Happy Thanksgiving everyone! My family left to the closest thing we have to a cottage, the parent-in-laws that live north of the city. For me it feels like too much time away from the projects, repairs and everything else that needs to be done at home. I stayed back and will take the train up to join them soon. After I investigated the to-do list, I found the projects to be wrapped up, the vehicles are running well, and the bikes don’t need much of anything repaired. Anything the house needs is a massive undertaking so… how about actually RIDING a bike?
This is something I used to do quite well and am trying to determine if I’m still able. I dedicated a lot of this season to randonneuring at the exclusion of gravel races and club rides. Two types of riding I dearly enjoy. Then my summer audax goal came and went and I was wondering what cycling meant to me now. The universe decided that it didn’t care what I wondered, and I immediately pulled something in my leg. A muscle or a tendon, it caused pain from the middle of my back to the heel of my foot. Then I got Covid. By the time I started riding again it was a full month off the bike. Please use your tears of sympathy for good purpose and clean your bike shoes with them.
Now I knew I wanted to ride on my day off of fatherhood duties, but with whom? Being a member of a few clubs, I shopped around. Dark Horse Flyers didn’t have any rides scheduled. Peterborough Cycle Club was the same and I’d be riding cyclocross with them on Monday anyways. Morning Glory had the bagel lined up, but knowing the pounding I would take on the loop north of Toronto pushed that thought from my head. Randonneurs Ontario, Toronto Chapter, had a 200 running out of Grimsby. I checked the route and it was perfect, places I’d never been on a bike and a bonus; the promise of anonymity and alone time.
Pardon you? Yes, the long ride, the brevet, guarantees you time alone with your thoughts and your issues and all the other “you” things that you’re able to accumulate and ignore in the course of daily life. Simply lag back or push on ahead and you’ll be guaranteed hours of silent suffering. With only 10 of the 20 registered riders actually showing up at the start location, along with a variety of strength and speed amongst them, it’s not hard to get lost in the wilderness. I also mentioned anonymity (no spell check required!) and yes, this too may be something you are looking for. Shallow talk of the weather, the scenery and the wind! That’s it. People to be present with in the moment! To be in the now for a short while is a great feeling. Nobody who knows me enough to be aware that even though I’m latched onto your wheel for dear life, I still am watching over your shoulder for the next town sign sprint. Maybe these things appeal to you too?
And yes… now that I revise this text and dwell on it… this anonymous conversation presents itself as the opposite of being alone. Can I blame it on being a Gemini? I’m of two minds and there is beauty on both sides of the fence. My love of a tightly packed paceline with long time cycling friends, catching up about what been happening in our lives, appeals to me equally as much as the alone time I search for on the rando rides.
As for the ride? It was perfect randonneuring. A punishing climb up the escarpment 10 minutes after we rolled out. Beautiful rolling hills taking us to the mechanical marvel that is the Welland Canal. Locks and freighters and drawbridges galore! First, I had a very pleasant conversation with a cyclist about our recent experiences of riding and it was delightful. Then another cyclist and I had a lengthy discussion about the pros of “good enough” bicycle equipment and I was happy to banter about hubs, bike fit and
tools. Then we reached the beauty of Niagara Falls and I walked on alone (literally) so that I could take it in by myself, for myself. I rolled on and eventually discovered a fatal flaw to my plan of riding alone… a serious headwind. Immeasurably (had to spell check that one) strong, I swear it would push you off the bike if you took your eye off it, even the wind turbines were spinning! HEADWIND! I hit the drops until my body reminded me that I don’t spend enough time down there to pretend to use them now. I held the tips off the hoods as though they enabled a reflector shield. I pushed down sections of road so bare and devoid of anything interesting, seriously one was 17km, the most typically mundane Southern Ontario farmland roads there can be. I was reminded how little I enjoy flat, straight, high speed farmland roads.
But then a beacon of hope… a blinking light from behind! I buried the urge to ask him to switch it to solid and instead asked if I could catch a ride. Salvation had come in the form of two riders and I couldn’t have been happier for the company. Oh how great it was to have people to talk to and banter with and draft!
Thank you, Erin M, for meeting us in the morning to give us the brevet cards. You’ll likely find yourself e-mailing me in a couple days asking for an image of mine along with the GPX file of the ride. I swear I will get it to you. But right now I’m in a boiling bath praying to the old gods that Epson salts really do work miracles.
