basically sailed to Perth [Control #4: 322 Km @ 8:55 pm].

By the time we had restocked and were ready to leave Perth, it was dark. With lights and reflective equipment in place we could now blaze through the night. Navigating through Perth was not the biggest challenge, but the bridge across the river Tay, followed by a sudden sharp right turn required focus. We briefly cycled 'down by the riverside' before moving into the countryside. The route sheet insisted that we turn left on McPhail's road - DO NOT MISS THIS TURN read the emphatic instructions - and we did not, thanks to those familiar with the area. Considering the urgent nature of the message, I suspect that there may have been some issues in the past. Uneventful we made it to the urban scene. Somewhere on Meadowlands there was supposed to be one more hill to climb. Effortless we went over it, then across and along the Rideau and there it was, the finish line [Km 400 @ 00:58 am +1]. Peter had already arrived, while Guy and Trevor were on their way. Mark, who accelerated some 35 km after the start most likely had been in for hours. For us the time was just under 20 hours. Considering being off the bicycle for more than 3 hours, the time was pretty satisfying. For my fellow cyclists, my appreciation for your hospitality. I enjoyed the ride.

Controls   Distance  Time   Duration   Av. Speed

Carleton U    00     05:00    -----
Lanark        96     08:55    3.55     24.5 kph
Lanark        96     10:00    1:05     Breakfast
Desert Lake  206     15:00    5:00     22.0 kph
Desert Lake  206     16:00    1:00     Lunch
Harrowsmith  230     17:00    1:00     24.0 kph
Harrowsmith  230     17:30    0:30     Quick stop
Perth        322     20:55    3:25     26.8 kph
Perth        322     21:35    0:40     Evening Snack
Carleton U   400     00:58    3:23     23 kph

Overall speed(including breaks): 20 kph


July 13, 2009