Ride report from Bob Koen aka BC Bob:
The Granite Anvil 1200 km brevet is all about exploring rural Ontario. It starts on the eastern outskirts of the big cities and manages to circle all the way around the Toronto area without ever getting into any densely populated areas. All of the first afternoon is spent riding through the farming country in the western part of southern Ontario. This area represents what I used to think most of Ontario looked like. Huge expanses of corn fields and not much else. Flat as a pancake. Except that the flatness is deceptive, it isn’t really flat in the area that we rode through. There were lots of shallow rollers that gradually gained altitude. By my altimeter the high point of the ride was in a corn field north of Grand Valley. In the evening we did a long descent out of the corn into the Beaver Valley and then a long climb out of there and got a fine view of Georgian Bay before we descended past the Blue Mountain ski area. Then we went through Wasaga Beach and finished the day at Midland
The day started well enough for me. After the usual sprint start (that I no longer even bother to attempt to hang onto) I settled in with a group that was going at a brisk but manageable pace. I didn’t know any of the riders in the group at this point. The organizers had us put frame plates on our bikes which had our names on them. What a great idea! I was just getting to know the names of some of the people when I had to drop out for a second to check a strange noise coming from my bike. It turned out to be a failed rear tire. The tread had separated from the sidewall in one area and there was a bulge where the tube was trying to poke through the casing. I put on my spare tire and continued on but now I was last on the road. I caught a few stragglers over the next couple of hours to the first control, but none of these were travelling at a compatible pace so I soldiered on alone. The group that I had cycled with earlier was already gone by the time that I got into the control, so I had a quick bite and headed out. Soon I had some company in the person of Peter from England. We had a good chat over the next couple of hours but he would neither pull nor draft, so sharing the workload wasn’t going to work in this case. By now the forecast winds had sprung up and we were struggling into a stiff headwind all afternoon. I learned later that the winds had gusted to 40 km/hr and discovered that corn fields even at maximum height in late August do not make a good wind break. Fortunately for me I have aero bars on my bike and was able to make good use of them. Peter did not have aero bars and struggled mightily to stay with me. Drafting would have been a good idea for him and I wouldn’t have minded doing all the pulling. He eventually dropped off the back and looked like a hurting unit when I last saw him.
I finally caught up with the group at the second control after chasing for 200 km through the brutal headwind. I had been quite worried before the ride that my fitness wasn’t up to the task of a 1200 due to not enough riding in the previous months. My confidence improved a lot after my performance that afternoon.
We all left the second control together and spent the rest of the evening riding through the ski area country and then through the resort beaches area and arrived at the overnight control in Midland at about 11:30 pm. This stage was 398 km and gained about 2800 meters of elevation. The control was in a motel. There was dinner and breakfast food laid out by the volunteers. Due to some scheduling quirk I ended up with a room with two queen beds all to myself and slept very well.
Many randonneurs think that the success of an ultra brevet is measured by your finishing time. The fewer hours you spend out there, the better you are as a rider. Not me. I measure success by how many hours of sleep I get while still finishing within the 90 hour limit. This night I was able to get 3 1/2 hours of sleep. 4 1/2 would have been possible while still leaving an hour of margin before the control closed. But the organizers had recommended 2 hours of margin and the consensus of the group was to go with that. After chasing for most of the day on the first day I was quite happy to forgo the extra hour of sleep in order to have some companions for the next day.
We left Midland at 4:15 am and rolled along through the early morning to a staffed control at Big Chute. Hot coffee, hot soup, and hot chocolate got us moving along nicely through the awakening day to the next control at Houseys Rapids. Here there was a ‘restaurant’ serving breakfast. It was quite an experience. It looked like neither the restaurant nor the restrooms had seen a health inspector in this millennium. But the food, when it finally arrived, was good. After that a long stretch of reasonable road on ON-118 allowed the pace to accelerate and spelled the demise of the 8 person group. Liz and Cincinnati Jim (I think) disappeared off the front and were not seen again until the following day. Marti, Fixie Dave, Florida Don, and Rich all fell back a bit and I ended up riding much of the rest of the ride with Kathy Brouse of the Ontario Randonneurs. We regrouped later for dinner in Haliburton before tackling one of the more memorable climbs of the ride. The route sheet made mention of the steep descent off the other side and the organizers had arranged for volunteers to be on hand at the top to warn riders to take it slow. The descent wasn’t too bad though; it was the cliff that we had to ride up to get to the descent that I remember most.
It got dark at about that point and so we rode on through Wilberforce (my favourite place name of the ride) and on into Bancroft under a nearly full moon. It was magic. We arrived at about 10:30 and had a nice meal before turning in for a glorious 4 1/2 hours of sleep. Or so I thought. While having some dinner at the control before turning in Florida Don and Fixie Dave arrived and Don immediately asked Vaune, the control captain “where am I”. This sent Vaune into spasms of hysteria. Don wasn’t close to being out of it, although it may have seemed that way to Vaune. It’s just that northern Ontario is a long way from Miami Beach both in a geographical sense and in a perceptual sense. Don was clearly stoked to be there.
