The 2023 Log Driver’s Waltz Grand Depart – Exploring the many ways one can love adventure riding

By: Jen Adams

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese – Sonnet 43

The Log Driver’s Waltz (LDW) is an 805 kilometre (500 mile) bikepacking route through the Ottawa Valley and Outaouais regions of Ontario and Quebec, Canada. Starting and finishing in the rural town of Almonte, its mixed surface roads, trails and farm tracks entail 9,000 metres (29,500 feet) of elevation. I co-developed the route with my partner Eric Betteridge in part to be a challenging training route for the Tour Divide. In response to requests for a shorter, more accessible option, we published the 380 km (234 mi) LDW Half/Demi in 2023. To my surprise, on the second Annual Grand Depart of the Log Driver’s Waltz (LDW) in July 2023, and my fifth time to set out on the LDW, the Half/Demi would be the choice for me. In the end, approaching the route as a relaxed solo tour would result in many new experiences and rich encounters with other bikepackers as well as people along the route. 

Photo by @yipstar1 – Jen Adams and Joe Moore 2023 LDW Grand Depart

A message my partner and I emphasize about the LDW is that it is up to each individual to approach their ride in a way that will give them the greatest pleasure. After all, pleasure, joy, and fun is what it is all about. In the past, I rode the full LDW route in three and a half days, solo, as fast as I could ride. I also toured the route with friends over seven days. Three years ago, Eric and I integrated the LDW into a 1,400 km (870 mi) route as training for the Tour Divide. Now, given that I was scheduled for surgery for a new hip in the fall and covering distances over 100km (60 mi) in a day was getting to be uncomfortable, I planned a four-day tour of our newly published Half/Demi.

On the eve of the LDW Grand Depart, with our rigs and kit dialed, Eric and I loaded our bikes and drove from Ottawa to the edge of Mount Packenham to meet some of the Grand Depart riders over beers and BBQ at Cartwright Springs. Weather alerts on our phones early in the evening did not translate into rain immediately and we were all able to enjoy André’s great pulled pork, veggie pizza and fresh cut fries and socialize outside before the skies turned truly dark. Visiting with a few dozen of the people who would soon be riding our route was tremendously gratifying. Knowing that these people were all here because of something we had created was very exciting.

Jen’s rig ‘Daisy’ and logs harvested in the Ottawa Valley

True to the bikepacking community at its best, Eric and I were hosted in Almonte by Bev and Luc, a couple whom we met at the LDW Spring Rally. Avid cyclists themselves, they set us up in their workshop to assemble and load our bikes and welcomed us into their home for a good night’s sleep. 

Equator Coffee opened its doors at 6:30 for the Grand Depart and it was thrilling to see the bike racks swell to overflowing with bikepacking rigs. As the chatter over coffee grew, I could barely contain my excitement seeing so many new and returning “waltzers” converge on Equator to start their bikepacking adventure. Rolling to the line with 60+ riders, more than twice as many as the previous year, added to the excitement of day one.

Photo by @yipstar1 – Bikepacking rigs 2023 LDW Grand Depart

There are never enough minutes before departure time, but Eric and I did manage to corral people in the parking lot with their bikes for a few words of gratitude and a group photo taken by our friend @yipstar1. It was a great pleasure “waltzing” with dozens of bikepack adventurers from the Old Town Hall down Ottawa Street and out of town to the country roads. A bit past the highway crossing we peeled off to let the “pointy end” folks rev up to their cruising speed and everyone else settle into their own happy pace. 

Photo credit @yipstar1 – LDW Grand Depart group cheer

The first few hours of riding were delightfully social. I had the chance to pedal along briefly and chat with many different riders, learning what brought them here. I got a chuckle riding behind someone who was happily singing as they deeked around rocks and mud puddles. 

We were extremely fortunate to have hours of dry riding before the forecasted rain began to fall, first light enough not to put a jacket on, then heavy enough to try out my new rain shorts. In an effort to save weight, I was carrying a cut-off pair of rain pants for this summer ride to keep the grit off my riding shorts and give me enough warmth to get by. Wet or dry, the ups and downs and twists and turns of the California and Darling roads never disappoint! I rolled into the once thriving village of Lanark at lunchtime wet, but warm from riding and happy with my setup. 

Photo by @yipstart1 – 2023 LDW Grand Depart – Eric Betteridge route co-founder on his way with others

I passed the store as I had lots of food in my bag and opted to use the facilities in the library and to eat my lunch in the entrance way. I could see other riders sitting in for a hot meal at the restaurant across the street. While the dark skies slowly brightened, I began to dry out. It was a pleasure riding the route at a pace that gave me time to enjoy an unhurried break. 

