Ottawa-based travel blogger, Laura Paquet, spent an afternoon exploring Grand River country by tandem bike and kayak on a guided tour with Grand River Rafting Company. If reading about the fun she and her sister had on this trip leaves you feeling a little envious, it’s not too late to book a fall kayaking trip on the Grand.
PADDLING AND CYCLING ON THE GRAND RIVER NEAR PARIS, ONTARIO
LAURA – My sister Carol and I burst out laughing when a staffer from the Grand River Rafting Company proudly showed us our transport for the morning: a bicycle built for two.
I had blithely signed us up for the company’s Pedal & Paddle itinerary, not realizing that it had been years since Carol had been on a bike. The route includes an 11-kilometre bike ride on the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail beside the Grand River, about an hour west of Toronto, followed by a kayak trip back down the river to the starting point.
It would have been a cinch on two bikes—it’s really true that you never forget how to ride—but the tandem contraption was another story altogether.
When they saw our faces, staffers quickly offered to supply other wheels, but we chose not to shrink from the challenge. Since I’m the more experienced cyclist, we decided I’d take the front seat. A quick practice spin around a parking lot had us in more gales of laughter, but we managed to remain upright most of the time. Full of confidence, we set off to get fitted for life jackets and kayak paddles.
One of the many lovely things about doing a guided trip with an outfitter like Grand River Rafting was that we didn’t have to do things like hoist the kayaks on top of our car, wrestle bikes into a vehicle rack or even pack a lunch. A bevvy of keen young things took care of the heavy lifting, and in this case Five Oaks Retreat provided a packed lunch. All we had to do was show up and have fun. Which we did.
A great part of the fun was soaking up local facts from our guide, Cliff McArdle. Self-taught in all things historical and botanical, he was a wealth of knowledge about the plants along the trail—all of which, it seemed, could be made into medicinal teas. One of the first and handiest plants he pointed out was burdock, which is good for easing the itch of bug bites. “It beats any store-bought stuff, and it grows everywhere,” he explained.
We found out that fuzzy sumac berries are full of vitamin C and that plantain leaves make handy bandages, and learned to identify yarrow and poison ivy. For someone like me, who can barely distinguish a maple from a magnolia, it was fascinating stuff.
The car-free, gravel-surfaced bike trail was a great place for us to polish our tandem-cycling skills. By the end of the 11-kilometre trip, after a few ill-advised braking incidents, we were riding with practised ease.
In a park in the small community of Glen Morris, we traded our bikes for kayaks (the Grand River Rafting folks had driven the kayaks up from Paris) and packed our gear and lunches into dry bags. Even though Carol and I had both kayaked before—Carol much more than I—Cliff gave us a quick but thorough talk about paddling and safety basics before we clambered into the watercraft. We used the company’s kayaks, but you can also bring your own, if you prefer.
I was very glad that Cliff had talked us through the basics of navigating Class I river rapids, which was a new skill for me (in general, I’m a lake and pond type of paddler). That section of the Grand has lots of those quite safe little rapids, which still would have thrown me if I hadn’t been prepared for them. Cliff seemed to know every rock and bend in that section of the river, and we really appreciated his guidance around potential obstacles.
We had debated the merits of doing this trip on our own or with a guide, and I’m glad we went for the guided option. As well as telling us about plants and rapids, and pointing out wildlife (we briefly glimpsed a mink), Cliff also regaled us with tales of the river’s history. Without him, we wouldn’t have known that the Three Sisters, a landmark group of stone pillars, once supported the tracks of the Grand Trunk Railway. The bridge was, sadly, the scene of several dramatic accidents before the tracks were dismantled in the 1940s.
We stopped for a quick hike along the shore at one point, and pulled up the kayaks later on a pretty island to devour our packed lunches. Mine included a whole wheat turkey-and-Swiss-cheese sub, fresh fruit, a big chocolate chip cookie and juice. Through Grand River Rafting, we’d pre-ordered our lunches from Five Oaks Retreat. After all that exercise, I ate every last crumb.
As the afternoon waned, my energy did flag a bit. But around 4:30pm, about six hours after we’d set out, we pulled up to the Grand River Rafting dock at the foot of a steep hill in Paris. Eyeing that incline, I was even more grateful for the cluster of keen young things who materialized around our kayaks, quickly gathered up our gear and spirited it away.
All we had to do was toddle off to our room at the charming Arlington Hotel and shower. Then we meandered down the road for a refreshing beverage at the rooftop bar at Stillwaters restaurant, overlooking the river we had just paddled, before heading back to the Arlington for a lovely, leisurely dinner on the patio.
All in all, it was a great day…and no burdock or plantain remedies were required.
If you go
Paris is about 560 kilometres from downtown Ottawa. The Grand River Rafting Company offers a wide range of rafting, kayaking, canoeing, fishing and cycling packages between May and November. (Our Pedal & Paddle itinerary is offered from May to October.)