One Awesome 300km Brevet was held this past weekend. The Nassagaweya 300, created by Charles Horslin was ENJOYED and COMPLETED BY ALL 12 RANDONNEURS! This is the first time this ride was scheduled and I can’t wait to do it again! Congratulations to John Cumming, myself (Carey Chappelle), Marc Deshaies, Jerzy Dziadon, Richard Felton, Mike Fox, Mark Hopper, Charles Horslin, Matthew McFarlane, Sergi Tsymbal, Brenda Wiechers Maxwell and Nick Wolfe for successfully completing this challenging 300km Brevet! Now, the Huron Chapter generally likes to add some ENTERTAINMENT during a ride and typically would complete a 18 Hole Mini-Putt Championship on a 300 … however, that would have created a few DNF’s on this brevet … Scenery, 2300 meters of climbing and nasty weather created quite a challenge!
The first Control was in St.George where we saw a few Randonneurs stopped at the ESSO, our group stopped at a little Bakery and enjoyed some treats. Mike Fox met us at the Bakery before we all headed towards Hamilton. What a Gorgeous Ride that was, getting us back to the top of the Escarpment. Weather at this stage, PERFECT! The majority of us stopped at a POPULAR Cafe … the Copper Kettle in Waterdown for lunch and noticed another 20 or so Cyclists on the patio. One of them needed a tool and Dick was able to help them out! Looking ahead, the weather forecast showed Heavy Storms headed our way with Rain Showers, Thunder and Lightning. Clouds could be seen and we all knew what was coming!
So the last 150km was the opposite of the first 150km, the groups had basically split up, finishing at different times. Mike and myself stayed together and had quite the adventure to the Finish! The last Control was in Hillburgh. The only place open was FOODLAND. Now Mike and I had hoped we would have dinner along with a Pint or two to get us home! We found a bike rack beside a General Store and parked ourselves. A Gentlemen approached us, found out what we were up to and let us know his Restaurant – Tina’s Homemade Cookin! was closed but he might be able to convince his wife Tina to make us a dinner! Sure enough Tina came out and took our order, moved us to their Patio!
While waiting, Tina came out and asked if we would like some protein added to our burger …
To this day, both Mike and myself agree that this was the BEST BURGER we have ever had! Now, having started dinner around 5pm and finishing around 6pm, we headed back out. Who shows up .. Dick Felton! So we decide to finish together and take turns leading into the STRONG HEAD WIND, HEAVY RAIN and eventually THUNDER AND LIGHTNING. At this point every man for himself! With 8km to go, my front light started flashing ON / Off, Mike’s Rear Light simply turned OFF, so Mike led the way to the Finish with us arriving just after 10pm. Dick a few minutes later. If there is one picture I wish I had taken it would have been Dick entering our room at the Hotel, PRICELESS! Soak and Wet, Shivering and one big SMILE ON HIS FACE! The next morning, Mr. Felton treated Charles, Gwen, Matt, Marc, John and myself to breakfast at a local Sunset Grill. Boy … did that HIT the SPOT! Thanks for the photo Gwen!
The Huron Chapter hosted the Beaver Valley 400km Brevet this past Wednesday. Scenery – Drop Dead Gorgeous! The Route – CHALLENGING! The Weather – NASTY!Congratulations to John Cumming (1), Charles Horslin, John Kieffer (2), Matthew McFarlane and Tiago Varella-Cid on successfully completing this 400!!Chappy, Charles, Matthew, John 1 and John 2. Photo taken by Tiago at the Start!
The original Start time was 0400hrs., the Randonneurs showed up at 0330 and enjoyed the Rain, Thunder and LIghtening for the next hour and a half. No one even considered heading out until 0500hrs when things started to look better! You can see me (Chappy far left) checking out the weather forecast for the day … I simply wished everyone WELL and headed back to bed!After 4 hrs of sleep, I double checked the weather forecast for the day. It hadn’t changed. Temperature to feel like 39 deg C, Occasional Strong winds from the SW at 100km/hr, along with Thunder and Lightning to happen in the evening and into the night! It wasn’t hard convincing myself I had made the right decision to provide SUPPORT!Heading NE, the participants enjoyed a decent tail wind until Matthew Mcfarlane experienced a flat tire! Quick fix and everyone was back on the road heading towards the first Control – Dundalk (114km). When Chappy arrived, the only Randonneur he could find was pedalliing in circles … John Kieffer (a new Randonneur) had refuelled and was having trouble getting back on route! Chappy was able to get him in the right direction! Now heading out of Dundalk, roads were closed but cyclists were able to stay on track. I had to detour but eventually was back on route. Another road closure left me wondering where everyone was. Headed through Flesherton, down into the Beaver Valley then up towards the next turn, then decided to message one of the Randonneurs to see where everyone was. Heading back to Flesherton, Tiago Varellla-Cid was in the middle of the climb and low and behold … the new Randonneur … John Kieffer wasn’t far behind!
The stretch from Kimberley to Owen Sound took a fair amount of fuel from everyone’s tank! I Stopped and filled some water bottles along the way … much needed of course! Touching base with the Randonneurs, I was able to make reservations at the Casero Kitchen Table and order just ahead of their arrival. Tiago and John (2) arrived earlier, when I was having lunch at the Mudtown Station in Owen Sound and gassed up at another restaurant. I ordered meals ahead then waited in the Tented area for everyone. HOT? I had a difficult time not sweating under the tented area in the SHADE! Checked my GPS and the temperature was 41 deg C!! With over 20 yrs experience Randonneuring I knew the effect these conditions can and will have on every participant. I hung around waiting for the last rider to refuel and saved their leftovers for later in the ride. Leaving Owen Sound the ride basically headed SW. Into the Wind. Dark Clouds were moving in our direction, keeping fingers crossed I hoped the weather forecast wouldn’t happen!Unfortunately, another Bridge Closure happened on route to Durham, a few were able to make their way across while others simply took the paved roads detour.
I decided to wait in Durham for all the riders to make it through the second last Control. Time difference from first to last was approximately 3 1/2hrs. Fortunately the weather was cooling down and the 100km / hr winds hadn’t happened! Chatted with everyone, filled up their water bottles, passed a bag of Nuts on to Charles and wished them well to the Finish!
On my way to the Finish, I passed everyone noticing how much better they looked thanks to the cooler temperature, wished them well and headed back to the Best Western Plus, Waterloo. Thought I’d pick up some Pizza but was unable to find a place open. Showered then waited to see our Finishers. Congrats Boys! Well Done!! I wouldn’t suggest riding in these conditions often! Huron Chapter V.P.,Chappy
I love this route. I first did it in August 2014. It was then my second 600k ever and it confirmed my belief that the 600k distance is the best. Seven years later, I still think 600k is the best.
I was eager to do this route to resurrect it. It’s name comes up from time to time during planning because it has similar terrain to PBP. Ultimately it is always dismissed because of the potential for riding through the night without any possibility of getting water or food. Back in 2014, there was a 24-hour Tim Horton’s in Minden. Even if everything was closed in Haliburton, you could count on the two controls in Minden to save you. That Tim Horton’s is no longer open for 24 hours. If you miss the closing times and you haven’t arranged for accommodation, it’s possible you will ride from Buckhorn to Bobcaygeon without the chance to resupply (a distance of roughly 280 km).
I came prepared for this possibility. I brought a “pocket rocket” and ISO fuel I use for canoe camping with a small 600ml pot for boiling water. I brought noodles, oatmeal and other food. I also brought a spork (aka fpoon). I didn’t want to boil water from lakes or streams, but I was prepared to do this in an emergency. Also, for emergency, I brought my SOL bivvy (which stands for Stay Outside Longer, not the other meaning of SOL, no matter how accurately it might describe circumstances).
So I was well prepared for most problems, but I also had a ridiculously heavy bike. The other big challenge was the extreme heat. These two factors combined made me perspire furiously at the crest of every hill. Soon I decided to walk up the giants. There is a part of me that really dislikes walking my bike up hills, but I wanted to avoid heat exhaustion. Before long I accepted that walking was going to be a thing on this ride. It forced me to admire my surroundings a lot more.
Working with Erin and Dave, I suggested a few significant edits to the 2014 version. Originally it began and ended in Markham. I suggested changing the start and finish to Rouge Hill GO. It also used to have a control in Peterborough. I suggested moving the control to Lakefield and bypassing Peterborough completely. The final edit was Erin’s suggestion for the leg between Bobcaygeon and Lindsay. I didn’t manage to check this portion of the route because I DNF’d.
I had forgotten how relentless the land is between Toronto and Peterborough. Constant up and down without any flats for getting into a good gear and cadence. My heavy bike really highlighted this. Nevertheless, it is gorgeous countryside and a good challenge (just bring a lighter bike!) I was really happy to avoid Peterborough. I remember it being very busy in 2014.
Lakefield is a great control. There is a Foodland with lots of fresh fruit and a park directly across the street with lots of shade. The public library next door gives free wifi. I had a good little supper there (though I was concerned that it was already dinner time and I was only 160km into the ride!)
After Lakefield comes Curve Lake First Nation, Buckhorn, and then Flynn’s Turn. After that is the amazing 507 road. Once upon it, you know you have left the lowlands and entered the Shield. It winds endlessly, and around every bend is the type of terrain where beavers and moose thrive. It’s 40km from Flynn’s Turn to Gooderham. I don’t recall seeing a single car. Dusk was falling gently. I considered stopping to boil water for noodles at the trailhead to a skidoo track. No traffic there today!