Ride for yourself, ride to be with others, but get out and ride. Glory be to the bike (and to my wife).
Unofficial ride report captured from Slack I’ve completed LEL2022 and I couldn’t have done it without the events planned by Randonneurs Ontario. JungAh from the Ottawa chapter completed as well, she’s not on here, but I saw and spoke with her several times throughout the event. A huge congrats to her and her experiences. I’ll put a reply in this comment with my “thoughts a week later” that I created in point form a week later. To summarize… if you want to do it, create a plan and execute. I set realistic distance milestones leading up to the event, bought whatever equipment I thought would eliminate hurdles when completing the ride and just went for it on event day. Strava Link https://www.strava.com/activities/7630359149
– When packing the bike, I partially deflated the tires, leaving enough air to keep the beads on the rim (30psi?) – I used much Masking tape and many old t-shirts for tube protection – Everything had to come out of the bike bag at Pearson so have everything in separate bags (I had to dump the contents of my frame and top tube bag loose into the x-Ray machine) – Bike bag also contained shoes and helmet in their own bags, and “travelling compression bags” one with kit for the start line and two with the contents of each drop bag that went out – As you used a tool for disassembly, I should have put it in the bike bag (couldn’t remount fender without an 8mm wrench) – Get the basemap for where you’re travelling to! I run an old Garmin 520 and it’s memory is really small, this meant I couldn’t load the entire UK and had to spend time clipping the map close to the route – I brought the GPS to start line early to verify base map, and it didn’t work! I had to get the tech desk to help set it up (I hadn’t renamed the file correctly) – I was an hour early to the start line and was glad to have the spare 15 minutes to hit the bathroom – I worked with others for as long as I could, this kept the speed high for a long as possible, burnt down the kms early to create a buffer for sleep later (pack broke up around 10-midnight) – I wish I had more knowledge of each section and could have made better “keep going” decisions. Other people knew the elevation gain/kilometres of what was ahead, I would have stopped and slept at 8am if I knew the punishment that was to follow (and I was mentally annihilated by 2pm) – I started at noon and only rode overnight the first night. Other people stopped often for shorter sleeps. Whatever works!? – 2hr sleep followed by longer sleeps (said an experienced volunteer to me) and it worked for me. Nights 2-4 I slept from 4 to 5 hours – Carbohydrates in the water bottle, solid sugar snacks every 30-60 minutes, and emergency gels for the occasional bonk! (as it got cold I slowed down drinking, hadn’t thought about the reduction of calories going in) – Lemon meringue pie for breakfast was a-ok – I stopped for supplies mid-section only once as I wasn’t making it to the next control with what I was carrying, but it burnt a ton of time, so always pushed to the next control when I was able – Actually another time around 9:30pm I came across a country store with a dozen bikes and bought all kinds of novelty sugar & drinks (anybody ever have a Bakewell?!) – On food, the ride was a culinary treat – every control had something rich with flavour. Curries, haggis pakora, lasagna, soups of all flavours… SO MUCH apple crisp with custard! And a gooseberry crisp… neeps & tatties! Scrambled eggs, ham, has browns and square sausage and sausage links and WHISKY IN SCOTLAND, I swear I ate enough in food to make back my cost of entry – Wet wipes and chamois cream worked, but only for so long, everyone I talked to about butt-issues was going through it. Awful pain, giant sores, but around 7pm it got so numb I could sit and ride again (???) – A jersey can last forever, bibs… not sure. My first pair lasted 900km and I changed twice after that (bibs in drop bags sent ahead) – Energy foods and carb powder sent ahead in drop bags worked amazing – Tubeless is clutch. I went full-send on all descents and at one point I dinged a pot hole hard, no tube to pinch flat meant I rode straight past the two people changing tubes around the corner – I installed new tires, chain, derailleur cable prior to the right and regret none of it – I applied chain lube at overnight controls – New gel grip tape (Bontrager) and gel bar pads (Fizik) were a gift from the old gods compared to how I rode the bike previously – Some people talked, some didn’t, some wanted to be pulled after I went by, but when a group passed by it was mentally motivating to work harder, I’d push to stay on way harder than when I was riding alone – Time in hand meant a pint at the pub before bed! – I’d see the same people over the course of a day, sleeping different times at different locations, these encounters were fun andid look forward to hearing how they were making along – If I knee the next control meant