As we set off for Heathrow, we wondered if we had picked the worst time to visit Canada. It was 26c and not a cloud in the sky as we left Berkhamsted. Canada on the other hand could be anywhere from 0c to 40c. Deciding to chance it, we stuffed my bike bag and a suitcase each into the back of my mate Craig's little Golf. Luckily it all fit! That was the first hurdle. The next one was how much the airline was going to charge for excess baggage????
Craig duly dispatched us to terminal 4 and we joined the queue with lots of tutting and rolled eyes as I dragged two suitcases and a bike bag through the obstacle course that airlines insist on setting up to hinder your progress to the check in desk. As we were waiting our turn, Steph was humming "True" by Spandau Ballet(showing her age!!!). All of a sudden, Tony Hadley walked past and shot Steph the dirtiest look! I kid you not!!
We were then called to the desk. Passports. Check. Sweaty palms in anticipation of our cheap flights turning into an expensive holiday. The bloke that was checking in was very new. Hounslow's finest. He was doing every thing by the book. I was regretting taking the full face helmet and two pairs of shoes and... They say women pack a lot of stuff. Us mountain bikers need to be prepared for any eventuality. As I put my suitcase on the scale I noticed that it was 2kg over the limit. No problem, what's a few kg amongst friends? "That will be £20 mate". Steph, seized the opportunity and ripped open the bag and grabbed the heaviest thing she could find(get your minds out of the gutter, it was only a pair of my shoes!) and stuffed them in our carry on luggage. I was very nervous now as they descended on my bike. I had to wheel it over to the over weight check in and sling it onto the scale. By myself, as they are not allowed to touch anything over 25kg in this health and safety obsessed culture. 38kg the scale read. I was half expecting a siren to go off or have people laugh and point.
Instead I had to drag it back to the desk(and asking people to get out of the way...again) and complete the check in process. Luckily I didn't have to pay anything more than the £25 bike charge.
Then I had to drag it back to the over weight check in, only to be told that it might not fit, and I had to take it downstairs to the super over sized weight check in. After quite a bit of faffing about and many disagreements with the airline rep, we were ready to go. Thankfully I have a very understanding wife!
The rest of the flight passed without much incident. Not enjoyable, but not the worst experience. Being stuck in a metal tube with 500 other people isn't really my idea of a great time. Still...think of all that epic singletrack!!!
Seven and a half hours later we touched down in beautiful....rainy, muggy Toronto. Oh well we are on holiday. At least we don't have to go to work. Luckily that was the last time it rained until the second to last day.
Drained by the long flight and humid temperature, we turned in very early. As luck would have it, one of the lodgers, David and his girlfriend Anna were avid mountain bikers. Brilliant! Somebody to show me around. David couldn't go the next morning, so Anna took me. Unfortunately we had to drive, but it was only twenty minutes. Due to jet lag, I was up at 4am ready to go! Anna was surprisingly not up at this time! I was raring to go by the time 8am rolled around. The temperature had also changed. It was 19c and it was only 7am!
The place we were headed for was The Copeland Forest.
I was assured that this would be awesome . As always when I ride with new people, I was quite nervous. Clocking Anna's XTR equipped carbon race machine upped my pulse. Is this going to be a 3hr race paced ride with me puffing and panting on my 6 inch all mountain monster! I needn't have worried.
We left the car park and immediately jumped onto some beautiful, dry twisty singletrack. This was what 6 inches of travel is for! I positively flew down the first hill. Meeting Anna at the bottom, she was obviously concerned that her guest was enjoying themselves. "This is bleeding brilliant", I sputtered. "Is it all like this?", I wondered. "No, it gets better" And so it did. We rode for a good two hours and encountered terrain that took in singletack descents, a bit of Northshore, little jumps and obstacles and rocky technical bits. And short sharp climbs. Just the way I like it! I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised.
So this is where I spent my first week riding and exploring. I was up at dawn every morning and on the trails by 7-730. Which was a wise move as it was getting up to 32c by midday. Loads of good fun.
By the end of the first week, I was eager to try something new. Steph and I had the weekend off, and went and visited some friends in Toronto. On the Monday, I fancied trying some lift assisted riding. There was a ski field about an hour away that did just that. After some slight modifications to the bike(flat peddles), I loaded my full facer and pads and set off. Upon arrival, the place looked a bit quiet. Some might say deserted. Not me though, I was on a quest. Steph found a health spa, where she was going to pamper herself, whilst her husband was acting like a fourteen year old. Or that was the plan if the bloody place wasn't closed! It turns out they only open on the weekend until 1 July. Much disappointment.
So it was back to the Copeland Forest. Which was nice. But David and Anna had a surprise for my last ride. They promised to take me to a place called Buckwallow after work. This was going to be my last day riding so it had better be good.
Buckwallow was about an hour away. On the way, it started to rain. And steadily get heavier. And heavier. By the time we arrived it was tipping down. But this was my last ride and biblical rains were not going to ruin it. Buckwallow is kind of a Canadian version of a trail centre. All the technical trails are accessed by the main fire road. Anna wasn't so keen after coming a cropper of the first trail. David and I talked her into continuing. These trails were super technical and rocky. Very hard work in the pissing down rain. We would reconvene after each section of trail to laugh and compare notes. But the problem was that you couldn't stop for more than 30 seconds as the mosquitoes where ABSOLUTELY HORRENDOUS! Due to the pissing down rain, we had the trails to ourselves. It was actually loads of fun!
Heading back to the car park, drenched but grinning like a Cheshire cat, I realised that I didn't have any dry clothes. Oh well, might as well drive home in my pants. Not the first time I have driven home virtually naked...and certainly not the last! The rain was coming down so heavily it felt like the tyre had a puncture. That would have been great trying to change a tyre on the side of the motorway in my semi nude state! Imagine trying to explain that to the Old Bill!
So that was my experience of mountain biking in Ontario. I must admit I went with quite low expectations but came away with a new respect, Canada isn't all about British Columbia and huge downhills(although that is next on the list). A big thank you to my hosts Anna and David who showed typical Canadian hospitality.
P.S The shopping was crap! I dreamt of spending my hard earned pounds on loads of bling gear. How wrong I was! Due to the week pound everything was the same price or more expensive! No XTR chainsets for me!