Ah, bikepacking. You’ve seen it, you’ve wondered, and now you plan to try it, but where is best place to start?
If you have big plans ahead for a proper bikepacking trip but have never yet tried it, your practice run can’t be too nearby where you bike to your local trails and camp in the nearest site a stone's through away from your home. Sure, that’s good enough to prepare your tent and sleeping gear to see how well you rest at night, but it won’t give you the full depth of what a bikepacking trip entails; the long distances with added weight, the need to break for snacks or a proper meal, the potential for bike maintenance along the way, and how fatigued a full day of riding in this style will actually get to you... and so on and so forth.
To experience the “so on and so forth” you need to take the time and go the distance otherwise you will not have fully prepared yourself to know what you’re getting into and what you’re capable of. So where should you practice and what distance is adequate? Well if you live in Southern Ontario, I might just have the perfect suggestion to get you on your way!
This past weekend, a buddy & I packed our bikes and hit the G2G (Guelph to Goderich) Rail Trail. On a map, this trail looks like a straight easy line of smooth path - which it is - but as you discover along the way, there are several closures and optional detours that take you on some pretty glorious back road gravel that gets you itching for more adventure. A few small detours take you on paved roads with beautiful river views, covered bridges, and vast fields, but 90% of the G2G route is smooth and easy which is great for a beginner bikepacker who just needs to understand the full scope of a bikepacking trip.
The G2G Trail is a 127km stretch from the website's description, but as of June 2021 (when we rode), the current bridge closures and detours bring the route to roughly 137km - that extra distance is always good for practice! If you really feel adventurous on your first ride and want to do the original 127km, you can opt to cross the long river with your heavy bike overhead, but again, this suggestion of mine is geared to a beginner, and crossing rivers carrying your bike might be grounds for a more intermediate rider so I’ll leave that choice up to the reader's discretion!
We felt this trail's distance was perfect to get out and try what one night would be like. Far enough to feel it physically while also feeling accomplished mentally, and not too far that we fear not making it to camp before dark. For context, we left at 11:45 am and set up camp at our final destination (another 20km beyond the trail) at 9:30 pm. We should have left earlier knowing we’d want to stop for scenic photos, talk to other bikers during water breaks, pop into towns for food, and stop at a local brewery along the way, so keep all this in mind before you head out! These are parts of the experience that make it so fun, so don’t just think about the distance to ride in a day, as enjoying the tour you’re on is the best part.
Now why do I feel the G2G is best for beginners? The fact that it’s a linear route and you come back on the same trail you just rode the day before gives some peace of mind on your ride home having the familiarity of the day before. The first day on your first adventure can catch up to you the next day, especially if your sleeping experience wasn’t that great! So knowing that your way back home is familiar as you just rode it gives a lot of peace of mind and comfort knowing that you're not in for anything unexpected along the way, and if you get tired or hungry, you know where to stop from the previous day riding the trail. This comfort on Day 2 can really help you push through the fatigue, sore muscles, and hunger that is more than likely going to hit many first-timers. In fact, we felt this to an extent and rather than trying to further explore new towns on the way home, we both decided to play it safe and do what we did before, so we ended up going to the same two spots for food and snack that day - being that the food was so amazing on Day 1, it was an easy decision to make!
If you choose to explore the G2G Rail Trail, our lunch experience at Karen’s Kitchen in Milverton was top-notch for bike fuel. Fresh pastries ready to warm your soul, and a sandwich board full of options that will please any crowd. We were told the wraps were most popular so we each had a Chicken Caesar wrap which was just what our bodies needed at that time! The size and quality of the wrap and the great value had me thinking it would even be worth the 40 minute drive from my house, so take this suggestion on your ride and I guarantee you will have one happy, healthy fueled belly excited to ride on.
Getting later into your ride on the way to Goderich from Guelph, you should be coming up on the town of Blyth just around beer o’clock when you know you're starting to think about a cold one and a snack, just ahead of dinner once you finally make it the end trail. Well, as luck would have it - we literally got lucky as we didn’t look into this ahead of time and thankfully another biker told us 10km before - you pass by a small town with a big craft brewery, and one that most Ontario Craft-Beer fans would geek out on; Cowbell Brewing. This gem along the trail isn’t only great for a refreshment or two. Cowbell has a food truck set up with amazing food options if you’re looking to grab a meal, but the best part is, if you just want a snack, they offer 2 small tacos for $5 and they are the best $5 freshly made gourmet snack you can ask for when on a bikepacking trip. Every food destination we hit on this trail couldn’t have been better and it sure makes a first-timer’s experience that much better. In Goderich, we ate Sky Ranch for dinner (nice outdoor seating area) and Cait’s Cafe for breakfast before heading out. Cait’s breakfast sandwich may be the best I’ve ever had. Are you hungry yet? Get out there!
The G2G fills all the beginners' needs and comfort levels, and you’re bound to come out of the trip feeling like a more experienced rider overall, confident to take on the next bikepacking trip in more adventurous territory. Ride on.
-Alex Argy, Cycling Avenue ambassador