A Fantasy Double Century

Toronto-Niagara Hairshirt, June 24, 2001

*** Pat Buckley ***

The Hairshirt is a double-century, or 200 mile, or 320 kilometer bicycle ride that is an annual event. The 2001 Hairshirt has ideal conditions: the wind is light, the temperatures are warm but not hot, and there is no precipitation. The only potentially harmful aspect of the weather is the continuous sun. Participants need to rub sun screen on all exposed skin.

The weather is so wonderful, that the author notices many interesting things along the way and meets some new riders doing the Hairshirt trip for the first time.

The first part of the Hairshirt is along Burnhamthorpe Road, and then Dundas Street, going west. There's not much traffic at this time of day. One just flies along. One is still fresh and well rested from getting ready for the Hairshirt by taking a couple of light cycling weeks before the ride. Soon you're over Bronte Creek and can see the Niagara Escarpment ahead. Going up the escarpment is easy on this route. There's a man at the top with a video camera. Is this a race?

The route continues along Dundas through Waterdown. There are a few rolling hills here. You go by the horse race track and decide that it's not a good day for betting at the slots though they are open 24 hours. You go by the limestone quarry and are glad there's a light breeze away from the road.

Somewhere along here, Owen catches up to the author. Soon their bikes are at Road 52 and turn left. There are a few more cars as everyone else is starting to wake up? By now there's a group of six bicyclists just flying along, aided by a moderate breeze. Suddenly, someone asks "Is this Jerseyville Road? There's no sign?"

"It IS Jerseyville Road, the first county road after the rail trail." You look down it to the left and see a small hill and a few trees. Our group turns left and finds a road sign half a kilometer down the road. The sign assures all doubters that we're on the right road. You'll love Jerseyville Road if you liked the rolling hills on Dundas Street. The hills here are steeper and longer!

The author drops off the current group somewhere along Jerseyville Road since he has to use the washroom. Owen is a good person to ride with as he sets a steady pace and is easy to follow.

Soon the ride is in Ancaster and turns right on Fiddler's Green Road - the first main road after going up the longest hill on Jerseyville Road. You can see a stop light in the distance when you look down Fiddler's Green Road. The route is now a lot flatter than it was on Jerseyville Road. It's soon rural again after crossing Highways 2 and 403.

The route continues on Fiddler's Green until the first STOP sign. There are stop lights before this! At the STOP sign the route goes left on Road 22 or 222 that soon becomes Road 622. The route follows this road for quite awhile - 90 minutes? It's rural. There are many fields and a few houses. Somewhere along here you go through Binbrook where there is a store if you need to stop.

The author notices another group of cyclists as he turns onto Road 22. Are they on the Hairshirt? They look like it. They have that long distance look. This is Peter's fast group. They got lost after not seeing the non-existent sign on Jerseyville Road. Someone else told the author later that the sign was behind a tree. The author catches up to Peter's group with some effort, after they stop for some stop lights. Soon the group stops with a flat. All that extra effort was in vain?

The author moseys on. Peter's group passes a few kilometers later. The author follows them for a bit but doesn't like their surges so drops off. It's too early in Hairshirt to go all out. The route is barely at 80 km at this point. The author just might follow these speedy surging riders some days, but this is a cool-down day for the author. He's finding it hard to concentrate. He had a big exam yesterday, but we won't go into that here. That WAS yesterday. It's OVER.

After what seems forever, there's a road going right to Wellandport. You're now in Bismark at Road 27. Follow this road. As you approach this road you can see much busy traffic on a road to the left. That's Road 20. You don't want to go there. Turn right to Wellandport instead. There's a sign part way down the Wellandport Road that points to Wellandport.

The author stops at a corner store and gas station in Wellandport. Peter's group is also there. They speed off, before the author is ready to go, and are not seen again. The author feels like throwing up for a few minutes, but doesn't. He soon recovers, eats half a sandwich, drinks some juice, fills his water bottles, and speeds on down the old Welland canal all the way to Welland.

This year, in Welland, the author goes down all the one way streets in the correct direction. This is the parade route. At least, almost everyone in Welland is standing along the parade route, or are they spectators of our bike race? Who said the HAIRSHIRT is a race? There are a number of stores on this route. Historically, the main street in Welland was the street that is now one-way going the wrong way for Hairshirt. The author has followed it on the sidewalk in some prior years. The street followed this year was historically a back street of Welland, but has now become a second main street with many stores.

Just outside Welland, the Hairshirt route goes under the current Welland Canal. There are signs on the road for all cyclists to use the sidewalk on the left of the road. This is rather awkward since the road has 4 lanes that one needs to cross to get to the sidewalk. There's a bit of traffic this year, so the author decides to follow the signs and use the sidewalk. Other years, he has ridden on the road through the tunnel. OK, so now, he's doing the right thing? Well, maybe? Just before the tunnel, there are now signs on the sidewalk, "No Bicycles," and there are barriers on the narrow sidewalk. The author winds through the barriers and continues on the sidewalk since it's impossible to go back to the road at this point since the road is 2 meters below the sidewalk.

