Ride Report - Low Ball July 31 2019, 1 Comment

Sometimes it's right under your nose and you don't know it.

I've been looking for a new Back Road Baller® route for a few weeks that would start and finish at my front door. Even though there are a few roads within my riding area that I still haven't explored, I wanted something a little different. Something bordering on the unknown. Bike Centric HQ is in Cornwall, Ontario. Cornwall is smack dab on the Mighty St. Lawrence River and has a border crossing to the U S of A. Normally I cross to go to the Taco Bell but our club also frequents the crossing by car for club runs down in the Adirondacks. Then it hit me. Why not ride across and see if I could find some uncharted roads? Challenge accepted.

First on the list? Start using Google Satellite view to find some unpaved roads. Turns out, there are plenty of Back Road Baller quality roads south of Akwesasne and I found a brewery to visit at almost the halfway point. The Gravel Gods approve.

My go-to mapping app is Ride with GPS. I spent an hour switching between map and satellite view to curate my route. I made a couple of different routes before settling on what looked like a good mixture of pavement and the ruff stuff. With the full membership, you can download your routes and use them as a car GPS without needing data on your phone. This is great if you are out of your cellular area and as 90% of the ride will be in the US, I won't have any service. Some don't know that your phone still receives GPS even if you don't have cellular service. With Ride with GPS, all you need is a GPS signal and it dishes out the route in turn by turn segments with the distance between your next turn. I leave my phone in my back pocket with the volume jacked and it dutifully chirps away the whole ride. I don't know what it is, but it gives a bit of company and security at the same time. Kinda like we're in this together. We can do it!

The Ride

I started out at 9:00 a.m. and the thermometer was already at 25º C. It was going to be a hot and humid day. I had frozen my bottles solid the night before but by 10 km, they had only a small ice cube floating around inside them. Time to do water bottle maths. Three squirts every ten minutes equals one bottle per hour. First water stop will be at Township 7 Brewery which is at the 50 km point. Two bottles equal 50 km at 25 km/h. Perfect. See, water bottle maths.

Normally there is a toll to get across the Seaway International Bridge. I remember years ago it was free for cyclists. Turns out it still is. Noice. I roll through ready to tackle the big bridge and its wheel sucking expansion joints. Traffic was very light so it was no problem zigzagging across the road and the joints. Next is the border checkpoint. Waiting in line with the cars is a bit strange (and hot) but I quickly roll up to the booth and present my passport. One question only, "Where are you headed?" The answer, "To check out the roads and stop at a brewery on 11b." Reply from border agent, "You picked a great day to do it. Thanks and have a great day." "Yes, sir!"

I'm heading south most of the ride and the wind is coming from the south-west. This is ideal for the open roads but once in the bush, it really doesn't matter which way it blows. The first 15 km fly by and I notice that there are many Amish farms on the route. I passed a couple of horse-drawn buggies trying not to spook them. If I had room in my bags I could have picked up some vegetables from the many roadside stands but I packed a bean burrito, some cheese and Cliff bars, so I was good.

The route profile showed a flat line with a good bump in the middle. This means I'll need to climb to get my beer at the brewery. The first unpaved section is rated One Peanut*. At this point, I'm pretty happy to be already on some gravel.

The next section turns out to be very remote with some sections having marshlands on both sides of the road. I'm giving this section Two Peanuts but some parts it's a Three, but only for a few metres. Even in the bush and on seasonal roads, Ride with GPS keeps me on course (I know this because I went off course and it alerted me right away).

What turned out to be the most picturesque section came next. Beautiful stone fence lines, Amish farms, tree-canopied roads and a view of the Adirondacks mountains. What more could you want? Oh, and this is where the climbing started. It wasn't a slog or anything and the scenery kept me going. That and I was almost at the brewery.

I hit the 11b and was back on paved tarmac. It was a free ride to Township 7 Brewery as it was at the bottom of a decent downhill. At this point, I didn't think about going back up. The brewery is in a beautiful home-like building with plenty of areas to sit and enjoy your beverage. I was greeted by the owner, Nate and was quickly served their Deerfly IPA and a bowl of pretzels. I sat at one of the outdoor tables and enjoyed my lunch in the shade.

Hopping back on the bike with refilled bottles and some new found energy proved useful to get me back up the same hill I had just descended a hour earlier. On my mind was what was going to greet me next, as so far, the ride was going great. My next right turn was on Savage Road. It just keeps getting better. This road and the next were rated Two and One Peanuts. As I started on the next paved sections it started to look grim for more dirt. These were long stretches with a few turns and it turned out to be the longest stretch without gravel. The day was getting hotter and my water bottle maths was not equating. With over 60 km remaining, I would be in the negatives for H2O by the end of the ride. Like a man on a mission, I completely forgot to find water in Brasher Falls, the last oasis on this ride before the border. Add to this, my beloved bandanna decided to attack my cassette.

This was at the same time the route got really interesting. I was entering the Brasher Falls State Forest. The gravel was turning to one-inch chunks and then to deep dry sand. After two falls my cyclocross skills kicked in and it was smooth sailing over the pine needle covered sandy tarmac. I noticed many off-shoots from the trail but not wanting to add too much more to the route, I ignored them until I could see right down to the rushing rapids of St. Regis River. It was too much to ignore and I dropped down to enjoy the view and splash my face in the cool water.

I put the hammer down for the next stretch to "Get'er Done" and hit the pavement. I only travelled a few metres and the phone chirped "Turn right". I looked right and there as barely a trail visible. This turned out to be the only Four Peanut section. It appeared to be a seldom-used ATV trail with many drops and dismounts required. The bushes across the trail were like barbed wire but the GPS said it was only 1 km and I swear it also said, "You got this!". 

When I popped out of the trail there was a German shepherd waiting for me with no warning from Ride with GPS (mental note, suggest this for future updates). Time to channel my inner Peter Sagan and leave this dog in the dust.

I knew I was on the home stretch now but running on fumes as the water tanks were dry. The mental notes I had taken on the way down helped me tick off the distance and debated on filling up at Akwesasne but decided since it was only a few kilometres from home to keep on trucking. Before I knew it, I was in line with the vehicles waiting to check back in to Canada. I had nothing to declare but, "I'll be back."

*For those that aren't Back Road Ballers or from the area, we have a decommissioned rail line called The Peanut Line that we ride. It's pretty rough in areas either from the course gravel or the rail ties under the dirt. I'm using the Peanut System to rate the roads. One is smooth and four being very rough and difficult to ride. BACK TO THE ARTICLE