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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Back country roads, rolling hills, vineyards and stunning views!
The Niagara Escarpment is a range of hills created by the last glacier and is characterized by steep hills. Niagara Falls, on the river between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, is the most spectacular feature of the escarpment. I was at Halton region in October to explore the area on the bike.
Visiting family in Southern Ontario
It was already October and Thanksgiving weekend. The leaves were changing color and the air was crisp! What better way to enjoy a beautiful fall day then biking on local roads. I was visiting Rodger’s family in the Halton Hills region and was riding my bike almost every day.
The Halton region offers various levels of difficulty for cyclists. All local roads are in great conditions, mostly super smooth. This is definitely one of the Canadian cycling meccas. Head out for a spin along Niagara Escarpment ridge on any day of the week, at any time, and you will see rider after rider. On the weekend, there’s almost a continuous long line of riders going up and down the hills – men and women on racing machines, mountain bikes, on clipless pedals or in tennis shoes. The region has great cycling infrastructure, expecially now that at nearby city of Milton, they are finishing building new Mattamy velodrome as a four-season, permanent facility.
In less than 24 hours after my arrival in Campbellville, bike was unpacked and ready for new challenges. I called my Croatian friend Kreso, who lives in Mississauga, to join me for Sunday ride and show me some cycling routes around here. Like many others, he also often rides on these roads. He arrived at the house early in the morning, with his girlfriend Sue who came along for the ride. There was no sign of any wind and after early morning fog raised, the sun came out and it turned to be a nice sunny day.
Biking at the Halton Region
Kreso decided on a hilly training route as we headed west. He had no other choice, as all roads in the Campbellville Conservation area are hilly. It was like mini condensed Tour of Flanders as it included a series of short, steep climbs, kinda like the bergs from the Belgian classic. Southern Ontario is pretty flat and it seems that the only decent hills they have are part of the Niagara Escarpment, a ridge that runs from Niagara to Tobermory. There’s a challenging section at Kelso Conservation Area which was exactly point where we were. The hills around here are short but quite steep in places, with grades exceeding 10 and even 20%. Read my blog how I managed to climb the Rattlesnake point.
We went west from Appleby Line road towards Campbellville and Cambridge. We rode on Limestone Road, Conservation Road, Concession Road 11W, Old Beverly Road and Main Street to enter into Cambridge. The route Kreso chose for our ride was stunning, going through beautiful forests, farm land… all on rolling terrain and hardly any cars. I was glad I wore long sleeve jersey though, as it wasn’t going to make it above 12C after all.
He started very strong and I was in trouble when we reached first hills, but I survived and fought back. Usually it takes me longer to warm up and I knew it will get easier for me. I was really feeling the workout at this point but I got a breather on the way down after each hill. I actually enjoy riding up hills… I just don’t like racing up hills. But hey, maybe with more training I can improve next year. Anyhow, I let them do most of the work at the front in first hour or so, trying to exhaust them. It worked!
When we arrived in Cambridge, we stopped at the Melville café, located in downtown Galt at the Queens Square and an odd roundabout. We were the only cyclists at that time… signs of the fall and season being over. This was a comfortable cafe overlooking the Grand River where most cyclists usually make a stop. After a quick meal and coffee, we took few pictures in front of nearby churches.
I loved Cambridge. The downtown core has been used as the setting of several movies and maintains the charm in the historic architecture. There are boutiques, bistros with sidewalk dining areas, the Farmer’s Market, Old City Hall as well as the Southworks Outlet Mall all within walking distance or a very short drive. The four stone churches downtown (Knox’s, Central, St. Thomas and Wellesley) are well preserved. The old, old post office, built in 1885 on Water Street beside the river, is being re-purposed into library and restaurant space under a heritage conservation plan. Another stone building (only partly old), the Mill restaurant, is a good place to eat. The market beside the old stone City Hall on Dickson Street has been operating there for 144 years. I was here for the first time and this town really impressed me!
On the way back things were little different. My friend Kreso chose different roads and we were soon gliding at high speed on Gore Road all the way to Concession Road 10W. The little wind we had today was now coming from behind, which made us going even faster. Now I was at the front more often settling into nice pace at around 34km/h that suited me perfectly. Sue was there with me and we worked together at the front. She was dominant on the hills, but I was following closely and didn’t allow myself to get dropped. Every time we would get to another hill, Sue was pulling strongly at the front. As she was forcing the pace, I would seize the opportunity to glue myself to her wheel and get a free ride at a higher pace, until we got over the top and a big downhill where we hit speeds of over 75 km/h. By this time Kreso was a bit cooked and was showing signs of weakness. These long descents meant more climbing was in store in the last few kilometers.
As we were approaching the Conservation area around Campbellville we turned onto Mountsberg Road, Side Road 3 and Twiss Road. We were going so fast I didn’t even notice as we passed through the Campbellville town. Soon after, we made a right turn on Canyon Road and were back at our starting point on Appleby Road.
