Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Walloping Winds 0, Tanya 1

Ah now that I can feel my arms and neck properly again after yesterday's ride, I am marking this as a clear and decisive victory for me. Yesterday I biked to my parents place (from the GO train station) - a 83 km epic battle against a very punishing headwind. It was very slow but I managed to make it here all the way under my own power alive.

I did check the weather forecast, and changed the day I was going to leave because of it. But you know the next day rolls around and the windy weather has somehow moved. Forecast is for west winds (my direct direction of travel) 30-50km/h. How with modern technology this forecasting business can't be just a wee bit more accurate, I don't know. Thinking the VIA train (which could take me all the way sans bike) was a ripoff at $30+ for a one-way ticket (vs. GO which got me halfway there for $7 with bike), I decided to continue on the original mission.

The plan was to get on the first train of the day that bikes are legally allowed (9:43 am) First I must pump the tires on my bike without stupidly letting all the air out (since the head was turned the wrong way for the other bike). Then I go to put on the panniers, and notice the screw for the rack is completely loose. (and I thought the "Drop" part of the Can-bike's ABCD bike check was kinda silly) Fortunately I know where a screwdriver is and tighten everything up.

After what seems like 20 minutes navigating the elevator system to find my way out of the station without having to carry the loaded bike, I head north on Brant Street - where I'm getting hammered by sidewind and its the first part of the escarpment climb. I look down at the odometer tired and I'm at something like 1.67 km. Uh its going to be a long day! Then I ride highway 5 into Waterdown, and traffic is busy and fast, so I have about a foot of space. Unfortunately this is not enough room when a transport truck decides to pass - especially with the wind they create. And they don't change lanes (its a 4-lane highway) So rather than risk getting sucked under the wheels of the truck, I bail onto the gravel shoulder (which is somewhat tricky since the shoulder is at a lower level than the rest of the roadway). There's about 3 more ascents to complete the escarpment climb along highway 5, and with strong winds pushing me a bit (from the WNW so it both felt like headwind and I was also getting pushed sideways into the lane further) I took to walking for stretches of the uphill along the shoulder.

Once past Waterdown, traffic is quite quiet as I travel along the 5th concession road, which is paved and only the very gentlest of little hills - pretty much flat. It was still slow going through the headwind. The village of Millgrove that I had been looking forward to was rather a disappointment. The walking tour guide had made the buildings sound glorious - and I'm sure they were in their heyday, but most had been modernized to the extent their original skeleton was barely recognizable. Not much of a restoration effort had been made by the owners either.

Maybe 20 km along this route, and a couple of climbs up some bigger hills - it became apparent that all this effort was SO worth it. Looking down from a high point that took a lot of sweat to get to, and seeing the gorgeous valley below filled with the wondrous colour variety of the changing fall leaves, on a road that was exclusively mine to enjoy was very amazing. (okay, so there was an occasional passing car but maybe every 10 minutes or so)

At some point it became so quiet that all I could hear was the sounds of the wind. No cars. No signs of people. Not even any animals on the farms I passed by. I started to wonder if somehow I wasn't the only person left alive. (I was keeping my fingers crossed for no mechanical breakdowns. Of course I had a pump and spare tube, and some allen keys but nothing else) The paved road later ended, and a little ways into dirt road the sign said "No Exit". Hmm that's odd. I had carefully written myself out a cue sheet using Google maps, and that road was supposed to keep on going for a long while. I started to follow it but then thought hmm I'm going to have to backtrack all this way if there isn't a way through. Pulled out my cycling map of Hamilton, which the folks from the Hamilton Cycling Committee had so kindly mailed me free after calling to ask for their map a couple of years ago. The map looked like the road went through too, but for some reason I had drawn on it with a pen a zigzag on a diagonal road near the no exit sign, so I followed my zigzag.

Later what was once dirt road became gravel road. I'm not a fan of gravel roads - way too bumpy. I tried to stick to the right tire track - as the cars push the gravel away, but of course there were still loose stones. What's worse than gravel roads are gravel roads that go steeply uphill and into the wind. I put the bike in the granny gear but I still couldn't make it all the way up, and had to hop off and push.

Sometime later I finally made it to the village of Glen Morris, (ah civilization at last!) where I feared my route may be blocked by the barrage of emergency vehicles (and helicopter) I saw up ahead. I went into the general store/gas bar there to use their washroom, and bought some food to eat there for washroom-use goodwill. (though I had packed lots of food in my panniers) People kept asking me if I came from the trail. (there's a rail trail that goes right past this village) At first I find this a bit insulting, what do people think you can only ride a bike on a trail? Then I realized they just wanted to find out more gossip - apparently the emergency vehicles were there because some poor fellow had a heart attack while biking on the trail. Chatted with a motorbiker in the store briefly, who was mentioning how him and his wife bought bikes for exercise, which now of course hung in the garage unused. Asked to use the phone in the store, so I could let my parents know I would be late because of the wind (having told them some sort of ambitious time when I expected to arrive) Do you want us to pick you up? they asked. Of course not! I said. I'm having fun. Which I was.