But the mosquitos said that the price of my having a meal was that I would have to give hundreds. Supper could wait until dark. I pedaled. The mosquitos could not bite while I was riding, but there was plenty of evidence that they wanted to: dragonflies escorted me, bouncing of my shoulder, face, and sometimes getting caught in my spokes. Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, the dragonflies disappeared. The crepuscular food chain had completed its course for the evening.
By now I was at the control in Gooderham. Nothing was open. In any case, all that there is an LCBO and a Chinese restaurant. I don’t know if I arrived too late to eat there or if it’s permanently closed. Hard to tell in these COVID days. I had to make do with what I had. And if I couldn’t get to Minden early enough, I may be forced to boil water from some unknown river, pond or lake…
With the sun going down, it was now time to put on my reflective vest. It was still so hot that I decided to take off my jersey. It felt great to have the night air on my shoulders and arms and no sun. It’s funny how much attention I pay to the sun when I’m cycling, especially when it’s hot or chilly. It’s almost like randonneuring is a branch of astronomy.
Which leads me to my favourite thing about this ride. The stars, the planets and the Milky Way. There is virtually no light pollution in this area, much less than I’m accustomed to. Being a city slicker, I can go years without seeing the Milky Way. Both times I’ve done this route I saw it clearly. Thank goodness there weren’t any clouds and it was a New Moon. It reminds me of those stories about a voyage into darkness that turns out to be a journey to wholeness, you know, like Dante’s Divine Comedy. I dunno, it just seems to me that there is more to riding a bike than just spinning wheels, hammering cranks and counting kilowatts and kilometres. You’re out there, pushing yourself to your limit, under the cosmos (which is always there anyways, but you don’t get to see it because of Rayleigh scattering).
Whenever I muse like this, I get weird looks. I once suggested to another randonneur that riding the landscape around Belfountain was like being an ant crossing a pair of corduroy pants. The look on this person’s face… you’d think I said something offensive. But I digress. I will return to this report.
I arrived in Minden at midnight. I thought for sure I’d be stooping to the river to get water to boil. But, no. There is a Pioneer gas station open for 24 hours there. I suspected something would be open and I was happy that I was right. I bought more water than I could carry.
Three young men, locals with extremely red necks, were hanging out at the Pioneer as I sipped a Coke.
“Sure picked a hot one.”
“You can pick your day; you can’t pick your weather,” I replied.
I rode over to a picnic table, boiled my water, and made my noodles. Wow, noodles never tasted so good. I was glad to be getting all that salt too. I’m fairly diligent about getting sodium, potassium and magnesium into my system on a hot day’s ride. I’m not sure how much of a threat it really is, but I certainly want to avoid hyponatremia, which can happen if you only drink water without any minerals/electrolytes. About 40 minutes later, I could feel the impact of the broth and noodles. I really got my second wind.
This was on the so-called Bobcaygeon Road (which does not lead to Bobcaygeon). I really enjoy this road too. I’ve never seen it in the daylight, but at night it feels very rugged and remote. You turn off your lights and it is absolute night in the deep forest. It seems to me that it was a dirt road in 2014, but I’m not sure. It is paved now, but there are some very rough patches. It is a real roller coaster ride and totally worth the price of admission.
Despite joyriding on Bobcaygeon Road thanks to broth and noodles, I was still making very slow progress. I arrived in Haliburton at 4:30am. I was pretty sure there was no way I could finish the 600 in 40 hours. I lay down next to the public library and decided to make a choice when I awoke. I used my bivvy, not because it was cool, but because I was so damp from perspiration. It also kept the mosquitos off my body. I used my rain shell to cover my face.
When I awoke around 6:30am, I was still undecided. I had until 10pm. I didn’t mind the idea of going longer than 40 hours, but then I thought about then next day. Two whole days without proper sleep. I had to work on Wednesday and I had a major drive to Sault Ste Marie on Thursday. I decided to take the quickest route back to Lakefield, catch the bus at Trent University, and then take the train from Oshawa back home.
This was a mistake. Or at least insisting on taking the shortest route was a mistake. This meant passing through Bobcaygeon on roads we had not designated for the ride. Between Kinmount and Bobcaygeon is horrible. Between Bobcaygeon and Flynn’s Corner is even worse! I stopped for a snack and asked for some advice on using secondary roads. The locals were surprised at my question; I was even more surprised at the response! They seemed to think that bicycles had no business on the road, and, for reasons that are unclear, they blame cyclists for closing their shop for two hours. I didn’t even ask. All I could think about was how pointless it would be to tell them about the sections on bicycles in the Highway Traffic Act and the fact that the Ontario Legislature endorsed cyclists with the right to ride on roads in the late nineteenth century. I just smiled and nodded and got out the door as quickly as I could.
I rode back to Lakefield into a moderate headwind. With morale pretty low, and my new and uninspiring insight into the locals’ mentality, I felt a little fed up with the traffic. I longed for the late night hours when I had the entire road to myself. I got another picnic at the Foodland. I caught the GO bus on the Trent University campus and then the train from Oshawa back home.
I was a little disappointed that I didn’t finish, but I was just taking far too long. If I had more free time after the ride to recover, I would have just pushed through regardless of the time limit. The biggest learning lessons from this ride:
Pack less! I used do 600k rides with only a pump and tubes and sunscreen. This time I think I was carrying the equivalent of a second bicycle.
Cottage country traffic can be scary, especially on Sunday evening, but work traffic during the week can get pretty heavy too. Large trucks are particularly noticeable.
And what was good about this ride:
The stars, Milky Way and Mars
Certain roads (see above)
The park in Lakefield
The animals: I saw four deer, one wild turkey, countless turkey vultures, I nearly hit a porcupine and a skunk, countless goldfinches, and I helped a painted turtle safely cross the road. Oh yeah, and those dragonflies at dusk were pretty amazing too.
spoon/fork, fpoon, spork. I will probably not ever bring my stove on a brevet/perm again, but bringing an eating utensil — yes. You can eat yogurt, soup, fruit salad etc.
I don’t know if this route will ever get formally put on the schedule. It is a little unruly and unpredictable. Sure, Minden was open 24 hours this year, but what about next year? Despite its flaws, Haliburton Highlands certainly offers a unique experience. And for the Toronto Chapter it is definitely the wildest route we have on offer.
With recent pandemic restrictions it’s been uplifting to see the return of various cycling events. And although I’m not that excited at the prospect of racing XC or gravel races in TT formats since the social aspect of racing will be missing, it seems that brevets will more or less run the same as we are limited in numbers anyway.
While riding the Kissing Bridge 300 brevet on the solstice, Jocelyn De La Rosa and I agreed to align our schedules for the Mnjikaning 400 since we are well matched in drive and fitness.
In the days leading up to last Saturday, I watched the forecast intently since rain was forecast, and while a little rain doesn’t bother me, the prospect of 10mm of rain would mean dialling in gear to prevent feet from being soaked for over 16 hours.
I remounted my fenders, added a set of mud flaps, packed some extra wet lube and organized my waterproof breathable clothing for the morning with dry weather options packed in a saddlebag along with extra food to fill the space.
Waking up at 4am wasn’t an issue since I was stoked for a committed day of riding and I rode out into darkness ready for whatever foul weather was going to be thrown my way.
At that time, there was a hint of humidity but no rain so I enjoyed a casual ride to the starting point arriving about 5 minutes before departure. As expected, Jocelyn was there, as was Mike Henderson who I’d ridden with in a small group earlier this spring. Sergiy Tsymbal was also there, and I don’t think I’d seen him since our first ever brevet together several years ago where we both jumped in to the world of randoneuring by starting with the 3 Lakes 1000km. I’ve followed him since on Strava so knew he would be completely competent for a 400 also. Victor was there also as well as Rémi Parent who I hadn’t met yet so it looked like a good-sized group.
We left at 5am, or maybe a minute afterwards, and began weaving eastward for a while towards the zoo as the sun started to come up.
The pace was light, as was the mood and conversation and we were all relieved not to be riding in the rain, even though a check on the weather network app showed rain would develop later that morning.
By the time we arrived at our 1st control in Udora at 97.5km, Victor had dropped back to a pace he preferred, but he joined us at the general store as we slugged back coffee, refilled water bottles and ate some food. The rain still hadn’t arrived so I packed away my light rainproof jacket and went down to a base layer long sleeve, which worked perfectly. I wanted to keep stops to a minimum but also didn’t want to be anti-social so waited till everyone was ready to ride, which was enough for most of the group except for Victor who was a few minutes behind schedule.
We rode on, enjoying roads that felt more rural, with little traffic and headed towards Lake Simcoe.
As we reached the lake I was keen to maintain a strong pace and suggested a rotating paceline for the five of us that remained.
It wasn’t as smooth as I had hoped as Rémi wasn’t quite familar with the format and he dropped back although he rejoined later on at a train crossing.
We made it to the 2nd control 166.5km at the Mnjikaning Weirs at 11:08, which was somewhat of an anticlimax but it close to a Tim Horton’s and we’d save time instead of riding into Orillia.
That break took much longer than anticipated since it was a very small Timmy’s and service was slow, but by now it was clear that the rain that had been forecast had vaporized and we were blessed with cool temps & overcast skies.
We set off towards Kinmount and established a good pace each taking 2km pulls.
