Lake Ontario 1000 Brevet

Ride Report from Stephen Jones:

We had a good-sized group of twelve riders for the Lake Ontario 1000, despite the less than perfect forecast. Renato, Henk, Jerzy, Dick, Bob K., Albert, Fred, Jean, Terry, Brian and yours truly all headed out at the very democratically decided 6:00 start time. Stan rounded out the twelve on his new bike, a steel Marinoni Sportivo. A few of the more disciplined riders settled quickly into their own paces, but the majority stayed together for the first stretch of the ride to Hamilton and the climb up the Escarpment. This was enough to pull the group apart, at least for a while.

Albert, Renato and I formed a new group at the front riding along Ridge Road and some great scenery. Thanks to David T. for suggesting the route modification to get us off the service roads along the QEW. Renato missed a turn on a descent, putting Albert and I off the front. Renato seemed to recover quickly, and I saw him come back onto the route, but we went around another curve and lost sight of him. Around the 80 km mark, Albert and I stopped for food and water. We came out of the store just in time to see the main group zip past us. Getting back on out bikes, we caught the group, and found no Renato. He had simply disappeared.

Albert and I pulled away from the group again going through St. Catharines. I assume they stopped for supplies. Albert and I pressed on through Niagara on the Lake and back up the Escarpment. This has to be one of the most scenic stretches of road in Ontario. We got to the border crossing to find traffic backed up into the access roads leading to the bridge. We used our commuting skills to move through the line, where a helpful agent directed us to the Nexus Pass lane. The border guard processed out passports and handed them back without a single question, which was a new experience for me. Normally, my name generates a small book of wanted felons and I have to play twenty questions while we establish that I am not the fellow who held up a liquor store last fall in Portland.

Since the border crossing was so busy, we did not bother them with the control cards, instead stopping at a fast-food kiosk where they filled our bottles and fed us BLTs and Cokes. For some reason, the restroom was marked “out of order”, but proved to be perfectly serviceable. I am continually amused at the reactions we get when we explain what the little control card is for. The evidence that we are in earnest is right there in their hands as they sign our cards, but they still cannot quite believe anyone would willingly do such a thing. Nobody managed to catch us during our brief stop, and we continued on our way.

The next control, Olcott, doesn’t have much on the main road. I think I need to amend the route to include turning towards the lake, as apparently, that’s where everything is. Albert and I stopped at a pick-your-own cherry place. The only food they had was cherries (go figure) and apricots. They also had unsweetened cherry juice. The young lady took my bottle into the back and returned with them full of cherry juice and ice. It was a very nice change from water and the regular sports drinks.

Shortly after Olcott, we arrived at the Lake Ontario Parkway, which is the strangest road I’ve ever ridden on. This includes the single-lane bridges on highways in New Zealand, and hurricane-damaged roads in Cuba. The Parkway, for those who don’t know it, is a divided highway similar to the 401. Two lanes in each direction. The difference is, there are almost no vehicles. It was like we rode onto some sort of post-apocalyptic movie set. Traffic did start to increase towards the east end, and we started riding on the shoulder instead of taking the lane, but I’ve been on concession roads with more traffic.

We stopped fairly soon after getting off the parkway for resupply. I ordered a “medium” sub while Albert used the facilities. When he got back, he thought it looked good, so he ordered two larges. They were so big, you probably could have cut one up to feed the entire group. He wound up strapping them to the outside of his bag since they wouldn’t fit inside. While we were dealing with food, the group passed us again, intent on getting to the control before stopping. The place where Albert and I stopped wasn’t actually in Charlotte, so we stopped a fellow who was out for a walk to get our cards signed, with the usual explanations. He was impressed and said our ride put his fourteen miles a day of walking (that he does as part of recovering from knee surgery) to shame. I think he may have that backwards. I can imagine walking fourteen miles, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it.

We found the group that had passed us had split up. Bob, Jean, and Brian had pressed on while Renato, Henk, Fred, and Jerzy were ensconced on the patio of a pub. After working our way through the lights and traffic of Rochester, we found the leaders just getting ready to leave the control in Webster. The desk clerk, having been through the explanations about the cards already, signed ours and the five of us left together. Albert and I were still riding at a slightly faster pace and left the other three behind.

As we worked along, the terrain became distinctly hillier, and night started to fall. We knew we had to stop before the control in Oswego. Since I didn’t know the route well, I started watching for open signs, finally finding one at an American Legion. The only people in the bar were the barkeeps unwinding after a long day. Despite us not being members, they had no problem filling our bottles for us and selling us a couple of cans of pop. I adhered to my personal adage of never passing up the opportunity to use a flush toilet while Albert went out to his bike for a snack. While I was doing that, I couldn’t help but overhear the Legion members carrying on the standard discussion of our mental health. Albert and I hopped on our bikes and headed out, just in time to see the headlights of the three trailing riders coming towards us.