sleep, then let it rip. We’d get moving and pick up people an hour out and absolutely freight train into controls – One guy went full TT for the last 32km into the control where we’d sleep, dropped 4 riders (one was a trike!) and I chewed my bar staying on for that time savings – I’d eat, rest and faff about at controls to let food work its way in and give my feet time to breathe. When I slept I’d eat straight away, then sleep & eat again as soon as I woke up. – The dynamo made this easier, the headlight with proper beam (German stvo(?) rated) was so good at night! Not having to charge the headlight or tail lights was great. And during the day with the lights off I could charge my phone and then I’d charge the garmin when the lights were on. – There were so many outlets at the stop that if I had of carried a plug charger/power banks it would have been fine as well – People rode any and every kind of bike. I have a basic steel road frame with clearance for 35mm tires (I rode 30mm and fenders) but people had everything from titanium touring bikes to decade-old rim brake aero roadies. I think the Euros don’t have the same space/spending that we do and make use of what they have for everything. It’s admirable. – So many mixed feelings on the last section. I put on a trigger song to get it all out early at about 40km to go. Elation of completion, sadness that it was all over, confusion about what to do next. – This was a two season journey of that took a huge amount of time and money, both for physical and equipment preparation. And it was amazing. Glory be to the wife and all hail the bike. – My toes are still numb a week and a day later – Cheapest self-guided, self-propelled, all-inclusive vacation I’ve ever been on
Pete had a fascinating setup with his 1200k that made maximum use of a very small group of volunteers that included his wife and daughter.
There is a cluster of hotels about 18km from his house. The ride started at a park near the hotels and each ride segment ended and started at his house – a clover. That sounds simple but the key was that the segments routed by those hotels late in each segment, with an info control in the vicinity of those hotels, so that in fact you ended each day’s riding before you finished the segment, ate some dinner, got some sleep, and then finished off the segment the next morning at “registration central” in his huge garage that had seating, breakfast etc. You then hit the road again, starting the next segment.
Thus my first day’s ride wasn’t the segment length of 407k but rather 389 (or thereabouts). Day 2 finished off the Day 1 segment and then ended back at the hotels; same with Day 3 finishing off Day 2 and Day 4 finishing off day 3 but ending at his house. This setup had the effect of shortening Day 1 by that 18k and lengthening Day 4 from the published length of 201 to the balance-of-Day-3+Day4 length of 219.
(Note that the 18k has a variation depending on which hotel you picked).
I visited a grocery store and stocked my little hotel fridge with enough for dinners and a small bite to eat as the main breakfast was at Pete’s place.
Not rocket science but I considered it ingenious. Otherwise there would have been extra hotel costs, more difficulty providing breakfast etc. There was no one frowning at us having a celebratory beer at the end. To top it all off, Pete and his main volunteer Marcia shuttled us to our hotels at the end of the 4th day.
Under-Promised and Over-Delivered always wins out.
Oh – and the route was interesting. I saw parts of Niagara Falls from the US perspective that I had not seen from the Canadian side. Other waterfalls within the Finger Lakes provided wonderful scenery (one of which is higher than Niagara but of course has a lot less water flow); I found out that according to local lore, Seneca Falls (the town), or at least the bridge, provided inspiration for “it’s a wonderful life”. I expected hills and the area delivered – not extreme but the third day had some real punch to it with short steep hills.
Last but not least, Pete ordered up a brisk tailwind for the last 100k northbound.
Next year will mark the 140th anniversary of an amazing group bicycle tour. Organized by the Chicago Bicycle Club, the Great Canada Bicycle Tour attracted 40 “practiced riders” who set out from Windsor on July 2nd, 1883 to bicycle a 640 km route across Southern Ontario.
“For the promotion of bicycling in its most legitimate field, viz., its use as a practical vehicle of transportation through the country where the roads are good, its health-giving elements as an exercise, and ability of the wheel, where the rider is skilled in its economical management, to carry him over greater distances, and more enjoyably than can be done with the horse, thereby affording a most delightful and profitable means of spending a short vacation and interchange of views, practically demonstrated on the road, with fellow-wheelmen, the Chicago Bicycle Club inaugurates this tour, and cordially invites the wheelmen of the country to participate therein.”