Biking through forests, gliding through valleys and fields, rolling up and down hills was all part of the Niagara Escarpment Route from Campbellville to Cambridge. We covered total distance of 86 km today, but for me it didn’t feel this long. “It was truly fantastic. I really enjoyed the whole experience today”, I was trying to explain. “I loved all these horse farms in Halton Region and the scenery was fantastic! The amount of wildlife and beautiful houses I saw on our route today never ceased to amaze me”.
Halton Region and its Greenbelt areas have a number of excellent cycling destinations and bicycle routes catering to a variety of cyclist types. In short: ‘Cycling paradise’!
It takes two to cycle at the Halton Hills
The following weekend I have scheduled yet another bike ride, this time with someone from our family. I was riding with Craig Rodger, the brother of my son-in-low James. Every time I go out for a ride with someone for the first time, I never know how strong this person is. In cycling it is like in Ping-Pong. You don’t want to play a game if the two players are not at the same level. The same can be applied in cycling. I knew ‘uncle’ Craig loved cycling and had a nice road bike, but I never knew he was such a serious cyclist until I saw him that day ready for the ride. Craig looked pretty strong, and I was worried.
I was right. Craig was strong! He was riding on a very expensive new Willer bike in bright orange colors. I could sense he was more than ready for this! As soon as we made a turn onto Appleby Line road to begin our ride, he was going fast! ‘Uh, it’s going to be a hard day on the road!’, was my thinking at that moment!
The morning was little on the chilly side at 11 Celsious and west wind of 13 kph that could bring rain later in the day. Yeah, and I was right again. As the day progressed weather turned for worse. Craig decided on challenging course for more experienced cyclists. The course explores the scenic and challenging terrain of Halton Hills ‘Northern loop’. One of the most striking features in Halton Hills is the Niagara Escarpment which traverses the heart of Halton Hills. The escarpment is 725 km long starting at Niagara Falls and rises 510 metres above sea level, the Halton Hills section is the closest to Toronto. Facilities for skiing, hiking, camping and numerous conservation areas are within a short driving distance from Halton Hills. To find out more visit www.niagaraescarpment.org
Halton Hills is one of the largest agricultural areas in the Greater Toronto Area and is strategically located to allow farm operations to serve over 5 million consumers. It’s easy to eat local, either pick-your-own or at the Farmers’ Markets. We rode by the apple piking farms and many vineyards. Apple picking is always a popular fall activity in the GTA, with families looking for a fun way to spend time together outdoors. Some farms and orchards will include wagon rides, petting zoos, country shops with homemade jams and preserves and much more. Whether you’re looking to make apple pies for Thanksgiving, candy apples for Halloween or just to have fresh and healthy snacks on hand, there’s plenty of places across the GTA to pick your own apples. This region also boasts a growing culinary scene, and many boutique wineries that are both laid-back and approachable.
Farm after farm was left behind us as we headed further into the Northern Ontario, getting closer to Halton Hills. The Fourth Line road (north) had a slight uphill grade and Craig slowly felt my pressure at the front and was dropped. I had to slow down and wait for him, but as soon the road leveled again he was at the front, increasing the pace and putting preasure on me. This situation would repeat on every hill we climbed and it was clear, he was not a strong climber, but on the flat roads he was stronger than me.
We pedaled through the hilly terrain of Halton Hills region. This loop will traverse you through the Niagara Escarpment, into Arkell area and near Nassagaweya Park. The worsening weather didn’t allow us to fuel up in one of the quaint coffee shops along the route for a rest stop. At one point on our back to Campbellville it began to drizzle. It was cold! But we managed to get out of that cloud and the road was dry again. We never slowed down during the whole ride. By the time we recognized familiar site of Campbellville in front, after more than two hours of riding, we were both exhausted and felt cold. I was in dire need for a beer!
Our Route was: Appleby Line North, Campbellville road East (5 Side Road), Fourth Line North, 15 Side Road West, Nassagaweya Esquesing Townline, 25 Side Road West, Nassagaweya Puslinch Townline North, Arkell Road West, Arkell town, Watson Road South, 20 Side Road East, 2 Line Road South, 10 Side Road East, Guelph Line Road South, Campbellville Road East and finally Appleby Line Road which took us home. It was only 66 km long ride. This bike ride had a total elevation gain of 520 m and had a maximum elevation of 372 m. These numbers are not very impressive, but the hills in the area, short and steep, are not easy to climb.
The post-ride lunch and a beer at the Rodger’s house were welcomed by both of us! Bottom line, we had a great ride on that day!
Quite often people ask me why I still ride bicycle. My answer is always the same: I love it!! I ride to be stronger than yesterday. I ride to be healthy, free from stress, to see beautiful places I missed in the car. ‘If I’ve had a stressful day at work, getting on the bike and going out of the city for a two hour ride completely cleans out my system. Anybody who rides knows the feeling – that sense of exhilaration and inner peace.’ I also ride my bicycle to be challenged… that’s why most of the time when traveling I bring my bike with me. It was the same here in Ontario. I enjoyed very much the scenery and the roads in the Halton Hills region!
Have a good and healthy season.
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