I left Lanark still damp and a bit chilled but warmed up quickly after a couple of steep climbs. Before long, I found myself cruising along the Bathurst Line enjoying the winding narrow forest track and carefully negotiating the rocky, rough sections. This famed stretch of the LDW seems shorter every time I ride it and it certainly seemed in better shape than years past. Turning south onto Kingston Line I settled into my aero bars on its more predictable gravelled surface.

In no great hurry, I stopped to take photos of an antique tractor. I perused the collection of historic farm equipment that tells the story of an era where one would not likely have the leisure to ride these back roads for the pure joy of it. 

Jen at the Lanark tractor

I never tire of riding through the Lanark Highlands on beautiful maple forest roads with their non-stop rolling hills and seemingly endless split rail fences. Zealand Road is one of these roads and a delightful way to finish off my 130 kilometre (80 mile) day. 

It felt strange to be ending my ride with plenty of daylight left and my legs feeling strong, but I knew it was wise to not push further and risk further inflaming my hip. Taking advantage of being in the village of Sharbot Lake early, I dropped in to say hello at Rock Hill Bed and Breakfast, which regularly hosts LDW riders. Over the years we have had wonderful stays and conversations with the owners, Greg and Arlette, who are very supportive of bikepackers. As we were chatting in the kitchen, I had to chuckle when I heard the familiar voice of my friend and LDW rider Emily Lafleche, inquiring as to whether there was room in the inn. Fortunately for her the motel down the road was not full!

After visiting, I rode to the grocery store to buy dinner and food enough to fuel me for the next 150 km (93 mi) leg to Calabogie, the longest stretch on the route between resupplies. As I expected, half a dozen bikepacking rigs were parked outside Mike Dean’s Grocery. Riders chatted as they filled water bottles and stuffed food into bike bags. Some were pushing on while others were planning to camp close by. For some, this would be the end of their LDW ride for this year, having found the demands of the route beyond their expectations. I revelled in the chance to talk with “waltzers”, hear about their experiences of the Grand Depart and the route, and to check out their rigs. 

It was most pleasant to head down to the lakeside in the late-day sun with my deli salad and sandwich supper in hand. I shared a picnic table with fellow LDW Half/Demi rider Liam O’Brien who I’d met and chatted with many times over the day as we leap-frogged each other. We shared stories of the day while “Funnest Known Time” riders Jonathan B. Roy and Benoit Simard laughed and splashed nearby. 

“Funniest Known Time” riders, Johnathan B. Roy and Benoit Simard

Well satisfied by my meal though not yet ready to secure my camp spot, I returned to the centre of town to look for public WiFi and an accessible electrical outlet so I could dot watch as I  recharged my GPS unit. I was in luck, the local employment centre had WiFi at the picnic table outside. Even better, it had a tap on the side of the building that was perfect for rinsing the mud off my bike! 

As stealth bikepacking camping spots in small towns go, a pretty sure bet is the local school, and the high school in Sharbot Lake was a winner for me. There wasn’t a soul around the athletic track behind the school and there was even a port-a-potty. This was indeed my perfect bivy spot for a peaceful and very restful night.

It was misty on Sunday morning when I crawled out of my bivy. Mosquitoes were hungry after the rain, so I did not linger over packing up or eating. Riding in the early morning is one of my favourite times on a bikepacking trip. Passing through the marshes on the K&P rail trail in the morning light was breathtakingly beautiful. The punchy climbs of Over the Hills Road were relatively easy with fresh morning legs. Last year, these same hills with my legs tiring as the afternoon of day one wore on had taken much more effort. Ever mindful of my hip, I took care to use low gears to ease the strain.

Before long, I met Liam again as our travelling plans and speed were once again similar. We chatted at times but generally went at our own pace. At Clarendon Station B&B, we both stopped to fill our water bottles at the tap provided by these generous trail angels.  We marvelled at the fine work done to bring the old station into a new life.

Ten minutes later, we encountered a section of rail trail flooded this year by beaver activity and heavy rains. I took my socks off but put my shoes back on to walk along the edge of the deep rutted tracks keeping my bottom bracket out of the water. Liam donned the water shoes he had packed especially for this section of trail. The much anticipated soggy walk was soon over, and with dry socks to put back on, my feet dried quickly leaving me with no worries of developing trench foot as I had the previous year.

Photo by Michael Roe – 2023 LDW early morning rider

As my stomach started yelling for lunch, it was perfect timing for Sylvania Lodge to appear.  A short detour off the route, the lodge is a favourite with LDW riders. I had the pleasure of sitting down for a meal with Liam, Emily, and Carl Presseault. Serving staff were extremely friendly and quite familiar with the LDW thanks to earlier “waltzers” leaving the calling cards we had given them to pass out at services along the route. They had obviously left good impressions as our server said “we love cyclists!”. She welcomed us to plug in our devices and brought endless ice water and good food. 

