Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Bikepacking route gives cyclists intimate experience of Pontiac hinterland

Connor Lalande
Pontiac July 7, 2023
“We were riding down a pretty rough, unassuming road in Lanark County, and I found myself humming The Log Driver’s Waltz for some reason,” said Eric Betteridge with a chuckle. “I often hum when I ride.”
This spontaneous earworm - reminiscent of a 1970’s National Film Board animated film - bubbling up from somewhere deep in his subconscious got Betteridge thinking. Consulting with his biking partner, Jen Adams, the two discussed the song and its thematic, almost serendipitous relationship to the Ottawa Valley bikepacking route they were in the painstaking process of mapping and publishing. In an “ah-ha” moment, the two knew that they had found the route’s namesake.
“It was very important for us to have an imaginative name that would give us a strong basis to build a story around,” Adams said. “And it’s a very fun part of Canadian history that we can tie our route into and build that sort of imaginative story.”
Betteridge and Adams have been biking the varied and scenic topography of the Ottawa Valley for decades. Seasoned cyclists with a penchant for adventure and a yearning for the road-less-traveled, the pair had a feeling that others would be as spellbound as they were with the cycling in the region, if only they were exposed to it.
Consulting maps, internet sources and drawing on their own decades of pedaling experience, Betteridge and Adams assembled what would become the Log Driver’s Waltz bikepacking route. Bikepacking, a mix of cycling and backpacking, has boomed in popularity over the last two decades. Cyclists clad their bikes with small bags used to carry necessary camping gear and embark on a sightseeing adventure over days and sometimes weeks.
An 805 km bikepacking route, the Log Driver’s Waltz is a circuit designed to showcase the beauty of the Ottawa and Gatineau valleys. Primarily along dirt roads and trails, the route takes cyclists through an odyssey of woodlands, rolling hills, jagged rock outcrops, lakesides and everything in between, avoiding busy roads for aesthetic and safety’s sake whenever possible.
For Betteridge and Adams, creating the Log Driver’s Waltz circuit was a labor of love, done purely for the passion of the region and the enjoyment of the sport of bikepacking; they do not make any money off the route.
The Pontiac region makes up about a third of the approximately 800 km circuit. After crossing the Ottawa River at Portage du Fort, the route weaves and jaggs along little-traveled dirt roads until it arrives in Shawville. From there, it heads northwest, along the Campbell’s Bay waterfront as it follows the meandering PPJ Cycloparc, the remnants of the Pontiac Pacific Junction railway corridor.
Veering sharply to the east, the Log Driver’s Waltz passes through Ladysmith as the elevation, along with the difficulty, steadily increases. Then, on a north-easterly trajectory, the route proceeds through Danford Lake before passing by Kazabazua and on to Gracefield.
“Having the Pontiac as part of the route is a huge asset,” Adams said. “There’s a rich history and a rich community here.”
Meaghan Hackinen, a cycling endurance athlete from Kelowna, British Columbia, who recently completed the route in record time, described it as a “beautiful place” that was “a lot of fun to do.” In a feat mere mortals would likely see as borderline masochistic, Hackinen completed the 805 km circuit in 43 hours and 33 minutes, shattering the previous record set by Cort Ostertag in 2022 by more than six hours, sleeping for only 10 minutes and biking nearly continuously.
Even amidst her dogged, record-setting completion of the route, Hackinen says she still had ample opportunity to take in the picturesque sights of the Pontiac.
“We don’t have as many lakes as Ontario,” said Hackinen in reference to her home in British Columbia. “And to me, they’re all these beautiful little ecosystems that put a smile on my face every time I see them, which probably sounds funny to people who live in the area.”
Hackinen earmarked Portage du Fort as the place within the Pontiac that resonated with her that most, and one that she would like to return to someday.
“I would definitely love to go back there. I saw beautiful historic buildings on the route. Really lovely with a dam and bridge. It felt a little bit sad to be going through so quickly,” Hackinen said.
While Hackinen’s impressive achievement has helped bring attention to the burgeoning route, Betteridge and Adams say that it is by no means exclusively for endurance athletes.
“People can approach it as they wish,” Betteridge said. “The average enjoyable ride is five to six days, and a lot of people take eight. It depends on what your goal is and what your fitness level is. We set this out as a bikepacking tour, to get people out to see a part of the country that we know and love. The whole thing about people riding it quickly we hadn’t anticipated, but its great to see people using it in different ways.”
“We did make up rules,” said Adams in regard to those who wanted to compete for the best known time, “but the whole thing is informal. There is no prize, no registration fee and the only formality of it is a set of rules that are really under the honour system for people to follow. So, it’s a very friendly kind of competition for those who want to make it one.”
Whatever one’s reason for taking on the Log Driver’s Waltz circuit may be, whether recreational or competitive, Betteridge and Adams say the route’s draw is a potential windfall for regional business.
“For a lot of people, it’s not one and done. They’re developing a relationship with the area,” Betteridge said. “One of the things about bike travel is that people generally spend longer in an area than people who are traveling by car.”
“If you’re traveling by bike, you don’t have much stuff with you so you’re going to have to be spending money as you go,” Hackinen said. “You’re going to be looking for accommodation and you’re going to have to replenish your food frequently. I think that’s really where I spend the most money, is just eating. People are often looking to experience a place and keen to take little timeouts to go wine-tasting or attend a regional museum.”
For Pontiac locals looking to get involved in helping facilitate an experience along the route - perhaps by offering a tap to refill water bottles or a soft patch of grass on which to set up tents - Betteridge and Adams say they are always looking for “trail angels”, people who offer a helping hand when needed. The pair say these individuals are indispensable in the safe navigation of the route.
Those interested can visit the route’s website at www.logdriverswaltz.ca.
“It is a passion project,” Adams said. “We’re in a privileged position to be able to spend the time to put the information together in a way that we can share our knowledge of the area and put it out there for people to access.”


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