March to the Nuke 600

Ride report from Tim Ormond:

March to the Nuke, a 600 km Brevet with the Simcoe Chapter, 21-22 July 2018

According to the RO Results page, The March to the Nuke was first run in 2005. That initial edition had six participants: Elias Brettler, Ken Jobba, Anne Pokocky, Steve Rheault, Isabelle Sheardown, and Glen Steen. It used to start in Alliston, but now it begins in Barrie in order to make it easier for members to participate.

Six randonneurs started this 2018 edition: Michael Thomson, Toby Whitfield, Andrea Ferguson Jones, Stephen Jones, Simon Langham, and me, Timothy Ormond.

The defining characteristic of this entire ride was a steady SE wind. For the first 200km, it was our best friend. It literally pushed us from Dundalk to “the Nuke.” The wind did not change direction for the remaining 400km; it only changed in intensity. For most of Saturday it seemed to stick around 15-25km/hr. I have reports from Toby that it became significantly stronger on Sunday.

Another problem was rain. It was in the forecast. I expected it much earlier. I finally encountered it after I left Fergus (476km) at 2:30 am (More on that rain later).

Despite these meteorological buzz killers in the forecast, spirits were high at the beginning of the ride. We rode together until the Stayner area, where we parted ways with Simon, Stephen and Andrea. The climb up Pretty River Valley was challenging, but I think we all felt fortunate to have a tail wind and to have the route’s most significant climb over and done with before the first control in Feversham.

County Road #9 leading into Dundalk was quite broken. Some major roadwork was being done. I was very jealous of Michael and Toby’s wide tires. I was on 25mm 700c. I also think we all inhaled a lot of dust. It was quite a busy road and very dry.

Micheal, Toby and I carried on together to Chesley, wafting on a lovely tailwind. We found the bridge was out in Chesley, so we had to quickly adopt a new control. I suggested Chesley Fuels and Convenience next to Big Bruce (i.e., the gigantic statue of a bull). The bridge in Chesley always seems to be out. Perhaps we should make Fuels and Convenience the official control in Chesley.

From Chesley to Kincardine I got a little carried away. I knew it would be my last chance to enjoy a tailwind, so I decided to make the most of it and increase my speed. I reached Kincardine in 2 hours. It was a risk, it meant venturing ahead on my own, but it also was a lot of fun.

Buoyed by my little adventure, I skirted the Huron coast and then turned into the wind. I expected the others would catch up with me at some point, and then we could work together chiseling away at the wind and the miles. In the mean time, I just played various psychological games to keep myself going.

Eventually I arrived in Teeswater where I replenished my water. From here until Clinton the wind seemed less of an issue. The land was quite beautiful here. These were entirely new roads for me. Unfortunately I was in the head space to push on and did not stop to take any photos. I arrived at the Tim Horton’s in Clinton at 1915.

Between Clinton and Stratford, my computer told me to take Front Road/Perth 32 Line instead of Huron Road. It is a perfectly good road with minimal traffic, but I unnecessarily added some kilometers onto the route. Not sure what I did wrong there. Fortunately, Front Road runs parallel to Huron Road.

The Romeo Street Bridge was out in Stratford. I was aware of this obstacle thanks to Toby and Dave’s warnings, but I had not really formulated a good B-plan before the ride. I wasted a bit of time, but eventually muddled my way across. Along the way, I saw the Boar’s Head, which I believe is the Huron Chapter’s stop on the Much Ado 200. I did want a warm supper, but I also thought I might get sleepy if I had a beer. So off I went to yet another convenience store to serve as my Stratford control. Ice cream, mango juice, water and Coke… and off I rode into the night.

The ride between Stratford and Fergus started smoothly, but gradually descended into the surreal. Worsening weather conditions, coupled with my deteriorating mental and physical state, combined to make for some unpleasant hours in the saddle. At first things were fine. The wind weakened, traffic abated; I was the king of the road.

But then I turned up Sideroad 4, to the SW of Elora. The road surface was very broken. I thought I might break a spoke. I fumbled along grumpily, when my computer angrily chimed, telling me I was off course. I pull out my flashlight. “What? I need to turn into this forest? Oh wait, there’s a trail!” (It was 1:45 in the morning) Off I went, into the forest, along the so-called “Cottontail Road Trail.” Let me tell you, there is nothing cute or fuzzy about this trail. It ends with a swift descent with a tricky patch of sand at the bottom. And before you can enter the road, you have to squeeze through some metal gates. In my sleep deprived state… it was a close call. (After the ride I received Stephen’s warning about this trail and the proposed route changes to avoid it).