The Great Canada Tour announcement reads very much like a modern Grand Randonnee “sign-up” website. Here are a few examples that Randonneurs will find amusing:
“It is the intention to have a light covered wagon in attendance during the entire length of the tour, and therefore when starting out in the morning all baggage and other effects that the tourists desire to take with them will be promptly transferred from machines to the wagon.”
“In cases of break down to machines, repairs such as a blacksmith can accomplish can be readily made at frequent intervals en route, and delicate repairs can be accomplished at London, Hamilton, and Toronto… A set of tools for repairing machines will be included … and, so far as the standard machines are concerned, duplicate small parts liable to breakage, such as handle-bars, pedals, rear axles, spokes, springs, together with cement, will be carried, that no trifling break in a machine may mar the pleasure of the entire tour.”
“About sixty-five miles of roading in that vicinity [St Thomas and London] were wheeled over, and after a consultation with wheelmen who had been over every inch of the route, and knew every detail of the Canadian roads, a route was selected, daily mileage allotted and hotel accommodations agreed upon, that will take the tourists through all the principal places of interest in Ontario, over hard, smooth, and perfect roads, the daily allotments of mileage being those that have already been exceeded with comfort and ease by ordinary wheelmen, with fine hills easily climbed, except in a few instances, splendid coasting down the other side, a grand rolling country with varied scenery of hill, valley, woods, and streams, landing the tourists each evening at comfortable houses, with bills of fare equal to the emergency of the most voracious and particular appetite.”
…and of course, Expenses:
“Before the start is made … it will be expected every tourist will deposit with the treasurer… a sum at the rate of $1.25 per day while in Canada… The committee are assured by the Canada wheelmen, who have been over the same ground many times, that the expenses will not exceed $1.00 per day in Canada, in which case a refund will be made. This arrangement of appointing one man to settle the hotel bills on the tour will ensure the least inconvenience to the tourists, and favor the most liberal rates.”
Here is a summary of the planned itinerary for the Great Canada Bicycle Tour:
“Monday, July 2d. … wheeling through [Detroit to] the upper ferry; thence across river to Walkerville and road to Essex Centre, nineteen miles; thence to Kingsville, and following the shore of Lake Erie, through Ruthven, Leamington, Mersea, Romney, Dealtown, Buckhorn to Blenheim, sixty-five miles from Detroit
Tuesday, July 3d. From Blenheim to Wallacetown, forty miles.
Wednesday July 4th. [to] St. Thomas, twenty-five miles. Trip is made over the Talbot road, the road from Kingsville to St. Thomas the oldest and finest track in Canada. Dinner will be taken in St. Thomas at the Hutchinson House, … From thence the route winds out of the magnificent St. Thomas valley over the gradually ascending high hills, … until abruptly reaching the summit of an easily climbed grade, London, with its towers, steeples, and elegant buildings, appears to view down in the valley below. Then follows a long coast and a couple of miles more travel to the Grigg House, which excellent hostelry will do the hospitable in the way of supper and lodging for the night.
Thursday, July 5th. And now comes the event of the tour,—the wheel to Goderich, over the most famous road in America. This road can only be compared to asphalt, and many splendid runs have the Canadians made over it. The course laid out for the day is sixty-five miles, and passes through St. Johns [now Arva], Lucan, Ireland, Adare, and Devon to Exeter, thirty miles … mostly along the line of the Grand Trunk Railway. From Exeter the trip continues along the railway to Brucefield, when the road diverges to the shore of Lake Huron, which is followed to Goderich
Friday, July 6th. From Goderich the tour will continue in a straight line south-east … forty-four miles being the day’s allotment. The road follows closely along the line of the Grand Trunk Railway as far as Brantford. Dinner will be taken in Seaforth, A twenty-five mile spin in the afternoon through the picturesque villages of Carronbrooke and Mitchell brings the party to the commercial and railroad centre of the region, Stratford.
Saturday, July 7th. From Stratford down over the same road through Travistock (sic), Chesterfield, Bright, Drumbo, and Richwood to the large and thriving city of Paris, and from thence to Brantford, along the bank of the Speed river … The day’s journey … thirty-five miles.