I think at that point the terrain was quite smooth and we had a generous shoulder with gently rolling terrain so our target pace was somewhere around 33km/h. To a degree we were willing to ease the pace for good of the group, but Serg recognized that we wanted to push and reasoned that he was fine going alone so we went ahead.
We saw multiple Osprey nests along the way, often with juveniles looking around, but I once saw a larger mature bird flying in and managed to capture a shot as Mike rode by.
I observed that some of the group was struggling so I took a longer pull that brought us within a few km of town and moved off the line so we could take an easier pace. With barely 3km to town Mike caught a gap on the edge of the asphalt and immediately had a double flat. We had just passed a parking lot at an ATV trailhead so we stopped there to fix the flats as a group since I had a full frame pump and an extra tube.
It didn’t take long and before long we rolled into town for our 3rd control 14:30, took a few photos at the railway station, and went our separate ways to gather a coordinated lunch of vegetable fried rice, water and coconut waters, and then shared a lunch on picnic tables by the river.
Serg arrived while we were having lunch, and Mike later mentioned he had seen Victor’s bike as he left so we were all within about half an hour of each other after, having lost some time to the punctures.
Mike decided to hang back as he wanted to ride solo for a while which I fully respect, so Jocelyn, Rémi and I rolled out after lunch.
As we left town it finally felt like the cross headwind we hand been fighting eased up and we took it easy for the first bit to digest.
We arrived in Bobcaygeon in what seemed about an hour later so stopped to take some photos of the canal, when I realized I had forgotten or lost my phone. A quick call led to an answer from Mike who had seen it on our picnic table and was about 5 minutes away so we relaxed, took our shoes off and waited for Mike who arrived to a very positive welcome.
Our foursome was back and we were off to the next control.
The stretch between Kinmount and Lindsay was my least favourite as many of the roads were riddled with potholes. We rode a pace line and called out potholes while choosing the best line. When I say potholes, many of these were large enough to cook a chicken, but there were in clusters as numerous as a commercial hen house. On one stretch we had been riding closer to the centre of the road. This wasn’t a problem on the flat roads where we could see oncoming traffic, and my Garmin Varia would warn of any rearward approaching traffic.
As a car came into view ahead I motioned and moved to the right until the car passed and then checked my left shoulder before moving back to the smoother and more spacious line we had been following for a while.
It looked clear as no one was riding beside me so I moved left but then heard a crash behind me.
Rémi had been half wheeling and caught my rear tire. Unfortunately he didn’t veer left but instead fought to stay straight pushing his front tire against my back and once the contact disengaged he went over the bars.
Mike crashed into him since there was nowhere to go in that instant but fortunately Jocelyn steered clear.
It didn’t look good for Rémi who took some time to get up, but despite some nasty road rash and cuts on his hand he was coherent, conscious of details and eager to continue. Mike had hit his helmet and had some relatively minor scrapes when compared to Rémi but was OK.
A couple of cars stopped and one even offered Rémi a lift to town but he declined despite our encouragement that it would be a sensible thing to do.
After some time, some first aid, and a check that their bikes we were OK we set off again, and although Rémi had been hobbling after his crash he was OK to ride.
We arrived at our 4th control at 300km at 17:44 in Lindsay, and Mike went to pick up some extra tubes at a local bike shop while I went to a Shopper’s and got some bandages and peroxide, along with water for our bottles.
We spent a chunk of time getting Rémi patched up and tried to reason with him that riding wasn’t the best idea since he should seek medical attention, but Rémi was resolute to continue and it’s difficult to tell a older man what he should or shouldn’t do. If I was Rémi, I would have thrown in the towel, but I suspect his tenacity or stubbornness is greater than mine.
We took a break at a coffee shop that Mike recommended which allowed Serg and Victor to catch up, but it felt like the time was passing and we wanted to push on.
Mike hung back once more and we wished him well and set off as a group of three with Rémi, Jocelyn & I. We took a steady pace for Rémi’s sake but the 5th control was only 40km away in Blackstock.
We were about half way to the next control when we almost had another crash as Rémi once again connected with my rear wheel. Some screaming and a locked up wheel brought us to a stop. My fender had gotten quite bent against the friction of the tire, but with some care and effort we manage to bend it back to a ridable state.
This time Rémi’s bike wasn’t so lucky as he snapped his rear derailleur cable in that incident. Having not learnt from the first time about the perils of half wheeling or riding too close, left me somewhat frustrated with Rémi, but also sympathetic that he was struggling. I came to the realization that perhaps our pace was too much for Rémi on that day, and it’s a lesson worth noting to ride within your ability, or ride with others who you know and trust.
After that we arrived at 20:04 to 5th control, which hadn’t been far from Lindsay, which illustrates how much time was lost due to first aid, bike repairs etc.
We had hoped to find perogies there but only frozen ones were available so we opted for the local pizza place. I decided to order a large pizza since even though we’d only need a slice or two, I figured the other guys wouldn’t be far behind and having some food ready would help them save time as the sun was setting. As the boys rolled in we offered them dinner and took off.
We had managed to keep a moving average of slightly over 28km/hr till that point which is a decent pace for over 300km.
Rémi had declined on the Pizza and was ahead of us by about 20 minutes, so we were free to ride at our desired pace and gave chase just for the fun of it and pushed into the sunset enjoying perfect temperatures during the golden hour.
As a rouleur, I throughly enjoyed the rolling hills and took the lead for some stronger pulls, while Jocelyn set an excellent pace on some of the steeper climbs. It’s rides like this where we appreciate a well-established partnership that has developed over many a ride.
We passed Rémi as the night was drawing its blinds while he walked up one of the steeper hills. Knowing he had gotten that far, we left him to finish at his own pace and cruised to the finish arriving at the final control at 22:46 well in time to catch the train.
Mike rolled in with minutes to spare so we all enjoyed some spirited conversation on the train ride back to Toronto.
Despite the crashes it was still a great day.
Reading Rémi’s strava post it turned out that he fractured his collarbone. That man is TOUGH!
Today was the day — the day I would try to complete my first 200km brevet; an organized group-depart event with the Randonneurs Ontario club. Earlier this year I didn’t think I would be able to make this event, which was a shame because it was the only brevet that starts in my resident city of London, Ontario. I was scheduled to participate in Race the RockStAR, an annual multi-sport adventure race up in the Haliburton Highlands. But it’s cancellation freed up this weekend which turned out to be serendipitous.
However, pulling in to the Tim Horton’s at 6:45AM, I was in a bit of a state. Sure I was excited about the prospect of completing my longest ride to date, and my first official ride with this club. But it was raining, and that was wreaking havoc on my psyche. I had attempted this route before once, back in October 2020, and the all-day rain had played it’s part in preventing me from finishing that solo run. I did not want a repeat of that when other more experienced riders were present.
While I unloaded and packed my bike, my wife, Kim ,went in and bought me breakfast — two farmer wraps, one which barely saw the light of day, and the other which I packed for later. Kim told me that there were several “bike people” congregating inside, so she bid me well and left me in their capable hands.
I sat among the crowd of folks wearing brightly coloured vests amid rain gear. While I introduced myself, many of them were reuniting after not having seen one-another for some time; this being one of the first brevets since the pandemic lockdowns had been lifted. Being in a group was putting my mind at ease. After a group photo, we departed as a group, 12 in total, and were on our way.
The ride within London was wet, but we stayed collected as a group for the most part. I chatted briefly with Brenda and Tim, both of whom had just completed a 400km ride the previous weekend. I met Xinghua who, along with Jersey, had driven in from Oakville earlier that morning. However, it wasn’t long before the lead pack started to peel off ahead, becoming nothing more than an array of blinking tail lights on the horizon ahead of me. Ride your own ride, Fred.
Headwind and rain through St. Mary’s I queued up an audiobook to keep me company; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, expertly narrated by Wil Wheaton. The book was periodically interrupted by navigation cues from RideWithGPS.
As I pedaled into the wind and rain along Prospect Hill I eventually lost visual on the group of taillights, but I was aware of a single headlight that was slowly gaining on me. That turned out to be Ben, who had just the day before, made the 220km ride from Amherstburg into London with the rain in his face. I assumed without asking that this also meant that he’d be making the reverse trip home tomorrow — over 600km on the weekend. You’re made of strong stuff Ben. As the two of us pulled into St. Mary’s the headwind picked up. It was as if the small quaint town was exhaling, doing whatever it could to prevent us from arriving. After the climb on the way out of town I was gassed. My bike felt like deadweight underneath me — as if I was pedaling my old Honda Shadow motorcycle. As Ben continued on his very consistent 20+kph pace, I fell back to something more manageable. Ride your own ride, Fred.
Deja Vu all over again
Somewhere around Rostock I pulled over. The rain had stopped and I wanted to lose my rain jacket. While protecting me from the rain, it was acting like a giant sail, making it very hard to ride into the ceaseless headwind. Since I was stopped, I thought I would check the batteries on all my electronics. My Garmin fenix watch was the most important; it’s job was to record the ride for proof of completion (and bragging rights). Over 90%, so it was going to last. I had a Garmin 200 I was using for visual navigation — it was about 75% so was ok for now. My Android phone was running RidewithGPS for audio navigation cues, as well as audible — 56%. I decided to plug it into my external battery for charging.
USB port disabled. Despite having my phone sealed in a bag secured to my top tube, the rain had found a way in and the phone was wet enough to refuse getting charged. I tucked the phone away in my much safer top box, and told myself to figure it out at the first checkpoint.
