Planning Service for Bike Trips

We are now offering a planning service for self-guided bicycle trips in Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. There are many routes which incorporate rail trails such as the K&P Trail, The Trans Canada Trail, and the Petit Train du Nord. The nice thing about rail trails is that there are no steep hills; this is important when you are carrying extra weight in pannier bags, attached to your bike.

 
 

These trips are feasible for any reasonably fit cyclist or family and use local hotels, B&Bs, or even AirBnBs for accommodation. I will provide the route, distances, map references, and recommendations for accommodation, bike rental, attractions, and food. If you are not biking a loop, I can also arrange transportation to or from the start and end points.

So please contact me if you have a friend or group who wants to accompany you on a self-supported trip. Let me know where you want to go near Ottawa and I'll make it happen.

Enter our Maple Season contest!

Thanks to everyone who dropped by our table near the Heritage Maple Path at Fulton's Pancake House and Sugar Bush over the past 3 weeks. It was great to talk about camping gear and our upcoming trips, and to offer rides on the fat-tire bike.

Many visitors also entered the draw for a free one-night camping trip for one person.

The draw will take place on April 23, the last day of activities at Fulton's for this year. The winner will have their choice of one night car camping, one night bicycle camping, or one night canoe camping.

There's still time to enter! Just tell us that you're interested by filling out the form on our website and you will be automatically entered in the draw.

Good luck to everyone and enjoy this beautuiful Spring weather in Eastern Ontario. Get outside!

Here are some snapshots of some good times at Fulton's Sugar Bush.

Maple season bike rides

Maple season bike rides

What's so special about the K&P?

Next year (2017) is the 150th anniversary of Canada as a nation. We’re a young country. We don’t have a long recorded history, unlike countries in Europe or Asia. Maybe we cherish our history because we have so little of it.

 

The "Iron Duke" - steam locomotive 11 on the K&P Railway 1888. Photo: Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives  3542

 

In 1871, railways were a big deal. Railways were (and remain) the most efficient way to transport goods over land. In the run-up to Confederation, the Canadian Government had promised a trans-continental railway to entice British Colombia to join. Now they had to deliver and it was a time of feverish development of railways.  

In the same year, just four years after Confederation, the K&P Railway was chartered to run from Kingston to Pembroke, Ontario. This was at the start of the so-called Second Industrial Revolution, at the height of the age of steam, and some 37 years before the first Model T rolled off the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company. In short, trucking wasn’t an option. Roads were just for horses and buggies.

 

The rock cut at Calabogie 1912. Photo: Public Archives Canada C-35593

 

As construction of the K&P pushed north over the next 12 years, it connected the communities along the way, and was completed in 1883. Even though it never reached Pembroke, going only as far as Renfrew, it was 180 km. (112 miles) of engineering marvel, transporting passengers and goods to and from the interior of Ontario. This part of Ontario is characterized by rocks and trees (and water). It’s rough. There were no large, prosperous farms and very little flat fertile land. Small towns were established, only because the railway was there. Mines were opened and trees were cut for lumber. Even so, it’s land from which it’s hard to extract money.

 

The "new" Clarendon Station; the old one burned down in 1917. This building still exists and we pass by it on the trip "K&P Trail: End to End". Photo: D.W. McCuaig.

 

With the invention of the internal combustion engine and the building of highways, trucks quickly replaced trains as the preferred way of moving goods and people. The K&P was gradually abandoned until the final section was relinquished in 1986. Parts have been maintained as an official recreational trail and other parts remain in the same state as when the ties were removed, rough, wet, and sloppy.

So what’s so special about it? The K&P Trail still provides a way of getting to remote and wild parts of Eastern Ontario. Travelling by mountain bike, you will often be going about the same speed as an old locomotive. You can imagine the steam whistle blowing as you bike through deep rock cuts, past abandoned homesteads and beautiful lakes. It’s a part of our history that people and progress has forgotten.

 

Lunch in Kyrgyzstan

“Don’t look up too often.” It’s the best advice I hear while biking to the top of the 3300 m pass. On the gravel road, I just keep my head down, heart and legs pumping. I can see the next corner of the switchbacks, but it probably isn’t the top anyway.

I’ve just inhaled my second Mars bar of the morning and my body is still begging for calories. As the group's sole vegetarian, my mind fixates on what will be for lunch.

Kurtka Pass, Kyrgyzstan

Kurtka Pass, Kyrgyzstan

On my birthday, eight months ago, I told myself that this year I would do something hard. Really hard. Something significant. Life changing even. This meant something self-propelled, to reassure me that the old body in the mirror was still friends with the younger guy in the head.

I wanted a trip to learn something about myself – about the boundary between “I can” and “I can’t.” I reasoned that everyone has a point at which they’ll say “I quit.” I knew that this point didn't depend on physical strength or even mental strength. It depended on the quality and appropriateness of my plan, including how I intended to manage the pain and discomfort. I wanted to make a good plan and then carry it out. I found a trip, booked flights, visited a travel clinic, choose equipment, and trained, trying to do the recommended 300 km per week in the saddle. I thought, “How hard could it be?”

