My Gran Fondo Experience

By Mark Kirton

Do you like riding your bike? Do you like riding it far? How about 10, 30, 70, 85, or 110 km? What if by riding it, you’re pursuing a goal with a group of like-minded people and helping to build your community at the same time? The Saugeen Memorial Hospital Foundation’s premier fundraising event, Lake Huron Gran Fondo, is a bike ride that checks all of these boxes.

When my family and I moved from Peterborough to Port Elgin, the idea of gravel and road cycling was not an activity that I thought of fondly. Although I knew that Buce County was vast and patterned with long gravel roads, the kind that were presumably good for gravel biking, so I thought “When in Rome!” I bought my first gravel bike literally on the drive to our new home. The car was packed to the roof with last minute items left over by the moving van, but I found a way to fit my new-to-me bike inside. After all, it was important that the bike made the trip because in addition to the local terrain, a small group of seemingly hardcore cyclist colleagues at Westinghouse had told me about the Gran Fondo charity ride, which was hosted in August. If I was going to live locally I may as well participate!

Gravel riding was going to be somewhat of an experiment for me. I had always gravitated toward trail and mountain biking; road and gravel biking just didn’t sound as fun – and the routes were long! The length of some Gran Fondo routes were enough to make me feel anxious. In an effort to prepare I started with five km rides around our new house, exploring the trails and scenic shoreline roads. Slowly I progressed to longer rides, but I never tested my ability to ride beyond about 25km before I found myself in my first 110 km Gran Fondo ride two months after arriving in Port Elgin. Not only did I survive the journey, I enjoyed it! In fact, two years later gravel riding has become a big part of my life and I look forward to the Lake Huron Gran Fondo year-round. Even my family has joined in on the event, with my oldest daughter participating in the kids ride last year, and now my wife, both young daughters, and my father-in-law planning to take part this August.

Beyond my own adoption and love for the charity ride, not to mention pride in my ability to participate, the small group of seemingly hardcore cyclist colleagues expanded to the point that the Westinghouse team comprised over 25 cyclists in 2023, represented in all five routes and winning an award for the youngest rider in the entire event of over 700 participants. We were made up of a diverse group of people with a wide range of cycling experience and route length preferences. For me and the team at Westinghouse, the Gran Fondo ride is an opportunity for team building and comradery. It’s a fun event that gets talked about around the office all year and contributes to our culture of winning as a team.

The ride is exactly that … it’s a ride, it’s not a race. It may feel like a world championship, and believe me I felt like a champion as I crossed the finish line, but we ride together in groups and nobody gets left behind. We can’t wait to convene in Southampton to do it all over again this year on August 17th!