Sunday, July 8th. From Brantford, over a part plank and part gravel road, to Hamilton. This will be a short trip for the day, twenty-five miles, but may be considered by some as harder, on account of the nature of the road
Monday, July 9th. From Hamilton by boat to Toronto, arriving there in time for dinner, giving an entire afternoon at the metropolis before leaving on the evening steamer for Niagara.”
As with many modern long brevets, the best laid plans for the Great Canada Bicycling Tour were severely tested during the actual ride. Intense July storms, bridge wash-outs, and unanticipated bad roads resulted in schedule revisions, rider group separations, and extensive use of the sag wagon (“ambulance”). Already a day behind schedule in Goderich, a small group set out into rainstorms, hoping to cycle all the way to Brantford in one day. They were soon forced to turn back and, along with the other riders, ended up taking the train to Brantford. “We caught fleeting glimpses of the fine scenery at Paris and other points of interest, deepening our regret that we had missed riding through this romantic section of picturesque Canada”
A very detailed ride report of The Great Canada Bicycle Tour was presented in “Outing And The Wheelman” magazine of April-Sept. 1884. The entire two-part article is well worth reading. The author claims that “No intoxicating liquors of any sort were drunk, even at the banquets provided in the cities we visited”. With that one possible exception, the shenanigans and experiences described in the 1883 account bear remarkable similarities to present-day Ontario randonneuring! Here are some examples, with which I could particularly identify in my own randonneuring experience:
The thrill of cycling in a good tailwind:
“…this wind was so powerful that nearly the whole line rode with legs over handles, and with brakes down, a mile or two, at a racing speed, the utmost care being required to prevent collisions…”
Trying out new rain gear:
“…when it began to rain (he) put on his wheelman’s rubber suit…he was the envy of the whole line, till it was discovered that this suit possesses one fatal defect…There is no device…to let out the water which runs down the back of his neck, and fills all his pockets and swells out the legs”
Riding after a Fall:
“…Approaching Bayfield…one of the most expert riders of the party was run into by another wheelman…and hurled down an embankment five or six feet high. The pit of his stomach struck one of the handles, knocking the breath out of him, and his left shoulder was badly sprained… [We] procured him an ounce of Brandy at a wayside inn, after taking which he was able to mount unassisted, when he rode with one hand so rapidly [he caught up to the advance group]”
The Great Canada Tour was clearly important in fostering enthusiasm for bicycling, and the founding of many local wheelman clubs, throughout Southern Ontario. In each community, the arrival of the riders was greeted with large crowds, brass bands, and, at the overnight stops, civic receptions and banquets. This excellent 2016 article documents the impact of the Great Canada Tour’s arrival in Goderich.
During the 1870s and ‘80s, illustrated “Historical Atlases,” with detailed county and township maps, were published for most Ontario counties. These County Atlases provide an excellent contemporary view into the routing and logistics issues faced by our Canada Tour bicyclists in the summer of 1883. (My father, Ross Cumming, republished many of these Historical County Atlases a century later, so I’m fortunate to have hard copies to pore over as I read the Great Canada Tour ride accounts). Based on the information in the “Wheelman” articles, I’ve charted my “best guess” of the route followed on the Great Canada Tour, in the maps below:
Clearly, the roads and municipalities of Ontario have changed drastically in 140 years! When our 1883 riders were cycling into St. Thomas or London, they were entering what we would now call the “city core” of those urban centres. At the other extreme, some villages with hotels, where the riders stopped for refreshment and accommodation, are now completely gone! Some roads ridden on the Canada Tour are now busy highways (Highway 3 “Talbot Trail” and Highway 4/Richmond Street) and others have long ago disappeared.
If we wanted to retrace the Great Canada Bicycle Tour, and rediscover the challenges and experiences of those hardy cyclists, what route would we take today? I have drafted a route which follows the (assumed) original route as closely as possible, and visits the significant landmarks and buildings identified in the original Canada Tour accounts:
As Randonneurs will suspect, it is no coincidence that this draft route is just north of 600 km in length! If there is interest among Ontario Randonneurs, a 2023 600 km Brevet or Permanent commemorating the 140th anniversary of the Great Canada Bicycle Tour could be as much fun as the 1883 original:
“The entire tour was ONE CONTINUOUS FROLIC OF FOUR HUNDRED MILES, through a strange and lovely country; and over each day’s run the imps of innocent fun and enjoyment presided…
…upon the termination of the tour…it was found that all [riders], except two, had gained weight during the trip; while all, without exception, had gained in health, elasticity of body and spirits, strength, activity, and vigor”
Of course, I make no promises that “no intoxicating liquors of any sort” will be consumed at the end of the ride.
