Words and photos by Ambassador Sandra Beaubien.
For the last couple of years, I had a trip idea floating around in my brain. One of those trips that I thought might be too ambitious for my fitness level and experience, but this summer I finally decided to pull the trigger and just do it. Even though I had been thinking about it for 2 years, in my usual style, I found myself two days out from my departure date without a route plan done, my food prepared or bike ready. Time just seemed to accelerate in the 48 hours before my trip, and panic set in a little. Since I hadn’t done a bikepacking trip yet this year, loading my bags and attaching them to on to my new Honzo CR took three times longer than expected!
(To see exactly what I brought on the trip and how I set up my Honzo into a bike packing machine, check out this link for all the details.
I live in the city, about 5 km from downtown Ottawa, and my plan was to do a bikepacking trip that linked our fantastic bike paths, historic buildings and natural sites leading to my favourite rural riding area, Gatineau Park just north of the city, across the river in Quebec. I chose to do this 3-day trip alone because I wanted to go at my own pace, stop and take pictures and just enjoy being outside. It was about 45% paved bike path, 45% mtb trail and 10% road.
After loading up on a seemingly great day, I set off from my house, linking together parts of routes I have ridden before and stopping at a few of my favourite historic and natural sites. Even living in the capital city of Canada with a population of a million people, nature is never too far away. Our bike pathways intersect an extensive water network and I biked along several rivers, over a waterfall, and beside a beach all in the first 10 km. I especially loved biking through a graffiti-filled tunnel, which brought me back in time to my Nintendo-playing days as a teenager.
After 30 km along mostly paved bike paths, I was at my halfway point, hungry, thirsty and excited. I was at the edge of Gatineau Park where the trails turn into dirt. Everything had stayed attached to my bike and my legs were still feeling strong, but I knew that big hills were still to come. I decided to fill up on tacos and iced tea at my favourite cafe, Palmier in the village of Chelsea.
I knew the double-track trails that I would be riding were a mixture of hardpacked dirt, loose gravel, and super chunky rock, with plenty of climbing and descending. I figured that a few hills would be hike-a-bike for me, and that is just the nature of bikepacking. Although I could have used my Rove gravel bike to save some weight on the paths, I chose to ride my Honzo in anticipation of these loose rocky sections, because I feel so much more stable on a loaded mountain bike. I loved this dirt section the best. I barely saw anyone on the trails and I really enjoyed the solitude in the forest.
I did come up quickly upon a bear as I was pulling into one of the historic cabins for a snack break. Fortunately, this doesn’t phase me as much as it used to, and I just backed up and headed to another cabin close by to give the black bear some space to keep eating his snack. The cabins are for day use only and see much more action in the winter when XC skiing is in full swing. In the summer, you can often get them to yourself. It was nice to get away from the bugs and bear for a few minutes before continuing towards my first camp destination.
For the last 30 minutes en-route, I was trying to hustle to my campsite at Lac Philippe because I could hear a thunderstorm rolling in. I got there before the downpour started and managed to get my hammock and tarp set up just in time. I hunkered under my little tarp, trying to keep myself and as much of my gear dry as possible. I was glad time was on my side that day. The thunderstorm passed and the sun came back out and I enjoyed a solid evening at camp after a 55 km day. The last time I camped at this site in Gatineau Park the raccoons were bold, even aggressive and tried to steal all my food. I had to lock it in someone’s car at night. But this time I was more prepared and brought a rope to hang my food in a tree. I still had to chase a few masked critters off my site, and when I went to bed, I could swear the rustling noises around my campsite were the raccoons eating my food that they had managed to get, but I was happy to get up in the morning to realize it was all in my imagination.
Day 2 was supposed to be my easy ride day, with a simple 15 km bike ride to my next campsite, mostly on rough doubletrack trails. Since I was staying at 2 campgrounds, I figured, as in the previous years, that there would be drinkable water near my campsite each day. Unfortunately, this season the water was not potable so instead, each campsite was supplied with a 4L water jug each day. The water was distributed near my first campsite, so I had to somehow carry an extra 4L of water to my campsite, on top of my 3L hydration pack. The night before my trip, Mike had double-checked with me to see if I wanted our water filter, and I responded to him “No, I don’t want the extra weight”. If I could go back in time, my decision would be very different!!! I essentially emptied my entire backpack of gear and filled up every nook and cranny of my bike packing bags to put the 4L jug on my back. I always carry an empty dry bag with me that I can fill with various items and strap onto my front roll. Specifically, for unexpected situations just like this one!
My goal for the trip was to make it up to my favorite lookout bench on the distant escarpment above my Taylor Lake campsite. To me, this area is a mysterious part of the park where true wilderness takes over from the recreational wilderness. Trails are non-existent, the wolves howl at night and the lynx make this their home. I enjoyed lunch at the bench, looking out into the vastness of the park.
My campsite was beautiful with large trees, right along the edge of Taylor Lake. I enjoyed spending the majority of the day relaxing there and reading my book, having a nap in my hammock in the cool breeze. I watched the sunset and listened to the loons.
For day 3, I lingered as long as I could at my campsite since it was a beautiful day with a gentle breeze blowing. I knew I had a long 61km long day ahead of me and decided to take a few breaks. I stopped for a late lunch at the cabin where I had seen the bear 2 days earlier. I also stopped at the Carbide Wilson Ruins, even though it is at the end of a hiking-only trail, and I had to walk my bike for a while. It is another one of my favorite historic relics in Gatineau Park.
Halfway through my ride, I was back in Chelsea and absolutely starving. My trail snacks were just not cutting it and I had another 30 km to go. My best decision of the trip was to stop at the Chelsea pub for coffee and food. I took a slightly different route home on the paved bike paths, and took in the awesome views of Parliament Hill, something that never gets boring for me.
When I got home, I was absolutely beat. It was a lot of riding (and climbing) for me over the 3 days but I was super happy I decided to do the adventure I’d been thinking about for a long time. I had almost talked myself out of it, thinking it wasn’t as extreme as other bike packing trips I’ve read about and that didn’t matter because bike packing can be whatever YOU want it to be.
Check out this video for some more pictures and short clips from my trip! https://spark.adobe.com/video/jNJZoF6RtMUQR