Checkpoint 1: Millbank – 94km – 12:15PM
The first checkpoint on the route was Anna Mae’s bakery; a small bakery in Millbank at the 94km mark. While the rain had stopped, the wind certainly had not, making the ride into Millbank a mental and spiritual battle.
My last visit to this place was during a full lockdown, so the bakery was closed. Today, it was open….well….kind of. The pandemic restrictions in Ontario were due to be lifted the following Monday. As I sat on a bench eating the other wrap I’d purchased earlier, I listened to the restaurant patrons bemoan the fact that the bakery was not yet open for indoor dining. This didn’t deter any of them from lining up, however. The more the line grew, the more I knew I wasn’t going to be using that washroom to fill my bottles and empty my own reserves. It seemed that, for a second time in a row, I’d be leaving Anna Mae’s empty-handed (and full bladdered).
I heard the approaching buzz of a freewheel behind me. “Little bit of wind, eh?”. I laughed before even turning around to greet the newcomer. Similarly dressed in a highly visible vest, bike packed for all kinds of adventure, this understatement came from Richard (Dick) Felton. Dick and I had connected briefly online prior to this event, resolving to ride together. However in the flurry of the morning departure I had lost track of who was who and wasn’t sure if he ended up in the lead pack. I was happy with the prospect of sharing the road with someone. My phone also started accepting a charge, so I secured it away in my top box and crossed my fingers. Dick and I left the checkpoint resolving to find another place to solve the water bottle / bladder issues.
With a blue sky in front of us (and not the stormy kind of blue), it was shaping up to be a nice afternoon as the two of us headed out to close the back half of the route.
Where there is headwind, there must also be tailwind
The moment we made that turn southbound the world went eerily quiet. I’d had the wind in my ears for a solid five hours, and now it was right at my back. Dick must have noticed this too as he commented that “there’s nothing wrong with our bikes after all!”.
Dick was a great riding companion. We traveled at a similar pace, and when the road conditions permitted it, I got to hear all kinds of tales. This was a guy who was now in his mid-seventies, and took up ultra endurance running and cycling only after retiring at the age of sixty. And in that time he’d run in over one-hundred distance running events, and countless randonneuring events. He’d even been to France four times to compete in the Paris-Brest-Paris event. This 1,200km (750 mile) signature event occurs every four years, and is attended by amateur randonneurs who qualify by completing a 200, 300, 400, and 600km brevet within a single calendar year. The next such event will take place in 2023 and Dick figures he’s got one more in him. While Dick wishes he’d have started much younger, he stands as an inspiration to anyone that it’s never too late to make a turn to a healthy and active lifestyle.
Checkpoint 2: Stratford – 140km – 2:40PM
The ride into Stratford was glorious. We’d long passed the high-point of the route, so most of the road before us was filled with sweeping descents and a tailwind that made for easier riding. The sun was out too — it was turning out to be a glorious day for riding.
The route took us along Lakeside Drive which follows Victoria Lake and passes the Stratford Festival Theatre. As we approached the Boar’s Head pub, the site which marked the second checkpoint on this route, we saw no evidence of any fellow randonneurs. Like all eateries, the bar was closed to indoor dining, so we decided to make our pitstop at a Foodland up the road.
When we stopped, I opened my top-box and checked on my phone. Battery was showing 10%, and it refused to charge. I sent my wife a flurry of texts indicating my estimated arrival time in London, and that my phone was likely going to die. I skipped taking a Checkpoint 2 photo. Once the messages were sent I swore as I put the phone away. “Don’t worry, there’s no need to get angry.” said the angel on my shoulder. (Actually, maybe that was Dick).
While the Foodland didn’t have a bathroom (at least not one they would let someone who looked as though a clown had thrown up on a construction worker make use of), I grabbed some raspberries and a large bottle of water I used to fill my own bottles. Upon depart, the bathroom issue was still unresolved, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be handled discreetly once we were out in the country again. And so it was.
The long ride home
At around the 150km mark Dick and I were introduced to another rider in our group approaching from behind. James was from Cambridge, and had missed the group depart. I didn’t catch the reason why — maybe he made the same mistake I did and set his ‘Monday-to-Friday’ alarm for a Saturday morning wake up. Whatever the reason, he’d started an hour after us and caught up. After a brief chat James resumed his regular pace and disappeared into the horizon.
Sustaining an even tempo of about 20kph, Dick and I eventually made it back to London. As we approached the arrival at Tim Horton’s he motioned for me to take the lead. Recognizing this was my first completed brevet, he probably didn’t want me to feel like I was being pulled in by a ride sweep. So I made the final push to finish strong.
As I rode into the Tim Horton’s parking lot, I spotted our SUV. Kim, along with our youngest son West, had been there for an hour and a half! Having lost the ability to track my movements live after my phone died, they arrived early and had kept themselves entertained with a Nintendo Switch. These little adventures don’t work without some degree of support and I’m always so thankful for this from both Kim and the kids.
I introduced Kim to my newfound friend. She mentioned having seen the other members of our troop, who tasked her with the duty of taking our picture upon arrival, before they themselves departed. And so she did.
I had done it! I had completed my first 200km brevet. Like a runner who has completed their first triathlon and wears the mantle ‘tri-athlete‘, I could now proudly call myself a ‘randonneur‘. Lessons learned from this ride:
Randonneurs are tough as nails. Also very friendly.
In case of rain, pack your mobile phone like it’s going to be underwater.
Ride your own ride…
BUT…if you can find someone who also rides your ride, so much the better.
(For when your transgressions are insufficient to warrant more severe punishment)
I’m normally an early riser, but when my alarm went off at 4am I was in the wrong part of a sleep-cycle. But in my confused state, I was able to get my act together almost in time to make it to the start, or so I thought. I hadn’t been able to find my vest, but with the forecast and temperature, I thought I’d be ok. Additionally, thanks to the “Active-TO” road closures, the official start wasn’t the one I thought, nor did my bike computer offer any help. (Quite the opposite) Thankfully as it so happened, my ride to the start rolled right past the official start, so barring some confused Garmin bleeping of “make a U-turn” and “recalculating” which lasted far too long and was taking me on a confused mishmash in the lower beaches, I gave up following its cues and headed north to Kingston Road to get back on track.
So away I went, but all alone. I wasn’t very late to the start, and being my overly ambitious self, I thought if I pressed hard, I would be able to catch the group doing the 400km (which was my original plan). Sadly, after the 30km mark where the 2 routes diverged, I realized that it would be a fool’s errand attempting the longer distance solo, so thank you to the Toronto chapter VP for enabling me the registrational freedom to choose at the last moment (by registering for both).
It was by this point that the rain started. I had fastidiously checked the weather modeling the night before and had noted that the rain would be mostly in the south, and with an early enough start I would hopefully be able to avoid most of it. Sadly, I wasn’t speedy enough to escape the rain before it had made a mess of Twyn Rivers Road. If you haven’t enjoyed Twyn Rivers Road before, it features a 30% gradient descent landing you on an open-mesh bridge. Needless to say, traction in the dry can be problematic. I gingerly took the descent and continued on my way unscathed, but somewhat damp.
As my ride continued north, the rain stopped, the roads were dry. The northbound stretch of this route crosses through the Rouge River Park many times on its way to Reesor Road on its way to Goodwood. The route to Goodwood is very well known to me and seemingly all the other cyclists in Ontario, but due to the chill from the cool air, the threatening rains, there wasn’t anybody else to be seen. On arrival at the Goodwood control, I ran into the other rider on the brevet. Sadly, we had both made good enough time that the Café at the control hadn’t yet opened. I decided to take my requisite picture and press on.
As I continued north to Udora, the roads were empty, and the winds were light. It was almost surreal how alone I felt. This portion of the route offered smooth enough roads and before I knew it, I had arrived in Udora. It is a tiny little no-stoplight town that wasn’t much more than a few houses, a gas station, and a general store. Again, I had arrived BEFORE the shop was open. Thankfully this time, I only had to wait a minute before they did. I was in need of something to eat at this point so I went for the “healthy” option of 2 butter tarts. They were surprisingly good considering they were not freshly made. Either that, or I was in enough of a dark place emotionally from the long solo ride, dark skies, and chilly weather. Whatever it was, they brightened my spirits and away I went.
The route to Uxbridge was almost a straight shot without much elevation change. Just some little rollers through typical Southern Ontario Farmland. As for the Uxbridge control, I took my geo-locational photo featuring the Uxbridge post-office mural in the background and pressed on. (After some more Garmin induced confusion… I really should have studied the route a little harder)
The journey home from Uxbridge was where my mostly enjoyable ride started to feature some more of the lovely “character building” experiences that you MUST expect on every Brevet. The rain started as the temperature hit about 15C. Not ideal for my clothing choice and forgotten vest. That said, my feet got swamped, as well as the rest of me as the rain came down. It was at this time that my power meter decided to go a little crazy, perhaps due to some water ingress. If it wasn’t for the cold and the grit, I wouldn’t have been so “happy” about my current situation. My legs were still feeling reasonable, but I was nowhere close to setting any records on this route. The cold was just too much.
