Posted by Miles Arbour
Words and photos by Trevor Browne (@MesskitMagazine)
No Exit. That seemed to be a common road sign theme during the new Canadian bikepacking event, the BT 700, set in St. Jacobs, Ontario. The route was challenging, beautiful, diverse, rugged, and required constant attention to navigation with all its twists, turns, ups, downs, and sometimes lack of roads at all. The reward? A plethora of local bakeries, cafés, and general stores en route that serve up sticky and sweet butter tarts!
On July 14, around 100 like-minded cyclists gathered for the first annual mass start of the BT 700, claiming to be one of the biggest starts in North America. Matthew Kadey, also known for his sports food books such as Rocket Fuel, stitched this adventurous course together. From rolling Mennonite farmland and gravel roads to steep boulder ascents through the Georgian Bluffs, this course proved to be challenging to the faster pacesetters as well as the slower touring-minded riders. He wanted people to discover the small local communities of southwestern Ontario and experience the vast diversity of gravel, rail trail, ATV track, singletrack (and no track) routes that this area has to offer. This assortment of roads also meant that people showed up with a wide range of rigs, from 650B slicks to 29 x 3.0″ chunky grippers, along with everything from drop bars to flat bars and Jones bars, and of course steel to carbon frames, some rigid, some not. All would prove to be challenged and useful in one way or another on a varied course like this.
Even though this route is rideable anytime, the camaraderie and energy at the start of the event were contagious, and worth it. With bluebird skies, scorching temperatures, and big smiles, riders departed on an adventure they would not soon forget. The first 250km lulled the riders into security with rolling landscapes of corn and wheat, crisscrossing the golden fields with loose rail trail. Odd little pockets of coniferous forests treated us with a smattering of singletrack to spice things up.
The next section took us along the shores of the beautiful Lake Huron, through waterside towns, reservations, and brings the Georgian Bay Bluffs into view. It’s a bit of a rude awakening once you start twisting and turning into these lush green hills, making many a rider stop and scratch their head once they enter into the maze of roads and trail. Riders constantly found themselves double-checking their GPS to make sure that they were in fact on the right trail, or grassy path, cutting through and climbing up and down the sides of these gentle monsters. After a while, you soon come to get Matthew’s little joke of always taking the road sign, “No Exit”. GPS apps were a godsend for a route like this and the voice commands will even keep you company on those long days in the saddle.
Wild camping in these areas proved to be easy, whereas finding water and shade was sometimes a challenge. This area is also known to have unpredictable weather, so massive storms and winds rolling off the lake were making things a bit challenging in places for some of the riders. From there it’s a long loop back through even more little singletrack pockets of joy and a rollercoaster of gravel roads and double track. The fun thing about this route is that you are never on the same road for more than a few kilometers, so falling asleep at the wheel is never an issue.
The one thing that keeps riders coming back to great events like this one is the chance to make new friends, chat, share baked goods, and get lost with them along the trail. Even though BT 700 wasn’t meant to be a race, the fastest rider finished the course in 44 hours without sleep. The slowest was still riding out there a week later, enjoying every minute. But the competition didn’t get in the way of riders laughing, smiling, and having a meaningful ride. I think that’s what Matthew had in mind when creating a route like this, to bring together the eastern Canadian cycling community and show them what their backyard has to offer.
Congrats to everyone who participated in this year’s BT 700 and shout out to Matthew Kadey for organizing such a great event. Kyle Messier of Kitchener, Ontario, set the fastest known time at 44 hours, 5 minutes. Wayne Burns of Toronto, Ontario took second place with a time of 50 hours, 52 minutes. Bob Tomsic of Brooklin, Ontario, and Ryan Brown of Newcastle, Ontario, finished next at 52 hours. Sarah Caylor of Caledon, Ontario, was the first female to finish, also on a singlespeed, at 59 hours, 22 minutes.