As I left the village, the winds seemed to pick up more, and I bemoaned the fact it would be 20 km of riding before I'd reach another village, and a chance at a phone in a public place (not owning a cellphone). Now the road I was to take direct for the last 25 km of my trip is the same road I ride on in a car off the highway to visit my family, and I know its flat. WRONG! The section of the road AFTER the highway 401 exit is MOSTly flat (who knew what doesn't look feel like a hill to a car really feels like one on the bike), the section of the road before is quite hilly and seems to be net uphill.

I'm putting every effort I have into pedalling, and it feels like with this amount of effort I should be going 40. Guess how fast I'm going? 9. And that ain't miles people, its kilometres per hour. (for the not-so-metrically inclined about 6 mph) That's not biking speed, its jogging speed. At this rate I will not reach my parents village before sundown.

Frustrated and tired I pull off the road, and set the bike down in the ditch (chocolate almond side up. I have chocolate almonds in the panniers and its of the utmost importance I have easy access, rather than care whether the derailleur is facing up or down) I sit in the ditch happily munching away on my chocolate almonds sending telepathic brainwaves to my parents for a pickup. This should be an ad for those wacky cellphone-free holdouts like myself. "Stuck in a ditch? Telepathic brainwaves not working?" I ponder the probability of a pickup. My mom's naturally tendency to worry, versus their reasoning that I will in all likelihood be irritated if they come looking for me. The fact I called them to tell them I'd be later. (what was I thinking?) I figure if I wait I'll be sitting in the ditch far longer than my chocolate almond supply, (about an hour I'm thinking) and its best to keep on pedalling.

I'm feeling quite forlorn by this point, and by my cue sheet it seems I have another 15 km into the bustling metropolis of Drumbo (okay it has population in the hundreds, one bar, one store kinda place) in order to locate a phone. Then to what do my wondering eyes do appear on the road but a 50 km/h ahead speed limit sign. Um there must be civilization ahead, because there is no reason to arbitrarily reduce the speed limit on a country road... Ah rockin'. Its Drumbo. I misread the cue sheet!

This is exciting news because it means I'm closer than I thought. Sign in the village says 13 km to my parents village. I can do that. I don't need to stop at no stinkin' phone. So faster than a speeding bullet I'm outta Drumbo and continuing along the country road. Seeing as its circa 5 pm on a weekday, and I'm quite close at this point to a super busy highway (401) traffic is picking up on my road but car drivers I have no problem with. They overtake with lots of space. Its those stinkin' truck drivers I can't stand, who create all the wind and don't move to make up for it, so there's more gravel shoulder stops than before.

Once past the highway exit, its amazing how long it still seemed to take since it seems blazingly fast going 80-100 in a car. And the things I notice. Like I never noticed before there was a trailer park on that road. We just went by way too fast to even register. I cheer as I finally enter the village, and the last wee leg of just turning on to my parents street seems long (who spread out the lots so wide? then I cheered up to realize the house numbers were counting up by 4 or 6 each time not 2) I get inside and find a heating pad to put on my aching neck, from the almost constant position of being curled over in the drops trying my damnedest to break through the wind.

Ride Stats:
Distance 83.6 km (almost exactly as estimated using Gmap Pedometer. I did make some efficiency shortcuts from my original planned route - since I had planned to avoid hwy 5 and 6, then decided screw it, I want direct, but then probably added that back with the No exit overshoot and backtrack)
Average Speed 15.4 (maybe I should leave off the units and make you believe it was mph, but no its kph. The wind... I can only imagine how glorious it would have been to ride the other direction)
Wind Speed (as looked up later on env canada for Toronto - the only place they have stats for which was probably close enough) - 35 kph to 48 kph base wind depending on time of day (it wasn't my imagination it was getting tougher) with gusts to 52. Ya I definitely felt some of those gusts. Direction mostly (from the) WNW - I was generally headed due west.
Max Speed 46.0 (Must have had one or two good downhills. Lots of time the wind was so bad I even had to pedal downhill.)

But it was all worth it for that moment at the top of the hill. And seeing llamas, and baby cows, and horses, and apple trees, and pumpkin patches (lots of pumpkin for sale signs with Hallowe'en approaching!) and the fall colours.

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