Riding through the Purdon Conservation Area and up the Arcol Road later in the afternoon was beautiful! With a campsite booked, I felt relaxed knowing the rollers and stiff climbs on these gravel roads would be followed by a glorious swim. I had mentioned Hungry Lake to a few other riders and with luck would share camp with other bikepackers. At the end of the day, the distance was comfortable and the site, the swim, and the company for camping were wonderful. It was fun to compare our respective shelters of a tent, hammock, and bivy. Going to sleep under big red pines beside a peaceful lake was bikepacking bliss.  

With no need for an alarm, I woke up on Monday morning to the gentle sounds of the forest. On the far end of the campsite, Emily was in her final stages of packing up from her very first solo night out. Her plan was to get to Shawville, on the Quebec side of the LDW, and she was very excited about the day of riding ahead of her. Liam, cocooned in his hammock, was in no rush to get up, enjoying the rest and peace of his hanging bed deep in the woods. One by one, we set out on the Arcol Road with Calabogie a morning’s ride away. 

Emily Lafleche packing up after first solo overnight

The most remote section of the route is through the North Frontenac Parklands. Here too is some of the most rugged and spectacular riding the LDW has on offer. With the benefit of a good sleep, I delighted in the climb up to one of the highest points of elevation on the route. I stopped to savour the view of the Madawaska Valley that opens up along the hydro cut before dropping quickly down to the valley bottom on the winding forest road. Tatty Hill is a real kicker that arrives just when you think you are done climbing. The reward is the view across the Ottawa Valley before you rocket down the other side. Calabogie soon came into view across the lake. Time was right for my second breakfast, which I found in the cooler of Stinson Gas just before crossing the highway.

My plan for riding the Half/Demi was to ride daily distances that were not overly taxing for my hip. I arrived in Renfrew at two o’clock in the afternoon, and though I had initially considered this as a camping spot, it felt too early to stop for the day. Changing my plan, I decided to have a coffee and then push on. If I felt good, I knew that completing the 60 or so kilometre (40 mile) stretch to Almonte was feasible. Making my way through the ongoing road construction near the bridge, I took the time to go by my grandparent’s house and Renfrew Collegiate Institute where my grandfather once taught biology. Out on Main Street, I knew I would find good coffee at Ottawa Valley Coffee. Just as I was putting my bike by the front window, a friendly local fellow was heading in for coffee and stopped to chat with me. He was curious when I told him about the LDW and gave him a calling card. He insisted on buying me coffee and my breakfast sandwich as well. He introduced me to just about everyone in the cafe. We hoped in providing the LDW calling cards to riders that greater connections would be formed with the community. In Renfrew, I had the pleasure of experiencing one such connection. I left well nourished and with a very full heart.

Jen Adams at home her grandparents once lived in Renfrew.

In true LDW tradition, my ride ended at the James Naismith statue in Almonte but the adventure was far from over. What a bonus to finish my tour in time to see many of the riders on the “pointy end” arrive and to take in the smiles and tears that completing 800 km (500 miles) of bikepacking or the Half/Demi can bring. 

Jen’s finish at the James Naismith statue

Eric Moissan finished while I was having coffee in Renfrew but other top finishers, Spencer Gough and Adin Menard, had showered and changed into street clothes before coming back to the statue to cheer others as they arrived. Stories simply poured out at the statue. Spencer and Adin talked of the back and forth they had as they battled it out on single speeds and the excitement of having so many fast bikepackers push their limits together. A collection of images is etched in my memory. A beaming Montreal mountain biker Felix Laberge making connections with riders from his hometown. Ben Hamilton telling the story of the mobile bike mechanic service he managed to find when he had a major mechanical issue at km 0. Liam O’Brien absolutely grinning with pleasure having completed his first bikepacking adventure. Chris Rennie marvelling at both the beauty and the challenge of the route and the strong field that kept the fire in his legs to the end. Tiago Varella-Cid, preferring to be a ghost rider, taking on the role of social director. 

Jen Adams at the James Naismith statue with earlier LDW finishers Adin Menard, Spencer Gough, and Felix Laberge

One of my greatest joys in bikepacking is connecting with other women similarly captivated by this niche sport. In 2022, I enjoyed the friendly competition with Marie-Pierre Savard as she set a new women’s FKT. In June, I was in total awe watching Meaghan Hackinen’s dot waltz around the LDW to a blistering new overall FKT. Here in Almonte, I was at the statue in time to see Christina Vietinghoff roll in very much part of the leading bunch. She moved from tears to laughter and back again as she processed the extraordinary ride she had accomplished. 