The route south out of Uxbridge goes through some lovely terrain and a descent that seems to last forever. The forest smells and occasional blast of WARM air out of the woods was most welcome. The descent out of the highlands was lovely, but I was so cold and wet that my hands and wrists were starting to complain. It was of course at this point that I arrived at Whitevale Road. If you haven’t experienced this road, you are in for a “treat”. The potholes are impressive, as are the multiple construction and detour signs on the route. So, what did I do? I ignored all the warnings and pressed on, following the route with stubborn belligerence. Problem one: loose gravel, and potholes large enough to lose a small child. Thanks to the relentless construction and development in the area. The “use at your own risk” signs are always fun. After getting through the worst of that, I arrived at problem two: Whites Road has been “improved” into essentially a highway with medians and guard rails. The route is completely interrupted at this point, so I had to “portage” over the median to get back on route. Shortly thereafter, I arrived at problem 3: detour signs leading to a COURSE gravel road which I again ignored and pressed on to the road blockage. Concrete k-stones blocked my path, but in true Randonneur fashion, this is just part of the fun. Again I portaged over the blockage to continue the route.
It’s at this point where my opinion about the route differs greatly from the route designer. I think the route should have gone south and re-tracked the start, but the route takes you through perhaps some of the worst trafficked roads in this part of the city. Character building of course. Thankfully my legs were feeling quite sprightly at this point and thanks to an increasingly strong wind out of the Northeast, it was easy to keep pace with traffic. Additionally, a good chunk of this portion of the route now features separated bike lanes. I wasn’t completely thrilled about this portion of the route, but it wasn’t much trouble thanks to increasing temperatures and the helpful wind. I arrived at the finish with little fanfare and only city traffic to greet me. I took my completion selfie and rode the remaining distance to home.
In summary, this route is not without its charm. Perhaps a little too much character building for me on this wet and chilly day, but maybe when the fall colours peak on a sunny day I’d consider it again, but only if I could arrange for some company.
Coureur de Bois had been on my to-ride “bucket list” for a decade. Fellow Huron randonneur Terry Payne rode Coureur de Bois in 2011, and his descriptions of a challenging ride with beautiful scenery, horrible roads, and ambiguous cues convinced me that I had to do it one day! After doing my first 1,000 (Lake Ontario Lap) in 2015 and doing 1,200’s in 2018 and 2019, I realized that a 1,000 is actually much more challenging than a 1,200: With top-notch support and organized controls, the Granite Anvil was a “picnic” compared to LOL!
In addition to Terry Payne’s yarns of Coureur de Bois, my motivation for doing the ride was fed by the romance of the fur trade and French Canadian history that was taught to all children in Canadian Schools in the 1960’s (before the realities of certain events and the treatment of indigenous peoples tainted our perspectives). Perhaps more than a lot of English-speaking Ontarians, I had a fascination for rural Quebec which evolved while I was a summer student in the Gaspe in the mid-1970’s. Bicycling along the shore of the St. Lawrence River on my CCM Gran Tourismo 10-speed during that wonderful summer was, in fact, the only real cycling I’d ever done in Quebec!
Until a week before the Brevet, I expected that I might be the only rider signed up for Coureur de Bois 2021. (If it had worked out that way, I am certain that my ride would have ended in dismal failure). But on June 25, I was delighted to receive an email from Peter Grant indicating that he and JungAh Hong also intended to do the ride. Peter explained the history of the CdeB route:
“The route has been used since about 2005 and has been updated after each ride with input from our riders as well as notes sent by Quebec riders. There is a lot of Route Verte, particularly approaching and leaving Quebec City. There is more than 20km of bike paths around the city of Quebec.
Some the paths on the south shore I have ridden before on a cross Canada ride.
I remember that there were areas were bike paths were the only option for cycling, but that they could be confusing. That was true of the area where we will cross the Chaudière River just after turning west bound and leaving Quebec.”
It was a relief to know that I would not be dealing with the ride alone! I told Peter and JungAh that I would be arriving in Ottawa the day before the ride, and JungAh suggested we get together for lunch, to discuss last-minute logistics. Peter, JungAh and I were joined for lunch on a sun-drenched roof-top patio by Vytas Janusauskas, who rode the inaugural CdeB in 2005. We were cajoling Vytas to join us on the ride, which he said he would do if we paid a high enough fee!
After lunch, I headed to my Orleans Air BnB (from which I had intended to bike to ride-start the following morning). Guy Quesnel, with his usual top-notch organization skills, had arranged for car parking close to the official start, so a pre-ride to the brevet starting point wasn’t necessary and getting prepared to ride became even easier.
While “killing time” on Friday afternoon before ride day, I received an email from Vytas informing us that he and his wife Colleen had decided to provide drop-bag and meal procurement support at the two planned overnight controls! Only true randonneurs will fully appreciate what a significant commitment and “godsend” this offer presented. Peter, JungAh and I had anticipated that we would be arriving at each overnight hotel after near-by restaurants were closed, facing a mere few hours of sleep on an empty stomach. But with Vytas and Colleen procuring meals, ready and waiting in our hotel rooms on arrival, life would be good! Even better, I could plant a few cans of beer in the drop bag for my favourite form of day-end “carb loading”!!
From anticipating a “solo” ride with no support and unknown weather a week before, prospects for the ride, and the weather forecast, were definitely getting rosier!
I arrived at the ride-start parking site about 4:15 am and began to get my bike ready. There was another car at the far end of the parking lot, with what appeared to be another cyclist. I was completely focused on my own tasks so I didn’t walk over to see who it was. Guy Quesnel, and Peter and JungAh arrived a few minutes later. Guy informed us that we would have a fourth registered rider, but I didn’t recognize the name when Guy pronounced it. It was only when the “mystery rider” rolled under the light of the street lamp that I realized it was Serg Tsymbal, who I had ridden with on several brevets. In classic “rando” style, Serg had driven down from Kitchener the evening before and slept in his car!
So four riders set off promptly at 5 am, with two days of “no rain but strong North East Winds” in the forecast. Peter stormed out of the gate, setting a brisk early pace as we weaved through the streets of Ottawa suburbs into the countryside. I’m never very good at remembering specific details once the ride itself starts – geographic features, weather and road conditions, and hazards and highlights all blend together as the kilometres accumulate.
It was apparent that both JungAh and Serg were excited to be approaching their first-ever visit to Quebec. Serg wondered whether we’d be able to do a short detour to see “Montgomery Falls” (I explained it was “Montmorency”, and that I, for one, would not be joining him to see the falls!). Aside from his jacket, Serg had brought no additional clothing, having anticipated that “Quebec is warm, right?!? It’s not Manitoba!” His plan was to catch a few hours of sleep on convenient park benches under the temperate Quebec night sky. But with the brisk cool winds off the St. Lawrence River blowing in our faces, Serg readily accepted the offer to share the hotel rooms which I had booked for each night. Serg continued to talk about “Montgomery Falls” being higher than Niagara, and I realized that his mis-pronouncement probably sounded no more absurd than my own efforts to pronounce place names, or menu items at control stops! Montgomery Falls it is.
It was about 8:30 am when we crossed the bridge at Hawkesbury into La Belle Province! Apprehensions that we would encounter legendary bad roads were not immediately realized. (As Peter had indicated, much of the route in Quebec follows “La Route Verte”, which Vytas described as “roads dedicated to cycling because they are so bad that car driver’s wouldn’t want to use them!”). While we eventually did encounter some pretty bad roads, we also encountered some wonderful new sections of pavement. Overall, I won’t make an assessment on the state of roads in Quebec vs. Ontario, although JungAh, Serg, and Peter may have a strong opinion about it. As for the drivers in Quebec, we experienced a full spectrum of behaviours ranging from ultra-polite to aggressive and hostile. Unfortunately there was more of the latter, with a number of dangerous close encounters and verbal (unintelligible, to us) taunts. This was a big surprise and disappointment for me, given all I had read about Quebec’s push to be a haven for safe cycling .
For the most part, we rode traditional randonneur “accordion style”, sometimes as a group but often separated. Three of us were carrying Spot Trackers, which greatly facilitated Vytas and Colleen’s control support efforts. So when we arrived at the Travelodge in Trois-Rivieres at 10:15 pm, the Pizza and Salad we had previously ordered (along with the aforementioned drop-bag of beer) was hand-delivered to our rooms by Vytas & Colleen!
After a few hours of sleep we were back on the road at 5 am, contemplating whether we might find any quick breakfast stop before the next control at St Stanislas. Thinking the control closed at 07:28, I raced ahead of the others, only to note as I rounded the corner into the tiny hamlet that the control card said 07:48! The others rode leisurely into town a few minutes later, ahead of the control close time. Of course, the only gas station / variety in town was closed, and breakfast would be further down the road.
As we pushed on toward Quebec City, Serg and I gradually rode ahead of Peter and JungAh. Having to stop at a traffic light part way up a >10% incline, I was forced to dismount and walk. Serg, with a much lighter load and superior biking skills, was able to keep riding and got ahead of me. I had to work hard to catch back up to him as we wove through the streets of Quebec City. An extremely steep descent towards the ferry terminal was an excellent test of new V-brakes recently installed on my ancient LiteSpeed. Extensive reconstruction and detours on the bike path along the waterfront slowed us down – I expect this section will be wonderful for the next running of CdeB, after the construction is complete.