Oswego was Albert’s planned overnight stop. Before he headed off to his hotel, we went into a Dunkin’ Donuts that was air conditioned to within an inch of your life. I was fine, temperature-wise up to this point, but the AC put me over the edge. I fuelled up, including a large coffee, for the overnight effort, while Albert did some pre-sleep snacking. Just before he headed off to sleep, Brian, Bob, and Jean arrived. I figured having company overnight would be wise, so I waited for them to get food and water. Not a long wait, since they are all well organized and pretty quick at controls.

Fortunately, the terrain flattens out east of Oswego. We rode as a loose group, startling the occasional deer. Jean was starting to feel the effects of lack of sleep and wanted an opportunity to nap. (To be honest, we all did, we just weren’t saying.) We spotted a closed bar with picnic tables outside under an awning, so we pulled in. Jean set his alarm for thirty minutes, and we each grabbed a bench. Other than the mosquitoes finding us, it was pretty comfortable.

Shortly after our nap, as the sun was coming up, then rain started. It didn’t rain very hard, or for too long, but it was enough to send us digging through bags for jackets and saddle covers. At some point through here, Brian and I gradually pulled ahead of Bob and Jean, arriving ahead of them at the next control. They passed us as we ate breakfast, then we passed them on the way to the border. The last we saw of them was in Gananoque. They were pulling in just as we were leaving.

The border crossing back into Canada was pretty uneventful, other than the bridges. Holy smokes, the bridges. Dave T. gave an inkling of what was in store before the ride, but the reality was something else. The signs say to walk your bike, but there isn’t enough room, especially with a pannier bag. So, Brian and I rode our bikes for the most part, at some points with one hand on the handlebars, and one hand on the guard rail. The bridges arch, and the climb up the arch isn’t too bad, but the descent, riding the brakes along the narrow walkway was pretty nerve racking. We did stop at one point to enjoy the view and take some pictures. It was an adventure, and I was glad when it was over. I’ll probably also being looking forward to it the next time I do this ride.

After the crossing, things start to blur a bit. Kingston was nice, but some of the really scenic stuff is beside a descent in traffic, so it went by in a bit of a blur. The convenience store in Bath was very busy, since they also have beer and an LCBO. The line for the ferry must have stretched for the better part of a mile. Again, the bikes gave us front of the line service. I don’t feel any guilt, since the bikes don’t displace any cars from the ferry, and it made no difference to those we passed.

The ride through Prince Edward County went faster than the last time I did it on TOT in 2011. During TOT, I had to beg for water from a couple out in their yard barbequing. This year, no problems, other than a flat just outside Brighton. Since the puncture was from a roofing nail, finding the source of the flat was easy and a tube change was quickly done. Brian didn’t even have time for a nap, but we were there long enough for a passing car to stop and offer assistance. Back on the bikes, and we were off to the control at Brighton and onto the Waterfront Trail.

The sun set on us again as we made our way through the lake shore towns. People are partly solar powered, and with the darkness all the effects of the lack of sleep come crashing in. By this point, I was not particularly comfortable. My hands hurt and a saddle sore that hadn’t completely healed from the previous weekend was making me regret ever discovering the concept of sitting. My feet were aching and felt like all the joints had seized up and needed to be popped loose. I didn’t so much want to take my shoes off as simply remove my feet. On top of this, my brain was starting to feel the effects as well. Company helps, but it still gets weird on the second night. I seem to have a tendency to anthropomorphize everything I’m thinking about. So, instead of thinking about the next place for water, I have an imaginary conversation about it. Like I said, weird.

Brian was also starting to suffer, with his IT band acting up on him. It got to the point where we were pulled off in a parking lot at Taunton and Enfield and he lay down while I stood on his buttocks with my heel. Yet again, a passing car stopped to ask if we were OK. For once, we didn’t have to explain what we were doing on our bikes in the middle of the night. The driver asked, “Are you randonneurs?” like he encounters people on brevets on a regular basis. It turns out that he knows Renato.

After the long, flat stretches around the lake, heading into the Moraine was a bit of a shock to the system, offset by the fact that Brian and I both know these roads well since we live in the area. I raced ahead to find a toilet at the next control, which turned into the “Quest for toilets”. I finally found one at the third place I stopped, further and further off the route and adding to my collection of bonus miles.

From Stouffville, it’s into the home stretch. The sound of the birds waking up for our second sunrise was very welcome. The last 30 km are supposed to be downhill and the last time I was through here, it was easy to maintain over 30 km/h. Brian and I managed about 25, and were happy with that. We pulled into Tim’s too tired to really show how thrilled we were with our finish. We had a quick bite to eat, and went to our vehicles to nap before the drive home. Even with the nap, I didn’t make it home and had to pull over for another nap, which lead me to having to explain randonneuring to an OPP officer.

So, a long ride report for a long ride, and written in much the same style as it was ridden, in sort of one big rush. I think the randonnesia will take a little longer to set in with this one, but even so I’m very happy with the ride and am looking forward to the Granite Anvil.

Some photos:

Direct link to the Flickr set if you prefer:

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