My plan started the moment I sent the first enquiry to Red Spokes, a great travel company from the U.K. Their slogan is “Biking with Altitude.”  Right now we’re on their inaugural trip to Kyrgyzstan, a central Asian country and former Soviet republic bordering on China and three other “-stans.” I’m in a group of 12 reasonably fit mountain bikers, some 20-somethings but most in their 40s and 50s. We’re thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to be the guinea pigs for this new adventure. Red Spokes had initially rated the trip 6/10 for difficulty, but our group has convinced them to raise this to 8/10.

A yurt hotel (or Yurtel) is a collection of yurts, built to give tourists an authentic taste of Kyrgyz culture. The stove in each yurt burns dried dung and keeps the occupants toasty warm.

A yurt hotel (or Yurtel) is a collection of yurts, built to give tourists an authentic taste of Kyrgyz culture. The stove in each yurt burns dried dung and keeps the occupants toasty warm.

Each yurt has a colourful interior with elaborate carpets, foam mattresses, and embroidered blankets.  

Each yurt has a colourful interior with elaborate carpets, foam mattresses, and embroidered blankets.
 

The trip is fully supported, with vehicles to carry equipment and staff to cook, set up the tents, and dig the latrine each night. In addition to the camping, one night we sleep in a yurt, a round, portable structure made of felt, stretched over a folding wooden frame. Yurts are very common in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and central Asia, often as summer homes for families herding sheep or horses.

It’s now day six on the bike. Two hours ago, the temperature in the valley was 37 C. As we climb higher, I realize that it’s dropped about 10 degrees.

When I round the last curve, I see the vehicles stopped at the top. I’m the last one in. As I approach, my fellow bikers stretch a roll of toilet paper across the road as a finish line. They cheer for me as I pump my fist and grin.

Lunch is roast chicken. After 20 years as a vegetarian, I’m suddenly not feeling very loyal to my tofu clan. I’m thinking, “What the hell, I really need the protein.” This is going to be life changing.

Best. Chicken. Ever.

Lunch is served at the top of the Kurtka Pass in Kyrgyzstan. The road was originally built for military purposes and today sees only about a dozen vehicles per day. Photo by Jennifer Parsons

Lunch is served at the top of the Kurtka Pass in Kyrgyzstan. The road was originally built for military purposes and today sees only about a dozen vehicles per day.
Photo by Jennifer Parsons

Exciting new trips!

We're back! It's been a long time between blog entries but there is some important news! Hard Maple Travel has three new trips available. The goal is to offer just a taste of the Canadian wilderness to more inexperienced adventurers. These are all one night trips.

Learn to Camp
For people who have never been camping, this is the perfect trip for you. There's something about sleeping in a tent that will kindle feelings of self-sufficiency and independence. You will feel secure and dry, no matter what the weather, lulled to sleep by the sound of light rain on the tent . You might hear rustling sounds in the forest at night, as well as the sounds of an owl or other night animals. We will be in a Provincial Park near Ottawa and interpreters will speak about local wildlife. We will cook over a wood fire, swim in a lake, take a hike, and learn essential skills to be comfortable and safe in the woods. This is an ideal trip for families. It includes a guide, park fees, all meals and food, all kitchen gear, tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad.

One night canoe camping
For people who have never been canoe camping, this is the perfect introduction; there's no portaging. You will learn essential canoe strokes and skills, and paddle to an isolated campsite in a provincial park. There, you will set up your tent, cook on a wood fire, and swim at a natural water slide. At night, you will hear the sounds of the true Canadian wilderness. Everyone must help by gathering firewood, washing dishes, and contributing to the campfire songs, skits, or games! This is also a great trip for families. It includes a guide, park fees, all meals and food, canoes, paddles, PFDs, and all kitchen gear. Personal camping gear like tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads is available.

Two days by bike on the K&P Trail
This trip offers the chance to see the Canadian wilderness from the saddle of a mountain bike, while not requiring any steep climbs or descents. The K&P Trail is a rail trail which goes from Kingston to Pembroke. We start in the small hamlet of Lavant Station and bike north to Renfrew, over two days, staying overnight at a hotel in Calabogie. It can be completed by anyone with basic bikng slills. We include a guide, hotel accomodation, all meals and food, swimming, and the opportunity for more advanced single-track trails. Transportation back to your vehicle is provided.

So take a look at our new trips and let us know what you think!

Beautiful ride on a great trail in Eastern Ontario

Not all trails in Eastern Ontario are this smooth. But it sure makes for nice riding. This was shot at about 6:30 AM after a rain the night before; the light was ideal and the smells were incredible!

Early morning ride on a great trail in Eastern Ontario. Just imagine the smells after a nice rain at night. Also, be sure to wear long sleeves to protect your arms from the overhanging raspberry thorns!

