Since Christmas, Michael and I have been amassing gear, gear and more gear. It's really quite amazing, the amount of stuff we've collected (and the money we've spent!). But we needed an opportunity to test it all out. Should the spork be stored in the panniers or the handlebar bag? Does it work to put a backpack on the rack too, or does that make the rear too heavy? Are you going to wear underwear with your bike shorts or just go free? Some interesting questions to consider.
For our test trip, we decided to bike from Kichener back to Burlington on a rail trail. I found this trail through a simple Google map search with "bicycling" as the location search term. We started in a small park across from Freeport Hospital called Schneider Park, which is right on the riverfront. From the parking lot, you can take the trail under the bridge in order to circle around to the walkway that will take you across the bridge. Then, with the river on your right hand side, traveling downstream, you can begin following the Grand River Trail.
There is apparently a sign that states Rough Trail 2km. I missed it, but my brother says he saw it. It's nice of the Region of Kitchener-Waterloo to give you some warning. It'd be nicer still if they maintained their trail. Exposed, softball-sized rocks, mud, and long stretches where the trail had become one with the river- not a good time on a touring bike loaded down with camping gear. The golf course that runs alongside the trail has numerous no trespassing signs, and you can see why cyclists would view it as the better option. Unless you want a real off-road experience and you have a mountain bike, this section of trail is to be missed.
As soon as you cross into Cambridge, the trail improves drastically. The area called Pioneer Tower boasts crushed gravel, but it is still rather loose. I would suggest starting just past that point, where the trail takes you on a footbridge across the river. From that point onward, we experienced excellent riding conditions, and some lovely views of the river.
If you're looking for places to stop to rest along the way, I would suggest the town of Blair, where there is a wine bar, and Langdon Hall. The town of Cambridge is also a good stop, larger than Blair and with more options. The trail takes you right through the downtown, past restaurants with patio seating, and plenty of picnic spots in the ruins of old mills beside the river. Every August long weekend, they host the Mill Race Folk Festival. Also be on the lookout for Paris, Ontario. The sign directing you off the trail and into the downtown is small, but it is well worth the detour, and easy to find. Just head down hill and across the river. Little shops and cafes- get ready to be charmed!
As you approach Brantford, prepare yourself and your group for the possibility of becoming lost. Practice expressing your feelings in a constructive manner, or do deep breathing exercises to stave off the mounting frustration. I have cycled through Brantford three times now, on three different routes, and each time I have gotten lost. The Town of Brantford has helpfully installed kiosks with bike maps (without these, the task would be completely hopeless), but there are lots of trails criss-crossing Brantford, and they sometimes end at major intersections with no on-road indications of where they might continue, or split without any explanation. Find a local and ask. It will save you much time and frustration.
You could, at this point, continue following the river south, to Lake Erie. The trail will take you the whole way there. Or, like us, you could head to Hamilton, on another rail trail through forest and farmers' fields.