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BT700 Bikepacking event report

Text by Adrian Grant
Photos by messkit magazine / Adrian Grant

Day Three.  The typically one of the hardest days of any long-distance bike trip.  It’s when the initial euphoria that can carry one through the first couple of days is replaced by general discomfort, occasional knee pain, and the realization that your pathetic attempts to hand wash your kit had done nothing to combat that particular odour emanating from your bike shorts.

Day Three on the Butter Tart 700 (BT 700) for me was no different.  It was also the day when the climbing began in earnest.  That’s not to say that the first two days were a walk in the park.  While according to the route’s elevation profile, a significant portion of the first 300k consisted of a gradual descent to Lake Huron, followed by a (mostly) flat ride to Owen Sound, the reality was that while there no significant climbs, the rolling terrain, open fields, slight headwind, heat/humidity, various rugged unmaintained sections, and long days in the saddle combined to make this initial portion of the route a real slog.  So much so that for many riders (including myself), the planned 150k ride to some wild camping spots south of Georgian Bay on the second day was aborted, in favour of a well-earned beer (or three) and the relative comforts of an $80 motel bed in the town of Thornbury.

Meanwhile, the planned route for Day Three included the start of the Blue Mountains portion of the trip.  While the term “Mountains” is most certainly a stretch, the amount of climbing – approximately 2,000 meters over the course of a single 140k day – was enough to give me pause.  I’m not afraid to admit that serious consideration was given to sleeping in and taking the most direct way to the next campsite, which was less than 15k away along a rail trail, thereby avoiding that day’s climbing altogether.

Alas, the route prevailed, as it always does.  And so began a series of punishing ups and downs, followed by the inevitable cursing directed towards my lack of climbing gears, my failing legs, various deities, the route organizers (with sincerest apologies Matt Kadey and Tabi Ferguson, the wonderful organizers of the BT 700), and especially the hordes of deer flies, who extracted their pound of flesh during each arduous climb.  Meanwhile, the amazingly fun and fast descents afforded by these hard-earned climbs were tempered by the knowledge that I would soon have to earn back every meter of lost altitude.

The day ended with a brake cooking descent off-route down the Niagara Escarpment to Craigleith Provincial Park. Expecting quiet site nestled beside the shores of Georgian Bay, I was instead greeted by a park nestled beside a busy provincial highway.  Using my cell phone’s white noise app in a vain attempt to replicate the outdoor sounds I was missing, I spent a restless night comforted by the roar of heavy truck traffic.

The next morning included more of the same – except with the added bonus of an additional 260 meter climb back up the Escarpment over the course of three kilometers, just to get back to the main route.  I was also treated to a humid fog that blanketed the route for much of the morning, adding a sauna-like quality for the first half of the day’s ride, as well as several more sections of rocky unmaintained roads and singletrack (much of the latter I admittedly bypassed in favour of the approved gravel road alternatives).

Day Four was also the day I became reacquainted with the old adage “a bird in the hand”.  After satisfying my mid-afternoon hunger with a grilled cheese from the Hockley General Store, I was tempted to pick up another couple of sandwiches to go (along with a beer or two, natch), before riding the remaining 20k to the village of Palgrave and my eventual campsite for the evening.  However, I decided to forgo the additional sandwiches and beer in favour of dinner in Palgrave.  Much to my chagrin, it turned out that the only restaurant in town – a charming church-pub conversion – had been permanently shuttered for some time, leaving only a small variety store to forage for my evening repast.  Turns out that a man can survive on Pringles and Slim Jims alone…

Lesson learned, the next morning I eagerly set off the final day of the BT 700, during which I learned another valuable lesson – I’m not good at taking lessons to heart.  So yes, after cycling 20k in the morning heat, I decided to forgo stopping at one of several nearby convenience stores located in the bustling town of Caledon, and instead pushed on to the small village Inglewood, a further 10k away.  After all, Google Maps had assured me that there was a single general store in which to replenish my dwindling water supply.  No prizes if you guessed that this store also had all the appearances of having been closed for some time.  Thankfully, much of the remaining route was on mellow rail trail all the way back to St. Jacobs, where a cold beer at the Block Three Brewing Company and a hearty congratulations from Matt awaited.

This was my first bikepacking trip using the Panorama Katahdin and overall the bike acquitted itself admirably throughout.  The bike handled the rough and rowdy unmaintained sections with aplomb, with much of the credit going to the bike’s ability to clear the 700×45 WTB Riddler tires.  It also helped that the stock rims allowed me to run these tires tubeless, as I saw several riders with pinched flats over the first couple of days.  I also found the bike very fun to ride, even strapped down with all my gear, and extremely comfortable during my long days in the saddle.  In hindsight, the only thing I would have changed prior to the trip is the chainset or rear cassette, as some wider gearing certainly have been appreciated on the third and fourth days of the trip.

And a special thanks to Matt Kadey and Tabi Ferguson, the creators for the BT 700 for developing such a fantastic and challenging route!

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