Ride report from John Cumming:
Four Huron randonneurs – John Cumming, Chris Cossonnet, Dave Pearson, and Carey Chappelle – set off at 6:00 pm Friday evening May 20th from South London, with anticipation and quiet resolve to cover as many kilometres as possible towards Kingston in 24 hours. Following a relatively “straight-as-an-arrow” route on some of Ontario’s heritage highways (“Highway 2”, “Governor’s Road”, Lakeshore Road), this ride would turn out to be a delightful adventure for all of us.
But for me, the anticipation of this unique adventure had started months before …
I had been looking forward to the Randonneurs Ontario Fleche since last autumn’s General Meeting, where several Huron members began discussing the possibilities for a London to Kingston effort. I offered to coordinate a team and to begin route planning. Having never participated in a Fleche before, my first challenge was to get my head around the unique (and sometimes quirky !) Fleche rules. But as I reviewed online anecdotes and previous Fleche reports (of teams “running out of road” in the final 2 hours, or “falling short” in the total kilometres covered, or number of riders finishing), the rules and objectives began to make sense. It also became apparent to me that a London to Kingston route would be ideal for a Fleche: At approximately 460 km total (depending on selected route) there should be no danger of not having enough kilometres available in the final 2 hours, and the “80% of proposed route” mandatory distance is about equal to the 360 km minimum requirement. In other words, if we ride well and cover 360 km in the first 22 hours and still have the legs for 25 km in the last 2 hours, “we’re good !”
The generally “downhill” elevation profile from London to Kingston, plus the statistical probability of prevailing tail winds, were additional factors that suggested this ride could be great!
In logistics and route planning, it became apparent that an evening start would be ideal. The thought of arriving sleepless and exhausted in Kingston on Sunday morning, then turning around and driving 5 hours back to London (and 3 more hours for Carey and Chris) was not at all appealing. A Friday 6 pm departure would have us going through Toronto in the middle of the night, allowing us to use roads that might be too busy during the day. A Saturday evening arrival would allow us to pig out at the 24-hour Denny’s, rehydrate on barley energy drinks, and get a good sleep before driving home. (I was delighted that the other teams also chose a Saturday-evening arrival plan!)
The route was plotted “from scratch” on Ride with GPS using the “KISS” principle – follow the safest main and direct roads and use 24-hour Timmies for Controls. Being a Fleche (not a Brevet) we would have the option of detouring onto a parallel path (eg bike path) if a particular section of the route was too busy.
So back to the ride itself …
The weather forecast had been looking ideal in the days leading up to the ride. Carey and Chris had driven from Port Elgin to Dave’s residence, and the three of them biked down the 9 km to meet me at the ride start location (near the London Velodrome). I had biked down from my home in Ilderton (45 km, with a few detours along the way) so we were all “warmed up” while we waited for our GPS time to show 18:00 hours. As we set out from London, it was more overcast than expected. And in the first few kilometres, we actually felt a rain drop or two. But the weather and rando gods were smiling on us, and the remainder of the ride would be completely dry. With fresh legs, we rode easily through the rural Southwestern Ontario evening. Having ridden together on previous Brevets, all four of us were familiar with each other’s riding styles, and were feeling quite comfortable riding in a “loose” group at a steady speed. We arrived at our first Control in Paris at 9:20 pm, feeling good about the 25 km/hr pace we had been maintaining. After the first of many “Timmies recharges” we would have in the coming hours, we were back on the road, eagerly anticipating the night ride down the escarpment towards our next control in Port Credit. With the full moon doing its best to light our way through an overcast sky, and car traffic lighter than we expected, the late evening riding seemed quite relaxed.
As we biked through Hamilton and along the waterfront through Burlington and Oakville, the twinkling lights on the water, the marinas, and the silhouettes of upscale residences provided many amazing views! Carey commented that he would definitely be coming back to ride this section in daylight. We pulled into Port Credit Timmies just after 2 am. Another quick caffeine injection, and we were back on the road, heading along Lakeshore Road into the Big Smoke. We had a brief stop near the Exhibition Grounds, while Chris dealt with a minor mechanical issue (a loose bolt). (Over the whole ride, Chris Carey and Dave each encountered a mechanical annoyance – Carey had a “screw loose”, which some of you would say is nothing new! – As for Dave, the tensioning bolt on his Brooks Saddle came loose and fell off in the darkness! This resulted in Dave riding on leather resting directly on the seat rails, and his talking voice becoming ever more “soprano” as the ride went along! For those who don’t know Dave, he rides a fixie, so “getting up out of the saddle” was not an option for alleviating the discomfort! As for me, a recently-replaced but very creaky bottom bracket assured that the other riders would not fall asleep on the road. But no spills and no flats for anyone throughout the ride! )
The next magical moments on our ride occurred as we entered the dedicated bikelanes along Toronto’s waterfront. The last time I had been here (two years ago) Queen’s Quay and the surrounding area was a construction mess. Now, it’s beautiful and almost European in its design and bicycling functionality. (Of course, we were riding it in the middle of the night, with no cars or pedestrians around. We chatted about how crowded these bikelanes would be in a few hours, when the city awoke.) Carey had to stop to take pictures of the Rogers Centre and CN Tour. Tourists!
