My First Bikepacking Adventure

2022-09-05 23:42:00 +0000
#personal #cycling

I just had my first bikepacking adventure during my vacation from work this past week. I took my nephew, who is also a bike enthusiast, with me bikepacking to Darlington Provincial Park in Clarington, Ontario -- which is about a hundred kilometres or an hour and 15 minutes by car (via the highway) from my house in Mississauga. Of course we cycled towards the park which Google Maps told us would take 5 and a half hours by bike. Well, that was not really accurate. It took as longer -- about 11 hours. We had to take 5-minute breaks every hour and a half hour lunch during the trip. There were also 2 or 3 detours we had to take due to trail closures and constructions. We also got caught in the rain while we were at Ajax and waited about half an hour until it stopped. We left the house at 8:30 AM and arrived at the park where we camped for 2 nights just before sunset at 7:30PM.

We took the Great Waterfront Trail, a very long stretch of mixed on-road and off-road, paved and unpaved, cycling (and walking/hiking/running) paths that runs around most of Ontario touching at least 3 Great Lakes. It was a very enjoyable bike ride -- except for the rain and some of the on-road paths (since Google for some reason had been pulling us away from the Waterfront Trail for a faster trip). I always find on-road pathways very stressful.

The weather, other than the half hour rainfall, was great. Very comfortable temperature falling between 20-25ºC, sunny for the most part but the sunshine was not very terrible unlike the 120 km bike trip we both did just a week before that to Niagara Falls.

... and all done on a hybrid bike -- a 2013 Norco Vermont I purchased back in 2015 for $400+tax on sale (original price $560+tax) at a local bike shop -- with loaded front and rear racks. Not so bad, eh? And people always tell you that you would need a real (and expensive) touring bike made of steel to do all of these. Not entirely true. I think you can do bikepacking/bike touring on any decent bike you already have as long as the bike supports rear racks that can take cargo (also front racks would be very useful). I did have to do a bit of upgrading on my bike before this trip though. I replaced the original tires with Schwalbe G-One All-Round tires just a month before the trip since the original tires had a small crack. These new tires are awesome. I love them. They are truly all-round! Except my original cheaper bike tires had better grip on gravel but the difference is almost unnoticeable... but these new tires I find roll very fast on paved roads. I also installed a vintage rear rack (most likely from the 80's) which I received for free and a Thule Tour Rack as my front rack. My bike has a front suspension fork and had no front eyelets for traditional front racks (only fenders) and so this was the only option I had for the front cargo.

I put my sleeping bag MEC Creekside 0C Sleeping Bag, my sleeping pad MEC Reactor 3.8, a sweater and a pair of shorts in a plastic bag on the front rack. Then I hung my 2 vintage Cannondale panniers from the 80s I got for free on the rear rack... both very heavy). Also on the rear rack I secured our tent MSR Elixir 2-Person Tent and my camping pillow MEC Camp Pillow. Mounted on my handlebar was my phone which I used heavily for navigation using Google Maps and on the frame was my really awesome insulated drinking bottle I bought from Winners for about 20 bucks which kept my drink cold for a very long time (for the entire trip!) and was held by a really awesome adjustable any-bottle holder (Bikase ABC Any-Bottle Cage).

It grew dark really fast as soon as we arrived at the campgrounds. We cooked our food and boiled our water with a cheap but really great backpacking stove -- a Primus Essential Trail Stove and a 225 g Primus 230 Butane/Propane Canister which was more than enough for the entire camping duration. For cookware we used the GSI Pinnacle Backpacker Cookware and GSI Pivot Spatula. Overall, I was very happy with our entire cookware system.

For lighting, we used a cheap battery-operated camplight I bought from Décathlon for $10 on sale BL100 100 LM Camping Lamp and an Energizer Pro 7 LED 350 Lument Headlight I got from Canadian Tire for $25. We had a campfire going on each night that provided us additional lighting, a bit of warmth, and smoke to keep away mosquitoes and all kinds of bugs at night.

