At the 2019 Montreal bicycle show, I happened to bump into a joint booth of Simcoe County and Sara of Humdinger Bicycle Tours. This area on Georgian Bay, north of Toronto, is totally unfamiliar territory for me and I was wondering how the cycling is in that part of Ontario. Sara suggested I should visit the region.
Visiting Humdinger Bicycle Tours
Back home, talking to my wife it turns out that we actually know Sara, the owner of Humdinger Bicycle Tours, indirectly. Sara generously offered to have us over and show us some parts of the tours she offers so we could get a good idea of the country side, the rail to trails and the quiet country roads. We stayed in the family’s beautiful mid 1800’s farm house. Normally, guests would stay in local inns.
Never let a good opportunity pass
I never let a good cycling opportunity pass so we organised our trip to Orillia around the wedding date of our oldest niece as it is about a 400 km drive from Ottawa. And so we left late August to cycle several parts of the different routes that Humdinger Bicycle Tours offers. In the next posts I will share some impressions of the wonderful three days we spent in the region around Orillia. For orientation, this is more or less the area we were visiting:
Humdinger takes care of transport
As we simply didn’t have the time to see all her tours, Sara picked and chose some parts of the several trips in the region in order for us to get a taste of what Humdinger offers. It included some driving to get to certain points. We didn’t do any of the tours as Sara offers them, but got a very nice impression of the possibilities. Sara does offer guided tours and does transport you and your luggage between places.
Georgian Bay Area with Humdinger
Despite a long hot summer, on our first day with Sara we cycled under threatening skies in cooler weather, but miraculously we kept it dry and we were able to put around 60 km in in two different places.
But not before we stopped in at bicycle friendly Em’s Cafe for a strong coffee in Coldwater, ON. Although you can reach Coldwater from Orillia via the Uhthoff trail, we skipped the 30 km trail for a stretch of her tour Sara wanted to show us further north.
Big Chute Marine Railway
Our first ride was a short 14 km stretch along the Trent Severn Waterway on Highway 17 (the 17 from Coldwater to Big Chute), starting at Severn Falls with its little cluster of buildings and then west past the Big Chute Marine Railway on a very calm road towards Highway 400. The Big Chute Marine Railway has been in operation since 1917 as a temporary system to lift boats to the next lake until the locks would be built, but -long story short -the locks were never built. The system submerges on one end, boats sail in, the carriage lifts the boats out of the water and the entire system is pulled by metal cable to a higher level where it submerges again in the lake so that the boats can sail out. The current carriage was opened to the public in the mid 1970’s.
It is trees on the Canadian Shield everywhere and here and there you’ll get a glimpse of the Trent – Severn Waterway. The road is mostly in perfect condition and it has a bit of a shoulder. Minutes go by without a car passing and if a driver passes, they leave meters between you and their car. The road is rolling with a bit of climbing but not for long.
Although I am not fond of cycling on roads with 80 kph posted, this was quite doable. Just to be sure though, Sara has a radar on her bike that flashes and beeps if a car approaches from behind.
Rail to Trail
The second leg of our day was a 22 km rail to trail from Waubaushene to Midland along the southern part of Severn Sound called the Tay trail. The paved trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail (aka The Great Trail) and the 160 km Simcoe County Loop Trail. It is well maintained, passes homes and cottages, parks and wetlands and eventually ends in the outskirts of Midland, a town that thrived in the 1800’s based on lumber and grain shipping.
Coffee and lunch
There are several places to stop for lunch in Midland. Right across the harbour on Bay street is Grounded Coffee, a great buzzing coffee place and further up in the downtown core on 290 King St is an independent food place called ‘Ciboulette et Cie‘, serving a number of craft beers. Check their opening times though as they change in the fall.
Sainte Marie among the Hurons
The multi day Humdinger tour would continue to Wasaga Beach and Collingwood, but we turned around and biked the same 22 km back to the car. Famous -although I had never heard of it- ‘Sainte Marie among the Hurons’ Ontario Huronia Historic Park is close to Midland. We didn’t stop here, but it might be worth a visit: it is a reproduction of the original French Jesuit settlement from 1629-1639 until they had to leave during the Huron-Iroquois wars. One has to be pretty determined to go into foreign lands crossing dense forests to convert people.