2023 Women’s FKT Christina Vietinghoff being congratulated in Almonte.

As “waltzers” continued to roll in, Tiago made the very welcome suggestion that gathered finishers and fans make the short move from the statue to a nearby pub to get some much needed food. Going through the stone archway just to the right of  the statue, we found the Barley Mow Pub, an ideal spot for food and celebration. We kept an eye on Dot Watchers, and when a dot was close we dashed out to cheer them in and take their picture with their bike and James Naismith. We’d then bring them through to the pub to join the celebration. Dominique Laliberté, Pierre Sureau, and finally Corentin Sainmont rolled in that evening. Despite the kitchen staff wanting to close,Tiago somehow persuaded them to keep calories coming. Gradually we filled some very empty tanks and of course, the servers kept our glasses full. Two and a half days after leaving Almonte, there were about a dozen exhausted, exhilarated and euphoric riders sitting, laughing and sharing stories. The shared challenges of the Grand Depart created the basis for strong and lasting connections.  

2023 LDW Men’s Single Speed FKT Daniel Jordan (centre) with other finishers Mikey Intrabartola and Dominique Laliberte.

With night well upon us, it was time to get some rest. Bills were paid, last hugs shared, and off we went on our separate ways. I was in the lovely position of having trail angels Bev and Luc’s welcoming bed to return to. 

It was strange to wake up on Tuesday morning in a cozy bed with the sounds of coffee being made and people chatting. Upstairs was a scene you’d expect to find in a B&B promo publication; happy guests relaxing in comfy chairs and hosts readily serving up endless cups of coffee and special breakfast sandwiches. Bev and Luc had opened their home to several other bikepackers as well. It turns out Bev and Luc were former B&B owners and well practised in hospitality. Between Dominique, Adin, and Spencer, we got a detailed account of how they had ridden hard, rested little, chatted with each other at resupply stops and sometimes along the route, and pushed themselves as hard as they could to end up back in Almonte. There is nothing quite like the intense processing that occurs the morning after completing an ultra endurance effort and I felt tremendously privileged to be privy to some of the outpouring of gratitude, joy and satisfaction. My ride, though not by any stretch an ultra endurance one, provided me with ample feelings of the same, just without those that come with digging to the bottom of reserves.

After many wonderful breakfast pockets and morning beverages, Adin and Spencer turned their attention to the long roads home that lay ahead of them. Dominique was planning on hanging out in Almonte for the arrival of her partner expected later that day, and I had a good part of the day to wait for Eric’s arrival. 

Later in the day on Tuesday, elated with seeing many happy people celebrate completion of their big adventures and thrilled to see Eric better his personal best yet again, I happily drove home hearing a few of Eric’s stories and sharing some of mine. Over the next five days, I was able to dash out from home to ring cowbells for many more “waltzers” as they rode through Ottawa on their final approach to Almonte. Perhaps the highlight of my 2023 cheering was getting to meet lantern rouge riders Michael Roe and Ben Glossop. Michael, 71 years old and an experienced bikepacker met novice bikepacker Ben on the first day. Over the next eight days the two of them formed a strong friendship as they rode the route together. 

2023 LDW Lantern Rouge riders Ben Glossop and Michael Roe (Michael Roe, left, is also the oldest rider to complete the St Lawrence Triple Crown Challenge.

My experience of the 2023 LDW Grand Depart was far from the “ultra” I had chosen to do in 2022. Though I missed that extraordinary feeling of total exhaustion and deep satisfaction from pushing my limits, 2023 was enormously rewarding and satisfying in different ways. As always, I enjoyed the tremendous feeling of freedom of riding my bike set up for self sufficiency. However, with a relaxed approach, I had more time to savour the familiar hills, tracks and villages of the LDW and to connect with bikepackers and residents. I certainly loved getting into a rhythm, feeling the kilometres slip by. I delighted in how my legs could carry me through such beautiful country. Though not covering as much distance, I still got hungry and enjoyed every bite of food and meal shared with fellow “waltzers”. The clear green water of Hungry Lake was heaven to swim in, a luxury not taken on faster rides. I took my time in the rural communities on the Half/Demi and drank my fill of the cool fresh spring at Cartwright’s. And beyond my ride, the many connections with riders along the way, at the statue, and in the Experimental Farm days after my tour will stay with me as highlights of my 2023 LDW. Through my own experience and hearing other’s stories, I have a far better understanding that the ways one can love such adventure cannot in fact, be counted.

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I’d like to thank the team at The Town Bicycle for providing a platform to share this story, all the Log Driver’s Waltzers who make the Grand Depart so darn fun, and my partner Eric, who keeps encouraging the caller. 

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2 responses to “The 2023 Log Driver’s Waltz Grand Depart – Exploring the many ways one can love adventure riding”

  1. Today, I went to the beach with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year
    old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.
    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is completely off topic but I had to tell someone!

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