Tuesday 22 August 2023

Monarch of the Mountains: August 21, 2023

When I was at the Tour de Whitewater, I saw a brochure for a series of organized rides starting in Eganville, Ontario, in August.  The Tour de Bonnechere offered rides of 20 and 65 kms on the road, with another one of 60 kms on gravel but what interested me was the 100 Km "Monarch of the Mountains," which I overheard someone say was a very hard ride.

Looking up the course online, I did in fact see a reference to it being one of the most challenging rides in Ontario but I also found a GPS course of the route, which I was able to download.  With my experience of the Tour de Whitewater, I was not sure that I would want to pay again to ride by myself.  Admittedly, that ride had included lunch and two rest stops with drinks and snacks, but as I often do 100 km rides with some good climbing getting to and from Gatineau Park self-supported, I decided to do the route that way.

I sent a copy of the map and directions to Alec, my neighbour who does triathlons, and asked him if he wanted to join me. He would be available on Monday, August 21, when the weather looked promising, as he had taken the day off for other reasons.  He said we could go with his SUV, making handling the bikes easy, and I said I would be happy to buy him a meal in Eganville after the ride so all was good.  There are a few advantages besides saving the registration fee in that you can ride when the weather is most suitable and start the ride whenever you want.  Alec pointed out that he was not an early riser and with a 90 minute drive to Eganville leaving at 8 am would be fine.  An organized ride would also have a much earlier start time as I found at the Tour de Whitewater, which was a negative, but an event also has refreshment stops and as we discovered on this ride there is basically nothing en route.

I had checked a map of Eganville and found that there was a community arena, so hopefully we could use the showers there after the ride.  It turned out we couldn't but while we were able to park in the arena lot we saw it was right beside a small beach and there was a building for changing and outdoor showers so that would work.

The directions for the ride are quite straightforward as it is a big figure 8 and there just are not a lot of roads here.  We followed County Road 512 southwest for just over 20 kms.  The road was fairly quiet but there was some construction along the way and it was a relief to get past that.  Then we came to the Foymount Hill, which I experienced years ago during a randonneur ride and I recall as being quite hard.  It definitely is, climbing around 185 m in 2.2 kms, with maximum grade of 14%.The hamlet was once a listening post in the NORAD Pinetree Line during the Cold War but the base was decommissioned in 1972. There was a nice wide shoulder to ride on so traffic was not an issue but it was a slow grind.  My gears were a bit of a limiting factor but not as much as my weight as Alec is 15 kgs lighter so he flew up the climb.  Well, he was faster than me, anyway!

Reaching Foymount my GPS kept us on the course but in the wrong direction as we should have turned right onto Opeongo Road West but instead continued straight through on 512 until we reached County Road 66.  There was an absolutely marvelous descent on freshly-paved tarmac, which was such a pleasure that in the end we did not care we were going the wrong way around the loop.

There were plenty of up-and-down bits but the scenery was beautiful as we rode through the heavily forested countryside, with the odd farm and summer cottage and skirting along the edges of some lakes.  Turning onto Letterkenny Road (all the names in the area reflect Irish Catholic settlement), we discovered why this ride was considered one of the hardest in Ontario as there were some brutal (albeit short) climbs to deal with as we continued along this segment for 18 kms.

We reached the hamlet of Quadeville, which was the only settlement after Foymount, and reputed once to be close to the summer home of gangster Al Capone, which was very unlikely but is clearly something of a local legend.  We turned onto County Road 515, rolling northwards for 17 kms and reaching Foymount again.  Back on course, there were a few dips and climbs as we followed Opeongo Road West, which took us to McGrath Road after 13 kms.  This was a lot easier to ride as the road was flatter and descending and I felt quite invigorated and was able to push the pace a bit.  12 kms further and then we turned onto Highway 41N, which was the road we had driven in on, and this brought us soon back to Eganville, although this 4 kms was not very pleasant given the amount of traffic.

Back in Eganville we showered at the beach (cold water only but it was a warm day) and got changed. I had packed some cold water and that was good to have after the ride.  Then we had a very pleasant lunch at the Rio Tap & Grill, sitting outside and overlooking the Bonnechere River, before heading back to Ottawa.

The GPS course I had downloaded showed that we would be climbing 1100 m on the route and even though we did part of it backwards I was still astonished that in our 105 kms of riding we had actually seen nearly 1700 m of altitude gain.  But it was a great day out, with riding time of just over 4 1/4 hours and an average of 25 km/h.