Serg and I arrived at the Ferry Terminal at 14:13 and easily found the kiosk for bike tickets. We were delighted that the Ferry was just loading when we arrived. Standing in the queue, I checked the “Follow Riders on the Road” on the Randonneurs Ontario website. It looked like Peter and JungAh were close behind, but we could not see them as our Ferry left the dock. Although Peter and JungAh were back only a few minutes, waiting for the next ferry (which was itself delayed!) put them further behind. While JungAh and Peter waited on the north shore, Serge and I were being pushed southwest, along beautiful bike paths in Levis, by a strong tail wind under a hot afternoon sun! We easily maintained a 25km/hr moving pace and arrived at the second hotel in Becancour (across the river from our first night stay) at 21:35! Again the custom food order (2 subs apiece, along with my remaining beer) had been deposited by Colleen & Vytas in our hotel room fridge. Aided by the sleep-inducing qualities of a cold tallboy, Serg crashed quickly. I couldn’t “turn off”, and waited for JungAh and Peter to arrive more than an hour after us. Unlike the hot sun and tail wind that Serg and I had enjoyed, JungAh and Peter had to deal with post-sunset cold temperatures and unhelpful still air.
With much less sleep than Serg and I, Peter and JungAh were once again ready to ride at 5 am. We covered the 72 km to Sorel by 8:06, conscious of the 8:44 control close time and 9:00 scheduled ferry departure. Riding beside JungAh towards Sorel under the early morning sun, I asked if she had any idea what “coureur de bois” was all about. It surprised me that she had no idea what the name referred to – but then, in perspective, I realized I knew nothing of her South Korean history nor the folklore of Serg’s Ukrainian heritage. I tried to explain the “Coureur de Bois” to JungAh. I also tried to teach her a song which I understood to have been popular with the Coureur de Bois, helping them to pass the hours as they paddled along. The song is “Mon père n’a plus qu’vingt-neuf poulets “, and it had been an “earworm” which I had been humming to myself for over 700 km!
As I began to sing it out loud, JungAh took out her phone to capture my poor singing, which you can watch here. Whether paddling a canoe or pedaling a bicycle, the song is a perfect anthem for Randonneuring …
Marchons au pas accéléré
Et allongeons la jambe
Et allongeons la jambe, la jambe
Car la route est longue!
(Very roughly translated,
“Step up the pace,
and stretch out your leg,
because the route is long!”)
We arrived in Sorel with sufficient time to enjoy a “grande” A&W breakfast before racing to the ferry terminal. Under bright sunshine, we enjoyed the crossing back to the north shore, and the ride south west toward Blainville.
When I had been sharing my plans for Coureur de Bois with family and friends in the days before the ride, a family member asked “don’t you have to tow a canoe full of beaver pelts, to make it a real Coureur de Bois ride?” While my heavily-laden bike sometimes made it feel like I was towing a canoe, the one experience we got to share with original Coureur de Bois was the “portage” – We encountered several serious sink-hole-induced road closures, where we were obliged to carry the bikes over treacherous paths. If I had been on my own, I probably wouldn’t have scouted out a way through these road blocks. Input from Peter, JungAh and Serg “saved my bacon”.
I should also mention my Garmin 1030. A recent software upgrade, complete with enhanced map display and directional chevrons, was supposed to make navigation easier. But on the bi-directional segments of the Coureur de Bois route, I still found the Garmin (or me interpreting the Garmin, or both) to be error-prone. On more than one occasion, Serg kept me from heading back toward Montreal as I heeded my 1030’s prompts. Whatever brand of bike GPS you use, you should spend as much time together as possible to be sure you understand each other’s limitations!
As my Garmin announced completion of each 100 km “lap”, I was pleased to see that Serg and I were more or less sticking to a 24 – 25 km/hr moving average. Vytas and Colleen texted me, indicating that JungAh had encountered problems and was thinking she might dnf. If they had to go back to pick up JungAh, they might not be at the finish to give us our drop bags (a trivial concern, as compared to retrieving a stranded rider).
After being worn down by some bad roads, ferry delays, and what she experienced as hostile treatment by Quebec drivers and some people she encountered at controls, JungAh had a flat at 893 kilometres, and discovered that her pump was malfunctioning. In her own words:
“This was my first time in Quebec except Gatineau, and I was surprised to receive such poor treatment for speaking English. I love the little chats with locals during my ride which didn’t happen during this ride. As soon as I started talking in English, their face just changed. Now I know better what to expect. I better start learning French …I just laughed at myself how I never get flats on the road but it somehow happened during my biggest ride just 100km from the finish. I guess my pump got too much rain over the years. It was rusted inside and leaking air.”
Unfortunately, Serg described his first impression about Quebec as being very close to JungAh’s.
Vytas and Colleen were able to rescue JungAh and drive back to the ride finish shortly before Serg and I arrived. We pedaled into the parking lot at 11 pm, ahead of threatened rain, to enthusiastic smiles and clapping from JungAh, Vytas and Colleen, and Guy. Peter was still out on the road, dealing with darkness and a short cloudburst. He would successfully complete Coureur de Bois exactly three hours after our arrival.
Riders who have completed PBP will tell you about the incredible range of emotions encountered as you approach the finish. For me, the Coureur de Bois finish also produced a complex emotional reaction: pride, of course, in completing a challenging course. And a sense of awe in travelling though the history of a country I love. But also a feeling of sadness, that two relatively recent immigrants (and randonneurs extraordinaires!) had a less-than-positive experience.
For me, this ride would have ended very poorly without Vytas & Colleen’s support, Guy’s coordination, Peter’s insights, and the enthusiasm and support of three fellow riders. I hope that JungAh gets back to Quebec soon (with a working pump) to experience good folk and French Canadian joie de vivre, and I hope that Serg one day gets to see the beauty of Montgomery Falls.
It was still dark, and already raining when Kim and I set off for the departure point; my bike strapped to the hitch rack of the SUV, and all my gear in the back. I couldn’t help but think that I should have done this yesterday when the weather was cool but dry. This was not just a casual bike ride that I could decide to do another day, however. When you register a ride through a club like Randonneurs Ontario, the date is logged and there’s insurance involved. And besides, battling through discomfort is a core tenet of the randonneur.
Kim steered us through the drive through where I picked up two farmer wraps; one of which I ate immediately, and the other I stowed away for later. I thank her for the ride and told her that if I could maintain a pace of about 20kph, I’d be about 10 hours. She initialed my brevet card, we said our farewells, and I set off just before 8AM.
The Long Road to St. Mary’s (0 – 40km)
It was only about 500m up the road that I hit my first snag: I wasn’t getting any audio cues from my mobile device. I pulled over and pulled my phone out of my pocket. The marked route was there, as planned, but it seemed the data I downloaded to my device in advance of the ride failed to include audio cues. This meant that I would have to keep my phone mounted on the handlebars in front of me, which presented two issues: extra battery drain, and exposure to the elements.
The first issue I was prepared for — I had a spare battery pack that I could use to charge the phone, so I could sustain the extra drain that would result from having the screen on. The issue of rain, well, it was supposed to stop around noon anyway, so we’d just have to see how that went.
About 90 minutes into the ride, I had just passed through Prospect Hill, well north of London. The audiobook I was listening to was interrupted by the robotic ramblings of something else on my phone. At first I thought that my navigation app had decided to start using audio cues, but that delight was quickly dashed. The rain had soaked through the buff I was using as its makeshift rain-cover, and the water had activated talkback mode – the accessibility option for the visually impaired. After struggling to disable this feature for several minutes I finally screamed “Turn Off Talkback” to the Google Assistant. Decades of experience working with technology, and it was proving to be my undoing today.
I decided to stow my phone in my rear trunk bag to keep it dry. After another 15 minutes of riding however, I had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t going to record the ride that way. Not wanting to lose the digital proof of the ride’s existence I pulled over to confirm. Sure enough, when I unlocked the screen, the navigation app had not yet resumed recording, as a result it cut off a small corner of my route. “Please let that not be the difference between 199 and 200kms” was all I could think. I confirmed the nav was running properly and put the phone in my inside pocket instead.
St. Mary’s to Millbank (40 – 95km)
The ride from St. Mary’s had me pretty settled in. I had music, my phone was charging, and the fall colours were beautiful. But the rain was constant. In fact anytime I thought it was settling down Mother Nature would betray me with a gust of strong spray. Eventually I turned south into a strong, cold headwind. I was averaging only 15 kph until I could finally turn back north-east toward Milverton. It was only a few short kilometers, but that battle was draining. On this route, checkpoint 1 was Anna Mae’s Bakery & Restaurant. It was just a few kilometers ahead, but every time I looked at my nav screen it felt like it was getting further and further away. To keep my mind occupied, I began to list the things I needed to do at this checkpoint: eat, drink, pee, change sock, picture, brevet card stamp.
I let my find conjure up images of the apple fritters I’d heard the bakery was famous for, and maybe something warm to drink, oh and a butter tart for the road of course!
When I finally pulled up to the bakery I wasted no time snapping a selfie. I’d logged 94.6km, and declared victory on reaching CP1.
I removed my helmet and my wet gloves. I fished my brevet card out of my inside jacket pocket and found it was sopping wet, and completely useless. So too was my paper cuesheet. If this were a real brevet event, that would have been grounds for disqualification! I cursed myself for not thinking to pack these articles in the map protector I own for adventure racing events. Nevertheless, I donned my mask and proceeded to the restaurant entrance.
It was closed. There wasn’t a soul in sight. It was a Sunday afterall, and Google confirmed that the restaurant doesn’t open on Sundays. Why I failed to work that detail into my plan is another thing I’ll chalk up to rookie mistake.