How to light a fire for cooking and warmth

Knowing how to light a fire in the woods can make the difference between comfort and discomfort, hot food or cold, or even life and death. At any time of the year, a camp fire will provide warmth, reassurance, light and even the focus for great stories and conversation.

Let's make some assumptions:
1) You are not stuck on an ice floe
2) You have a source of fuel in the form of sticks, twigs, dry grass, bark, or wood
3) You have a fire starter in the form of matches, a lighter, or maybe a flint sparking tool. (Starting a fire using only the heat generated by friction, using, say, a bow drill, is the topic for another blog.)

Even in the winter, you can find dry branches on the lower parts of a coniferous tree.

Fire making
Place stones

If you are not at a campsite with a well used fire pit, you should start by clearing an area on the ground. Remove all flamable material and prepare a flat bed for the fire. If you will be cooking on the fire, place some rocks close together to support the pots. Make the fire in the space between the rocks.

Gather wood
Gather wood

Start with some dry grass or birch bark if you can find it. Gather a handfull and compress it into a ball the size of your fist. Next, place some very small sticks in a teepee shape, leaning on the bark. Leave a gap in which to place the match. Then lean some sticks the size of pencils on the outside of the teepee. For a "bonfire", you can place larger branches or even logs in a log cabin arrangement, tightly around the teepee. 

It's important to prepare a good supply of firewood and stack it near the fire before lighting the match. If cooking, fill some pots with water so you can get them on the fire right away.

After you light the match, hold it to the birch bark or grass in the middle of the teepee, reaching in through the gap that you left. Gradually add fuel. As a rule of thumb, don't add sticks which are more than twice the diameter of the ones that are already burning. Start cooking as soon as you can.

Cooking
Burning

Even in the rain, the inside of a larger branch will be dry. Shave off the outer surface with your knife to find the inner dry part and use the shavings for tinder. Be patient; don't light the match until the fire is well laid and everything is ready. Then impress your friends with your great fire-starting skills!


Algonquin Park: Canada's First Provincial Park

Comfortably nestled between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River, Canada’s oldest Provincial Park is home to thousands of lakes, scores of rivers and abundant Canadian wildlife.  Today the park’s current size is over 7,600 square kilometres (2,934 square miles) and is actually contiguous with several other separate provincial parks, helping to protect rivers in the area. 

Given the location of the park and its close proximity to two of Ontario’s two largest cities; Ottawa and Toronto, Algonquin Park has gained a cult-like following for people in these major cities so that they can escape the confines of concrete. 

Algonquin Park

Campers, paddlers, cyclists, bird enthusiasts and nature junkies make the pilgrimage to the park, mostly during the summer months to explore its beautiful scenery, countless trails, campsites, lakes and breathtaking lookout points.

The park boasts three main biking trails for those looking for a challenging adventure in one of Canada’s greatest outdoor settings.  These three trails vary in difficulty from family-friendly to steep and rugged terrain to bully even the toughest cyclists.

Hard Maple Travel is located in the Ottawa Valley and Algonquin Park is right on our doorstep. This park offers us a variety of unique trips and activities we can plan for visitors to Ontario and the Ottawa area.

Currently we run two separate trips in this beautiful park, by canoe or by both mountain bike and canoe. Our 14-day Canadian Shield excursion was created to test the strength of even the most experienced outdoor enthusiast.  This point-to-point all-encompassing trip includes mountain biking, canoeing, portaging, and rafting, and finishes with biking the K&P Trail in Eastern Ontario. 

The Barron River excursion is a 6 day canoe, portage, and camping trip, suitable for beginner canoeists. By the end, participants will be comfortable in the great outdoors and in a canoe.  Travelling over 27 km this trip really gives you a true experience in exploring the heart of Algonquin Park.

Whether on a guided tour with Hard Maple, a weekend retreat or a scenic drive, Algonquin Provincial Park is truly one of Canada’s most treasured outdoor monuments.  For more information about Algonquin Park please access the link below:

http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/algonquin


Winter Biking Advice: Snow Plows

When you're winter biking, the main motivation for speed is not the cold weather. It's keeping ahead of the snow plow! It's amazing how a large plow can sneak up behind you. They don't go very fast, maybe 25 km per hour, but that's usually a bit faster than you go, even with all your winter layers on and good studded tires.

As soon as you detect a plow behind you, the best advice is to carefully signal a left turn and cross the road to the left to let the plow go by. You can't just pull over to the right because he'll completely cover you as he goes by!

Winter Biking

Launching Hard Maple Travel!

     Made in Canada

     Made in Canada

Taking the plunge. OK, it's scary but here goes Hard Maple Travel. It's been in the planning stages for many months and it's time to make it public. We have three routes designed with a total of 11 potential trips this summer (2015). Please explore the website and let me know any and all comments, no matter how brutal :) Shares on social media are always appreciated.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me on this adventure. 

Talk to you all soon,

Jonas