The Mariposa Centenary was an exceptional brevet. Just being a Centenary had its own appeal as opposed to a brevet that can be repeated sometime down the road, but the special edition brevet card and medal was an extra incentive.
Years ago, I never had much of an appreciation for medals. Over the years the ones from my youth found their way into recycling as trinkets of little use.That changed with PBP. Here was an event that continues to inspire me even years afterwards, and the medal with it’s individual number is unique.I decided to buy some adhesive rare earth magnets and turned any remaining old medals into fridge magnets which we can’t seem to get enough of, so adding another to our fridge which holds up kids painting and family photos seemed desirable.
Over the years I’ve forged some great cycling partnerships, one of which happened on a rainy Hockley Hills 200 brevet. Jocelyn Delarosa had recently immigrated from France in 2018 and we chatted for a while as we rode away from the group.He then joined another club which I ride with, the GGG (Gravel Grinding Group) and over the years since we have shared many a great ride including brevets this year.Jocelyn & I agreed to ride the Mariposa Centenary together and we are in similar form these days so it was going to be a spirited ride. Better yet we invited Alex Stephen from the GGG to become an RO member and join us.
I arrived with time to spare and saw quite the gathering of randonneurs all well spaced apart except for a brief photo op. It was great to see so many familiar smiling faces.It was nice to check out some new bikes and catch up with fellow riders. Erin Marchak presided over the formal duties, and Martin Cooper gave a brief talk about the ride, and the history… Before long 7am had rolled around and we were off. I noted one of the riders had his dog in a chest harness. Cute and ambitious!
We started at a gentle pace, negotiating street car tracks and numerous turns away from the downtown core but it wasn’t long before we were heading east towards the Waterfront Trail. The pace started to pick up as we warmed up and by the time we left the Beaches only a handful of us were left at the front. I got to meet Burke Adams, who’s reputation preceded him as Jocelyn had filled me in on another rider that had been pushing the pace on multiple brevets.So Alex, Burke, Jocelyn & I formed a group of four and settled into a solid pace.
We made it to the first control at 9:23am and I set about orchestrating a coordinated refuelling. We each had an espresso, a bottle of water to refill our bidons and an ice cream sandwich.I had called a friend on route to the Coolest Ice Cream Shop, who lived around the corner and who’s son is my godson, but our stop was so brief that he missed us. No time wasted and legs still warm we were back at it.
Burke was feeling strong so we shamelessly let him be the locomotive for some longer stretches while we pushed our average speed to around 32km/hr. Before long we had reached the northern limit of the route and we turned west into the southwest wind. We knew winds were forecast to gust up to the 50s in the afternoon so settled into a working pace as we rode to Bradford.
In Bradford we stopped at Portugalia Bakery at 10:49am. Alex was starting to feel tired from the pace. On many days he is a locomotive, but that day he needed to hold back. We’ve all been there. Speaking Portuguese may have had it’s benefits at the bakery, if not for ordering, then just knowing about the desserts. We enjoyed a more leisurely break and then set off once more, but this time we knew we were in for a windy return and fighting wind is a battle rarely won but often endured. It wasn’t long before we came to Canal Rd and then went across the Holland March and south towards the rising tide of hills on Keele.
Burk & I spun our way to the top and waited for the other two who weren’t far behind. Alex offered to go solo and I had full confidence he’d be fine but we were having fun and it wouldn’t have been a pleasant return solo against the wind so we turned the pace down a notch and managed our effort. There were numerous lights going back into the City anyway and pushing a harder pace would have resulted in a series of intervals between lights so it was for the best anyway.
Before long we passed the current location for Mariposa Cycles and then came to Muddy York Brewing. Since we knew the finish was probably going to be anticlimactic we decided to stop for a beer and finish the ride in good style. If I had it my way the ride would have officially ended at the brew pub! It was the best part of the ride and we joked that there are easier ways to go for a beer.
Finally we wove our way back to the start, chatted a bit and with a little luck we’ll all ride together again soon.
A great day out. Thanks to Erin for organizing such a fun ride!
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.