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4 tips for Toronto’s Hell of the North

One of Canada's oldest gravel races is coming up

It’s coming up soon! April 17 is is the thirteenth anniversary of the annual road/gravel race, the “Hell of the North.” The event is a 90 km race that starts in Ballantrae, Ontario and follows some of the toughest dirt and off-road sections in the greater Toronto area. There’s also the “Heck of the North” which is a slightly more civilized race at 70 km, and contains much of the same route, but without any of the nasty off-road sections. The Hell of the North deservedly earns its name not only from the gravel roads, but the infamous “trench” which is a 10 km section through a grimy, muddy “path” which often decides the race.

Ed Veal, the organize of the race, had some tips for you if this is your first time doing the Hell of the North race. For the Heck of the North race, you’re fine with your regular road bike.

1. Bike and tire choice

A ‘cross or gravel bike is a good choice, Veal says. , unless you have bigtime clearance on your road bike. You want a light file tread, though. If you go too knobby, you’ll pay for it on the road. “Remember, 70 per cent of the course is asphalt,” he adds. “Depending on the weather, it might get muddy in both spots–definitely in the trench.”

2. Gear

Veal says you definitely do not want to roll with a road pedal so you need to wear mountain bike or gravel shoes. It’s highly probable you will need to get off your bike at some point, especially in the trench. Road shoes will not be enjoyable if you have to run through any mud. Clothing wise, dress for the weather. It’s April, so clouds can move in and temperatures can change on a dime.

3. Pace yourself

Even though it’s “only” 90 km, it’s a long haul. “In 13 years, no one has won it with a long early bomb out of the group,” Veal says. The pack usually sticks together until Boag Road, which has the first gnarly farmer field, about 25 km in. Things can change fast, so you want to think of the race as a long one, so keep it steady so you don’t blow early.

4. Be prepared!

Veal says since there’s no feed zone, you want to overpack. “I’d aim for two bottles on the bike and one in your jacket pocket. Plus gels or bars.” Since it’s self sufficient, be sure to pack a tube and a pump or cartridge. The only support is if you get stranded, so be ready for anything.

To register for either the 90 km Hell of the North, or the Heck of the North, visit RealDealRacing.com