Out of necessity and desperate desire for a change of scenery, more and more people are embracing the idea of local travel.
I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends and neighbours about what travel means to them right now.
For my two friends, Emily Slofstra (a nurse, community organizer, cycling advocate and mom) and Josh Orita (a developer, designer and cycling enthusiast), not much has changed — they are still travelling as much as ever.
It just so happens they travel by bike.
“We both like to bike,” Slofstra explained of their obvious connection, “but I’m more of a commuter cyclist.”
In contrast, Orita started cycling for fun and fitness and a 100-kilometre ride is a good day on the bike. By the time they started riding together in September 2018, they found a happy medium.
“I don’t really like to exercise like Josh does,” Slofstra laughed, “I like to have a destination or meet up with friends to get me somewhere.”
So began their mission to bike to micro-breweries within Waterloo Region, which blended Slofstra’s destination goal and Orita’s growing interest in commuting around the cities by bike.
Their first ride was to Block Three Brewing Company in St. Jacobs. “It was the perfect distance to test my tolerance for a longer ride,” Slofstra said. From their homes in Kitchener, they were pleasantly surprised to find a route that was almost entirely on trails.
They followed up their St. Jacobs ride with trips to Innocente Brewing Company in north Waterloo, Short Finger Brewing Co. along the Iron Horse Trail, many trips to Arabella Park Beer Bar and TWB Brewing.
Over the past two years, they’ve added some longer riding destinations including Monigram Coffee in Cambridge, Paris (by way of the Cambridge-to-Paris Rail Trail), Willibald Farm Distillery & Brewery outside of Ayr and Fixed Gear Brewing Company in Guelph.
“I think Willibald was our favourite ride and destination,” Orita said. From Kitchener, it was a “nice route on quiet country roads, which felt really relaxing.”
“And the setting at Willibald is pretty peaceful too,” Slofstra added, “it really feels like you’ve made a trip somewhere unique.”
It made them both think about the potential for bike tourism in Waterloo Region.
The rides have also become a way for the pair to explore and observe cycling infrastructure in the regional townships of Wellesley, Wilmot, Woolwich and North Dumfries.
Both Slofstra and Orita are involved with Cycle WR, a citizen-led organization advocating for better, safer cycling in Waterloo Region and they hope to see cycling viewed more positively across the whole Region, not just as a city-based issue.
“We can now say we’ve cycled in every city and township in the Region,” Sloftsra said.
“But not Ayr, the town of Ayr, that’s still on the list” Orita reminded her. “Busy tomorrow?”
“What’s the weather look like?” she shot back.
While this pair has considerable experience planning routes and quick trips, they have some advice for others hoping to explore more by bike.
“Do your research before heading out,” Slofstra said.
Especially now when restaurants and breweries have different hours. It’s important to think about a route that you and your riders feel is safe and comfortable.
“Sometimes a longer route on a nicer trail is the better route because you will enjoy it more than a busy road,” Orita said.
“It’s a little more like sight-seeing.You can actually notice the scenery and maybe even see some wildlife,” Slofstra said.
This all sounds like local travel to me. Some people might say, it’s just going places, but I think it’s different — It requires advance planning, a destination, a conversation about how to get there and what you hope to get out of the adventure.
Slofstra and Orita hope others will start to take small steps toward local travel by bike. In fact, both of them are so keen to encourage others, they offered to help find routes for destinations by bike.
“It started with Cycle WR helping families find cycling routes to school this fall,” Slofstra said.
With Orita’s extensive route-finding experience and their shared knowledge of bike lanes, city trails and quiet streets, I have no doubt they can find a creative route for most destinations.
If you want to find a way to get somewhere, they invite you to contact them on Twitter: @emilyslofstra and @josh_orita.
Travel looks completely different than it did just six months ago. I think you’ll find this is a good time to explore the corners of our Region that might surprise and entertain you.