After making it through the canal, the route continues straight ahead. There are a couple of hills due to overpasses on railroad tracks. At times the road is a bit narrow and the traffic a bit fast. There are planted forests along part of this road making it quite pleasant and somewhat protected from the wind. The route sticks to this road until its end about 45 minutes later. At the end, turn left for a few kilometers. Turn right at the next stop lights on road to Chippewa.

There is road construction on the bridge going over QEW. The lanes are narrow as a result of the construction. Luckily, a friendly van follows the author over much of this section and doesn't try to pass the author.

Soon, you get to the Niagara Parkway route that is called Cummington Square Road at this point. The Hairshirt route map says to turn left to Kings Bridge Park that is the halfway point. Now, the author has done this before, but doesn't today. Instead, he goes straight ahead to a T-junction where he takes a short jog right followed by a quick left to a Niagara Bicycle Trail bridge over the Welland River. This is much more dramatic than going to Kings Bridge Park. However, a note of caution, this route does bypass the washroom at Kings Bridge Park.

The author rides the Niagara bike trail towards Niagara Falls and stays on the trail until it gets too busy. Then he takes to the road. There are wall-to-wall people right at Niagara Falls in spite of the southwest breeze that is blowing the haze all over the people and making them quickly soaked. There are "No Stopping" signs on the road, but tourists are stopped. Tourists DO have their own peculiar ways?

You do need to be careful on the bicycle just by Niagara Falls. There are tourists everywhere. They aren't looking at you. They are most likely mesmerized by their lover - this IS the honeymoon capital of the world. Otherwise, they ARE looking at the Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world?

Just after Niagara Falls, across from the American Falls, the road widens, there are fewer tourists, and it's easy to stop for a short view of the expanse. The Falls are an interesting sight. The tourist junk is just as interesting to the author. Look around you. There are hotels both old and new. There are memorials and flower beds. The place is very clean in spite of littering tourists. All the grass is thick and green. Everything is made to look perfect. Most tourists look very happy though a few are hard up.

The route continues north from Niagara Falls, along the Niagara River, towards Niagara On The Lake and Lake Ontario. There are some tourists walking along the Niagara bike trail and a few more are bicycling. This bicycle trail follows the Niagara River from Fort Erie to Niagara On The Lake. Sometimes the bicycle trail is closer to the Niagara River than the Niagara Parkway.

The author has a major stop at the Brock Monument where he uses the washroom and fills his water bottles with tap water. He eats a few sandwiches while near the base of the Monument looking towards Niagara on the Lake. It's a clear, bright and sunny day. You can see a great distance. It's a good day to imagine the layout of the place, the historic events and fighting that occurred here during the War of 1812. That was the last opportunity for Canadians to rid themselves of Americans. At least they kept them on the other side of the River.

The author has always flown down the road from the Brock Monument on his prior HAIRSHIRT rides. This is where you lose most of the elevation that you gained way back at 7 a.m. on Dundas Street and hour can get up quite a speed whizzing down the Niagara Parkway. Remember the hill? This year, the route taken is down the sidewalk to the Niagara bicycle trail and then along the trail. The trail is wonderful. It goes through a dense forest at this point. There are a number of cyclists walking up this trail. Good to see them out at it!

Soon, the author is returns to the Niagara Parkway and heads towards Niagara on The Lake. He uses the bicycle trail at times since the views of the Niagara River are often better from the trail. When on the bicycle trail, you don't have to worry about wandering into traffic when you look around you at the scenery (and tourists). If you took the trail before the Brock Monument, you had time to pause and see the official flower gardens of the Niagara Escarpment Commission, and the floral clock.

The author makes a short stop at the last washroom before Niagara on the Lake. If you know the park, there's a small washroom in a yellow brick house near the road. There's also a relatively new, large washroom near the back of the park. The author uses the latter. He tops up his water bottles. Will he stop again before Square One in Mississauga?

The route continues through Niagara on The Lake. If you get lost, just remember the basic route: at some point, you go across the north-south main street and continue until you find the bicycle trail. Turn right (north towards Lake Ontario) on the bicycle trail (Mary Street). This road soon becomes Lakeshore Road. There's a paved shoulder for a short distance. Then, for some reason or other, there isn't a paved shoulder for a few kilometers. The paved shoulder soon returns as you struggle on towards St. Catharines.

This year, there is a traffic jam near St. Catharines as a ship just travelled through the Welland Canal and the traffic was stopped when the bridge went up. The author gets through the traffic by struggling along the shoulder and using the sidewalk on the bridge over the Canal.