I love my new tent. It was so perfect - very easy and quick to set up and very spacious for 2 people. Originally I bought a 1-person tent - an MSR Elixir 1-Person tent - because I was going to do this adventure solo until my Mom asked my nephew if he wanted to come with me which he without hesitation said 'yes' and was extremely excited about it. How could I not say 'no' to that?! It would've broken his heart if I did. And so, I took the newly purchased tent back to MEC and exchanged it with the 2-person one. I thought even if I go solo bikepacking in the future I think I could still use the 2-person tent to shelter my gears, etc. The 1-person tent would have been so much easier to carry on my rear bike rack though but the 2-person tent was not really that difficult to strap on to my rear rack.

Darlington Provincial Park and its campgrounds were not too bad I guess. Not perfect of course. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. I didn't even realize there was such provincial park and campgrounds that were not too far from the city. The campgrounds were clean and very well maintained. Essential amenities such as comfort stations, shower stalls, a small park store and even a laundry, were available. Potable water taps were also scattered around the campgrounds. The campgrounds offer both electrical and non-electric sites but I chose the non-electrical site. The non-electrical site cost $43.79 tax included per day for up to 3 tents and 6 people and was about $10 less than than the electrical ones. I think the electrical sites are mainly for RVs which we obviously did not have. The park was massive. Our campsite was only a few minutes on foot to the beach which was probably the most important attraction of the park/campgrounds. The park was situated along the Great Waterfront Trail which I found very convenient. My only complaint about this campsite was the noise coming from the nearby highway (401) and from the intermittent train which I swear probably passed by every couple of hours and worse, day and night. We were both awaken by the passing train throughout the night and so I really did not get a good night sleep during our entire stay at the campgrounds.

The park staff were all very friendly and courteous -- especially the young lady at the park store. The other campers were also very nice and friendly except the people at a couple of sites were really loud -- one of them, loud and drunk the entire night. There was a lot of vacant campsites especially in our area (Cliffside). There were probably only 3 other campsites occupied at a time on our side of the campgrounds. Most of the other campers were at the Lakeside which was, as the name says, right in front of the lake.

We spent a lot of time at the beach on our second day. The weather was really nice, the fine sands were very warm and so nice under my barefeet but the water was very cold we could not swim in it. There were lots of algae being washed up by the waves to the shore. The beach was almost empty. We were a bit disappointed about that. We were really looking forward to swimming in the lake.

We left the campsite on the 3rd day, Friday, around 11AM and cycled to my sister's house just 2 cities away west of the park (Whitby). It took us only an hour and 15 minutes. My sister and her husband were not home but my 3 nieces were. They were so excited to see me. We ordered pizza (my nieces' favourite) and ate them together. We left their house an hour after and headed towards the GO train station which was about 20 minutes by bike from her house and it took us all the way to the train station close to my house in Mississauga. We had a bit of a bad experience on the train though because one really disturbed guy was yelling and cursing at us for having our bikes on the train -- even though we were on the train that allowed 2 bikes at a time and we had them on-board during the non-rush hour time. I just thought the guy had some mental issues. I think he got kicked out of the train for creating disturbance on another train just by listening from the emergency announcement on the train a few minutes after he boarded.

Darlington Provincial Park was originally not the only campground we were going to camp in. The original plan was to cycle the next day farther to Presqu'ile Provincial Park in Brighton, Ontario which was another hundred kilometres away and camp there on the 2nd day but I have realized it was probably a bit too much for a first time bikepacking experience and we would not have enjoyed the camping part of the adventure since it would feel like all we did was cycling and sleep. I actually changed the campground reservation just a couple of days before the trip. I was actually glad I changed the plan.

I am really looking forward to my next bikecamping adventure next year -- Mississauga to Montréal! This has always been in my mind for many years and so I hope I finally fulfill this dream next year.


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