We ascended the streets of Scarborough towards the bluffs, where we encountered one of our only navigation challenges: A bike path off a residential street did not appear to exist. We spent 15 minutes or so circling a public school in an attempt to find the trail, before Dave (zooming into the smallest scale on his GPS) lead us back through the bush and darkness, to a muddy single-track path. We found our way through Bluffer’s Park, and were treated to more amazing night views of the Scarborough bluffs.
Heading along the Waterfront Trail, we enjoyed the sunrise over the Pickering Nuclear Plant and Lake Ontario shoreline. We reached our next Timmie-target (Ajax) just after 6 am. – 235 km behind us, just after the 12 hour mark !!! Speculating that daylight, tailwinds, and more coffee would spur us along, we began to ponder whether we might really be able to complete 100 % of the proposed route! A fifteen-minute power nap on the lawn was proposed, but we decided to save that treat for Cobourg when the sun would be warmer.
We reached Cobourg just before 11:00 am, enjoyed a Timmies breakfast, and pushed on after the brief nap we had promised ourselves. It felt great to take off our shoes and lie on the grass under the warming sun.
Back in the saddle again, it became apparent that we were NOT going to be blessed with tailwinds, and the terrain east of Toronto was not as flat as we had pretended it would be. We knew our “100 %” goal was not going to be achieved. As we approached Belleville, Carey began to muse about how nice it would be to have a “pint”. I could not disagree. With fifteen minutes to go before the mandatory 22 hour report time, we spotted a “Patio Open” sign, causing our bikes to quickly veer off the road! Just enough time to order cold beverages and fill in the Birdy’s Pub address on our Control Cards before the clock strikes 4pm. Our friendly and interested waitress signs our cards and snaps a photo. 80% of our proposed route accomplished? Check. 360 km completed? Check. 25 km do-able in the next 2 hours? Hmmm, maybe not, if we have a second pint. So back on the road it is!
After Belleville, it was just a matter of knocking off as many kilometres as we could in the remaining hour-and-a-half. As we continued east on Highway 2 towards Napanee, I kept checking the Garmin as our post-Birdy’s kilometres crept towards 25. With that final Fleche requirement satisfied after crossing Marysville Road, we had to now think about where we would be at the 24 hour mark to document the end of our official ride. We were shooting for our next proposed Control (you guessed it – Timmies in Napanee) but fell a few kilometres short. At the corner of County Road1 & Jimmy Kimmet Blvd. we stopped to watch the GPS time show 18:00. Just over 420 kilometres ridden in 24 hours ( 91% of proposed route – Moving Time almost 19 hours, Moving Average Speed 22.2 km/hr) – we were all feeling pleased!
Of course, we were still 40 kilometres from the hot meal, cold beer, and soft beds we were now hallucinating about!
Aside from the sore nether regions and stiff shoulders you’d expect after 24 hours in the saddle, I think we were feeling fairly strong. An electrical tape repair of Dave’s broken saddle was making his ride a bit more tolerable, and the promise of non-timmies food was incentive to keep us rolling. After two more hours of steady riding, we were on the streets of Kingston I had seen 2 days ago when dropping off my Truck for our return trip. It seemed like it had been two weeks ago!
Just after 8:30 pm, we pulled into the destination hotel. 460 kilometres covered in 26.5 hours. After well deserved (and needed) showers, we met up with some of the Toronto gang for dinner in Denny’s. The Ottawa Wanderers, having arrived earlier, had already crashed for the night.
Next morning, we were back in Denny’s to have breakfast with the other teams. It was great to renew acquaintances, put faces to names, and share exaggerated anecdotes regarding our Fleche adventure. Many thanks to Carey, Chris, and Dave (and of course the Wanderers and Hogtown Express) for making it so memorable!