Riding between Elora and Fergus, things continued to worsen. It got cool and it started to drizzle. Strange to say, but it looked more like snow than rain. Clearly I was starting to hallucinate. Then I saw something squirming on the road. I thought my mind was playing tricks on  me. “Ha ha, I’m such a hallucinator!” The next thing I knew I was right on top of a real, live skunk. I nearly hit the poor fella. Thankfully we both came through our encounter unscathed. I suddenly felt a lot more awake.

After an uneventful 2:31am breakfast at the Circle K in Fergus, I carried on to Shelburne. The rain started in earnest now. The wind was still blowing too. I quickly became very cold and considered turning back to Fergus and finding accommodation. Above all, a hot shower was what I wanted. Instead, I tried an experiment. I had an extra vinyl bag from Velotique I sometimes use for extra storage. This time it served as clothing. I stuffed it under my jersey over my chest and… it was good enough.

I arrived in Shelburne at 5am waterlogged and in low spirits. I hit the Circle K. It actually had stools and a counter! I bought a coffee and settled in until it was beginning to get light. It was a chilly sunrise, but at least it had stopped raining.

The last leg of the ride was an exercise in Murphy’s Law: headwind, and a perpetual climb until Badjeros, and, then, just after the lovely descent into Creemore – more rain. Very heavy rain. Then there was  the other sandy trail just before Base Borden. With my 25mm tires, I had to get off the bike and walk it. After that, my chain sounded like sandpaper grinding on metal, which is essentially what was going on. Thank goodness I was almost done!

The rain pounded me all the way back to Barrie. It seemed to get harder as I approached the ride finish.

Finally finished, my control card was too damp to sign, despite keeping it in a Ziploc bag. The ink wouldn’t come out on the wet paper. I always carry a sharpie with me, just in case. I handed the young man my sharpie and he wrote 9:35am.

My main motivation for riding through the night was to avoid the headwinds. They were still present through the entire night (still holding from the SE around 15-20km/hr). I expected them to only get stronger as the sun rose. Talking after the ride with Toby, I learned I was correct.

We had some attrition on this ride. It’s good to remind each other that riding any portion of a brevet is a major accomplishment, and it still opens the door for interesting experiences and opportunities. For example, Stephen had a knee complaint that forced him and Andrea to pull the plug around Markdale. They still rode over 200k – and they saved a turtle’s life on the way back to Barrie. That seems like a good outcome to me.

Toby completed his Super Randonneur qualification. If I’m not mistaken, this is his first season doing so. A big congratulations to him. I also completed my Super Randonneur qualification for the season – my first time since 2014, so it is a pretty big deal for me too.

Thanks to the club for organizing such a great route, and thanks to my wife and kids for not resenting me (too much) for taking this little adventure.

More from Simon Langham:

Great ride report Timothy.  My ride was a little more solo than anticipated as well, just from the slower side.  I knew I had to drop back from your group after I realised I as at my LT threshold sitting on the rear of the group, not good.  Then later when Stephen and Andrea dropped me on a climb, I knew I had to make some changes to my plan.  I have to thank Stephen and Andrea for the ‘You Can Do It’ speech at the side of the road.

Fun route, neat seeing what I think is a new marijuana operation, razor wire, double fencing, green houses.  More external security than Bruce Nuclear, except for the Armed Officers notices at Bruce.  The rain started for me just after Clinton and kept up until just past Shelburne.   Long time riding into a headwind while squinting to keep out the rain.  Fortunately, once the rain stopped the wind changed direction back to SE so at least I had a bit of a tail wind to head north.  I had a few more stops, including a nap in a gazebo in some town, really not sure where at this point.  Broke a spoke with 23k to go, and being very happy disc brakes are not affected by a wobbly wheel and that a 2nd spoke didn’t go as well, finished with a couple of hours to spare.   First 600 done, and now I just have to start walking normally again.

More from Toby Whitfield:

Simon – glad to hear you made it. I was wondering about where every one else was on the road, so glad to hear your report.

And Tim, great ride report.

The rest of the story from my perspective:

After Tim rode ahead out of Chesley, Michael and I also enjoyed a pretty quick ride to Kincardine, past the eponymous nukes. We got a bit of a shower on the way into Kincardine, which was a sign of things to come, but it only lasted a few minutes.

In Kincardine Michael needed a bit of a break, but I was ready to ride on so we split up there.