In St. Catharines, the author takes a short rest break and eats some more sandwiches at the Martindale Pond (St. Catharines Rowing Club's Henley Rowing Course). This is the site of a number of national and international rowing events. The water in the basin is calm in spite of the moderate breezes elsewhere. There are two "eights" practicing on this Sunday afternoon. One is obviously a group of beginning rowers; the other is practicing sprint starts.

Two cyclists speed by as the author is relaxing on a park bench. Something tells him that these two are also Hairshirt participants. They have that look. They have that determination! The author quickly closes his bags and sprints off after them. One of these two cyclists is Rick whom the author cycled with at the beginning of the 2000 Hairshirt. The author will ride with Rick and Mike all the way back to Square One.

At one point, the route map says "Left on Seventh Street Louth south over the QEW." Don't turn left; don't go over QEW yet; go straight ahead. You can follow the lake shore until interchange 55 on QEW. If you turn left, you miss views of a number of interesting homes, the lake shore, and Mississauga Square One somewhere over there across the lake! Imagine if we could fly?

At interchange 55 you need to leave Lake Ontario and go under QEW since the road along the lake shore doesn't continue after this point. You can follow the Road 24 inland to Road 81 if you want and re-join the official Hairshirt route. Our tour doesn't go this way this year. We take a more scenic route that is almost car free.

Continue on road inland until crossing railroad tracks. Turn right at next street and go to end. Turn left at end and continue travelling inland. Take next road right. This road goes through "downtown" of Jordan Station. Don't continue through downtown. Instead, turn right on a very minor road after passing 3 or 4 buildings. (A few years ago this road looked like a driveway - you had to go up a curb onto this road! The curb is no longer there.) The road goes down steeply into a valley where there's a 1 lane bridge and a campground. There's lots of marsh here and the scenery is wonderful. Continue across the bridge and back towards Lake Ontario. Be wary. There's a very steep hill coming up. On his 18 speed, the author uses gear 17 for this hill. The steep hill up takes one out of the valley. Continue straight ahead on Road 20(?). There's very little traffic. Eventually Road 20 becomes the south service road of QEW, but there's still very little traffic. Continue on through a number of stop lights until road veers left at Grimbsy and rejoins Road 81 after a couple of city blocks.

Somewhere along Road 20, our group of 3 stops at, what else, a McDonalds Drive In to use the washroom, etc. since one of our members is dogging it. Along Road 20 you pass vine lands and forests and other farm fields. This is the heart of Niagara farm country. This rural area needs to be preserved.

The route continues along Road 81 that becomes Highway 8. Eventually we convince ourselves that we're getting somewhere since we pass the Stoney Creek City Hall. Shortly after this the 2 lanes become 4. We know that our turn towards Lake Ontario is quickly approaching. The official Hairshirt route map says to take Centennial Parkway. That's rather busy and there is heavy traffic. Instead of following Centennial Parkway, turn right at Gray Road. It is a few blocks after Green Road. Green Road comes up after King Street goes off to the left. You take King Street if you want to go to the Stoney Creek Memorial, the memorial to the Battle of Stoney Creek in the War of 1812. That Battle that finally persuaded the US Army to leave Canada and go home back across the Niagara River.

Gray Road takes one to Lake Ontario where one can disappear through the fence into the Conservation Area. There's a legitimate walking gate through the fence at this point. Just inside the Conservation Area is the camping and trailer park. Follow the main road that is gravel. Every good bicycle trip has at least one stretch of gravel, eh? You can easily follow the main park road out of the Conservation Area. Instead, we take the bicycle path along the shore. It's crowded, but cool close to Lake Ontario. We have a few near misses, but no accidents. We soon return to the road along the Lake. There are crowds of people and cars for a short bit. Half of Hamilton must be here?

The route continues along Lake Ontario; the traffic lightens after the Conservation Area and adjoining city park. Eventually the route crosses the lift bridge and is in Burlington.

Somewhere in here, the author needs a short break. Rick hustles on ahead. The author follows Lakeshore Road for quite awhile. There are people cleaning up from the celebration in Oakville; there's construction near the location of the old Shell refinery; there are strikers at Petro Canada. The author's route goes inland at this point. He leaves Lakeshore Road and follows Erin Mills Parkway all the way to Burnhamthorpe Road where he turns right to Mississauga Square One. The traffic is relatively light on Erin Mills at this time on a Sunday and there's lots of room.

As the author turns onto Burnhamthorpe Road, he meets Rick. Rick had followed the official Hairshirt route and used Sixth Line to go from the Lakeshore to Burnhamthorpe. Sixth Line was very busy.

Now, just beyond the "Y" on Burnhamthorpe you turn left and search for your car on the back lot of Mississauga Square One. The author's odometer says 321 kilometers.

Suddenly you see it. There's a big crowd gathered at the FINISH LINE banner! The crowd cheers! You're a hero! You did it again! HAIRSHIRT 2001!