Ride report by Marty Cooper, Photos by Marty Cooper and Tiago Varella-Cid
Eleven riders, Eric, Erin, Jocelyn, Ken, Marco, Paul, Regis, Simon, Tiago, Uli and myself braved cool, single digit temperatures and incessant rain for Toronto Chapter’s first brevet of the season, the Hills of Hockley 200km. Ken, Paul and Uli were riding their first brevet. Unfortunately, Simon dropped out early in the ride with a broken spoke.
The perennial first brevet of the season, Gentle Start 200 was cancelled the previous week due to freezing rain. While the Gentle Start is far from gentle, the Hills of Hockley is true to its name and features the most climbing of any Toronto Chapter 200k.
The ride began in Vaughan and headed in a northwesterly direction towards the Forks of the Credit and the first control at 85km in Belfountain. We rode north into a 20k/hr NE headwind that stayed pretty constant through out the day, at times becoming a tailwind.
The rain too was constant, starting out as drizzle and building to rain and then driving rain. Like the Inuit who have multiple names for snow, I spent the day creating my own rain vocabulary, the names of which were preceded by various unprintable expletives. Despite all the protection offered by the best quality rainwear (Showers Pass and Gore) and full fenders, within a couple of hours I was completely soaked. Fortunately the combination of sustained effort, i.e. climbing and a heavy wool jersey and baselayer kept me reasonably warm.
On Forks of the Credit Road approaching Belfountain we passed under the tramway that once ferried pink and purple sandstone from the quarry to the railhead, where in the late 19thCentury they were transported to Toronto to be used in the construction of Old City Hall and the Ontario Legislature building at Queen’s Park. Just pass this location we experienced steep but short stretches of climbing (approx. 12%). This area is among the most scenic in Ontario. The only advantage the rain and the early season brought was little vehicular traffic. The Credit River and its small tributaries were gorged with rainwater and many were overflowing their banks. There were also large amounts of water pooling on the road.
The first control was Higher Ground Coffee Company and it did not disappoint. Tiago and Jocelyn had arrived in advance and reserved a very nice seating area with a couch that no one dared sit on for fear of not being able to get up. I left the control with Marco in a driving rain as we pushed on towards the next control at Hockley Valley some 40km distance. Ironically, cold drenching rain with wind forced us to increase the pace in order to generate heat. Despite the ordeal, I enjoyed pedaling past the colorful, eroding red and yellow Queenston shales of the Cheltenham Badlands that my mother-in-law used to call kishkas, which is Yiddish for intestines.
The second control was the Hockley General store and when we arrived a fire was blazing in their wood-burning stove. Soon it was covered in and surrounded by wet and steaming cycling clothing and soggy cyclists. Hot, hearty food was available to help to restore the spirit. Reluctantly we donned our wet but warm clothing and headed out on the last leg of the journey. Eventually tailwinds and a partial leveling of the terrain brought us through Bradford into the Holland Marsh, where the rain finally subsided and towards the south a thin blue line of sky was opening. The end was near and the memories of the day were already being seen through rose-colored Oakleys.
To borrow from Arthur Reinstein’s paraphrasing of Shakespeare’s Henry V:
“And randonneurs in Ontario now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That rode with us upon the Hills of Hockley.”
Chapeau to all for persevering a challenging and rewarding randonee. Special thanks to Erin for doing a great job organizing this truly epic event.