In case you haven’t heard of this route, I’m here to help you understand the reality of the trip. Do not be fooled by the ‘butter tart’ name and think it’s all about sweet treats and easy riding. The BT 700 is a serious adventure and not for the faint of heart.
Here’s the BT 700 website’s definition: “Situated in Southwestern Ontario, the BT 700 is a 760 km loop in southwestern Ontario designed for any rider who revels in unpaved backcountry roads, testy climbs and trails through thick forests. The route as a whole is designed to be an adventure cycling route, mainly using unsurfaced riding surfaces, that bundles southern Ontario’s greatest hits into one neat package. Are you ready to join the butter tart fellowship?”.
Pretty epic, right?! Well, my experience provides a bit more context than just that!
So, the first I heard about this trip, a buddy brought it up to me on a MTB ride. At the time, we had both only ever ridden Mountain Bikes. We had never done anything gravel related… neither of us had ever even owned a road bike for that matter! So, first thing on the list before planning the BT 700 was one of the most fun; buying a new bike! My buddy purchased a previously loved 2019 Brodie Revel, and I purchased a 2017, new-to-me Scott Speedster Gravel 20. His had room for wide clearance so he ran 42’s, while mine had thinner dropouts and I stuck to the 38’s. Both bikes were quite different in geometry, styling, materials, and components, but both were entry-level and had their pros and cons for the different terrain we’d ride. You’ll read and hear a ton online for which is best on the BT 700, and from our ride, the width and tires were more important than the bike. Over 42 is ideal in hindsight.
A month before the BT 700, we backed our bikes to head out for our first bikepacking trip, as we figured some practice would be smart before tackling this. We set out to complete the G2G (Guelph to Goderich, our experience on this trip here). This would be a new level of KMs ridden for us and give an idea if our 760km in 5-day goal was doable. But mainly, this overnight trip was to understand how to pack our bikes and understand fully what we need vs. what we don’t. It was a great beginner route and we felt amped to have done it.
So, the day for the BT 700 comes, and we are filled with excitement. No work that week, no worries, just fresh air and good times ahead. Time to get on the bikes and pedal. The first few KM of the BT is a small glimpse into exactly what you hope this route would be full of. Heading out from the beautifully scenic, historic town of St. Jacobs, over to river lined trails, over a small bridge, and carving past trees and finally out to the open gravel roads – this is what we came here for! The level of stoke is high. Day 1 was relatively flat and easy going, and we were loving it.
Day 2 was another beaut of a day, and quite a scenic one as well. A good mix of terrain and nice towns, and the first day were we really started to experience big climbs and what was to come in The Blue Mountains. Day 2 had us feeling like we we’re really getting the hang for this bikepacking thing.
We were blessed with sunny skies on Day 1 & 2, and just hoped it would stay this way. We knew rain was probable, and we packed somewhat accordingly, without overpacking items we didn’t think were vital. We assumed we packed what we needed if it rained, but truthfully, neither of us had really trekked through the rain before.
Needless to say, we were hit hard with rain on Day 3. Turns out a storm was coming, and we were in it. When it started come down stronger and the wind starting to pick up, we started to notice the slow down it brought upon us, and we began to realize that we didn’t factor much time in for how the rain would ultimately delay us. The gravel roads were quite muddy and hard to bike through, and any trail or rough terrain areas where basically washed out and had you off your bike walking – hiking a bike – through most areas. Mud was basically impossible to ride through even with the slightly thicker tires my buddy had on. At a snail’s pace, it became obvious we were not going to get anywhere near the 175km/day stretch needed to maintain our 5-day run.
Well, still in the thick of Day 3, the storm lasted hours and we rode it out strong. We were drenched, fingers were numb, and we were at our hungriest yet as we rode into the Blue Mountain Village area. It was now 8pm and we needed dinner; the only issue was that dinner meant riding off route, down a serious descent we’d dread to come back up, and into the village. It was the only option, and hunger was calling, so down we went to refuel.
At dinner, we sat wet & cold, not moving a muscle. We started to feel defeated and knew after this meal it would be now dark, cold, still raining, and to continue on our bikes would lead us into the dark forest of the route with no shelter to camp. At this time, we knew the only way we were going to get back on our bikes for Day 4 was if we got out of these wet clothes, let them dry, and slept well that night… so… we got a hotel room.
Once we booked the hotel, all we wanted to do was get to it! As we were booking it, we felt conquered knowing we were giving in to something we didn’t want to do, but once you’ve booked it and you know the decision is done, then you just can’t wait to get in there!
We woke up on Day 4, and the forecasted weather had changed slightly. The rain was pushed off and we had a solid few hours before it started again. We packed our now dry gear into our bags, put on shoes and socks that were not soaked (what a great feeling that is!) and were amped that we had a stretch to make up time without rain. But there’s always something...
So yeah, the rain held off a bit, but then the largest hill climbs we’d ever ridden were all that we felt this day had in store for us. The hills were like nothing we’d ever biked before, and as soon as you were up one, down one, another larger one was ahead. Climbing hills like this almost slowed our pace just as much as hiking the bike. Things were slowing, we were getting tired, but we wanted to push through.
Just as we got out of the thick of the hills and the route started to even out, the anticipated rain began to roll back through as we found ourselves on a washed-out service road that was full of mud rutted tire tracks. As this next storm came in, we were slipping and falling every which way, and were forced to walk through most. The pace to hike-a-bike in mud just wasn’t doing it, so anytime we had a chance, we’d hop back on the saddle and hope to not slip out. For a few slight declines, this worked, and for others, we’d slide out and fall on our sides. Covered in mud, soaking wet, we knew we were in for another similar night and would probably face another challenging decision come dinner. These parts of the adventure can really drain a person mentally, and we were starting to feel it, wondering if we’d have to call it quits this day and call for a ride home.
Well fate would have it. Just as we debated how much further we could go on like this, my buddies derailer caught on a spoke, and the hanger snapped. Turns out slipping around on your bike in the mud will do this, bending your hanger (which we didn’t notice) and clearly bending it in too far to where it got caught and pulled. As much as we packed in our bags, this was not something we planned for, and we had no quick solution in this moment.
At this point, he reached his boiling point and had enough. This was all that had needed to happen for him to call it quits. It was a quick reaction as something had just broke on his bike, so I tried to level with him that we could call a shop to replace it and be back on our way. I said this to him as I really didn’t start this trip not to end it, and I was not ready to give up myself. After some chilling out and chatting, he agreed. If we find a solution to fix it, we go on.
The local shop was a 30-minute car ride away, but they closed in 10 minutes. When I called, no one answered and I assume they left early on this stormy day, so our options were only to stay and camp out til morning and fix it then, or call it quits. For the days we took of work to complete this, there was no more time left to waste, so we had to call in a ride home and end the BT 700 for this attempt, at our current mark of 580km.
With the experience we had, and the miserable last couple of days, you’d think this would put us off, but the best part is, it didn’t. It just got us more excited to try it again, and gave us the drive to complete it on the next attempt… and we are so ready for that next adventure!
Now to finish with a quote from the BT 700 site, “Ready to Crush Gravel? Or Let Gravel Crush You?”.
-Alex Argy, Cycling Avenue Ambassador