tour de greenbelt

Now that we are officially in winter and sufficient time has passed for me to really start missing riding my bike almost everyday, I figure I have hit prime time to reminisce about one of my favorite cycling-related experiences from the summer of 2012.  Well it happened in September, so let’s just say late summer/early fall.

Thanks to a Groupon promotion I found out about the Tour De Greenbelt which is an annual event designed for people to explore Rouge Park, which is basically on the border of Toronto and Pickering and is part of the Green Belt in Ontario.  You know, that area with all the good soil where a lot of our veggies come from.  It is a big enough deal to have its own website, so if you want to learn more you can click here, or go down to your local library and…get on a computer and follow that link.  I doubt the library has books on this.

Anywhoodle, the Tour de Greenbelt is a self-proclaimed “Fresh Air Festival on Wheels or Foot” which provides us urbanites a chance to get out in the fresh air and bike, run, or hike through some scenic, fairly quiet (more on that later) spaces, while learning a bit about the area and enjoying some of the “local” food (more on that below as well).

When I was thinking about writing this post back in September I was hesitant to do so because I kind of felt like I had more bad things to say than good, despite the fact that overall it was a great experience.  So maybe what I will do is just get the bad stuff out of the way (and it will sound pretty crummy I warn you) but then cap off on a really nice note.

Here goes:

  • My friend and I ended up catching the shuttle bus (school bus) from MEC (there was a separate truck for the bikes), which ended up having to sit at one intersection for about 10 minutes and then do a long detour all because of some marathon that was going on that day in the city and which had blocked off the road our driver was planning to take.  He also did not know how to get around it, but luckily a gentleman on the bus took it upon himself to pull out his smart phone, go up to the front, and navigate the driver.  Ok, so maybe the driver is not to blame here, but I kind of thought the organizers of the shuttle would be a bit more on their game in terms of possible detours and problems en route.  We weren’t late getting to the location, but did end up cutting it pretty close.
  • Signage – there were four possible bike routes to take that day.  The 12K Family Ride, the 35K Mini Meander, the 60K Major Meander, and the 100K Canadian Century Ride.  We had planned to do the 60K but right at the very beginning of the ride, me, my friend, and about 30 other riders detoured big time and ended up having to double back because there was no clear signage of where we were supposed to go.  Basically at one intersection we were supposed to veer slightly to the right and keep heading straight, but instead we ended up taking a hard right, biking up and down some serious hills, ending up on a highway and then turning back.  Due to this detour my friend and I had to cut back to the 35K ride instead further on into our ride.  And yes, we were also slightly unprepared for how many hills the route would have, but I still think this detour was a major part in how tired we became and how quickly.  Although this was the worst issue we encountered due to signage there were other problems all along the route – the signs were not clear, some signs had arrows printed on them which faced the wrong way and the organizers used a black marker to draw arrows in the opposite direction which you could not see until you got really close, and just an overall sense of “oh dear, I hope we are going in  the right direction…” seemed to plague not only us but many of the other riders we encountered.
  • The Route – overall the route was pretty good and we did end up having some really nice stretches that were not very busy with cars, had nice views or were surrounded by trees or farm fields (and one huge pumpkin patch!  See pictures below).  However, at one point we had to bike on the shoulder of a fairly busy road.  To one side there was basically nothing, but on the other were new townhouse developments and big box stores.  This was hardly the “Rouge Park” experience we had signed up for and was definitely my least favorite part of the ride.  I hope that the organizers eliminate this portion for next year.
  • The food – one of the main attractions for me was their focus on local food which I thought would happen both during the ride and after.  However, the only food we encountered during the ride were energy bars, apples (which maybe were local?), and produce, pies, jams which we could purchase at Whittamore’s Farm.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a lovely store and they actually had a delivery service back to the starting point for your purchases, in case you stocked up on too many pies to cycle with, but I guess I thought that some of the stops along the ride would include all sorts of farms from which we could purchase fresh food.  The most disappointing food-related part was the lunch that followed the ride.  They provided us with hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, and cookies.  I was really hoping for something a bit more special that hyped up the farms in the area but nope, pretty much your super typical BBQ lunch.  For all I know the hamburger patties and hot dogs came from Costco as, suspiciously, there was no mention of where the food was from.  Also, they ran out of water.  Yep, people were coming back from the 100K ride to no water.  Not cool.

Overall I think all of these problems boiled down to the fact that the organizers were unprepared for how many riders there would be and/or how much work this event requires.  This was not their first year, but I heard a few people mention that it did seem to be their biggest year so perhaps it was just a year to work out the kinks for future events.  There were some other minor issues we encountered, but I think those more had to do with not knowing what to expect.

Having said all of that, I definitely plan to do the ride again this year and since it happens in September I am hoping to do more challenging long-distance riding all summer in order to be better physically prepared.  I would love to be able to complete the 100K, however I think that it would be very difficult with the bike I currently have which is not ideal for very long distances, so I am going to aim for the 60K.  My friend and I figured out that with the detour we probably biked just over 40K so I figure tacking on another 20K is not completely out of reach.  Also, I have to say that for anyone with small kids out there the 12K seemed pretty perfect for families and a great way to spend the day outside.  Oh and I should mention that the 12K is also police escorted!  Faaaaaaaaancy!

You have about 9 months to decide whether you will join me this September.  I really think you should!

Click on an image below to see the full gallery.

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