Written by Tiago Varella-Cid
Brevet complete 17 July 2021
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!