I walked my bike around the side of the restaurant and leaned it up against a bench. I pulled out the farmer wrap I’d bought earlier and ate it while I considered my options. I had food, and plenty of water. I’d taken note of my arrival time at CP1, and the fact that I had no witnesses was likely a non-issue, given the situation. Honestly the only problem I needed to solve was that I needed a washroom.
I removed my shoes and my wet socks. I used a buff to dry the insides of my shoes as much as possible before putting on some dry socks and replacing my footwear. So involved was I in this costume change that I failed to notice the patrol roll up next to me. The officer had clearly been watching me for awhile.
“You picked a hell of a day for a bike ride” the officer said.
“No bad weather, just bad gear, right?” I said, unconvincingly.
“Where are you coming from?” he asked.
“London” I replied.
“London?!? That’s a long way back” he said.
“Should be about 200 kilometers by the time I’m done” I told him.
“Well you probably do this all time time”, he said, “But if you’re going back through Stratford, try to avoid highway 7, it’s pretty busy today.” I nodded in agreement. I knew my route didn’t touch the highway. “I bet you were hoping for a hot coffee and a pie, eh?” he laughed.
“Actually, it was their little boys room that had me most excited” I told him.
“There should be a port-a-potty behind the building” he said. He wished me well, and he was gone. I packed up and mounted my bike. I looped around the building, and although there was evidence of a construction operation, there was no port-a-potty. This is normally an issue I could solve with a little discretion, but cycling bibs make that discretion more difficult. My spirits were lifted as I resume my ride. Despite my full bladder, I was fed, I was rested, and my feet were dry. On to CP2.
Millbank to Stratford (95 – 140km) – Toil and trouble in the Bard’s backyard
My elevated mood was well timed because the afternoon was filled with a series of climbs and descents. I always tell myself that climbs are the price we pay to ride the descents — but today the descents were equally unwelcome. The hard rain just hits harder and cuts deeper as you pick up speed. And so the combination of effortful climbs with grueling descents forced me back into a game of mental endurance. “Embrace the suck”, my aikido sensei would say. And so I did.
At around 130kms, the Bluetooth earbud I’d been wearing finally started alerting that it’s battery was low, so I pulled over. The earbud’s case stored a little bit of energy, allowing them to recharge when stored. I swapped the dying ear bug for it’s fully charged partner. While stopped I checked my phone and saw my battery was at 35% so I decided to charge it from my portable battery pack. When I plugged it in, nothing happened. I removed the cable and tried again – still nothing. I checked to see if the battery was capable of charging my headlight and confirmed that it was indeed issuing power. Tried the phone again, and this time I saw a warning message that told me the USB port had been disabled because it detected water or debris. Not good, but not something I could deal with by the side of the road in the pouring rain either. I was still 10km outside of Stratford so I resolved to evaluate my options over a pint, which would only happen after I used their washroom (yes, even now this was still a going concern).
The route in Stratford was brilliantly mapped: a picturesque cruise along Victoria Lake that took you right through the theatre district. I imagine on a day that wasn’t pissing it down, where I wasn’t suffering from extreme battery drain anxiety, and worried my bladder was going to burst, I might have even stopped for a picture to take it all in. It was 4:30 in the afternoon by the time I arrived at the 2nd checkpoint. CP2 was marked at the Boar’s Head pub, a British style pub noted for it’s bicycle friendly patio. I pulled into the patio and parked my bike beside two others clearly packed for touring. I hoped I’d be able to swap stories with these individuals, whoever they were.
I made a beeline for the washroom. I took a free stall and removed my soaking wet clothing. Once I was relieved, I just stood in place with my eyes closed for several minutes. It might have been five minutes before I finally began to re-assemble myself. I went to the bar to make my order. “Can I make an order for the patio?” I asked.
“Oh, hon, the patio’s closed. It’s raining outside”. she replied.
You don’t say? I supposed I earned that. Honestly this is just an issue I have leaving my bike unattended. I accepted that I’d be eating inside so I sat at a table where I could see my bike parked. I ordered a cider and a bowl of chili. As I waited for the order to arrive, I tried to charge my phone again. Still nothing. The battery was at 10%.
The waitress arrived with the cider. I took a long swig and sighed deeply. Then I called Kim.
“Where are you?” she asked, after we greeted.
“I’m in Stratford, at the second checkpoint” I said.
“That’s amazing! What time do you think you’ll be back in London?” she asked.
“I think I need to call it here. Can you come pick me up?”. I explained the issue I was having with my phone, and that I had no cuesheet to fall back on. Also, I really didn’t like the idea of having no means of contact in case of emergency.
I used what was left of my battery to stop my trip recorder in RideWithGPS, which triggered an upload to the Strava social network, followed by a quick update to Facebook to report on my accomplishments of the day.
I had one realization that dawned on me while I waited in the parking lot for my rescue ride. For all the challenges I had with technology this day my bike was absolutely perfect. Not once did it skip a shift, make an odd noise, or even an unwelcome grind. I reflected on how much of a mental load it can be for a day like today if you’re not completely confident in your ride, and bike-related mechanicals were the furthest thing from my mind. Someone must take very good care of that thing. (You bet I do!)An hour later Kim arrived. She’d brought a dry change of clothes for me to change into. As we drove home and I related to her my highs and lows of the day I couldn’t help but think about the endurance it would have taken to spend another few hours pushing through the rain, especially as daylight started to recede. A dryer day would have seen completion of the route, I have no doubt, but I have no regrets about knowing when to admit that enough is enough. It’s critical to have a lifeline for events like this, and I was thankful for the rescue.
Live to ride another day, whenever that day may be.
I tend to like starting my rides very early. Even for a 200km route I will book a 5am start. The roads are quiet, the sun is coming up, and often, but not always, the winds are weaker.
For this ride I knew I was going to have to deal with rain, but I also knew that it would be rather hot (a high of around 30°C), so I didn’t bother bringing any rain gear. I counted on being wet and warm. This turned out to be true. It rained heavily from about 6am to 8am as I rode between Markham and Leaskdale. It was quite enjoyable and refreshing, though on the downside I spent the rest of the day in wet shoes and shorts.
The wind was projected to be moderate, but constant, coming from the NW. That meant I could only count on a tale wind from Zephyr to Lindsay (roughly 50km). Most of the rest of the ride would be with a crosswind or headwind. The wind must have been fairly weak because I don’t remember it being a particular help or hindrance at any time.
I brought a half loaf of bread so that I could avoid making stops for food. It was heavy pumpernickel. I sprinkled it with coarse salt. It was crunchy. I learned this culinary delight from my travels in Russia. It was a hot day; I needed the sodium. COVID-19 restrictions were still in effect; I also needed simplicity. Black bread with salt in Lindsay and then again in Blackstock. I can’t confirm that I gained any performance benefits from the salty pumpernickel. All I can say is that I never felt hungry.
I saw two snapping turtles, the first at Pefferlaw River and the second on River Road on the south shore of Lake Scugog. I saw an Osprey as I passed a place called Osprey Farms
The most memorable part of this ride was the struggle. I knew I could finish it, but I wasn’t sure how close I would get to the 13.5 hr cut-off. I am not really at my normal level of fitness. I did a fair amount of running in the winter, but then that stopped (basically because of depression) and I was sedentary for at least two months. I did a lot of reading, writing and drawing to cope, but physically I had become quite diminished. My legs were not very happy to be pushed into a 200km commitment. But I persevered and finished it in 11hours and 50minutes.
Karl Kron (1846-1911), American Bicycling Maven of the Nineteenth Century
If the sport had existed, Karl Kron probably would have been a pretty spectacular randonneur. His book, Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle, reveals that he would have fit into our club very well: like us, he wanted to ride his bicycle far, and, like us, he enjoyed cycling in Ontario. Not that he rode all his 10,000 miles here. Over an approximately six-year period, he toured all over the eastern US, from Kentucky to Illinois, and from Maine to Virginia. He even took his bike to Bermuda. He got around. That he did it all on a penny-farthing bicycle makes it even more impressive. In 1883, he made two rides in Canada. The first, in August, took him through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. The second, in October, took him across southern Ontario.
Kron self-published his Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle in 1887, and it is an indispensable primary source for anyone interested in the early days of cycling in North America. In it he recounts all his travels around the United States and Canada. He also describes related matters, like the purchase of his bicycle, the emergence and growth of the first American cycling clubs, bicycle maintenance, and early riding methods, clothing and equipment. Throughout the entire book, Kron discusses the quality of roads in the era before cars (spoiler alert – they were very bad). At over 900 pages in length, Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle feels very authoritative. There is no question that Kron was an experienced and knowledgeable cyclist.
Karl Kron, Bicycling “Crank”
But another thing that emerges, very quickly, is that Kron is an eccentric. He is an unapologetic one, and often descends quite steeply into the ridiculous. First of all, his real name was Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg. He created the pseudonym Karl Kron out of “Col. Chron.,” an abbreviation of “College Chronicle,” the name of his column in World magazine (Norcliffe 158). Second, his entire book takes thoroughness to an absurd extreme. The preface is 107 pages long: it has a meticulously detailed table of contents, a general index, an index of places listing every geographical feature he could have conceivably seen from the road, an index of every single person he encountered, and four addenda. There are countless examples of extraordinary scrupulousness such as these. If there is a circle in Hell reserved for the excessively detailed and pedantic, Kron is most certainly there.