The turn from the coast meant a turn into headwinds. It was a bit of a slog to Teeswater, going mostly uphill and into a stiff headwind, but a bit better after the turn to Clinton. As Tim said, the roads in that part were nice to ride on. When I got to the control at the Clinton Tim Horton’s I asked them to sign my card and was told that another guy had been by earlier – I asked how much, and they said about an hour, but from Tim’s report it was an hour and a half, so I had lost a bit of time by then.

Then it was a decent ride into Stratford. It was windy, but I was still moving pretty well. Got to Stratford where I had booked a motel room – this being my first 600k I thought it wasn’t a bad idea, and really my wife had insisted on it – and I grabbed some pizza. I had a shower and a 2 hour nap in a comfy bed. Then I woke up and hit the road. At that point (around 3am) it had started raining. When I had looked at the weather report on Friday evening I knew there was some chance of rain, but it looked like it would be scattered. I should have updated my information.

I rode through the night, and really enjoyed that part. This was the most night riding I had done, having finished the 400k a couple of weeks earlier only a bit after sunset and rolling into a populated

area with lots of light. I enjoyed it for the most part. I turned off the backlight on my computer, only letting it come on when it had to give me a turn direction, and just ignored my speed and everything else, and got into just being out there on my own in the dark. At a certain point I realized that the rain wasn’t letting up, so I stopped and tried to add as much clothing as I could in the shelter of a closed convenience store awning.

By the time I arrived in Fergus I was pretty wet, but feeling OK. I had a quick breakfast, and hit the road again. The next part of my journey would be the toughest.

To back up a bit, I had not brought a proper full rain outfit. I usually find that I just get hot riding in a raincoat in summer rain, and it usually is OK to ride with armwarmers and a windbreaker jacket.  Given that the forecast when I packed on Friday was for warm temperatures and only scattered rain, I didn’t pack a rain jacket or other cold weather gear. That was stupid. The rain didn’t let up, the wind was strong, and during the next part of the ride as the wind and the rain battered me I started to slow down and to get cold. I didn’t realize how bad it was for a while, because the relatively moderate temperature meant my extremities didn’t feel cold, and I was not feeling chilled. But, I think that the constant draining of body heat and being so soaked through meant that by the time I crawled into Shelburne, I was in a mild state of hypothermia. I was shaking, and I was looking around for a place to take shelter, warm up, and get some hot food. It wasn’t obvious where that should be when I arrived, as there was no Tim’s or other easy to spot place. I did go into a café that was mostly a breakfast place, and that was perfect. I got some coffee and some soup and began to warm up. I called my wife, who luckily was thinking straight and she told me to ask them for a garbage bag to wear. After warming up in the cafe (and leaving behind a significant puddle of rain dripping off of me) I wandered over to the IDA across the street thinking about other things to keep me warm.  I managed to find some medical gloves (they only had size small dish gloves, which wouldn’t have fit my XL hands) for 17c a piece, and after paying them 75 cents for 4, also asked for a couple of shopping bags. With a garbage bag on my body, shopping bags on my feet, and the gloves, I rolled out of town after spending over an hour getting myself sorted.

There are definitely some lessons learned with that little adventure, which I hope I don’t have to relearn ever again. When I was thinking straight again, I wondered about what I would have done if I had a mechanical or a flat. I’m not sure I would have been able to manage it, and I might have been in trouble. What seemed like wet, but otherwise benign summer weather, turned into something more serious for me.

After that, the wind and the rain didn’t let up. There were some nice roads, some busy roads (I ended up riding on the soft gravel shoulder on the 124 after being buzzed by too many vehicles with trailers, and there was a constant 2 way stream of traffic and no quarter given by many of the drivers). I hit the Cottontail Road Trail that Tim mentioned in the daylight, so I rather enjoyed it (I also have pretty wide tires, so that probably helped).

The wind and the rain never let up. In fact, the wind was shifting to the east/northeast as I was going that way, and increasing throughout the day. The rain didn’t stop until I rolled into the final control in Barrie. After 14 straight hours of rain, as I got to the end the clouds parted and the sky was blue. Oh well.

I finished. I ran into some adversity, but I made it through, and as Tim mentioned I finished my first SR series. Congratulations to Tim for doing the same, and also to Simon who finished his first 600 and to everyone else who came out. Thanks to Tim and Michael for sharing the first part of the ride. I enjoyed our chats and riding with you guys. And kudos to Stephen and Andrea for rescuing a turtle!

Thanks to all of the organizers – looking forward to my next 600 where I am sure I will be better prepared!

Oh, and Simon, I also saw that facility, and realized it must be a cannabis facility because of the high security and greenhouses.

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