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Gravel Gran Fondo riders experience the Bruce Peninsula

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The popularity of gravel biking at Lion’s Head came to light on Sunday as the Bruce Peninsula Gravel Gran Fondo beacon returned for a third time.

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A total of 400 riders took part in the event, which sold out months ago, which took them along four routes that all started at Lion’s Head and traveled around the peninsula, including the Cabot Head Lighthouse.

“Everyone is into gravel riding,” said event organizer Mike Campbell on Sunday after the second wave of riders took off from the starting line in the port.

As usual, the event was sold out about two months ago by word of mouth only, with no advertising required.

“People love the event so much that they are coming back,” Campbell said. “There’s nothing quite like it anywhere – a shoreline ride to Cabot Head with massive waves crashing into the lighthouse, varied countryside and of course the gravel roads.”

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Campbell said they could be bigger, but they limited the number of riders on purpose.

“What we want to do is keep the small-town atmosphere here,” he said. “Our volunteers cheer for riders at every corner and applaud as they cross the finish line.”

The waves were definitely breaking on Sunday as brisk NE winds blew at around 20km/h with winds in the 40km/h range as the morning riders took off. Overnight it was strong enough to take down the Lion’s Club tent that had been set up for the event, while campers at the nearby campground spoke of their trailers shaking all night.

The distances covered on Sunday included 35 km, 55 km, 80 km and 115 km. There were special “extra kilometres” rolled out at this year’s event, where riders had the option of visiting the scenic Cape Chin Lookout on property insured by the Bruce Trail Conservancy two years ago.

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Riders ride at the start of the Bruce Peninsula lighthouse Gravel Gran Fondo on Sunday, October 2, 2022 in Lion's Head, Ontario.  A total of 400 contestants participated in this event.
Riders ride at the start of the Bruce Peninsula lighthouse Gravel Gran Fondo on Sunday, October 2, 2022 in Lion’s Head, Ontario. A total of 400 contestants participated in this event. Photo by Rob Gwan, The Sun Times

The event is not a race, though Campbell admitted that some riders like to do it quickly. While the majority of the roads go along cobbled roads with some cobbled sections, there is also a 900-meter section that follows the Bruce Trail, where cyclists are required to get off and ride their bikes. Longer tours include the 20 km of trail wedged between the waters of Georgian Bay on one side and the Niagara Escarpment on the other, leading to Cabot Head Lighthouse.

There are feeding stations along the way, but instead of offering bike race fare like gels and bars, volunteers offered goodies like butter tarts, date squares, biscuits, and crunchy rice squares. Coffee, tea and fruit were also available, while a handcrafted lunch and beer was provided in the harbor after the ride. About 100 volunteers participate in the event.

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“It’s not a race, it’s a ride, so it’s fun,” Campbell said. “It is interesting that more than 70 percent of the riders are over 50 years old.”

They came from southern Ontario to attend the event. Bev and Jay Thibert of Perry Sound participated in the first Gravel Gran Fondo on Saturday. Jay was doing the 80km trek and the 35km Biff route.

The couple were visiting friends – Peter Rasberry and Cosgei Weber – who live in Tobermory and were riding with them on Sunday.

“It’s a beautiful area and it’s a very good reason,” Bev said. “We came for the weekend. We walked yesterday, we are cycling today and they are trying to convince us to paddle tomorrow.”

Biff said it had been a while since they were on the peninsula and they were happy to be back. While the wind was chilly, the riders were well assembled for the ride.

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“I’m so glad I brought my boosters and I got my merino wool,” she said.

The event is a fundraising drive for the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, which implements a variety of environmental projects on the peninsula, from fighting invasive species to protecting streams and wetlands.

“The nice thing about the peninsula is that it’s such a small space, so you can actually make a difference in doing environmental things,” Campbell said.

One of their big projects is in the Six Streams initiative, where they work to reduce phosphorous, nitrate, E. coli, oil and other unwanted elements entering the region’s waterways. The project resulted in the installation of 71 alternative water systems, the installation of more than 17 kilometers of fencing and the restoration of the vegetated buffer zone on the banks of the rivers.

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Their other projects include Bayside Astronomy, a bioremediation project to create filters that remove phosphates and nitrates from yard waste, and educational EcoAdventures,

Last year, the Gravel Gran Fondo, which happened in the rain, raised about $40,000 and Campbell expected 2022 to raise a similar amount when the final count was in. Started in 2019, canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is the largest fundraiser each year for the association and its important projects.

More information on the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association, which has been around for about 20 years, is available at bpba.ca

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