But that is not all: as his title hints, Kron took a keen interest in racking up the miles. Using his brass cyclometer, he recorded them to the nearest quarter mile: in 1879, he rode 742 miles over 47 days; in 1880, it was 1 474 ½ miles in 58 days; in 1882, 1 956 miles in 67 days… etc. But miles ridden are not enough for Kron. No, he also recounts all the miles he traveled with his bicycle in tow, be it on a train (he provides the number and route of each one), on a steamboat, on a canal narrowboat, or in a wagon. He even discusses all the travel he undertook associated with the bicycle’s production.
Lastly, perhaps the strongest example of Kron’s eccentricity is the chapter about his dog, Curl. There is absolutely no connection between his pet and his bicycle. In fact, Curl died ten years before Kron even owned his bicycle. He acknowledges the lack of connection and actually admits that he included the chapter about Curl because he couldn’t get it published anywhere else. The book opens with an illustration of the dog, and follows with this dedication:
I don’t mean to poke fun, but Kron just made me think of a reading dog, one whose heart is breaking as he learns all the details of his owner’s cycling addiction. But I digress.
So, yes, Kron’s Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle is an important source of information about the early days of cycling, but it is one with numerous and sometimes glaring flaws. It is available for free as a pdf on Google Books, but before you download it, consider yourself forewarned. It might be the most unusual book about cycling ever written.
The Great Ontario Adventure of Karl Kron, October 1883
It would be a mistake, however, to completely dismiss Kron. Yes, he was too isolated: he did not know how to share what was universally appealing or interesting about his impressive cycling experiences. True, he was too focused on cataloging details – every single one of them: it never occurred to him that he should be telling a story (and doing it with considerably fewer words). But sometimes, despite himself, Kron does talk about his cycling experiences in an almost relatable way.
One of those occasions is when he describes his ride across southern Ontario. Starting in Windsor, he went eastward, meandering through Huron Chapter country, then straight across Toronto Chapter land, and ending in the domain of the Ottawa Chapter. Yes, he is still verbose and boastful, but it is interesting to read about what cycling in Ontario was like all those years ago.
Mechanical difficulties were completely different back then. There were no inner tubes to puncture. There weren’t even any cables or chains to snap. Troubles were much more catastrophic, like large chunks of your bike falling to pieces. This happened to Kron near Georgetown when his handlebars snapped in two. He had to walk into town and get a new set forged. Horses still dominated the countryside in 1883, so blacksmiths were easy to find.
Public electricity was not yet available. This meant the country roads at night were completely dark. Nor were there any viable forms of lighting fixtures for bicycles. Moonlight was essential. Riding in Ontario in the autumn, Kron often had the added benefit of frost, which made the road glimmer in the moonlight and helped him stay out of the ditches. Otherwise, night riding was slow and dangerous. It often meant walking.
Diet was more restricted. There were fewer places to stop for food. Kron often talks about taking quarts of milk, which I suppose means he stopped at farms. He also rode for long periods of time without taking in any food at all.
Kron rarely discusses the landscape. He is only interested in road conditions and the number of miles he can cover on them. His first description of the land only comes on the seventh day of his tour when he passes his first cedar grove in a place called Osprey, near Guelph. The only other comment he has about all the land features between Windsor and Guelph is that the countryside is “open” with “long hills in the teeth of the wind,” “affording fine views of the autumn foliage.” I would prefer to have more descriptions of what the landscape looked like back then, but I think that is asking too much of Kron. If it’s not a road, Kron doesn’t see it.
All his attention on the roads makes one thing very clear: they were bad, very bad. Kron often complains about them:
The 13 miles ending at Goderich at 4:30 P.M. were done in 2 hours, though level roadway (much of it in sight of Lake Huron) was nearly all muddy and difficult (313).
My cyclometer said it was 14 miles, I got over it at the rate of 3 miles per hour, with occasional bits of riding (312).
Glen Norcliffe, in his Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900, gives a thorough description of Ontario roads in the late nineteenth century. They were not paved, none of them. Your best chance was to ride on macadam. These were dirt roads covered with compacted gravel that might be mixed with sand and finer gravel. If the road was not macadamized, you had to ride directly on dirt, and then the local topography dictated. Sand was a challenge, especially when it was dry. Clay — wet or dry — was a nightmare. After a rain, clay became slick. When dry, it hardened into ruts made by wagon wheels when the road had been wet. Road conditions also depended on the locality: available raw materials and local attentiveness often determined road surfaces as much as mother nature (Norcliffe 166-8).
So, dismounting and walking your bicycle was an integral part of any ride in the late nineteenth century. Sometimes the walking would carry on for great distances. Stretches of riding “without dismount” are noteworthy. Kron made a thorough preliminary research of road conditions throughout southern Ontario before his arrival. Yes, he includes all his research as a very long footnote (314-6). He wanted to have a sense of the walking to riding ratio before embarking on his tour.
His research revealed that Ontario roads were relatively good, and he came here with the intention of completing 100 miles in one day, an accomplishment that had proven elusive on other tours. It took him four days to get from Windsor to London, but on 11 October he set off at 5:45 am with the aim of completing an imperial century.
Things began inauspiciously with the bridge out at Arva. He spent 15 minutes walking through the sandy creek. Then things quickly improved. Within three hours he had already covered 20 miles. As a reward he stopped for breakfast in Clandeboye. After breakfast, there was a brief dismount “to avoid skittish horses,” but from there he carried on without difficulty to Exeter where he “imbibed two lemonades.” It was now 11:10 am and Kron had already covered 34 miles. Exiting Exeter, he chased a horse and buggy: the driver was trying to outrun Kron and “served very effectively as a pace-maker.” Between Exeter and Bayfield, our intrepid hero covered a distance of 22 miles in 2 hours and 22 minutes, “the swiftest of all my long straightaway stays in the saddle.” He would have been even faster had he not had to halt “as a precaution against frightening a pretty woman’s horse.” It was now 2pm and Kron had covered 56 miles. Road conditions on the approach to Goderich slowed him down considerably, but he persevered. By 5:45pm, he had completed 72 miles, “the longest distance ever done by me in twelve hours.”
The hills he encountered after Goderich took their toll on his morale. He stopped for two hours at a hotel in Holmesville where he bathed, changed his clothes, and had supper. He had now completed 76 miles. It was here that he learned about the hotel in Mitchell, a place called Hicks House. It was 24 miles away: if he reached it before sunrise he would accomplish his 100-mile goal. Anticipating good weather, and counting on a full moon, Kron set off into the late afternoon with the expectation of reaching Mitchell in the wee hours of the morning.
But things did not go according to plan: having reached Clinton by 9:15, the clouds moved in to cover the moon and the wind turned abruptly against him. Kron kicked back a ginger ale to steel himself against these contingencies. He continued on to Seaforth, covering 9 miles in two hours. Conditions did not improve: he bought two more ginger ales. By midnight his cyclometer stood at 91 miles: “the wind blew against me with increasing force, the mist thickened, and the darkness deepened, so that the track grew much more obscure.” He was riding without any sort of lighting to speak of. He found that there were giant rocks in the road and so he walked in order to avoid them. Reaching the hamlet of Dublin at 1am, and with only 6 miles remaining until Mitchell, Kron noticed the road suddenly smoothen beneath his feet. He started riding again. Without light to read his cyclometer, Kron counted wheel revolutions in order to calculate his distance traversed. (Leave it to Kron to bring pi onto a bike ride…) By the time he had counted four miles, he suddenly fell into a mud hole. The road, again, had become too dangerous for night riding. He walked the remaining distance to Mitchell, where he found Hicks House at 2 am. “I had to kick and hammer for a long while before I could arouse the proprietor. Meanwhile the rain began to fall.” Kron had covered his much sought after 100 miles in one day.
His tour across Ontario continued to Prescott, where he crossed the St. Lawrence River and returned to the US at Ogdensburg, NY. Along the way he stopped in Toronto and became acquainted with some of the cycling club luminaries around there. For those curious to read more, his Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle is available on Google Books for free. The relevant chapters about Canadian tours are “Nova Scotia and the Islands Beyond” (282-293), and “Thousand Islands to Natural Bridge” (334-352). I got my information for this article from the first chapter of his book and “A Fortnight in Ontario” (310-333). Glen Norcliffe’s The Ride to Modernity: The Bicycle in Canada, 1869-1900 was another important source for this article.
Conclusion. A Feast in the Time of the Plague? … or just a snack?
Karl Kron’s Ten-Thousand Miles lies far outside the norm. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it would be so much easier to tolerate if he were a good writer too. There have been plenty of very oddball authors whose idiosyncrasies have been softened by good craft and the regular employment of le mot juste. Not so in Kron’s case.
There is nevertheless something enjoyable about his book. When taken in small chunks and with several enormous grains of salt, I found it …not quite intolerable. I did genuinely get some vicarious pleasure imagining him with his 46-inch wheeled penny-farthing bicycle touring across southern Ontario with horses on macadam, sand and clay.
And yet, I fear that my diving into the world of Kron might have been a reflex and not a choice. Maybe it is just because of the unusual context I find myself in, it being COVID-19 and all. Under normal circumstances, I might not have downloaded and read this book, written an article about it, and made three illustrations. After all, this is a man that history almost forgot.
Meh. Perhaps it is unwise to dwell on normal circumstances …
There most certainly will be a future, but for now there is lockdown. And if we are in a lockdown then there is time for Karl Kron. The 900-plus pages of his Ten-Thousand Miles on a Bicycle will have to serve as my feast in the time of the plague.