My 4 1/2 hours of sleep turned into 4 1/2 hours of wakeful rest. I wound up with a cot while my room-mate slept in a comfortable bed and snored like a chain saw. Such are the joys of randonneuring.
Kathy and I left Bancroft at about 4:30 am and rode out of town to the north, the way we had come in. We soon encountered the last poor soul still going the other way toward Bancroft. We felt awfully sorry for him as he was looking at maybe 1 hour of time in Bancroft before the control closed and he had to be on his way again into what was promised to be the hardest day of the ride. We later learned that not only did he make it out of Bancroft but he finished the ride as well. Chapeau to him.
It was extremely cold for August. I registered 3 degrees, Kathy’s thermometer registered only 1 degree. The saving grace was the series of very steep hills that we encountered in this stretch. Going up was a lot more pleasant than going down. Eventually the day lightened enough to see the surrounding terrain from the hill tops. There was fog in the low lying areas and hills poking out all around. Very beautiful. Then we rode up the aptly named Siberia road where we encountered a few climbs which culminated in one 100 meter ascent with a 19 percent grade. I had heard that the toughest climb of the whole ride was just before Barry’s Bay, which was the next control but still 30 km away. I was really worried that if the climbs were already this extreme and the hardest one is still 30 km away, then what are we in for? It turned out that this was the hardest climb and things got a bit more moderate on the way into Barry’s Bay. There was an excellent country restaurant there that was doing a great business among the randonneur community. This place was organized in a way that the ‘restaurant’ in Housey’s Rapids never will be, and we all got fed up right quick.
After breakfast we stopped by the control which was at the local community centre. A couple of the local politicians were out there welcoming us to their humble community and handing out pins and such, and claiming that it usually wasn’t this cold in August. Never trust a politician. Back on Siberia road I was noticing a certain plant growing beside the road that I had only ever seen before in the Yukon.
The rest of the day featured several more noteworthy climbs, never all that long but always plenty steep. Then there was the 31 km of loose gravel on Buckshot Lake road. Buckshot became a swear word after that. I think that this was the low point of the ride for myself, and for Kathy, and for several others also. The road had been torn up in preparation for a tar and gravel or chip seal type of surface, except that the tar hadn’t been added yet. What was left was loose gravel that was more tiring to ride than the steep hills that we were now leaving behind.
A couple of more controls passed by, including a lovely stop at the beach by Sharbot Lake. Then it was on into the gathering darkness on mostly level and nicely surfaced roads for the final 80 km to the final overnight stop at Napanee, where we arrived at 11:30 pm. Once again we could afford 4 1/2 hours of sleep and made good use of the time.
We left the control at 5 am and immediately went to a restaurant about 3 blocks away where we whiled away another 45 minutes having a nice breakfast. We were on familiar terrain now and knew that the ride was in the bag (barring any substantial bad luck) and that we could take it easy. Liz and Rich had caught up to us at Sharbot Lake the previous evening and so we were now 4 for the remainder of the ride. There was a beautiful foggy crossing on a wide bridge leading over to the peninsula that comprised Prince Edward County just as the sun was rising. Another magic moment.
We rolled on through Prince Edward county as the morning progressed. By early afternoon we left the flatlands behind and entered into the Bewdley hills. The Ontario people knew all about this area; and I had encountered it on the 2009 Granite Anvil. It’s a real kick in the ass right at the end, just to remind the riders that it ain’t over till it’s over. And this ride is much like PBP where there is quite a bit of bonus distance to cover after the 1200 km mark. Unlike PBP though, the Granite Anvil gives you bonus hills as well as bonus distance.
We finished at 6:08 pm for a ride time of 86:08 over a distance of 1223 km with 10,100 meters of climbing (about 33,000 feet). Each of the first 3 days had about 2800 meters of climbing while the last day had about 1700. But the majority of that 1700 meters happened in the last 100 km.
This edition of the Granite Anvil 1200 km brevet was a truly wonderful ride. The organization was superb and the volunteers really worked hard to make sure that the riders were well taken care of. The whole thing went off without a hitch, from my perspective. I’m sure that from the volunteers and organizers perspective there was a lot of scrambling and just plain hard work to make my experience so great.
Hats off to Dave Thompson, Dick Felton, Peter Grant and the rest of the organizers and volunteers for putting on such a first class event.
I want to make special mention of the route sheet. This was the brain child of Peter Grant and was really a work of art. It was so accurate as to be almost bizarre. At around the 990 km mark my Garmin odometer disagreed with the route sheet by .08 of a kilometre. I was never out by more than a kilometre over the whole ride. Peter explained that the way it was done was to pre-ride the route using a Garmin and then extract the turn by turn information from the Garmin and use that to create the route sheet. This guarantees that the distances to each turn are accurate, but with one caveat. It’s only that accurate for riders using a Garmin. I have both a Garmin and a regular cycle computer and the two never agree. The Garmin always gains about 1 1/2 km per 100 km over my carefully calibrated regular cycle computer. I am very impressed however with the repeatability of the Garmin devices. The other nice thing about the Garmin is that it did not reset itself at 20 or 24 hours of riding as most regular cycle computers will do.