Cycling the Great Waterway
Ontario’s Best at Your Doorstep
There’s no getting around it – as a cyclist you must train. You ride with the same friends, on the same roads, with the same potholes and railroad tracks, or alone, four days a week. Why not inject some fun into your training, discover some new favourite roads and escape your routine? Maybe take two recovery days in a row. Fuel your ride with the best Rueben sandwich in the entire world. Enjoy a cold one in Sir John A. Macdonald’s law office.
dd a sick day from work to your weekend if you can, then head for The Great Waterway district, just two hours east of Toronto, Ont. or west of Montreal, Que., to re-energize your passion for cycling.
This Ontario district stretches from the Bay of Quinte to Cornwall along the St. Lawrence River and north to the Rideau Canal, offering excellent cycling for any level of rider. There’s the Waterfront Trail, Prince Edward County, the St. Lawrence River shore from Adolphustown to Cornwall, and the Thousand Islands Parkway – all beautiful and much of it family-friendly cycling on paved off-road trails.
But in this piece that includes Napanee, Kingston and Westport, we’re talking a fun and challenging training route for experienced cyclists or maybe a relaxed recovery weekend. Whether you want to test yourself against the best local Strava routes or recover by exploring the region’s Loyalist history along the way, this region is excellent.
If you have three days, start in Napanee, hometown to Avril Lavigne and “Sk8er Boi,” her raucous anthem to all of us who love our wheels more than anything, yet still win the girl or boy of our dreams in the end. Ride to Kingston on Day One, then north to Westport on Day Two, then roll back to Napanee on Day Three. If you only have two days, start in Kingston and ride to Westport to overnight, then cycle back to Kingston via Napanee.
The reason for these logistics is that the world’s best Rueben sandwich, says me, is exquisitely produced by Steve Gillespie at the Loaf N’ Ale in Napanee. Nine out of 10 sports nutritionists recommend Steve’s creations as ideal preride fuel. Savour one (even Chris or Peter couldn’t manage two), then ride south over the Napanee River toward Adolphustown through fields of corn and soy so expansive you’ll believe you’re in Indiana filming Breaking Away 2.
No promises that you’ll hit the South Fredricksburg Community Hall on auction day like I did, but if you do, training ride or not, stop for the homemade pastries and hot dogs they sell to fortify bidders. Just don’t click your cleats too loud and distract the sleepy auctioneer as you attempt to discreetly cross the polished floor.
When you swing east toward Kingston, if the prevailing winds are howling through the North Channel from the west, your reward will be a new personal-best average speed along the fresh pavement. If it’s headwinds from the east,
you’ll wish you were doing something easy, such as the Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees. Either way, it’ll be a great story to swap over dinner.
Kingston’s historic downtown and waterfront transform post-ride refuelling and rehydrating into an event. Kingston is Dublin- or London-lite. All its vibrancy, colonial Canadian architecture and music are concentrated in a few compact blocks of pubs, restaurants and shops just south of Tragically Hip Way.
My route into Kingston took me past J&J Cycles, so I stopped and asked where cyclists hung out downtown. “Sir John A’s” was the answer, a pub in the historic building that housed Sir John A. Macdonald’s law office more than a century ago.
Sir John A’s was busy with folks sharing good times, but no cyclists this night. Walking by the Kingston Brewing Company’s patio, I overheard a woman discussing what she wanted in a new bike. Her friends – all lean builds, chronic helmet hair, logo’ed tops, tanned faces, shorts when the weather warranted pants and not a speck of food left on their plates – were offering their studied opinions. Obviously, these were competitive cyclists or triathletes. They were sitting in front of a chalkboard displaying the evening’s craft-beer menu, which provided me an excuse to approach and offer an opinion. The group was friendly and welcoming as anticipated – what cyclists can resist discussing their next bike or their last ride?
Next morning, whitecaps on Kingston’s inner harbour indicated strong tailwinds would bless the route north to Westport. The distance is just shy of a metric century, with lots of opportunities to add interesting detours along the way. Completing your ride by attempting the two notorious climbs north out of Westport will guarantee a good appetite for dinner.
This ride is interval training with a difference. Hammer the high-intensity sections on smooth, flat pavement and enjoy twisty, rollercoaster backroads that will make you grin. The recovery portions are where the route shines though, as you take time to experience this new territory.
Battersea has a well-worn, comfortable look. Collapsing boathouses capped with rusty steel roofs line the creek across from the general store where you can replenish your water bottles and energy food.
Wing’s Live Bait & Tackle in Lyndhurst will be culture shock for urban riders. Every lick of clothing for sale is camouflage or orange. Other merchandise? If doesn’t have fish hooks or a trigger, it ain’t in this store. Don’t try grabbing a cold one out of the cooler next to the counter – it’s full of live bait, not energy
drinks. And rest your bike on the historic 1856 stone-arch bridge over Furnace Creek at your own risk when a parade of tractors and combines roar through town headed to their next job.
Don’t let the linen serviettes confuse you. The 140-year-old Hotel Kenney at scenic Jones Falls is extremely cycle-friendly and ideal for your mid-ride break. The riders of Kingston Velo Club have a tour that overnights here each year. Wander through the nostalgic lobby and dining room, then share the bar with a monstrous stuffed muskellunge and a fearsome ram’s head with wildly contorted horns. Every room is crammed with mounted trophy fish, even the bathroom.
The village of Delta is next, defying you to look at its dilapidated, mostly vacant Jubille Block storefront building that has dominated the main street since 1897 without envisioning southern France or Italy, where one of the units would be a busy café and another the local magasin de velo or negozio di biciclette.
A quick carb stop in Forfar for fresh-baked goods became a lesson in fashion humility. I thought my red, white and yellow kit, reversed retro cycling cap and black socks really had it going on. Then buddy swaggered in from his Harley, all denim, leather and chains, with greasy gray hair everywhere but on top of his head. He had wrapped a big red elastic band, probably the one holding together the advertising flyers thrown on his driveway the night before, around his monstrous gray beard to keep it from tangling in the wind. The fashion-statement award was his, hands down.
Conserve a bit of energy on the first half of Foley Mountain. Don’t worry if the odd blasphemy escapes your lips while fighting the incline.
The Westport mountain climbs are perfect to determine who buys the beer when you recuperate on the deck of the Cove Inn later in the evening. Both begin right in town and are approximately a kilometre long, but use Mountain Street as the slightly less steep warm-up before tackling infamous Foley Mountain.
Conserve a bit of energy on the first half of Foley Mountain because the last 100 metres are straight up. Don’t worry if the odd blasphemy escapes your lips while fighting the incline – you can easily visit St. Edward Catholic Church for redemption when you return to town. Its towering silver spire is visible from anywhere, and local word has it the Church has been forgiving Foley Mountain’s cursing cyclists since 1860.
The routes here shine as you take timeto experience this new territory.
Discover new favourite roadsand escape the routine.
From family-friendly cycling to the best local Strava routes, this region is excellent.
Cycling through Napanee, Kingston and Westport along the GreatWaterway is just plain fun.
When your day is done, enjoyfabulous re-fueling options.
Decisions, decisions ....
Enjoy twisty, rollercoaster backroads in Battersea that will make you grin.